Brian Edwards Media

Seven Sharp Week One – Was the weather or Waitangi Day to blame?

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The best comment I’ve heard about Seven Sharp came from Canterbury University senior journalism lecturer Tara Ross who said: We were invited to tweet and we were invited to vote, but what were we invited to think about?”

My answer would be: little of any consequence. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – the utterly brilliant QI deals almost exclusively in ‘quite interesting’ ephemera. I can watch, and have watched half a dozen episodes on the trot and could happily have watched half a dozen more. Informative, irreverent, rude, challenging, side-splittingly funny. All the things Seven Sharp isn’t.

Given the quality of talent available to the BBC, the comparison is of course unfair. And QI makes no claim to be anything other than an (admittedly somewhat intellectual) entertainment.

Television New Zealand’s Head of News and Current Affairs, Ross Dagan, on the other hand, does a disservice to the producers and presenters on Seven Sharp, not to mention its viewers, by continuing to insist that Close Up’s replacement is still a ‘prime-time current affairs’ programme. It isn’t, at least not in the common usage of the term.  Collins English Dictionary defines ‘current affairs’ as ‘relating to events and developments taking place in the world now, or the way in which these are covered or presented by the media’. The only prime-time network programme that currently comes close to that definition is Campbell Live.

Had Seven Sharp been billed as a ‘magazine programme offering a light-hearted and occasionally serious look at the events of the day’, its producers and presenters would have been spared the tsunami of criticism and viewer disappointment that has all but swept the programme away.  

But whether you regard it as a current affairs, magazine  or entertainment programme, Seven Sharp has structural problems that will be nigh on impossible to fix.

Each of the presenters is miscast.

Jesse Mulligan is a comedian, at home  in  improv, stand-up, and the irreverent,  salacious and  frequently downright obscene comedy of Seven Days which, incidentally, is pre-recorded and heavily edited. His role on Seven Sharp is to make mildly satirical observations about people in the news, primarily politicians and to do so live and without the benefit of editing.  Unsurprisingly, his efforts to date have disappointed viewers.

Ali Mau is a journalist, primarily known here as a first-class television newsreader and, more recently, Fair Go co-host. The skills required in both formats are mainly to-camera presentation skills. She has also co-hosted Newsnight with Marcus Lush and Breakfast with Mike Hosking and occasionally Paul Henry. These are late night and early morning programmes with two co-hosts. Close relationships tend to develop between presenters working these unseemly hours and their individual roles and status are clearly defined.

Mau’s role on Seven Sharp is ill-defined and she appears uncertain of it herself. Neither comedian nor hard-line interviewer, she is expected to engage in banter and tag-team interviews with not one but two other presenters. This is the most difficult and least productive form of interviewing, since sequential follow-up is virtually impossible. Tag team interviews are inevitably all over the place.

Greg Boyed’s background is also in journalism. He is best known as a newsreader and an increasingly hard-line current affairs interviewer, most recently on Q & A. He is currently the dominant performer on Seven Sharp, overshadowing both Mulligan and Mau. Boyed is reputed to have a good sense of humour, but his attempts on Seven Sharp to date have been clumsy. More importantly, his tough interviewing style is wasted in the tag-team format where ‘getting stuck in’  to interviewees would seem out of place and the allocated time, now even shorter than it was on Close Up, would in any event make it impossible.

Interestingly enough, Friday’s edition of Seven Sharp, when Boyed was not in the studio, was the most comfortable and fluent of the week. I don’t intend this as a criticism of him. It merely demonstrates the truth of my assertion that a presenting duo can achieve an intimacy and mutual understanding that conveys itself to viewers and that this is a much more difficult ask for a trio.

Television audiences, I suspect, often imagine that there’s a romantic or sexual attraction between a male/female duo. Was Paul Henry really in love with the gorgeous (and occasionally motherly) Pippa Wetzell? And would Mike Hosking fall for Kate Hawkesby? Well, he did.

This sort of audience fantasising is probably good for ratings. But a presenter ménage à trois is unlikely to enter the mind of the average viewer, least of all in this case.

Perhaps the major by-product of the miscasting of these three presenters is the lack of edge in the banter and the show at large. Mulligan’s humour cannot really offend, Boyed cannot really get stuck into a guest, and Mau, whose strength is as a host/presenter has little opportunity to shine.

