Jeremy Wells was the deadpan host of the long-running Eating Media Lunch, where he often said extraordinary things, and asked questions people would rather avoid. Wells first came to fame under the moniker Newsboy, on a popular series of TV shows he co-hosted with exuberant DJ Mikey Havoc.
The longtime television fan began making videos while growing up in Auckland: he filmed a friend doing Jackass-style stunts on his BMX cycle, and created character Mossman, who refuses to die despite being mulched by a lawnmower. In the sixth form Wells was expelled from a Whanganui boarding school — a period alluded to in a Havoc and Newsboy episode, when he got his revenge by sneaking back into the school grounds.
Wells got his break — and the Newsboy nickname — in 1997, reading breakfast news for Graeme Hill on Auckland student radio station 95bFM. It was at bFM that Wells first partnered with DJ Mikey Havoc (real name Michael Roberts), later describing him as "the funniest guy" he'd ever met.
A day after being dropped from an AIT journalism course for missing classes, Wells was invited to co-host the first episode of Havoc, a five night a week music/chat show for MTV. Havoc director Paul Casserly recalls the combination of the unfiltered, larger than life Havoc, and Wells' natural sense of comedy: "Together they had this kind of magic that you get when you get a good duo."
When the music station closed down the following year, Wells and Havoc partnered for a series of shows on Television New Zealand: among them three seasons of Havoc and Newsboy's Sell-Out Tour, Havoc 2000 Deluxe and Havoc's Luxury Suites and Conference Facility (they also did specials on Miami and The Big Day Out, and satirised the gay tendencies of Gore, an episode that would return to haunt Wells in ugly fashion on a return visit.)
The shows were a mixture of road trip, hijinks, piss-take and celebration of the nation, asking the big questions like where was New Zealand's best swimming hole, and does anyone still sell Spaceman drinks. Wells couldn't believe he'd got so lucky; as he says in this ScreenTalk interview, "we were kind of like these outsiders that were inside the building".
Wells argued in a 2001 Listener feature that the pair didn't use scripts "because we're lazy and badly prepared". But the pair's unpredictable, fly by the seat of the pants approach also helped explain their appeal.
Although Wells' impressive cheekbones and gift for comedy were given their moments to shine, more often he played straight man to the unstoppable force of Mikey Havoc. Interviewed in 2001, Wells made it clear he preferred working as sideman to Havoc, than his gig as co-host of snow show Shred (with Bernadine Lim). "I like working with Havoc. It's fun. It doesn't seem like a job."
A few years later, Wells' name was attached to funding appplications for another show working alongside Havoc, plus a new series that Wells would host alone. Both shows got NZ On Air funding. Wells chose Eating Media Lunch, which debuted in 2003. Helmed by Havoc director Paul Casserly, it would be presented by Wells for seven seasons in his typical deadpan style. EML's mixture of media satire and mockumentary succeeded on occasion in pulling the wool over local media; it also resulted in a number of complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
In its final year EML won the Best Comedy Programme award, at the 2008 Qantas Film and Television Awards.
Spin-off show The Unauthorised History of New Zealand had already debuted 2006. Again Wells hosted. The show poked fun at the country's recent past, largely by revisiting material from television archives. Wells says his hosting style was a "lame attempt" to rip-off Kenneth Cumberland, presenter of classic 1981 series Landmarks.
In 2006 Wells climbed on a camel on a visit to Libya, for an episode of Intrepid Journeys. He ventured outdoors for even longer while making 2009 series Birdland, in which he had close encounters with "some of the most unique birdlife in the world", plus their human kin. In 2011 he presented extended one-off documentary The Grand Tour - Jeremy Wells with the NZSO for Prime, which saw him following the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for 23 days, on a high pressure tour of Europe. Wells co-directed with Paul Casserly.
In 2018 came news of Wells' most high profile television gig to date: joining TVNZ's primetime post-news show Seven Sharp, alongside Hilary Barry. Wells commented on the news in typical style: "It's nice to be a part of a grown-up, credible, ratings juggernaut rather than the low-rating, late-night schedule fillers I'm usually involved in."
Wells continues to co-host Radio Hauraki's breakfast show with Matt Heath, where he has done many comical impressions of the Seven Sharp host he replaced, Mike Hosking. Wells dislikes being interviewed, and is part of the team providing an alternative view of rugby on online series Champagne Rugby.
Updated on 20 July 2020
'Jeremy Wells: A driving interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director James Coleman. Loaded February 2010. Accessed 20 November 2019
'Paul Casserly - Funny As Interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 19 August 2019. Accessed 20 November 2019
David Fisher, 'Friends in show(down)' - The Sunday Star-Times, 7 December 2003, page A8
Felicity Monk, 'Felicity Monk eats media lunch with Jeremy Wells' (Interview) - The Listener, 6 December 2003, page 11 (Issue 3317)
Bianca Zander, 'TRIP FOR TWO' (Interview with Mikey Havoc and Jeremy Wells) - The Listener, 26 May 2001, page 16
Unknown writer, 'Dynamic duo, not' - TV Week (pullout in The Evening Post), 24 May 1999, page 5
Unknown writer, 'This Week On TV One' (Press release) Voxy website. Loaded 23 September 2009. Accessed 20 November 2019
Unknown writer, 'TVNZ confirms Jeremy Wells to host Seven Sharp with Hilary Barry' - The NZ Herald, 31 January 2018