A HTWGS TV review: The ITV miniseries ‘Quiz’

Hello!

Something a little bit different this week – it’s my first review for this year! And today, I’m looking at the recent ITV miniseries Quiz. This three-part drama was written by James Graham, who based it on his earlier, successful play that examined the infamous “coughing major” scandal from the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? 

It’s been shown on various pay TV outlets and streaming services: if you haven’t seen it yet, you can find out how to watch it in your neck of the woods right here.

I was really impressed by this production, although I thought it got off to a pretty shaky start. While its depiction of the genesis of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire was fun, some of the writing in the first episode was pretty shonky, to say the least.

Although it’s good to have clearly defined characters… there are more subtle ways of doing it than this, which would have to be one of the most egregious examples of on-the-nose dialogue I’ve heard in years. Producer Paul Smith is trying to entice TV presenter and DJ Chris Tarrant to host the show, and he mentions that he’s dipped in to his own mortgage to fund the show’s development…

CHRIS TARRANT: Otherwise, You, Paul Smith, have to put your own money….

PAUL SMITH: Not if you, Chris Tarrant, agree to present the show.

SHEESH! If there’s a more cringe-worthy recent example of characters making sure the audience knows their names, I can’t think of it. After that, I almost expected them both to drop character, look down the barrel of the camera and say “everybody got that?”, before they moved on with the rest of the scene.

Later in this episode, we meet ‘the Syndicate’ – an underground network of quiz show enthusiasts attempting to help each other in their attempts to win on WWTBAM. This idea is introduced with split screens, mysterious voiceover narration, secret door knocks, animated maps of the UK and spy movie music on the soundtrack. When you add in Trystan Gravelle’s melodramatic performance as the twitchy, nervous brother-in-law Adrian… it all looks like it’s supposed to be funny; like a parody, or a sequence from Austin Powers. But then again, I’m not so sure. I think the show might want us to take all this stuff seriously, as though it’s a slick, cool, exciting example of clever film making. But I can’t be 100% sure; tonally, it’s confusing. A real directorial misstep there (by the great Stephen Frears, no less).

Another moment in the first episode that doesn’t ring true is the producers’ utter shock that trivia buffs are trying to learn all they can about the game, to improve their chances at it. It’s as if the producers can’t conceive that any potential contestants (who usually tend to be pretty clever people) would think to do any research or preparation. Even when (as the producers themselves incessantly remind us), the top prize is A MILLION POUNDS! I’d argue that that’s worth doing a little bit of homework for. Does the show really expect us to think producers would be that naive? I understand that this is a drama, and that drama needs conflict, but when the producers ask each other “Is this cheating?”, the actual answer is a resounding No. What the aspiring WWTBAM contestants are doing is research; it’s training for a specific competitive event. Anyone can do it, if they watch the show intelligently and prepare for it intelligently. It’s not against the rules. When an athlete trains for the Olympics… are all of their legal training efforts and preparations “cheating”? And as for the producers’ protestations that “it’s not in the spirit of the game”… what’s that supposed to mean? Where is “the spirit of the game” defined in the contract? Nah, at this stage, these smart contestants are just intelligently maximising their chances, within the rules.

Towards the end of the first episode, the melodrama gets dialled up to eleven, as fraught brother-in-law Adrian’s debts get the better of him, and he has “to go… disappear… run away for a bit… a while… I’m sorry”. In scenes like this, the show’s really not much better than a soap opera.

But things do get better in Episodes Two and Three… Much better!

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

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…

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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.

Red, front and centre, on the show’s impressive set.

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.

Auditioning contestants.

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?”

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‘Shafted’? Well, yes we were, as a matter of fact – Part 4 of 5

Shafted, Part IV: Remembering the Post Turtle.

Hello! I’d like to start today’s instalment of my Shafted PatentedHowToWinGameShowsBehindTheScenesReminiscence with an old joke…

A farmer is talking about politics with a young man from the city. The farmer compares a politician to a ‘Post Turtle’. The young man’s unfamiliar with this expression, and asks him what a ‘Post Turtle’ is.

“When you’re driving down a country road,” says the farmer, “and you see a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a Post Turtle. You know he didn’t get up there by himself. He doesn’t belong there; you wonder who put him there; he can’t get anything done while he’s up there; and you just want to help the poor, dumb thing down.”

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Last week, I mentioned one of our bosses on the show insisting on shoehorning an irrelevant, and slightly mean-spirited, clip into one of our two media launch episodes. This was a typical example of his style of leadership and decision-making, I’m afraid. As I recall, everyone else working on Shafted was great; the writers, the contestant co-ordinators, everyone in the office, the executive producers, the host, the floor crew… everyone.

