Hello everyone. Sorry, but there’s no post here today.
Apart from this one.
You see, I haven’t had time to prepare a game show-related post for the blog this week, because yesterday I just started an intensive rehearsal process for the stage musical Brigadoon, which will be on in Melbourne… just 3 weeks from now!
So please bear with me for the next couple of weeks, and normal service will resume as possible. We have another instalment of Ryan’s Life In Game Shows coming up, and I also have some more behind-the-scenes anecdotes and reminiscences, which I hope will in some way prove helpful to you.
In the meantime, I must dash back off to the Scottish highlands, and my kilt is beginning to chafe….
As promised last week, here’s the very first Guest Post I’ve ever had here at HowToWinGameShows.com.
It’s from Ryan Vickers, who’s a Canadian game show fan, game show veteran… and game show host! Ryan has very kindly offered to do a series of posts for the site on his life in game shows, and here’s the first one.
Take it away, Ryan!
My Life In Game Shows, Part I: Getting To Know You.
My mom chuckled. “Oh Ryan, why are you spending five bucks on stamps?”
“Because Mom,” I replied, “It’s Wheel of Fortune”.
I grew up in a household where creativity was encouraged. My parents were both educators. So that meant no violent cartoons like all of my friends. No Nintendo Entertainment System – my friends were left to their own Super Mario needs.
When my friends were busy, I resorted to the thing that I loved: game shows. Canadian or American, French-language or English-language, it didn’t matter. We grew up near Montreal, and that meant with cable television came foreign adaptations from other big money American game shows.
I can’t tell you exactly where the passion (okay, addiction) came from. I do however remember not ever wanting to miss any game shows. And you can bet that when we went away on trips, I would do everything I could to be in front of the telly to see out-of-market game shows. I even spent one year in the late eighties with a routine; Get up. Shower. Breakfast. Fun House at 7:30. Run for the school bus. And so it went.
Why do I like game shows so much? Is it because of the lights? The sounds? Those catchy theme songs? No, it’s because it’s about people doing the out-of-the-ordinary in extraordinary situations. And now, with the presence of sites like YouTube and television networks like Buzzr and GSN in the USA, both classics and modern shows are available 24/7. I was even delighted to turn up a late seventies Reach For The Top / Génies en Herbe all-star game with Alex Trebek hosting in both English and French.
We’ll get to Wheel and Reach soon enough, I guarantee you.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The first game show I applied for, I got on. And I’ve been really lucky since then. I’ve appeared on eight (yes, that’s right, eight) television and radio game shows in Canada, the USA, England and France. In addition to that, I’ve been part of a studio audience on three continents over thirty different times, and once even a part of someone else’s experience.
I look forward to sharing my adventures with you!
And I’m really looking forward to reading them, Ryan!
I’d like to thank Ryan so much again for coming on board as my very first guest blogger, and hey, if you – yes, YOU! – have any game show adventures / stories / jooooourneys that YOU’d like to share with the game show community – through HowToWinGameShows.com – why not let me know?
Given the flying start that this first example has got off to, I’m really open to the idea of future guest bloggers. So if that could be you, just drop me a line at Stephen@HowToWinGameShows.com, and let’s talk!
I’ve been blogging here at HowToWinGameShows.com since March 2013, and in all that time, I’ve never, ever done it.
Not even once.
I’ve written 218 posts here, and not a single one of them has ever been one of these.
But now, after all this time, and after all those posts, it’s finally happening. I don’t know why I haven’t done this before. Not sure why it’s taken so long, really. I mean, what have I been worried about? Every other blog does it; why shouldn’t I do it too?
You know what I’m talking about. Don’t pretend you don’t.
I’m proud to announce that next week, for the first time ever, HowToWinGameShows.com will be running its very first ever…
And sorry everyone, for my absence last week. I’ve been very busy with various things….
But hey, you don’t want excuses from me, you want blog posts.
And so today, (and over the next two weeks as well), I’m going to take you back. Back in time, to an eventful period in my life, and a game show that I was intimately involved in. A show that teamed professional singers with professional celebrities. A show that had millions (or at least, lots) of Australians glued to their TVs – and their smartphones – every Sunday night, as it all unfolded live before their very eyes. I found myself caught up in the maelstrom of all this, while 700 km away, my brand new wife was struggling with very poor health, leading up to the birth of our child…
NOW READ ON.
