Guest blogger Ryan Vickers returns, with some great ‘Wheel of Fortune’ tips!

HowToWinGameShows.com special guest blogger Mr Ryan Vickers

Hello!

This week, we have the second instalment of our special guest blogger Ryan Vickers’ LIFE IN GAME SHOWS! I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did, and just a reminder… if you have an interesting game show story (or game show stories) to tell, and would like to follow Ryan’s lead and be a HTWGS guest blogger, please drop me a line (Stephen@HowToWinGameShows.com) and let’s chat!

But right now, it’s over to Ryan, for….

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My Life In Game Shows.

Episode 2: The Big One (and it is a biggie).

When I was in my last year of high school in Canada, I turned 18. Having just missed the cut off for Supermarket Sweep the year before, I was anxious to apply to any game show that would have me. As luck would have it, Wheel of Fortune was to audition selected Canadians in Toronto in the fall of 1996. I dashed off ten postcards to the address required.

As a game show fanatic all of my young life, I had done it all in my small town. I had hosted game shows at school, at parties, in class and played in the local quiz bowl league. When I applied for Wheel, I hoped and wished but really the odds were against me. I was later told that 250 out of 50,000 postcards came out of the drum. My mother took the qualifying call as I was at school; she then took two headache pills once I stopped screaming after she told me the news later that day.

The audition, a five hour drive away, was at a downtown hotel. Apart from filling out the information sheet and doing a puzzle quiz, you had to stand up and call a few letters and then sit down.

PRO TIP:

When you are at the audition, try and do the following:

  • Make eye contact with the contestant staff and speak clearly with enough volume (but don’t yell).
  • Have confidence and make sure you know how the game is played!
  • Prepare a few funny anecdotes that will make you stand out from the crowd and that you are comfortable talking about if you are asked. More and more, the focus is on personality first, game play second.

In life, waiting is the hardest part. As a result of my tryout, Wheel put me into an 18-month window for a possible chance at the show. Sometimes the call never comes. Thankfully, for me it came and my mother and I flew down to Los Angeles six months post-audition, to tape my run.

Walking into the studio, it’s like stepping into Oz. While I’ll get to it later, if you haven’t seen a game show taping and you want to, you really should. My experience was awesome, as we were treated like royalty in the holding area!

PRO TIP:

When you’re on set, try to put yourself at ease. During rehearsal, I was able to gauge how far I could spin the wheel which helped me during the show. I took the time to look around, figure out where the host would stand, where all information would be (like used letters and the current score for all players), and generally to shake out my nerves.

In the audience, I watched the first three episodes being taped. I appreciated this; it let me get a feel for what was going on. My name was drawn for Episode Four, and I was raring to go!

Here’s how it went, in three parts; PART 1PART 2, and PART 3. 

It really does go so fast. I was relieved to win the first round and could pay my parents back for the trip! Everything else was icing (and upcoming college tuition payments). I also feel I got lucky in regards to the puzzles – Round One’s BEFORE AND AFTER category is my favourite, Round Two dealt with not wanting to oversleep, and Round Three fell directly into my Year 12 English class wheelhouse.

PRO TIP:

Pay attention to what’s going on and use your time wisely! When the wheel was spinning, I looked at the used letter board to figure out my next pick. When it was someone else’s turn, I was focused on figuring out the puzzle word by word. This helped quite a bit – during the entire run of the show I only relinquished control of the game due to landing on a penalty space because I was able to focus on the game!

After the bonus round was done, I ran backstage, changed clothes, and was back on set for the next episode 20 minutes later! And here’s the result;

DAY 2; PART 1, PART 2 and PART 3

After all was said and done, (including forfeiting the “Luggature”) I ended up with about $20,000 Canadian!

A month later, on my gran’s 75th birthday, the show aired. I invited 20 school friends over to watch the first show and everyone was quite surprised to see the result. Most couldn’t believe I held in the secret!

And lucky for me, there was more to come!

Ryan.

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Lucky for us, too. Thanks again Ryan, for sharing not only your adventures, but also those great Wheel of Fortune tips… from someone who’s actually been there, and done that! Much appreciated, and I greatly look forward to the next instalment of Your Life In Game Shows!

‘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!

No post today (except for this one).

… And we’re done.

Hello folks,

No post today, sorry. Well, no post about game shows, anyway.

You see, I’ve been pretty busy over the last few weeks writing the Logies, and the last week in particular has been very demanding on my time. The night itself was on Sunday, and by all accounts, it seemed to go fairly well. There were – as there always are – highlights and lowlights…. but so far, I haven’t seen or read anyone saying that the lowlights were from my department…

Of course, everyone’s a critic, and you won’t please all of the people all of the time… but I think (that is, I hope) it generally achieved what it set out to do, and that general embarrassment was kept to a minimum. Well, embarrassment as a result of the scripting. Those acceptance speeches, and what the presenters and winners choose to say of their accord? That stuff’s all out of my hands.