But this honcho, who’d been brought down from Sydney to get the show up and running… well, he was a Post Turtle.

Alarm bells started ringing the moment he introduced himself, by saying “I’m single… But looking…”, as he eyed a few of the younger female members of the team. Erm – was that appropriate?

Then there was his habit of loudly complaining about his insomnia, to anyone who’d listen. And, as I mentioned last week, on the frantic day of the first record, with a million things still to do before the cameras rolled that afternoon, he strolled in two hours late, stretching as he luxuriously enthused “Oh, I had THE BEST SLEEP last night!” To this day, I don’t know how he expected us all to respond to that… “Oh, Congratulations”? “Oh, that’s nice”? “Oh, we’re all really happy for you”? FFS. Read the room, dude; we’ve got a show to make. At least have some vague concept of how it looks to your team, when you’re not there for the first half of the all-important first Record Day.

He was extremely condescending, too. I guess he thought it was amusing to continually address the hard-working, stressed production team as “kids”, or, worse still…. “Shaft puppies”. I kid you not. He actually called us that.

And when he threw his imagined authority around by yelling “NOW MEANS NOW, PEOPLE!”, it was almost comical to see how slowly the production team moved in response. At the start of each taping session, I suppose he thought he was being inspiring when he rubbed his hands together and loudly yelled “OKAY, LET’S KICK THIS PUPPY IN THE GUTS!”

Ugly. Just ugly.

He wasn’t there for long, as it turned out. His superiors were aware of his performance, his “leadership”, and the negligible respect he commanded from the team. Within a month, he’d been replaced. And as the new recruit’s style – and skill – became apparent, everyone in the office breathed a huge sigh of relief. But having that Post Turtle gumming up the works at the start wasn’t helpful. This gig was proving to be hard enough already….

Often, when working on Shafted, I’d feel quite dispirited at the end of the day. Time and time again, it became clear that we were empowering our contestants to lie to each other, betray each other, cheat each other and just generally behave poorly. We weren’t exactly celebrating humanity at its best here. As per the UK version of the show, whenever time both finalists shafted each other (resulting in them both going home empty-handed), it was feel-bad television at its most depressing. And I’m sorry to say that this was – by far – the endgame’s most common outcome. Both finalists would earnestly promise each other they’d share, before immediately going back on their word and shafting each other. It always resulted in two sad, ashamed, regretful people kicking themselves for being so nasty. They knew that if they hadn’t given in to their greed, they could’ve walked away with thousands of dollars, for half an hour’s efforts. And we were also watching them realise that they’d just presented themselves as mean-spirited liars on national television.

As the weeks drew on, we followed the show’s daily viewing figures very closely. They weren’t great….

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And that’s where we’ll leave Shafted this week. In next week’s final instalment, I look back at the positives (yes, there were some!), and at the contestant audition process, and I’ll relate the tale of Shafted‘s… well, shafting.

See you then!

‘Shafted’? Well, yes we were, as a matter of fact – Part 3 of 5

Hello again, and welcome to the third instalment of this Trip Down Memory Lane…

Destination: Shafted!

Last week, we were gearing up for the launch of the show, and we’d just received the news that the original (UK) version of the show had been axed after just 4 episodes. With this news still playing on our minds, and with the show’s Australian premiere fast approaching, we now started preparing for the media launch…

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Usually, before a TV show premieres, the production will send critics and reviewers a preview disc that contains a few episodes of it. This gives those journalists an early chance to see the show, review it, and hopefully recommend it to their readers, ideally delivering more viewers to the show’s premiere. The producers of Shafted, however, had a different idea; rather than sending the journalists discs of completed episodes, they invited them to come along and watch a couple of episodes being made… with a select few of them being chosen as the contestants in those episodes! The idea was that this would deliver us the best of both worlds; some of the reviewers would be able to write about the experience of watching the show, and some would be able to write about the experience of actually playing the game; about what it’s like to be a Shafted contestant.

And, if memory serves, this concept worked pretty well. Graeme and Chris (the show’s two other question writers) and I were charged with ‘stacking the deck’ of questions for the launch episodes. For these shows, there’d be more questions about TV, entertainment and pop culture than there would be in a usual episode; we wanted the TV reviewers playing the game to be in their comfort zone during the question rounds.

