Hello and welcome to the penultimate instalment of my chat with the legendary Australian game show director Jon Olb.
We’re making our way through Jon’s long and illustrious career, and this week, dear reader, we find ourselves in the year 2007…
SH: 2007’s The ConTest was a short lived Channel 10 show, which I think might have been the last gasp of that trend of deceptive – if not downright mean-spirited – game shows. By then, we’d already had The Weakest Link and Shafted; shows that rewarded their contestants for deceiving and betraying each other. In the interests of full disclosure (and yes I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record), I was involved with this show too. What were your memories of this show?
JO: I quite enjoyed this show for what it was. It was really about entertainment. Many of my memories relate to the technical problems that we had to overcome – it was quite ambitious in some respects. It’s where I first met (host) Osher (then Andrew), who knows so much about the making of television, as well as appearing.
SH: The classic English game show Countdown has clocked up thousands of episodes since it premiered in 1982, and its French antecedent ‘Des Chiffres et des Lettres‘ has had more than 20,000 episodes since it started in 1965! By stark contrast, the Australian version (‘Letters and Numbers‘) lasted just two years; from 2010 – 2011. Jon, why do you think that was? Is it to do with the relative smallness of our population? The format of this particular show? Or perhaps some other factor? I’d be interested to get your take on this.
JO: I should mention that I did work on that show, but only filling in for the incumbent. I loved, and still love, that show, and note that it’s quite popular in repeats. Sure it’s not for everyone – it’s fairly serious and dry subject matter, but it’s very easy to play along with at home and the presenters make it interesting. I think that the UK has really hit on something with a hybrid version, 8 out of 10 Cats – very funny. My opinion is that you could do that show again now and it would find a loyal following. I think that the problem is that it’s niche, and as you say our population is small so the economics don’t work. The other aspect is that it’s evergreen – people don’t remember that they’ve seen it before, so the repeats can seem like new shows, which is, of course, more economical. I think that the local version did very well casting the hosts too.
SH: When 2013 rolled around, you found yourself in the director’s chair for the Seven Network’s Million Dollar Minute, which was touted as an original concept (although it looked an awful lot like a slight tweaking of $ale of the Century to me)… Anyhoo, how did you find that experience? Was there anything markedly different in the way that you approached directing this one, to the way you’d approached directing the previous game shows you’d worked on? Or are the general principles largely the same, from your perspective?
SH: I saw some similarities, but still thought that it was different from $ale. New concepts are always difficult in trying to make sure that everything important can be seen and understood (and sometimes that things can’t be seen, if you don’t want them to be seen!) You work closely with the Producers and Set and Lighting Designers when creating something new. That show was challenging on several levels, but enjoyable. The big vault – the centrepiece of the show – was interesting incorporating the computer. Little things that you don’t think of – like the number of digits – all come in to play. You may want to show figures that are more or less than the display allows, and all those tiny details become important.
Next week, as we say ‘Bon Voyage’ to Jon Olb-age, I ask him for his Three Top Tips for game show success, and if he has any secrets – or little known nuggets of wisdom – from the Control Room, that he can share with us…
You won’t want to miss that! Next Tuesday, right here!