Talkin’ ‘Bout ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation’… Part I

Hello! Today I’m beginning the latest in my series of multi-part, patented HowToWinGameShowsReminiscences. This time, I’ll be talking about my time as writer, then head writer – and occasional cast member – of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, for its entire four-season run, from 2009 – 2012.

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Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation (or TAYG, as its host Shaun Micallef dubbed it) was an hour-long comedy game show, which pitted three 2-person teams of celebrities against each other in various games, testing them mentally and physically. The overall theme of the show (as hinted at in the title) was a “battle of the generations”; in this case,

  • The Baby Boomers (defined by us as having been born between 1946 and 1964), versus
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) versus
  • Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1996).

My involvement in the show began in February 2009, when the Executive Producer Peter Beck approached me about this new comedy game show (called My Generation at that time) that was being developed for Channel 10, with Shaun Micallef confirmed as its host. I’d worked with both Peter and Shaun before, and it was exciting to be in at the very genesis of the show, when a lot of its components were still being created and tweaked. We play-tested loads of games that the producers had come up with, I submitted ideas for new generation-based games, and we brainstormed a lot of game titles (I remember What’s A Doodle Do was one of mine). We put together a mock / test episode for the purpose of auditioning potential team captains, and I was in the studio for all the team captain auditions, which took place over a couple of days.

After auditioning many celebrities from the three generations, the team captains were finally cast. They were: Amanda Keller for the Baby Boomers, Charlie Pickering for Generation X and Josh Thomas for Gen Y.

There were practice runs and more practice runs, with Shaun – ever the perfectionist – tweaking the script again and again, always adding more and yet more jokes. And this, in my opinion, was what really ensured that TAYG was the success that it was.

Oh sure, the format was very sound, and the content of every game was meticulously prepared to provide maximum entertainment value and playability (both for our teams and the viewers at home). And our team captains were very well cast – they were each funny and engaging in their own way, and their chemistry when working together was fantastic.

But the show was very much Shaun’s. His absurd, tangential, brilliant humour shone through in every segment. Playfulness was the order of the day here, and he led by example, introducing all sorts of silliness while still managing to host the show. A good example of this was the inclusion to the show of Stewart, Shaun’s pet meerkat. (Again, the name was mine; it was a reference to the actress Kat Stewart, who Shaun and I had both worked with on Shaun’s previous show Newstopia). Here’s Stewart in action:

Stewart was a pedal-operated idea of Shaun’s that was brought to life by the utterly brilliant props builder and head of art department David Triscott. As you can imagine, DT was tasked with all sorts of bizarre challenges for this show, from building Shaun’s chair (a replica of the Tyrell Corporation chair from Blade Runner)*…

… to constructing an enormous machine that spins our contestants around, while pouring tomato sauce and butter on them. He rose to the occasion brilliantly every time. In fact, the Art Department was another example of how every element of this show seemed to come together. It all just… worked. And the show’s ratings reflected this; it was a hit, with each episode of the first series attracting over a million viewers (which, in Australia, is really good).

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Next week, some more behind the scenes stories (and pics!), and a look at some of the show’s many guest contestants who’ve gone on to bigger and better things…

Until then, then!

* That Tyrell Corporation chair is still around, and can be spotted in the background on Shaun’s current show Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell. 

‘Aaaall…. All Star Squares! The fun and the laughter, forget all your cares!”

Hello.

This week sees the first instalment in my latest three-part series of patented How To Win Game Shows Behind-The-Scenes Reminiscences (TM).

Or HTWGSBTSR (TM). Catchy, eh?

And this time around, I’m talking about the 1999 game show All-Star Squares. This was a short-lived adventure for me as a game show question writer, given that the show only lasted for about six months…

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All-Star Squares was essentially a reboot and re-branding of the classic game show The Hollywood Squares (known in some territories as Celebrity Squares, and in Japan as 3 TIMES 3 IS QUIZ! Seriously.) This show had been on Australian TV before, back in late sixties, and again in 1981… and then in 1999 The Powers That Be at Channel Seven decided it was time for a reboot.