The shows came together well; before too long, I’d written both episode scripts for the show’s host, Red Symons, and we had all the questions written, checked, signed off and programmed. On the day of the media launch, the entire production team arrived early, enthusiastic and raring to go. The entire production team that is, except for one of our bosses (who shall remain nameless).

When he did show up, roughly two hours late, he realised that one of the journalists playing the game today had appeared in a show he remembered from 20 years ago. He thought it’d be funny to reference this during the show, play the footage, and have Red tease her about her appearance back then. To this day, I don’t know why. The old footage was unremarkable; just her, wearing what everyone wore back then, doing some work in an office. But on the day, for some reason, it became my job to source this footage, go and physically retrieve the tape from the archive, bring it back and get it converted and ingested into the Control Room’s inserts feed, in time to be rolled into the show, when we started the record.

“But wait a minute, Hally, old chap… weren’t you the show’s Head Writer?”, I hear you ask. “Shouldn’t you have been working with the host on his material, ensuring he was happy, making any last minute changes to the script and/or the questions, making sure that everyone who needed a script had a copy, and just generally being across where the script for the show was at? Especially since these all-important, make-or-break, ‘first impressions’ episodes were about to start in minutes, rather than hours?”

Well, yes.

Yes, of course I should have. But this was that boss’s idea, and he was my… well, he was my boss. So I had to do what he said. And at the time I was a keen, relatively inexperienced 31-year-old, far too polite to say “Nope, not my job. Get someone else to do it.” I’d never do that now.

I remember SPRINTING down the corridors of Channel Nine with the tape in my hand, as all the journalists began filing into the studio audience… Since this clip was such a last minute addition to the show, I’d had no time to write anything for Red to say about it, no time to brainstorm it with him, let alone any time to incorporate it into the script that everyone – including autocue – would be referring to as the show unfolded…. how was he going to throw to this footage?

Footage which, by the way, had nothing to do with our show, and which that boss was including purely to embarrass (in public) one of the TV reviewers we were trying to get onside. Hm – an odd decision.

To say the least.

I recall getting the tape up to the Control Room with just a couple of minutes to spare. The show began, and the clip was smoothly rolled into the show at the agreed moment. The reviewer in question was predictably embarrassed, and there was a polite, awkward silence from all of her colleagues in the audience…. hardly the uproarious laughter I’m sure our boss expected. Red handled the moment smoothly and seamlessly, making its inclusion in the show as painless as it could possibly be. He really was an unflappable class act.

For those of you outside Australia, Red Symons has had a very long and varied career in the Australian entertainment industry, since first rising to prominence as a guitarist in the successful 70s band Skyhooks. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he was a fan favourite on the high-rating variety show Hey Hey It’s Saturday, in his dual role of house band member and “hanging judge” on the show’s talent contest segment Red Faces.

Red being interviewed on the ‘Shafted’set.

Red’s onscreen persona was that of the lovable, acid-tongued curmudgeon, always ready with a witty quip or a withering put-down. He’s an extremely intelligent and cultured man, is Red, and utterly delightful company. And when he’s on screen and in character, his confidence is utterly unassailable.

Which is handy, because for Shafted... it really needed to be. Back on Hey Hey, the live studio audience loved Red’s pithy one-liners, and their laughs were always long, loud and genuine. Shafted, by contrast, had no studio audience at all, and no canned laughter either – just wall-to-wall atmospheric background music. For a less confident, experienced performer, this could have meant a real crisis of confidence; “if I can’t hear anyone laughing, how can I go on selling the gags?”

But I never, ever saw Red fazed by this. Early on, we decided that we’d open each episode with a rhetorical question gag; “This is Shafted; the program that asks the question…. (insert gag here).” Here’s one:

I remember another one: This is Shafted; the program that asks the question ‘If you’re shooting a documentary about penguins, would you even bother using colour film?’

I had to write at least 40 of them (although Red came up with a lot of his own), which Red professionally delivered at the top of each episode, before segueing into his hosting duties. He bantered with the contestants, gently (and sometimes not so gently) mocking them. He congratulated them on their victories (which were rare) and consoled them in their defeats (far more common). For this particular format, for this particular show, I couldn’t think of a better person for the job.

Oh, and did I mention that he was delightful company?

That one time when we found a pith helmet in the ‘Shafted’ office. “Oh, I say… what’s that over there, Old Bean?”

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Cripes! This week’s post ran on a bit longer than I intended – gotta go!

I’ll see you again next week, when I regale you with further exploits of my punctuality-challenged ‘superior’. 

That’s right here, next Tuesday, as my PatentedHowToWinGameShowsBehindTheScenesReminiscence of Shafted continues….

