Pop CultureSeptember 28, 2017

Turns out WNTV actually happened and was even weirder than you remember


Fifteen years after it entertained Kiwi kids during that neverending void between school and dinner, Maha Albadrawi and Lucy Zee remember the meta mayhem of WNTV. 

Every millennial Kiwi remembers What Now in the early 2000s. Everyone remembers Fiona Anderson giving away popcorn machines, everyone remembers Jason Fa’afoi in drag, everyone remembers Carolyn Taylor’s perky smile and tight t-shirts.

But for some reason, no one remembers Antonia Prebble’s year-long tenure as host of the afterschool spinoff show WNTV, back in 2002. What began as a live show for kids became a scripted, pre-recorded comedy-drama with actors playing recurring characters and a storyline that completely defied logic.

To try and make some sense of this hazy childhood memory, we set out to find a complete episode to watch.

Unfortunately, like most New Zealand television shows which aired before 2011, it’s impossible to find a full episode of WNTV online. Even though approximately 200 episodes went to air in 2002, the show’s only digital presence exists in the middle of a showreel and a couple of screen credits here and there.

It seems ridiculous, but it turned out to be easier to access the show’s star Antonia Prebble than it was to find any episodes online.

In between other, glossier press interviews, being the star of shows like ‘Westside’, and filming a new TV show in Melbourne, the lovely and incredibly talented Antonia Prebble graciously spared a few minutes to talk about her first stint as a presenter.

After wrapping on the iconic NZ show The Tribe, Antonia was finishing up high school and found herself in a position familiar to many: being a teenager with braces. Although acting opportunities had to be put on hold, she auditioned for WNTV and found herself perfectly placed to host for children. “The producer said having braces was probably a positive thing, because it’ll help kids who do have braces feel better about it.”

Since we couldn’t find any episodes online, we thought that Toni, as the host of the actual show, could confirm the two main points that we were pretty sure we could remember of the show:

  1. That it was a scripted comedy-drama in which Toni was the presenter of a kids’ show
  2. There was an element of magical realism.

Toni confirmed BOTH of these points.

“The concept was that I came home from school, and then went into my bedroom and there was a TV studio there, which I then walked into and became the host of an after school TV show. So there was definitely a few logic flaws in that system,” she laughs.

“But once we’d established that those were the rules of this universe that we were in, that was just what we did. There was a wacky cocktail of characters who had behind-the-scenes roles at this TV station. All of this became strangely normal once we’d accepted that this is the show that we were making.”

Having now confirmed with the host of the show that what we remembered was real, and not the result of a mass hallucination, we can now confidently recreate the surreal experience of watching this show.

Imagine you’re a tween. It’s the turn of the millennium so ‘surfing the net’ was probably not an option. You would come home from school, switch on the TV at 3.30pm, and you would see Toni getting home at the same time. She would enter her room, just like you did every day, but with one key difference: her bedroom was a portal to a TV studio in which a kids show was in production.

There were moments in which she was a standard presenter, introducing cartoons and what not. Suddenly, the facade would drop and you were thrust into the scripted backstage goings-on of the children’s show, WNTV. Which was actually… the show that you were watching. Mindfuck.

Antonia recalls being present when show writers Pip Hall and Anna Kennedy were still developing the characters. Anna quickly became part of the cast, and arguably the most memorable and weirdest of the bunch – Wanda Bra, a sassy, mean-spirited, fame-hungry makeup artist who was gunning for her own show. We saw bits of the show within WNTV: a talk show called ‘Wanda’s Way’, basically millennial kids’ answer to their own parents’ guilty pleasures like Ricki Lake and Jerry Springer.

In a convoluted, Inception-like turn of events, ‘Wanda’s Way’ became its own show. So now… ‘Wanda’s Way’ was a show within a show, which ended up being its own standalone show. Which means that technically, every time you watched ‘Wanda’s Way’, you were peering into the mind of a schoolgirl named Toni.

How. Meta. Is. That.

To illustrate the absurdity of ‘Wanda’s Way’, (and, once again, to prove to ourselves that this wasn’t a hallucination) here’s a link to the only surviving episode available online.

Antonia says she had a really positive experience on the show. The experience helped her discover that she loved presenting, and it forced her to develop a key acting skill: “It helped me remember lines really well. We’d shoot 70 links (the bits where she’d present to camera) a day, and I had to learn the lines one after the other. My ‘learning lines quickly’ muscle was well honed on that job.”

Since then, Antonia has become one of New Zealand’s most prolific actors, starring in shows like Outrageous Fortune, Westside and The Blue Rose. And we have this weird, long-forgotten and nonsensical little show – which no one seems to remember – to thank for helping launch her career.

What we love most about Toni’s tenure on the show is that she represented the quintessential early 2000’s teen – she was just like us. Her aesthetic was futuristic, metallic and asymmetrical. We’d survived the anti-climax of Y2K, but still had the Mad Max cyber-punk outfits we were gonna wear when shit went apocalyptic (think Freestyler,Stellar, TruBliss). We’d burned all of our fave songs from CDs and saved them onto our mp3 players, helped our parents do the same, and always carried our fave glitter Lip Smackers (which doubled as shimmer eye shadow).

Our heroes were smart, thoughtful young women who marched to their own beat: think Lizzie McGuire, Moesha, Nickelodeon’s Taina, and Raven Symone. Locally, we’d just finished watching the excellent Being Eve, a relatable show about a 15 year-old philosopher. Toni fits into this lineup of millennial heroines, caught somewhere between the analog and digital age, having survived Y2K and now getting on with the complicated business of being a kid in a rapidly-changing world.

Sadly, WNTV only lasted a year. Perhaps the show-within-a-show-inside-a-teen’s head format was a little was too meta for an audience of 6-13 year olds . Perhaps those who were involved simply went on to bigger and better things. Either way, maybe the few who do remember it could rustle up those shiny, asymmetrical Glassons top, put on our the platform sandals and chokers, get together sometime and piece together a whole episode!

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