Interview with ‘Hard Quiz’ question writer Gerard McCulloch – Part I

Hello, and welcome to my latest EXCLUSIVE interview for HowToWinGameShows.com.

Gerard McCulloch is a writer, comedian, MC, audience warm-up man… and many, many other things besides. In his 20 years in the television industry, he’s written for genres ranging from sketch comedy (SkitHOUSE) to satire (The Weekly with Charlie Pickering), and from award shows (The ARIA Awards, 2002, 2003, 2004)… to telethons (2005 Tsunami Telethon).

But today, I’m talking to him about his work writing for game shows. In this arena, Gerard’s written for Hard Quiz, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader and Family Feud, among others. I’m really keen to get his perspective on what it takes to put these shows together, and to find out if he has any tips for aspiring contestants. So, here goes! =========================================================================

SH: Gerard McCulloch, thanks very much for talking to me today for HowToWinGameShows.com! When it comes to your game show career, most recently, you’ve been writing for the ABC TV show Hard Quiz. What were the fun parts of that gig, and what were the more challenging parts? 

GM: The fun parts were working with a bunch of good mates to develop a whole new format, especially one that wasn’t just a quiz show, but a comedy show built around (host) Tom Gleeson’s persona. The most challenging part was working out exactly how the game should flow, the points applicable at different stages, the ideal number of contestants – we went through many trials of different scenarios before landing on the one we went with.

Every game show has a ‘game computer’, which is the brain that coordinates the images, sounds, questions, answers and scores. This was the first time I’ve sat in on the development of a game computer, and I have a new-found appreciation for how complicated the mechanism is that makes every game show run smoothly.

The second most difficult part related to our show being one that revolved around each contestant having a speciality topic. Maintaining equivalency of ‘an easy question’ or ‘a hard question’ across topics as diverse as Seinfeld to British Field-Marshals was very tricky. And then there was the challenge of appealing to the TV audience playing along at home when dealing with some very obscure topics.

SH: What do you think is the secret to writing a good quiz question?

GM: The perfect quiz question should make those trying to answer it feel like they should know the answer, even if they don’t; and it should be intriguing enough to make those who don’t know the answer curious enough to hear it. In the case of a show like Hard Quiz, if it can inform and entertain at the same time, that’s a big win.

SH: What’s an example of a question you’ve written that you’re really proud of?

GM: Question: I’ve got a forequarter on my 4-burner. What am I doing? Answer: Barbecuing. This was a buzz-in question for Hard Quiz’s People’s Round, where we test the experts on the stuff that normal people know. It’s virtually a riddle. Most Australians would know what a ‘forequarter’ (as in a forequarter lamb chop) and a ‘4-burner’ are, but the reward went to the first contestant to decode the wordplay. Anyone at home who couldn’t figure it out would hopefully enjoy hearing the answer when it came.

SH: As a question writer, what common mistakes do you see contestants making when answering quiz questions on Hard Quiz?

GM: In buzz-in rounds, contestants often buzz in early, and wrongly anticipate the rest of the question. But that’s the risk of buzz-in rounds in any game show – if you leave it a split second longer, you may lose out to someone who guesses correctly.

SH: Back in 2007, you worked on the Australian version of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? How did you find that experience, in general?

GM: I realised that kids these days learn very different things in primary school than what I learned back in the day! I was amazed by how much information I had forgotten, or never knew in the first place. Of course, whenever I felt that way, I knew it would be good fodder for a question.

SH: I’ve always wondered; if the premise is that all the answers could reasonably known by a 5th grader, how were the questions’ difficulty levels determined? Did you consult the official Australian primary school curriculum?

GM: Yes, we used the Australian primary school curriculum. It varied a little between states and schools, but if we could determine that the ‘average’ student at a given level would have learned that topic, then it was fair game.

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… And that’s where I’ll leave my interview with Gerard this week. Next week, in the second and final part of our chat, we discuss his work on Family Feud, and he has some really great tips for anyone wanting to appear on that show. In the meantime, though, if you’d like to find out more about Gerard and what he’s up to, you can head on over to his home on the web, and he’s also on Twitter, under the handle @DrJavaBeans.

Oh, and if you’re in Australia, and you’re interested in appearing on Series 2 of Hard Quiz, they’re currently looking for contestants! All the details are right here.

