EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part VII

As my conversation with game show production veteran Michael Whyte continues, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to ask him about the current state of game shows on Australian television, and the outlook for their future…


SH: Currently on Australian TV, there does seem to be a real saturation of cooking shows and renovating shows. Obviously that’s something that works, and so everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. What do you think about Free-To-Air versus Pay-TV? Are Pay-TV and Netflix and all the other entertainment providers making an impact on quiz and game shows?

MW: On quiz and game shows? They are making a dent on everything; you only have to look to your children. I’ve got a 22-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 9-year-old, and the 22-year-old and 18-year-old don’t watch Free-To-Air television. They program their own. They watch whatever they want, and they’ll watch it on whatever device they want to watch it on. They pick and choose but they don’t watch Free To Air television. Ultimately, Free-To-Air, you would think, would come down to News and Sports. 

SH: It’s interesting you should say that. The other week I was watching Media Watch, and there was some media analyst who said for Free-To-Air television, the future is News, Sports and Reality – those big, expensive reality shows that cable can’t afford to make, like The Voice and so on.

MW: I think that’s absolutely right. It is. I mean, what do you watch on TV?

SH: I watch Media Watch ! I watch American comedies and English comedies and Game of Thrones. I don’t watch the news; I get the news elsewhere. And I’m not a sports fan. I must admit with my daughter Lily, who’s also 9, we watched The Great Australian Spelling Bee and she loves it, and I think it is quite nice entertainment. 

MW: My daughter will watch selected cartoons, all Foxtel stuff. She’ll also watch anything to do with animals. All the National Geographic and Discovery channels are pretty much what we watch. Whereas my wife would watch on her iPad Orange is the New Black  whenever she feels like, and catch up with Breaking Bad and try and finish that series.

SH: What about you? What are your viewing habits?

MW: I monitor shows that I’m involved in, so I watch those. I make sure the News is on, to try and get my 9-year-old to discuss what’s going on, and try and get my 18-year-old and my 22-year-old involved in the News, because they don’t – on purpose – read newspapers. So if you asked them a question about current events, they wouldn’t know. We always used to watch the News when we were kids. It was always on and we would always find out what was going on.

SH: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to work behind the scenes on games shows or quiz shows and try to get into the industry?

MW: It’s so difficult these days. I think they’re really looking for people who have a broad experience and some sort of university degree, because that’s meant that they’ve had to put their head down at some stage and study hard. The days of working your way up from the bottom, I think, have gone. On our crew for example, out at Docklands on Millionaire Hot Seat, they’re 90% freelance. So they go from job to job and there’s no one training up. 

SH: I guess there are media courses at tertiary institutions. I would imagine that would be a prerequisite if you wanted to get a foot in the door…

MW: Sometimes. Also sometimes those courses are run by people who didn’t make it in the industry. 

SH: “Those who can, do – those who can’t, teach”?

MW: Mm. I remember years ago, at Channel 9, a group of media students coming in and standing in the Control Room. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Bendigo Street Control Room, but it’s pretty straightforward. There’s the Control Room there, Audio on the left, behind those doors, and on the right you’ve got lighting and your CCU (Camera Control Unit) and all your technical area. And this teacher has walked in with his media students and said “Okay! Right here is the mixing desk; that’s where the director cuts camera and rolls in videotapes and things… and to the left, (he’s pointing to the audio room), that’s lighting; that’s where the lighting happens! And over there on the right, that’s communications.”

SH: Right, okay… Awkward.

MW: And I said “Whoa there – I’ll walk you through and let the people who are pushing the buttons tell you what they do and then you can work it out”. He had no idea.

SH: Clearly.


So if you’re looking for a career in the game show industry, I’m sorry we haven’t painted a rosier picture…


Sorry about that. I promise next week’s instalment will definitely be more upbeat. See you next Tuesday!


EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part VI

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

As we left last week’s instalment of my interview with game show producer and executive producer extraordinaire Michael Whyte, we were discussing some of the international versions of various game shows he’s worked on…


MW: The Hong Kong version of Sale of the Century was a little different. Mind you, the Hong Kong version is almost shot for shot, and also the Hong Kong host mimicked Tony Barber‘s entrance run. He did this crazy, sort of over-the-top run. Tony wasn’t really over-the-top, but the guy in Hong Kong version just took it one step further and they loved it. Absolutely loved it. (* You can see an example in this clip, at the 2:34 mark). (My boss) Reg Grundy was very hands-on, really. Just a fantastic boss to have, because he would give you your head. If you were no good, then you weren’t there. If you were good, then they left you alone, to make the show and they had every faith in you. I worked with Andrew Brooke who was my immediate boss and I don’t think we ever had an argument, ever. 

SH: That’s great. 

MW: Quite bizarre, because he would say “if you feel strongly enough about this, then we’ll go with what you think. If I feel strongly enough then we’ll go with what I think”. It was pretty straightforward. To that end, we made good decisions and we worked together for many years, no arguments, and we are still really good friends. He is just great to work with. 

SH: That’s a pretty sophisticated approach, and quite rare, unfortunately. 

MW: Very rare now!

SH: Over all of these years, what major changes have you noticed in the quiz show and game show landscape?

MW: I think the networks undervalue them, because they’re trying to make a promo and not a show. 

SH: How do you mean?

MW: I think they’re after “moments” in the show that they can promote and don’t necessarily understand what the show is. They’ve not been involved in making the show but the networks are pretty much driven by promos these days that don’t necessarily reflect the show that you’re making. 

SH: It’s the assumption that everyone has a short attention span, perhaps. 

MW: Well that’s right, but if the show is good enough, it’ll be good, it’ll be fine. Yes, you need to promote them but you don’t need to tell them “this is the biggest meltdown in television history” every week. 

SH: And overuse the phrase “you WON’T BELIEVE

MW: Right. 

SH: Thanks for that, promo people, but I reckon I will, actually. I will somehow be able to believe what happens on your show this week; I’ll be able to comprehend it. 

MW: If you treat viewers like idiots, then eventually they’ll say “you can get f***ed”, and the show will suffer – through no fault of its own, but by the way the show is perceived. We did The X Factor on the back of doing Australian Idol. It came along straight after Idol which was really bad programming. 

SH: Mark Holden was a common factor in both, I think?

MW: He was, yeah. Straight after Idol and also while Channel 10 – who had it – was also running American Idol. There’s a good decision! 

SH: Yes – they are shooting themselves in the foot there. Saturating their own market.

MW: The show still rated well, but it’s perceived as being not a very successful version of The X Factor. That’s not true, but it was really up against it. People went “hang on a minute – give us a break!” It’s a bit like “Do we run another Block?” Apparently we are about to have another Block. Do we care?

SH: Well personally, not a lot. 

MW: No! Ultimately, they’ll get sick of them. And the network will burn it out, and they’ll go “Oh, it’s no good anymore.”


And with those thoughts on the (sadly, all too common) short-sightedness of network programmers these days, we’ll sign off for this week. Next week, as our conversation continues, I ask Michael about career prospects for those wanting to work behind the scenes in the game show industry, and get his thoughts on the future of game shows, in our rapidly changing home entertainment landscape. Until then, then!


EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part V

Hello! As my exclusive interview with game show Producer / Executive Producer Michael Whyte continued, I got to wondering, after all the countless hours of game show entertainment he’d produced, how he thought he’d fare if he ever got the chance to go on the other side of the camera…


SH: Have you ever been a contestant on a game show, and if you could be a contestant on any game show, which one would take your fancy? 

MW: I haven’t because I can’t. I always thought The Price is Right was so much fun. Anyone who’s ever worked on it will tell you that’s probably the best show they have ever worked on. If you talk to anyone who’s ever been in the audience or been a contestant they will tell you the same thing. What we used to do with that show was a show-within-a-show, so in the studio – even in commercial breaks and before we started recording and after we recorded – there was so much going on. The models would do dance routines, people out of the audience would come out and sing and carry on… It was just absolutely 100% all the time A Show. And everyone walked out of there absolutely rooted. But knowing that they’d had such a fantastic time. 

SH: This was back when it was at Festival Hall. 

