10 Feb 2015

Auckland councillors on show in screen debut

5:19 am on 10 February 2015

Reality shows on the small screen have turned everyday life into often gripping entertainment: personal makeovers, buying a house. Now, there's local body politics.

Concept: Put 21 councillors in a room and see what happens.

Concept: Put 21 councillors in a room and see what happens. Photo: Auckland Council

Council Live is a simple reality concept. Take 21 publicly-elected Auckland Council politicians, put them in a room and watch live as they grapple with issues facing the country's biggest metropolis.

Episode One - 'Where's Arthur?' - screened last Thursday, showing glimpses of promise for the 2015 season, although the three-hour format dragged.

The episode is set in a meeting of the Regional Strategy and Policy Committee, stoically chaired by George Wood in his small-screen debut in a leading role.

The main plot involves councillors having to decide whether to support the Government issuing petroleum exploration permits. These are called Block Offers, perhaps a nod to highly successful reality franchise The Block.

The opening episode included a large and vocal public audience in the chamber, whose chants of "shame, shame" added to the dramatic climax.

There were some stirring performances from around the council table, with Cathy Casey blending humour and passion, with hand gestures which worked well on the small-screen format.

Auckland Council

The webcast had some disappointing lulls. Photo: Auckland Council

The plot at times stretched credibility. Who believes that, for two crucial votes, different members of the committee could be on the toilet?

The first absence was signalled by alarmed cries: "Where's Arthur [Anae]?" Both loo-breaks led to a tie in the vote, needing to be broken by George Wood.

However this twist in the plot did provide several of the opening episode's most compelling moments.

Viewers will have been disappointed by the absence of a leading character, Mayor Len Brown, although he is expected to appear soon in future episodes.

Those who missed 'Where's Arthur' also missed potentially useful and detailed exploration of the rules of the game - such as whether the nearby toilets constituted being "within the environs" of the committee room.

And the script at times lapsed into the banal.

"It's not a point of order!"

"It IS a point of order."

"What number is it then?"

But the Auckland Council may have hit on a winner.

Australian media mogul Kerry Packer turned cricket into a high drama TV blockbuster with the development of the one-day game.

The same could be possible for Auckland local government.

Tandem Productions' judicious use of four cameras provided rare insights into life around the council table.

John Watson's intriguing rummage in his satchel is an as-yet unexplained moment.

The producers have signalled some emerging plotlines to follow this season, some of them interactive, including decisions on how much money will be demanded in rates rises from the audience.

The series will follow the fortunes of all of the Auckland Council's major committees and serious viewers can prepare by reading each episode's paperwork in advance, with the option of live viewings or encore screenings.