So good luck, and I’ll see you back here next week!

 

Four Years Old Today!

Why thank you, Ron.

Yep, four years old today. Could it really have been March 14th, 2013 when I bit the bullet and started this blog, by writing this?

Well, yes. Of course it was – the date’s right there on the page. Although in some ways, it does seem to me like a lifetime ago. In the intervening 1461 days, here at HowToWinGameShows.com, there have been 209 blog posts, including 23 interviews, 15 posts on my own game show adventures, 4 book reviews, and one TV show review. Meanwhile, over at the @How2WinGameShow Twitter feed, there have been 271 tweets.

Along the way, I’ve also written one 208-page eBook (which has now been slashed to half price – just $9.99, by the way)

… All of which has slightly surprised me. When I started this site, I wasn’t sure if there’d be enough material to keep it going so strong for so long. But what a surprise and a delight it’s been to discover that there is! I’d like to thank all of the wonderful game show contestants and winners, and all of the game show professionals (from both sides of the camera) who’ve joined me on the journey. And of course, I’d also like to thank you for visiting the site each week. All of your support and feedback has been invaluable; just brilliant, all the way through.

Well said, that toddler’s T-shirt.

And by way of a sign-off today, I’d like to throw things back over to you – what would you like to see here at HowToWinGameShows in future posts? Please let me know either via email (stephen@howtowingameshows.com), via Twitter, or in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Thanks so much again, to all of you, for everything…. and be sure to check in next week, when another EXCLUSIVE interview with a brilliant game show insider kicks off YEAR FIVE of HowToWinGameShows.com!

 

 

 

 

Over to you.

Hello.

Something a little bit different this week; something I haven’t done in a long while. I’d like to open HowToWinGameShows up to you. It struck me the other day that I’ve fallen into a habit of posting content here each week that I think you’ll like, and that I hope will be useful to you…. but I don’t know for sure if it is.

So today, I’m asking you a favour… could you please let me know what you’d like to see more of, on HowToWinGameShows.com?

Oh, you’re listening, are you? Well, listen to THIS… WHERE’S THE APOSTROPHE, Willy ??

Would you like more interviews? Fewer interviews?

More book reviews? Fewer book reviews?

More game show news updates? Fewer game show news updates?

More behind-the-scenes stories from my various game show adventures? Fewer behind-the-scenes stories from my various game show adventures?

Or is there something else, something entirely different, something I haven’t thought of, that you haven’t seen here yet, but would like to?

The ball’s completely in your court – I’d really love to know what you’d like to see here, so that I can (hopefully) get to work to provide it for you!

So if you’d like to let me know via email, I’m at stephen@howtowingameshows.com,

Or I’m on Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/Howtowingameshows/

Or I’m on Twitter: @How2WinGameShow

Or you can just leave a message in the ‘Comments’ section below.

However you choose to get in touch, I thank you for your feedback, and I promise I’ll do my best to give you more of what you want, moving forward!

Thank you, as always.

Stephen

My eBook ‘How To Win Game Shows’ is now HALF PRICE!

Hello!

I have a bit of a special announcement for you this week. As you may or may not know, a little while back, I wrote my first eBook, which was on the subject of how to win game shows. Its title is (unsurprisingly enough) How To Win Game Shows.

And you can get it here. 

I originally priced it at $19.99 AUD, but now, for 2017, I’ve decided to chop that price in half, and just make it $9.99. The eBook is 208 pages long, and features some of the best tips from the first 2 and a half years of this blog, all distilled, organised and summarized into bite-size chapters. There’s also heaps of new exclusive content in there, that I wrote specifically for the eBook, along with quite a few random Interesting Yet Highly Unlikely Facts*, and lots of pretty pictures.

So if you’re on a quest for Game Show Glory, and you’re looking for a comprehensive reference text on the subject that’s 208 pages long, and is divided into 14 chapters and is easy to download as a pdf, so that you can read it on your iPad, laptop, Kindle or Kobo, well then….

Your requirements really are unusually specific.

But you could do a lot worse than having a look at the eBook. Just head over to www.HowToWinGameShows.com/products for all the info, and to order.

Or you can just click on this link.

Or this one.

Or even this photograph of Benny Hill in a ginger Afro

Benny Hill in a ginger Afro.

They all lead there.

Thanks for your time, the sales pitch is now over, and I’ll talk to you next week!