Nobody really knows why they’re there and no-one can do their own thing.

There are other problems. Presenters and viewers are expected to make sudden mental gearshifts between light-hearted banter and sometimes emotionally challenging stories. There seems to be no realisation that the expectations of Twitter and Facebook followers are not the same as those of the average prime-time television viewer. And, in trying to be all things to everyone, Seven Sharp ends up being neither flesh, fowl nor good fresh herring and satisfying no one.

If the programmes is to succeed, TVNZ and the producers of Seven Sharp are going to have to decide what it is. You can’t blame a loss of 200 thousand viewers in one week on the weather or a public holiday.

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  1. B.E., I love you and imma let you finish, but although I agree with some of your statements I think it’s only fair to give the show a go. It’s a new format, with talented presenters, and I am sure it will evolve over time. Can you follow up in a month or so perhaps?

    Disclaimer: comment fueled by pinot noir

    BE: The odd curious spelling but pretty reasonable if fuelled by pinot noir. And yes, I will follow up.

  2. …BE, I also really don’t know what category of programme Seven Sharp is trying to be but I do know that I very quickly got over being 12 when I turned 18 and commenced my broadcasting career in Wellington at RNZ HO initially in the news department producing news and current affairs…

    …the show’s opening item in the PM’s office toilet lost me straight away I’m afraid, zero credibility or any kind of authority at all which, are the key elements required for success in news services – this view was only supported the following night with nudest guy item and the comparisons of his crusades with Dr Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement…

    …deary me, in the 7:00pm time slot I am used to being informed, not entertained, Seven Sharp does neither for me – good luck to’em, but I’ll stick to getting my news from people who know what news is…

  3. Brian: you’so kind. 7# was rubbish.

    • Harsh, Don, harsh. But you have the distinction of being the first person to be welcomed into the amazing world of ‘comment threading’ where our conversations will all be kept together, as will contributors’ conversations with one another. Isn’t technology wonderful! Thanks to Lynn Prentice.

  4. Charlie Brooker explains why television is so expensive and yet so poor. The Screen Wipe Guide to TV (NSFW language) – it seems particularly appropriate when it comes to Seven Sharp

  5. @Don, but Brian explained why it is rubbish, and I think convincingly. It seems poorly conceived and its hosts left to struggle with an impossible format. Who is supposed to be the brains behind it who will propel it to success? Or will the three hosts just be left to blame themselves and each other?

  6. Julian Wilcox, Annabelle Lee- Harris, John Campbell
    Al Jazeer …. Brian Edwards….not sure what planet tvnz is on

    • I invariably feel guilty about failing to mention Julian Wilcox and Native Affairs when discussing quality television. It’s an omission I will have to remedy.

  7. No one can be accused of putting the boot into this dreck when the producer and presenters do it so spectacularly well, themselves.

  8. Good critique and insight,Brian: somehow, I’d never considered the demands of tweeters vs viewers before….

    I worked out on day one that it was a presenter’s nightmare, each seemingly taking a scripted sentence in rotation, then waiting for someone else to say something: it was a bloody shocker. and as you say, it’s worse for the audience. Also, I’m not interested in a tour of Key’s kitchenette or a story about a nude jogger at any time of day, and certainly not on prime time.

    I’d prefer the slot to be used for hard-arsed interviewing – public office, politics or business, two per half hour, by someone with the bedside manner of a starving hyena.

  9. The bland leading the bland

  10. Great stuff BE. Indeed this is a load. Even in the infotainment format it is a shocker. The only real dramatic tension in this show will be in how the producers eventually decide to try and fix it, or alternatively wind it up.

    If the go for the former, and make an attempt to fix it, we may be delivered some real though unintended comedy (comodey).

    To make it more entertaining, you could run a pool on who will be the first to be sacked.

  11. It reminded me of that god-awful American offering “The View”. Without the journalistic credibility.

  12. I tried it, I thought “it’s for kids” and went back to my by-appointment biddy&coot viewing of Time Team on the History Channel.

    It’s great being old. So much to learn.

