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.

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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).

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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.

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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…..

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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….

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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…

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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!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Aaaall…. All Star Squares! The fun and the laughter, forget all your cares!”

Hello.

This week sees the first instalment in my latest three-part series of patented How To Win Game Shows Behind-The-Scenes Reminiscences (TM).

Or HTWGSBTSR (TM). Catchy, eh?

And this time around, I’m talking about the 1999 game show All-Star Squares. This was a short-lived adventure for me as a game show question writer, given that the show only lasted for about six months…

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All-Star Squares was essentially a reboot and re-branding of the classic game show The Hollywood Squares (known in some territories as Celebrity Squares, and in Japan as 3 TIMES 3 IS QUIZ! Seriously.) This show had been on Australian TV before, back in late sixties, and again in 1981… and then in 1999 The Powers That Be at Channel Seven decided it was time for a reboot.

I must have heard about it through the grapevine in late 1998. At that stage, I’d just finished my first year as a full-time professional TV writer on the daily afternoon show Denise and had also served time as a gag writer for In Melbourne Tonight, which was my second professional TV writing gig, after submitting sketches and jokes for Full Frontal.

Anyway, the point is, that the word went around that this new game show was looking for gag writers who could also write general knowledge questions. Although I was writing for BackBerner at the time, I figured this was part-time, and I could fit it in too, so I jumped at the chance. Among others, I found myself working with my long-time writing colleague and best friend Vin Hedger, and Adam Richard, both of whom I’ve interviewed for this site.

I remember that, in attempts to make each other laugh, Adam and I would often rework the opening lyrics to the All Star Squares theme song. As you can hear here, the original is;

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! The fun and the laughter, forget all your cares!”

But Adam and I came up with alternative versions, including, but not limited to;

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Some folks like straight trousers, but others wear flares!”

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Male horses are stallions, and females are mares!”

“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! You can’t catch the train if you don’t pay your fares!”

And various others that I’m not able to repeat here on a family-friendly blog.

All-Star Squares was a unique gig for a joke writer, not to mention a question writer. If you’re unfamiliar with the format of the show, it’s essentially Noughts & Crosses (or Tic-Tac-Toe)… In order to score a point, the contestant chooses one of 9 celebrities, and the host asks that celebrity a general knowledge question. When the celebrity answers, the contestant decides whether the celebrity is right or wrong. If the contestant decides correctly, they score a point.

We writers were asked to submit questions for the show in batches; I think there might have been 20 questions per batch. And for each of those 20 questions, we had to provide:

  • The question,
  • The correct answer to the question,
  • One incorrect (but potentially convincing) answer to the question,
  • One joke answer to the question,
  • And two solid references to verify the accuracy of the question and its correct answer.

If memory serves, they paid us less than $5 a question for all that. Coming up with a fresh, interesting, usable question – and all of those other elements particularly a joke answer that would work, given the restrictions of the show (family audience, 5:30 time-slot, celebrities with varying degrees of comic ability, conservative network execs, etc, etc) – would often take one to two hours. They’d never get away with paying us so poorly now, and I’m not sure why we all said “Yes” to the deal back then.

Young and hungry for work, I suppose.

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Next week, as this HTWGSBTSR (TM) continues, I’ll take you through the pre-show process of prepping the celebrities in the Green Room. This was the weekly ritual before they all ventured out onto the studio floor and climbed up into their nine individual, hermetically sealed celebrity cells…

Until then, please do try to forget all your cares.

 

 

 

‘You May Be Right’…. or maybe not. Part II.

Hello! This week I’m rounding out my list of 7 ever-so-slightly hazy memories of You May Be Right, an obscure Australian panel game / quiz show that I wrote for back in 2006. If you’re here in Australia, and you remember this show, please get in touch with me (at Stephen@HowToWinGameShows.com) and let me know what your memories of it were! But in the meantime, here come the rest of mine….

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YMBR MEMORY #3

In the game Crate Expectations, when Australian politician Pauline Hanson was the ‘mystery guest’, she kept answering the panel’s ‘Yes/No’ questions about herself incorrectly… or at least, misleadingly. For example, if they’d ask if she was known for singing, she’d say “not usually….” completely sending them down the wrong path for their subsequent guesses. It made for a misleading, confusing and unsatisfying game.

She’s not very smart, bless her.

I think another one of the show’s mystery guests was Kamahl.

YMBR MEMORY #4

I remember, during one of the games, our show’s host, Todd McKenney, telling the panellists to “shut up” and reminding them “it’s my show, guys. Remember, this is my show.” On air.

