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!

 

EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part V – The conclusion

The Fabulous Adam Richard

This week, I wrap up my interview with The Fabulous Adam Richard, and I couldn’t let him go without asking about another game show-related string to his bow…

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SH: And finally, in addition to all of this, you also served as one of the two team captains on the 2014 reboot of the popular music quiz show Spicks and Specks. How was that experience?

AR: Glorious. Best job I’ve ever had. I have said this many times, but the axing of that show was a blessing. I would have sat there for 20 years and loved every second of it. It challenged me as a performer, and I really felt like I did the best performance work I’ve ever done on that show. The audience and management were resistant to it before it started, so it always felt like pushing a dung heap up a hill. I have really enjoyed the last couple of years, and I would not be doing what I am doing without that show ending. In fact, it was one of the Spicks and Specks producers, Dan Warner, who asked me to come onto the staff at The Chase Australia in the first place.

SH: Did your experience as a question writer give you an edge there?

AR: I hadn’t written questions for about ten years when I started on Spicks and Specks as a team captain, but having done the show in the preceding seven seasons as a guest, as well as being involved in several episodes of the ABC’s Tractor Monkeys, I had a good sense, as a player, of what worked and didn’t work in a question. You learn from just spewing out facts, that numbers are boring, names are boring. The question needs to have its own little story. The multiple choice round on The Chase Australia is a great opportunity for stories – as is the final round of Hard Quiz. When you’re on a panel show, you’re always looking for a way to get a joke, or anecdote, into the game, and an interesting question will open the door to that. If you’re on a show and you’re not in a timed round, don’t be afraid to throw in a fun fact about how you knew that, what it reminded you of. They always record more than they need, and if you look stupid, they’ll just cut it out, and it will be like it never happened! Oh, if you could only see the horrific things that I have said on TV knowing that they would never ever make it to air! Don’t be afraid of having fun – as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the game. It should be really obvious when you’re allowed to, and if you’re not, then Tom or Andrew or Eddie or Grant will make very sure you don’t derail the game.

SH: Adam Richard, you’re a multi-faceted, multi talented man, and I wish you every continued success in all of these various areas. Thanks very much for your time today!

AR: Thank you Hally Bejawley!

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I’m so grateful to Adam (or Richo Bagitcho as I call him) for his time, and for being so generous in sharing so comprehensively his thoughts, tips, and stories. Thanks again, Richo Bagitcho!

And you can find The Fabulous Adam Richard online at http://adamrichard.com/ and on Twitter, at  https://twitter.com/adamrichard.

EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part IV

The Fabulous Adam Richard

As my chat with The Fabulous Adam Richard continued, there was one question that I simply couldn’t leave out…

========================SH: From your perspective as a quiz show question writer, are there any other tips, hints or pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring quiz show contestants?

AR: Quiz shows don’t just cast for intelligence. If you are boring, you won’t get on, no matter how much you know. You don’t have to be funny, and you don’t have to be a gregarious ‘life of the party’ type of person, just don’t be dull. If you are shy, don’t worry, we all are. Even the most famous people who are great public speakers are often overcompensating for being shy. Just be yourself. Don’t mumble, or be too self-deprecating (what you continually say about yourself, you can end up believing after a while) and most of all, don’t think you have to be someone you’re not. Just be the person you are when you’re with friends and family. Pretend the casting people are all people you know. Aunt Jenny and that cousin’s husband you always talk to at barbeques.

SH: But your question-writing career hasn’t just involved writing questions for TV. Another related venture – that you and I both worked on – was writing questions for the Australian version of the board game Cranium, back in 2001. What are your memories of that?

AR: I remember it was quite silly! Most of us had been working on All Star Squares, where alleged celebrities hung out in a giant noughts and crosses board. I remember carrying on with Catherine Deveny at a meeting where we were coming up with those performance-based questions. There’s a part of Cranium where you play charades, and I remember cackling as we tried to act out a sausage roll. The actual writing part was fairly isolated, as these things naturally are, but remembering that first day, where we played the game and stuffed about in a meeting room, that kept me ploughing through the actual writing of the questions.

