Confessions of a ‘Family Feud’ warm-up man… Part I

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Russell Fletcher, and the happy ‘Family Feud’ studio audience!

I’ve known Russell Fletcher for many years. He’s a brilliant actor, an incredibly skilled improviser and a gifted theatrical director. In fact, he’s directed three live stage shows that I’ve written or co-written over the years, and really is an outstandingly talented bloke. Versatile too – and that’s what made me approach him to chat with me for HowToWinGameShows.com. You see, since 2014, Russell has been the audience warm up person on the hugely successful Australian revival of Family Feud. But Russell’s duties on the show don’t end there. In fact, he’s really well placed to give us an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the show, which should prove fascinating for anyone who’s interested in appearing on it. So let’s get to it, and dive right in to Part One of my interview, with the one and only Russell Fletcher!

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SH: Russell, thanks for chatting to me today for HowToWinGameShows.com.

RF: My pleasure, Hallington!

SH: How would you describe your role on Family Feud, and how did you come to be in that role ?

RF: Pam Barnes gave me a call at the start of 2014 checking availability and I think maybe I have received a slight handball from Michael Pope. I’d filled in for Popey over the span of 20 years, like twice, as a warm up person on Family Feud and a sitcom, a really bad one. Even though I think I was terrible warm up at the time I think I was the most entertaining person in the room. It was a really bad sitcom.

SH: What was it? You can name names!

RF: It was something with “school” in it. 

SH: Late For School, starring Matthew Newton. 

RF: It was like live recording in the studio. I had to go and fill in and I didn’t know what to do so I just made it up a bit. I am not a stand-up comedian, I don’t have 20 minutes. So when Pam called me, I was like “a warm up person? Really?” because I know my experience hadn’t been good. But I’d spent the intervening years doing lots of corporate entertainment, just shooting the breeze in front of a live audience. Also hosting Spontaneous Broadway just gave me the confidence even to go even though I’m not a stand-up comedian I think I can manufacture something and just do an angle on that.   And I have seen enough warm up to do what I think I could be a version of that. You have to develop a persona and you have to develop some schtick. I was hesitant at first but then I looked at my family and they were hungry and I thought “I gotta feed you guys”. So I went “Regular gig? Hell.yeah!” Plus then it became apparent that I was also going to host the audition days so I was going to be (Family Feud host) Grant Denyer on those days. And I thought that’s the sort of stuff that I really enjoy.

SH: Hosting. 

RF: It’s just hosting, shooting the breeze with contestants and that was the first part of the job: was actually auditioning families. So I just created a little bit of procedure about it in terms of warming them up and telling them about their expectations and it also grew from there. So I guess I’d put myself down as warm up / studio host. I am the audition day host. That’s probably my post important role. 

SH: Right. And how does an audition day run, from your perspective? For instance, you are in a hall or somewhere in a public space? Roughly how many people or families or groups would you have at a typical audition?

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A surprising challenge from Hamish & Andy…

Hamish and Andy

 

So yesterday afternoon, I was lucky enough to pop up on Hamish & Andy’s afternoon radio show, to talk about game shows, how to win them, and of course my eBook How To Win Game Shows. But if you know Hamish & Andy, you’d know that they don’t tend to do run-of-the-mill, ordinary interviews. They’re always after ways of making things a little more quirky, a little more competitive, a little more fun…

 

‘How To Win Game Shows’ the eBook: UPDATE!

Hello everyone, and welcome to the scheduled launch day for How To Win Game Shows  – the eBook! 

Only thing is, it’s not quite ready yet.

Gumby

All the content is done, but I’m afraid I’ve underestimated the time that editing, proofreading and getting an eStore up and running would take. So, I know I did say that it’d be ready to go by today, but if you can bear with me for one more week, I’d really appreciate it. That makes the revised launch date Sunday September 20th. I’d like to thank you so much for your patience and understanding. As a little taste of what it’ll look like, here’s the eBook’s cover:

The eBook's front cover!

The eBook’s front cover!

In the meantime, it’ll be business as usual here at the blog, with my next weekly post due on Tuesday. That will chronicle the first part of my Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster journey – this was the show in early 2006 that pitted Who Wants To Be A Millionaire winners against Sale of the Century and Temptation winners, in a battle to win the $20,000 for charity, and the title of ‘Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster’. I did manage to win it, but it certainly wasn’t all smooth sailing. The story of how I accomplished it begins right here on Tuesday, and hopefully there’ll be some tips and hints in there that will be helpful to you, as you learn from my mistakes.

