‘The ConTest’ – Part 2 of 2

Hello, Happy New Year and welcome to the first official post for 2019! And this week, it’s the conclusion of my Patented How To Win Game Shows Reminiscence about my time working on The ConTest in late 2006. 

When I left off last time (which was also last year, as it happens), I’d mentioned that the whole writing process was done remotely, and I’d had exactly zero contact with the show’s two presenters – Andrew G and Brigitte Duclos. And, as I suspected, this would not prove to be ideal…

==================================================================

In the example episode of the show that I’ve put up on the HowToWinGameShows Facebook page, at the very end, you can see Andrew G having a mild dig at the sign-off I’d written for him “…and that rhymes, so you know it must be true”….

* SIGH * You’re welcome, Andrew. I’d have happily written him something he preferred, had I been given the opportunity. Having said that, it can be tricky reinventing the wheel each week; trying to come up with a catchy (but not repetitive) phrase, in the show’s specific language, to use as a sign-off. In fact, in case you’re interested, here are some of the other “same-but-different” parting words that I wrote:

  • We look forward to seeing you next time, when we’ll Test another six people, to see whose encyclopaedic intellect and enigmatic intentions can score them a guaranteed $50,000, right here on The ConTestGoodnight!
  • We look forward to seeing you next time, when we’ll Test another 6 people, to see whose quick-witted quizzing, brilliant bluffing and successful scheming can score them a guaranteed $50,000, right here on The ConTestGoodnight!
  • We look forward to seeing you next time on The ConTest, where every question we ask is a “Multiple Choice”, and everything the contestants say is a “True or False”! Goodnight! 
  • We look forward to seeing you again soon, here on The ConTest – the $50,000 quiz, where the Superior Players have Ulterior Motives… Goodnight!

At least I managed to score an onscreen credit at the end of the show (which is something you don’t always get). If you’re VERY eagle-eyed, you can spot my rather squashed name at the 43:36 mark, for about half a second, just beneath the names of the three directors’ assistants;

The ConTest went to air in 2007, from February 7th – April 11th, and due to rather average ratings, it was not renewed for a second season. Cést La Vie. I think this was indicative of how people’s taste in game shows had changed by then. The concept of The ConTest depended on people lying to each other, deceiving each other, cheating each other and generally being a bit mean to each other. It came along in the wake of a number of shows of that ilk; The Weakest Link and Shafted* being just two examples. I think the fact that viewers largely rejected the show said something reassuring about the public; that they didn’t see people deceiving each other for money as being great entertainment. I must admit, when watching the show, I often found myself feeling not especially proud of all the deception, conniving and lying we were enabling… It is a slightly unpalatable fact that sometimes game shows aren’t all sweetness and light.  

I’d like to think that the type of game show that rewards deception, conniving and cheating is a thing of the past. We can but hope.

==================================================================

* For which I also wrote, back in 2002. Sorry everyone. And that also not-always-pleasant-experience will be the subject of an another upcoming PatentedHowToWinGameShowReminiscence post here soon….

‘The ConTest’ – Part 1 of 2

Hello!

Today, I begin my latest Patented How To Win Game Shows Reminiscence, and this time it’s about an oft-forgotten game show from 2007 here in Australia – The ConTest. This was a show where contestants didn’t necessarily need to know any of the answers to the questions being asked; in this format, their bluffing skills were far more important. If you’d like to familiarise yourself with the show, I’ve put a sample episode up here, on the HowToWinGameShows Facebook page.

Maybe you’d like to go and have a look at that. Or maybe you’d like to dive right in. If it’s the latter, then read on, dear reader, read on…

==================================================================

It was late 2006 when my manager at the time got in touch with me regarding a work opportunity; it seemed there was going to be an Australian version of Ant & Dec’s recent UK game show PokerFace, and they were looking for someone to write the scripts – and questions, if possible – for this local version. I went and met the producer Asif Zubairy (who was a great producer, and a lovely man as well), we had a chat, and I got the gig. 