SH: Do you ever play the Australian version of Cranium with friends? And win? And if so, do you tell them that you already knew all the questions?

AR: When I was doing the breakfast show at Fox FM in Melbourne, we had a Cranium promotion where a family of listeners won a night playing the game with me! I remember that being a fun night. I think I ended up just ‘hosting’ the game, asking all the questions, making sure people stuck to the rules, rather than participating. Also, making merciless fun of people trying to do charades as a sausage roll. It really is hilarious.


SH: In addition to all of this behind-the-scenes stuff, you’ve also appeared many times
onscreen in game show / reality shows; shows such as Celebrity Splash!, Hole In The Wall, and Celebrity Dog School (!)  After these experiences, do you have any tips for any aspiring reality show contestants out there?

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EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part III

The Fabulous Adam Richard

As my interview with Adam continues, he reveals some great tips that will be really helpful for contestants appearing on The Chase, and on quiz shows in general. But first, we discussed the business of writing questions a bit more…

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SH: What do you like about the job of writing quiz questions?

AR: I learn so much! I folded a lot of the interesting facts I learned into a stand-up show last year. Like the fact that bubble wrap was invented as wallpaper. (You’d never get your bond back!) That Australian Rules football was codified before soccer or rugby, making it the oldest football code in the world. I am INSUFFERABLE at parties. I interject with all sorts of bizarre facts. I just played a video game set in the pirate era, in the Caribbean (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag), and most of the characters were actual historical characters and there were many real events that you play in the game, so of course, I went on a pirate question binge. All of your life can become a question if you are interacting with anything other than social media. Nobody can answer questions about what dish your friend instagrammed a photo of at Nobu last week.


SH: What don’t you like about the job of writing quiz questions?

AR: It’s very time consuming. Staying in the office until well after 10 PM, even later on shoot days, or writing at home until 2 AM (which I did yesterday). Working from home in general is difficult. Prioritising work over the laundry or going to the shops to get stuff for dinner because you have a deadline looming. If I smell and I’m hungry, you know I’m late with a deadline.

SH: As a question writer, what common mistakes do you see contestants making when answering quiz questions on TV?

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EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part II

The Fabulous Adam Richard

Hello! Today, as my interview with The Fabulous Adam Richard continues, I wanted to drill down a bit into the working methods that have seen him churn out tens of thousands of quiz show questions over the years…

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SH: What is something that you never do when you’re writing quiz questions?

AR: Social media. I have downloaded a browser plug-in that I set to yell at me if I try to open Facebook or Twitter or any of those things. You know those alerts come up, telling you so-and-so has liked your comment or some such, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour down an unhelpful rabbit-hole of absolutely irrelevant crap. Every time I click on one of those, this browser plug in swears at me. Literally. Vile, angry language. It’s quite the motivator!

(Here is a link if you can handle your computer yelling profanities) 

SH: What’s an example of a question you’ve written that you’re really proud of?

AR: Oh, so many! On Hard Quiz, it’s the ones that stump the experts. Especially if the expert is particularly smarmy and full of themselves. The first ever episode of The Chase Australia featured a question of mine that stumped even The Chaser herself!

I have tried to write a ‘Fanny Chmelar’ style question for The Chase Australia, but because of the timeslot, they’ve all been rejected, which is probably for the best. Did you know that an archaic term for an open-cut mine is ‘Glory Hole?’ I wrote it as a multiple choice “In which industry do people go to work in a glory hole?” Mining, Fishing, Theatre. It’s revolting, I know, but it is an actual true fact. You can’t argue with the truth… Well, you can if you are putting out a G-rated show.

SH: Are there any specific rules that you follow when you’re writing quiz questions?

AR: Keep it G-rated…

Follow the rules of the show! The Chase Australia has a very detailed style guide, and some very restrictive rules about length of questions and answers, which I adore. I love the language puzzle writing those entails, trying to rearrange a question to be coherent and fun in as few words as possible.