Until then, thank you so much for your patience, and remember, you can still get a FREE SNEAK PREVIEW BONUS CHAPTER of the eBook by signing up to the How To Win Game Shows mailing list, by using the handy (if slightly squashed) email sign up box to the right! ——————————————————————————————————->

How to Win Game Shows’ Greatest Hits!

GREATEST HITS MONTAGE

As we lurch into the cold winter months*, I thought I’d take an opportunity to let you know about (or remind you of) some of the earlier posts here that you may have missed…

You can find links to all of these, and more, on the ‘ABOUT ME’ page, but here are some highlights, and the ways in which you may hopefully find them helpful…

For those wishing to go on Family Feud, all sorts of handy hints can be found in this interview with the show’s former Executive Producer Michael Pope, and in this interview with the show’s current Executive producer Pam Barnes.

If The Price Is Right is what you’ve set your heart on, this incredibly handy list of tips is well with a look, as is this part of the Michael Pope interview, where he speaks about his time behind the scenes on the show.

And for any budding Who Wants To Be A Millionaire contestants, I’d recommend this 9-part interview with Millionaire millionaire Martin Flood, which goes into great detail.

If you’d like to hear more from other game show champs who’ve been there and done that, there’s this interview with Million Dollar Minute winner Alex Dusek, this interview with Sale of the Century champ Russell Cheek, my own Temptation experience is outlined here, here, here and here… and of course there’s also my recent interview with David St John, who holds the Guinness World Record for the Most Appearances as a TV Quiz Show Contestant!

And I have more winner interviews lined up in the coming weeks, so remember to keep checking back here each Tuesday.

Over the past couple of years, quite a few game show hosts have generously given their time to be interviewed for the blog. Among them; Peter Berner (the host of The Einstein Factor), Ed Phillips (the host of Temptation), Julia Zemiro, (the host of RocKwiz), and Michael Pope (the host of Blockbusters). Of course, Michael’s a game show producer and Executive Producer too, and he speaks about his experiences on that side of the camera in other parts of our interview.

And finally, if you’ll forgive me for a bit of cross(/self)-promotion, here’s a plug for the iPhone app I created: Step-By-Step-Story.

There’s just a sample of some of the past posts from the site. I hope you find some useful stuff in there. And again, a reminder that you can find them all on the ABOUT ME page, if you scroll down to the bottom.

Next week, I’m going to take an in-depth look at a classic game show conundrum, which is also a logic problem. And it’s one that packs quite a counter-intuitive punch, getting even the most intelligent, rational people acting in the most illogical way…

Spock_performing_Vulcan_salute

Until then, Live Long and Prosper.

* Your results may vary, depending on geography.

Review of ‘Come On Down! The Game Show Story’ – Part I

COME_ON_DOWN_THE_GAME_SHOW_STORYSomething a bit different this week: Part One of my review of Come on Down! The Game Show Story, which was a 4-part documentary series shown on British TV in August last year.

Presented by Bradley Walsh (host of ITV’s The Chase), this was a look at the history of the British game show; its formats, hosts, contestants, and the evolution of the genre. It was a diverting – if not overly educational – overall look at the British game show, but to my mind, it didn’t really need four one hour-long episodes. It could have been told just as well, if not better, with two.

Episode 1 focussed on British game show history, with Bradley interviewing one of its major figures, Sir Bruce Forsyth. Sir Bruce, whose game show hosting career spans decades and decades, revealed that in the 1980s he tried to buy the rights to the American game shows Card Sharks and Family Feud. But he quickly discovered that Bob Monkhouse – another evergreen British game show host – had already snapped up the  rights to Family Feud, which was renamed Family Fortunes in the UK. Brucie did manage to get the rights to Card Sharks, though. And re-branded for the UK as Play Your Cards Right, and with Bruce hosting, it was a hit over 16 seasons, from 1980 – 2002.

A recurring theme in British game shows seems to be that many hits were adaptations of successful American formats. Mark Goodson & Bill Todman were the game show format kings, and many UK game show successes were adaptations of American ones. Apart from those mentioned above, prominent examples included What’s My Line?The Match Game (known as Blankety Blank in the UK) and The Price is Right.

