Project man­age­ment:

What does it take to make a half-hour weeknightly show? Sarah Nealon goes be­hind the scenes of The Project to find out.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

Be­hind the scenes on the set of The Project.

Watch­ing The Project from the com­fort of your own home, it might seem like an easy show to put to­gether.

Usu­ally there is a sum­mary of the day’s news, some ban­ter from its hosts Kanoa Lloyd, Jeremy Cor­bett and Jesse Mul­li­gan, a cou­ple of in-stu­dio in­ter­views with spe­cial guests, pre-recorded items and a gig­gle at a vi­ral video or two.

But don’t be fooled. This is a care­fully mapped-out show in which, in the rat­ings-driven world of prime-time tele­vi­sion, ev­ery sec­ond counts.

Around 30 peo­ple work on The Project on Three and on one par­tic­u­lar Wed­nes­day I’m al­lowed to spend the day at the show’s head­quar­ters.

I ar­rive at 9.40am when only a few peo­ple are in the build­ing’s large open-plan of­fice on the ground floor.

Near the en­trance is a ded­i­cated space for cy­clists, such as Mul­li­gan, to park their bikes up­right.

One area of wall in the mid­dle of the room is dec­o­rated with A4-sized photos from the show which in­clude a va­ri­ety of celebrity guests.

The day kicks off with a 10am meet­ing in a room up­stairs. Ac­tu­ally that’s not quite true.

At 7.45am The Project’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jon Bridges had a con­fer­ence call at home with a few staff mem­bers to dis­cuss any news that may be rel­e­vant to the show.

Bridges nor­mally heads the mid-morn­ing meet­ing but to­day he has taken his five-year-old son to the doc­tor, so su­per­vis­ing pro­ducer Dick Wy­brow takes the reins.

Seated around a long skinny ta­ble are a group of mostly pro­duc­ers. (The Project’s hosts don’t ar­rive in the of­fice un­til the af­ter­noon.)

Wy­brow sits near a wall-mounted mon­i­tor dis­play­ing a spread­sheet of seg­ments from the pre­vi­ous night’s show.

He asks for feed­back about yes­ter­day’s episode and the con­ver­sa­tion soon turns to shows on Three (the chan­nel on which The Project screens) which have been men­tioned on The Project this week.

So far there have been pieces cov­er­ing The Block and Mar­ried At First Sight plus a pod­cast

made by a New­shub re­porter. A pro­ducer re­marks, “It feels lazy”.

To be fair she has a point. Some­times it seems like The Project is an ad­ver­tis­ing ve­hi­cle for other Three pro­grammes.

“I don’t mind cross-pro­mo­tion if it’s done in an in­ter­est­ing way,” adds the pro­ducer.

On that note, tonight’s show fea­tures Jeremy Cor­bett at a re­tire­ment vil­lage vis­it­ing three women who ap­pear on Gog­gle­box.

Other items planned for tonight’s episode in­clude a pre-recorded in­ter­view about a for­mer SAS mem­ber who was wounded in Afghanistan plus a chat with vis­it­ing Aus­tralian co­me­dian Greg Fleet.

There is also a story around adop­tion law fea­tur­ing a gay cou­ple, their baby son Fran­cis and the sur­ro­gate mother.

The idea for this story seemed to be sparked by me­dia re­ports about Toni Street whose third child, Lach­lan, was born by sur­ro­gate.

She wrote on so­cial me­dia about the dif­fi­cul­ties of adopt­ing her son who is her bi­o­log­i­cal child.

“Can we get Toni Street on the show?” asks some­one.

“She’s still heav­ily af­fil­i­ated with TVNZ,” says some­one else.

Even­tu­ally it is de­cided Street won’t be needed.

At mid­day I’m back in the same room for what’s known as the ‘long form meet­ing’.

This time Bridges is present along with a cou­ple of other pro­duc­ers and Hal Craw­ford, Me­di­aWorks’ chief news of­fi­cer.

Pro­duc­ers talk about in­ves­tiga­tive sto­ries they have in the pipe­line and Craw­ford is con­cerned that one may come across as “pa­tro­n­is­ing” so the idea is shelved.

The next two meet­ings are de­voted to the comedic el­e­ments of The Project and in­clude dis­cus­sions around funny video clips and photos. At­ten­dees in­clude co­me­di­ans and writ­ers Me­lanie Bracewell, Paul Dou­glas and Tony Lyall. It is up to this trio to write some, but not all, of the show’s witty lines.

At 4pm – just when I thought I was ‘meetinged’ out – there is an­other one around that same nar­row ta­ble.

A food plat­ter made up of dark choco­late, rice crack­ers, car­rots, hum­mus, salted peanuts and other tasty treats sits smack-bang in the mid­dle – for the ben­e­fit of the show’s guest or fourth host which is West­side ac­tress An­to­nia Preb­ble.

Also present are The Project’s three main hosts – Kanoa Lloyd, Jeremy Cor­bett and Jesse Mul­li­gan – plus Bridges and the show’s di­rec­tor.

Ev­ery­one is given a piece of pink pa­per on which the evening’s episode is laid out in spread­sheet form.

There is a chat about how the show will work and Preb­ble is asked if there is any­thing she wants to say on cam­era.

She is happy to chat about her en­gage­ment (to her West­side co-star Dan Mus­grove) but Mul­li­gan ad­vises her to hold back on a few things.

“Save it for us on the desk,” he says re­fer­ring to the curved bench the three hosts sit be­hind on The Project’s set.

By 5pm the hosts are in the stu­dio ready to film pro­mo­tional ad­ver­tise­ments for tonight’s episode.

It is also a chance to re­hearse the show be­fore live film­ing be­gins at 7pm.

Dur­ing the re­hearsal Mul­li­gan ques­tions a line which ref­er­ences adop­tion law. “Can we use ‘out-of-date’ in­stead of ar­chaic?” he asks. “You’ve re­ally got a bee in your bonnet about this,” teases Cor­bett. The re­hearsal goes smoothly and crew mem­bers sit at the desk to stand in for guests like Greg Fleet, one of the gay dads and the sur­ro­gate mother. A box of tis­sues is cheek­ily sub­sti­tuted for baby Fran­cis. After re­hearsal I have a quick chat with Bridges who talks about how he and his team de­cide which sto­ries to run on The Project. “The two most im­por­tant things are choos­ing the right story and choos­ing the right treat­ment for the story,” he says. At 6.45pm the au­di­ence is seated in the stu­dio and writer and co­me­dian Tony Lyall runs through some house rules. The hosts soon en­ter the TV set and just be­fore film­ing be­gins, Mul­li­gan is­sues an apol­ogy. Nor­mally the hosts hang around after the show to have photos with peo­ple who have come to watch The Project be­ing filmed but Mul­li­gan won’t be do­ing that tonight. His five-year-old daugh­ter has bro­ken her arm and he wants to get straight home to his fam­ily. The live show runs like a well-oiled ma­chine and half an hour seems to fly by. Be­sides the hosts, the guests and the pro­duc­tion crew, credit must also be given to the de­tailed spread­sheets. All that metic­u­lous plan­ning was clearly worth it.

Kanoa Lloyd and Jesse Mul­li­gan

Jeremy Cor­bett

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