In working on an adaptation such as this, a lot of the groundwork has already been done. We had access to all the scripts of the original UK version, along with all the questions, and all the tapes of the show so far. The Australian version was to be virtually a carbon copy of the original (albeit with a different title), so my brief was pretty much to make it “the-same-but-different”. This required replacing all of the questions, adding a lot of local references into the scripts and making the banter comfortable for the show’s two hosts: Andrew G (now known as Osher Gunsberg) and Brigitte Duclos

The show was to be an hour long, and 10 episodes had been commissioned, initially. Each of those 10 scripts would need to include 38 questions, broken down like this;

ROUND ONE

8 X hard questions

ROUND TWO

5 X easy questions

ROUND THREE

5 X easy questions

ROUND FOUR

5 X medium questions

ROUND FIVE

5 X hard questions

SPARE ROUND

5 X hard questions + 5 X easy questions

So that’s 380 questions in total.

Oh, and I also had to write a rehearsal episode script and supply 38 questions for that. So that’s 11 scripts and 418 questions, after all. Not counting questions that I would be called upon to replace, moving forward, for whatever reason.

The first thing I did was trawl through all my databases of old trivia questions on my computer. I’d been writing and running pub trivia for years, and so I had quite a few old standard questions which always worked – they were interesting, they were entertaining, and the passage of time hadn’t hurt them. After I’d selected – and in some cases re-jigged – a good number of these, I then started writing questions from the news of the day; going through newspapers, and getting up to speed with what was going on in pop culture at the time. Asif, and the network, would give me notes about the questions; these “Easy” ones are too hard, these “Hard” ones are too easy, these ones aren’t appropriate, these ones aren’t interesting enough, and so on and so on. I then had to tweak these questions, or come up with replacements that they were happy with.  

Here’s my delivery schedule, and the record dates: 

  • Deliver 76 X questions and scripts for Eps 1 & 2 by close of business Wednesday 29/11/06
  • Deliver 76 X questions and scripts for Eps 3 & 4 by COB Friday 01/12/06
  • Deliver 76 X questions and scripts for Eps 5 & 6 by COB Wednesday 06/12/06
  • Deliver 76 X questions and scriptfor Eps 7 & 8 by COB Friday 08/12/06
  • Deliver 76 X questions and scripts for Eps 9 & 10 by COB Wednesday 13/12/06

 

  • Rehearsal in studio in Sydney – Wednesday 13/12/06
  • Rehearsal in studio in Sydney – Thursday 14/12/06
  • Record Episode 1 in studio in Sydney – Friday 15/12/06
  • Record Episodes 2 & 3 in studio in Sydney – Sunday 17/12/06
  • Record Episode 4 in studio in Sydney – Monday 18/12/06
  • Record Episode 5 in studio in Sydney – Tuesday 19/12/06
  • Record Episode 6 in studio in Sydney – Friday 22/12/06
  • Record Episode 7 in studio in Sydney – Friday 05/01/07
  • Record Episodes 8 & 9 in studio in Sydney – Saturday 06/01/07
  • Record Episode 10 in studio in Sydney – Monday 08/01/07

My main recollection of writing The ConTest is that it was all done remotely. I was living in Melbourne at the time, the show was being made in Sydney, and my involvement didn’t extend beyond phone calls and emails to Asif. I was never present at the studio for any of the rehearsals or records, and I had no contact with either Andrew or Brigitte. I don’t recall ever getting any feedback on whether they were happy with the words I was writing for them to say. Feedback would have been handy, though; I’d have liked to have had the opportunity to tweak it more to their taste. I always think TV presenters appear more comfortable and confident when they’ve had input into what they’re saying on camera. I also remember this period as a very busy time; the workload and deadlines ended up being a bit tricky to meet, since I was also fitting this commitment in around my shooting dates for The King. 

==================================================================

And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. When I return with Part 2, in the new year, I’ll discuss feedback from presenters, show some snippets from the scripts, and look at the general game show trends at the time. Until then, then!

 

Talkin’ ‘Bout Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation – Part V

Hello and welcome to the fifth and final instalment of my recollections of the original incarnation of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation (2009 – 2012).