  13. Departing news boss Ross Dagan must surely shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for the Seven Sharp fiasco. We’re told that it’s his baby after TVNZ charged him with bringing a younger audience to the 7pm slot. Younger, fresher, more web-savvy and presumably more affluent (appealing to advertisers). Dagan was quoted in the Herald this week as saying, “We’re giving viewers what they want.” Pray tell us Mr Dagan, exactly which flawed survey suggested that your viewers are looking for unintelligent, directionless, mindless drivel?

    We really shouldn’t blame the presenters. Away from this show, each of them comes across as competent and professional in their own fields. For a couple of autocue readers and a clown, they’re doing their best to fit into poorly defined roles within this confused dog of a format. The “We’re so cool” approach is at best embarrassing. “We’re so wired we’re into Facebook” is a bit dated and can only be designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Even if you ignore the cartoon-like graphics, scripted banter that’s not funny is oh so… eighties? Or is that seventies? Doh! Whatever!

    It’s hard to imagine the “yoof” audience tuning into TV1 to catch the new show, and surely someone at TVNZ must realise how actively they’re alienating a big chunk of the channel’s existing viewers.

    Meanwhile, only a single button press away, the Campbell Show is doing some sterling work. Who else is tracking the insurance companies’ filthy tactics in the disaster that is a Gerry-built Christchurch… or holding Hekia Perata to account for her department’s numerous and monumental ballsups? Current Affairs (capitalised) is alive and well in New Zealand. It’s only our state broadcaster which has lost all sense of direction.

    Ever since TVNZ was effectively taken over by marketing people, their News and CA teams have done their best to maintain standards. But nowadays even the Sunday show gets whacked in half to make way for some god-awful cooking or reality show that will attract ratings and pull in the advertisers.

    This show certainly marks a milestone in TVNZ’s ongoing plan to desert serious current affairs in the name of marketing. Hey, CloseUp wasn’t brilliant, but it was a damn sight better than this 7# nonsense. Mark Jennings and his team at TV3 must be creaming themselves.

    • Quite right. I fear we’re going to look back on ‘Close Up’ and say, ‘Those were the good old days.’

      • Quite right. I fear we’re going to look back on ‘Close Up’ and say, ‘Those were the good old days.’

        Please say it isn’t so…… That really makes me feel quite ill.

        Video is a wonderful medium for explaining things succinctly. But I swear that I can’t actually remember watching Close Up which really tells you how penetrating it’s stories were. Sunday and Campbell yes, often with irritation, but remember them I do. But generally the political debates (yes even those with Peter Dunne in them) contain more memories than most of our visual current affairs. Most of the time the radio NZ YA outperforms TV current affairs when it comes to helping me understand what in the hell is going on. Of course it doesn’t have ads breaking up the story arc.

  14. I still haven’t connected the TV aerial up so it is nice to find out that there still does not appear to be any urgency about it. :)

  15. Duggan has been quoted in the media this last week saying that ‘Seven Sharp’ is what the viewers want. Really! I’m curious to know on what basis he makes this claim. I was never asked.

    I also find it curious that the show is deliberately pitched to a younger cohort of viewers – a cohort that has relatively weak links to tv – rather than to older viewers who comprise a much larger group that is continuing to grow in size relative to younger viewers and who have a stronger attachment to tv.

    I get that Duggan wants the show to be cool and contemporary and social media savvy. Desperately so. The most bizarre moment of the show this week for me was when the three presenters held their Ipads up for the viewers to see, pretended to read them while addressing the viewers by camera at the same time. It looked, to use a phrase their ideal audience might use – “try hard”. Actually it was gormless. No meaningful information was communicated, the social media comments were bland and about as interesting and intelligent as last week’s cabbage soup. Just a nonsense.

    Duggan also said that this was the way of current affairs in the future. I haven’t noticed the BBC, CNN, Sky, or even Fox delivering current affairs in this way. He must be on something

    • One of the most curious things to me is the TV networks obsession with the 18 – 49 age group. The theory seems to be that these are the people who buy things and the group to whom programmes and the advertising that goes with them must be directed. I can assure them that the 50+ audience are people with a lot of disposable income and really ought not to be neglected.

      • I agree.

        The other aspect to this that defies logic and reality is that our population is aging. This means that increasingly there are absolutely, indisputably, greater numbers of people who are over 45 than under 45. The demographers tell us that that this trend will continue for at least two to three decades to come.

