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

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….

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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.

I think this is the stamp Gerard’s referring to. Look at under the right side of the toadstool, just where it overlaps the border.

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?

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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!

 

Four Years Old Today!

Why thank you, Ron.

Yep, four years old today. Could it really have been March 14th, 2013 when I bit the bullet and started this blog, by writing this?

Well, yes. Of course it was – the date’s right there on the page. Although in some ways, it does seem to me like a lifetime ago. In the intervening 1461 days, here at HowToWinGameShows.com, there have been 209 blog posts, including 23 interviews, 15 posts on my own game show adventures, 4 book reviews, and one TV show review. Meanwhile, over at the @How2WinGameShow Twitter feed, there have been 271 tweets.

Along the way, I’ve also written one 208-page eBook (which has now been slashed to half price – just $9.99, by the way)

… All of which has slightly surprised me. When I started this site, I wasn’t sure if there’d be enough material to keep it going so strong for so long. But what a surprise and a delight it’s been to discover that there is! I’d like to thank all of the wonderful game show contestants and winners, and all of the game show professionals (from both sides of the camera) who’ve joined me on the journey. And of course, I’d also like to thank you for visiting the site each week. All of your support and feedback has been invaluable; just brilliant, all the way through.

Well said, that toddler’s T-shirt.

And by way of a sign-off today, I’d like to throw things back over to you – what would you like to see here at HowToWinGameShows in future posts? Please let me know either via email (stephen@howtowingameshows.com), via Twitter, or in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Thanks so much again, to all of you, for everything…. and be sure to check in next week, when another EXCLUSIVE interview with a brilliant game show insider kicks off YEAR FIVE of HowToWinGameShows.com!

 

 

 

 

Over to you.

Hello.

Something a little bit different this week; something I haven’t done in a long while. I’d like to open HowToWinGameShows up to you. It struck me the other day that I’ve fallen into a habit of posting content here each week that I think you’ll like, and that I hope will be useful to you…. but I don’t know for sure if it is.

So today, I’m asking you a favour… could you please let me know what you’d like to see more of, on HowToWinGameShows.com?

Oh, you’re listening, are you? Well, listen to THIS… WHERE’S THE APOSTROPHE, Willy ??

Would you like more interviews? Fewer interviews?

More book reviews? Fewer book reviews?

More game show news updates? Fewer game show news updates?

More behind-the-scenes stories from my various game show adventures? Fewer behind-the-scenes stories from my various game show adventures?

Or is there something else, something entirely different, something I haven’t thought of, that you haven’t seen here yet, but would like to?

The ball’s completely in your court – I’d really love to know what you’d like to see here, so that I can (hopefully) get to work to provide it for you!

So if you’d like to let me know via email, I’m at stephen@howtowingameshows.com,

Or I’m on Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/Howtowingameshows/

Or I’m on Twitter: @How2WinGameShow

Or you can just leave a message in the ‘Comments’ section below.

However you choose to get in touch, I thank you for your feedback, and I promise I’ll do my best to give you more of what you want, moving forward!

Thank you, as always.

Stephen

My eBook ‘How To Win Game Shows’ is now HALF PRICE!

Hello!

I have a bit of a special announcement for you this week. As you may or may not know, a little while back, I wrote my first eBook, which was on the subject of how to win game shows. Its title is (unsurprisingly enough) How To Win Game Shows.

And you can get it here. 

I originally priced it at $19.99 AUD, but now, for 2017, I’ve decided to chop that price in half, and just make it $9.99. The eBook is 208 pages long, and features some of the best tips from the first 2 and a half years of this blog, all distilled, organised and summarized into bite-size chapters. There’s also heaps of new exclusive content in there, that I wrote specifically for the eBook, along with quite a few random Interesting Yet Highly Unlikely Facts*, and lots of pretty pictures.

So if you’re on a quest for Game Show Glory, and you’re looking for a comprehensive reference text on the subject that’s 208 pages long, and is divided into 14 chapters and is easy to download as a pdf, so that you can read it on your iPad, laptop, Kindle or Kobo, well then….

Your requirements really are unusually specific.

But you could do a lot worse than having a look at the eBook. Just head over to www.HowToWinGameShows.com/products for all the info, and to order.

Or you can just click on this link.

Or this one.

Or even this photograph of Benny Hill in a ginger Afro

Benny Hill in a ginger Afro.

They all lead there.

Thanks for your time, the sales pitch is now over, and I’ll talk to you next week!