MW: Yes, at Festival Hall. We then did it at the Entertainment Centre for Channel 10, an hour version with Turps (host Ian Turpie) again. And also at Channel 9 with Larry Emdur. When we produced it, that was the idea of the show; it was Total Entertainment. And in between all of that we played silly games and people won things. I think it is one of those things where after you’re writing cheques for so many people for vast sums of money and prizes, the amount of feedback and gifts that we got from the Price is Right contestants far outweighed anything that was ever sent to the crew or the production people for any other show.  If someone wins a million dollars they find it very difficult, and go “well, do I send a slab of beer, or what do I do? Do I send them $100,000? No, I can’t do that…” So the Price is Right people would have been baking cakes for people bringing food in. They’d turn up the next day with all sorts of things that they’ve got for the crew. Quite amazing. 

SH: That’s nice. 

MW: Oh, very much so. The vacuum cleaner and the fridge and the whippersnipper meant a lot more to them than a lot of other things that they’d ever won in their lives, or ever hope to win. 

SH: Earlier on, we were talking about Reg Grundy. Of course, he created a real game show empire with all of these shows all over the world. Did you work with him closely enough to get to know him?

MW: I did. I worked with him on some shows on Australia but more in particular when we went overseas. He was the owner of the empire but he was still available, you could call him or email him and say things like “I’m thinking about doing a rule change here or changing a segment here or doing something like this, what do you think?” You would be able to discuss that and ultimately he would say “look, it’s your territory, you make the decision. You’re best placed, because you’re there.” Because every territory is different. Sale of the Century, for example, in Greece was called The Boss Has Gone Mad. That was the title of the show. 

SH: Why was it called that?

MW: Because that was a phrase that they used in Greece; it’s the “Boss Has Gone Mad” Sale. 

SH:  What does that mean, though? Oh, I see. A sale with heavily reduced prices.

MW: Yeah. And Sale of the Century, the way that Reg put it together was “Here’s a Mercedes-Benz. Normally a Mercedes-Benz in those days is $50,000 but tonight you can win it for $600!”

SH: Yes, right.

MW: That was the key to it. But people would in the early days would ring up and say “Well, I’ll have 5!” 

SH: (LAUGHS) No, you can’t buy them for that! That’s not quite how it works… 

MW: (LAUGHING) Yeah! But that was the point. Sale of the Century is a funny title. I mean, we know it and we’re used to it, but you take that elsewhere and they go “it doesn’t work here. It is going to go better if we call it this”. 

================================================================  And if you’d like to take a peek at some of the international versions of Sale Of The Century, here’s a little YouTube video (courtesy of “MrMatchGame“) that shows some of the different incarnations of the show from various places around the world! 

EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part IV

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

In last week’s instalment of my chat with game show doyen Michael Whyte, I asked him about some of the best contestants he’s seen in his long career. He provided some examples and a look at what they did right; information that’ll hopefully be helpful to you on your journey to game show success. Now read on, as I ask Michael about the very worst contestants he’s seen, in order to (hopefully) give you a chance to learn from their mistakes…


SH: What traits did the worst contestants have?

MW: On quiz shows, probably thinking they knew more than they do. And just being a little bit cocky. I think they think they’re on television, therefore they have to act like ‘a quiz or game show contestant on television’, and that’s not necessarily the case. The Price is Right for example was what I termed “The Housewives’ Revenge”, because when you’ve got “how much is a lounge suite versus a fridge?”, the women, in those days in particular, were the ones who were buying everything and that includes the cars. They had a major input into what sort of cars we would get next, what sort of TV – and they were more aware of prices, and so when they came on, they didn’t seem to have that much trouble going “Well, it’s the lounge suite followed by the fridge followed by the trip to Hawaii”, that sort of thing. And were quite clear on all that, whereas if you put the husbands up, they’d go “I’ve got no idea! How much is a lounge suite? I dunno – I just want a red one.”

SH: Yes. “Not my area”. 

MW: So they did extremely well on that. So it’s ‘horses for courses’, really.

SH: Across all of the shows that you’ve been involved with, can you single out perhaps one game show or quiz show moment for you that was among the best from your perspective?