Live TV, ladies and gentlemen, live TV….

Anyway, now that AustralianTelevision’sNightOfNightsWhenTheBrightestStarsComeOutToShine™ is over for another year, I look forward to returning you to your regularly scheduled game show related posts.

And for those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, a list of all the Logie winners can be found here.

See you next Tuesday!

Developmental As Anything – Part II

 Hello!
When I left off last week, I’d been approached by an executive at a production company to help them with a format for a new 5-night-a-week game show. It was to fill the all-important time-slot of Lead-In To The News. They’d pitched a concept to a network, the network had shown some interest, and now that original concept just needed to be expanded and refined. The production company had engaged me for two development days, I’d been sent the material, and was looking forward to heading into their offices, and brainstorming with their creative team. Now read on…..
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Soon, the day came, and I made my way to their premises. No one at reception or in the office seemed to know who I was, or quite why I was there. So I explained, and then the executive in question showed up. He seemed surprised that I hadn’t brought my laptop, and offered to go and find me one, if I wanted one. I told him I was happy with just my old fashioned pen and paper. He and I went into a rather drab, windowless meeting room.

The meeting room was sort of like this. Only not as nice.

We had a quick chat, ran through the notes he’d sent me, and he showed me where the kitchen and toilet were. He said he had to go to a meeting, but he’d be back soon, and then left me to my own devices. “Go out for a walk if you want – do whatever works for you…”

And then he left.

Right. Not quite what I was expecting, but I got to work. I worked solidly for the next four hours, and when he came back around lunchtime, I was eating (I’d brought lunch from home) and working when he arrived. I presented what I had for him so far. He liked what I’d done. He made a lot of positive noises, but then said “Oh, didn’t I tell you? It needs to be an hour, not a half hour.”

Ah. No, that fact had somehow slipped through the cracks.

Never mind, good to know…. I was able to tweak what I had done, and I found it invaluable to pitch my ideas to him; to bat them back and forth, and really test them. Together, we worked out how and why some ideas worked, and how and why some ideas didn’t. It was fun, there was real progress being made – two heads were most definitely better than one, and we were firing off each other. This was good, really good!

And then he had to go off to another meeting. So I was left alone again. He returned another three or four hours later, and again, I took him through what I’d done. And again, he was happy. Together, we decided that I’d knock off, go home, write up all the notes from today, and email them to him. So that’s what I did.

So, what, exactly, did I do for them, while I was by myself for around 8 hours in that soulless meeting room (without giving away any details, as per the terms of our Non-Disclosure Agreement)?

Well……
– I devised a workable format for the hour-long version of the show
– I devised an overall structure for the series
– I wrote 5 sample questions (with answers) in various, very specific formats and styles
– I provided 3 pages on the finer details of elements of the game (Question categories, casting, etc)
– I supplied 38 suggestions for a title for the show
– I supplied 8 suggestions for hosts for the show, and
– I supplied 51 suggestions for co-hosts for the show
I wrote up my notes, emailed them to the executive, he thanked me, and sounded me out about which days I was free next week, for the second development day. But I couldn’t see what more there was to cover. What they wanted me to do, I’d done – it simply didn’t require two days. And so, when he sent a response thanking me and signing off with the words “speak soon”, I knew that we wouldn’t.
And indeed, we haven’t. So, what happened next?
Well, I haven’t heard a thing since then. ALTHOUGH, a couple of weeks ago, I did read an interview with the head of that particular network, in which she said that they were looking for something to fill that all-important time-slot of Lead-In To The News. Which makes me suspect that they’ve passed on this particular project.
Or maybe they haven’t – what do I know?
Anyway, watch this space, and I’ll keep you appraised if there are any further… well, developments.

Developmental As Anything – Part I

A slight change of pace this week (and next week); I’m relating an anecdote from my behind-the-scenes game show life. It’s not to do with being a game show contestant, or How To Win Game Shows per se, but I do hope that it’ll give you an interesting glimpse behind the curtain. See what you reckon…..

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So, a couple of months ago now, I was contacted by a development executive from an established and well-known Australian production company. He had seen HowToWinGameShows.com, and he was aware of my reputation, and my CV, and was contacting me to see if I’d be interested and available to help them develop a new game show concept. They had the concept already, and had pitched it to an Australian television network, who’d shown some interest… but the production company just needed to flesh it out more and expand the idea, before presenting it to the network again.

Now, I have been involved in this sort of thing many times before.

I helped to change the long form format of Deal Or No Deal for Australian television, into the half-hour format that then was adopted in many, many territories all over the world… but that’s another story, for another blog post. I also helped develop a game show pilot for the ABC (that never saw the light of day) called Pressure’s On*, and I helped create the comedy game show What’s Goin’ On There?**, back in my community television days.

