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Sacha McNeil: Dawn of a new era

As the newsreader swaps late nights for early mornings, she finds there’s plenty of time left for family.

By Donna Fleming

It’s been a big part of Sacha McNeil’s life for nearly three years, so presenting Nightline for the final time this Friday night is bound to be tinged with sadness.

TV3’s long-running late-night news bulletin is being replaced by The Paul Henry Show, and although Sacha looks forward to her new job on early morning show Firstline, it won’t be easy saying goodbye to Nightline.

“It’s been great to work on – it has got a character of its own and you can have a bit of fun,” says Sacha. “It’s a small team working on it, so everyone’s very close. We all believe in Nightline and what it stands for, so it will be strange not to be working together.”

The show will always have a special place in her heart because it is where she got some of her first glimpses into how the TV news process works, and became inspired to pursue a career in broadcasting herself.

While studying English and Film and TV Studies at Auckland University, she nagged her dad – former long-serving TV3 journalist Bob McNeil – to let her do work experience at the station during her holidays.

“He got sick of me following him around and fobbed me off on Carolyn Robinson, who was working on Nightline.

“She let me hang out with her and was a really great mentor. I got to see the whole process, from doing the interview to writing the script and editing the story, and then going to air.

“I found it amazing. To me it was such a magical journey that went on every day, and it was so exciting. I never thought I would end up presenting the show.”

Sacha (38) started her TV career at TVNZ before moving to TV3 in 2007. There she has worked on 3 News, Midday and Sunrise, before following in the footsteps of fellow presenters Joanna Paul, Belinda Todd, Janet Wilson, Leanne Malcolm, Carly Flynn, Samantha Hayes and Rachel Smalley to take the job on Nightline.

The 23-year-old show, which TV3 says will return at some stage, is an institution that’s known for its quirky stories as well as its coverage of the day’s serious news events.

Sacha has always tried to watch all the stories before they go to air so she’s not surprised by some of the unconventional topics covered or the hilarious interviews carried out by reporters such as David Farrier and Ali Ikram.

“I’ve never lost it because I know what is coming, but there have been a number of occasions when I’ve found it hard to keep a straight face.

“The studio crew don’t see the stories beforehand and there have been times when they’ve been sniggering away behind the camera and I have to keep it together. That’s not always easy.”

Swapping late-night finishes for early starts is going to mean big changes for the mum of two, but in many ways it will make family life easier.

At the moment, she’s up at 7am with her children, Isla (4) and Arte (2), and spends the day with them before handing them over to husband Myles Allpress, who has been studying this year.

“We have to tag team – we have about half an hour to catch up on things before I’m out the door to work.”

She’s usually in at TV3 by around 4.30pm and doesn’t get home before midnight, depending on what time the show airs.

When she begins co-presenting Firstline with Michael Wilson at the end of January she has to be at work by 4am, which means going to bed around 8.30pm the night before.

“I’m not naturally a morning person, but when I worked on Sunrise I got good at getting out the door within eight minutes of my alarm going off. It’s easy because I only have to clean my teeth – the make-up artist does all the hard work.”

Now she’ll be home mid-morning, giving her plenty of time to be with the children – and she’s looking forward to being able to put them to bed.

“When I told Isla I would be home at night she was so excited. She said, ‘Every night?’’’

Sacha is also pleased that once Isla starts school next year she can pick her up and have the rest of the day with her, rather than having to do a hurried handover to Myles.

Being on morning TV also means her children will be able to watch her work. Apart from when she fills in on the 6pm bulletin at weekends, Isla and Arte haven’t been able to see their mum in action.

“Arte knows I work on television, but he gets a bit confused. He thinks every woman on TV is me. He sees Carolyn and goes, ‘Mama!’”

Firstline also gives Sacha the chance to use some of her wider journalistic skills, including doing more live studio interviews and live crosses from the field.

“I’m looking forward to new challenges, but I’ll miss Nightline. Still, things are always changing in TV, that’s the nature of the game, and change can be a good thing.”

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