Hello! This week, the conversation takes a bit of a left turn, as we make a detour to peruse the other feathers in Steve’s cap, to examine the other strings to his bow, to check out the other runs on his board…
Well, you get the idea.
SH: It strikes me that there’s been a lot of variety in your career, Steve. Apart from all the game show producing and writing, you’ve also done loads of radio, under your pseudonym ‘Sergio Paradise’... but these days, you’re doing a podcast, aren’t you?
SM: Yeah, well, I stumbled across Titus O’Reily on Twitter, who’s made a real name for himself as a sporting satirist. And I sent him a message one day saying, “That’s your funniest line ever”, whatever it was. And he came back and goes, “Oh, that’s great. I used to listen to the Saturday radio shows. We should get together and do something. Why don’t we start a podcast?” Which we did. And we’ve been doing it for about five or six years now… and we even did a live tour. We did seven cities in seven nights.
SH: Fantastic. What’s it called?
SM: It’s called Titus and Sergio’s Variety Hour. We call it that because it rarely runs for an hour and it contains very little variety. We just talk sport, mainly with an AFL angle, whatever’s going on in the world of sport and anything we feel like talking about really, and generally weekly.
SH: And when you toured it around, what sort of venues did you play?
SM: It was small theatres, it was booked through Mushroom Records. The late, great Michael Gudinski started the comedy arm of Mushroom, and they put together this Titus O’Reily tour and they wanted me to tag along. I put together all the visuals and we did 400 seat theatres in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane. We sold out every one.
SH: That’s awesome! Nice work if you can get it!
SH: Just moving back to the game show world… you next popped up on Million Dollar Minute, which must have been around 2013? 2014?
SM: Yeah. A guy who had worked at Grundy’s for many years (who was actually the copywriter on Sale of the Century before me) was the head writer on Million Dollar Minute when Channel 7 was putting that together. And he rang me and said, “We’re looking for question writers. Do you want to do it? You could do it from home and it’s all pretty easy.” Sure, I’m in. It was good.
SH: Was that the first time you’d written questions?
SM: The first time I’d written them. Back in my later years at Sale, I used to program all the questions. I’d deal with guys like David Poltorak and all the other question writers. They would submit X number of questions per week and we’d go through them. And some would be like, ‘I’m never going to use that one’ or ‘That’s too hard – nobody will have ever heard of that person’. But then you have to program them so they don’t get too repetitive, and all that sort of stuff. So, I had a pretty good head for questions. The Million Dollar Minute questions were very similar to the Sale of the Century ones – they were pretty much straight up general knowledge. And we could use more topical subjects and incidents and people…
SH: Well, it wasn’t just the questions that were similar; the whole show was pretty similar to Sale of the Century, just quietly…
SM: Yes, although it lacked a bit of drama, and there was an X factor that always made Sale….
SH: It was good to see a proper quiz show, though. They’ve seemed to have gone the way of the dinosaurs now, apart from The Chase. But The Chase is a bit weighted against the contestants, I find.
SM: Yeah, but I think quiz shows might come back. Everything on TV comes back eventually… just not the same as it used to be. Somebody will devise a new format. I remember when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire came out. The CEO of Grundy’s called me to his office. He said, “Have a look at this show from England!” I thought “Wow – just imagine, you can phone a friend, LIVE while you’re on TV, to get their answer!” It was completely revolutionary, and the million-dollar figure was a really big deal in those days.
SM: Yeah, yeah. And that changed how quiz shows work. Yeah, I think for quiz shows to come back again, somebody’s gonna have to come up with something as revolutionary as Millionaire was in its day… I hope somebody does.
So do I, Steve – so do I. Can’t say I see anything like that on the horizon at the moment, but as always, we live in hope. We’ll see you back here next week for the penultimate instalment of this chat, in which Steve and I discuss the art of writing great quiz questions, and one of the biggest mistakes he saw contestants make during his many years behind the scenes at Sale…Tweet