I had been discussing leaving the Friday night NTV show, #theTrend, with close friends and family for several months. Most were understandably baffled as to why I would want to walk away from a marquée programme at the height of its popularity for what they considered unsatisfactory reasons.
The overwhelming public reaction to my exit surprised me with the true sense of loss many people feel about a host they have never met, but have a connection with, anyway. For a show that ended up on my lap by accident, I never imagined it would ever resonate with anyone, let alone become a television institution.
Back in December 2012 when I started my “second coming” at NTV, my colleague Smriti Vidyarthi was doing the show after James Smart left. She was away one week so I offered to sit in for her as I wasn’t on a regular anchoring schedule yet, but she wouldn’t take it back.
It was a respectable current affairs and politics broadcast then, not the hot mess of pop culture and pettiness that I have left behind.
“I’m going to do this my way,” I said on air the first time I hosted. “It will always be a work in progress.”
In the four-and-a-half years that I was lucky to present it, we took it apart countless times, tried different formats as well as guests and never quite settled.
While The Trend with Larry Madowo has established itself as a studio show, we would often throw out the rule book and host a town hall, a debate on a major national issue or even a concert at a university, as we saw fit.
We took it on the road around the country, going live in such places as Eldoret, Kisumu, Mombasa, Nyeri and Murang’a to meet our loyal viewers face to face.
Sometimes, we got our passports out, hopped on a plane and staged broadcasts live from such exotic places as Cape Town or Mauritius, as well as twice from Kampala next door. We interviewed a president, a Grammy winner or four, an Oscar winner, a Nobel laureate and more diverse guests than all of our competitors combined.
Where else on television could you watch a conversation with Lupita Nyong’o one week, President Paul Kagame another or Akon the next? On our little window of Friday appointment viewing, we were just as interested in the legendary jazz musician, Hugh Masekela, as we were in the Kenyan football star, Victor Wanyama.
Everyone has a story to tell if we bother to listen and go beyond the hype. Muthoni the Drummer Queen has some of the most radical thoughts about leadership in Kenya, but if only you invite her to launch her latest single, you deny the public the beauty of her brains.
In a generation that thrives on amusing ourselves to death, I wanted to create a brand of infotainment that was both engaging to watch, but also challenging enough to be uncomfortable.
When a major musical group has genuine concerns about the royalties paid to them and unearths a major scandal at a collective management organisation, that should have a spot on prime time.
We did that with Elani and when a self-appointed moral police proposes outdated legislation that could kill an entire creative industry, we were happy to dedicate time to dissect the issue without worrying about how that would affect ratings.
#theTrend became a canvas on which my team and I could express ourselves as young Kenyans who are fans of the arts, supporters of doers in our midst, but also interested in moving our country forward.
Shortly after I took over, I tapped Jackson Ndirangu to be the director of the show because we could work on our creative vision together. Kevin Gitau soon joined us as producer and they deserve all the credit for what we achieved because they did all the work and put up with me.
EXCEEDED MY EXPECTATIONS
Both were unusually young for their roles but they exceeded my expectations and helped me build the highest grossing show on TV. They, in turn, mentored other colleagues as our team grew and our handpicked band of rebels produced this thing we could all be proud of, one bad pun at a time.
When we failed upwards and took over the 8pm hour, we got some great minds to bring their unique perspectives to The Trend Trending Talkers, or TTTT as we call it, a show that will also outlast us.
Leaving something that has meant so much to me was one of the hardest decisions of my career. Occupying such an influential place in the culture was a blessing but there is much more that this village boy has to do.
With multiple tabs open at NTV, this column and international speaking engagements, I had to drop #theTrend so someone else can have that opportunity. Thanks for watching all these years.