This last one caused quite a controversy. In British game show culture, where big cash prizes had never been front and centre, the 1984 launch of the proudly materialistic The Price is Right sparked an enormous backlash. People thought it was undignified, that it glorified greed, and  that it could even lead to an increase in the crime rate!

The theme of UK adaptations of successful American formats continues, with Bradley paying a visit to – and appearing on an episode of – Celebrity Squares. This adaptation of the classic Hollywood Squares has enjoyed success in the UK in several incarnations since 1975, and the latest version is hosted by Warwick Davis.

Which I did not know.

But now I do.

This is followed by an interview with one of the new breed of game show hosts, Vernon Kay, current host of Family Fortunes. Kay tells the story of getting the gig, and receiving a phone call from the show’s previous long-serving host Les Dennis, (host from 1987 – 2002) wishing him luck in the role. It turned out that Les Dennis was keeping a Family Fortunes baton-passing tradition going; when Dennis started hosting the show in 1987, he’d received a call from the original UK host Bob Monkhouse (host from 1980 – 1983), wishing him all the best.

Honour Among Game Show Hosts – who’d have thought?

In all, episode 1 of Come On Down! The Game Show Story was an amiable and entertaining wander through the history of UK game shows with a couple (but not a lot) of interesting nuggets of trivia for the game show aficionado. There’s a lot of Bradley Walsh and his persona in it, including a ‘Test Your Comprehension’-type sketch at the end, where various game show hosts quiz Bradley on what he’s learnt during that episode. If you’re a big fan of Bradley Walsh and don’t find him in the slightest bit annoying, you’ll probably quite enjoy these bits.

But if you’re like me… ah, maybe not so much.

Episode 2 of Come On Down! The Game Show Story focusses on quiz shows in Britain, with winner interviews, several shocking scandals, and trivia tidbits including the surprisingly serious inspiration behind the creation of Mastermind.

All of which will be covered in Part II of my review… next week!

 

 

 

EXCLUSIVE interview with ‘Family Feud’ Executive Producer Pam Barnes – Part II

Family-Feud_Grant-Denyer_ResizedToday, my exclusive interview with Pam Barnes (producer of Sale Of The Century, The X Factor, Australia’s Got Talent, The Singing Bee, to name a few) continues, as we discuss the revival of the evergreen game show that’s currently blitzing the ratings on Australian TV….

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SH: Family Feud, the classic game show that keeps on keeping on. You’ve produced two versions of Family Feud on Australian TV; Bert’s Family Feud (from 2006 and 2007) and the current version on the Ten Network, hosted by Grant Denyer, which is very successful. What do you think it is that makes the show’s format so enduring?

PB: I think its simplicity, and I think people have such fond memories of it. It has been around since the mid-70s and there has been a number of incarnations of it and each one has been successful. Each time it comes back, there’s a whole generation of people who used to love it and come home from school to watch it with mum, and all of that sort of thing. I think having it at 6 o’clock at night in 2014 is a really good idea. There is a lot of news that people don’t want their kids to be watching, so up against the news, it’s a good alternative.

SH: It’s a true alternative.

PB: That’s what we’re finding. We’re appealing to families who have young kids, a really young audience that we didn’t expect. I think that comes down to families not wanting to watch news in the traditional timeslot, plus these days there is a lot more news available at all times of the day. Whereas previously we would have to watch the 6 o’clock news to see what’s going on, now there is news all day, and there’s dedicated news channels, so people can be up with the news and still enjoy something completely different and family-friendly at 6 PM.

Going back to the simplicity of the format, you can’t help but play along with it. They’re such simple questions, so the first thing that comes into your head, you say out loud; and then you yell at the television because you think the contestants are silly when they can’t think of the answers.

SH: “It’s obvious! It’s obvious!”

PB: Or you compliment yourself – “I’ve got the top answer!” Sometimes it is the fourth, fifth and sixth responses that are the harder ones to get. The top one is quite easy because it is obvious but then some of the questions will take you in two directions as well. Like “name something you associate with a cottage”; the top answer was “cheese”.

SH: That’s what popped into my head right there.

PB: Whereas for most people it was “going down the garden path”, it was “cottage garden”, it was “flowers”, it was “plants”, “picket fence”. I actually like the questions that can take you two different ways.

SH: In terms of all game shows going around at the moment, it’s probably the most inclusive one that there is. Everyone can play at home, and at all ages. And you don’t need to be across pop culture, you don’t need to be across general knowledge, or history…

PB: You just need to have some grip on life.

