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?

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  • 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,

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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).

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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.

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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….

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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

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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.

*                         *                                *                               *                          *

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.

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