Don’t be two hours late.  

‘Shafted’? Well, yes we were, as a matter of fact – Part 2 of 5

Hello, and welcome to Part 2 of my PatententedHowToWinGameShowsBehindTheScenesReminiscence of the often-overlooked 2002 quiz show Shafted. And this week I’m looking back at the pre-production phase of the show.

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At this point, the show had been commissioned, the host had been cast, the production team had been hired, contestants were being sought, the show’s set’s were being designed and built… and this is when it fell to me – and my colleagues Graeme Rickerby and Chris Ho – to start generating the bulk of the show’s content (namely, quiz questions, and host scripts.)

And so the three of us were ensconced in an office in one of the Channel Nine bungalows, where we began writing. And as we generated questions for hours on end, the show’s bible* – and its truly MASSIVE, multifaceted, multiple-user FileMaker Pro quiz question database – slowly began to take shape.

For a few weeks, we toiled away happily enough; creating questions, and feeling pretty excited about the brand new show we were all about to be part of. And when the UK version of the show premiered around this time, I think the general feeling was that that would add to our momentum, and really help our version, once the brand proved to be strong… But then, just a couple of weeks before our show’s premiere, the news came through that the UK version of Shafted had been axed, after only four of its 20 episodes had aired.

For a taste of the UK show, and to see how… well, depressing…. its climax could be, have a look at these final moments from an episode where the prize pool up for grabs was a whopping £217,000.

SPOILER ALERT: As happened so heartbreakingly frequently on our version, both finalists ultimately decided to shaft each other, which meant that they both went home with absolutely nothing.

But never fear! The sensitive and compassionate UK host Robert Kilroy-Silk is on hand to comfort and console them… which he does by incredulously asking “How could you do that? You’ve blown it! How could you do it?”

‘Shafted’ (UK)’s host Robert Kilroy-Silk. Empathy personified.

A couple of mumbled excuses follow, accompanied by close ups of the contestants’ disappointed, self-loathing faces, before Robert cheerily signs off, looking down the barrel of the camera and saying “They should have shared, then they could have walked away with £108,500 each! Now they’re leaving empty-handed. And they’ve only got themselves to blame. G’Night everybody!”

Mm, now that’s true feel-bad television. How can that actually be classified as entertainment? What audience is that for?

After our Executive Producer told us about the axing of the UK version – following it up with a little would-be pep talk – we all exchanged worried glances. This latest development certainly hadn’t inspired confidence. Would our version of the show soon be following suit? Was it doomed before it even began? Of course, none of us knew back then, but I certainly couldn’t say I felt 100% confident we were about to put something good, wholesome and fun out into the world…

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And that’s where I’ll leave it for this week. Next week I’ll be digging deeper into some other aspects of the show, but in the meantime, I’d really value your feedback…

Whenever I write one of these PatentedHowToWinGameShowsBehindTheScenesReminiscences, it tends to be a slightly random grab-bag of whatever recollections I have from working on the show in question. What I’d like to know is… is that okay by you? Of course, I’m only putting down stuff that I hope you’ll find interesting. But… do you? And is it presented in an agreeable format? Are there any other ways you’d like to see these structured? Would you like them to have more flowing narratives, or are you happy with the sort of ‘point form’ way that I present most of them? Or would you maybe prefer the memories to be even more simply presented; in a list, as I did for my memories of You May Be Right

Any ideas or opinions you have would be greatly appreciated. As always, you can reach me at Stephen@HowToWinGameShows.com, or you can get in touch with me via Twitter or Facebook if you’d prefer.

Thanks so much in advance for your input, and I’ll see you back here next week! 

* A show’s “bible” is part rule book, part blueprint and part user manual. It’s generated by the producer and / or executive producer, and can be used as a template for anyone producing a future iteration of the show (should its format be successful enough to sell to other territories).

Ryan’s Life in Game Shows, Episode 17: The Talking Head… Part II

Hello and welcome to the second and final part of our most recent guest post from the Real Canada Man himself, Mr Ryan Vickers. Last week, Ryan had heard that a documentary series on Canadian game shows was about to go into production at Game TV. He’d emailed the producers expressing his interest in being involved, and he’d received a positive response from them. Within in a week, he’d had a preliminary chat with the project’s director Dave Hodgson. 

Now read on….

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Fast forward to the end of October. The entire session lasted for about three hours – one hour was dedicated to ‘set-up’, on either side of the filming, and then it was me talking for about two hours! We started off talking about Reach for the Top and then segued into other Canadian game shows such as Definition, The Mad Dash and the craziness that was the elevator-laden production of Pitfall.