I auditioned to host a game show – that never saw the light of day – called On The Line.*** And I auditioned to host a game show that DID see the light of day, called Letters And Numbers.**** And I also auditioned to host another one that also saw the light of day, called The Chase Australia.***** Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Oh, and I auditioned to host AD/bc too. And Sleuth 101.

I also helped to develop many of the games in Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation.****** I’d contributed questions for 1 vs. 100,******* All Star Squares******** and The Rich List,********* and I’d written The ConTest********** and Shafted.***********

Granted, some were hits and some were – yeesh! – misses, but you can see that I do have a lot of runs on the board on this department.

So when this executive approached me, I was quick to accept. And after I’d signed the production company’s ‘Consultant Producer Agreement’, and the deal had been done – thanks to my agent – we were all set to go, for two days of development meetings / brainstorming sessions / workshops. I was looking forward to this – it would be fun! A couple of days of throwing ideas around, bouncing off other creative game show television people, and coming up with – or at least refining – a brand-new game show. All care, no responsibility. I was just a television brain for hire; paid to play. Nice work if you can get it!

So after I’d signed, scanned and sent back the NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) they sent me, they were all clear to send me the document outlining the concept.

A Non Disclosure Agreement being signed, yesterday. NOTE: That’s not actually my hand.

The producer also called me and explained the concept a little further over the phone, so I’d be primed with all of the basics we’d need for our brainstorming sessions the following week. They were looking to create a five-nights-a-week stripped game show, in the all-important time-slot of Lead-In To The News. That’s what the network wanted.

After hearing / reading about the general concept of the show, I have to say… I liked it! And I thought it could work really well as a fun, five-night-a-week late afternoon half-hour game show. I was greatly looking forward to the first brainstorming session with their creative team.

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WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

Will the brainstorming sessions go as planned?

Will Stephen have any usable ideas?

Will sparks fly with the production company’s creative team?

Will the original format remain intact?

Will the show get commissioned by the network?

For the answers to all of these questions, and many more, tune in NEXT WEEK, for the thrilling conclusion to Developmental As Anything !

* That’s also another story, for another blog post.

** And so is that.

*** And that.

**** That is too.

***** That, too, is also another story, for another different, separate blog post.

****** Look, you know where I’m going with this.

******* 1 Vs. 100? Yep, that’s another one.

******** That is too.

********* All Star Squares? Nope, not gonna do a blog post about this one. No way, man.

********** I’ll do one about this one, though.

*********** And this one. By the way, I was joking about not doing one about All Star Squares; I reckon I will.

Probably.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with ‘Hard Quiz’ question writer Gerard McCulloch – Part I

Hello, and welcome to my latest EXCLUSIVE interview for HowToWinGameShows.com.

Gerard McCulloch is a writer, comedian, MC, audience warm-up man… and many, many other things besides. In his 20 years in the television industry, he’s written for genres ranging from sketch comedy (SkitHOUSE) to satire (The Weekly with Charlie Pickering), and from award shows (The ARIA Awards, 2002, 2003, 2004)… to telethons (2005 Tsunami Telethon).

But today, I’m talking to him about his work writing for game shows. In this arena, Gerard’s written for Hard Quiz, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader and Family Feud, among others. I’m really keen to get his perspective on what it takes to put these shows together, and to find out if he has any tips for aspiring contestants. So, here goes! =========================================================================

SH: Gerard McCulloch, thanks very much for talking to me today for HowToWinGameShows.com! When it comes to your game show career, most recently, you’ve been writing for the ABC TV show Hard Quiz. What were the fun parts of that gig, and what were the more challenging parts? 

GM: The fun parts were working with a bunch of good mates to develop a whole new format, especially one that wasn’t just a quiz show, but a comedy show built around (host) Tom Gleeson’s persona. The most challenging part was working out exactly how the game should flow, the points applicable at different stages, the ideal number of contestants – we went through many trials of different scenarios before landing on the one we went with.

Every game show has a ‘game computer’, which is the brain that coordinates the images, sounds, questions, answers and scores. This was the first time I’ve sat in on the development of a game computer, and I have a new-found appreciation for how complicated the mechanism is that makes every game show run smoothly.

The second most difficult part related to our show being one that revolved around each contestant having a speciality topic. Maintaining equivalency of ‘an easy question’ or ‘a hard question’ across topics as diverse as Seinfeld to British Field-Marshals was very tricky. And then there was the challenge of appealing to the TV audience playing along at home when dealing with some very obscure topics.

SH: What do you think is the secret to writing a good quiz question?

GM: The perfect quiz question should make those trying to answer it feel like they should know the answer, even if they don’t; and it should be intriguing enough to make those who don’t know the answer curious enough to hear it. In the case of a show like Hard Quiz, if it can inform and entertain at the same time, that’s a big win.

