|Producer Lucas Tyler (centre) surrounded by the cast of Naked News Uncovered|
Allan Novak did not set out to uncover Naked News.
The veteran producer/director has an impressive list of television credits with people who work fully clothed.
Way back in the day, the Winnipeg native worked with children’s entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram. Then there was Mike Myers before Saturday Night Live, plus the stars of CODCO and The Kids in the Hall.
None of them worked naked. Well, maybe, occasionally, The Kids in the Hall.
Novak had certainly never worked in news unless you count Ken Finkleman’s The Newsroom, which you shouldn’t.
Like a lot of people working in television today, he eventually turned his energies towards unscripted television, producing cooking shows and handyman fare. When Novak and partner Barri Cohen at AllScreen Entertainment went looking for their next TV project, the words of every programmer in town kept ringing in their ears: “Give us larger than life characters in a world that we would not have access to.”
There are many examples out there today: Duck Dynasty, Pawn Stars, Honey Boo-Boo.
What about something sexier, Novak and Cohen thought?
Then they remembered the Naked News anchor they met a few years back.
Naked News has been a dirty little secret in Toronto since 1999. Reporters visiting the unmarked production centre are asked to sign a waiver not to give out the location. The daily newscasts feature women who slowly take their clothes off while reading actual news reports. According to news producer Lucas Tyler, the subscription-based webcasts draw a couple million unique visitors a month, plus more viewers on foreign stations and in millions of hotel rooms across North America.
Novak and Cohen were shooting a Comedy Network series a few years back called Punched Up. In one episode, they helped a Naked News anchor team up with an actual CTV anchor (Jeff Hutcheson) who helped her “punch up” her on-air presentation.
That peek into this bizarre world of Naked News made them think there might be a documentary series about how these newscasts were made. They took their idea to the reclusive owner of Naked News, “Peter Rosedale,” and he showed them a letter he had already drafted to a few U.S. networks pitching the same idea. “We went in and convinced him we were the right people to make it,” says Novak. The result: the eight-part documentary series Naked News Uncovered which continues Mondays at 9 p.m. on the national pay-tv service Super Channel.
Briefly, in 2002, Naked News had a late night window on City until calls to the station as well as the CRTC quickly shut it down. The full frontal nudity was a little much, even for the original Baby Blue movie network.
The difference this time, says Novak, is that this is a documentary series airing on a pay-TV platform. Nudity on Super Channel? No problem.
Besides, as Novak will tell you, this series isn’t about sex. “What we discovered is that it’s a natural sitcom. Absurd, crazy stuff happens here.”
For example: editorial decisions about when not to strip. When super storm Sandy struck the same day as the documentary’s Halloween costume episode was shot, the biggest story on the East Coast was delivered by a girl in a naked giraffe outfit.
“The owner was irate because this was inappropriate,” says Novak.
Katherine Curtis, a.k.a. the network’s on-air “Naked Nerd,” says she and the others never disrobe during a death story. “If something has that sort of gravitas we keep our clothes on,” she says. “We usually err on the side of caution.”
Curtis has been taking it off on the network for six years. She says the audition process was not arduous. “You have to read a script and they ask questions to make sure your personality fits—and to make sure you’re not a bunny-boiling cat hoarder.”
Victoria Sinclair is more upfront about her age than most fully-clothed news anchors. She’s 47 and has been news-stripping since the channel launched.
“I had been working in marketing and was bored to tears,” she says. Her boyfriend at the time was a producer on the show. She stepped in to help get the series rolling and has been taking it off ever since.
“Yoga’s probably my best friend,” she says. “As you age, you realize the step up you previously took is no longer sufficient. It takes more discipline to stay in shape, which fortunately you also get as you get older.”
The anchors aren’t all girls-next-door.” Others did nude modeling and exotic dancing before adding newsreader to their resume.
None of the participants consider Naked News a porn site and all of them take their approach to delivering the news seriously. “The owner believes the news should be as good here as it is on CNN, ABC or NBC,” says Novak.
|“Naked Nerd” Curtis (left) & Sinclair flank fully-dressed nerd|
While the nudity does drive the subscription base, what of it, says Sinclair. “What’s the point of any show but to have people watch you and become engaged with your program?” she asks.
Co-executive producer Cohen loved the reaction from two women on the street who were shown a clip from Naked News. As one woman told her, fans of the web series are just doing what regular news viewers would be doing anyway, which is “wondering what she’d look like naked.”
Sinclair says the documentary crew were not intrusive and she’s glad viewers can now “see what used to wind up on the cutting room floor. Frankly, I’m proud of the people who work here because they’re so vivid and colourful.”
Producer Tyler figures viewers will come for the nudity but stay for the characters. “It’s the realness of the show people are going to get engaged in. It’s a little bit of a circus.”