Hello! Just a quick heads up, and an invitation today.
Another cross-promotional, podcast-related post this week, but this one’s much more relevant to game shows and how to win them.
It’s been 25 years since Robert Redford’s brilliant movie Quiz Show came out, and we’re revisiting it today. Quiz Show is a great period drama, based on the real life scandal behind the game show 21 back in the late 1950s. You may remember that I reviewed this movie here last year (my first ever movie review for the site!), but recently, I was invited onto the movie podcast Chatflix to discuss it with host Brose Avard.
Spoiler alert: we both liked the movie.
If you’re interested in the details, you can find the episode right here:
So there it is, available for your listening pleasure right now, if you’re interested.
Now, I did mention at the top of today’s post that it would be much more relevant to winning game shows than the last one was… and it just so happens that there IS one very big tip on winning game shows that’s central to the plot of Quiz Show. But if you haven’t seen the movie yet, this could possibly be considered a spoiler, so I’ll leave a bit of a gap before I reveal it…
Hello! I’m going off on a bit of a tangent this week, which has nothing to do with game shows, or how to win them.
Sorry about that. Actually, no I’m not. I’m not sorry at all. This is my blog. Mine, do you hear me? So I can do whatever I blummen well like… Right, kids?
And so today I’m just going to remind you about – and give you a quick update on – my B.L.E.* As I think I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve undertaken a fairly daunting task this year – I’m writing my first ever novel, and releasing a new chapter online every Friday, from May 17th, 2019 to May 17th, 2020.
You can find it at http://www.thestephenhall.com/novel-chapters/, or by clicking on the image above.
I’m 21 chapters into it now (of the total of 52), and it’s proving to be one of the most challenging, intimidating, difficult – and yet exhilarating – things I’ve ever done. One of my hopes when I started was that the project would build up a readership, who’d keep checking back each week, subscribe to the blog, get active in the comments section, and even get a bit of story discussion going, as it all unfolded. That hasn’t materialised yet, and that’s partly why I’m plugging it here today. The story is a rollicking, swashbuckling space adventure (PG – rated) that takes place 512 years in the future, on an enormous luxury space cruise ship that’s been boarded by pirates. There are ray gun battles, daring escapes, a mysterious treasure, double crossings, desertions, and all that good adventurey stuff. I’m trying to write the kind of audacious, quick-moving ripping yarn that I enjoy reading myself, for a bit of escapism.
As part of the writing process, I’m also recording a short video diary entry each week, discussing the creation of that week’s chapter. You can find all of the weekly video diary entries on the dedicated YouTube channel (click on the image below)… but I would recommend that you don’t watch an entry until after you’ve read the chapter it’s discussing. (Here be spoilers!)
Anyway, please do consider dropping by and sampling the novel, if it sounds like your cup of tea.
And finally, below is a link to the latest episode of The IndyCast (The World’s #1 Indiana Jones Podcast), where the show’s host Ed Dolista very kindly allowed to me babble on about the B.L.E for a while (starting at the 12:10 mark)…
And that’s it for this week. See you back here next time, when it’ll definitely, definitely, totally and utterly be something about game shows. Promise!
* Bold Literary Experiment.
This week, my chat with game show director Jon Olb draws to a close, as we track his game show related exploits right up to the present day…
SH: Jon, in the last few years, you’ve directed two game shows that are brand new to our screens – Hard Quiz and The Chase Australia. They’ve both been very successful so far. What are the ingredients that make for a successful game show, in your opinion?
JO: Hard Quiz is a credit to its creators – who would have thought that a host taking the piss out of the contestants would work? (Host) Tom (Gleeson)’s style was showcased on The Weekly With Charlie Pickering, and they, with Tom, developed the show around that. They actually did the very first rudimentary workshop of the idea in my studio. It’s obviously very popular, as is The Chase Australia. (Host) Andrew (O’Keefe) and the Chasers are so knowledgeable and entertaining, and the breadth of questions is impressive. If you look at an episode, you realize the sheer number of questions that they go through on that show. That requires researchers, writers, verifiers, etc. all working with Producers. And it’s not as simple as using questions from overseas – in any Aussie quiz, the questions are localized, so there is a mix of local and international knowledge required. It’s a massive challenge before they even reach the studio.
