Hello, and welcome to the final instalment of my five-part series on my memories of working on Shafted; a short-lived Australian quiz show from early 2002.
Now, look… I am aware that in the previous entries I may not have presented the rosiest of all possible pictures of the whole experience, so I wanted to start this week’s entry by accentuating some of the positives…
Firstly, I remember being really impressed by the show’s set; it was brilliantly designed by Mark Dyson at Pitch Design, and when all its multi-coloured, computer controlled lighting was fired up and swooping around, it really did look high-end, glamorous and exciting. During rehearsals, when the studio only had the basic worklights on, the set looked surprisingly grey and nondescript. It just goes to show the incredible difference that clever and exciting lighting design and execution can make.
And then of course there were the six Dropping Chairs… You see, one of the memorable features of the show was that every time a contestant was eliminated, Red would pull the big lever on his lectern…… and the chair of the unfortunate ex-contestant would drop through the floor! (with the contestant still sitting on it, obviously). You can see examples of this happening in an episode here, at 6:37, 13:20 and 20:49… (Although, I don’t know why the director stays on the close up as the drop begins, and then cuts to the wide shot during the drop; surely the drop would read better if the whole thing were just shown in a wide shot?) During rehearsals, I got to go on set and have a turn in one of the Dropping Chairs. I suspect it was much more fun for me – with nothing at stake – than it would have been for a hapless contestant who’d just been shafted.
And it was while working on Shafted that I first heard of a “technical event”. This is an industry phrase for jazzing something up when it’s essentially pretty static. So the next time you spot pulsing lighting, throbbing music and swooping cameras distracting you from the fact that you’re really just watching a couple of people standing, or sitting, still… you, my friend, have just witnessed a technical event. It’s a way of convincing a viewing audience that there’s so much dynamic movement here! And action! And excitement! When in fact nothing is happening at all. Now that’s what I call marketing.
Part of my role on Shafted was interviewing and assessing people who wanted to be contestants. We’d assemble them in the studio and ask them a number of general knowledge questions, including a few of Shafted‘s special ‘split questions’, since they were a feature of the show. Those who scored high enough on this test would then proceed to the interview part of the process, where a few members of the production team interviewed them, to make sure they had enough personality and confidence to go on TV. I’ll never forget one of the would-be contestants coming up to be interviewed by me (after she’d passed the general knowledge test), and opening with: “Gee, these questions are stupid, aren’t they? No really they are. They’re stupid, aren’t they? Because how is anyone supposed to get that one right?”
And I said “Erm, would you like to be on the show?”
“Oh. Ah, yeah, yeah!”
And then, for some reason, she inexplicably decided to double down on her criticism of the show’s content!
“But, no, but really, the questions are stupid, aren’t they? Don’t you think?”
Quite apart from the fact that I was the person who’d written those “stupid” questions (which she couldn’t have known), did she not think that I might be involved in deciding who we put on the show and who we didn’t?
PRO TIP: If you’re applying to go on a show, and you make it through to the interview stage of the process, DON’T make your first impression on the show’s makers by repeatedly insulting its content.
She didn’t get on the show.
And now, a special BONUS PatentedHowToWinGameShowsBehindTheScenesReminiscence about ANOTHER, entirely different show… Fear Factor!
I remember Fear Factor was being made at the same time in at Channel Nine, and my friend Vin Hedger was writing on it. It had the same production company as Shafted, the same producers… and one afternoon, they needed some extra people to be involved in one of the stunts, so they asked everyone in our production office if we’d help out. Most of us agreed, thinking “sure, why not?” It transpired that the challenge was for the Fear Factor contestants to confront their fear by walking up and down a modelling catwalk while lots of people looked at them, and applauded, and loads of “paparazzi” (i.e.: us) took photos of them…. while they were completely nude.
I felt very uncomfortable doing this, and yet, at that time in my life, I wasn’t quite assertive enough to bail out. As it all unfolded, I made very, very sure that my face was well hidden behind the enormous camera that I’d been given, as I kept pretending to take photos, activating its flash bulb again and again and again.
In the end, that particular Fear Factor sequence never even made it into the finished show. Those poor contestants went through all that embarrassment – and it WAS embarrassing, not just for them, but for pretty much everyone else in the room, I’d wager – for nothing.
Shafted gets shafted.
My assertiveness levels must have improved over time, though, because after a while I thought I deserved a raise, and I suddenly had no qualms about asking for one. The way I saw things, I was almost doing two jobs here; I was producing the required high volume of questions for the show while simultaneously writing all of Red’s scripts (in consultation with him). And I was still on the pay rate I started on (the rate for writing questions only). For the very long – and often stressful – hours that I worked in this specialised double position, I felt I was being underpaid. So I came up with a pitch to take to the Executive Producers, stating my case, and why I thought I should be given a pay increase. I booked a meeting with them, and joined them in their office at the appointed time…. but they both stopped me before I could start. The word had just come down from The Powers That Be – Shafted had been cancelled. I put my pitch notes away and commiserated with them.
Quite a rollercoaster of a day, in retrospect.
Not that this was a huge surprise. The show’s ratings weren’t good at all, and despite being stripped five nights a week, I think it was relatively expensive to produce. It simply wasn’t delivering the audience numbers of its predecessor $ale of the Century.
Roughly a year later, however, I was approached by one of those Executive Producers to come and work on a brand new game show format over at the Seven Network. This one originally hailed from the Netherlands, where its title was Miljoenenjacht (Hunt for Millions).
Here, though, it would soon come to be known as Deal Or No Deal.
But that, my friends, is another story…
… For another time. I’m off now, for a fortnight; Mad As Hell‘s starting up again, and I don’t think I’ll have the time to keep the posts coming on a weekly basis. When I do return (on August 4th), I’ll be bringing you the first HTWGS review for the year, when I look at the recent ITV miniseries Quiz.
See you then, then!