Something about the coming of the new millennium made people want to read the news with their clothes off. Perhaps it was the the impending doom of Y2K that instilled folks around the globe with a devil-may-care attitude toward current events and nudity, but whatever it was, it’s clear that 1999 was the year nudity and the news became “a thing” and it’s been around ever since.
It didn’t come out of nowhere, though. It appears that the earliest record of any sort of naked newsreader came from one of the most influential comedy series of all time, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In a sketch from 1970, Python member Terry Jones strips while reading off financial news (technically, the character Jones was playing wasn’t labeled as a newscaster — instead he was the “Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs” — but the idea was the same: boring news being read while clothes are being removed).
While the Python sketch was a harbinger of things to come, it more than likely didn’t actually inspire the birth of nudity in the news any more than it created a fad for dead parrots as pets. Instead, a more direct link can be drawn from another British show from almost three decades later, suggestively titled Tiffani’s Big City Tips. The program, which ended in 1999, ran alongside other nude British fair (like Topless Darts) and featured anchor Tiffani Bannister reading daily financial news as she gradually got down to her underwear.
Further east, in 1998, the show Počasíčko (Czech for “Weather”) premiered on the Czech Republic’s TV Nova. As described in this piece from the Baltimore Sun, “At 11 p.m. every night a buxom woman or (more recently) a muscular young man goes on camera stark naked. He or she then does a reverse strip tease as the announcer reads the weather forecast. The amount and type of clothes he/she puts on depends on the forecast.” While it was the first of its kind, Počasíčko’s use of the reverse striptease was a comparatively clever device, since most naked news and weather to come would simply be just the news, minus clothes. Unsurprisingly, Počasíčko was a ratings hit in the Czech Republic, and it would soon set the stage for the full-on naked newscast.
Just a year later, two programs on opposite sides of the world premiered a month apart — between them, they’d set the stage for all the naked news that would come over the next 20 years. First there was Russia’s Golaya Pravda (The Naked Truth), which arrived in November 1999 and was a huge hit. While both this show and its soon-to-premiere Canadian counterpart, Naked News, would owe their creation to the rise of “infotainment” (the idea that the news must also be entertaining), in Russia, there was a unique political climate leading to its emergence. As explained in the book News As Entertainment: The Rise of Global Infotainment, following the fall of communism, many of the television stations in the former Soviet Union found themselves no longer state-owned, and suddenly competing for ratings in the open market, much like American TV. They were also pretty damn broke, so going naked was a literally cheap way to get ratings.
In Canada, things would come about from much less complicated beginnings. According to The Washington Post, it all began in the summer of 1998 when two Canadians, Fernando Pereira and Kirby Stasyna, were watching the news and joked around about a fairly simple idea: What if the anchor was naked? While most stupid guy ideas would have ended right there, these two were of the entrepreneurial sort, and being web developers, they had the expertise to actually put something together. Thus Naked News was born, which would premiere online in December 1999. It would become a mega-hit, accumulating nearly six million subscribers in about a year’s time.
From there, it started to spread across the globe — or at least, the parts of the globe where nudity was permitted on TV. In Portugal there would be Nutícias; in France there was Les Nuz; Playboy launched The Weekend Flash; and as underwhelming as it sounds, nude news even became a thing on the radio, with Norway’s Radio Tango, which featured a stripping weather girl who you could look at pictures of on its home station’s website.
Much of the spread, though, would be directly attributed to Canada’s Naked News. While other shows would come and go (Nutícias was cancelled in 2003, Golaya Pravda would be gone by 2005 and Playboy’s version only lasted a few years), Naked News stood the test of time. In fact, in 2001, Naked News launched Naked News TV! on Canada’s Viewers Choice channel, later moving to pay-per-view, where it remains today. Its producer, Lucas Tyler, boasts that it holds the distinction of being “the longest running internet-to-TV show in the world.”
A few months after premiering in Canada, the show would become available in America via the iN DEMAND cable TV service, alongside other early 2000s spanking material such as Girls Gone Wild. Australia would soon carry Naked News on its comedy channel, and after that, it spread to Japan, then back to where it all started, the U.K. Naked News also launched a male version in 2001, which first tried to appeal to women, then to a gay audience before it was cancelled in 2007. In 2008, Naked News greatly expanded its foreign presence with the launch of versions in Spanish, Italian and Korean (though the Korean version — which only licensed the name Naked News and was owned by another company — would end after only a month, when its CEO ran off with all the network’s money).
But with all this global expansion, were people ever actually getting their news via these shows? According to Tyler, there was a time when the Naked News acted as if people were indeed watching for the news. “In our infancy, we reported on the same kind of news that you would see on any mainstream television broadcast,” Tyler says. “That included death and destruction. We did treat these kinds of stories differently, by never disrobing through a story that involved any kind of death, destruction or suffering.” As you might imagine, though, it was a difficult balance.
This question of appropriateness remained an ongoing issue for years at Naked News, but Tyler explains that, over time, they began to steer away from serious subjects more and more. “As we evolved, we realized that it was difficult for people to digest serious news from a woman who was either naked or in the process of getting naked,” Tyler says. After 9/11, in fact, longtime anchor Victoria Sinclair took a lengthy sabbatical from the show, having found the stories she was reporting too depressing to deal with on a daily basis.
Eventually, Naked News just stopped carrying the overly political or distressing stories, content in the belief that people would get that elsewhere. In fact, when I asked about that most dick-shriveling of all topics, Donald Trump, Tyler said that Trump hardly ever comes up on the show, as that too often falls into the realm of serious, depressing news.
While it may be less “hard news” than “news that gets you hard,” Tyler still insists that he wouldn’t classify it as porn. “Our show features a naked cast,” he says. “But they’re just naked, nothing more. We’re an adult program, something very far from anything you could classify as pornographic.” Instead, he claims, it’s much more in the vein of infotainment, more closely related to The Daily Show or The Soup. It’s hard to take such a claim too seriously, however, when you consider that Naked News’ home page is full of links to live cams and stories related to porn and other sex-centric topics. (There’s also the fact that PornHub has more than 2,500 results for Naked News compilations.)
Whatever it is, nudity and the news has proven to have staying power since it arrived in 1999, and it continues to make the news (like here, here and here) while also reporting it. Though much of its perseverance is due to the global presence of Naked News, there are independent ventures too, and as the lines begin to blur between television and the internet and cable TV loses more and more of its restrictions, it’s likely we’ll see more nudity in the news and weather in the not-too-distant future. Yay?