I must have heard about it through the grapevine in late 1998. At that stage, I’d just finished my first year as a full-time professional TV writer on the daily afternoon show Denise and had also served time as a gag writer for In Melbourne Tonight, which was my second professional TV writing gig, after submitting sketches and jokes for Full Frontal.

Anyway, the point is, that the word went around that this new game show was looking for gag writers who could also write general knowledge questions. Although I was writing for BackBerner at the time, I figured this was part-time, and I could fit it in too, so I jumped at the chance. Among others, I found myself working with my long-time writing colleague and best friend Vin Hedger, and Adam Richard, both of whom I’ve interviewed for this site.

I remember that, in attempts to make each other laugh, Adam and I would often rework the opening lyrics to the All Star Squares theme song. As you can hear here, the original is;

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! The fun and the laughter, forget all your cares!”

But Adam and I came up with alternative versions, including, but not limited to;

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Some folks like straight trousers, but others wear flares!”

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Male horses are stallions, and females are mares!”

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! You can’t catch the train if you don’t pay your fares!”

And various others that I’m not able to repeat here on a family-friendly blog.

All-Star Squares was a unique gig for a joke writer, not to mention a question writer. If you’re unfamiliar with the format of the show, it’s essentially Noughts & Crosses (or Tic-Tac-Toe)… In order to score a point, the contestant chooses one of 9 celebrities, and the host asks that celebrity a general knowledge question. When the celebrity answers, the contestant decides whether the celebrity is right or wrong. If the contestant decides correctly, they score a point.

We writers were asked to submit questions for the show in batches; I think there might have been 20 questions per batch. And for each of those 20 questions, we had to provide:

  • The question,
  • The correct answer to the question,
  • One incorrect (but potentially convincing) answer to the question,
  • One joke answer to the question,
  • And two solid references to verify the accuracy of the question and its correct answer.

If memory serves, they paid us less than $5 a question for all that. Coming up with a fresh, interesting, usable question – and all of those other elements particularly a joke answer that would work, given the restrictions of the show (family audience, 5:30 time-slot, celebrities with varying degrees of comic ability, conservative network execs, etc, etc) – would often take one to two hours. They’d never get away with paying us so poorly now, and I’m not sure why we all said “Yes” to the deal back then.

Young and hungry for work, I suppose.

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Next week, as this HTWGSBTSR (TM) continues, I’ll take you through the pre-show process of prepping the celebrities in the Green Room. This was the weekly ritual before they all ventured out onto the studio floor and climbed up into their nine individual, hermetically sealed celebrity cells…

Until then, please do try to forget all your cares.

 

 

 

EXCLUSIVE Guest Post from serial game show contestant Ryan Vickers

Ryan Vickers, on the set of the UK game show ‘Countdown’

Hello!

As promised last week, here’s the very first Guest Post I’ve ever had here at HowToWinGameShows.com.

It’s from Ryan Vickers, who’s a Canadian game show fan, game show veteran… and game show host! Ryan has very kindly offered to do a series of posts for the site on his life in game shows, and here’s the first one.

Take it away, Ryan!

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My Life In Game Shows, Part I: Getting To Know You.

My mom chuckled. “Oh Ryan, why are you spending five bucks on stamps?”

“Because Mom,” I replied, “It’s Wheel of Fortune”.

I grew up in a household where creativity was encouraged. My parents were both educators. So that meant no violent cartoons like all of my friends. No Nintendo Entertainment System – my friends were left to their own Super Mario needs.

When my friends were busy, I resorted to the thing that I loved: game shows. Canadian or American, French-language or English-language, it didn’t matter. We grew up near Montreal, and that meant with cable television came foreign adaptations from other big money American game shows.

I can’t tell you exactly where the passion (okay, addiction) came from. I do however remember not ever wanting to miss any game shows. And you can bet that when we went away on trips, I would do everything I could to be in front of the telly to see out-of-market game shows. I even spent one year in the late eighties with a routine; Get up. Shower. Breakfast. Fun House at 7:30. Run for the school bus. And so it went.

