When broadcaster Duncan Garner surprised the country by announcing his resignation from The AM Show, many viewers took to social media to say fill-in host Ryan Bridge was the obvious "heir apparent". It just wasn't obvious to Bridge himself, who tells NZ Woman's Weekly that he didn't expect it.
"Getting this job came out of the blue, honestly," says the 33-year-old, the day after being named as the new anchor. "It's a really unexpected thing to happen – and it's certainly something I never brought up in conversation. But it is very welcome and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to keep moving in my career.
"I'm actually quite shocked that people even want to hire me," he laughs. "I take nothing for granted, but I also don't take too many things seriously, least of all myself."
The move came after producers asked him to fill in for Garner, 47, while Bridge was enjoying a skiing holiday.
"I ended up coming back half a day early to fill in and during that time I was told he had decided not to come back. I've wished him all the best and really hope that he's good."
In a statement released to media, Garner said he was leaving the show after almost five years and despite it being the "best job ever", he was struggling with the "brutal hours".
"This place has been home for 20 years and it's bloody hard to say goodbye, but I have to. I have a few important family and personal things that need my attention and now is the right time to go," added the single dad.
Bridge admits filling in Garner's "very big boots" is quite daunting, but also special because of the part Garner played in helping him to get there in the first place.
"Years ago, when I was at Victoria Uni and hosting a breakfast show on student radio, I received a press release from TV3 that said, 'We're having a telethon-type fundraiser and you can interview some of our stars,'" he recalls.
"One of them was Duncan, then political editor of TV3. I was like, 'Oh, my God, Duncan Garner!' So I requested to interview him. The following week, he turns up at the studio for my show, answers every question and at the end of it says to me, 'Hey, if you want to get into political reporting, come down and see me at the press gallery.' He then very generously let me follow him around for a couple of days while he worked and introduced me to people at TV3.
"And through those connections is how I got my first real job in media. I actually owe him quite a lot."
Bridge also followed in Garner's footsteps when he took up the position of Magic Talk drive-show host, which he has now resigned from.
"I made a decision early on that I wouldn't try to do both jobs. Trying to do three hours of live TV in the morning, followed by three hours of talkback in the afternoon, and prep for both shows in between is a big ask."
In fact, the last shift Bridge did on radio was the recent talkathon, where he stayed on air for 36 hours to help raise $378,000 for the Child Cancer Foundation.
It also saw his trademark "man bun" getting the chop, after he vowed to cut off his long hair if donations cracked $100,000.
Which begs the question, did he donate it?
"Well, this is gross, but the other day I was going through my satchel, which I had with me during the talkathon. I reached into the pocket for something and pulled out my two-month-old man bun," he laughs. "But I still want to give it to somebody so they can turn it into a weave."
For now, the broadcaster is adjusting to getting up at 2.45am on weekday mornings to join "good mates" and co-hosts Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson in the studio at 4am.
"Amazingly, my partner [who prefers to remain private] asks me to wake him up to say good morning, have a wee chat and a kiss goodbye every day," shares Bridge.
"Obviously, the hours are going to have an impact on our lives and when life goes back to normal after lockdown, we won't see each other as much, but we'll make it work."
Viewers have commented online that you're "afraid of nobody". How true is that perception?
Well, I'm definitely afraid of my mum! I'm conscious that interviews might come across like maybe I don't like the person or it's a bit confrontational, but it's not that at all. Sometimes, in order to get answers, you have to put the pressure on. I try to put myself in the position of say, someone who's losing their business because of Covid or a nurse who's worked off their feet, and think, "What would they ask if they were in this position and how would they feel about the answers being given?"
Do you ever read the comments sections about yourself?
I try not to look at them, but I made my partner take a look recently. One that made me laugh said, "Ryan Bridge has no sense of humour and he's dim." Not everyone is going to love you.
How did you celebrate getting the new role?
My partner and I had a big hug and a glass of Champagne at home, and our dog, Fanny, had a wee cupcake.
Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson leaving The AM Show
Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson are leaving The AM Show for different opportunities at Discovery, a release from the network revealed on Wednesday.
Their departure follows that of former host Duncan Garner, who left citing the brutal hours the job requires.
Gillies is leaving the show to take up the role of Newshub's national correspondent.
Richardson will continue as the host of The Block NZ and will appear as a fourth host on The Project.
Richardson and Gillies are staying on for the next two and a half months to help mentor Bridge.
- Additional reporting NZ Herald