I thought I’d round out this series with a few random memories, interspersed with some Interesting* Facts**. So here goes….

============================

One very strong memory from my time writing on the show was of my often standing on the sidelines, feeling frustrated. During record days, as I watched the games unfold, time and time again I’d find myself biting my tongue. Not just as a trivia buff and quiz enthusiast; “How can you NOT know that answer!? That’s such an easy question!?”… but also as a comedy writer and performer; “How can you not go for that gag?! Come on! We set that up for you!!!”  Not that I wanted to be out there on one of the teams… I was just repeatedly staggered by the players’ woeful general knowledge, and disappointed by the joke opportunities they so frequently let slip by. I’d often have to tell myself ‘Let it go, Hally… that’s just the gig…’

INTERESTING FACT: Did you know that “pottery” would be an anagram of “poetry”, if you added an extra “T”?

Another strong memory is the expertly light touch of Executive Producer Peter Beck, who never said “Wouldn’t it be funny if…?” He always just let Shaun, Michael and I write the comedy, never butting in with editorial suggestions. In the past, I’ve worked with some desperately unfunny producers who – despite their total lack of comedy qualifications – feel entitled to make inane suggestion after inane suggestion for the show’s comedy content. Peter Beck was the opposite of that. I’m now working for him again, on Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, and his cheerful, can-do, hands-off-the-comedy approach has also contributed mightily to this show’s success. Grazie Pietro!

INTERESTING FACT: One of the earliest known murals – in the Chauvet Cave in France – is still clearly visible after 32 000 years. And they didn’t even use an undercoat.

I remember the show was successful enough to spawn various items of merchandise, including a board game (which I wrote quite a few questions, and other bits and pieces for)…

An interactive DVD game….

And Michael Ward’s brilliant book; The Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation Book of Everything Ever…

… which is a fantastically funny read, and I recommend that you buy it immediately.

INTERESTING FACT: The stubble on a man’s face known as “five o’clock shadow” can actually appear at any time between 4:15 and 5:30.

My next memory is more personal. Between the third and fourth seasons, I moved to Sydney. The show was still being made in Melbourne, so for a few months, I flew myself down and back each week, staying three nights a week in Melbourne at my Mum’s. I have very fond memories of those times – sitting up late, chatting and watching Bing Crosby & Bob Hope’s Road To… movies with Mum on the nights when I was staying at her place. It was very different to the rest of my domestic life back in Sydney (with my wife and young daughter), but a lot of fun, and I know it made Mum very happy to have me back in the family home again. Of course, I couldn’t have known that she’d be gone just 2 years later. I have TAYG to thank for that precious time with Mum.

INTERESTING FACT: “Bones” was the nickname of Dr McCoy on the 60s TV series Star Trek. The nickname of Captain Kirk was, of course, “Daryl”.

The show finished its first run in 2012 after 80 episodes… but was then revived this year, on a different network! The new version again featured Shaun as its host, but the 3 generations were updated. The Baby Boomers were gone, and the 3 generations for the 2018 version were Generation X, Gen Y and Gen Z. It’s a great reboot; every bit as fun and entertaining as it was the first time round. The team captains are Robyn Butler and Andy Lee (who were both guest players in the original version of the show) and the young actor Laurence Boxhall, who’s quite a discovery. I was invited to work on the new version, but was sadly unavailable, as I had an acting gig at the time (Brigadoon). Otherwise, I would have done it all again in a heartbeat.

INTERESTING FACT:  It’s well known that George Clooney once had a pet pig called Max. But did you know he also has a pet mosquito called Ronald?

==================================================================

And that’s it for my 5-part TAYG series. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any memories of this show, please do feel free to share them in the ‘Comments’ section below. See you next time, with

* May not technically be interesting.

** May not technically be a fact, either.

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

(L-R) Baby Boomers Captain Amanda Keller, host Shaun Micallef, Gen Y Captain Josh Thomas and Generation X Captain Charlie Pickering

Hello, and welcome to the fourth instalment of my patented HowToWinGameShows reminiscence about working on the original incarnation of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation (2009 – 2012).