SH: Absolutely. What are the three most important things for someone to know if they want to be a contestant on Family Feud?

PB: One is Personality. Bring your best ‘you’ on the day that you come to audition; be bright and enthusiastic. I think the ability to play the game is obviously a huge part of it. You may be a terrific family, but if you can’t play the game then you are not what we need. The other thing is being quick. 

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And, sorry to be such a tease, that’s where we’ll leave it for now. Next week, as our discussion continues, Pam takes us through the audition process for Family Feud; the format of the audition, what’s asked of potential contestants, how the day plays out, and how the producers decide who’s in and who’s out. It’s as close as you can get to being in a Family Feud audition, without actually being in a Family Feud audition! So if you have even the slightest interest in becoming a contestant on Australian Family Feud, you simply can not afford to miss that!

Until next Tuesday, then…

EXCLUSIVE interview with ‘Family Feud’ Executive Producer Pam Barnes – Part I

JTBARNES_wideweb__430x268,0 - CopyToday, I begin my EXCLUSIVE interview with TV light entertainment and game show producer and Executive Producer Pam Barnes. Pam’s multi-award career spans decades, so it was great to sit down with her and hear all manner of behind-the scenes stories, reminiscences, and of course some invaluable tips and hints for aspiring game show contestants! I’d like to thank Pam for being so generous with her time, particularly since she’s currently so busy producing the runaway success story on Australian TV that is Family Feud. Ladies and gentlemen… Pam Barnes!

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SH: Pam, welcome and thanks for speaking to me for howtowingameshows.com. You have had – and continue to have – a very illustrious and amazing career, right across Australian television – light entertainment and game shows. And it’s the game shows that we’ll mostly be talking about today. Am I right in thinking that the first game show you produced, after producing a lot of live television entertainment, was Sale of the Century?

PB: That’s correct. I produced it for a year in 1988. That was when Tony Barber was the host and Alyce Platt was the co-host.

SH: Given that this was at its peak popularity, was there a long waiting list, or a big pool of contestants to draw from?

PB: There were continual auditions. You have to continually be looking for new people. We used to hold them at Studio 9 at Channel 9 in Melbourne. We’d have a set of audition questions, and depending on how people went with those, they’d then be interviewed by producers and have their photo taken and that sort of thing.

SH: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”…

PB: (LAUGHING) “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”. That’s the old showbiz adage, isn’t it? We still say that today.

SH: Do you know who the biggest winner was during your time there?

PB: From what I can remember, my biggest winner was a boy called Andrew Werbik and he was 16 years old – the youngest champion ever, I think. He was a very tall boy – looked older than 16 – but he had extremely scary knowledge for a 16 year old. What he went on to, and what he did after that, I have absolutely no idea. I have a feeling that he might have come back for a Sale of The Century ‘Champion of Champions’ special. Whether he is a nuclear scientist today or a garbage man, I don’t know.

SH: Sixteen? That must’ve been the youngest you can be, and still get on the show.

PB: That was the youngest.

SH: Did he go all the way through?

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Game Show News Update

newsreader - Melbourne Cup DayHello!

Just a quick update this week, with a couple of items of curiosity, and not one – but TWO – exciting announcements of what’s coming up here in the next few weeks.

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Firstly, a brand new game show with a difference. For quite a while now, I’ve subscribed to the Freakonomics podcast – it’s a really interesting weekly podcast – the brainchild of a couple of economists – that uses the principles of Economics to “Explore The Hidden Side Of Everything!”

A couple of weeks ago, they produced the first episode of an audio Game Show called Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. It’s all about obscure knowledge. It was a live event, and the audience were the stars, competing to impress a panel of judges with the most interesting, unusual and useful facts they could muster. It’s not your average game show – there were no valuable, fabulous prizes or mountains of cash to be won… but I do recommend it if you’re a curious person, eager to learn new obscure facts about the world around us. You can learn a bit more about it here, and you can also download the 1 hour and 3 minute mp3 of the show – completely free – right here. 

I also stumbled across a great Game Show-related article this week that I just had to share with you. It’s by Lynnette Walczak, and it’s called Little-Known Facts About TV Game Shows + Winning Tips From Game Show Contestants.

This is really worth a read – there are loads of interesting facts (Did you know that on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, the [D] option has never been the correct answer to the Million Dollar question?), and some great personal stories from those who’ve been on the shows and lived to tell the tale. At the bottom of the page, there’s also a bunch of great links for further reading. Although it looks like it might be a couple of years old, there’s still a LOT of great information here. So, if you have half an hour or so free at some stage, you really could do a lot worse than visiting this page!

