Lawyer turned media personality by way of Big Brother Nigeria, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu is setting what has to be some sort of record for Nigerian television with four different shows on television, meaning his handsome face is available for our viewing pleasure every day of the week! With a nomination for Outstanding TV Presenter (Male) ahead of the 2014 Nigerian Broadcaster’s Merit Awards on November 15th, we lured him to lunch at the Inspiro Café and to get the inside track.
Four TV shows to your name currently airing is pretty impressive- Cable’s EL TV’s The Spot and Rubbin’ Minds on Channels as well as two new ones Politics focused Naija Politics and Football Legends which is a brand new game show- however, one of them is live. How does being on live TV feel like?
I’ve done that since January 2013. A year eight months, it’s the only live one of the four. It was at the start because before then I had only ever done live once, in 2011 when I hosted the Presidential debate, with Chimamanda. It was a big deal, I was so excited.
Hosting the first Nigerian Presidential debate for your first live broadcast, that’s a pretty big deal.
Yeah I remember for the first 10 minutes, (stuttering) Welcome, and of course the whole country was watching because it was the presidential elections and debates were still pretty new here, everyone was watching to see. But it went well.
Do you remember the experience?
I remember stuttering at the start. My very first sentence, I don’t know what I was talking about. I was the first ….. it came on welcome to… I remember stuttering at that and then I kind of settled in.
We had a bit of a script just to introduce, then we had questions to ask the candidates so it wasn’t like we had to ad lib. It was gut wrenching
That was 2011 so I hadn’t done anything live again until Rubbin’ Minds came on and then yes so I think my first couple of episodes you could tell. I’m used to if I make a mistake they say cut, take it again. And you just see the red light blinking in the camera, that’s like my signal.
Is there anything you’ve said live on air that you’ve thought ‘Oh I wish I hadn’t said that!’?
Funny enough the one thing I think I regret the most wasn’t even on Rubbin’ Minds. Oh that’s true, I did another live show actually before Rubbin’ Minds and that was just before Rubbin’ Minds.
Now Funmi Iyanda, she’s this iconic person on TV in Nigeria, she’s left TV now but there’s something she does on January 1 every year. She has a foundation, Change A Life. It’s her way of increasing awareness; also starting off the year on that note and most times the Governor is there. She also awards maybe celebrities, entrepreneurs who have been charitable in the previous year.
So I co-hosted it with her, January 1 last year which was like 6 days before I started Rubbin’ Minds and she had Asa, Davido, Linda Ikeji, Governor Fashola was there – those are people who had done stuff with giving back. Asa was building a library at the time, somewhere in Osun State, stuff like that, it was pretty big.
So, there’s a girl called Chibundu Onuzo, she’s a writer, and she was on the show. Now I had to take her interview ‘cause we alternated, she (Funmi Iyanda) interviewed, I will interview, back forth, back forth, but we both interviewed the Governor. So Chibundo comes on and I’m like “Congrats on your winning the $100,000.” There was a literary prize that was given out the year before for writing.
“So how does it feel to win?” and she was like “It wasn’t me.” And it was live on TV on the 1st of January. (laughs)
Yeah. I got it mixed up, it was some other writer called Chika Onigwe and for some reason I just was sure she was the one, and I died. I literally died. I was just like kill me now, let me just go (laughs). So that was probably the one time I look back and I’m like what was wrong with me?
So that’s live TV, with a studio audience, how does that compare to being on reality TV?
Completely different, because like I always say, when I was on Big Brother, which has been 8 years now, up until the day I was evicted which was 2 months after I got in, I was sure nobody was watching. So that’s the difference because you get no feedback, you have nothing initially, you are like it’s a reality show, people are probably watching BB is a lot different now, it’s bigger so you sort of know that it’s big. Then it was the second edition and it was the first Nigerian one so people were not sure it was going to succeed anyways. So I went in. After the first week I’m like, nah, it’s a flop, nobody cares. So as much as I wasn’t going to do certain things on TV, like have sex, I still wasn’t necessarily worried about people’s feedback because I was just sure and then the doors opened and I was like whoa can I go back in and fix a few things (laughs). So that’s probably the difference.
It’s a big difference, being able to perform because that’s kind of what you do when you’re hosting or presenting even though it’s not ‘entertainment’ where you’re dancing, singing on stage.
When you’re hosting a live show people expect certain things. With interviews they want to hear you ask certain questions, they want to see you comport yourself a certain way. They want to hear certain things from you. Reality show is like ok, be you.
Out of the four shows you’re doing at the moment, what’s the most challenging one? Rubbin’ Minds is live and it’s an interview format, Football Legends you shoot in a studio with a live audience, so I’d think those two must be pretty demanding.
I’m a huge football fan and it’s a game show. I guess with Football Legends it kind of comes naturally and because it’s a game show and you’re competing, it’s fun.
