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….

 

 

 

My first HTWGS movie review! ‘Quiz Show’ (1994)

Hello! Today sees my first ever movie review for HowToWinGameShows.com, and I’ve chosen Robert Redford’s 1994 film Quiz Show. I hadn’t watched this in years, so I thought I’d revisit it, specifically to review for this site.

And it’s good. It’s really good.

As well as being a morality tale about the ethical choices we make, and their costs, Quiz Show is also a cat-and-mouse game, as government investigator Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) tries to uncover all the corruption in the popular 1950s quiz show 21. And it seems there was a lot of it; producers giving the answers (and the questions) to contestants, contestants using that information to cheat, contestants deliberately losing games, the network turning a blind eye… the ripples of corruption don’t seem to end.

I’d forgotten all the twists and turns in the story. Its pace is leisurely (the running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes) but it’s never less than gripping. It’s a real examination of ethics and their consequences; the rewards – and more importantly, the costs – of the moral choices we all make. It’s not a happy, feelgood film. By the end, hardly anyone gets off scot-free; almost everyone has done the wrong thing and paid the price, or been caught in the fallout.

Watching the film, you can’t help ask yourself what you would do, if you were in the position of the two ‘successful’ contestants on 21; Herb Stempel (John Turturro) and  Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes). We all think we know how we’d behave if we were in their shoes; we’d never be involved in any corruption, any cheating; but the temptations of fame, approval and the money – so much money! – can sometimes tend to muddy the ethical waters.

But the ill-gotten gains – and the secrets that hide them – have a way of eating away at the conscience of an honest man… And Charles Van Doren can’t live with them. As investigator Dick Goodwin says;

“I asked myself, ‘why would he do this?’ He knows I’ll come after him. Then it occurred to me. He knows I’ll come after him… It was the ‘getting-away-with-it’ part that he couldn’t live with.”

All the performances are great, but particularly moving is Paul Scofield’s performance as Mark Van Doren, Charlie’s father, and the patriarch of the Van Doren family of intellectuals. The classroom scene when Charlie (Ralph Fiennes) finally confesses his secret to his father is truly heartbreaking. Paul Scofield was nominated for both the Oscar and the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his work here.

The film looks gorgeous. Michael Ballhous’s cinematography recreates 1950s New York beautifully; all its shiny art deco interiors. The Van Doren’s country estate in Connecticut is picture perfect, too – all shimmering autumnal privilege.

The script by former film critic Paul Attanasio is by turns surprising, witty and inspiring. Quiz Show is a smart grown up film dealing with big moral issues, complex , compelling characters set against a lovingly recreated and beautiful backdrop.

I’m giving Quiz Show 4 game show buzzers out of 4!

 

 

And now I’m off to see if I can find any more game show related movies to review. Can you think of any? If you can, please do let me know!

Until next time…

My EXCLUSIVE interview with the voice of ‘The Price Is Right’, ‘Wheel of Fortune’, ‘Family Feud’, ‘Deal Or No Deal’, and more… Mr John Deeks! Part I

The incomparable John Deeks

Hello!

This week, I’m very pleased to bring you Part I of my latest exclusive interview for HowToWinGameShows.com. I was delighted, recently, to get the chance to talk to a real Living Legend of the Australian game show landscape. This man has been the voice behind THOUSANDS of episodes of our favourite game shows. He was the voice of Wheel Of Fortune, he was the voice of The Price Is Right, he’s a former host of Family Feud, and after almost 40 years in television, he shows absolutely no signs of slowing down…

He’s also a really lovely bloke, as well. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the one and only John Deeks!

================================================================== SH: John Deeks, thank you so much for talking to me for HowToWinGameShows.com.

JD: My pleasure, Stephen.

SH: It has been – and continues to be – a very long and illustrious career, but I want to take you back to the early eighties, to start with. You were the voice of the Australian version of The Price Is Right from 1981 to 1985.

JD: The Price Is Right was a fantastic show and it was the first game show I did. For a start, we were doing it at Festival Hall, which was massive. And it was the first time I had worked with Ian Turpie. And I had seen him many years before at the HSV Teletheatre in Fitzroy, when my mum took me to see a show and I remember being in the audience and seeing him and Olivia Newton-John. This was in a show called Time For Terry…. back in the 1800s.

(LAUGHTER)

JD: So Festival Hall was sensational, and the audience was mostly made up of our European friends. Because over on Channel 9 you had Tony Barber doing Sale of the Century, where you had to know who the third King of Prussia was (and that wasn’t a question, so don’t answer it, smartarse)*… they couldn’t get that, but they knew how much a fridge was.

