What Now? has always been about having fun, with a little bit of learning thrown in. The key to the programme's longevity is that it reinvents itself constantly to keep up with the latest popular culture, games and technology relevant to its target audience: kids.
What Now? its origins in Dunedin kids' show How's That? in 1979. Programme manager Hal Weston came up with a concept based around kids "making stuff"; Stu Dennison was a regular presenter and Rex Simpson produced (Simpson went on to head up his own production company, Kids TV).
A move to Christchurch (for better use of facilities and a larger studio audience) followed after NZ's then-competing channels were merged under the TVNZ umbrella.
What Now? was cutting edge kids' entertainment when it started in 1981 - it was the first NZ TV show to have live phone-ins. But those early shows are a far cry from today's fast and furious format. Long presenter monologues and five-minute field stories have evolved into today's short, snappy segments; slick graphics; fast-moving games and challenges; and a high level of interactivity including viewer participation via phone, email, and letters. In the early 2000s the What Now? fan club boasted over 100,000 members and its merchandise was worn by children all over the country.
What Now?'s satirical comedy sketches have attracted many adult viewers with the serial comedy/drama Serial Stuff generating a loyal following during the late 1990s - early 2000s. Celebrity Traffic Island (Celebrity Treasure Island) and Pie-in-Yer-Ear House (Pioneer House) are more recent take-offs of primetime formats that have given viewers of all ages a good laugh. Interestingly, the writer of these sketches is Andy Gunn, Jason Gunn's brother.
Various programme partnerships over the years have seen What Now? promoting ‘healthy eating healthy action', water safety and old-fashioned letter writing amongst many other good things. What Now? has a long-standing association with the Weetbix Kiwi Kids Tryathlon, and with Sport and Recreation New Zealand whose ‘Push Play' message encourages children to be physically active.
Over the years What Now? has trained a large number of talented people both in front of and behind the camera. TV presenters who got their start with What Now? include Aaron Devlin, Darren Young, Shavaughn Ruakere, Jason Fa'afoi, Simon Barnett, Fiona Anderson, Carolyn Taylor, Tamati Coffey and many others. The very first presenter was Steve Parr who later became well-known as the Sale of the Century presenter.
Early What Now? presenters were also credited as writers, as they made a significant creative contribution to the show. They were people like Michelle A'Court, Danny Watson, Al Kincaid, Michelle Bracey, Simon Barnett and Catherine McPherson, some of whom have gone on to roles as directors and writers. A more recent presenter who made a significant behind-the-scenes contribution was Anthony Samuels, who also trained as a director.
Off-screen personnel who have shaped What Now? over the years are many. They include camera operator and director Alan Henderson (also secretly rumoured to be the brains behind Jason Gunn's sidekick Thingee), Directors Keith Tyler-Smith, Bill de Friez, Peter Verstappen, Mark Owers, Mike Ritchie, Jason Gunn and Richard Hansen. Producers include Richard Driver, Tony Palmer, Anne Williams, and Janine Morrell-Gunn. Emma Gribble got her start opening the mail for the fan club and 10 years later became producer of the show.
What Now? was produced by the TVNZ Children's Unit in Christchurch until 1999, when the Unit was moved to Lower Hutt's Avalon Studios. What Now? returned to Christchurch in 2003 to be produced by independent company Whitebait Productions, headed by Janine Morrell-Gunn and Jason Gunn. What Now? has been funded by NZ On Air since NZOA's inception in 1989; prior to that it was funded by TVNZ.