Here’s the show’s theme, by the way….

… which was composed by Yuri Worontschak. How many different song snippets did you identify in it?

==============================================================

  • INTERESTING FACT: Despite its name, the average ‘smart car’ has an IQ of just 89, and can’t complete even the most basic Sudoku.

I mentioned last week the joy of writing for the show with Michael Ward and Shaun. Quite apart from the fun of it, along the way, our writing also attracted some professional attention, earning Michael and I an Awgie Award nomination in 2010. Here’s the certificate;

The production kindly paid for our tickets to the event, but Michael and I came away empty-handed, losing to Good News Week. Cést La Vie. The show did pick up a few other awards during its run, though;  

  • The 2010 Logie Award for Most Outstanding Light Entertainment Program
  • The 2010 Logie Award for Most Popular Light Entertainment Program
  • The 2010 Logie Award for Most Popular Presenter (Shaun Micallef)
  • The 2010 AFI Award for Outstanding Achievement in Television Screen Craft (Shaun Micallef)  

And after 8 years, I’m still not entirely sure what that last one means.

  • INTERESTING FACT: Despite their name, most modern irons are made of plastic, aluminium and steel. Which means that although they’re not technically irons, they are technically ironic.

The show also attracted some controversy from time to time, but there’s one example of this that stands out above all others. It was Season 3, episode 5, which aired in March, 2011. This was one of our family-themed episodes, in which,

Continue reading

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

Hello, and welcome to the third instalment of my patented HowToWinGameShowsReminiscence about the original series of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation (2009 – 2012).

==================================================================

As I closed last week’s post, I was delivering the Endgame Envelope to Shaun as the comic strip character The Phantom. But thanks to Shaun’s comic creativity, there were many other opportunities for cameo appearances in other parts of the program; they weren’t restricted to just that point in the show. The time, effort (and expense!) lavished on these was often quite considerable… and often for the briefest gag, or the quickest bit of screen time. Take this example of “The Swingle Singers” (actually me, my fellow writer on the show Michael Ward and two actors) introducing the game What’s A Doodle Do?

People at home may not realise all the production that goes into making a moment like this happen, so let me break it down for you….

After Shaun wrote the idea in the script, the show’s composer Yuri Worontschak was hired to write and record the piece of music required. This entailed Yuri, in turn, hiring two session singers (one male, one female) to record the multiple vocal tracks required by his arrangement. Ka-ching!

After Yuri delivered the completed track to the production, Michael Ward and I were cast (we were used fairly frequently for these types of roles, partly because we were always around, and partly because we “got” the show’s sense of humour), and the production hired the two lady ‘Swingle Singers’, to make up the quartet. Ka-ching! On the record day, there was a session set aside for the four of us, to familiarise ourselves with the audio track and rehearse it (as we’d be miming to it on camera), and to learn and rehearse the choreography. The choreography couldn’t have been much simpler. It just required us to hold a microphone in one hand, click our fingers on the other hand, sway from side to side in unison, and then lean forward at the end. I say the choreography was simple … and yet we didn’t manage to nail it on the day (as you can plainly see in the clip). And there was no Take 2. Damn! Ah well, Cést La Vie.

When you add to all this:

The sourcing and fitting of our four costumes, which required the resources of the show’s wardrobe department and the two people who worked in it, (Ka-ching!)

Make up for all of us (including hair styling for the two ladies)

Extra catering for our two guest players (Ka-ching!)

… you begin to get an idea of all the different people, all the hours they worked, and all the expense they incurred, in the process of bringing this idea to the screen.

And all that… for just 18 seconds of screen time.

But that’s the beauty of working on a show that’s as successful as TAYG was at the time; ask and ye shall receive. The network and production company were so happy with the ratings, that Shaun didn’t have to reign his mighty imagination in. This made the show funnier, more playful, more surprising, and ultimately, I think, richer.