SH: Which is what that show is.

JD: Exactly. And our audience had a very large Maltese contingent. There was one instance… and I should point out that I had requested that I do audience warmup as well as being the show’s announcer, so I was integrated into the audience. And Ian Turpie would throw to me and I would say “Mary Vostopopolous! Come on down!”  And Mary on this particular day jumped up – and back in the early 80s, boobtubes were very popular…

SH: Yes…

JD: You know where this is going, don’t you?

SH: I have a rough idea.

JD: And Mary Vostopopolous was a fulsome middle aged lady. So Mary leapt up, and they caught her on camera and, as she ran down to the stage, her very fulsome bosoms went NorthSouthNorthSouthNorthSouthNorthSouth. And as she charged down the stairs, with her arms outstretched, Mary’s top started to slide and slide and slide… and by the time she got to the bottom of the stairs, it was a belt. A very big belt. But Turps handled it brilliantly; he ran up to her and gave her a cuddle while we all tried to get our act together.

There was another time when a very large woman grabbed my hand as she ran past me – because I was positioned in the audience itself – and she’s pulled me out of my seat and taken me with her as she barreled down towards the stage. Now this lady must have been 15 or 16 stone (210 lb – 224 lb, 95 kg – 101 kg). And she’s reached the stage (Did you ever go to the wrestling at Festival Hall? Anyway…) She’s reached the stage, and tripped over, taking me with her; I fell as well.

Thank God she broke my fall.

SH: Oh! There was a bit of ‘cushioning’ there?

JD: A lot of cushioning. So it was an interesting time.

SH: Was she okay? Did she carry on and go on the show?

JD: Yeah, yeah I was okay – thanks for asking.

LAUGHTER

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

And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. Next time, Deeksie reflects on Family Feud, and Wheel of Fortune, and discusses what separated the successful contestants from the unsuccessful ones. Until next Tuesday, then.

The Game Show Humane Society would like to advise that no 15 or 16 stone Price Is Right contestants were harmed in the making of this blog post.

* Looks like Deeksie might have been throwing in a trick question here; it seems Prussia only ever had two Kings Of it: King Frederick I (1701 – 1713) and King Wilhelm II (1888 -1918). There were many Kings In Prussia, though.

Controversial.

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

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

You can find the two previous instalments here and here.

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

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

Fact. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOST IAN ROGERSON: What is a title?

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

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……………..

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

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

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

And yes, they truly were delightful.

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

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

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

to boldly make us Forget All Our Cares.

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

Ooooh, I love my All-Star Squares….

 

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

So now you know that.

A Public Service Announcement. Sort Of.

Hello! Just a very quick, non-Tuesday extra-curricular post today, to let you know about something I’m doing this month.

I’m taking part in FebFast – swearing off alcohol for the month of February, for a very good cause.

FebFast helps raise funds for disadvantaged young people in Australia. From overcoming mental health issues and the impact of abuse and neglect, to finding safe housing and tackling drug and alcohol problems, FebFast funds youth workers who connect with young people experiencing disadvantage and ultimately help them stand on their own two feet.

I’ve pledged to be alcohol-free for the month of February, and if there’s a chance you’d be able to sponsor me in this endeavour – for any amount – it’d really help to make a difference.

For all the details, simply click on this deliberately ironically chosen picture of the floating head of Isaac, The Love Boat’s bartender.

Thank you for reading this far, and I’ll be back on Tuesday, with the conclusion to my piece on All Star Squares (TheFunAndTheLaughterForgetAllYourCares).

Until then…

Cheers,

Slainte,

Salut,

 

Erm…

Thanks,

Stephen.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fun and the laughter, indeed…

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

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

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

Until next Tuesday! 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year, from www.HowToWinGameShows.com!

Thanks Steve, I’ll take it from here.

Just a quick one today, to wish you all a safe, happy and prosperous 2018!

May the coming 365 days be filled with love, laughter and light for you. And if you’ll be taking the plunge and appearing on a game show, please add ‘cash’ and ‘fabulous prizes’ to that list.

In 2018, I plan to continue posting here every week, and providing as many tips, hints, interviews and behind-the-scenes stories as I possibly can. And if there’s anything in particular that you’d like to see here on HowToWinGameShows.com in 2018, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I can be reached, as always, at Stephen@HowToWinGameShows.com

Now I’ll leave you to get on with all those New Year’s Resolutions… good luck!

 

Merry Christmas, from HowToWinGameShows.com!

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!