In my humble opinion, the only necessary ingredient for a successful game show is playability. You need to be able to play along with it at home.
SH: Are there any ‘secrets’ (or even interesting or little-known facts) about how game shows are made – from a director’s perspective – that you’d be happy to share with our visitors?
Hello and welcome to the penultimate instalment of my chat with the legendary Australian game show director Jon Olb.
We’re making our way through Jon’s long and illustrious career, and this week, dear reader, we find ourselves in the year 2007…
SH: 2007’s The ConTest was a short lived Channel 10 show, which I think might have been the last gasp of that trend of deceptive – if not downright mean-spirited – game shows. By then, we’d already had The Weakest Link and Shafted; shows that rewarded their contestants for deceiving and betraying each other. In the interests of full disclosure (and yes I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record), I was involved with this show too. What were your memories of this show?
JO: I quite enjoyed this show for what it was. It was really about entertainment. Many of my memories relate to the technical problems that we had to overcome – it was quite ambitious in some respects. It’s where I first met (host) Osher (then Andrew), who knows so much about the making of television, as well as appearing.
SH: The classic English game show Countdown has clocked up thousands of episodes since it premiered in 1982, and its French antecedent ‘Des Chiffres et des Lettres‘ has had more than 20,000 episodes since it started in 1965! By stark contrast, the Australian version (‘Letters and Numbers‘) lasted just two years; from 2010 – 2011. Jon, why do you think that was? Is it to do with the relative smallness of our population? The format of this particular show? Or perhaps some other factor? I’d be interested to get your take on this.
JO: I should mention that I did work on that show, but only filling in for the incumbent. I loved, and still love, that show, and note that it’s quite popular in repeats. Sure it’s not for everyone – it’s fairly serious and dry subject matter, but it’s very easy to play along with at home and the presenters make it interesting. I think that the UK has really hit on something with a hybrid version, 8 out of 10 Cats – very funny. My opinion is that you could do that show again now and it would find a loyal following. I think that the problem is that it’s niche, and as you say our population is small so the economics don’t work. The other aspect is that it’s evergreen – people don’t remember that they’ve seen it before, so the repeats can seem like new shows, which is, of course, more economical. I think that the local version did very well casting the hosts too.
SH: When 2013 rolled around, you found yourself in the director’s chair for the Seven Network’s Million Dollar Minute, which was touted as an original concept (although it looked an awful lot like a slight tweaking of $ale of the Century to me)… Anyhoo, how did you find that experience? Was there anything markedly different in the way that you approached directing this one, to the way you’d approached directing the previous game shows you’d worked on? Or are the general principles largely the same, from your perspective?
SH: I saw some similarities, but still thought that it was different from $ale. New concepts are always difficult in trying to make sure that everything important can be seen and understood (and sometimes that things can’t be seen, if you don’t want them to be seen!) You work closely with the Producers and Set and Lighting Designers when creating something new. That show was challenging on several levels, but enjoyable. The big vault – the centrepiece of the show – was interesting incorporating the computer. Little things that you don’t think of – like the number of digits – all come in to play. You may want to show figures that are more or less than the display allows, and all those tiny details become important.
Next week, as we say ‘Bon Voyage’ to Jon Olb-age, I ask him for his Three Top Tips for game show success, and if he has any secrets – or little known nuggets of wisdom – from the Control Room, that he can share with us…
You won’t want to miss that! Next Tuesday, right here!