The first round of Hard Quiz, where people are able to steal points, I really enjoyed writing dog-leg questions, that seemed like they were going off in one direction, but in fact were headed somewhere else entirely, trying to trick people into buzzing in early. Like one about Eurovision, where it seemed like it was going to be an obvious one about which song ABBA won with, but instead was about which venue they won at! It was the ‘British seaside resort’ of Brighton, if you’re wondering, which then of course gives (the show’s host) Tom Gleeson leeway to make a joke about ‘British seaside resort’ being an oxymoron.

The fact that Hard Quiz is a comedy show as well as a game show means that all the writers have to do double time writing questions and gags. Tom writes both questions and gags himself. He’s incredibly hands on. I worked in the office at Hard Quiz, whereas I have done all my work on The Chase Australia remotely.

SH: Have you ever written any questions that turned out to be controversial?

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EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part I

The Fabulous Adam Richard

And here we are, with my first interview for 2017, and I’m delighted to say it’s with The Fabulous Adam Richard! For those who don’t know, Adam Richard is one of Australia’s favourite comedians, whose successful 20 year career encompasses stand-up comedy here and internationally, radio presenting, sitcom writing, TV acting, reality TV appearances, podcasting and much more besides. You can find all the details at his website.

But in addition to all of this, yet another feather in Adam’s cap is writing questions for game shows. To date, Adam has written questions for All Star Squares, (where he and I worked together) The Chase: Australia (which I’ve also written questions for) and Hard Quiz (which I haven’t – I must be slipping).

Anyhoo, Adam Richard, thanks very much for chatting to me today for www.HowToWinGameShows.com

SH: Over the years, how many quiz questions do you think you’d have written for TV?

AR: I couldn’t even tell you how many I’ve written this week! It’s over a hundred. This week, I mean. When I started on Season 1 of The Chase Australia, I was working four or five days a week, which roughly works out to about 200 questions. Now I’m just working one or two days a week, but factoring in all the shows I’ve worked on, I’m guessing I’d be into the tens of thousands by now.

SH: What’s the secret to writing a good quiz question?

AR: It’s such a juggling act! The questions on The Chase Australia, especially in the timed rounds, need to be really punchy. There are a lot of comedians writing for the show, I think mainly because the structure of a question and a joke are essentially the same – you work really hard at giving out enough information that the punchline or answer, in the case of a quiz show, is both obvious and surprising at the same time. You almost want people at home to go “Oh! Of course! I should have known they’d say that!” So, even if people are learning something from the answer, it should have its own internal logic. Also, boring is bad. Numbers and dates are boring, names are boring. I try to avoid writing answers that are a number or a name, unless it’s something that is an emotional touchstone (there’s always an exception to every rule!). I wrote a question on Hard Quiz which was “How many double A batteries go into a Nintendo Game Boy?”. That’s the kind of thing that can really fire up the happy and nostalgic part of your brain, remembering fun things from your childhood, trying to picture yourself jamming the batteries in the back of your favourite toy.

SH: Are there any topics or subject areas that you return to often, when you’re writing questions?

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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:)

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A radio interview!

Hello! Something a little bit different this week. A few weeks ago, I received a call from a radio producer in Sydney asking if I’d be interested in being interviewed by Bec De Unamuno for an ABC radio segment on game shows.

Bec De Unamuno

Bec De Unamuno

Now, I’ve known Bec for years and so was extremely happy to have a chat about this subject close to my (and, I’m guessing, your) heart. In the interview, Bec also spoke to Andrew O’Keefe, another old pal who currently hosts The Chase Australia, and hosted the Australian version of Deal Or No Deal for a number of years.

Former host of 'Deal Or No Deal' and current host of 'The Chase Australia'... Andrew O'Keefe!

Former host of ‘Deal Or No Deal’ and current host of ‘The Chase Australia’… Andrew O’Keefe!

So, if you’re interested in hearing what a game show host and a game show winner / blogger have to say, then this 18 minutes and 25 seconds of audio may be of interest to you….

The original link to the interview is over on the ABC Radio website, but if you’d prefer to play it now (or right-click and “Save As…” so you can listen to it later), then here it is below!

Enjoy!

 

 

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….”