Why do I like game shows so much? Is it because of the lights? The sounds? Those catchy theme songs? No, it’s because it’s about people doing the out-of-the-ordinary in extraordinary situations. And now, with the presence of sites like YouTube and television networks like Buzzr and GSN in the USA, both classics and modern shows are available 24/7. I was even delighted to turn up a late seventies Reach For The TopGénies en Herbe all-star game with Alex Trebek hosting in both English and French.

We’ll get to Wheel and Reach soon enough, I guarantee you.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The first game show I applied for, I got on. And I’ve been really lucky since then. I’ve appeared on eight (yes, that’s right, eight) television and radio game shows in Canada, the USA, England and France. In addition to that, I’ve been part of a studio audience on three continents over thirty different times, and once even a part of someone else’s experience.

I look forward to sharing my adventures with you!

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And I’m really looking forward to reading them, Ryan!

I’d like to thank Ryan so much again for coming on board as my very first guest blogger, and hey, if you – yes, YOU! – have any game show adventures / stories / jooooourneys that YOU’d like to share with the game show community – through HowToWinGameShows.com – why not let me know?

Given the flying start that this first example has got off to, I’m really open to the idea of future guest bloggers. So if that could be you, just drop me a line at Stephen@HowToWinGameShows.com, and let’s talk! 

‘It Took Two’… Part I

Hello!

And sorry everyone, for my absence last week. I’ve been very busy with various things….

But hey, you don’t want excuses from me, you want blog posts.

And so today, (and over the next two weeks as well), I’m going to take you back. Back in time, to an eventful period in my life, and a game show that I was intimately involved in. A show that teamed professional singers with professional celebrities. A show that had millions (or at least, lots) of Australians glued to their TVs – and their smartphones – every Sunday night, as it all unfolded live before their very eyes. I found myself caught up in the maelstrom of all this, while 700 km away, my brand new wife was struggling with very poor health, leading up to the birth of our child…

NOW READ ON.

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May, 2006.

I was living in Sydney, I’d recently won both Temptation and Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster, and Judi and I were newly married and expecting our daughter. One day, I got a job offer from Brad Lyons – an executive at the Seven Network who I’d worked for earlier on the sketch comedy series Big Bite – to write the scripts for a new celebrity game show that the network would be producing soon. It was to take over the live Sunday night 7:30 timeslot for the network, which had been so successful for them with Dancing With The Stars.

And as it turned out, it was in a pretty similar vein to DWTS. In fact, it essentially replaced the dancing element with a singing element. 10 celebrities not known for their singing abilities would be teamed up with 10 professional singers, and the resulting duos would battle it out LIVE every Sunday night, for the judges, and the audience, over a 10 week season.

This was It Takes Two. 

It was an adaptation of the UK show Just The Two Of Us, which had started airing over there just weeks earlier. (When I watched the first episode of Just The Two Of Us, I was upset to see that the very first professional singer voted off was one of the heroes from my teenage years – Martin Fry from ABC.)

Bye bye, Mr Fry.

Although we didn’t urgently need the money, I accepted the job. This was probably mostly due to force of habit. Having been a freelance writer and actor since 1987, when work comes along, the knee jerk reaction is always to say yes. Even if it doesn’t sound great, there are always those things you tell yourself:

“It’ll look good on the resume”,

“I might learn some new skills”,

“I might meet people who may consider me for the next gig”, and most importantly

“I will make some money here, and who knows when the next job will come along?”

All of these thoughts occurred to me every time a job came along. To some extent, they still do.

So, I said yes. With the understanding that I wouldn’t stay until the very end – as our daughter was due – but I’d certainly be there for the first half of the season, to help get it all up and running. Over the next few weeks, I was very much thrust into the deep end, as the producers frantically tried to work out how best to wrangle this all-encompassing LIVE weekly TV event, which had so many moving parts, and so many egos to placate… In terms of on-air talent alone, there were 27 people who needed to be looked after. (2 hosts, 4 judges, 10 professional singers, and 10 non-professionally singing celebrities, and one orchestra leader). Then there was the orchestra, the technical crew and all the administrative staff required to keep the machine running.

