TORONTO — Andrew Chang built his name as an anchor on CBC’s nightly newscast “The National,” but recently he traded in his tailored suits for a hoodie and jeans as host of a daily show on the public broadcaster’s free news streaming channel.
Launched in late November, CBC News Explore is still finding its footing as an ad-supported streaming service and Chang is taking the role of the platform’s lead navigator with “About That.”
In each half-hour episode, Chang dives deep into a newsworthy issue with chipper curiosity.
Since the show launched a few weeks ago, topics have ranged from climate change to the recession and the complicated life of musician Kanye West.
Along the way, Chang mingles with guests, hits the streets for on-the-ground interviews and jumps on TikTok and other social media platforms to seek answers. He also uses a whiteboard to jot down the more complicated matters in erasable marker, a practice that’s a generation away from the interactive screens that have become commonplace on major news networks.
“About That” was envisioned, he said, as a way to bring news to younger viewers who consume information in bite-sized morsels on their phones, but still hope to gather a better understanding of world events.
“I’ve never been involved in a project where the show didn’t already exist for a long time,” said Chang, who turns 40 on Thursday.
“It really was a blank state.”
“About That” streams weekdays at 11 a.m. on CBC News Explore, available on the CBC News App, CBCNews.ca, the Roku Channel and CBC Gem, where past episodes are also archived for on-demand viewing.
Chang recently spoke to The Canadian Press about leaving his role on “The National” over the summer to build a new show from the ground up.
CP: Can you break down the thinking behind the concept for “About That”?
Chang: The gist of the show is that we take the news stories that are already out there, generally things people have already heard of (through) a tweet that flew by or a headline on CBC, (and) give people a nice simple, straightforward entry point. The criticism of TV news, in particular, is that sometimes it presupposes you’ve been following the context. I think while it serves a lot of different people, it leaves out a lot of people. And so, we take those stories and find a way of breaking them down in a simple and straightforward way. Sometimes it’s a creative way, sometimes a fun way. You’re not going to get a surface understanding, you’re going to understand the whole picture.
CP: We’re sitting in your TV studio, which is a small space with shelves that are stacked full of board games. Can you enlighten me on the thinking of this set design?
Chang: (One) thing that people will not know about me is that I’m a huge gamer. Computer games, console games, board games. (The producers told me,) “This is not a show about you, but whatever makes you tick has to come to the fore.” And for me to be genuine and feel like I’m at home, I think they realized, “Why don’t we just make it look like Andrew’s home?” So they asked me, “How would you decorate if you had shelf space?” I showed them a picture of my shelf at home and it’s got close to 200 board games. Maybe there’s a day when we could have a guest in-studio and we play a game as a way of getting to some larger point.
CP: Can you offer an example of how that would work on a TV show?
Chang: No. Admittedly that’s a rough idea that floats in the ether. Here’s another inspiration: “Hot Ones.” (Editor’s note: “Hot Ones” is a YouTube series where Sean Evans interviews celebrities as they devour an increasingly spicy plate of chicken wings.) It would be easy to dismiss that show as centred on a gimmick. The genius is that it forces the interviewee to abandon their talking points and actually have a conversation because you’re on this wild ride. So, that was a source of inspiration when we were thinking about the (board) games. I don’t know, if I sat Malcolm Gladwell in the chair and we started playing War, maybe something funny would happen. That’s the kind of thinking where we are trying to be different. We’ve got a little table, two chairs, fun stuff on the shelves and let’s just have a conversation.
CP: Some people are going to wonder why you’re no longer on ‘The National.’ How did you get from there to here in the span of this year?
Chang: It was a very bittersweet thing to leave that program, but the opportunity (to work on CBC News Explore) was really interesting because it was an opportunity to build something from scratch. There were no directives, no expectations, no nothing. It was just a knowledge that we had to be in this space, create something new, attract a different sort of audience and “Andrew, we think you’re the perfect person to do it.” And I said, “OK, tell me more.” This was before I had any idea of what it would mean for my role on “The National.” They talked about not just the channel … but also how much heft CBC wanted to put behind it. It’s not like creating a new Twitter account or “Hey Andrew, why don’t you get onto TikTok?”
CP: You’re basically the face of the CBC News Explore launch.
Chang: Yeah. And the launch of a platform that, in some way, shape or form, represents the future of the corporation as a whole. So once it became clear to me, that’s when everything started moving along quite quickly.
CP: If anyone at CBC was going to do this, you seem like the right person.
Chang: Which is hugely flattering, right? The fact there was a recognition that there was a need for CBC to fulfil in order to reach new audiences … I find really appealing. They said, “What if Andrew Chang just got to be Andrew Chang on screen?” That’s kind of fun. This is like hopping into a spaceship where no one quite knows how to fly it, but some folks think you’re the best one to give it a whirl.
CP: You became known on “The National” for your segments explaining big topics in an accessible way. Does your curiosity mean anything is on the table to explore in “About That”?
Chang: One thing I’ve told my team is that if I’m skeptical this is something that anyone would care about, I hope you only take that as an admission that I don’t yet understand enough about it. I genuinely believe if anything is boring it’s only because you don’t understand it in enough detail. Growing up, I loved science. So, I think that goes some distance in explaining why, on a molecular level, there is something fascinating even in watching paint dry. It’s that kind of sensibility I hope to bring to the show.