Welcome to Part II of my chat with Jon Olb, and when we left off last week, we’d been talking about his first ever game show directing experience, back in 1998, on Battle of the Sexes. Now read on…
SH: Of course, you kept very busy directing other shows in other genres after that, but the next game show that came your way – in 2002- was QuizMaster. This was a more straightforward quiz hosted by Simon Reeve (who would later go on to host Million Dollar Minute. This show only lasted for one series of four episodes, and seems to have been largely forgotten by most of the world! This is about the only information I could find on it. Has it been forgotten by you as well? If it hasn’t, what were your memories of this one?
JO: It’s most certainly not been forgotten by me! It was actually a precursor to many other shows – perhaps before its time. I thought that it ran for more episodes but perhaps not. It was set “in the round” which created a unique set of issues. Also, it was one of the only formats to utilize then-new technology that allowed the cameras to automatically cut to the contestant when they buzzed in. It was a little too serious, but interesting. I think that it may have been Simon’s first foray into game shows – he is such a genuinely nice man. The writer subsequently replaced a guy named Stephen Hall as a Producer on Deal or No Deal and is now an Executive Producer at the Network.
SH: Aha! Yes of course – Stevie Murray! (More on him in a later post here). Now Jon, you and I were both involved in The Einstein Factor, which premiered on the ABC in 2004. This was a quiz show where members of the public got to show off both their general knowledge and their familiarity with their own ‘special subject’. I’ve already interviewed the show’s host Peter Berner, but I’m curious to hear your recollections of it. Do any of the contestants – or indeed any of their special subjects – stick in your mind? Or when you’re up in the Control Room calling the shots, do you not get much time to relax and pay attention to those aspects?
JO: It’s funny – on game shows you generally do get to play along in the control room. When I used to direct News, I was so busy during the weather report, that I never knew what the forecast was for the next day! Of course the machinations of the game are all secret, but in essence, they all test knowledge. That show was very loosely based on Mastermind with the ‘special subject’, and now there are shows loosely based on that program. Contestants had all sorts of weird and wonderful expert subjects. From memory, they were less adept at the general knowledge aspect. Peter Berner was a good foil for the contestants and the Brains Trust – I think that people often forget that Red Symons was also a regular contributor. The show had a fantastic production team, including Pam Barnes initially, and helped forge the way for many hybrid comedy/quiz programs.
SH: From 2005 to 2006, you directed all 22 episodes of the Australia’s Brainiest franchise (in the interests of full disclosure, I had a passing involvement with this show too). What are your main memories of that show? And were there any contestants who really stood out, in terms of how they approached the game?
JO: This was a special show – one of the first big “celebrity” quiz shows. Full disclosure indeed – you were crowned ‘Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster’, from memory! I met the lovely Sandra Sully on that show. We filmed at the ABC for Channel Ten. It was difficult as it was precise, and there were those hidden cameras (not always flattering) and cameras on scaffolds, which bounced when the operators chased the action. It was a great series, with some really interesting incarnations such as Comedians, Kids and even Big Brother contestants. It challenged your preconceived notions of who would know some things. There were many standouts on that series.
And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. In next Tuesday’s instalment, Jon and I discuss his directing gigs on two adaptations of English game shows; Letters and Numbers (an adaptation of Countdown) and The ConTest (an adaptation of PokerFace), and an original Australian format – Million Dollar Minute.
See you here then!
Hello and welcome to the first part of my EXCLUSIVE interview with game show director Jon Olb. Jon has an illustrious TV directing career here in Australia that spans three decades, and a variety of genres – from sketch comedy, to live concerts, to pretty much every aspect of light entertainment, including, of course…. game shows! While he’s an expert at all of the above, directing a game show from the control room requires a very special set of skills…
SH: Jon, thanks so much for chatting to me today for HowToWinGameShows.com! For our visitors who may not be aware, can you explain the role of a game show director, and exactly what that job entails on a day to day basis?
