What Now is a wild place to be in the early hours of Sunday morning. As they eagerly await the chance to see the number one kids' TV show in the country, young peeps' cheering can be heard loud and clear from outside Whitebait Studios in Christchurch. Having grown up with the show, we all know it well, but what is it like to actually work there? TEARAWAY Maverick KATE SPENCE went backstage to find out.
What Now has been one of New Zealand’s favourite TV shows for over 30 years. Generations of Kiwi kids have been waking up early on Sunday mornings to watch celebrity interviews, whacky skits and all-round gungy mayhem.
As soon as you walk in, you realise what a large operation it is producing a live, national television show. You can’t help but be wowed by the ensemble of props and costumes. Complete with wigs, a full-on kitchen layout, Antarctic tents, a Hägglund truck – and a dog running around – this isn’t your everyday work office.
It’s all business for the presenters Gemma Knight, Adam Percival and Ronnie Taulafo though, as they quickly get into position for their first set. With witty lines and prop facial hair, they promptly get the crew laughing with a wee skit. So begins a day full of high energy and creative sketches. The young audience are balls of energy, obviously excited to see the stars at work. One young boy is so excited to receive a high five from Gemma, he looks like he might pass out.
Putting it All Together: How a Show is Made
The preparation starts on the Tuesday. We debrief the previous show before having a creative meeting to plan the show coming up. We script the entire show on a Tuesday afternoon and we spend the rest of the week bringing it to life with edits, rehearsals, pre-recorded skits, and meetings. Although all this work goes into a script, we do a lot of ad-libbing and changes on the Sunday.
So You Want to be a TV Presenter? Gemma's Advice...
Why do you want to work in TV? If it is to get rich and famous, turn back now! No matter what your dream job is, you have to love the act of doing that job, not the side effects that job may have.
With my job, the show is the cherry on top, but is really just a small percentage of what we do. The majority of time we are working very hard, both in meetings and at our desks. It’s not unusual to stay at work till 9:00pm, or arrive at 6:00am.
Make sure you are going to enjoy the process, or the 'boring bits' of the job. That way your happiness won’t depend on your success; you’ll just be happy doing what you love.
Curious about a career in TV? Check out the TVNZ website for a list of places you could study.
TV presenting seems a world of fun. However, it’s only a few who can brave the early mornings and still have enough energy to get the whole crowd dancing. Gemma’s been doing this for four years now, but how did she find herself here?
At just 18, Gemma was thrust into the role as a TV presenter, after winning a competition to become What Now’s next big star. She managed to wow the judges with her spicy saxophone skills and lovable personality, but she still had some pretty big shoes to fill; those in the role before her include Jason Gunn, Simon Barnett, Jason Fa’afoi, and Tumehe Rongonui.
Four years on, Gem has more than proved herself. So what's it really like being a TV presenter?
What gets you excited to get up in the morning and go to work?
My job is essentially to make people smile; how cool is that? Every single day is different. Some days I might spend a day at my desk researching and writing, others I might be interviewing someone from a movie or feeding a lion. The one thing that remains constant is the reason why we do this; to make people smile. It’s a real privilege to get to do something so simple and so full of happiness.
Did you ever comprehend being on TV before applying for What Now?
To be honest, I didn’t. I’ve been doing drama for years but I’ve always been afraid to take it to the next level; acting as a career has always seemed like the unattainable dream. I’ve been lucky to learn that if you really love something, you just need to go and do it. It’s as simple as that.
What prepared you for being on TV?
Nothing can really prepare you for the life of live television – except for live television! I really did start in the deep end here, which means I have learnt so much. In saying, that I look back on my younger years and think that all those home-made movies, dance shows I made my family sit through, and obsessions with musicals such as Mamma Mia! must have contributed somehow.
What’s the worst outfit you’ve had to wear while on What Now?
I have dressed as a granny, a French chef, a frog, an elderly icecream shop man, a pregnant Kate Middleton, Justin Bieber, a cave woman… the list goes on. There’s no such thing as a bad outfit here; the bad ones are often the funniest.
What do you think about before going on screen?
Most of the time I’m thinking about the parts of the link (a 'segment' of the show). There's about 90 links per show, which is a lot to remember. Our breaks in between are often one or two minutes, which is just enough time to check the next bit and make sure everything is set.
Do you ever get nervous about being on camera?
Yes and no. The great thing about TV is there may be 200,000 people watching… and you wouldn’t know! I like to pretend I’m just hanging out with one viewer – it makes it a little less daunting. If we are doing something particularly scary, such as eating locusts, it’s very easy for the stomach to start churning.
What would a normal day in the life of Gemma be like?
There is no such thing as normal day! You step in the office doors and there will be a nerf gun battle happening, or a Beyoncé singalong. By lunchtime, you might have already recorded a skit as the Queen of England, before heading out to a school in the afternoon to meet some cool young people. The What Now office has a very 'anything can happen' electricity about it; you learn how to go with the flow.
What has been the best thing you’ve been able to do with your job?
Getting to meet so many amazing people. Our country is full of talented, witty, and outrageously adorable young people and our job is to put them in the spotlight. It’s so cool to hang with inspirational young Kiwis, not just the ones doing big things like saving whales or stopping bullying, but also the ones that just show up to the studio with that look in their eye that says; “I am so happy to be here and happy to be alive and now I’m going to shake my legs around and dance because I’m happy!”
Food: Chicken noodle soup
Person: The author Mitch Albom
Memory: The day I found out I got the job on What Now
Country: New Zealand
Hobby: Reading, and having cups of tea with my amazing friends