The live audience, they’re there to boo and shout which is what they do
So for the most part it’s fun for me because it’s football and you’re meeting all of these legends who are coming to stand beside you who you watched and they’re like
idols to you so that is pretty good. Rubbin’ Minds probably was challenging, I’m not saying it’s a breeze now but I mean I’ve kind of gotten into how things go so I go in, I do my thing, It’s not as tough as it used to be. Naija Politics is kind of like football for me as well, something I love, it comes naturally to me as well. So for the most part with Naija Politics, and because it’s also sort of like a Rubbin’ Minds sort of interview (format), I’m just interviewing. I have a co-host called Arit (Okpo) and we have 3 guests every week, there’s five people on the panel and it’s 30 minutes so I obviously don’t have a lot of talk time because there’s three guests, politics is very passionate, people are very passionate about politics so…
It almost sounds like you need an hour!
The ones that have aired so far, people are like it’s too short, we need more time.
So we just ask questions, and of course we are part of the discussion as well so it’s kind of more of a discussion, but with The Spot, I don’t want to use the word challenging but it’s not your conventional talk show. I always say I don’t think I’ve seen anything like anywhere else in the world, honestly. I mean, I know there’s talk shows, there’s also sort of chat shows but because it’s so relaxed, it’s like people just hanging out but we’re also sort of trying to make sense.
Why I would say it’s probably the… I don’t want to use the word challenging, cause you see, for me it’s an hour long and we have topics every day. So it’s having to talk, keeping up a conversation for one hour, sometimes on things I’m not interested in. So with The Spot it’s different, it’s an hour long sometimes we’re talking female
hair. How much can I really talk about female hair, for an hour?
Do you guys wing it or is it scripted?
We know the topics so we kind of do our research. There’s no scripting of what we say but we have to do our research to have an idea of what the topic is about,
so you’re not just sitting there and not saying anything. Introductions are scripted, our cut in and out, that’s pretty much it.
You guys have really good chemistry, was that off the bat?
1st day. Scariest thing ever because with that kind of a show if there’s no chemistry it falls flat. It can’t work. So I think we were just really, really, really lucky we all just hit it off and everyone has understood everyone’s personality and you know what to say and what not to say and how to push this ones buttons…
Who’s the button pusher – you?
What was the process, putting you and your co-hosts Lamide Akintobi and Zainab Blaogun together? Did you audition or they knew who they wanted?
Zainab and Lamide got on the channel already, to do EL Now, which is like the news bit, and then I hear Mo Abudu said ok, you know what I’d like…, you guys should come up with a concept for a show, something different, blow my mind. So Zainab, Olamide and Sandra who’s the head of Entertainment went to work and thought up an idea which I guess nobody thought would work because it’s like people sitting down and just talking and they gave it to management and Mo approved. Ok but get a guy so it’s not just two girls, they don’t want it to be like a ‘girls talk’ thing so get a guy and I got approached.
It wasn’t like an audition per say, they wanted someone opinionated and like several things and so they called me in and had a talk and that was it. So it’s pretty much their idea. Zainab and Lamide are producers of the show as well.
That’s really cool, they should get more credit for that.
They even did up the house, both of them Zainab and Olamide did the interior of the house. A lot of people don’t know that they did but they did. I mean they didn’t hit the nails but it was their idea. They made some of the things in Calabar, they got some chairs they refurbished, some things they got from IKEA and so yeah, they did it. Probably the prettiest set I’ve walked into in Nigeria, even if I‘m on it and I brag about it, I think it’s a beautiful set.
Have you had any guests on The Spot where it just doesn’t work?
Yes. A number. (laughs)
More than not? Obviously you guys do the work and make it work but do most people take to it?
Most times yeah, because we have 70% people in entertainment they kinda know that they are just coming to hang out and gist. Sometimes you have the average person who just comes in, who’s like an IT person and he’s just like Ok I’m just going to answer yes or no to whatever you ask me, but it’s a conversation but
we try to prep everybody and say “ok relax, imagine you’re hanging out” but if someone who has never been on TV before just comes in and sees thirteen cameras, they’re like uh (laughs) ok not thirteen camera, I just exaggerated.
That’s what usually happens when they come in and they see that.
But the funny thing is some of our worst have actually been some of the people in entertainment.
Well I guess there’s nothing to say just because you are a successful singer or performer that you’re any good at conversation!
Some of them come there wanting to market their album or their single so when you come and now ask them, “oh our topic for today is boy meets girl”, and they’re like “what about my single?”, and they just get like ok, I’m not really interested any more so they just don’t want to. We’ve had that about twice and it was really, really frustrating because we are like we told you what you were coming here to do. Apart from that we have 7 segments on the show, 2 segments just us, we talk about random things in the news that have caught our eyes, in entertainment, celebrity. Third segment the guest come in, for the entire segment we are interviewing you about what you do, so it’s from the fourth that we talk about the topic.
Thank you Ebuka, it’s been great talking to you. Just one last question – What are you hopes for the future, where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
Being more involved in politics. Not sure in what capacity or how I’m even going to get in but it’s what I hope for.
I can see you being great that actually!
Thanks again and good luck at the NBMAs!