MW: Oh look, there have been a million of them. One in particular that I absolutely loved was when we had the first celebrity edition of Sale of the Century. The network was very strong on “we need to do one, we need to do one” and we resisted for so long, because we knew that once we started those they would continue to want them over and over again. 

SH: Why were you reluctant?

MW: First of all, you have to have celebrities of note, larger than C or D or B graders. Otherwise people won’t care. So we started with Gough Whitlam.

SH: Really?

MW: Yes! We got hold of Gough Whitlam through Harry M Miller and asked if Gough would be up for it. This was after he was Prime Minister. Harry came back and said “yes he is in, but he wants to bring a friend” and I said “who’s the friend?”. He said “David Lange”. I said “that’s fine!”

SH: Wow! And David Lange was the Prime Minister of New Zealand at the time?

MW: No, he had just finished. So on that night we had David Lange, Gough Whitlam and we put Don Chipp in the middle. 

SH: Wow, what a line up!

MW: We really just wanted to have the nameplate “GOUGH” and Gough sitting there pushing the buzzer, and Tony saying “Gough?” (LAUGHS). It went beautifully, but two interesting things; one was, we asked them all the question “who is the Speaker of the House?” And it wasn’t answered. They didn’t know it. None of them. 

SH:  They were out of the game. 

MW: We actually took that question out of the show, because we thought it was a little bit embarrassing. 

SH: It’s not a good look. 

MW: But in that celebrity series there were the likes of Andrew Denton, we had Jennifer Byrne and we had all these different people that were pretty high profile at the time. In the end I think it was David Lange, Jennifer Byrne and it might have been Richard Stubbs – or Andrew, I’m not sure – in the final. And Jennifer Byrne beat David Lange. Tony asked her the question “why are you so good at that?” She just said “I just like games! We always played games at home, we always watched the show. We love it! I don’t know why I know these things, but I just do.” It was “the game” that got her there. 

SH: Fantastic. 

MW: So that was a bit of a moment. 

SH: That’s a highlight, absolutely. This would have been early ’80s, I would guess?

MW: Yes. It was about ’84 or ’85 or something like that. 

SH: If that was a highlight, can you think of any lowlights? 

MW: We had on Millionaire – early on – we had a celebrity night and we had Richard Hatch who was the first winner of Survivor. 

SH: Yes I remember Richard Hatch.

MW: He came on the show, and he and his manager in particular were so full of themselves that we’d be getting all these demands; “Richard won’t rehearse”, “Richard won’t do this” or “won’t do that”. I said, “well this is the way it is. This is what we need from him, you can go and sit in the boardroom and I’ll go and look after Richard and off we go”. Anyway he came on and he was a pain in the arse. He got a question and it was something like “what is 7 X 8?”, and he couldn’t work it out. And that was then when there was no time limit! He sat there and he sat there and he couldn’t work it out. 

SH: This was on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? That must have been one of the first questions, surely. 

MW: Yes. A very simple question and he got it wrong.

SH: Ha!

MW: Eddie was just delighted. He said “Richard Hatch, you are the first one to win Survivor and win a million dollars, and you are the first one to go out on the first question in a celebrity episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Goodbye.” 

SH: (LAUGHING) Wow. Firsts everywhere.

MW: Wonderful!


Which just goes to show… a little humility never goes astray. We’re all only one step away from coming undone. So if you do have success, be grateful for it and enjoy it!

It can sometimes be fleeting…

EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part III

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Hello again! As Part Three of the interview begins, I felt it would be very remiss of me not to ask Michael this one…


SH: You would have seen, over the years, many big winners in quiz shows and game shows… did they have anything in common; was there something different in their approach or technique – or even their demeanour – that made them champions?

MW: I think that when you talk about Sale (of the Century), those that know the show and were there for a long time, they talk about Cary Young

SH: Yes I remember him. 

MW: What was it about Cary Young? Cary Young was the man that was totally focussed… because he came back a number of times; championships against different countries and different people and all that kind of stuff. He would literally train, because he was a boxer. So he would run, and a couple of months out, he would start his training and physically be alert and ready. 

SH: Was it just physical training or did he study specifically for the quiz??