YMBR MEMORY #5

Todd asking me in the Green Room if I thought the show would work, and find an audience… and me saying something (hopefully tactful) like, “Yes, absolutely!”, while thinking “Probably not”.

Rule #1 of writing for Light Entertainment television; Keep The Talent Happy.

YMBR MEMORY #6

The theme song. The production couldn’t get – or afford – the rights to the Billy Joel hit You May Be Right. They did approach Mr Joel (or ‘his people’, to be more accurate), but the money he wanted made securing the song impossible. Could it have been $100,000? Something like that? Whatever it was, for our purposes, it may as well have been a hundredy billion*. Mr Joel clearly didn’t want his song used for this venture, and that was a surefire way to ensure that it wouldn’t be.

I remember thinking that must be a nice position to be in; “Someone wants to use something I’ve created… I don’t want them to, and I don’t need the money. So I’ll just price myself out of the market, and that will make this go away. But, if by some strange chance it doesn’t go away, and they agree, then… KA-CHING! Money for jam!”

In the end, The Scared Weird Little Guys, who were the show’s house band (and two of the loveliest blokes you’ll ever meet), wrote an original theme for it, which was so catchy, I find myself humming it as I write this. “Yooooooou May Be Right, dum da da da da da daaa….”

YMBR MEMORY #7

I remember that the two competing teams in each episode were named after classic TV shows. For example, The Addams Family VS The Munsters. I’m pretty sure there was an I Dream of Jeannie VS Bewitched show, and there was most definitely a Cop Shop VS Blue Heelers episode. I thought this last one was great, as the 3 celebrity players on each team were actually cast members from these classic Australian cop shows. So they weren’t just celebrity TV fans testing their knowledge and memory of random shows, they also had behind-the-scenes stories to tell; they actually been there through the making of these fondly remembered shows.

This was, I think, when You May Be Right was really at its best.

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But… it was all over very quickly. For whatever reason – or reasons – the show didn’t last very long. We only made four episodes, I think. I do seem to recall there being a faint whiff of desperation about the whole thing; an over-riding feeling of “We’re all having a lot of fun, aren’t we, guys? Aren’t we, guys? GUYS?!! YES?! FUN?! YES??!” In the end, not enough people watched the show to justify its continued existence. 

There’s not much evidence online that it ever existed. Apart from a Wikipedia page with broken links, there’s a rudimentary imdb page, and this archived Channel 7 page about it, but that’s all I’ve been able to find. Unfortunately, it was one of many less-than-successful attempts by Channel 7 to create a successful commercial comedy panel game show light entertainment format. Attempts that to continue to this day….

And so, this venture that we all worked very hard on, and had high hopes for, (and were counting on for our income) came and went all within the space of two months.

C’est la vie.

Adventures like that are all just part of the cut-and-thrust of being a light entertainment/game show/quiz show/comedy writer for hire in this country. In many ways, it reminded me of my experiences being Head Writer on another short-lived game show with a comedy element; Shafted.  

But that’s another story….

* And that’s actually heaps.

‘You May Be Right’…. or maybe not. Part I.

Something a little bit different for you this week. A reminiscence about a game show that I was involved with…. and that, for quite a while, I had completely forgotten existed!

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In July 2006, I was living in Sydney, when I was approached by Denis Spencer, who was my boss when I worked on Deal Or No Deal. His production company was developing a new game show for Channel 7 based on a Swedish game show called Doobidoo. Back then, after the recent runaway success of Spicks and Specks (a light-hearted, panel-based quiz show about music trivia) on the ABC, Channel 7 wanted a similar show. This new show, after a number of other suggested titles, was named You May Be Right, and Todd McKenney was signed to host it. Following his success as a judge on Dancing With The Stars, he was now part of the Channel 7 family. It was devised as a panel game show, with two panels of three celebrities facing off against each other, over various rounds of pop culture trivia questions, tasks and stunts. The job Denis offered me – “head writer” – saw me helping to come up with various games for the show and eventually, writing all of the show’s scripts on an ongoing basis.

Now, dear reader, because this happened so long ago, I’m afraid my memories of it are slightly fragmented. So here, in no particular order, is a grab-bag of

7 Memories From The Making Of You May Be Right…

YMBR MEMORY #1

I remember one of the show’s producers (who shall remain nameless*) being very enthusiastic, gung-ho, and aggressive, and quite foulmouthed in his everyday conversations.