 

 

* Oh alright then, they’re gags.

 

 

 

EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part V – The conclusion

The Fabulous Adam Richard

This week, I wrap up my interview with The Fabulous Adam Richard, and I couldn’t let him go without asking about another game show-related string to his bow…

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SH: And finally, in addition to all of this, you also served as one of the two team captains on the 2014 reboot of the popular music quiz show Spicks and Specks. How was that experience?

AR: Glorious. Best job I’ve ever had. I have said this many times, but the axing of that show was a blessing. I would have sat there for 20 years and loved every second of it. It challenged me as a performer, and I really felt like I did the best performance work I’ve ever done on that show. The audience and management were resistant to it before it started, so it always felt like pushing a dung heap up a hill. I have really enjoyed the last couple of years, and I would not be doing what I am doing without that show ending. In fact, it was one of the Spicks and Specks producers, Dan Warner, who asked me to come onto the staff at The Chase Australia in the first place.

SH: Did your experience as a question writer give you an edge there?

AR: I hadn’t written questions for about ten years when I started on Spicks and Specks as a team captain, but having done the show in the preceding seven seasons as a guest, as well as being involved in several episodes of the ABC’s Tractor Monkeys, I had a good sense, as a player, of what worked and didn’t work in a question. You learn from just spewing out facts, that numbers are boring, names are boring. The question needs to have its own little story. The multiple choice round on The Chase Australia is a great opportunity for stories – as is the final round of Hard Quiz. When you’re on a panel show, you’re always looking for a way to get a joke, or anecdote, into the game, and an interesting question will open the door to that. If you’re on a show and you’re not in a timed round, don’t be afraid to throw in a fun fact about how you knew that, what it reminded you of. They always record more than they need, and if you look stupid, they’ll just cut it out, and it will be like it never happened! Oh, if you could only see the horrific things that I have said on TV knowing that they would never ever make it to air! Don’t be afraid of having fun – as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the game. It should be really obvious when you’re allowed to, and if you’re not, then Tom or Andrew or Eddie or Grant will make very sure you don’t derail the game.

SH: Adam Richard, you’re a multi-faceted, multi talented man, and I wish you every continued success in all of these various areas. Thanks very much for your time today!

AR: Thank you Hally Bejawley!

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I’m so grateful to Adam (or Richo Bagitcho as I call him) for his time, and for being so generous in sharing so comprehensively his thoughts, tips, and stories. Thanks again, Richo Bagitcho!

And you can find The Fabulous Adam Richard online at http://adamrichard.com/ and on Twitter, at  https://twitter.com/adamrichard.

EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part IV

The Fabulous Adam Richard

As my chat with The Fabulous Adam Richard continued, there was one question that I simply couldn’t leave out…

========================SH: From your perspective as a quiz show question writer, are there any other tips, hints or pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring quiz show contestants?

AR: Quiz shows don’t just cast for intelligence. If you are boring, you won’t get on, no matter how much you know. You don’t have to be funny, and you don’t have to be a gregarious ‘life of the party’ type of person, just don’t be dull. If you are shy, don’t worry, we all are. Even the most famous people who are great public speakers are often overcompensating for being shy. Just be yourself. Don’t mumble, or be too self-deprecating (what you continually say about yourself, you can end up believing after a while) and most of all, don’t think you have to be someone you’re not. Just be the person you are when you’re with friends and family. Pretend the casting people are all people you know. Aunt Jenny and that cousin’s husband you always talk to at barbeques.

SH: But your question-writing career hasn’t just involved writing questions for TV. Another related venture – that you and I both worked on – was writing questions for the Australian version of the board game Cranium, back in 2001. What are your memories of that?

AR: I remember it was quite silly! Most of us had been working on All Star Squares, where alleged celebrities hung out in a giant noughts and crosses board. I remember carrying on with Catherine Deveny at a meeting where we were coming up with those performance-based questions. There’s a part of Cranium where you play charades, and I remember cackling as we tried to act out a sausage roll. The actual writing part was fairly isolated, as these things naturally are, but remembering that first day, where we played the game and stuffed about in a meeting room, that kept me ploughing through the actual writing of the questions.

SH: Do you ever play the Australian version of Cranium with friends? And win? And if so, do you tell them that you already knew all the questions?