MW: He totally studied. He could say to you, when a Fame Game question came up, it might be something like “I was born in 1965”… and he would buzz and he would spit out an answer, and I reckon about 75% of the time he was right! I was saying to him afterwards “why are you coming in so early?” And he would say “I know pretty much every  question that is being asked about someone who was born in 1965, so I can rule out the ones that have been asked already and I’ve got the small list left”. 

SH: From watching the show? He made notes on the show and previous versions and episodes of the show?

MW: Absolutely, every show. He watched every show.

SH: And made notes obviously. 

MW: Yes. The other one that used to do that was Molly Meldrum.

SH: Really? 

MW: Oh yeah. He used to watch it overnight. Vastly educated man in different ways and he knew so much. Ultimately we had him on Millionaire, and he won half a million dollars. 

SH: Yes, I remember that. And I’ve never seen anyone look more nervous in my life. He was very, very stressed indeed.

MW: It nearly killed him. And there was vodka and orange going to him on a regular basis…

SH: (LAUGHS) I didn’t know that. 

MW: He said “I can’t stand it!” And that was live! He literally nearly fell over. Then we had Red Symons, he was very cocky on a particular answer for half a million. And I can’t remember the question, but the answer was “an architect”, and his wife who was in the audience had studied architecture so she knew the answer. And he thought he did, and he went “of course that’s what it is – lock in (B)” and it wasn’t.

SH: Oh dear.

MW: And he was devastated, absolutely devastated. And I think from memory A Current Affair then did a story on him and said “okay, well here’s the Million Dollar question – see if you can answer it”… and he did. 

SH: Rub salt into the wound!

MW: Yes exactly! Those people who end up going all the way and winning shows like that. Just focus, just totally focus. They’re not so nervous about the television side of things anymore. It’s just focus and a bit of a calmness and it does help if they’re fit in mind and body then they can focus in on what they are doing at the time. And that means sometimes cracking jokes and another times not saying anything. I think the best example of that was really early on in the piece in Sale. I can’t remember his name, but he was a reverend, and he wore the dog collar, he was from Perth. And for a week, Sale‘s ratings were 52s! Now 52s were only beaten by I think the Lionel Rose / Alan Rudkin fight –

SH: Ok. 

MW: – And the Seekers concert, out at the Myer Music Bowl.

SH: Oh that was a massive hit.

MW: Yeah. But this was 52 every night. And that equated to something like 85% of the audience were watching it. And he said nothing, he just sat there and answered questions. 

SH: Then what was the draw card?

MW: He was just totally focused. No personality, but everyone looked at him and went “How amazing! Let’s just watch this guy do it.” 

SH: And he went all the way, I guess?

MW: Yeah, yeah, he did.  And was never really challenged. He then disappeared. 

SH: Right. Back to Perth. 

MW: That was it. 


And I think there’s a lesson in that. If you do get called up as a quiz show contestant, don’t feel the need that you have to be funny or wacky or “entertaining”, if it doesn’t feel comfortable for you. You’re not there to crack jokes or sing and dance… you’re there to answer questions correctly. Don’t forget that, because that’s entertaining in and of itself – that’s why people watch these shows. In other words, be yourself – don’t try to be something you’re not. You’ve got enough to worry about up there, without putting yourself under that additional pressure! Next week, I ask Michael about some of the worst contestants he’s ever seen. Or in other words, what not to do when you’re a contestant on a game show… Until then, then! 

EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part II

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

This week, as my discussion with game show Producer / Executive Producer / Executive In Charge Of Production Michael Whyte continues, we talk about the universal appeal of game shows, and the importance of having the courage of your convictions, when competing. But before all of that, I did feel compelled to ask the following question, for and of those of you who may by a little shaky on the definition of his role…


SH: For those who may not know, how would you describe the main functions of the role of ‘Game Show Producer’? 

MW: There’s a distinction for me between game shows and quiz shows. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is a quiz show, game shows such as The Price is Right, Family Feud, Perfect Match, those sort of shows in particular where there is a game. We also did Blankety Blanks which is not quiz show, maybe not a game show… but it was a half hour chat more than anything else. We did it Graham (Kennedy), we did it with Daryl (Somers), and we did it with…

SH: Was it Shane Bourne?