JO: The Director on a game show is traditionally a more technical role. Virtually all quiz shows have a “format” which must be adhered to. Some game shows (like Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation) will vary substantially according to the content, but it is fairly rare…On most game shows, particularly the ones that are “stripped” daily, it is important that they look and feel the same from one episode to the next. Much like a McDonald’s meal, it will be made with local ingredients and resources, but should feel fundamentally the same anywhere in the world.
On a quiz show, the creative is largely the domain of the Producers. They have a large staff, including question writers, verifiers, researchers and contestant coordinators to control. Then on the day of record, they need to be the most well versed in the rules of the game, the electronic systems, and then ultimately the edit of the program.
So a Director on such a show is more about working with the technical crew to ensure that it’s all seamless and looks and sounds appropriate. Of course, I have my say on other aspects, but I will defer to the Producers. I usually look after the smooth running of the show and listen out for any comments or changes from the Producers or host. On international formats, there is also a responsibility to the originators to make it feel similar. There is often a “show bible” that will detail every aspect, from graphics to sounds to terminology and of course set design. I was responsible for helping adapt The Chase for Australia, and we have kept it as similar to the original as possible, whilst of course, allowing for the production company ITV and the Seven Network to put a local spin on it.
SH: Way back in 1998, you directed your first game show; Battle of the Sexes. The show’s host Ed Phillips has already chatted to me a bit about this show, but what were your memories of it?
SH: I already knew Ed, who is a fantastic and witty host. I was moving to The Adventures of Lano and Woodley and so was involved in the setup and the initial episodes, before handing it over. I had also worked with the Producer Michelle Seers previously. I remember it being a really fun show – it didn’t take itself too seriously and was one of the first to work with celebrity panelists. We filmed at the Ten Studios in Nunawading. Rules are always important, but on a show like this it was more about the comedy and I think that translates to the home audience. It was primarily about fun.
SH: As your first foray into the genre, what lessons did you learn from Battle Of The Sexes about the art of directing game shows?
JO: BOTS was so geared toward the comedy, that once we’d established the format it didn’t really feel so much like a game show. I learned a lot about making shows in general from that production, but others have been probably more informative about the art of game shows.
… and we’ll hear more about those, when my chat with Jon continues, next week!
Hop to see you here then!
Hello, and welcome to the final instalment of my exclusive interview with Hard Quiz winner Markos Hasiotis, where Markos gives us his top three tips for success on this show. But before we get to that, there was another aspect of Hard Quiz that I wanted to get to the bottom of….
SH: Part of (host) Tom Gleeson’s schtick is that he repeatedly insults the contestants on Hard Quiz... And yet the contestants often give as good as they get – do you all come up with your own “burns”? Some of them are pretty funny!
MH: We do come up with them ourselves. I suspect that the producers at the auditions look out for people who are somewhat witty and can respond to an insult with a snappy retort, as opposed to stunned silence… or tears!
However, the final two are told to prepare an interesting answer as to what we’ll do with The Big Brass Mug if we win it, so I came up with a Bondian answer: “I’ll drink Vodka martinis out of it, shaken not stirred.”
SH: What are the three most important things you’d tell someone wanting to go on Hard Quiz? The things you wish someone had told you beforehand?
MH: Firstly, I’d definitely recommend that you wait until Tom has finished the question before buzzing in (or at least wait until you’re certain what the question will be). There were a couple of instances where I wrongly assumed what the question would be based on the first few words so I buzzed in and got it wrong, which cost me precious points.
Secondly, try and be somewhat memorable in the audition, whether it’s a funny anecdote or mentioning one of your strange hobbies. I suspect that’s why I wasn’t successful in my first audition, I faded into the background a bit.
… And thirdly, don’t give up, even if things aren’t going your way during the show, just stay focused and calm and you can do it!
SH: Is there anything else about the experience that you’d like to share? Anything I haven’t covered?
MH: I’d like to say, for the record, that Tom is quite a nice guy when the camera is off.