In case you’re wondering, this boy in the 70s haircut and tiny lemon yellow shorts is NOT me.                                                                                                                                                                                             Nor is the monkey in a nightie.

Hello!

Just a quick one today to wish you and yours a very, very happy Christmas. Whether you’re Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Rastafarian, Pastafarian, Sikh or Zoroastrian, please accept my very best wishes for you, your family and your friends this festive season.

Because no matter what our varying spiritual beliefs may be, surely we can all wish each other well. We’re all just people muddling along, and doing the best we can to try and make sense of it all. The things we have in common far outweigh our few superficial differences.

A very happy, safe and kind holiday season to you and yours, and may 2018 bring all that you wish for…. and then just a little bit more.

Peace, love and light.

Stephen.

‘Letters and Numbers’ and what might have been… Part II.

Hello!

If you saw last week’s post, catchily titled That Time I Auditioned For The Australian Version Of That Long-Running Quiz Show ‘Countdown’ Up In Sydney in 2010, you’ll know that I’d been asked to audition to host, and that Matt Parkinson had too. Now read on….

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

The other contender for the host role on the day – who loomed very large – was Silvio Rivier. Silvio was an SBS personality, who’d been at the network since 1980, and had worked in a number of roles there, but most notably, as the long term presenter of Global Village. I didn’t meet him on the day, but I did note that he walked through the foyer with a deal of self-assurance. I thought that his appointment as host of Letters and Numbers was a lay down misere. He was already part of the SBS family, and for a network with multicultural diversity at its very core, I thought he was a far more attractive option for them than ‘white-bread’ me…. and similarly ‘white-bread’ Matt Parkinson. I was absolutely certain that Silvio would get the gig, and that they’d only got Matt and me there for a bit of variety, and to maybe see a couple of different takes on the role. Perhaps they figured they could work anything they liked from our performances in to Silvio‘s performance, when he got the gig.

Silvio Rivier

Afterwards, Matt and I shared a taxi back to the airport, had a well-earned beer in the airport bar, and sat next to each other again on the plane back to Melbourne. We were philosophical. I’d done what I did (which is being me, and nobody else can be me), and he did what he did (which is being him, and nobody else can be him). Now it was in the lap of the gods. Either;

  • They wanted Matt to host Letters and Numbers,
  • They wanted me to host Letters and Numbers, or
  • They wanted someone else to host Letters and Numbers.

Neither of us felt we’d missed any opportunities in our auditions, or left anything in the tank. Back at Melbourne Airport, we shook hands, jumped into our separate taxis and went home.

Flying up to Sydney to audition and then flying home again afterwards is something that I’ve done a few times. I always find it to be quite an exhausting day; it’s essentially 3 to 4 hours of travel, and then TURN ON THE CHARM AND GIVE IT ALL YOU’VE GOT and then another 3 to 4 hours of travel to get home again. Nervous energy levels do tend to go up and down a bit on days like those.

A couple of weeks later, I found out that I didn’t get the gig.

And that Matt Parkinson didn’t get the gig.

And that Silvio Rivier didn’t get the gig either.

The job of hosting Letters and Numbers went to former newsreader Richard Morecroft.

Richard Morecroft

So much for my “no white-bread” theory! I was really pleased to see that Lily got the gig of the glamorous mathematician, and she did it brilliantly and charmingly, and it has since led to a lot of other things for her. So happy for her – she was a really lovely person.

Lily Serna

When I watched the show, and saw Richard’s style of hosting, I thought “Well, that’s what he does, and that’s obviously what they wanted”. In my audition, I offered something quite different, which obviously wasn’t what they wanted. Which brings me to something I always try to remind myself, whenever I audition for anything… “Just do you. Nobody else can do you, and you do it really well. If you doing you doesn’t fit into their project, then so be it. But if you doing you does fit into their project, you’re golden!” Being chosen or not chosen for jobs like this is never personal;  It’s just whether I happen to be a jigsaw piece that fits into their puzzle… or not.

The postscript to all of this is that although the French version of the show is still running after more than 20,000 episodes, and the English version is still running after more than 6000, episodes, the Australian version of the show was cancelled after 450 episodes, for whatever reason. It’s a shame; Letters and Numbers was a friendly, fun show that took pleasure in celebrating smart people.

And in the current landscape, I reckon there’s not enough of that about.

‘Letters and Numbers’ and what might have been… Part I.

Hello! Today – and next week as well – a little trip down my (slightly uneven, pothole-riddled) Memory Lane, for you, Dear Reader, as HowToWinGameShows.com presents a little two-part post that I like to call…..