MW: Shane Bourne, yeah. It went extremely well. That’s one of those formats. I think there are 5 basic formats in the world and if you had those, you were looking pretty good. And that was Family Feud, The Price Is Right, Wheel Of Fortune… ultimately Sale Of The Century was probably the most successful for Reg Grundy. I was involved in all of those and I think that’s when Reg sort of became global. His tag was “We’re the world’s largest local producer”. And that’s exactly what happened, because we would go into a country, hire local people, teach them what we needed them to know and make it ourselves, rather than selling any formats. That was the reason that Reg was ultimately so successful. 

SH: Why do you think game shows and quiz shows are both so popular and enduring?

MW: Let’s take an example, the one that you were involved in; Temptation (which used to be called Sale Of The Century). The time slot in particular was well sought after and it was a very big gamble by Jim McKay who was the programmer at the time. To take The Sullivans out of 7 o’clock and put in a quiz show. He had a lot of battles on his hands to get that done. Once it went in, it meant that Sale in particular was one of those shows that the family could sit down and be involved in, answer questions, get rewards like whoever won in the family didn’t have to do the dishes, that sort of thing. Because they were all-involving, much like Millionaire Hot Seat, that we have at the moment. You can sit there and you can play it and you can answer the questions and you’re either right or you’re wrong. That’s what it is. They also follow the people they have as favourites. You would know that, having been a Sale champ you had to go eight nights… and it’s bloody hard!

SH: Yes, sir, yes it is!

MW: … and those that get through that and win absolutely deserve it. You might have had the question in your mind, “with one night to go, will I pull out with what I’ve got?”, but ultimately those people like yourself who went into it – not necessarily for the money, to be honest – but to push themselves because that is what they wanted to do in the first place; play the game and see whether or not they could win!

SH: You talk about families watching Sale of the Century. I did. Growing up, we watched it every night. I watched it religiously and most people say “I can do that, I’m just as good as them!” I tried and I was on the show twice before the successful one. I was on it ’94 and got nowhere, and then I was on it in ’99 and got nowhere, and then I came back in 2005.

MW: That’s just the way it is. You know what it takes. It’s tough, but also you get into a bit of a zone, too. 

SH: That’s right. 

MW: You do. You don’t know all the answers but you have a go at most of them. With Sale it is a little bit  different because you’ve got that thing of going “okay, well, I hear the  questions, my brain has to ask my hands to push the buzzer, the buzzer goes and then I have to engage my mouth to answer the question within a time frame”. That’s pretty hard. I’ve stood next to so many people that pulled out with one night to go, and they just stood in the studio there and watched the next episode and went “S**t, I could have won.” 

SH: Right. 

MW: When they went home to their friends and family, they all said “But I thought you went on the show to win the show!” And they say “yes but I won $127,000 worth of riches” and they say “Yes, I understand that, but didn’t you go on to answer the questions to win this show?” and they never forgive themselves for pulling out. 

SH: That’s a good point, and that was always my strategy going in.  I’d just keep going until someone beat me because I didn’t want to die wondering. 

MW: Oh exactly! And then when you do get it and you do do it, it is an amazing feeling… I would think it; I haven’t done it! Only those who have been there understand what it is like; “Oh, what a relief – I thought I could, and I actually did!” 

================================================================  Next week, I get Michael’s recollections of some of the best game show contestants he’s seen throughout his long career. And I ask him what they had in common, and what any aspiring contestants can learn from them. That’s next week, as our conversation continues… 

EXCLUSIVE interview with behind-the-scenes game show legend Michael Whyte – Part I

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Game show legend Mr Michael Whyte!

Hello! Now that the Fawlty Towers Live Opening Night hoopla has died down, and the play’s season has settled into its usual rhythm, here at www.HowToWinGameShows.com, I can get back to what this blog is all about; bringing you new EXCLUSIVE content to help you on your game show winning journey. And I’m really pleased to bring you this latest exclusive interview. In Australia, Michael Whyte is a game show Living Legend, having been instrumental and influential in the industry since the 1970s. He’s produced countless hours of television – in quiz shows, game shows, variety, and so much more besides, both at home in Australia and abroad. So I was delighted when he agreed to chat to me for www.HowToWinGameShows.com.