And finally, from our ‘Coming Soon’ department…

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EXCLUSIVE interview with game show host Ed Phillips – Part VI

ed_phillips4This week, my exclusive interview with Aussie game show legend Ed Phillips wraps up, as I ask him his three most important tips for would-be game show contestants, and get his thoughts on The Very Future Of The Game Show Itself….

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SH: What do you see as the future of game shows or quiz shows? We don’t seem to have many happening at the moment.

EP: Well, Deal Or No Deal had a great run. Million Dollar Minute – which is just a Temptation ripoff anyway – is back. Millionaire Hot Seat is strong as ever, now they are bringing back Family Feud. The three main networks – 7, 9 and 10 – have all been hamstrung by output deals for the last 2 years with Warner Brothers, Disney and CBS. So once that has expired, that’ll free up tens and tens of millions of dollars in budget so there will be new shows trialled, I think.

SH: Can you explain what you mean by “hamstrung by output deals”?

EP: Ok. Say Channel 9 for instance have a deal with Warner. I believe it’s 150 million dollars. For that, Warner would provide them exclusive access to things; the format to The Voice, Big Bang Theory, several movies, that sort of thing. Big Bang really only gives them a dozen or so new shows each year because they make so few, but it gets them all the back catalogue to play as many times as they like.

SH: And they sure do.

EP: Yeah. The Block cost them 10 – 20 million dollars to do a couple of series, The Voice costs them 40 or 50 million dollars, which includes The Kids’ Voice version as well; paying all the stars. But once those deals expire, they’re set to be renegotiated. So they will crunch those down by a factor of ten, and free up a lot of money for local production. Because you’re right – there’s literally been no local production in new shows, where they would once try something out for 6 or 10 episodes and see how it goes. They have all been running very lean. So Seven has been tied to Disney, Channel 10 has been tied to its American output deal. Once they all expire at the end of this year, there’ll be more money freed up for more projects – just to give them a trial, and see how they go.

SH: That’s interesting.

EP: There could be some new ones – that they haven’t even thought of – coming out. It could be revamping of many more old faves again. Because they won’t have to pay so much money for those, so they can give them a go.

SH: Yes, and try something even… (dare I say it?)… NEW!

EP: Whoo-hoo! Because as you’d know, there are hardly any great new formats of shows. The old ones are like old family favourites, tried and tested… and it is so hard to break in a new one that’s cool.

SH: That’s true.

EP: And of course everyone wants the added element of ‘can we play along at home’? Can we have an app running at the same time and test ourselves against a champ? Can we vote a champ off? Can we join in, if we missed the start of the show? Can we join in half-way through and play? Can we win prizes at home? Everyone wants this amazing multi-layered experience, that you didn’t get on Wheel of Fortune, when the wheel was just spinning around, watching it at home.

SH: It’s a different landscape now.

EP: Yeah.

SH: Ed, Thank you so much for chatting today. In closing, what would you say are the three most important things for someone to know if they want to be a contestant on a game show? I think you have covered some of the things earlier on. 

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‘Family Feud’ set to return to Australia!

Family-Feud_Grant-Denyer_ResizedFremantle Media has announced that the evergreen game show favourite Family Feud will soon be returning to Australian screens on Network Ten, in the 6:00 PM timeslot.

Ten is the third Australian network Family Feud will have appeared on. It ran on Nine from 1977 to 1984 and on Seven from 1989 to 1996. Previous hosts include Tony Barber, Daryl Somers, Sandy Scott, Rob Brough and John Deeks. And of course there was also the 2006 version featuring Bert Newton – Bert’s Family Feud, whose Executive Producer Michael Pope was interviewed exclusively for www.howtowingameshows.com back in June last year. You can (and should!) read the interview right here – it features lots of great Family Feud tips! 

Ten said in a statement that the show would be “funny, engaging and impossible not to play along with at home.” The audience will be invited to play along online via Tenplay and second screen app Beamly.

If you’re in Australia, and would like to audition, you can register by logging onto www.familyfeud.com.au, emailing familyfeud@fremantlemedia.com.au or calling 03 9947 0320.

Production has already commenced, but no on-air date has been announced at this stage. They’re just saying “later in the year”…

Survey says “Good Luck!”