This week, as my chat with John Deeks continues, we go back to 1996, when his position as a self-confessed “Level 2” game show guy (that is, behind the scenes, rather than out the front) is all about to change….
SH: You mentioned that you’re happy to have that supportive – and supporting – role.
JD: Yeah very happy.
SH: And yet, in 1996, you ended up hosting Family Feud! Let’s talk about Family Feud.
JD: I didn’t ask for it, they rang me. I can see it now; I was in the car. Who was that pompous, officious bloke who used to work at Channel Seven, in production?
SH: You’ll need to narrow it down!
JD: Yes, I know! Anyway, he rang me up and said “We’d like you to take over the hosting of Family Feud in Brisbane. We are replacing Robert Brough.”
I said “Can I think about it?” That surprised him; I think everybody would sell their mother for a shot at hosting a national show.
SH: A coveted role!
JD: And he’s said “THINK ABOUT IT?!” Anyway, it turned out it was Grundy’s who wanted to replace Brough, and they thought that I would be sensational. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t audition for it; I was a very happy camper where I was. So I said “I will…. but I’m not going to give up my booth work, or my announcing work”.
He said “But you’ll be a TV star! This’ll go forever!”
I said “Oh yeah, righto. But I’m not giving it up” and they go “Oh, alright”. The next thing I know, I’m on a plane, I arrive in Brisbane – a parochial town – I’m up the top of the mountain – Mount Coot-tha, at BTQ – and I’m shaking hands with Rob Brough, and he’s saying “Ah well, here I am, handing over the reins here…”
SH: How was he feeling about it all?
JD: Oh, he would have been dreadfully unhappy about it.
JD: Because he hadn’t done anything wrong! So anyway, I’m on the set and all the crew – who loved Rob – are there, the producer is there, everyone is there… and here I am, shaking hands with Rob, who says to everyone “I’d like you to meet the new host”. And I’m thinking this really is one of those surreal moments. To add to that, my father had died just three days before I went to Brisbane.
SH: Oh no, Deeksie…
JD: It was just one of those surreal times.
Look, I thought the whole thing was okay; I didn’t mind it. I just went through the motions, because I was always on a set anyway with the talent, so it wasn’t an unfamiliar place. And I had been doing on-camera stuff for a long time. But the thing I remember the most was Brian Mallen – the General Manager of Channel Seven at the time – saying something to me. It was about a month before the Olympics in Atlanta. I was out the front of Channel Seven, and he turned around as he was coming in – I was going out – and he stopped. He said “Deeksie we got big things planned for you!”
I rang my wife up and said, “I’m f***ed”.
SH: That was the Kiss of Death?
JD: Two weeks later they pulled the show, apparently because they wanted to save money and the Olympics was starting. (In commerical voiceover mode) “The following program is bought to you by Swisse; you’ll feel better on Swisse!” Thank God I didn’t give the booth away…
SH: Indeed, indeed. How long did Family Feud last for you?
JD: Oh, about a year… but it wasn’t a role I coveted, it wasn’t something I wanted to do.
SH: It just came your way.
JD: It was like “Well, that was interesting!” I got some nice new Raoul Merton shoes out of it, and a couple of suits, nice! They let me keep those. (LAUGHS).
Well, there’s a lot to be said for Raoul Merton shoes.
Next week, our conversation covers Press Your Luck, Jeopardy, and what Deeksie thinks makes a good game show contestant…