Comedian Josh Thomson is miming kayaking with a cheeky grin on his face, hunched over like a kid trying to hide what he's up to from the teachers at school.

Except we're not at school, we're on the set of New Zealand's version of The Project while everyone around us is frantically trying to prepare for the show's launch.

Sitting in the daily news meeting, Thomson's just mashed up the word "canoe" with co-host Kanoa Lloyd's name, dubbing her "Kanua - get it?". It wasn't Thomson's strongest comedic moment but their fellow host Jesse Mulligan still laughed.

"Thank you for your support Jesse," Josh says across the table, giving a serious nod.


Just grabbing a quick coffee before work nbd...

A post shared by Kanoa Lloyd (@kanoalloyd) on

Later, Kanoa gets her own back by cutting off his joke with a tart: "Oh, so you're trying to be funny, here?"

The board room - as it's wont to do - erupts with laughter.

Thomson, Mulligan and Lloyd haven't been together as a team for long, but they've already reached a point where they're sharing in-jokes, picking on each other and communicating via silent glances across the table.

It's this dynamic that Three has hinged its hopes on.

Current affairs show The Project started in Australia in 2009, where it has since garnered a loyal following - not to mention six Logie Awards (Australia's version of the Emmys).

Now, following the loss of shows like Campbell Live and Story, Three has renewed its battle for 7pm ratings by creating a Kiwi version of the popular show, even bringing in its Australian creator and executive producer, Craig Campbell, to oversee things as they get up and running.

Will the Project crew be able to live up to their Aussie counterparts? Photo / Supplied
Will the Project crew be able to live up to their Aussie counterparts? Photo / Supplied

Campbell and his Australian team have shared everything the Kiwi crew need to succeed, from the show's format to a couple of its producers, right down to the blueprints to build the same set.

So what's the difference? Not a lot.


The Project's Kiwi executive producer, Jon Bridges, says it will have "the same vibe, the same philosophy, the same pace and the same polish" as its Aussie counterpart, focusing in on a "dinner-party conversation vibe".

The Kiwi aspect of it will come from the cast, the writers and the pure Kiwi-ness of the stories.

The first story mentioned during my time on set involves a cat causing police to shut down a busy Auckland motorway and, while there are fears "we're just saying, 'Hey John Oliver, come and have another dig at New Zealand'," it is one of those stories which makes you say, "Only in New Zealand".

In the writers' room, they all stand rather than sitting as they nut out ideas. Writer and comedian Rhys Mathewson jokes: "Feel free to call us the funniest people in the country."

That very much remains to be seen when The Project launches on February 20, but either way, being funny isn't all it takes.

The whole point of The Project is to emulate
The whole point of The Project is to emulate "dinner party conversation". Photo / Supplied

Australia's version of The Project succeeds because of its balance between hard news, accessibility and comedy gold.

While current affairs shows such as Breakfast, Seven Sharp and Story have come under fire in Kiwi media for playing things too far on the light side, The Project is looking to build its foundations on the middle ground.

"That's something that everyone in this building really wants to get right," says Lloyd.

"We keep circling back to the 'dinner party conversation' idea because ... that's how humans interact with and relate to one another. I hope we're kind of stepping down from that, 'news is the granddaddy, grand master' pedestal, and just sitting down and having a conversation. We want to make that work."

When Lloyd, Mulligan and Thomson were announced as hosts of the show there was some speculation that, wedged between two of the country's most prolific comedians, Lloyd would have to be the serious one, the voice of reason. But she rejects that completely.

"That thing of the girl sitting in between two guys being like, 'Oh boys, don't be silly - we've seen that and ... it's a tired archetype and I also don't think it's very honest," she says, clearly irked by the notion.

Kanoa Lloyd, Jesse Mulligan and Josh Thomson host The Project on Three. Photo / Supplied
Kanoa Lloyd, Jesse Mulligan and Josh Thomson host The Project on Three. Photo / Supplied

"What we're trying to do is be as honest as possible and if that's me being silly or disagreeing with them then that's what we'll go for, but I don't want to just be a girl sitting in the middle of two guys laughing at their jokes or bringing the tone down going 'Sort it out, don't be naughty'.

"I don't think any of us wants me to be the boring, token girl."

Likewise, despite consistently being described as someone who "just walks into a room and people laugh and they don't really know why", Thomson may well be about to show his serious side.

In the two-week lead up to the show's launch, the crew are spending each day as if they're already live - researching, writing, rehearsing and getting in front of the cameras every day to create dummy episodes in an effort to smooth out any kinks and get everyone familiar with how things run.

And during this Friday news meeting, Thomson is the only one with his laptop, furiously making notes and taking the task of joking more seriously than anyone I've ever seen.

"I'll definitely be hitting the hard news, I'm really passionate about a lot of things - in the rehearsals, I kind of freaked myself out because I kind of attacked an interviewer - not physically or anything," he laughs.

"But we were interviewing someone and I got really worked up about it. So yeah, I've got a lot of opinions, I just happen to be a moron so when I do talk about them I do say some quite silly stuff," he jokes.

It's like Kanoa says: "This show takes the news - sharing information and getting stuff right - seriously, but we don't take ourselves seriously."

With all the tools of their successful Aussie counterparts, The Project NZ has little excuse for failure, but it will all hinge on these three hosts and whether they can achieve a balance yet to be struck on Kiwi TV.



The Project




Weekdays, 7pm, from Monday, February 20