MH: I’d love to try another quiz show…I’ve auditioned for The Chase Australia and am currently in the “contestant pool”, so I may get on there at some stage. I’ve applied for Hot Seat too, but haven’t heard back and I would’ve loved to have done Pointless, but I couldn’t find a teammate. I’m excited for Australian TV to create some brand new quiz shows in the future and I’ll happily throw my hat into those rings. No rush!
SH: Markos, thank you so much for your time today, and for sharing your thoughts…. And of course, congratulations!
MH: Thank so much. Was a pleasure, Stephen.
And that’s where we bid a fond farewell to Hard Quiz winner and trivia enthusiast Markos Hasiotis! I hope you found Markos’s story interesting, and picked up a few useful, actionable nuggets of information along the way. Just a reminder, you can follow Markos on Twitter (@FactBuffet) for a daily dose of fascinating facts… I know I do!
I wish Markos all the best with all his future quiz-related endeavours, and I’ll see you back here really soon!
Last week, Markos gave us a little bit of background, a bit of ‘The Story So Far…’ This week, we dive into the actual Hard Quiz process in much more detail. Hopefully, there’s something here that’ll prove useful for you if you’re contemplating going on this particular quiz show (or any quiz show, for that matter). Let’s dive in.
SH: Can you talk us through the audition / interview process?
MH: Both the 2016 and 2017 auditions were virtually identical. The contestants are checked-in and given a sticker with their name and expert subject on it, which I love… because it makes for a great ice-breaker: “Hello, ‘World War Two’!” “Hey, nice to meet you, Simpsons”… The contestants are taken from the waiting room into a large space with rows of chairs.
We sit and do a written general knowledge test, and then small groups of us stand up and a producer asks each of us about ourselves and our expert subject, why we chose it, and so on. We’re also put into groups and asked a bunch of general knowledge questions which we need to “buzz in” and answer.
After that, a producer reads out a list of all the people who are through to the next round of the process, and the ones whose names aren’t announced are dismissed. The remaining contestants chill until we’re called into a private room where we have a one-on-one chat with a producer who asks us to discuss our subject a bit further. After that, we’re dismissed and simply wait to see if we get the big call.
SH: When you heard you were going on the show, how long did you have between getting THE CALL and the day of the record?
MH: I got the call (or email, in this case) on the 23rd of June, and the record took place on the 2nd of August so there was a good chunk of time to study… and for the butterflies in my stomach to multiply!
SH: How did the experience of actually doing the show compare with how you thought it’d be?
MH: It went by much quicker than I thought it would, it surprisingly didn’t take much longer than half an hour to film a half-hour show, which is a testament to the show’s dynamic crew. I was also pleasantly surprised that contestants were given quite a nice green room prior to the show, replete with a shower and lollies.
SH: Did you have any mantras or self-talk? Anything that you kept reminding yourself while you were on the set?
MH: Not really, I was quite zen and not thinking too much. One thing I did tell myself while on the set was “don’t worry if you’re the first one eliminated…you can still tell people you made the Top Four.” When I got to the second round, I similarly reassured myself “you can tell people you made the Top Three.” That was the extent of my self-talk.
SH: You were up against an expert on Australian birds (Simon), an expert on Greg Norman (Phil) and and expert on the band KISS (Robyn). In the heat of battle, during the actual playing of your game, what moments – either good or bad – stick in your mind?
MH: Each time one of the other contestants was eliminated sticks in my mind, because it felt positively awful. They’re very nice people and all three of them had come from interstate, while I lived a mere 15 minutes away! I also distinctly remember a strong feeling of doom during ‘Tom’s Round’, after I got the first 2 questions wrong, I thought I was finished for sure. My favourite moment was hearing Tom say “correct” after I answered the last question in the Final Round. It was a moment of great joy and relief and probably the first time I’d relaxed that entire day.
In next week’s final instalment, Markos lifts the lid on all those insults traded between the host and the contestants, we discuss his future in quizzing. and he shares his three top tips for anyone preparing to go on the show!
Until then, then!