I mentioned my co-writer on the show Michael Ward, and it was an absolute joy to work with him for its duration. We’d worked together on many projects before this, and have worked on many since, and it was always great to have him in my corner here.  From a comedy-writing perspective, TAYG was a hungry beast; each show demanded an awful lot of gags, in various shapes and styles. And when you’re writing for – and with – Shaun Micallef, the bar is always set extremely high. Wardy and I would write alternate scripts for the show (that is, I’d write Episodes 1, 3, 5, and so on, and he’d write episode 2, 4, 6, and so on), which we’d send to Shaun, and then he’d tweak, change, edit and improve the scripts, turning them into a final draft he was comfortable with. It was a tough gig at times, staring at that blank page, trying to come up with gags on a very specific subject, or new, fresh ways to introduce games that had already been played on the show scores of times… But we two comrades were aware of the privileged position we were in; of just how lucky we were. It was great to share it the adventure with Wardy, my good friend.

One of the most fun parts of writing the show was coming up with the “Interesting Facts” that accompanied each Endgame. As I mentioned last week, each episode ended with a big physical challenge which all three teams played together, to determine who’d win that week’s episode. Examples of these challenges included:

Which generation is best at finding a needle in a hay stack?

Which generation is best at typing out the complete works of Shakespeare?

And of course,

Which generation is best at shovelling ectoplasm into a toilet?

Each week, as the Endgame challenge unfolded, Shaun would read out some “Interesting Facts” about that week’s task. Facts that we’d written. For example…

From the “Which generation is best at escaping a maze?” challenge:

  • According to ancient fairy tales, a good way to escape a maze is to leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind you. It’s also a great way to make friends with ducks.
  • Traditionally, the easiest mazes to escape from are hedge mazes. All you need is some petrol and a match.

From the “Which generation is best at making breakfast in bed?” challenge:

  • Breakfast in Bed was the title of a 1978 film starring John Ritter. Sadly, the film was unsuccessful, and John Ritter died just 25 years later.

And from the Christmas-themed episode:

  • Ding-Dong Merrily on High is one of the few Christmas carols still sung in its original language – gibberish.

==================================================================

That’s where we’ll leave it for this week. If you liked the interesting facts above, there are many more in my eBook. Subtle self-promotion over now, see you next week!

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

Hello! This week, I’m  bringing you a few random memories of my time on TAYG, but first, I’d like you to join me on a little stroll to Shameless Namedropping Corner….

==================================================================

Given that the show ran for 72 episodes, and that each episode required three guest players (one for The Baby Boomer team, one for Generation X and one for Gen Y), that’s 216 celebrity guests who sat behind those three TAYG desks. Some of them have turned out to be Hollywood heavy hitters…

Some of them were successful recording artists…

One of them was a YouTube sensation, whose videos have had over 500 million views…

… And one of them was a cheeky puppet fox.

I recall being quite excited that Basil Brush was going to be a player in the first episode of our second series – he was an international guest, after all. However, I wasn’t quite as excited as our Executive Producer Peter Beck; he’s a long-time fan of Basil, and the photo of Peter with Basil – from that TAYG record – was still on the wall in Peter’s office, last time I looked. Before recording Basil’s episode, the production really gave him the star treatment. Well, not Basil, technically – the star treatment was more for Michael Winsor, his operator. I remember Peter, Mel (a producer on the show), Michael and I being treated to dinner at one of the fanciest restaurants in Melbourne by the production company. A lovely, happy, chatty, enthusiastic, evening; Michael was really excited to be here, all the way from England, Basil came to dinner with us (in his special case, which Michael kept with him at all times), and the four of us even talked about how a Basil Brush show might work in Australia.

So I was disappointed when the episode record rolled around, and all three of our team captains were repeatedly rude to Basil during the show. It made for very uncomfortable viewing, and I really felt for poor Michael (Basil’s operator), who came to the show with so much enthusiasm and goodwill. I was embarrassed about the way our show treated this guest. Why all three of the captains treated him like that, I’ll never know. But am I over-reacting? Have a look, see what you think, and let me know in the comments below:

I mentioned Leo Sayer above, and he played a part in one of my most vivid memories from the show. If you’re familiar with the show’s format, you’d know that

Continue reading

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.