        Taking your point that the 50+’s increasingly have greater disposable income, and adding in the fact that they are more committed to watching tv, its a no brainer that this is potentially the better cohort to be pitching to if you want higher viewer numbers and sales.

        It makes me wonder on which planet the network marketing people live.

  16. Shane Taurima and Greg Boyed show great intelligence and appropriate journalistic zeal when interviewing- tvnz’s best talent- in my opinion – to be nurtured and showcased , so the latter is wasted on such a twaddle of a program as this seven sharp. Perhaps tvnz sees this as a doomed stop gap after letting the illustrious Mark Sainsbury mistakenly go! It must if it has pitted such a clearly dubious half hour against the cast-drink-at-drop-of-hat alcohol lobbyist delight of a soap on its other Chanel- but who knows! It brought on such ennui upon trying to give it a fair go watching live for four days that one was immensely grateful for mysky and the bombastic and entertaining Eastenders on UKTV to reenergise with.

  17. This might be hard for some people to believe, but we don’t get out of bed everyday to make crap TV. Yes, Seven Sharp has improvements to make, we get that. It’s a new format and it’ll take time to settle. We read and listen to all feedback, good and bad, and take it on board.

    The Seven Sharp team are a hardworking, dedicated bunch of journalists. We are trying something different and each and every one of us wants to hang onto current affairs in the 7pm slot.

    Reality is, television is a very different game now to the one Brian played (I know Brian is very aware of this). We have to make television that people want to watch, we hope Seven Sharp will develop into a show a broad range of New Zealanders love but only time will tell.

    We are doing our best but people need to be patient – this is a new team working in a new format being asked to deliver stories in a different way to a changing audience.

    In short, we hear you, and we are listening but we ask for some time before you write us off completely.

    • A very reasonable and helpful comment, Briar. Thank you. I’ve actually tried in this post not to dismiss the programme but actually to identify reasons why it may not be working. Just for the record, almost all of my television career has been on live and extremely high-rating programmes. This is probably before your time, but Edwards on Saturday, which ran for two years (1975/76) was a live, open-ended talk-show on One with interviews, debates, audience participation, music and satire. In its first year it generated ratings of 33% at midnight. It was followed in 1997 by Fair Go, also then live, which, as you know, is still running. So I’m not likely to be opposed to the idea trying to win a large audience. I can also understand that all this negativity must be disheartening. I would only add that some at least of the criticism may be worth listening to. Best of luck. Brian

      • When was the last time TVNZ listened to criticism?

      • 17.1.2

        Thanks Brian, yes see you aren’t dismissing – we do listen to critics and work on improving where we can.

        A 33% share! That kind of result we dream of! Although, I have to get one win in here… Sunday did a 36% share last night.

        We’ll keep working on it, hope you keep watching.

    • 17.2

      Weak and highly defensive response from someone clearly out of their depth. Always helps to have a solid educated background in journalism. Could it be your need to please a ‘committee’ of managers, by employing comedians, has outweighed any interest in true nightly current affairs and .. oh… journalism? The evidence is abundantly clear with the rubbish you’ve forced upon a loyal television one viewers. Shame on you.

    • With respect – for such a premium time slot- experimentation / trial and error at the expense of the citizenry seems incredibly arrogant . If you are doing your job then research would have been conducted long ago and this or any program in this time slot would have gone on sir all guns blazing. First step – what on earth is your show about ? Who are its targets? And next – do yourselves a favour and dispense with the blank shot that serves as co- host to Greg and Alison and then you have a starting point with suitable gravitas- do you not already have a bantam weight show in ” good morning” ? Good lord!

      • 17.3.1

        Completely agree Shaana… This isn’t a timeslot to “give it a go” That means the management team are unsure of themselves..or the show. They should be given the boot. But they’ll keep their jobs.

    • Briar

      You are mapping a pathway as to where you want the audience to go, as opposed to delineating a clear path as to the direction where the audience really wants to head towards.
      In other words, TVNZ is defining the needs as opposed to reflecting them. If the overwhelming hostile negativity of the audience responses to Seven Sharp hasn’t convinced you of the massive blunder, then, you’re not only inured to this folly but impervious to it as well. Right now, TVNZ has blindly positioned itself where the paths of Arrogance and Ignorance, intersect.