That Time I Auditioned For The Australian Version Of That Long-Running Quiz Show ‘Countdown’ Up In Sydney in 2010.

Catchy, eh? Now read on…

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

 

Countdown. If you know your game shows, you’ll know that this simple yet very successful show has clocked up over 6000 episodes in the UK since it started there in 1982. And its French antecedent Des chiffres et des lettres has had more than 20,000 episodes since it started in 1965!

In 2010, I got word from my agent that the SBS Network would be producing an Australian version – called Letters and Numbers – very soon, and that they’d started looking for the on air team.

At this time, I’d had my game show victories, and had spent quite a bit of time on The Einstein Factor’s ‘Brains Trust’, and so I had some fairly solid TV quiz show credentials. My background in acting and stand-up comedy was something that also made them think of me, and so, when the call came through, I thought “Yes! I’d love to audition! I’d love to be a quiz show host on the big people’s television!”

So we booked in the audition, a time was arranged (in Sydney, which would mean a flight from Melbourne, where I live), and I started doing my research on the show. I quickly found that Countdown is a pretty sedate affair. When I played along, I realised that words and anagrams are much more my strong point then mathematics, so when it came to the mathematical equations, I was struggling a little bit… But I figured “well… I was only going to be the host; I didn’t need to know all THIS stuff”.

Eventually, the day of the audition came. I got a good night’s sleep, had a decent breakfast, put on my new suit, got all my notes together and made my way to the airport to catch the flight up to Sydney.

When I got there, I bumped into my pal game show champ, actor and comedian Matt Parkinson. I instantly thought “This is a bit too much of a coincidence…” Sure enough, he was also auditioning for the host role on host on Letters and Numbers that day. I’ve known Matt for many, many years, and he’s as lovely, smart and funny a bloke as you’ll ever meet. These days, he’s starring as one of The Chasers (“Goliath”) on The Chase Australia. He’s fantastic in the role, and that show continues to top the ratings here.

Matt Parkinson

But back in 2010, none of that had happened yet. We greeted each other, and very soon realised that not only were we both going for the same gig…. but the producers had booked us seats next to each other for the flight up to the audition and seats next to each other for the flight back after the audition. Okay, so not awkward at all. Of course, we tried not to think about it, and we genuinely wished each other well, but being in such close proximity to the bloke who’s going for the job that you want, for at least two hours leading up to the audition…

Well, all I can say is that if you happen to be a game show producer, auditioning two people for the host role, maybe don’t force them together for an extended period before they audition for you. I can’t speak for Matt, but it wasn’t especially good for my nerves, and I’d argue that the producer may not have got the ideal, calm, relaxed performance from me that I wanted to give. But maybe I’m imagining all that. When we got to Sydney, we jumped in a cab and went out to the Screen Australia studios at Lindfield to audition.

The auditions consisted of a few more games, with David Astle (who had already, I think, won the role of the dictionary expert). David was a natural choice for this role, having been a brilliant compiler of cryptic crosswords, non-fiction author, and self-confessed “word nerd” for many years.

On the day, they were also auditioning two young mathematicians for the Carol Vorderman role. One was a very tall, blonde model-looking type, with a Russian background. She was super, super confident, and a brilliant mathematician as well, of course. The other was Lily Serna, who was delightful, and charming and very excited to be there. It was her first gig of this type, and her enthusiasm was clear.
In two runs of the show, I auditioned opposite both of them (deep down, I really wanted Lily to get the gig).

I remember in the audition trying to keep it light, trying to keep my energy up, but not too be too manic. This was Countdown, after all. At one stage, the obscure word that David talked about was the word “folderol”; explaining its meaning* and derivation. I remember later on in the run being able to do a callback, and use that word in a sentence. My use of it wasn’t hilarious or anything, but I hoped that at least it showed The Powers That Be that I was paying attention, absorbing new information as it was mentioned, and that I could think on my feet. I did a couple of runs at the show (cut down, maybe just one round each, with crew members standing in as contestants) before Matt went in and had his turn…

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Next week, in the thrill-packed conclusion of That Time I Auditioned For The Australian Version Of That Long-Running Quiz Show ‘Countdown’ Up In Sydney in 2010, we find out who got the gig, what happened in the aftermath… and just who was the mysterious extra contender for host on the day?

All this – and more – will be revealed next week, right here at HowToWinGameShows.com!

 

 

* folderol

Noun – trivial or nonsensical fuss. “all the folderol of the athletic contests and the cheerleaders”

Now you know.