==================================================================

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).

==================================================================

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. 

Developmental As Anything – the aftermath

Hello!

This week’s post is the long-awaited conclusion to a pair of posts from last year; Developmental As Anything – Part I and Developmental As Anything Part – II. What follows won’t make much sense unless you’ve both of these earlier posts, so I strongly suggest you do so now. You can find the posts by clicking on their titles above, or simply by clicking on this picture of Benny Hill in an afro for Part I….

and a chihuahua puppy frightened by a snail for Part II.

So please, go there by whichever route you prefer, read the two posts, and I’ll see you back here. Off you pop.

*                         *                                *                               *                          *

All up to speed? Good. So…. as I said near the end of the second post, after I’d sent all of my written-up notes to the producer after the first of “our” two workshopping days, he responded with a lovely email:

All great, thanks

Was good fun.

Speak soon

Whoa, don’t gush dude – you’re embarrassing me. Anyway, that was on February 17th, 2017. Since then….

As I also mentioned at the end of the second post, as of late March last year the network in question were still looking for the show to fill this slot (in other words, it looked like they’d passed on this one).

Well, it’s now 14 months later, and the network in question (for those playing along at home, that network was the ABC) has indeed found a new(ish) one-hour quiz show to serve as the lead-in to their 7:00 news. It’s called Think Tank, and it’s an adaptation of the BBC show of the same name.

That being the case, I think I’m probably safe now to talk in a tiny bit more detail about this proposed show-that-never-was from over a year ago. The first thing that strikes me is how close (but not close enough) we were to the show that ended up getting the slot.

Think Tank positions 3 contestants opposite the ‘Think Tank’; 8 people representing a cross section of ordinary Australians. Our show pitted 5 contestants against ‘The Crowd’; 10 people representing a cross section of ordinary Australians.

In Think Tank, at the end of Round 3, one contestant is eliminated. In our show, a contestant is eliminated at the end of Round 1, another at the end of Round 2, another at the end of Round 3 and one more at the end of Round 4, leaving just one contestant to face off against ‘The Crowd’ in the final round.

In fairness, though, these similarities can’t all be put down to coincidence. I seem to remember the producer telling me that these were the parameters that the ABC had previously specified; they wanted something that would involve an inclusive, diverse group of Australians on screen; and something that would pit individuals against – and / or have individuals working with – a group. When I arrived to the “workshop”, the concept was already there in these broad strokes. I just helped to bring a bit more shape and structure to it.

Think Tank has 5 rounds across its hour-long running time. Our show had 5 rounds across its hour-long running time.

That’s pretty much where the similarities end, though – in our show, our contestants were always opposing the group, rather than working with them, we gave the host a co-host, there was more physical stuff happening in the studio, and there a few more opportunities for viewer involvement. We were mindful of the non-commercial nature of the enterprise (for overseas visitors, the fact that the ABC is Australia’s national, taxpayer-funded broadcaster means that no sponsorship or commercial endorsements are allowed). There were a couple of other twists and scoring details that I thought were pretty neat, but now I’m starting to wonder if I’ve said too much already.

One thing I was quite proud of was that we churned through the questions pretty quickly. A couple of things I found slightly frustrating when watching Think Thank were the repetition and the slow pace. Re-asking questions multiple times, and asking Think Tankers (who, as we’ve established are NOT experts) why they’ve chosen certain answers – including the wrong ones – feels like a lot of padding to me. But maybe that’s just me. It’s a show that needs to fill an entire (not just a commercial network 43 minute hour), five nights a week. That’s no easy task.

So I guess those notes from that “workshopping” session where I was left in a room by myself for 8 hours will remain squirrelled away in the depths of my hard drive. At least until such time as someone would like my help putting together another new quiz show, and I check them again, to see if there’s anything in there that I can re-purpose…..

Aha! I’ve got it! We just need to get a cross section of 8 – 16 ordinary people; “The Think Crowd”, four of whom are eliminated every second non-consecutive round by a random draw of the remaining six of the nine original contestants from the initial four rounds, (of course, that’s provided there’s been no SuddenDeath HeadToHead play-off, resulting in a FastestFingerFirst ClosestToThePin Tiebreaker Showdown.