One of the games was to guess the identity of a “mystery celebrity”, who was in the studio, but not visible to the players. While we were workshopping the best way to present this game, the aforementioned foul-mouthed producer had the following idea;

“So, we disguise their voice, right? And we can’t see them, right? Because they’re in an outdoor dunny! In the studio! And we just see their shoes! And the panels ask them ‘Yes / No’ questions, and when the panel successfully guesses who they are, right, we hear the dunny flushing, and then the celebrity comes out, doing up their pants! It’ll be f***ing hilarious! Everyone will piss themselves laughing!”

An outdoor dunny. Exactly where that producer’s idea belonged.

Okay, four things…

  1. Classy. Very classy.
  2. How many celebrity guests did he think would be jump at the chance to be presented this way on national television?
  3. Call me a naysayer, but what if it turns out not to be as funny as you think it is? Even 30 seconds is an awfully long time for a TV audience to be looking at an outdoor dunny…
  4. With ideas like this, so confidently expressed, how did you get to be a producer so high up the ladder? YOU?

In the end, wiser heads (I.e: absolutely everyone else’s) prevailed, and eventually the mystery celebrity was hidden inside a crate. I came up with the name for the game; Crate Expectations. Alright, alright. I’m not proud of it.

YMBR MEMORY #2

Meeting Pauline Hanson. Yes, I met Pauline Hanson as part of this whole experience.

Continue reading

‘It Took Two’… Part III

As I wrap up the whole It Takes Two adventure this week, I look back at some of the other highlights of the show, as the imminent arrival of our baby draws nearer and nearer… 

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As you’ll recall from a couple of weeks ago, I signed on to It Takes Two on the understanding that I’d have to leave about half way through the series of 10 episodes, as that was when my wife Judi was due to give birth to our baby. The pregnancy was far from trouble-free for her, though, as she was suffering from bad hyperemesis. She was nauseous, rundown and depressed; essentially bed-ridden. I remember at one stage in those first five weeks rushing her to hospital; we were certain that the baby was going to arrive early – that day – and we were both frightened. All the signs were there, Judi was having what we thought were contractions… They kept us both in there for quite a few hours, until we were finally given the all clear. The baby was fine, it was not going to make an appearance today. It had been a false alarm. So, more than a little rattled, we returned home, to Judi’s sick bed there. To be leaving Judi for these weekly 2-3 day trips down to Melbourne (800 km away from where we were living, in Sydney) was getting harder and harder…

Having said that, once the first couple of episodes of It Takes Two were done, and we’d streamlined our systems of putting the show together, there were some great moments…

One of them was getting to meet – and work with – Ross Wilson, who was one of the judges on the show. This man is a living legend of Australian rock. From fronting Daddy Cool in the early 70s – with their massive hit Eagle Rock, to producing Skyhooks in the mid 70s, when they were at the height of their fame. I also remembered him from my teenage years, as the songwriter and frontman of the band Mondo Rock, who had a number of hits, and whose albums I owned. I was so impressed to meet him, and he was a lovely, humble, chatty bloke. Nice when you meet people you admire and they turn out to be like that.

Another highlight was hearing – live – the incredible voice of Guy Sebastian. He’d been partnered up with Olympic swimmer Sarah Ryan for the show, and the contrast between their levels of talent was, well, noticeable...

I’ll never forget one of the first episodes, when they performed the old standard Beyond The Sea. I was standing at the side of the stage, watching the show as it all unfolded live, and Sarah had been given the first verse. She got the timing right and hit all the notes. And then Guy sang… It was amazing – I was completely unprepared for the smoothness, the brilliance, the soulfulness of his voice. I got goosebumps. I was so surprised at my reaction. Just marvellous. (Fun fact: Guy Sebastian was the first ever Australian singer to represent our country in The Eurovision Song Contest, in 2015.)

One morning in the third or fourth week, as I was due to fly down to Melbourne, Judi was really sick. Sicker than usual. I wanted to stay with her, but I had to go to work; people were counting on me. I left the house, got in the car, started my drive to the airport, and stopped.

I thought “What am I doing?”

What had my priorities become?

I turned around, went back home, rang the Executive Producers and explained the situation to them. Both EPs – Julie Ward (now having great success with The Voice) and Lisa Fitzpatrick (who later became an executive at the network) – were very sympathetic, and understood entirely. “Don’t give us a second thought,” they said.

