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!