No, this is good. I gotta get a pen….

 

 

 

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! The fun and the laughter, it’s okay, you can remember your cares again now.”

Hello and welcome to this, the final chapter of my three-part series on the 1999 Australian game show All Star Squares, on which I was employed as a question and gag writer.

You can find the two previous instalments here and here.

And what better way to kick off this week’s final instalment, than with a reminder of the show’s theme song, and one of the alternative versions that Adam Richard and I came up with?

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Beneath a Scotsman’s kilt there’s NO UNDERWEAR!”

Fact. 

Anyhoo, here’s the conclusion to the three-part All Star Squares adventure. Enjoy! If you can…..

==================================================================

I have very fond memories of all the production staff, many of whom I’ve worked with on subsequent gigs over the years, the cheerful, gracious and charming host Ian Rogerson who was a pleasure to get to know, and the legendary voice-over man Gavin Wood. Gavin was a huge part of the soundtrack to my adolescence. In fact, he was a huge part of the soundtrack to all of Australia’s adolescence, as he was the voice of the legendary pop weekly pop music show Countdown. Countdown, hosted by Ian “Molly” Meldrum was required viewing for every Australian teenager from 1974 until the late 80s, and it is not to be confused with the rather sedate English game show of the same name.

In fact, years later, I auditioned to play Gavin in the telemovie of Molly’s life. But that’s another long story. Actually, no it’s not; it’s a short one. I didn’t get the part. Ed Kavalee did.

Anyhoo… All-Star Squares was recorded, as most game shows are, in five-episode blocks, with a week’s worth of episodes being shot in one recording session.

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! I always get my steak cooked medium rare!”

And it’s just as well it was pre-recorded, because there were quite a few bloopers, particularly with some of the greener celebrities mentioned earlier. Bloopers were also  sometimes due to the fact that in the show’s Green Room… alcohol was provided. So by the time it came to record Friday’s show, some of the All-Stars were a little less sober than they might have been at the start of Monday’s show. I remember one instance in particular, where a certain celebrity who I’m reluctant to name here (although his actual name is Michael Caton) was asked a question which he’d decided to use his joke answer on. The exchange was meant to go like this;

HOST IAN ROGERSON: What is a “tittle”*?

MICHAEL: Easy there Ian, this is a family show!

And much laughter all around. Yeah, alright, alright – I never said any of it was comedy gold.

BUT, on the day, Ian mis-read the question and Michael didn’t listen, steaming ahead with his “joke” answer anyway, so that what we got was;

HOST IAN ROGERSON: What is a title?

MICHAEL: Easy there Ian, this is a family show!

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……………..

What a totally mystifying moment. W.T., as the kids say, F?

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Did your Mum not tell you? It’s Not Nice To Stare!”

In the end, the show did not rate well for the network. The celebrities were paid many, many, many times what we were, and it was an expensive show for the network to make, for the 5:30 time slot, as a lead-in to the news. It didn’t pay its way, and so about six months into the run, the axing of the show was announced. I was sad, but had other work to go to… I was worried how Kim would take the news, but she was remarkably philosophical about it. I do remember, though, at the time we both said we’d miss the “delightful Duc d’O chocolates” that we received every week. Duc d’O had a sponsorship deal with the show, and each week, each celebrity got to take home an enormous box of Duc d’O chocolate truffles.

And yes, they truly were delightful.

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! I feel like distracting you – LOOK OVER THERE!”

Looking back now, All-Star Squares remains a real curiosity of the late 90s Australian game show landscape. It was a lighthearted, general public game show, easy to play along with at home, with many different types of humour – not to mention many different types of human – all crammed into that enormous 3 x 3 celebrity grid, working their bums off to convince us they were having The Best Time Ever.

It was a fun show, and its heart was in the right place. With a bit more money, and a less brutally unforgiving time-slot, it may have had a better chance to stick around, and pursue its noble goal….

to boldly make us Forget All Our Cares.

