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….