PRO TIP: Even if you’re very busy and it’s only just a quick note or a short phone call to schedule a follow-up chat, make sure you make time for those in the game show industry. Don’t give away your shot!

Being interviewed for the documentary was, 100%, a very exciting experience! Compared to other productions, it was quite a quick turnaround from the time it was shot to the time of its release. The Search for Canada’s Game Shows premiered on Game TV on January 16th and as the six-episode first season has now finished airing, all episodes are now online for your viewing pleasure at canadasgameshows.com.

On a personal level, it was a great thrill to get to see not only my contributions on the small screen, but also to learn things about Canadian game shows that I never knew! I was also happy to see who they enlisted to be subjects in the documentary. Yes, I’m slightly biased because of my involvement (!), but it was wonderful to see how the production team covered aspects of the Canadian game show scene over the last 50 plus years.

At this point, I figured my involvement with the production was done. But I was about to be surprised with something that I never could have imagined. I met up with Dave, the director of the project, for coffee in mid-February. Dave returned the the game show footage that I had loaned him, and we got to talking about the documentary. Then he mentioned that they were doing small documentary subjects exclusively for the production’s YouTube channel – and you’d be wise to subscribe to Canada’s Game Shows on YouTube – things that didn’t fit into the documentary as a whole. These have included a piece on Howie Mandel (host of US Deal or No Deal) and his involvement in game shows, an interview with Bill Shizas, one of the few contestants who made it onto Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Canadian Edition for its two episode run (not a misprint!), a retrospective on Test Pattern, which was an “anti-game show” and a quiz with Steven Page (formerly of the band “Barenaked Ladies”) as he had appeared on the show Bumper Stumpers.

Dave then casually said “Oh yes, and we’re doing one on you as well”. This took me greatly by surprise and I feel both flattered and honoured that they chose me as a subject. If you’d like to take a look, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zstBSeHEzc0&

So in summary – definitely a wild ride. I can’t wait to see what the future holds – maybe a Season 2 of The Search for Canada’s Game Shows?

Post script: If you liked the show, please consider sending a note to https://www.igametv.com/contact-gametv/ – it will go directly to the management of the network and it will increase the chances of the show coming back for a second season! Thanks!

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No, thank YOU Ryan, for taking the time to share your wholly unique experience with us. I’ve watched the series (and of course, Ryan’s interview) and can highly recommend it to anyone who’s a fan and / or student of game shows… and I have a sneaking suspicion that would include most of the people reading this. 

To stay abreast of what Ryan’s up to, you can follow him on Twitter, right here

I’ll see you back here next week, for the next in my series of PatentedHowToWinGameShowsReminiscences, in which I’ll travel all the way back to 2002, as I recall my tenure as Head Writer on the long-running Australian game show Shafted

If the words “long-running” can apply to one season comprising eight weeks. 

See you then!

 

 

Ryan’s Life in Game Shows, Episode 17: The Talking Head… Part I

Ryan Vickers, on the set of ‘Countdown’

Hello and welcome to our first guest post for 2020, from our old friend in The Land of The Maple Leaf, Mr Ryan Vickers.

You may recall previous guest posts from Ryan, who’s a lifelong game show enthusiast, many-time game show contestant, and a sometime game show host as well! You also may have spotted him in the recent series (which you can watch online) The Search for Canada’s Game Shows, which I reviewed in an earlier post.

Aaaanyhoo, Ryan’s kindly penned another post for HowToWinGameShows.com, and it brings us up to speed with what he’s been up to for the past 12 months. It’s a biggie, so I’ve split it into two parts, and Part 2 will go up here next Tuesday. But before that, here’s Part 1. Take it away, Ryan!

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My Life in Game Shows Episode 17: The Talking Head…

Hello everyone! It’s been a year since I’ve talked to you so I wanted to catch you up on a few things that have happened just before I get to the main bit.

My life continued to be filled with game shows in 2019.

I made a trip to Philadelphia in March to see a the making of a game show called The ClassH-Room, which resembles Reach for the Top. I was lucky enough to be a guest of the show and after watching two episodes from the audience, during the third I was invited to watch the show in the control room. You really get to see the fun of the production staff when it is episode six of six in the recording day! I also got to sit down and chat with (the show’s host) Richard Curtis after the show, and we swapped game show hosting stories. A great experience. The show posts episodes on YouTube, which are not geo-blocked – you are highly encouraged to go and watch!

