I’m very pleased to post an edited transcript of Part 1 of my interview with Michael Pope today.
I spoke to Michael a few weeks ago, about the many facets of his career, from game show host to game show producer… and beyond. I’ll posting edited highlights of all 4 parts of the interview in the coming weeks, and the entire thing will be available in my forthcoming eBook How To Win Game Shows. But for now, here are the highlights of Part 1 of the interview with Michael Pope – game show host extraordinaire!
SH: Welcome Michael Pope, I’m really pleased that you’ve agreed to talk to me today. Thank you very much for your time.
MP: Absolute pleasure. Which envelope would you like to open…?
SH: Envelope number 3, please!
MP: Alright then.
SH: You hosted Blockbusters from 1990 – 1993, and Total Recall from 1994 – 95, is that right?
MP: There were a couple of others in and around that, but they were certainly the longer ones.
SH: What where the other ones?
MP: As part of Wombat, in 1988 and 9, there was a show that was on Fridays only, called Guess Again which was to the same market as Blockbusters and Total Recall. Which was a very physical game. Rounds of things, two teams. If you YouTube “Guess Again Michael Pope” you might find something.
SH: And these were primarily kids’ game shows?
MP: Yes, that’s true.
SH: So as the host, what did you do to put contestants at ease?
MP: I do remember spending some time – and I mean 10 minutes, 15 minutes – with them before the recording of each show befriending them and letting them know “it’s kinda just us”. Trying to get them to forget that there are cameras and a whole viewing audience, and purely “Look I’ll be standing there, and you’re here, and your friends are over there about to cheer you on”
SH: Just sort of bringing it back down to earth…?
MP: Yeah, and “we’ve got some great prizes, whether you win or lose doesn’t really matter”. And also, in terms of briefing the contestants, they fill out a form that says “what are your favourite things?” and “what’s the silliest thing you’ve ever done?” and so on. And so I’d now get the form and say to Johnny “Oh, this is interesting, Johnny – tell me more about your soccer club”. And he’d say “I’m captain”. “And how’s last season gone?” “Good.” “Oookay…” and so I’d know to not go the soccer route, because there’s no stories there.
MP: … Whereas “Tell me about the time you went to the snow” “Oh, it was great! We went with the whole family and my cousins came from Queensland as well and we went to Mt Bulla and I actually broke my leg”. Now you know that there’s a story. So it was a bit of drilling down to find out where the kid has the interest. And then I would say “that’s great! Now I might ask you that on TV. Now remember we haven’t had this conversation before, so when I say ‘how was the snow?’, don’t say ‘Oh, I told you’.”
SH: No, that wouldn’t be good!
MP: No it wouldn’t be good. But it happened a few times!
SH: Any memories of the best or most impressive contestants? Does anyone stick in your mind, in terms of what they brought to the show?
MP: Blockbusters was the show that had a path that you had to make across the board. And we gave the kids the clues to the answer by giving them the first letter of the answer. I remember one little boy – and the answer began with the letter A – and the question was “What is that time in life between childhood and adulthood?” and little Johnny buzzed in, looked straight at the camera and said “Adultery?” Absolutely true.
SH: That’s great!
MP: But to answer your question, any stand-out contestants… I think the ones that were more mature for their age and got on well with adults were articulate, and they did remember the bit of briefing beforehand and so they were the good ones. The bad ones were the ones who got through the audition process, and were monosyllabic and showed no effort to embrace the game.
SH: When their nerves got the better of them, did you have any techniques –
MP: If you see something happening with nerves, the quicker you can get them out of the focus the better. So we would record for the segment which was 6, 7 minutes long, and then there’d be a one minute commercial break. If Johnny had not gone very well – either answering a question wrongly so he feels bad about himself – or was clumsy in an interview or whatever, then Gary Clare the warm up guy would very quickly get the focus to something else. So while Gary took the focus of the hundred or so audience members there, I might go over to Johnny and say “Oh mate, doesn’t matter about the last question”, “Oh yeah, it was a tough one, wasn’t it?”… that sort of thing, so the heat’s off him, rather than leave him out on a ledge thinking that he’s a dummy.
That’s it for Part 1, and although Michael was working primarily in kids’ game shows at this point in his career, I feel there are a couple of good reminders there for any type of game show. Next week, Part 2 of the interview, in which we discuss Bert’s Family Feud, on which Michael served as Executive Producer, from 2006 to 2007. Thanks again to Michael for speaking to me.