 

 

* Oh alright then, they’re gags.

 

 

 

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!

Book review – ‘How To Win TV Quiz Shows’ by CJ de Mooi

cj-de-mooi-book-cover

‘How To Win TV Quiz Shows’ by CJ De Mooi

Hello, and Happy New Year, to one and all ! Here’s hoping that 2017 is happy, healthy and fun for you… and that this is the year that all your game show dreams come true.

My first post for this year is another one of my occasional game show related book reviews. Today I’m looking at the first book by former quiz show champion, and Eggheads star CJ De Mooi. It’s called How To Win TV Quiz Shows and I picked it up as an eBook a while ago from Amazon.

It’s a quick read – just 152 pages – and although it does contain some good information, I wouldn’t say it’s an essential text book on the subject. But if you’re a fan of CJ’s slightly snarky, bitchy onscreen persona, then you’ll probably quite enjoy the ride. He writes in a breezy, chatty style, throwing in plenty of his trademark sarcastic barbs along the way.

The book begins with a potted history of CJ’s personal journey – from being quiz show contestant, to being a quiz show winner, to being a quiz show regular cast member. I must confess, I found his personality a bit hard to take during the relating of his life story. A pattern seemed to emerge in this part of the book; he’d repeatedly big-note his wins, then describe his losses as ‘injustices’, while assuring the reader that he’s over them now anyway.

An example of this comes when he relates how on one game show, he was only one second away from answering the final question in a 60 second round, when the timer went off. He complains that contestants not being able to see the clock is a major game flaw, and that this is unfair. To be fair, that’s how it’s usually done, CJ.

This very personal chapter concludes with him telling us that he’s now quit Eggheads, in order to pursue his dream of acting. And he’s happy; he goes to the gym every day, moisturises, and doesn’t care in the slightest what anyone thinks of him.

Hmm….

I can’t help thinking that if he’s telling us that he goes to the gym and moisturises every day, then he cares very much what everyone thinks of him.

Chapter 2 goes through the processes of getting on to quiz shows. This is a UK-centric book, and so the practical tips are all UK-based. He breaks down the reasons that people might have for applying for game shows and goes through them in more detail one by one. There are some useful tips here, such as the middle-aged white man (a demographic that’s generally over-represented on quiz shows) being selected time and time again due to drawing a little rainbow flag on the top of his application forms. Sometimes, positive discrimination works!

This is followed by a very comprehensive account of what you can expect on a studio record day.

Later chapters see CJ interviewing some other quiz show winners; Pat Casey (winner on The Chase and Tipping Point), serial WWTBAM contestant Paddy Spooner and British and European championship quizzer Gareth Kingston. But I’m not sure if I liked the way that he did this; rather than laying things out in a question and answer format, he’s reworked the content of the interviews into a prose, indirect speech format. Along the lines of “Paddy has an illuminating point”… “Paddy mentions his six year old daughter”, “Gareth advised always going in with a game plan”, and so on. This left me wondering exactly what CJ’s interview subjects did say to him in answer to his questions, and exactly how much has CJ paraphrased their responses.

As the book comes towards a conclusion, there’s a chapter titled ‘The Future’, which contains more practical tips about the why and how of getting on game shows – how you apply, etc., etc. It’s all sound advice, but not exactly inside knowledge. He’s a great advocate of joining an organised quizzing league (such as the ones that can be found here), which I think is certainly a good way of brushing up your knowledge, and exercising those question-answering muscles. He also recommends writing quiz questions, in order to get into the mindset of a quiz question writer. I’ve always thought that this is a great tip, and we’ve mentioned it many times here on the blog over the years.

The final chapter goes into more detail about how to write questions, and contains one list that I found interesting. It’s CJ’s Top Ten Topics that you should be well-versed in, if you’re looking for quizzing success. (I think the first one may be a bit anglo-centric, but here they are:)

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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.

An update…

Hello!

Well, as you may know, for the past few weeks I’ve been pretty busy rehearsing for the stage show that I’m privileged enough to be in – Fawlty Towers Live. This has been taking up most of my waking moments, 6 days a week. Rehearsals came to an end this week, though, as the season proper started. And Saturday night was our big World Premiere Opening night. It was one of the most exciting and emotional nights not only of my career, but of my entire life. The full house audience was with us right from the very start, and after the show, during the curtain calls, the applause and standing ovations felt like they were never going to end. Overseeing it all was the man himself – living legend John Cleese, and when he came on at the end and gave me his personal public seal of approval… well, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

hhh

Ticket sales have been good, and reviews so far have all been overwhelmingly positive. I tell you, this is such a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon to be part of. I am so lucky, and I’m loving every minute – every single second – of it, and am fully aware that it will be over all too soon.