So I quit. If my child was going to be born early, I didn’t want to miss out. I didn’t want to be 800 km away. I could never have lived with myself, knowing I missed that once-in-a-lifetime event due to nothing more important than an episode of It Takes Two. (No doubt Judi wouldn’t have been too happy, either.) I mean, we weren’t curing cancer here, people. And it’s not every day you welcome your own child into the world.

I left the show, and stayed in Sydney, with my wife, as we counted down the days…

Predictably enough, the show managed without me. Down in Melbourne, one of the associate producers – who’d previously worked on Dancing With The Stars – took over my role. She confided to me, much later, that it was one of the most stressful gigs she’d ever done. The series was a success, though, and it went right through, as planned, until August 8th. For those keeping score at home, (model and actress) Erika Heynatz and (opera singer) David Hobson went on to win the series…

… While up in Sydney, on July 11th 2006, Lily Genevieve Hall was born, happy and healthy.

Our very own duo had become a trio.

‘It Took Two’… Part II

Hello!

This week, I continue the whole It Takes Two / impending fatherhood adventure, from May, 2006. If you’ll recall, I’d scored a job writing a new celebrity game show (/ reality show?) called It Takes Two. The show was being shot LIVE each Sunday night in Melbourne, and I was living in Sydney at the time. To add to the complications, my wife Judi was pregnant, and suffering from quite severe hyperemesis, which meant that she was nauseous, depressed and pretty much bed-ridden for the majority of her pregnancy. Each day I was away from her weighed heavily on my mind.

NOW READ ON…

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The production flew me down to Melbourne from Sydney for two or three days each week, and put me up in a hotel a few doors up from the studio. This was essential, because these were very, very long days (and nights), often ending at 2 or 3 in the morning, once I’d added in all the latest additions, revisions and feedback to the current version of the script, from all the various Powers That Be and all the on-air talent.

Speaking of on-air talent, the show was hosted by Grant Denyer and Terasa Livingstone.

Grant and Terasa, on the set of ‘It Takes Two’

Grant, who currently hosts the successful reboot of Family Feud on the Ten Network, was on a roll when he came to host It Takes Two. He’d been doing the weather as part of the Seven Network’s Sunrise team for years, and was now stepping into Seven’s Sunday night 7:30 time-slot in this replacement for Dancing With The Stars… having just won Dancing With The Stars a few weeks earlier. Same network, same time slot! He was a natural fit, and a very good choice for this role. And a lovely bloke, to boot. Always cheerful, helpful and very smart too.

Joining him as co-host was Terasa (pronounced TerAYza) Livingstone; an Australian actress, model and presenter who’d just come back from America, where she’d booked some impressive jobs, including a gig on Lost. Terasa had started out many years before on the Seven network as a children’s presenter, so this was something of a homecoming for her. She was bright, bubbly, a great improviser, and the camera loved her. I thought she was a great choice for the role; she also had a great rapport with Grant, and was very charming to work with – never precious.

I do, however, remember one ‘controversy’ during the run of the show which really shook Terasa’s confidence. After each performance by one of the duos, it was Terasa’s job to interview them in the green room “backstage”. In one of these interviews, Terasa asked one of the female celebrities about her chosen charity. (As per Dancing With The Stars, each competing celebrity nominated a charity that received donations from the show on their behalf.) The celebrity named her charity, and said it was significant for her because her father had recently passed away of an illness, and the charity did work in that field. On hearing this, Terasa looked down the barrel of the camera and said something along the lines of “Aww. Hi Dad! Love you, Dad!” It seemed to be intended as a shout-out to her own father (who would have been watching), reminding him that she loved him. And perhaps reminding us all how precious our fathers are.

But that was not how the (live) viewing audience saw it. The backlash was swift and widespread. Was Terasa ignoring or dismissing the death of the contestant’s father, by saying “hi” to her own? Or was Terasa somehow, bizarrely, sending a greeting to the contestant’s dead father? Whichever way it was received, Terasa couldn’t win. She was viewed as insensitive, as thoughtless… when all she wanted to do was send a warm greeting to her own dad. Granted, the execution was flawed, and it was live television, so there’s no second chances to go back and correct these things, but I do remember the next day seeing Terasa at the production office, looking absolutely shell-shocked. We all bolstered her up, and told her we understood her intentions, but she seemed genuinely mystified as to how people could think those things about her. I really felt for her. Terasa was a kind person, and that result was a million miles away from anything she ever would have intended. She soldiered on brilliantly, and did the remainder of the season expertly, but I can’t help think that incident was something of a turning point for her. I remember wondering at the time how her comment would have gone over with an American audience. I’m sure they would have got her intention straight away, and would have thought it was a nice warm moment. I sometimes think we Australians are too cynical by half…

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Next week, as I wind up the It Takes Two saga… a rock and roll legend, a big moral dilemma, and the denouement of it all. And this and more, right here, next Tuesday!

