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FRINGE '04: Off the Wire - Radio New Zealand

Off the Wire

“Off the Wire”, Radio New Zealand’s comedy news quiz is coming to the Fringe Festival. Presented by veteran radio host John O’Leary and being recorded live at the festival, a panel of New Zealand’s top comedians and social commentators take on the week’s news.

The show is produced by three young Aucklanders Jarrod Holt, Ryan Hutchings and Nigel McCulloch through their company The Down Low Concept. The production team, with ages ranging from 22-24 represent a new era in National Radio programming; and it’s a challenge they readily embrace. “National Radio is an excellent resource that mustn’t be marginalised as not belonging to our demographic. The notion of creating edgy programmes with a broad appeal is something we’re really happy to be grappling with” says Holt.

The executive producer is Radio New Zealand’s new head of drama John Dryden: “I was aware that the there was a huge pool of comedy talent Radio New Zealand just wasn’t tapping into so we set about developing a show that would do just that.” Regular contributors to the show are award-winning comedians Radar and Mike Loder, other guests have included Jon Bridges, Tau Henare, Russell Brown, Steven Gray, Nathan Rarere, Joe Cotton and even Winston Peters!

“From a production point of view we are absolutely stoked with our contestants; they represent our dream-team of talent for a programme such as this. Every week they manage to come up with refreshing and insightful angles to all manner of stories.” says McCulloch.

And of course there are challenges that appear when a large portion of your audience are from another generation “There are certain things that are universally accepted as entertainment and others that lurk around the fringe awaiting lewd interpretation. In fact when we have been pulled up on some of the content, I must admit to being surprised by some of the twisted interpretations that we are confronted with.

“As you can imagine some of the material is quite explosive. We always record the show long so that we have scope to cut out anything not suitable for broadcast on a public radio station. I dread the day that anyone gets hold of the off-cuts from the show” says Dryden.

“Off The Wire” is first and foremost an entertaining quiz but as Dryden points out, “it also does occasionally provide some interesting insights into the news, aspects you wouldn’t necessarily get from a straight news programme. Our guests are very well informed.” Inevitably the show has led to some complaints from some members of the radio audience.

“We certainly don’t set out to shock or offend the audience but we don’t want to shirk away from important or shocking news stories either.” One such story the show covered was the sentencing of a Nigerian woman to death by stoning for adultery. “We had a long editorial meeting to discuss whether it was too tasteless to keep this story in. I was very passionate for it to stay in because I felt the more it was talked about – even humorously – the more likely it would be stopped from happening.” Other subjects covered by the show have included bombing, religion, politicians, sex and, most controversially, sport.

Far from being the young and shocking type brought up on reality television, the producers seem to take an almost retro look at programming.“One of our driving ambitions as a production company is to help foster a shift back to the essential elements of entertainment, that is quality scripting, great talent and above all, working together as a team to break ground and deliver the unexpected. And I think, largely due to the calibre of the contestants we have achieved this with Off the Wire” says Hutchings.

With such potentially explosive subject matter, Radio New Zealand was taking no risks and quietly piloted the show over the winter in a late-evening slot on Fridays in order to gauge audience reaction. But the current series is now going out in a much higher profile slot every Saturday at 1.30pm. It represents a fresh new approach in National Radio programming and early indications show that it is attracting a broad audience.

Off The Wire Fringe Editions
Wednesday 3rd March at 5pm
Wednesday 3rd March at 6:30pm

Producers: The Down Low Concept
Jarrod Holt
Ryan Hutchings
Nigel McCulloch

Executive Producer: John Dryden


National Radio and Concert FM are networks of Radio New Zealand
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