Saturday, August 20, 2011

Karl du Fresne: New Morning Report host too nice

IT’S NEARLY nine months since Simon Mercep took over from Sean Plunket on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report, plenty of time to allow a measured assessment. And I have to agree with Listener columnist Joanne Black that the pleasant, mild-mannered Mercep is too similar to his co-host, Geoff Robinson.

Like many Morning Report listeners, I was surprised that Radio New Zealand didn’t replace Plunket with a woman, or at least someone with a style that contrasted more sharply with that of the veteran Robinson. Mercep is a competent interviewer but lacks Plunket’s take-no-prisoners approach. Admittedly there were times when Plunket was more aggressive than he needed to be and his hectoring style became tiresome, but it worked overall because of the contrast with Robinson. It was the old good-cop, bad-cop dynamic.

Mercep has a soft, unthreatening voice that doesn’t command the listener’s attention. It lacks cut-through. Plunket is a big man with a voice and interviewing style to match. In rugby terms, he’s the equivalent of the enforcer in the front row of the scrum. You don’t need physical bulk on your side to interrogate people – Brian Edwards proved that – but I’m sure it helps psychologically. Mercep just seems too darned nice to unsettle his interview subjects.

As for Robinson, he’s a marvel: always composed and civil, but still capable of asking the hard questions. And he’s been doing it since 1975.

His ability to bounce from one interview to another with barely enough time to catch his breath, and to conduct them all intelligently and with authority, marks him as a consummate professional. But it also points to a strong team of producers and researchers working behind the scenes and feeding him the right material.

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