In early May, I trekked to New York City to see my second recording of The $100,000 Pyramid, where I was chosen as one of the Most Enthusiastic Audience Members. This led to being the warm-up comedian’s sidekick during the entire taping session. I not only got to perform his jokes, but I also got to hype up the audience by simulating the host’s opening spiel! What a huge thrill that was, not to mention the fact that I was allowed to have a picture on stage.

Ryan on the set of ‘The $100.000 Pyramid’

Later in May, I also performed my duties as host of Reach for the Top, which featured one of our best matches in the decade that I’ve been involved. Finally in July I was present for the final taping day of Au Suivant! in Montreal. It was a great kick to be in the audience and I was flattered to be recognized by the host, post-show when I had a chance to say hello.

I figured that might have been it for the year, and I would have been pleased with all of that (as it is quite a bit!). However…

In early September, my good friend Jay in New Brunswick emailed me a link to a website that talked about someone making a documentary on the history of game shows in Canada. I made a mental note to get in contact… but as it was the first week of school I had to get some other stuff done. About a week later, I was talking with one of the production staff at Reach for the Top, and I mentioned hearing about this potential documentary. “Oh, yes, they got in touch with us”. Aha! Shortly afterward, I wrote a letter to the production staff of the project that basically served as my “pitch” to be involved. I guess I could imagine a world in which I’d never been in a SCUBA diving documentary, or a sport stacking documentary (two other hobbies of mine)… but I really didn’t want to miss out on being a part of a game show documentary!

PRO TIP: While this article doesn’t deal directly with getting on a game show, the skills are transferable. When you pitch yourself to be on a game show, via video or email, put your best foot forward! Imagine that there is only a spot on this game show for a limited few (which is usually the case) and tell them why YOU should be involved. The worst case scenario is that they don’t reply, but at least you know you’ve tried your best!

So I sent the email. I started with my Reach for the Top qualifications, and then I just let it snowball from there – I told them about my game show appearances and the dozens of game show tapings I’d attended as an audience member, as well as my extensive list of footage on DVD and VHS.

The next day I had an email response from the production, saying they were “definitely very interested” in speaking with me. Within a week of sending that email, I was talking to Dave (Hodgson), the director of the project.

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WILL Ryan be interviewed on camera for the Canadian Game Show project?

WILL the interview go well?

WILL the interview make it in to the finished product?

For the answers to all of these questions*, be sure you check back here next Tuesday, for Part II of Ryan’s Life in Game Shows, Episode 17 – The Talking Head…..

 

* Actually, it’s the same answer for all of them; “Yes”.

So anyway, I did ‘Sleep At The G’… But I also didn’t.

Sorry folks, but it’s another non-game-show-related one today. You may recall that a little while ago, I mentioned that I was planning to do the Sleep At The G, to help raise funds to combat youth homelessness….

Well, back on Thursday May 21st, I did.

In a manner of speaking.

You see, due to the cancellation of the physical event, I decided that on the night, I’d still sleep outside… but instead of doing it at the MCG, I’d do it on my front porch.

My bed for the night. Yes, I know it’s undercover, but it’s still technically outside. Don’t @ me.

A relatively cold night was forecast: overcast with some rain, getting down to a minimum of 9 degrees at around 4 AM. I made sure I was well covered – long johns, thick socks, jeans, T-shirt, jumper, jacket, scarf, beanie – and set up a Zoom connection with my good friend Tim, who was taking part in the event with me.

Ready to go. Let’s do this.

It was so great to have Tim “there”, and a few other friends also joined us on the call, offering their support. I found myself appreciating – yet again – how lucky we are to live in this age, when we can all stay connected virtually, if not physically.

Imagine getting through the pandemic without that…

After the call ended, I settled down, to try and get some sleep. My various layers of protection generally stood me in good stead; it was only the coldness of my face (and nose, in particular) that seemed to repeatedly stop me from nodding off.

It got colder, and then it got colder again.

And then it started to rain.

So… is this the fun part?

Eventually (no idea what time) I did finally manage to get some shuteye… And I’m pleased to report it was relatively uninterrupted shuteye, at that!

This is obviously a re-enactment. I’m just pretending to be asleep here. (Well, somebody had to take the selfie, didn’t they?)

When I was woken by the sunrise, I felt sure I’d got a lot more sleep than I did on this night last year, at the actual MCG.

Morning has broken.

Recently in our street, a couple of cars have been broken into…. so when, at around 6 AM, I heard someone get into a car, start it up, and drive off quite quickly, I instinctively sprang up and and dashed out the front, to see if it was ours.

