EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part IV

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

In last week’s instalment of my chat with game show doyen Michael Whyte, I asked him about some of the best contestants he’s seen in his long career. He provided some examples and a look at what they did right; information that’ll hopefully be helpful to you on your journey to game show success. Now read on, as I ask Michael about the very worst contestants he’s seen, in order to (hopefully) give you a chance to learn from their mistakes…

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SH: What traits did the worst contestants have?

MW: On quiz shows, probably thinking they knew more than they do. And just being a little bit cocky. I think they think they’re on television, therefore they have to act like ‘a quiz or game show contestant on television’, and that’s not necessarily the case. The Price is Right for example was what I termed “The Housewives’ Revenge”, because when you’ve got “how much is a lounge suite versus a fridge?”, the women, in those days in particular, were the ones who were buying everything and that includes the cars. They had a major input into what sort of cars we would get next, what sort of TV – and they were more aware of prices, and so when they came on, they didn’t seem to have that much trouble going “Well, it’s the lounge suite followed by the fridge followed by the trip to Hawaii”, that sort of thing. And were quite clear on all that, whereas if you put the husbands up, they’d go “I’ve got no idea! How much is a lounge suite? I dunno – I just want a red one.”

SH: Yes. “Not my area”. 

MW: So they did extremely well on that. So it’s ‘horses for courses’, really.

SH: Across all of the shows that you’ve been involved with, can you single out perhaps one game show or quiz show moment for you that was among the best from your perspective?

MW: Oh look, there have been a million of them. One in particular that I absolutely loved was when we had the first celebrity edition of Sale of the Century. The network was very strong on “we need to do one, we need to do one” and we resisted for so long, because we knew that once we started those they would continue to want them over and over again. 

SH: Why were you reluctant?

MW: First of all, you have to have celebrities of note, larger than C or D or B graders. Otherwise people won’t care. So we started with Gough Whitlam.

SH: Really?

MW: Yes! We got hold of Gough Whitlam through Harry M Miller and asked if Gough would be up for it. This was after he was Prime Minister. Harry came back and said “yes he is in, but he wants to bring a friend” and I said “who’s the friend?”. He said “David Lange”. I said “that’s fine!”

SH: Wow! And David Lange was the Prime Minister of New Zealand at the time?

MW: No, he had just finished. So on that night we had David Lange, Gough Whitlam and we put Don Chipp in the middle. 

SH: Wow, what a line up!

MW: We really just wanted to have the nameplate “GOUGH” and Gough sitting there pushing the buzzer, and Tony saying “Gough?” (LAUGHS). It went beautifully, but two interesting things; one was, we asked them all the question “who is the Speaker of the House?” And it wasn’t answered. They didn’t know it. None of them. 

SH:  They were out of the game. 

MW: We actually took that question out of the show, because we thought it was a little bit embarrassing. 

SH: It’s not a good look. 

MW: But in that celebrity series there were the likes of Andrew Denton, we had Jennifer Byrne and we had all these different people that were pretty high profile at the time. In the end I think it was David Lange, Jennifer Byrne and it might have been Richard Stubbs – or Andrew, I’m not sure – in the final. And Jennifer Byrne beat David Lange. Tony asked her the question “why are you so good at that?” She just said “I just like games! We always played games at home, we always watched the show. We love it! I don’t know why I know these things, but I just do.” It was “the game” that got her there. 

SH: Fantastic. 

MW: So that was a bit of a moment. 

SH: That’s a highlight, absolutely. This would have been early ’80s, I would guess?

MW: Yes. It was about ’84 or ’85 or something like that. 

SH: If that was a highlight, can you think of any lowlights? 

MW: We had on Millionaire – early on – we had a celebrity night and we had Richard Hatch who was the first winner of Survivor. 

SH: Yes I remember Richard Hatch.

MW: He came on the show, and he and his manager in particular were so full of themselves that we’d be getting all these demands; “Richard won’t rehearse”, “Richard won’t do this” or “won’t do that”. I said, “well this is the way it is. This is what we need from him, you can go and sit in the boardroom and I’ll go and look after Richard and off we go”. Anyway he came on and he was a pain in the arse. He got a question and it was something like “what is 7 X 8?”, and he couldn’t work it out. And that was then when there was no time limit! He sat there and he sat there and he couldn’t work it out. 

SH: This was on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? That must have been one of the first questions, surely. 

MW: Yes. A very simple question and he got it wrong.

SH: Ha!

MW: Eddie was just delighted. He said “Richard Hatch, you are the first one to win Survivor and win a million dollars, and you are the first one to go out on the first question in a celebrity episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Goodbye.” 

SH: (LAUGHING) Wow. Firsts everywhere.

MW: Wonderful!

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Which just goes to show… a little humility never goes astray. We’re all only one step away from coming undone. So if you do have success, be grateful for it and enjoy it!

It can sometimes be fleeting…

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