Having said all of that… now that rehearsals are over, I find myself with a little bit more time during the days, and so I should be able to keep the regular content coming here at the site. So, next week, I’ll return you to your usual game show-related content.

But right now, it’s hard not to savour the moment… and keep walking on air. I mean, not only do I get to be in this show written by a living comedy legend and huge hero of mine, I’ve even been in a couple of little sketches with him! This one… and this one.

If you happen to be in Australia, and are thinking of coming to see the show, we’re in Sydney for the next 3 weeks, and then it’s on to Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. And after that, we pop over to New Zealand!

Thanks for your indulgence, I’ll return you to your regular game show-related content next week, and until then… DON’T MENTION THE WAR!

The world of a game show contestant co-ordinator, with Lalitha Selvendra – Part I

Game show contestant co-ordinator extraordinaire Lalitha Selvendra, with the FremantleMedia Gold Award 2014 for Best Program for 'Family Feud'!

Game show contestant co-ordinator extraordinaire Lalitha Selvendra, with the FremantleMedia Gold Award 2014 for Best Program for ‘Family Feud’!

Hello! Firstly, apologies for there being no regular Tuesday post here last week, but hey, I did warn you…

We’re now coming into the last couple of weeks of rehearsals for Fawlty Towers Live, and so life is pretty hectic at the moment. I’m living, sleeping eating and breathing Basil Fawlty these days, as Opening Night creeps closer and closer. In fact, here’s an interview I did about it recently.

But I digress.

I have managed to score a new interview for HowToWinGameShows.com, and it’s my first ever interview with a real life game show contestant co-ordinator. Lalitha Selvendra has worked on several game shows over the years, she’s interviewed hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of aspiring game show contestants, so I thought her experience and insights would be just the thing for this site!  So, if you’d love to be a game show contestant, but haven’t yet taken the plunge and applied, then read on….

=========================================================================SH: Lalitha, welcome, and thanks very much for talking to me today for HowToWinGameShows.com! Can you take us through your career as a game show contestant coordinator? Which productions have you worked on?

LS: My very first game show was The Price is Right with Larry Emdur. It was such a great production to be a part of, and an even better place to learn. Although it may appear to be a simple game show, the amount of preparation that went into every episode was staggering. It involved a lot of people power and the keys, I think, were communication and passion. Everyone who worked on that show loved working on it and a lot of people still have such fond memories. It was a tight-knit crew, with a wonderful host to boot.

I went from Price onto Bert’s Family Feud; thereby being lucky enough to work alongside TV legend Bert Newton. His professionalism and great sense of humour was great to be around. We had a small team but produced a lot of hours and had a lot of fun doing it.

After this I was Talent Coordinator for two seasons of Celebrity Singing Bee, Again, a really fun show to be a part of and a really generous host in Tim Campbell.

Post-Singing Bee, I worked on a few small pilots and went into kids’ TV before joining the current incarnation of Family Feud as Senior Casting Producer. A massive privilege to be working under television’s very own Pam Barnes as EP and alongside an amazingly talented host in Grant Denyer. Bringing back a beloved format is always dangerous and all the elements needed to work to make it a hit.

SH: How would you define the role of a contestant coordinator?

LS: To define it simply, it’s about finding watchable contestants. If I was at home watching from my lounge room, what kind of contestant would I find entertaining? Would I love them? Would I love to hate them? Would I be barracking for them?

SH: What are you looking for in contestants? What would make the difference between a person getting on the show and not getting on the show?

LS: You get to spend a lot of time with contestants during auditions. So, you can tell if they are genuine or putting on an act. There’s no set list of ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ for people getting on a show. But, one thing I would encourage is, definitely do your homework before you go to an audition. Know what the show is about and how it works etc. We also often like to tell auditionees, “just be yourselves but on a really good day”. Be genuine and have fun. For me, if you’re not in it to have fun, then there’s no point.

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And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. Next week, as my chat with Lalitha concludes, she reveals more great tips, including the Top Two Things you should never ever do at a game show audition. That’s next Tuesday. Until then, keep calm and Don’t Mention The War…