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…..
================================================================ 

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…..

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

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.

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

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.

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

… 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…

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

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?

Continue reading

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

The Fabulous Adam Richard

And here we are, with my first interview for 2017, and I’m delighted to say it’s with The Fabulous Adam Richard! For those who don’t know, Adam Richard is one of Australia’s favourite comedians, whose successful 20 year career encompasses stand-up comedy here and internationally, radio presenting, sitcom writing, TV acting, reality TV appearances, podcasting and much more besides. You can find all the details at his website.

But in addition to all of this, yet another feather in Adam’s cap is writing questions for game shows. To date, Adam has written questions for All Star Squares, (where he and I worked together) The Chase: Australia (which I’ve also written questions for) and Hard Quiz (which I haven’t – I must be slipping).

Anyhoo, Adam Richard, thanks very much for chatting to me today for www.HowToWinGameShows.com

SH: Over the years, how many quiz questions do you think you’d have written for TV?

AR: I couldn’t even tell you how many I’ve written this week! It’s over a hundred. This week, I mean. When I started on Season 1 of The Chase Australia, I was working four or five days a week, which roughly works out to about 200 questions. Now I’m just working one or two days a week, but factoring in all the shows I’ve worked on, I’m guessing I’d be into the tens of thousands by now.

SH: What’s the secret to writing a good quiz question?

AR: It’s such a juggling act! The questions on The Chase Australia, especially in the timed rounds, need to be really punchy. There are a lot of comedians writing for the show, I think mainly because the structure of a question and a joke are essentially the same – you work really hard at giving out enough information that the punchline or answer, in the case of a quiz show, is both obvious and surprising at the same time. You almost want people at home to go “Oh! Of course! I should have known they’d say that!” So, even if people are learning something from the answer, it should have its own internal logic. Also, boring is bad. Numbers and dates are boring, names are boring. I try to avoid writing answers that are a number or a name, unless it’s something that is an emotional touchstone (there’s always an exception to every rule!). I wrote a question on Hard Quiz which was “How many double A batteries go into a Nintendo Game Boy?”. That’s the kind of thing that can really fire up the happy and nostalgic part of your brain, remembering fun things from your childhood, trying to picture yourself jamming the batteries in the back of your favourite toy.

SH: Are there any topics or subject areas that you return to often, when you’re writing questions?

Continue reading

Coming Attractions…

Hello!

Well, as we begin our penultimate week of the Fawlty Towers Live tour here in sunny Brisbane, I just wanted to do a quick post today to let you know about what’ll be coming up here at HowToWinGameShows.com.

Over the next few weeks, I’m planning quite a few personal posts, telling the behind-the-scenes stories of the various game shows I’ve worked on. Over the years, I’ve served either as a question writer, adjudicator or producer on shows such as 1 vs 100, The ConTest, Shafted, The Rich List, Deal Or No Deal, Spicks and Specks, All Star Squares, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, It Takes Two, and The Chase: Australia. There are quite a few backstage stories from each of these productions, which will hopefully give you some insights into what goes on behind the scenes of various popular game shows. So stay tuned for them.

Also, I’ve got some more great interviews lined up, with numerous prominent people from both sides of the camera! I don’t want to say too much at this stage, but there’ll be question writers, producers and one or two hosts…

Now before I sign off for this week, a couple of quick snippets from the world of Game Show news…

A new game show that premiered last night on ABC in America – Big Fan – sees celebrities go head to head with their self confessed biggest fans, in order to see who knows more about the celebrity.  The first episode featured Matthew McConaughey, so if they can keep that level of star power up, it sounds like a show that’d be well worth watching.

And finally, just in case you were wondering, Nepal’s first ever reality TV game show – Pahunchhas finished its first season. The show, which was created as a fun and interactive way of strengthening relations between the public and the police, was a ratings hit, and a second season has now been commissioned. I find this story quite uplifting. It’s a really good example of how – with just a bit of lateral thinking in the concept – game shows can be created to be educational, enlightening, while also putting good things back into the community. Should be more of it about, if you ask me. And you can read even more about it here.

Until next week!

Happy New Year, from www.HowToWinGameShows.com!

Hello!

I just wanted to drop you all a quick line to say three things….

Firstly, I’m sorry for the fact that there’s been no new content on the site for a while. The Perth season of Fawlty Towers Live, followed immediately by a big and very busy Christmas holiday with the in-laws, followed immediately by the opening of the Brisbane season of the show have left me pretty pressed for time over the last few weeks. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in reading the first couple of reviews of the Brisbane season, which opened a couple of days ago, they’re here and here.)

Secondly, I also need to apologise to you for the fact that the site went down for a couple of weeks. This was due to a DNS server issue, but I’ve since sorted all that out with my hosting company, so that shouldn’t happen again. Again, sorry for the inconvenience.

And finally, I’d just like to wish each and every one of you a very healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. There’s heaps of great stuff coming up here on the blog, including more interviews, game show related book reviews… and a whole lot more besides.

And while 2017 is shaping up to be a pretty interesting and busy year on the work front for me, rest assured, I’ll always give all I can to www.HowToWinGameShows.com – my passion project – in an effort to help you on your game show journey!

Thanks again for your continued interest and support . Wishing you Peace, Love and Light,

Stephen.