What’s Up TV returns to Sky 1 this Saturday with Jacqueline Shepard as co-anchor alongside Remel London and the regular presenting team. The line up of guests boasts Trevor Nelson, Ellie Goulding, Bring Me the Horizon and the Compozers, with hard hitting features covering a range of social issues.
Along with presenting the series, Ms. Shepard has stepped into the assistant producer role, we caught up with her to find out why What’s Up is still so popular, and how she was able to juggle her two positions…
Why do you think this show has been so successful and able to maintain its position on a mainstream platform, when there is so much competition from pretty much every platform you can think of?
There is a lot of competition but we have a crack team behind the scenes who ensure we remain viable – we produce a lot in a short space of time on a modest budget; and then it’s content, content, content. While the format is familiar, there is no other show like ours on TV. We entertain and educate – we’re edutainment and that’s a winning combination.
What’s Up TV is reminiscent of the magazine shows which ruled TV back when we only had four channels and no other options, what was the initial inspiration for the show?
Yes, that’s the TV I grew up on – Saturday morning TV; and always wanted to host. I think that the entertainment aspect of WUTV does tick those boxes, but we’re worlds apart as we are on for a fraction of the time per sitting and offer so much more than laughs. I can’t imagine Andy Peters going from gunging someone to segueing into an item about non-racist skinheads, but we do. The executive producer Bob Clarke initially wanted to create a show that also gave a platform to artists and conversations that the ‘mainstream’ didn’t think important enough to air, or perhaps that producers thought young people weren’t interested in. But that prohibited dialogue encapsulates so much of what is everyday for so many of us and conversations which should be heard. The resulting show, What’s Up was initially handed out for free as a DVD and then shown on the Community Channel before making its way to the free to air platform Sky 3 (now Pick TV) and from there onto Sky 1 a couple of years ago.
The presenter team is so diverse across gender; race; class was this a major consideration when this show was dreamed up, or did it just happen organically?
Is there ever any discussion or issues faced with the diversity? Each series there’s a new crew and production team but what remains consistent is that the team are purposefully chosen from under-represented backgrounds. The result of a diverse workforce behind the cameras, is diverse content on screen by way of the topics that are covered and the people presenting those stories. It’s difficult to say what issues the show has faced because of diversity as discrimination isn’t always overt, but perhaps the gradual elevation of the show would be more rapid if as a whole, we reflected what is habitually supported in the mainstream.
Tell us a bit about your journey as a presenter on What’s Up TV? Why have you stuck around for so long? What do you love most about the show?
Haha, it’s not so long, not in career goal terms anyway. The journey I mentioned before from free DVD to now has taken place over ten years. The programme made its transition on to mainstream TV five years ago which is when I came into the fold. I had done a few professional projects and was on radio but this was a real break for me. What’s Up were casting for a presenter last minute via word of mouth and my name came up, luck (redundancy) would have it that I was available. I was made anchor presenter about a year later. I love the fact that I’m able to get my teeth stuck into meaty subjects like social affairs to light entertainment, that is a rare treat. In addition, I love that the show is still growing. T4 finished back in 2012 and was the last Saturday morning format that catered for 16 – 34 olds. When you consider that they had nearly 14 hours of content over 1 weekend and we have just 30 minutes, we really only scratch the surface in terms of how much potential there is for a show like ours.
You’re now co-anchoring with Remel London… two black females in prime position! Where’s AJ? What does it mean to both you and Remel?
That is so cool isn’t it?! Two women heading up a show is rare, but two black women, on a mainstream British show is unheard of. It’s funny because it was only after the appointment that I realised what I was part of in respect to this duo. Initially I was just excited to be hosting the show that I love with another kick ass presenter. AJ is still very much part of the show; last series when he was away on DJ’ing commitments Remel hosted a couple of episodes with me. When the decision was required again this series, Remel was the natural choice and we had a blast together. On a deeper level, showing that black women can hold it down and are more than video vixens, angry and a whole host of other stereotypes that we’re so often portrayed on TV is important to me and I’m sure to Remel. We have been on our individual grinds for several years now and have a respect for each other’s work which I think is why we work effortlessly together. Who knows where this pairing will take us…
You’ve also become assistant-producer, that’s a boss move right there! What goes into assistant producing – tell us a bit about the role and expectations, also how you juggle being in front of and behind the camera?
I have loved being AP on this series! Our researchers work in different teams, current affairs, music, comedy and arts and events. Conceiving ideas and encouraging those ideas to evolve, developing briefs and interview questions as well as supporting in regards to securing locations was a snippet of my role. Chasing contracts, spreadsheets, stats and more spreadsheets was another aspect and while not the creative side, I enjoyed it. I’ll be honest there were some tricky moments juggling AP’ing and presenting. Filming the studio links, took me out of the production office for a whole week, but that work still needed to be done. On one occasion, I recall having a script in one hand, my makeup being done and the manager of one of the music acts on handsfree as I secured a contract – that was a lot! But I revel in that type of pressure. Overall being in front of the camera when I had supported the researcher along the way to getting their brief green lit, just stood me in even better stead when it came to presenting the item. Being Assistant Producer has far outweighed my expectations; I have loved it.
Assistant producer, does this mean you’re moving into Shonda Rhimes territory?
Haha! Well I’m definitely a storyteller of sorts. I love that woman so if I can emulate any level of her success I would be a very happy lady. I think as a presenter, being armed with the ability to produce can only be a good thing and for me substance is important, so producer/presenter is a moniker that I aspire to have.
In a nutshell tell us what we can expect from this new season of What’s Up TV?
You can expect insect eating, ADHD, drag… and those are just some of the items I cover! As ever, we have a healthy dose of household names; we tackle social affairs such as, young people not being able to afford to move out of home; we even get to chat with the first British Muslim astronaut Hussain Manawer. From your favourite names as you’ve never heard them before to concepts you haven’t considered, it’s not to be missed!
What’s Up season starts on Sky 1 Saturday 7th January, 11:30am.