As for my role? Well, it was essentially to write all of the hosts’ banter, one liners for the judges, along with any ideas for any of the contestants. I also had to co-ordinate, print, copy and physically distribute all the scripts to everyone who needed them, in every department. This was the most time-consuming part of a show with so many people working on it.

Actually, now that I think about it… no, it wasn’t. The most time-consuming part (in the first couple of weeks, anyway) was learning how to write show scripts using Microsoft Excel. This was an idea of one of the producers. Apparently, she’d always written scripts that way, and found it much easier, so she insisted I do it that way too. I’d only used Microsoft Excel a handful of times in my life. I’m a writer, not an accountant – I use Microsoft Word. This caused countless headaches and mistakes, while I stumbled through the program as the Executive Producer ran around, literally yelling “Come on guys! WHERE ARE THOSE SCRIPTS?! NEED THEM NOW!” In the end, I spoke to the producer and the EP and told them I needed to use Microsoft Word for the scripts. They’re scripts; they should be Word documents, not spreadsheets. They acquiesced, and so that part of things was streamlined a little…

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Not a lot, but a little.

Next week, the It Takes Two / expectant parenthood adventure continues, as we meet the show’s hosts, and examine a controversy that one of them sparked with a seemingly innocuous on-air comment…. 

Until then, then!

Book review – ‘How To Win TV Quiz Shows’ by CJ de Mooi

cj-de-mooi-book-cover

‘How To Win TV Quiz Shows’ by CJ De Mooi

Hello, and Happy New Year, to one and all ! Here’s hoping that 2017 is happy, healthy and fun for you… and that this is the year that all your game show dreams come true.

My first post for this year is another one of my occasional game show related book reviews. Today I’m looking at the first book by former quiz show champion, and Eggheads star CJ De Mooi. It’s called How To Win TV Quiz Shows and I picked it up as an eBook a while ago from Amazon.

It’s a quick read – just 152 pages – and although it does contain some good information, I wouldn’t say it’s an essential text book on the subject. But if you’re a fan of CJ’s slightly snarky, bitchy onscreen persona, then you’ll probably quite enjoy the ride. He writes in a breezy, chatty style, throwing in plenty of his trademark sarcastic barbs along the way.

The book begins with a potted history of CJ’s personal journey – from being quiz show contestant, to being a quiz show winner, to being a quiz show regular cast member. I must confess, I found his personality a bit hard to take during the relating of his life story. A pattern seemed to emerge in this part of the book; he’d repeatedly big-note his wins, then describe his losses as ‘injustices’, while assuring the reader that he’s over them now anyway.

An example of this comes when he relates how on one game show, he was only one second away from answering the final question in a 60 second round, when the timer went off. He complains that contestants not being able to see the clock is a major game flaw, and that this is unfair. To be fair, that’s how it’s usually done, CJ.

This very personal chapter concludes with him telling us that he’s now quit Eggheads, in order to pursue his dream of acting. And he’s happy; he goes to the gym every day, moisturises, and doesn’t care in the slightest what anyone thinks of him.

Hmm….

I can’t help thinking that if he’s telling us that he goes to the gym and moisturises every day, then he cares very much what everyone thinks of him.

Chapter 2 goes through the processes of getting on to quiz shows. This is a UK-centric book, and so the practical tips are all UK-based. He breaks down the reasons that people might have for applying for game shows and goes through them in more detail one by one. There are some useful tips here, such as the middle-aged white man (a demographic that’s generally over-represented on quiz shows) being selected time and time again due to drawing a little rainbow flag on the top of his application forms. Sometimes, positive discrimination works!

This is followed by a very comprehensive account of what you can expect on a studio record day.

Later chapters see CJ interviewing some other quiz show winners; Pat Casey (winner on The Chase and Tipping Point), serial WWTBAM contestant Paddy Spooner and British and European championship quizzer Gareth Kingston. But I’m not sure if I liked the way that he did this; rather than laying things out in a question and answer format, he’s reworked the content of the interviews into a prose, indirect speech format. Along the lines of “Paddy has an illuminating point”… “Paddy mentions his six year old daughter”, “Gareth advised always going in with a game plan”, and so on. This left me wondering exactly what CJ’s interview subjects did say to him in answer to his questions, and exactly how much has CJ paraphrased their responses.

