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!

 

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