I was living in Sydney, I’d recently won both Temptation and Australia’s Brainiest Quizmaster, and Judi and I were newly married and expecting our daughter. One day, I got a job offer from Brad Lyons – an executive at the Seven Network who I’d worked for earlier on the sketch comedy series Big Bite – to write the scripts for a new celebrity game show that the network would be producing soon. It was to take over the live Sunday night 7:30 timeslot for the network, which had been so successful for them with Dancing With The Stars.
And as it turned out, it was in a pretty similar vein to DWTS. In fact, it essentially replaced the dancing element with a singing element. 10 celebrities not known for their singing abilities would be teamed up with 10 professional singers, and the resulting duos would battle it out LIVE every Sunday night, for the judges, and the audience, over a 10 week season.
This was It Takes Two.
It was an adaptation of the UK show Just The Two Of Us, which had started airing over there just weeks earlier. (When I watched the first episode of Just The Two Of Us, I was upset to see that the very first professional singer voted off was one of the heroes from my teenage years – Martin Fry from ABC.)
Although we didn’t urgently need the money, I accepted the job. This was probably mostly due to force of habit. Having been a freelance writer and actor since 1987, when work comes along, the knee jerk reaction is always to say yes. Even if it doesn’t sound great, there are always those things you tell yourself:
“It’ll look good on the resume”,
“I might learn some new skills”,
“I might meet people who may consider me for the next gig”, and most importantly
“I will make some money here, and who knows when the next job will come along?”
All of these thoughts occurred to me every time a job came along. To some extent, they still do.
So, I said yes. With the understanding that I wouldn’t stay until the very end – as our daughter was due – but I’d certainly be there for the first half of the season, to help get it all up and running. Over the next few weeks, I was very much thrust into the deep end, as the producers frantically tried to work out how best to wrangle this all-encompassing LIVE weekly TV event, which had so many moving parts, and so many egos to placate… In terms of on-air talent alone, there were 27 people who needed to be looked after. (2 hosts, 4 judges, 10 professional singers, and 10 non-professionally singing celebrities, and one orchestra leader). Then there was the orchestra, the technical crew and all the administrative staff required to keep the machine running.
As for my role? Well, it was essentially to write all of the hosts’ banter, one liners for the judges, along with any ideas for any of the contestants. I also had to co-ordinate, print, copy and physically distribute all the scripts to everyone who needed them, in every department. This was the most time-consuming part of a show with so many people working on it.
Actually, now that I think about it… no, it wasn’t. The most time-consuming part (in the first couple of weeks, anyway) was learning how to write show scripts using Microsoft Excel. This was an idea of one of the producers. Apparently, she’d always written scripts that way, and found it much easier, so she insisted I do it that way too. I’d only used Microsoft Excel a handful of times in my life. I’m a writer, not an accountant – I use Microsoft Word. This caused countless headaches and mistakes, while I stumbled through the program as the Executive Producer ran around, literally yelling “Come on guys! WHERE ARE THOSE SCRIPTS?! NEED THEM NOW!” In the end, I spoke to the producer and the EP and told them I needed to use Microsoft Word for the scripts. They’re scripts; they should be Word documents, not spreadsheets. They acquiesced, and so that part of things was streamlined a little…
Not a lot, but a little.
Next week, the It Takes Two / expectant parenthood adventure continues, as we meet the show’s hosts, and examine a controversy that one of them sparked with a seemingly innocuous on-air comment….
Until then, then!
Just a quick one this week – I wanted to let you know about a podcast that I’ve discovered, that you may like too. You may remember that I’ve mentioned the podcast Freakonomics a few times on this blog over the years. Well, this is their very own version of a game show. It’s called Tell Me Something I Don’t Know!, it’s a podcast, and it’s always recorded in front of a live audience.
The goal of the show is “to tell you the things you thought you knew but didn’t; and things you never thought you wanted to know, but do.”
