How do you move your news-stuffed, comedian-packed game show to Zoom? Sam Brooks talked to Hayley Sproull, host of Have You Been Paying Attention?, to find out.
Over the last five weeks we’ve all become a lot more comfortable seeing inside the homes of our colleagues, politicians and epidemiologists. And while television has always been in our living room, now we’re in the odd situation of being in television’s living room too, as Covid-19 has forced many of our most beloved television shows out of the studio and onto the couch.
Since its last show on March 18, the comedy news quiz Have You Been Paying Attention?, one of the least physically distanced shows on television, hasn’t been able to shoot. And it’s left a large, light-hearted hole in our daily news consumption that’s been morbidly dominated by the coronavirus. But now Have You Been Paying Attention? is on its way back – with a few format changes.
The new episodes will be shot on Zoom, the app that has wormed its way into our hearts and onto our laptops. Rather than comedians almost literally rubbing shoulders with each other, they’ll be in their individual houses. The internet provides.
I talked to host Hayley Sproull about what these changes entail, the challenges of Zoom, and what she’s most excited for when we no longer have to think about alert levels.
(Full disclosure: Hayley and I are friends, and we’ve seen about as much of each other during lockdown, safely distanced, as is reasonable. This interview reflects that!)
Sam Brooks: So how did the conversation about moving to shooting in lockdown start?
Hayley Sproull: Like pretty much all shows, we couldn’t be on air, and we used the time off air to try to brainstorm lots of different ways so that when the lockdown rules were lightened, we were able to offer something, rather than having to wait until we got back to the studio.
We had conversations with the creators of the show in Australia, Working Dog, but they have the luxury of having slightly different, slightly more flexible lockdown laws than us. That allowed their host, Tom, to be in the studio and then have the contestants at home, and it was working for them.
We wanted to do our own version of that, so we just thought to try all of us at home, including me. We all went on Zoom and recorded the session, then uploaded it to our poor editor, Tim, who had to put it all together on his own. Six different cameras’ worth of footage. It was crazy.
That sounds like a bloody nightmare.
We did just a trial where we recorded half a show, with friends and staff. We were all really proud of it and it had such a cool feeling, seeing everyone’s stuff and living rooms. Everyone’s looking a little bit rough around the edges, it’s safe to say. Most of the women are going to be coming on with a bit of mince and cheese hair happening – myself leading the charge on that.
But we did that trial version and we thought, “Actually, this is really cool.” We took it back to TVNZ and went, “What do you reckon?” And they were on board.
Everybody’s talking about Covid, not surprisingly. It’s dominating the news right now, which kind of dictates how the show might go. But there’s gotta be that split between Covid and non-Covid stuff, right?
We like to think of the show as a news quiz show first and a comedy show second. So ideally it’s you watch it and you’ll be entertained, but you could also watch it and get your news for the week from it.
With that in mind, we would be so wrong to not address Covid-19 as it is the biggest news story in the world. But of course we’re wanting to keep it light, we’re wanting to keep it entertaining. So, we’re trying to cover the major points of the news, and not just dwell on Covid-19 stories of the week. There’s still lots of other things happening in the world too.
You’re filming in your house. What the hell is that going to be like?
Well, I’m lucky because my boyfriend Aaron works in the film and TV industry. Usually in the show I would be in the studio and there would be a whole control room operating all the clips, the media and all that kind of stuff and the contestants can see and hear it.
Now Aaron doing it on a PowerPoint display. The creators of the show give Aaron a script and the PowerPoint and so he just has to, well, PowerPoint along with me in the lounge. He also has to press record, make sure that I sound all right and tell me if my hair is getting flat.
I’m going to do my own hair and makeup.
If I don’t look as good, that’s definitely because a professional hasn’t done it! I’m wearing the one suit that I physically own myself until I can get some more suits dropped off, so it’s going to be interesting.
I honestly feel like anything could happen and if it all goes wrong, I’ll enjoy it equally.
It’s quite funny, opening up your house and letting people see inside your home and your personality. You’ve been to my house, I’ve got a lot of stuff and personality there. I think people are going to be like, does she live in a gypsy trailer?
The thing about Zoom is that we’re suddenly letting people in our houses in such an intimate way. I’ve had to set up a specific Zoom zone, so I have proper three-point lighting around me. We’ve become used to letting so many people, whether they’re co-workers or even close friends, into our homes. I kind of hate it!
I know. And you’re so right how quickly we adapt to it. Now with you and a couple of other friends, we just have a weekly Zoom and we organise it by going: “Okay, so what about tonight? Here we go!”
And now we’re filming shows on Zoom.
Do you guys think that you’ll take some of the things that you’ve had to innovate and learn from this, well, Zoom period back to the studio show again?
I think so. I mean, I’m not sure how that looks. I think it could definitely open us up to maybe have contestants who don’t necessarily have to come to New Zealand or get quizmasters who are in America or something.
I think that we’re really enjoying what we’re creating now and it’s going to be so weird to then go, “OK, we’ll stick Hayley in the studio.”
I can’t even imagine now going back to shoulder to shoulder comedians and a packed crowd of 80 people. It just seems absurd.
There’s also something to be said about the energy that comes with that packed crowd – that you can feed off of them, and vice versa. How do you, as a host who is largely driving the show, bring that energy to a Zoom?
I think that was probably our biggest concern. Because if you’ve got no laughs, you’ve got no energy feeding the comedians or feeding the show in any way. I think the thing that works to our advantage, that hasn’t been working for some other game shows overseas that have been trying a similar way, is the speed of it.
We can create energy in the game itself without needing to pause for laughter or necessarily needing that audience laughter to keep the energy alive. Whereas there’s some other game shows that are struggling with the loss of audience because they run at a slower pace and you really feel those gaps.
In terms of being a host, it’ll just be my job as per usual, which is keeping the thing moving, keeping it trucking along and keeping the contestants in line and moving forward. Because per show or per record, we record between 90 and 100 questions.
That’s too much news. What’s the thing you’re most excited about doing post-lockdown? At alert level two and one, or knock wood, zero, what’s the thing where you’re like, “I most want to do this?”
I’ve enjoyed the time off but I think I’m such a social person and an extrovert. I just want to touch people and be in a public loud environment because it just feeds my energy. It feeds my internal energy, being in a pack. I just want to see my friends in a big group, I want to sit on the stoop of the Basement Theatre and drink wine and just talk face to face, touching and hugging my friends.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
You can watch Have You Been Paying Attention? at 8.30pm on TVNZ 2 tonight, April 29.