As the book comes towards a conclusion, there’s a chapter titled ‘The Future’, which contains more practical tips about the why and how of getting on game shows – how you apply, etc., etc. It’s all sound advice, but not exactly inside knowledge. He’s a great advocate of joining an organised quizzing league (such as the ones that can be found here), which I think is certainly a good way of brushing up your knowledge, and exercising those question-answering muscles. He also recommends writing quiz questions, in order to get into the mindset of a quiz question writer. I’ve always thought that this is a great tip, and we’ve mentioned it many times here on the blog over the years.

The final chapter goes into more detail about how to write questions, and contains one list that I found interesting. It’s CJ’s Top Ten Topics that you should be well-versed in, if you’re looking for quizzing success. (I think the first one may be a bit anglo-centric, but here they are:)

Continue reading

EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part X: The Conclusion.

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

This week, as my epic interview with game show producing Living Legend Michael Whyte comes to a conclusion, we discuss the future of game shows…

and Prize Money! And what the winners can – and/or should – do with it…

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MW: We had a young guy earlier on, (on Sale of The Century) he was a student and he won. I said “what are you going to do?” He said “I am doing my thesis on Bowerbirds and I am now going to spend the rest of my life doing that, because that’s what I want to do. Now I’ve got the money I can do it.” It allowed him to do exactly whatever he wanted. That was what he wanted to do.

SH: It’s always interesting to hear winners who want to use the money to follow a specific dream, rather than “Oh, I’ll just put it on the mortgage”… and they don’t get much more specific than that!

MW: Well on Millionaire Hot Seat, on the bottom of the card that we end up giving to (host) Eddie (McGuire), which says “What would you do if you won lots of money?”… I always say to them “by the end of today we’re making 6 episodes. Some of you are going to win substantial money. It will happen, and it does”. I say “What you’ve got to make sure is that you do the things you said you were going to do. And not hand money out to your friends and all of a sudden start giving to charity and doing all those sorts of things. If you wanted to go to Antarctica, if you wanted to buy that Mustang, this is what you have to do. You have to do that. Because you’ll find if you don’t, it’ll just disappear. If you do all those things, it’ll make you so much happier. It really will. 

SH: Don’t be practical about it. Follow the dream. If you have the chance to follow the dream, follow the dream!

MW: Surely, take some off the mortgage, why not? But at the same time, if you wanted to buy that thing that you always thought “I could never get that” and now you can… then go and get it! Go tomorrow, and get it. Simple as that. 

SH: What do you predict will be the next big trend in game shows? 

MW: I think the ‘question-and-answer’ will still be the same but I think it might get to a very specific situation, almost like a Mastermind situation, where there will be “your subject is this”. And the people sitting there at home are going “how the hell do those people know about this particular thing?” That was the strength of Mastermind and then that diminished because people went “Oh no, I can’t answer that, so I’m not interested”. But it is a bit more reality than it is quiz show. It may be that, who knows? Hopefully they don’t dumb them down. 

SH: But for the time being you’re on Millionaire Hot Seat which has been going on for a number of years now and going very well. How long has Hot Seat been going? 

MW: Well, the traditional format was an evening format, and they wanted a half- hour version to go on at 5:30 in particular. We had done, over the years, a couple of half-hour versions of the old show but it really didn’t work as well. This format was actually done in Denmark. I think they would have the live traditional Millionaire then go to the News and then come back and do this Hot Seat format, because they needed another show. And the set and everything was already there. They did that really as a bit of a filler. Then we saw that and thought “if that’s what you want at 5:30, this is the way to go with it”. We tried out a couple of versions of it and ended up with this, and it’s working really well. 

SH: And long may it continue to do so. I think on that note, we might wrap it up. Michael thank you so much for being so generous with your time and speaking with me today. I really appreciate it – and what a long and varied career in every aspect of game shows and light entertainment and drama! Like you say, you don’t get that today. It’s been really great to talk to you.  