As the theme song says (right at the end, just as it’s fading out)….

Ooooh, I love my All-Star Squares….

 

* For those playing along at home, a “tittle” is actually the technical term for the dot on top of a lower case “i” or a “j”.

So now you know that.

“Aaaall… All Star Squares! The fun and laughter, keep forgetting all your cares!”

Hello, and welcome to Part Two of my three-part trip down Memory Lane to 1999, and my time working on the 5:30 weekday game show All Star Squares.

Last week, I introduced the show, and the fact that one of the other question / gag writers Adam Richard and I used to come up with alternatives to the opening line of the show’s theme song:

 “Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Examples of furniture? Tables and chairs!”

Anyway, today I move on the production process, and the part that we writers were required to play, after submitting our questions….

==================================================================

After the questions were all compiled, the writers would each be assigned a celebrity or two for that week’s record. We’d then meet with the celebrities in the Green Room before the show, and go through all the questions they could potentially be asked in the upcoming shows, along with their correct answers, their incorrect answers and their joke answers. This part of the process was quite consultative; the celebrities could choose whether they wanted to answer correctly or incorrectly in the show, and whether they wanted to do the joke we’d provided for them, or – in consultation with us – to come up with an alternative joke to do, once they were on set.

One of my favourite celebrities to do this with was Tim Smith. Tim was a comedian and comedy writer himself, so he was really appreciative of our efforts, and working with him and writing with him was a sheer joy. He was such a lovely, generous collaborator and we always came up with joke answers for him that were way better than the originals. We also laughed a hell of a lot during the process. Working with Tim this way was extra special for me, as he was a mentor for me when I started doing stand-up comedy back in 1987, at the age of 17. He took me under his wing and welcomed me to a few stand up venues around Melbourne, and I will always be in his debt for that. Such a funny, fun, warm generous man.

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! My favourite depilatory lotion is Nair (TM) !”

By contrast, some of the greener celebrities, or celebrities who were not performers, were absolutely terrified before the show. Often they were athletes, or people who were not accustomed to telling jokes or speaking in public for a living. On these occasions, I would try to be as empathetic, gentle and reassuring with them as possible in the Green Room; we never insisted that they do the jokes answers, because jokes were clearly so far out of their comfort zones.

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Most Bond villains live in an underground lair!”

Appearing on All Star Squares was not necessarily an easy gig for a celebrity. There was pressure to keep the wacky, zany energy up, there was the potential to look a bit silly by either not knowing the answers, or delivering the jokes badly, or just generally appearing self-conscious. And it could be argued that it would be hard not to appear self-conscious, sitting behind a desk, dancing around as best you can, while being surrounded by a giant spice rack, populated with eight other celebrities.

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! In Poker, a Straight Flush always beats Two Pair!”

Nor was this an easy gig for the producers. In a country as small as Australia, with an entertainment industry as small as ours, it was a challenge for them, week in, week out, to find nine celebrities for the show who’d be willing to do it, and do it well. In fact I remember the great comedian Tony Martin doing a bit of stand up about this, wondering out loud… what happens on those quiet weeks when the producers can’t rustle up nine celebrities? Do they just cover the top three squares with tarpaulins and soldier on?

The show did have its regulars, though; Tottie Goldsmith, the aforementioned Tim Smith and Melbourne based comedian Kim Hope. I had known Kim for a number of years through Melbourne comedy circles, and it was around this time that we started going out together. This added an extra layer of frisson, excitement and romance to that initial (and as it turned out only) season of All Star Squares.

The fun and the laughter, indeed…

==================================================================

Sorry to get all personal and sentimental at the end there, but hey – this is my blog, and they’re my memories, so there.

Next week, as this How To Win Game Shows Behind-The-Scenes Reminiscence – or HTWGSBTSR (TM) – concludes, I look at a couple of memorable bloopers that (thankfully) never made it to air, as we wrap the whole thing up. 

Until next Tuesday! 

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Stockbrokers advise you to buy Blue Chip Shares!”