‘It Took Two’… Part I

Hello!

And sorry everyone, for my absence last week. I’ve been very busy with various things….

But hey, you don’t want excuses from me, you want blog posts.

And so today, (and over the next two weeks as well), I’m going to take you back. Back in time, to an eventful period in my life, and a game show that I was intimately involved in. A show that teamed professional singers with professional celebrities. A show that had millions (or at least, lots) of Australians glued to their TVs – and their smartphones – every Sunday night, as it all unfolded live before their very eyes. I found myself caught up in the maelstrom of all this, while 700 km away, my brand new wife was struggling with very poor health, leading up to the birth of our child…

NOW READ ON.

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May, 2006.

I was living in Sydney, I’d recently won both Temptation and Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster, and Judi and I were newly married and expecting our daughter. One day, I got a job offer from Brad Lyons – an executive at the Seven Network who I’d worked for earlier on the sketch comedy series Big Bite – to write the scripts for a new celebrity game show that the network would be producing soon. It was to take over the live Sunday night 7:30 timeslot for the network, which had been so successful for them with Dancing With The Stars.

And as it turned out, it was in a pretty similar vein to DWTS. In fact, it essentially replaced the dancing element with a singing element. 10 celebrities not known for their singing abilities would be teamed up with 10 professional singers, and the resulting duos would battle it out LIVE every Sunday night, for the judges, and the audience, over a 10 week season.

This was It Takes Two. 

It was an adaptation of the UK show Just The Two Of Us, which had started airing over there just weeks earlier. (When I watched the first episode of Just The Two Of Us, I was upset to see that the very first professional singer voted off was one of the heroes from my teenage years – Martin Fry from ABC.)

Bye bye, Mr Fry.

Although we didn’t urgently need the money, I accepted the job. This was probably mostly due to force of habit. Having been a freelance writer and actor since 1987, when work comes along, the knee jerk reaction is always to say yes. Even if it doesn’t sound great, there are always those things you tell yourself:

“It’ll look good on the resume”,

“I might learn some new skills”,

“I might meet people who may consider me for the next gig”, and most importantly

“I will make some money here, and who knows when the next job will come along?”

All of these thoughts occurred to me every time a job came along. To some extent, they still do.

So, I said yes. With the understanding that I wouldn’t stay until the very end – as our daughter was due – but I’d certainly be there for the first half of the season, to help get it all up and running. Over the next few weeks, I was very much thrust into the deep end, as the producers frantically tried to work out how best to wrangle this all-encompassing LIVE weekly TV event, which had so many moving parts, and so many egos to placate… In terms of on-air talent alone, there were 27 people who needed to be looked after. (2 hosts, 4 judges, 10 professional singers, and 10 non-professionally singing celebrities, and one orchestra leader). Then there was the orchestra, the technical crew and all the administrative staff required to keep the machine running.

As for my role? Well, it was essentially to write all of the hosts’ banter, one liners for the judges, along with any ideas for any of the contestants. I also had to co-ordinate, print, copy and physically distribute all the scripts to everyone who needed them, in every department. This was the most time-consuming part of a show with so many people working on it.

Actually, now that I think about it… no, it wasn’t. The most time-consuming part (in the first couple of weeks, anyway) was learning how to write show scripts using Microsoft Excel. This was an idea of one of the producers. Apparently, she’d always written scripts that way, and found it much easier, so she insisted I do it that way too. I’d only used Microsoft Excel a handful of times in my life. I’m a writer, not an accountant – I use Microsoft Word. This caused countless headaches and mistakes, while I stumbled through the program as the Executive Producer ran around, literally yelling “Come on guys! WHERE ARE THOSE SCRIPTS?! NEED THEM NOW!” In the end, I spoke to the producer and the EP and told them I needed to use Microsoft Word for the scripts. They’re scripts; they should be Word documents, not spreadsheets. They acquiesced, and so that part of things was streamlined a little…

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Not a lot, but a little.

Next week, the It Takes Two / expectant parenthood adventure continues, as we meet the show’s hosts, and examine a controversy that one of them sparked with a seemingly innocuous on-air comment…. 

Until then, then!