AR: When I was doing the breakfast show at Fox FM in Melbourne, we had a Cranium promotion where a family of listeners won a night playing the game with me! I remember that being a fun night. I think I ended up just ‘hosting’ the game, asking all the questions, making sure people stuck to the rules, rather than participating. Also, making merciless fun of people trying to do charades as a sausage roll. It really is hilarious.


SH: In addition to all of this behind-the-scenes stuff, you’ve also appeared many times
onscreen in game show / reality shows; shows such as Celebrity Splash!, Hole In The Wall, and Celebrity Dog School (!)  After these experiences, do you have any tips for any aspiring reality show contestants out there?

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EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part III

The Fabulous Adam Richard

As my interview with Adam continues, he reveals some great tips that will be really helpful for contestants appearing on The Chase, and on quiz shows in general. But first, we discussed the business of writing questions a bit more…

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SH: What do you like about the job of writing quiz questions?

AR: I learn so much! I folded a lot of the interesting facts I learned into a stand-up show last year. Like the fact that bubble wrap was invented as wallpaper. (You’d never get your bond back!) That Australian Rules football was codified before soccer or rugby, making it the oldest football code in the world. I am INSUFFERABLE at parties. I interject with all sorts of bizarre facts. I just played a video game set in the pirate era, in the Caribbean (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag), and most of the characters were actual historical characters and there were many real events that you play in the game, so of course, I went on a pirate question binge. All of your life can become a question if you are interacting with anything other than social media. Nobody can answer questions about what dish your friend instagrammed a photo of at Nobu last week.


SH: What don’t you like about the job of writing quiz questions?

AR: It’s very time consuming. Staying in the office until well after 10 PM, even later on shoot days, or writing at home until 2 AM (which I did yesterday). Working from home in general is difficult. Prioritising work over the laundry or going to the shops to get stuff for dinner because you have a deadline looming. If I smell and I’m hungry, you know I’m late with a deadline.

SH: As a question writer, what common mistakes do you see contestants making when answering quiz questions on TV?

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EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part II

The Fabulous Adam Richard

Hello! Today, as my interview with The Fabulous Adam Richard continues, I wanted to drill down a bit into the working methods that have seen him churn out tens of thousands of quiz show questions over the years…

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SH: What is something that you never do when you’re writing quiz questions?

AR: Social media. I have downloaded a browser plug-in that I set to yell at me if I try to open Facebook or Twitter or any of those things. You know those alerts come up, telling you so-and-so has liked your comment or some such, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour down an unhelpful rabbit-hole of absolutely irrelevant crap. Every time I click on one of those, this browser plug in swears at me. Literally. Vile, angry language. It’s quite the motivator!

(Here is a link if you can handle your computer yelling profanities) 

SH: What’s an example of a question you’ve written that you’re really proud of?

AR: Oh, so many! On Hard Quiz, it’s the ones that stump the experts. Especially if the expert is particularly smarmy and full of themselves. The first ever episode of The Chase Australia featured a question of mine that stumped even The Chaser herself!

I have tried to write a ‘Fanny Chmelar’ style question for The Chase Australia, but because of the timeslot, they’ve all been rejected, which is probably for the best. Did you know that an archaic term for an open-cut mine is ‘Glory Hole?’ I wrote it as a multiple choice “In which industry do people go to work in a glory hole?” Mining, Fishing, Theatre. It’s revolting, I know, but it is an actual true fact. You can’t argue with the truth… Well, you can if you are putting out a G-rated show.

SH: Are there any specific rules that you follow when you’re writing quiz questions?

AR: Keep it G-rated…

Follow the rules of the show! The Chase Australia has a very detailed style guide, and some very restrictive rules about length of questions and answers, which I adore. I love the language puzzle writing those entails, trying to rearrange a question to be coherent and fun in as few words as possible.

The first round of Hard Quiz, where people are able to steal points, I really enjoyed writing dog-leg questions, that seemed like they were going off in one direction, but in fact were headed somewhere else entirely, trying to trick people into buzzing in early. Like one about Eurovision, where it seemed like it was going to be an obvious one about which song ABBA won with, but instead was about which venue they won at! It was the ‘British seaside resort’ of Brighton, if you’re wondering, which then of course gives (the show’s host) Tom Gleeson leeway to make a joke about ‘British seaside resort’ being an oxymoron.