    • Content deleted

    • I’m sorry, journalists you say? When was this show ever about journalism. I can understand that might be spin to get you through but you’re truly creating some fiction here. The fact is the show is not working despite your efforts and that happens in television. What looked good on paper has not translated to the screem.

  18. I thought the the non-TV watches were a minority but a quick glance at the Nielsen stats (I’m sure others here have a much better feed) seem to say that only 35-40% of the 5+ population is watching between from 6-6:30pm and just 25-30% of the population between 7pm and 7:30.

    Of course it is worse in the 25-54 demographic with less than 10% watch either show (and another 15-20% watch Shortland Street).

    It would the people who watch Seven Sharp about about the same demographic and number as New Zealand First voters.

    • Nope – we broadcast TV avoiders are a rapidly growing minority. Think about it. What do we watch TV for?

      News? Well if I’m on the net as I am most of the day, at the very least my phone bleeps whenever someone sends me a story of interest on facebook or twitter. If people send me crap too often then I remove them from the bleeps. I can see anything I want to before the story makes the evening news many hours later.

      In the unusual event that the news has something exclusive then the blogs or other social media will alert me to see it after the broadcast when I have time. And I don’t have to duffer through noisy dumb ads.

      Programs? Just up the road I have VideoEzy with its box sets. My BluRay player plays QuickFlix direct to my TV. There is always Mighty Ape. And I can check out what other people I respect has said about programs just before I get the damn thing. Hell I can pull in reasonable segments to see if it looks ok. Umm why am I watching ads?

      My biggest resource shortage is time. I’m reluctant to discard this valuable resource on adverts and broken atory arcs.

  19. In the early nineties the really rather large firm I was working with was gobbled up by an even larger organisation. We (all the troops from the firm about to be gobbled) were invited to wine and nibbles at the Sheraton in Auckland one evening. As it transpired this was the big announcement. The large fish from the big organisation were there being very friendly towards us smaller fry. The largest fish of them all, the CEO, arose to the lectern to speak first. He did not introduce himself. He just presumed everyone knew who he was. Sure, everyone probably did know who he was but one of the fellow small fish, sitting right beside me, soon put up his hand to ask a question. “Who are you?”

    I think Briar McCormack has just done the same thing. I have no idea who Briar McCormack is. She didn’t introduce herself and clearly we are supposed to know who she is and sit up and take note. So I Googled her name and found out where she fits in all of this – she’s the TVNZ Current Affairs Editor.

    Anyway, Briar says “The Seven Sharp team are a hardworking, dedicated bunch of journalists. We are trying something different and each and every one of us wants to hang onto current affairs in the 7pm slot.” Sorry but that is a tad arrogant. The older I get the more intolerant I become of those who try to deflect the reasons for failure on to the customer. “We’re hard working, therefore you should watch” is what she’s just said. Sorry Briar but this customer has gone elsewhere.

    I long for the days of good old fashioned hard interviews on our publicly funded channel – the sort that John Campbell and Julian Wilcox (surely the best CA interviewer on NZ television right now) still seem able to deliver. So I disagree with her claim that “…television is a very different game now to the one Brian played (I know Brian is very aware of this (read as “so DON’T argue about that Brian”))”. If she’s right, Campbell and Wilcox will sink and die. And if she’s wrong?

    Removing Briar and the TVNZ management from the question of why Seven Sharp exists, I’m a little disappointed that the publicly funded channel sees CA as entertainment and not an opportunity to bring the hard, investigative stories to us. Perhaps their funder tells them not to?

    • OK, but please don’t forget the brief TVNZ has from the government is to make a profit and return a dividend to them. When the Charter went they had no brief to foster public broadcasting, let alone quality current affairs.

      • Lack of charter hasn’t inhibited TV3. I gave up watching One News years ago when it decided to give only its interpretation of statistics rather than the facts – which often failed to support said interpretation.

        • You’re correct about TV3 and the Charter. But, even without a charter, there is an expectation from both the government and the public (including people like me) that “Television New Zealand”, has some obligation to “public service” broadcasting. The irony is that TV3, which has every right to adopt a totally commercial stance, is offering far superior journalism in peak time than its rivals. And we mustn’t forget Maori Television.

  20. I find the ping pong of a pair of presenters annoying, unneccesary and distracting and when substance is paltry. No surprise then when the number increases and the substance decreases – you get a trio of trite.

