My EXCLUSIVE interview with game show producer Steve Marshall – Part 4

Welcome back.

For those of you who don’t know, here in Australia, we have three big commercial TV networks – the Nine Network (which was home to Sale of the Century), the Ten Network (where Steve started his TV career), and the Seven Network (which was once home to The Price Is Right).

In our discussion up to this point, the Seven Network seemed to me to be the one big commercial network where Steve hadn’t yet made his mark…

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SH: So after you left Sale, you did a morning show on another network for a while until you came back to Grundy’s again, this time as producer of The Price is Right!

SM: Yeah, they were bringing it back, and they’d hired a producer who apparently was struggling with the workload of the whole thing. When my boss from Grundy’s said, “Can you come back and be the producer of The Price is Right?” my first reaction was “That is the daggiest show ever made. I don’t know if I want to do The Price is Right.” And he said, “Look, it might be the daggiest show ever made, but it’s also one of the biggest shows you can make. Because you got to remember, you’re getting dozens of contestants out of the audience, you’ve got a five-episode record day, you’ve got well over 100 different prizes in the show. And all the prices have to be right – technically, it’s a very difficult show to make. And if you do it and do a good job, anybody in TV will recognize that you’ve had your hands around a very difficult show to put together.” And I thought, ‘in that case, that’s pretty good advice.’ So, I went back there. And it was hard work, purely for that reason – it was just the hundreds of prizes and stuff.

SH: How old were you at this stage?

SM: 29, 30…

SH: Wow, you were a Whiz Kid! That’s good for someone so young to be given that much responsibility.

SM: Yeah, I mean, you had an Executive Producer who’d oversee things. But it’s one of those shows where the producer actually does drive a lot of it because you’ve got to program all the games – there’d be three different games in a show. You have a short one, a medium one and a long game, just for timing, and then the showcase at the end. So, you program – and this happened on a big wall in a big office – where you’d pin different cards to the wall for all the different games, and then all the prizes. Of course, you couldn’t have a prize that clashed with a competitor in the same game; you couldn’t have a TV from Samsung going up against a stereo from Sony. There were all these fiddly little things that you had to pick up. As I said, hard work. But also good fun and (the host) Larry Emdur was – and still is – just one of the masters of the game show. And he’s great.

SH: He’s born for that.

SM: Yeah, he is. It’s something a lot of TV performers and presenters can’t do. The ones who can do game shows, that’s a whole different skill set. And you’re right, you’re born with it. You’ve either got it or you haven’t, and Larry’s got it in spades, and he’s still doing it – I think he’s just bought his 15th house. The price has been right for Larry for many years.

SH: Absolutely! And he’s recently taken over hosting duties on The Chase Australia.

SM: He has, and he’s doing a good job and that’s why Channel 7 gave him the gig – they knew he’d do a good job on it.

SH: So how long did you serve on The Price Is Right, before leading up to the main event in your career, which is of course… Keynotes!

SM: Well, actually, I think Keynotes might have come before The Price is Right. But Keynotes was the first time I got the title ‘Producer’. And Keynotes, for those who don’t remember (which is pretty much everyone) was 13 weeks filming at Channel 9 over the summer, while Sale of the Century was off. Keynotes was a musical game show whose format was devised by the great Reg Grundy himself. And so, for that reason, you couldn’t tweak the format too much (even though it was a bit repetitive and boring)… but because it was a music show on Channel 9, the word came down from (Nine network boss) Kerry Packer that (music and entertainment reporter) Richard Wilkins would host it. In the American version of the show, most of the music you had to guess was very old – 40s and 50s, maybe some early 60s stuff. But our plan was to make this a lot more Australian. So, I ended up in the office picking out snippets from Cold Chisel songs and AC/DC, Midnight Oil, and all that stuff. It was a great fun show to work on, and we knew it was only going to run for 13 weeks. Richard Wilkins is a terrific bloke and he loved doing it. But it didn’t work; nobody watched it. It got axed after 10 weeks, which means there’s three weeks of Keynotes that have never been seen! Not exactly the holy grail of Australian television… but I’m sure they are on VHS tapes somewhere up the back of Richard Wilkins’ garage.

SH: Does that mean there’s three weeks’ worth of contestants who won prizes that they never got?

SM: No, they did actually get them… purely because the prizes weren’t worth a hell of a lot. The winning teams, I think, got $300 and the losing teams got a four-pack of CDs. So, it wasn’t like an episode of Sale of the Century where there was a massive cash jackpot and a couple of cars and a trip to Paris that went begging. But it was a fun show, and to this day, if I ever run into Richard, we still laugh about it.

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Well in that case, it’s understandable that the producers chose to waive the if-your-episode/s-don’t-air,-you-don’t-get-your-winnings rule this time. Quite a different story from Kristi Milley’s tale… but I guess the stakes were a lot higher in her case!

See you next week!

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