SH: What’s an example of a question you’ve written that you’re really proud of?

GM: Question: I’ve got a forequarter on my 4-burner. What am I doing? Answer: Barbecuing. This was a buzz-in question for Hard Quiz’s People’s Round, where we test the experts on the stuff that normal people know. It’s virtually a riddle. Most Australians would know what a ‘forequarter’ (as in a forequarter lamb chop) and a ‘4-burner’ are, but the reward went to the first contestant to decode the wordplay. Anyone at home who couldn’t figure it out would hopefully enjoy hearing the answer when it came.

SH: As a question writer, what common mistakes do you see contestants making when answering quiz questions on Hard Quiz?

GM: In buzz-in rounds, contestants often buzz in early, and wrongly anticipate the rest of the question. But that’s the risk of buzz-in rounds in any game show – if you leave it a split second longer, you may lose out to someone who guesses correctly.

SH: Back in 2007, you worked on the Australian version of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? How did you find that experience, in general?

GM: I realised that kids these days learn very different things in primary school than what I learned back in the day! I was amazed by how much information I had forgotten, or never knew in the first place. Of course, whenever I felt that way, I knew it would be good fodder for a question.

SH: I’ve always wondered; if the premise is that all the answers could reasonably known by a 5th grader, how were the questions’ difficulty levels determined? Did you consult the official Australian primary school curriculum?

GM: Yes, we used the Australian primary school curriculum. It varied a little between states and schools, but if we could determine that the ‘average’ student at a given level would have learned that topic, then it was fair game.

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… And that’s where I’ll leave my interview with Gerard this week. Next week, in the second and final part of our chat, we discuss his work on Family Feud, and he has some really great tips for anyone wanting to appear on that show. In the meantime, though, if you’d like to find out more about Gerard and what he’s up to, you can head on over to his home on the web, and he’s also on Twitter, under the handle @DrJavaBeans.

Oh, and if you’re in Australia, and you’re interested in appearing on Series 2 of Hard Quiz, they’re currently looking for contestants! All the details are right here.

So good luck, and I’ll see you back here next week!

 

EXCLUSIVE interview with Quiz Show Question writer Adam Richard – Part II

The Fabulous Adam Richard

Hello! Today, as my interview with The Fabulous Adam Richard continues, I wanted to drill down a bit into the working methods that have seen him churn out tens of thousands of quiz show questions over the years…

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SH: What is something that you never do when you’re writing quiz questions?

AR: Social media. I have downloaded a browser plug-in that I set to yell at me if I try to open Facebook or Twitter or any of those things. You know those alerts come up, telling you so-and-so has liked your comment or some such, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour down an unhelpful rabbit-hole of absolutely irrelevant crap. Every time I click on one of those, this browser plug in swears at me. Literally. Vile, angry language. It’s quite the motivator!

(Here is a link if you can handle your computer yelling profanities) 

SH: What’s an example of a question you’ve written that you’re really proud of?

AR: Oh, so many! On Hard Quiz, it’s the ones that stump the experts. Especially if the expert is particularly smarmy and full of themselves. The first ever episode of The Chase Australia featured a question of mine that stumped even The Chaser herself!

I have tried to write a ‘Fanny Chmelar’ style question for The Chase Australia, but because of the timeslot, they’ve all been rejected, which is probably for the best. Did you know that an archaic term for an open-cut mine is ‘Glory Hole?’ I wrote it as a multiple choice “In which industry do people go to work in a glory hole?” Mining, Fishing, Theatre. It’s revolting, I know, but it is an actual true fact. You can’t argue with the truth… Well, you can if you are putting out a G-rated show.

SH: Are there any specific rules that you follow when you’re writing quiz questions?

AR: Keep it G-rated…

Follow the rules of the show! The Chase Australia has a very detailed style guide, and some very restrictive rules about length of questions and answers, which I adore. I love the language puzzle writing those entails, trying to rearrange a question to be coherent and fun in as few words as possible.

The first round of Hard Quiz, where people are able to steal points, I really enjoyed writing dog-leg questions, that seemed like they were going off in one direction, but in fact were headed somewhere else entirely, trying to trick people into buzzing in early. Like one about Eurovision, where it seemed like it was going to be an obvious one about which song ABBA won with, but instead was about which venue they won at! It was the ‘British seaside resort’ of Brighton, if you’re wondering, which then of course gives (the show’s host) Tom Gleeson leeway to make a joke about ‘British seaside resort’ being an oxymoron.

The fact that Hard Quiz is a comedy show as well as a game show means that all the writers have to do double time writing questions and gags. Tom writes both questions and gags himself. He’s incredibly hands on. I worked in the office at Hard Quiz, whereas I have done all my work on The Chase Australia remotely.

SH: Have you ever written any questions that turned out to be controversial?

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