  21. I must be getting old but I do yearn for the days when a CA interviewer
    Asked a politician like Key the hard questions and expected an
    Mind he is one who isn’t likely to appear on TV and be exposed for
    what he really is , is he?

    • Interesting how the PM can appear on and effectively sponsor Seven Sharp, but pretty well no-one from the government, least of all their Cabinet Ministers, will appear on Campbell Live.

      • 21.1.1

        Steven Joyce does. So does Gerry Brownlee. And I think Tony Ryall from memory. Possibly the most competent only.

  22. Ms McCormack’s comment is quite irritating. “We are doing our best but people need to be patient”. How condescending.

    If I buy a crap product at Mitre 10 I don’t expect to be told to be patient. I expect the company to have sorted out what’s a good product before they stock it.

    “This is a new team working in a new format being asked to deliver stories in a different way to a changing audience”. Asked by whom? Sales and marketing, no doubt.

    I didn’t much like Close Up but it seemed a reasonable foundation to broaden out and include new media, new thinking and new approaches. As it is, the baby went out with the bathwater and TVNZ effectively is giving the finger to huge numbers of New Zealanders who want more than high school production values at 7 p.m.

    Whatever you think of the new Fair Go, it very cleverly and very carefully (I imagine) changed over the years from a pretty straightforward programme into something bright and breezy without losing its core integrity.

    Quite seriously, the new programme at 7 p.m. might have had some appeal for an after school audience (I don’t mean that disparagingly) but certainly not for adults.

    I watched with two of my adult children and a friend (age range 19 to 24) and they thought it was utterly juvenile.

    I am sure the Seven Sharp team are “a hard-working, dedicated bunch of journalists”, as Ms McCormack says. But it’s clear their skills are being abused and I imagine there is some embarrassment about that.

  23. Well, we watched again tonight, trying to give it a “fair go”. I’m sorry but we (me and two adult children, 19 and 23) were unanimous: it’s just embarrassing to watch.

  24. Tonight’s two competing shows may both be worth watching to compare how each handles the history-making story that is the Pope’s resignation. This may be a fortuitous opportunity for Seven Sharp to redeem itself. Or perhaps Cambell Live may decide to give people what they are asking for, according to TVNZ.

    PS now I know this is pedantic but I do think a TVNZ Current Affairs Editor could show a better grasp on the English language that that demonstrated above. She says “The Seven Sharp team are a hardworking, dedicated bunch of journalists.” Uh oh! The boss should know that “The Seven Sharp team IS a hardworking, dedicated bunch of journalists.”

    • My bet is 7# will not mention it (unless as aprt of some joke). I also doubt (but not quite so sure) whether CL will pay it much attention.

      And as for all these improvements being promised by Briar M, these do not change the fact that this is a lightweight offering for those whose brains have the consistency orf chewing gum.

      I hardly thing the 30% audience is a cause for celebration. That 30% is probably the brain dead portion of the population; the same proportion who watch a test card.

    • “Team” is a collective noun, and can be used in either a plural or singular form; as with family, company, audience etc. So, Briar isn’t wrong with her grammar.

    • @ John Stokes
      Uh oh! The dangers of pedantry! Check the OED or Fowler for enlightenment.

  25. Tonight was the first time I have viewed ‘Seven Sharp’. Based on previous comment here I expected a disaster but admit I quite enjoyed the variety. It is not an intellectual heavyweight but I’m sure it’s not intended to be. It is also aimed at an age demographic far younger than myself but that did preclude me in any way. Getting younger viewers on board must be desperately hard. But my opinion is probably worthless because I liked Mark Sainsbury also. His do gooder opponent Campbell was too overtly sincere for me, and I think would have made a better Pope.

    • 25.1

      Tonight was a classic Campbell “fail”, I thought. His interview with Winston over Prosser’s article was simply an exhibition of his own bombastic outrage which contributed exactly nothing to either information or understanding about the issue.

      Paul Holmes would have been far more intelligent and interesting.

  26. Last night’s (24 April 2013) Seven Sharp showed me just how intolerant, the so called “tolerant” ones are. If you have an opinion which is different to theirs, they will be “bully” like in their put downs. The so called “open minded” ones are extremely closed minded and hate anyone who doesn’t conform to their way of thinking.