MW: Thanks, Stephen.

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Again, I’d like to thank Michael for being so generous with his time and for sharing so many thoughts and experiences from his epic career. I really enjoyed learning all about the various shows he’s worked on, and all the behind-the-scenes anecdotes, tips and hints… and I hope you did too. 

Next week, something a bit different… some audio content! A little while ago, I was invited onto ABC Radio to talk game shows, along with the host of The Chase: Australia, Andrew O’Keefe. And that interview will be available, in full – as a clickable link, and a downloadable mp3 – right here, next Tuesday!

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

Michael Whyte (right) with host Eddie McGuire on the set of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?'

Michael Whyte (right) with host Eddie McGuire on the set of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’

When we left our conversation last week, Michael was giving that all-important, incendiary advice that begins every game show contestant’s journey; Don’t just sit there watching, saying “I’d be good on that show”… Get up off the couch and apply! We then discussed his role in the production, and he mentioned that when he talks to group of contestants who have got through the selection process….

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MW: I say “Hands up who has going on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as something on their bucket list?” and up go hands… “I always wanted to do it, I am going to have a go at it”. It’s the show where if you know all the answers you can win lots of money. It is also the show where if you guess correctly – pure luck – you can also win a lot of money… and that happens too! That’s not the same on Sale.

SH: No, there are no prizes for guessing there.

MW: No, you have to know the answer. And again, people don’t understand it till they’ve done it, but there’s a lot that goes into it. As I said; hear the question, push the buzzer, get it out of your mouth in a time limit, over and over again. Then add the pressure. Let’s say you did 5 episodes in a day and you came back the next week to do the final 3. Or maybe you started on the Friday episode in the first week so did 1, then you did 5 in the second week’s worth of records – that’s 6 – and then you had to come back another week to do 2 more. That’s 3 weeks it took you to do the whole thing.

SH: That stamina thing is a real issue, and you really have to manage your own doubt and your own energy levels.

MW: Absolutely. Those that win – especially Sale – are the ones that go “I want to win the show. Now, if I win any money, great – but I want to win the show to prove that I can do it, because I think I can do it”. That’s what happened to you. And pretty much that’s what happened to all those people that win that show.

SH: I remember during my run on Temptation – and I don’t know whether you remember this – I wanted to win the show so much that I hardly bought anything in the Gift Shop, and it made the producer a bit miffed. And that’s probably putting it mildly…

MW: Well, I was there during your run and that wasn’t the case. You might’ve had a producer on the floor; I was Executive Producing at that stage. They might have said “Oh, he doesn’t buy anything!” It doesn’t make any difference.

SH: Well, I get their point – in that they wanted closer games and all of that – and having been a producer myself a couple of times, of course you want to make good telly, and you want it to be close… but I wasn’t. And a couple of people had a quiet word saying “come on, buy stuff” and Ed (the host) was half-joking with me, “Come on, you’re so far ahead! Short arms, long pockets” and all of that. But I wasn’t doing anything that wasn’t in the rules, and I just wanted to win convincingly and safely.

MW: No, no, no – that’s fine. That’s not the attraction. I mean, the way the format is set up is simply that the Fame Game question, and the Gift Shops in particular, were designed to level the game out a bit. That’s why, when around came the Gift Shop, if it was a fridge, it was probably the best fridge you could buy. If it was a vacuum cleaner, it was the best you could buy. That’s the point and so if you thought “I need a vacuum cleaner, I will have it!” There’s other people that are going “I am not going to, because I am not going to risk it”.

We had a guy called David Bock. He won the show and he came back a couple of times to play a champion series or something.

SH: I remember Pam Barnes talking about David Bock.

MW: Tony Barber – probably the best quiz host we’ve ever seen – nicknamed him pretty soon; he called him David “spider-in-the-pocket” Bock, and he used it all the time, because David would never buy anything. And when he finally won, part of his prize was a BMW convertible. I said to him, “Have you always wanted a convertible?” And he said “Oh yes.” I said “Are you going to sell it?” He said, “Yes.” “Why are you going to sell it?” “Because my wife needs a…” What do you need? You don’t have any children, it’s just you and your wife. Why don’t you keep it?” And the bottle of champagne that we gave him on that night – you would have got one –

SH: Yes.

