‘Shafted’? Well, yes we were, as a matter of fact – Part 1 of 5

The ‘Shafted’ title screen. Why is it all lower case? Why is there no capital S? I guess we’ll never know….

Hello, and welcome to my latest Patented HowToWinGameShowsBehind-The-ScenesReminiscence!

And this time, it’s about my tenure as Head Writer on Channel Nine’s short-lived 2002 quiz show… Shafted.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; I was there for the ENTIRE eight weeks. What follows are a few choice behind-the-scenes memories of the whole experience. But first, in case you don’t remember it, here’s a brief introduction to the show…

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Shafted was an adaptation of a brand new format from the powerhouse production company Endemol, that debuted in England in November 2001. Although it was primarily a quiz show, Shafted‘s gameplay also featured contestants betraying each other, and lying to each other, as they competed to be the two finalists facing off in the show’s central dilemma…

SHARE OR SHAFT?

If both finalists choose to SHARE, they split the entire prize pool.

If one finalist SHARES and the other SHAFTS, then the shafting finalist gets the prize pool.

And if both finalists choose to SHAFT, they both walk away empty-handed.

Another unique feature of Shafted‘s format was its use of ‘split questions’. The idea here was that the contestant would hear the first part of the question, and then decide how much of their cash total they were willing to risk for a chance to answer it. (The idea being that the more confident they were of knowing the answer, the more money they’d bet). But the split questions almost always took an unexpected turn. Here are three examples from the show:

Which controversial blue…

(“Place your bets…”)

Which controversial blueprint for the Nazi movement was written by Adolf Hitler in 1924?

 

Manhattan is one of…

(“Place your bets…”)

Manhattan is one of the films by which director?

 

Which major planet…

(“Place your bets…”)

Which major Planet Hollywood investor played the lead in the 2000 remake of Get Carter?

I remember explaining this gimmick to my mum at the time, and as I enthused about how nifty and ingenious these questions were, I also remember the deeply unimpressed look on her face. In retrospect, I think I was probably trying to convince myself of the novelty and cleverness of the format as much as I was trying to convince her.

AND now that I think about it, that ‘split question’ format was the whole ethos of the show in a nutshell; it was deliberately designed to mislead you, to hoodwink you, to take advantage of your trust and your good faith. Hmm.

In commissioning the Australian adaptation of this format, the assumption was that audiences still wanted that mean and nasty vibe of The Weakest Link, which was successful at the time. (The catchphrase “You’ve been shafted!” was intended to be our version of “You are The Weakest Link. Goodbye!”) So it was green lit by Channel Nine and scheduled for 7:00 PM weeknights, as a replacement for $ale of the Century, which, after a 21-year run, had not been renewed for 2002. This show couldn’t have been more different to its predecessor.

You can actually watch an episode of the Australian version of Shafted right here.

I don’t remember all the details of how I got the job, back in late 2001, but I suspect my manager at the time had put me up for it. By this stage, I’d already written for the game show All Star Squares, and I’d also worked on three shows in at Channel Nine – In Melbourne Tonight, Russell Gilbert Live and Russell Gilbert Was Here – so I’d been around the place a bit, and knew a few people in there.

And so it was that, in early 2002, I found myself in an office at Channel Nine with two other question writers – Graeme Rickerby and Chris Ho – writing questions and scripts for the show’s host Red Symons….

My ‘Shafted’ writing credit – blink and you’ll miss it, as the credits go flying past….

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Next week, I move on to the show’s pre-production period, when the dropping of a bombshell makes us fear  the show might be doomed before it even begins…

See you then!

 

* For those of you playing along at home, the answers to the three split questions are: Mein Kampf, Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone. (And THERE’s a combo you don’t see every day…)

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