Here’s how it runs, according to the show’s official site, “Three celebrity panellists listen as contestants come on stage before a live audience and try to wow them with a fascinating fact, a historical wrinkle, a new line of research — anything, really, as long as it’s interesting, useful and true (or at least true-ish). There’s a real-time human fact-checker on hand to filter out the bull. The panel — an eclectic mix of comedians, brainiacs, and other high achievers — poke and prod the contestants, and ultimately choose a winner.”
There are no huge prizes; the whole raison d’etre of the show is to learn interesting and obscure knowledge while having fun along the way. And it delivers! I subscribe to it, and always find it entertaining and educational. So, if you’re a podcast kind of person, I recommend it. Each episode goes for just under an hour, and you’re guaranteed to learn some cool new stuff each time.
Because I firmly believe you can never have too much obscure, arcane, trivial knowledge. And this is a fun way to get it.
And that’s it for this week – until next Tuesday!
Last week saw the beginning of my two-part interview with writer / comedian / actor / MC / audience warm up man / game show question writer for Hard Quiz and Family Feud; Gerard McCulloch. And although we’re used to seeing everything run perfectly smoothly on our favourite game shows when they go to air, the process of getting them there can sometimes be a bit bumpy. Not just from the perspective of the host, the contestants and all the technicians working on any show, but from the perspective of a show’s question writers, too….
SH: Have you ever written any questions – on any shows – that turned out to be controversial?
GM: I follow the Hard Quiz Twitter hashtag as it goes to air, and read the occasional ‘correction’ from viewers. I check every query, and luckily they rarely stand up to scrutiny. A few people disputed our assertion that every Australian postage stamp features a year, but not a denomination (i.e.; value). It’s true – concession stamps for seniors show no value, but years of issue appear, often hidden in microprinting. Someone delightfully emailed the ABC a scan of a ‘Fairy’ stamp, declaring that it didn’t show a year. I told her to look under the toadstool.
GM: Some of our other Hard Quiz contestants were taken aback by how tangential to the expert topic some of our questions get. It’s true that part of the fun we have with the notion of the ‘hard’ quiz is that the questions can get ridiculously obscure. But at the time of recording, the show had not yet gone to air, so it’s understandable that some guests may have felt miffed at the licence we took. It’s a brilliant moment when a contestant still knows the answer. I would hope that in subsequent seasons, contestants will have seen the show, and know a bit more about what they’re in for.
SH: Have producers ever rejected any questions that you’ve written? If so, why?
GM: All the time! “Seen it before”. “Too easy”. “Too hard”. “It was on The Chase last week”. “Too similar to one that’s already in production”. “Too long”. “Too complicated”. “Too obscure”. “Not suitable for the viewing demographic”… Having questions rejected is part and parcel of being a question writer.
SH: How did you come to be working on the 2014 Australian reboot of Family Feud?
GM: Apart from the questions, all shows need a writer to work on the ‘hostings’, which are the mundane things like introducing the contestants, throwing to the commercial breaks and plugging the show coming up, as the credits roll. Some hosts stick to these these scripts and some don’t, but it usually falls somewhere between the two. They’re mainly reminders to make sure everything happens in the correct order and nothing is forgotten. I filled in on that role for a couple of weeks while my friend Ray Matsen took a holiday, and had so much fun with (host) Grant (Denyer) and the excellent team behind the scenes there that they let me stick around and write questions. Writing Family Feud questions was a bit of a dream come true – I used to love watching the show in its earlier versions when I was a kid. I’ve also filled in as the audience warm-up act there too. I’m hoping the show sticks around until I’ve slowly performed every role in television there. Maybe I could be the lighting guy next.
SH: What specific skills are required to write questions for Family Feud?
GM: The ability to think out of the box. The more original the question, the greater the chance it hasn’t been done before. Questions involving un-provable matters of personal opinion (like appropriate behaviour on a date) are more fun than lists like ‘food starting with B’. Having said that, it’s been a while since they called… maybe too many of my questions got ba-bowwwwwwed.
SH: Are there mistakes or common errors that you see people repeatedly make on Family Feud?
GM: Giving answers that in no imaginable universe could possibly be relevant to the question! It’s funny to see what people come out with under the pressure of the lights and the time limit.
SH: And finally, do you have any specific tips or hints that you could give someone wanting to go on Family Feud?
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!