As we left last week’s instalment of my interview with game show producer and executive producer extraordinaire Michael Whyte, we were discussing some of the international versions of various game shows he’s worked on…
MW: The Hong Kong version of Sale of the Century was a little different. Mind you, the Hong Kong version is almost shot for shot, and also the Hong Kong host mimicked Tony Barber‘s entrance run. He did this crazy, sort of over-the-top run. Tony wasn’t really over-the-top, but the guy in Hong Kong version just took it one step further and they loved it. Absolutely loved it. (* You can see an example in this clip, at the 2:34 mark). (My boss) Reg Grundy was very hands-on, really. Just a fantastic boss to have, because he would give you your head. If you were no good, then you weren’t there. If you were good, then they left you alone, to make the show and they had every faith in you. I worked with Andrew Brooke who was my immediate boss and I don’t think we ever had an argument, ever.
SH: That’s great.
MW: Quite bizarre, because he would say “if you feel strongly enough about this, then we’ll go with what you think. If I feel strongly enough then we’ll go with what I think”. It was pretty straightforward. To that end, we made good decisions and we worked together for many years, no arguments, and we are still really good friends. He is just great to work with.
SH: That’s a pretty sophisticated approach, and quite rare, unfortunately.
MW: Very rare now!
SH: Over all of these years, what major changes have you noticed in the quiz show and game show landscape?
MW: I think the networks undervalue them, because they’re trying to make a promo and not a show.
SH: How do you mean?
MW: I think they’re after “moments” in the show that they can promote and don’t necessarily understand what the show is. They’ve not been involved in making the show but the networks are pretty much driven by promos these days that don’t necessarily reflect the show that you’re making.
SH: It’s the assumption that everyone has a short attention span, perhaps.
MW: Well that’s right, but if the show is good enough, it’ll be good, it’ll be fine. Yes, you need to promote them but you don’t need to tell them “this is the biggest meltdown in television history” every week.
SH: And overuse the phrase “you WON’T BELIEVE…“
SH: Thanks for that, promo people, but I reckon I will, actually. I will somehow be able to believe what happens on your show this week; I’ll be able to comprehend it.
MW: If you treat viewers like idiots, then eventually they’ll say “you can get f***ed”, and the show will suffer – through no fault of its own, but by the way the show is perceived. We did The X Factor on the back of doing Australian Idol. It came along straight after Idol which was really bad programming.
SH: Mark Holden was a common factor in both, I think?
MW: He was, yeah. Straight after Idol and also while Channel 10 – who had it – was also running American Idol. There’s a good decision!
SH: Yes – they are shooting themselves in the foot there. Saturating their own market.
MW: The show still rated well, but it’s perceived as being not a very successful version of The X Factor. That’s not true, but it was really up against it. People went “hang on a minute – give us a break!” It’s a bit like “Do we run another Block?” Apparently we are about to have another Block. Do we care?
SH: Well personally, not a lot.
MW: No! Ultimately, they’ll get sick of them. And the network will burn it out, and they’ll go “Oh, it’s no good anymore.”
And with those thoughts on the (sadly, all too common) short-sightedness of network programmers these days, we’ll sign off for this week. Next week, as our conversation continues, I ask Michael about career prospects for those wanting to work behind the scenes in the game show industry, and get his thoughts on the future of game shows, in our rapidly changing home entertainment landscape. Until then, then!