MW: – was the first champagne he’d ever tasted.

SH: Really?

MW: Because he always thought champagne was too expensive. I said “make sure you drink it”.

SH: For goodness’ sake, don’t sell it!

MW: He kept the BMW for about 2 months and he was guilt-ridden and he sold it.

SH: Right. That’s his particular personality I guess.

MW: That’s right. He didn’t do it for the money either. The money didn’t really change his life; it just meant that his bank balance was a lot better, and he just carried on with what he was doing.

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And I think there’s a lesson in there that bears repeating…. if you’re on a game show and you feel the producers would like you to adopt a type of game play that you’re not comfortable with… stick to your guns. 

In the lights and stress and atmosphere of being on the set, it’s easy for your decisions to be swayed. If you’ve developed an overall strategy (and it’s within the rules) stick to it. To thine own self be true. Making spur-of-the-moment gameplay decisions that you’re not comfortable with can cost you dearly. Not just in dollars and cents, but in something just as powerful, and far more haunting…

Regret.

And wondering “What Might Have Been….” 

 

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

Michael Whyte (right) with host Eddie McGuire on the set of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?'

Michael Whyte (right) with host Eddie McGuire on the set of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’

Last week’s part of my interview with Michael Whyte ended with us discussing the poor teaching that can sometimes go on in the media industry. In a discipline where sometimes the teachers are people who haven’t quite made it in the real world of the television industry, some of the knowledge they pass on to their students can, at times, be less than authoritative….

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MW: Now, the opposite to that I think, is my son, for example. He shoots, with a digital camera, skateboarding, BMX and scootering, and he’s got his own site. He has about 15 sponsors and he shoots on a regular basis and makes short films and is now being hired by people to shoot stuff.

SH: That’s smart.

MW: Well, exactly. So when he goes to do a course like that, he’s already done the editing side of things… because he does that every day.

SH: Self-taught.

MW: And he’ll pop that up on his own YouTube channel or on his own site and he he’ll get 80,000 hits for one of those. Quite easily. So he’s got that part of it done. So the theory side of it… I don’t know if it works for him. He can actually do what people require already.

SH: Or he can be his own business, his own entrepreneur, his own TV station. And with sponsors, then you wouldn’t need to go anywhere else if you can scale it and make it bigger and bigger… and there you go. You can do what you love and get paid.

MW: Yeah. But I think if he took that to Channel 9, depending on who interviewed him, they’d say “you need a Bachelor of Communication or something like that”, whereas if you took it to a small production company and just said “Here’s what I’ve done”, they’d go “Fantastic. Go and shoot this, and I’ll have a look at it at the end and if it is any good we will give you some work”. Will it be as simple as that, you know?

SH: Is that where he sees his future?

MW: Well I think so, because he enjoys it. More and more into the extreme sports because he likes extreme sports and when he goes, he shoots. People are going “that’s really good”. He puts some music to it, chops it up and there it is. He shouldn’t have a problem getting any work – just as long as the interest is still there, he’ll be great.

SH: You mentioned a moment ago that you’re currently working on Millionaire Hot Seat, which is a version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Do you have any tips or hints for people considering going on either Millionaire Hot Seat or Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?

MW: First of all, get off the couch because mostly people sit there and say “Yeah, I know that”. And you would have had so many people say “Yeah, I could have done that”.

SH: Ah, yes – But you didn’t, did you?

MW: It’s fine to say afterwards “Yeah, I would have got that, no problem”. It’s those people, every time we record there’s a studio full of contestants and I say to them “you were sitting on the couch, you were watching the show and your husband or your wife or your boyfriend or whoever it was said ‘Get off the couch and go and have a go… because you are driving me mad!’”

