This week, as my discussion with game show Producer / Executive Producer / Executive In Charge Of Production Michael Whyte continues, we talk about the universal appeal of game shows, and the importance of having the courage of your convictions, when competing. But before all of that, I did feel compelled to ask the following question, for and of those of you who may by a little shaky on the definition of his role…
SH: For those who may not know, how would you describe the main functions of the role of ‘Game Show Producer’?
MW: There’s a distinction for me between game shows and quiz shows. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is a quiz show, game shows such as The Price is Right, Family Feud, Perfect Match, those sort of shows in particular where there is a game. We also did Blankety Blanks which is not quiz show, maybe not a game show… but it was a half hour chat more than anything else. We did it Graham (Kennedy), we did it with Daryl (Somers), and we did it with…
SH: Was it Shane Bourne?
MW: Shane Bourne, yeah. It went extremely well. That’s one of those formats. I think there are 5 basic formats in the world and if you had those, you were looking pretty good. And that was Family Feud, The Price Is Right, Wheel Of Fortune… ultimately Sale Of The Century was probably the most successful for Reg Grundy. I was involved in all of those and I think that’s when Reg sort of became global. His tag was “We’re the world’s largest local producer”. And that’s exactly what happened, because we would go into a country, hire local people, teach them what we needed them to know and make it ourselves, rather than selling any formats. That was the reason that Reg was ultimately so successful.
SH: Why do you think game shows and quiz shows are both so popular and enduring?
MW: Let’s take an example, the one that you were involved in; Temptation (which used to be called Sale Of The Century). The time slot in particular was well sought after and it was a very big gamble by Jim McKay who was the programmer at the time. To take The Sullivans out of 7 o’clock and put in a quiz show. He had a lot of battles on his hands to get that done. Once it went in, it meant that Sale in particular was one of those shows that the family could sit down and be involved in, answer questions, get rewards like whoever won in the family didn’t have to do the dishes, that sort of thing. Because they were all-involving, much like Millionaire Hot Seat, that we have at the moment. You can sit there and you can play it and you can answer the questions and you’re either right or you’re wrong. That’s what it is. They also follow the people they have as favourites. You would know that, having been a Sale champ you had to go eight nights… and it’s bloody hard!
SH: Yes, sir, yes it is!
MW: … and those that get through that and win absolutely deserve it. You might have had the question in your mind, “with one night to go, will I pull out with what I’ve got?”, but ultimately those people like yourself who went into it – not necessarily for the money, to be honest – but to push themselves because that is what they wanted to do in the first place; play the game and see whether or not they could win!
SH: You talk about families watching Sale of the Century. I did. Growing up, we watched it every night. I watched it religiously and most people say “I can do that, I’m just as good as them!” I tried and I was on the show twice before the successful one. I was on it ’94 and got nowhere, and then I was on it in ’99 and got nowhere, and then I came back in 2005.
MW: That’s just the way it is. You know what it takes. It’s tough, but also you get into a bit of a zone, too.
SH: That’s right.
MW: You do. You don’t know all the answers but you have a go at most of them. With Sale it is a little bit different because you’ve got that thing of going “okay, well, I hear the questions, my brain has to ask my hands to push the buzzer, the buzzer goes and then I have to engage my mouth to answer the question within a time frame”. That’s pretty hard. I’ve stood next to so many people that pulled out with one night to go, and they just stood in the studio there and watched the next episode and went “S**t, I could have won.”
MW: When they went home to their friends and family, they all said “But I thought you went on the show to win the show!” And they say “yes but I won $127,000 worth of riches” and they say “Yes, I understand that, but didn’t you go on to answer the questions to win this show?” and they never forgive themselves for pulling out.
SH: That’s a good point, and that was always my strategy going in. I’d just keep going until someone beat me because I didn’t want to die wondering.
MW: Oh exactly! And then when you do get it and you do do it, it is an amazing feeling… I would think it; I haven’t done it! Only those who have been there understand what it is like; “Oh, what a relief – I thought I could, and I actually did!”
================================================================ Next week, I get Michael’s recollections of some of the best game show contestants he’s seen throughout his long career. And I ask him what they had in common, and what any aspiring contestants can learn from them. That’s next week, as our conversation continues…