It wasn’t.

And so, after that mild shock, I was now fully prepared to get up and at ’em, and start the day; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed…

… And fresh as a frickin’ daisy.

Reflecting, once again, on how lucky I am to have a home to go to. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who sponsored me. I understand and appreciate how uncertain things are at the moment, financially, so your support really is very much appreciated. Together, you’ve raised $177.21 to help combat youth homelessness.

And if you’re reading this and you’d like to add to that total… you still can! At https://sleepatthegcommunity2020.everydayhero.com/au/stephen

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Next week, I’m really pleased to be bringing you a brand new two-part guest post from our Canadian friend – and game show contestant, host and aficionado – Ryan Vickers.

And hey, if YOU’d ever like to write a guest post for HowToWinGameShows.com – just like Ryan has – I’m always open to the idea.

Just drop me a line at Stephen@HowToWinGameShows.com and let’s talk!

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Game Show Host Mark Humphries – Part XI – The Conclusion

Hello and welcome to the final part of my EXCLUSIVE interview with Pointless host Mark Humphries.

Thank you for sticking with us all the way through this adventure, the first instalment of which went up here, way back on March 3rd. Seems like a lifetime ago now, doesn’t it?

Mark really opened up for this interview, and went in to all sorts of detail, and I’m very grateful to him for being so candid.

But you know what they say;

All good things…

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SH: So, after 184 episodes…. how did the show finally come to an end, and how did you process that? 

MH: I think I had a pretty good attitude about it; being a student of television, I think I had it in my head that eventually, everything ends. Nothing lasts; the things that have these long lives are the exceptions, not the rule. I reminded myself that this was just a kind of fluke; “You never expected to be hosting this show, so you’re just lucky that you even got this far.” I never, ever thought “Hey, I deserve this”; I never had any expectations that it’d be a long-running thing. I knew that the show was a risk. They did try to make it appeal to a wider audience. They changed it from the British version, but the concept of it still did require a little bit more thinking than Family Feud (the show’s predecessor in the same time slot). Family Feud very much rewards your first thought, whereas this – 

SH: Well, this flips that on its head, doesn’t it?

MH: Yeah. You need to dig deeper. And I do remember thinking “Are people going to be able to get their heads around this?” Obviously, I was aware of the ratings not being at the level that the network was hoping for…. That had been hanging over us for a long time, and so when it (the show’s end) finally did happen, I was not shocked. I was able to take that quite well. And I’d also been on a show before that had been cancelled, so I knew what that felt like. 

SH: Sure. 

MH: I was also lucky that by that stage I was already doing sketches for 7:30.

SH: Oh, that overlapped, did it?

MH: Yes, they overlapped. So I was fortunate in that sense; it wasn’t as though this ended and I didn’t know what the next job would be. It was a relief that when this ended, the following Wednesday I was back in at the ABC. So I think I took it all pretty well. The hardest part was that on the day that I found out, I was buying – 

SH: A diamond-encrusted Rolex?

MH: Close! I was buying a diamond ring for my wife, because it was our tenth wedding anniversary.

SH: Oh, wow!

MH: I’d never been able to afford a ring when we got married, so she’d had to wear my grandmother’s engagement ring. So I thought “I’m going to buy a proper diamond ring for my wife for our tenth anniversary,” and I committed to that and I was going to do that… and then I got the phone call (that the show had been cancelled) and I thought ‘Aaaargh! Can I still afford to buy this ring?’ But then I said to myself “Mark, you’ve committed to do this, you will make it work!” 

SH: Ah, you crazy old romantic!

MH: (LAUGHING) Yeah, yeah… But that was that,  and then I called Andrew (Rochford, Mark’s co-host) and we commiserated… actually I’m having lunch with Andrew today. 

SH: Oh, great!

MH: And I think we’ll probably commiserate again! But I think I took it fairly well… although I do miss it. But I think it helped that I went into it knowing that I was lucky, and that it probably wouldn’t last. 

SH: And that’s the perfect way to view it, I think. Was it last May that it finished up? 

MH: Yes, it finished last May, but we were told in February. Obviously it’s shot in advance, so it was back in February when they told us “Next week’s records will be the final week of records.”