The fact that Hard Quiz is a comedy show as well as a game show means that all the writers have to do double time writing questions and gags. Tom writes both questions and gags himself. He’s incredibly hands on. I worked in the office at Hard Quiz, whereas I have done all my work on The Chase Australia remotely.

SH: Have you ever written any questions that turned out to be controversial?

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EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part I

The Fabulous Adam Richard

And here we are, with my first interview for 2017, and I’m delighted to say it’s with The Fabulous Adam Richard! For those who don’t know, Adam Richard is one of Australia’s favourite comedians, whose successful 20 year career encompasses stand-up comedy here and internationally, radio presenting, sitcom writing, TV acting, reality TV appearances, podcasting and much more besides. You can find all the details at his website.

But in addition to all of this, yet another feather in Adam’s cap is writing questions for game shows. To date, Adam has written questions for All Star Squares, (where he and I worked together) The Chase: Australia (which I’ve also written questions for) and Hard Quiz (which I haven’t – I must be slipping).

Anyhoo, Adam Richard, thanks very much for chatting to me today for www.HowToWinGameShows.com

SH: Over the years, how many quiz questions do you think you’d have written for TV?

AR: I couldn’t even tell you how many I’ve written this week! It’s over a hundred. This week, I mean. When I started on Season 1 of The Chase Australia, I was working four or five days a week, which roughly works out to about 200 questions. Now I’m just working one or two days a week, but factoring in all the shows I’ve worked on, I’m guessing I’d be into the tens of thousands by now.

SH: What’s the secret to writing a good quiz question?

AR: It’s such a juggling act! The questions on The Chase Australia, especially in the timed rounds, need to be really punchy. There are a lot of comedians writing for the show, I think mainly because the structure of a question and a joke are essentially the same – you work really hard at giving out enough information that the punchline or answer, in the case of a quiz show, is both obvious and surprising at the same time. You almost want people at home to go “Oh! Of course! I should have known they’d say that!” So, even if people are learning something from the answer, it should have its own internal logic. Also, boring is bad. Numbers and dates are boring, names are boring. I try to avoid writing answers that are a number or a name, unless it’s something that is an emotional touchstone (there’s always an exception to every rule!). I wrote a question on Hard Quiz which was “How many double A batteries go into a Nintendo Game Boy?”. That’s the kind of thing that can really fire up the happy and nostalgic part of your brain, remembering fun things from your childhood, trying to picture yourself jamming the batteries in the back of your favourite toy.

SH: Are there any topics or subject areas that you return to often, when you’re writing questions?

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Coming Attractions…

Hello!

Well, as we begin our penultimate week of the Fawlty Towers Live tour here in sunny Brisbane, I just wanted to do a quick post today to let you know about what’ll be coming up here at HowToWinGameShows.com.

Over the next few weeks, I’m planning quite a few personal posts, telling the behind-the-scenes stories of the various game shows I’ve worked on. Over the years, I’ve served either as a question writer, adjudicator or producer on shows such as 1 vs 100, The ConTest, Shafted, The Rich List, Deal Or No Deal, Spicks and Specks, All Star Squares, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, It Takes Two, and The Chase: Australia. There are quite a few backstage stories from each of these productions, which will hopefully give you some insights into what goes on behind the scenes of various popular game shows. So stay tuned for them.

Also, I’ve got some more great interviews lined up, with numerous prominent people from both sides of the camera! I don’t want to say too much at this stage, but there’ll be question writers, producers and one or two hosts…

Now before I sign off for this week, a couple of quick snippets from the world of Game Show news…

A new game show that premiered last night on ABC in America – Big Fan – sees celebrities go head to head with their self confessed biggest fans, in order to see who knows more about the celebrity.  The first episode featured Matthew McConaughey, so if they can keep that level of star power up, it sounds like a show that’d be well worth watching.

And finally, just in case you were wondering, Nepal’s first ever reality TV game show – Pahunchhas finished its first season. The show, which was created as a fun and interactive way of strengthening relations between the public and the police, was a ratings hit, and a second season has now been commissioned. I find this story quite uplifting. It’s a really good example of how – with just a bit of lateral thinking in the concept – game shows can be created to be educational, enlightening, while also putting good things back into the community. Should be more of it about, if you ask me. And you can read even more about it here.

Until next week!