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It may sound facetious, but I think that point IS really important; you DO have to get off the couch. “Fortune Favours The Bold” may be a cliche, but it’s absolutely true. In fact, I think the point Michael’s making was perhaps expressed most eloquently in these wonderful words from the 26th American president, Theodore Roosevelt;

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Nice one, Teddy. See you next week.

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

As my conversation with game show production veteran Michael Whyte continues, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to ask him about the current state of game shows on Australian television, and the outlook for their future…

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SH: Currently on Australian TV, there does seem to be a real saturation of cooking shows and renovating shows. Obviously that’s something that works, and so everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. What do you think about Free-To-Air versus Pay-TV? Are Pay-TV and Netflix and all the other entertainment providers making an impact on quiz and game shows?

MW: On quiz and game shows? They are making a dent on everything; you only have to look to your children. I’ve got a 22-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 9-year-old, and the 22-year-old and 18-year-old don’t watch Free-To-Air television. They program their own. They watch whatever they want, and they’ll watch it on whatever device they want to watch it on. They pick and choose but they don’t watch Free To Air television. Ultimately, Free-To-Air, you would think, would come down to News and Sports. 

SH: It’s interesting you should say that. The other week I was watching Media Watch, and there was some media analyst who said for Free-To-Air television, the future is News, Sports and Reality – those big, expensive reality shows that cable can’t afford to make, like The Voice and so on.

MW: I think that’s absolutely right. It is. I mean, what do you watch on TV?

SH: I watch Media Watch ! I watch American comedies and English comedies and Game of Thrones. I don’t watch the news; I get the news elsewhere. And I’m not a sports fan. I must admit with my daughter Lily, who’s also 9, we watched The Great Australian Spelling Bee and she loves it, and I think it is quite nice entertainment. 

MW: My daughter will watch selected cartoons, all Foxtel stuff. She’ll also watch anything to do with animals. All the National Geographic and Discovery channels are pretty much what we watch. Whereas my wife would watch on her iPad Orange is the New Black  whenever she feels like, and catch up with Breaking Bad and try and finish that series.

SH: What about you? What are your viewing habits?

MW: I monitor shows that I’m involved in, so I watch those. I make sure the News is on, to try and get my 9-year-old to discuss what’s going on, and try and get my 18-year-old and my 22-year-old involved in the News, because they don’t – on purpose – read newspapers. So if you asked them a question about current events, they wouldn’t know. We always used to watch the News when we were kids. It was always on and we would always find out what was going on.

SH: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to work behind the scenes on games shows or quiz shows and try to get into the industry?

MW: It’s so difficult these days. I think they’re really looking for people who have a broad experience and some sort of university degree, because that’s meant that they’ve had to put their head down at some stage and study hard. The days of working your way up from the bottom, I think, have gone. On our crew for example, out at Docklands on Millionaire Hot Seat, they’re 90% freelance. So they go from job to job and there’s no one training up. 

SH: I guess there are media courses at tertiary institutions. I would imagine that would be a prerequisite if you wanted to get a foot in the door…

MW: Sometimes. Also sometimes those courses are run by people who didn’t make it in the industry. 

SH: “Those who can, do – those who can’t, teach”?

MW: Mm. I remember years ago, at Channel 9, a group of media students coming in and standing in the Control Room. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Bendigo Street Control Room, but it’s pretty straightforward. There’s the Control Room there, Audio on the left, behind those doors, and on the right you’ve got lighting and your CCU (Camera Control Unit) and all your technical area. And this teacher has walked in with his media students and said “Okay! Right here is the mixing desk; that’s where the director cuts camera and rolls in videotapes and things… and to the left, (he’s pointing to the audio room), that’s lighting; that’s where the lighting happens! And over there on the right, that’s communications.”

SH: Right, okay… Awkward.

MW: And I said “Whoa there – I’ll walk you through and let the people who are pushing the buttons tell you what they do and then you can work it out”. He had no idea.

SH: Clearly.

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So if you’re looking for a career in the game show industry, I’m sorry we haven’t painted a rosier picture…

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Sorry about that. I promise next week’s instalment will definitely be more upbeat. See you next Tuesday!

 

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

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

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…

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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

MW: Right. 

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.”

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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!