In the end, I felt really proud of the show that we created. I think it evolved a lot, and I wish the show could have been judged on what it ultimately became. It was frustrating as well that we got cancelled before the second season started airing. Because in between the two seasons, we had a bunch of meetings where the producers said “Okay, we are going to look at every single element of the show and try and figure out how we can make it better. From the types of contestants we have on, to the types of questions that we ask, to anything we can do to make your jobs easier Mark and Andrew… Right across the board it was just “How can we make this the best show possible?” And I was really pleased with the changes that were made as a result of that process. But those episodes of the show didn’t air until after Channel 10 had already made the decision. So by then, they’d stopped advertising the show, and the little boost that I’d hoped we would get from that second season just didn’t come to pass. There’s a part of me that will always wonder what it would have been like if it was a weekly show at 9:00, and if it’d been allowed to run for the full hour, the way the British show does. That’s the other thing; we lost so much stuff on the cutting room floor; so much of the banter and the fun chat with the contestants. Because you just couldn’t fit it in; 22 minutes only allowed time for the gameplay and a tiny bit extra. 

SH: Yes, not much room for those extra little fun moments. Do you have any more game show related ambitions, Mark?

MH: You know, I kind of thought I didn’t… but I would say this; if they ever brought back Blankety Blanks…

SH: (LAUGHING) Yes, I’m listening!

MH: (LAUGHING) I’d certainly be interested in being part of that conversation! I really enjoyed hosting Pointless, but perhaps because of the way the show went, my name wouldn’t necessarily be in the running for future things! But I have thought “Well, what if there was a show that I could come up with?” 

SH: Yeah!

MH: I wouldn’t even necessarily have to host it… I just do like that kind of world; I like Game Show World! And yes, I guess I’d be very interested in revisiting it in the future in some way. And hey, if any network would like to consider rebooting Pointless…..

SH: Yes – just get in touch with me, and I’ll put you in touch with Mark!

MH: (LAUGHING) Well, I mean it worked last time! So let’s put the wish out there into the world – why not? 

SH: You bet! Mark Humphries, thank you so much for talking to me today. It’s really been fascinating and very personal too. Thank you for sharing so much and for sharing so freely – I really appreciate it.

MH: Oh well thank you for indulging me! And thank you for asking, because I love your website – I’m right in the target market for that! 

SH: Haha! Thank you!

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And there you have it. It was a real joy to speak to Mark, and I wish him all the very best in his future endeavours. To keep up to date with what he’s up to, you can follow him on Twitter.

We’ll see you back here next week…

Until then, please stay safe, stay healthy and stay home.

Cheers,

Stephen.

Hey, whaddaya know? I’m a novelist! (kinda…)

Hello! I’m afraid I’m going off on another non-game show related tangent again this week… (we’ll get to the end of the Mark Humphries interview next week, I promise!) … but this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day.

As I may have mentioned before, last year, I decided to finally make a serious attempt at writing my first novel. Like many people, I’d been wanting to write a novel for many years, but I never wanted to be one of those people that just leaves it at that.

So, last May, in an effort to keep myself focussed, on track, and accountable to this big goal, I broke it down into a series of smaller goals. Namely, I resolved to write one chapter of the novel every week for 52 weeks, posting a new chapter online – here – each Friday at noon.

And now, one year later, it’s done. Admittedly, it’s only a first draft, and I do have an awful lot of editing ahead of me, but the 52 chapters of the novel have now been written. It’s a rollicking, swashbuckling, science fiction, space pirate adventure, and I’m calling it:

It’s a project that’s obviously been occupying my mind a lot over the past year, and reaching the end of it (or the end of the first phase of it, anyway) seemed to me to be something worth celebrating. So, you know…

Cheers!

Quite apart from anything else, the whole endeavour was a valuable learning experience. And it did remind me of that really important life lesson – which I think also applies to ANY game show related quest (at last, he’s stumbled back on to what this blog is supposed to be about)… if a goal is daunting, break it down in to smaller goals. Then you’ll achieve them, one small step at a time… and before long, odds are you’ll glance back over your shoulder and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Sure, this may seem only tangentially related to getting on game shows and winning them, but I have written about this on the blog before, and I really believe it bears repeating – it’s such a powerful idea.

And speaking of game shows (about time, too!) next week, I’ll see you back here for the conclusion of my epic interview with Pointless host Mark Humphries.

But before that (this Thursday, in fact) I’ll be doing the Sleep at the ‘G (at home), to raise funds to help homeless youth. I’m very aware that times are tough, but if you are able to help out by sponsoring me, for any amount, it would be deeply, deeply appreciated.

The link to the page where you can do that is: https://sleepatthegcommunity2020.everydayhero.com/au/stephen

or you can simply click HERE.

Thank you so much!