SH: Michael Whyte, thank you very much for speaking to me today for howtowingameshows.com. In your long and illustrious career you’ve served as Producer, Executive Producer and Executive In Charge Of Production of many great game shows, including The Price is Right, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, The X Factor, Blankety Blanks, Sale Of The Century and Temptation… to name just a few. What was the first game show you produced, and how did that come about?

MW: I was working at Channel 9 and had been for about nine years. Luckily, I was there at the right time. I started there in ’73 and worked my way from being a mail boy up through the system to cameras and eventually floor managing and some production work. At that time, there was a raft of different things that you could do. Mostly for me it was tonight shows, you know – The Don Lane Show, The Graham Kennedy Show, The Ernie Sigley Show…  Plus a lot of drama: The Sullivans was peaking at that time so I was involved in that. The Paul Hogan Show started up at that stage, but also a lot of sports as well. I mean I really was in the right place at the right time. And we had such lot to do and I had an absolute ball and a lot of really good people to  nurture you and put you through the business. If they thought you were any good, then they would certainly help you, and they did that with me, which I was very pleased with.

SH: What a great training ground!

MW: Unbelievable. It is not there today but it was just a magic place to be, at GTV. From there I was looking to produce but Channel 9 was full of  producers at that stage with lots of experience and Grundy Television came to me and said “we want you to come to us and produce a show called The New Price Is Right“. So I went to Grundy’s in ’81 I think, and we started producing The New Price Is Right, with (host) Ian Turpie which was pretty much a variety-cum-sports event, done in an amazing venue, Festival Hall. And it was just the  best training ground to produce that you could ever want. It was pretty much done as a live show and shot 360 (meaning we saw the audience and all of the set that was involved in the show). As soon as we started recording, it was ON and there were about 600 people in the audience. 

SH: Wow!

MW: From there I had been floor managing Sale of the Century and they then put me across Sale of the Century as well. I was producing both shows at that point and I was with Sale for many, many years. It was on for 21 years and I was there for most of that, and then went overseas with Grundy’s to produce shows overseas. 

SH: Going for Gold was one of them, I think (according to the internet)? 

MW: Yeah, yeah – Going for Gold. We started at the BBC in ’87 or ’88, something like that. We made it for the BBC because Reg Grundy had sold Neighbours into the BBC and they wanted another half-hour show to go back to back with that at lunch time. So we did that, it was an international quiz that was lined up with what was Super Channel at the time. That was prior to Sky (UK pay TV) and all of that. Super Channel went through 15 European countries, so we auditioned people from 15 different European countries and brought them into London to compete.  It was a 22 week format that ended up with one person, one country winning and yes that ran successfully, very successfully for a number of years. We also made that same show in France called Questions Pour Un Champion, which is still running I believe.

SH: Wow.

MW: Yeah. Very successful, on FR3, which is sort of their ABC (public broadcaster) if you like.  That was pretty much the cultural quiz that they were after and that went extremely well, as well. 

SH: What a huge production!

MW: It was. Absolutely enormous and so we were really doing the push for Grundy into Europe. It was myself and Bill Mason who was my boss and we literally split Europe in half. I took the top half and he took the bottom half… 


Next week, Michael goes into more detail about his European career highlights. But our discussion covers so much more besides, and is chock full of handy hints. And we’re only just getting started… so make sure you check back here next Tuesday for Part II! 

The world of a game show contestant co-ordinator, with Lalitha Selvendra – Part I

Game show contestant co-ordinator extraordinaire Lalitha Selvendra, with the FremantleMedia Gold Award 2014 for Best Program for 'Family Feud'!

Game show contestant co-ordinator extraordinaire Lalitha Selvendra, with the FremantleMedia Gold Award 2014 for Best Program for ‘Family Feud’!

Hello! Firstly, apologies for there being no regular Tuesday post here last week, but hey, I did warn you…

We’re now coming into the last couple of weeks of rehearsals for Fawlty Towers Live, and so life is pretty hectic at the moment. I’m living, sleeping eating and breathing Basil Fawlty these days, as Opening Night creeps closer and closer. In fact, here’s an interview I did about it recently.

But I digress.

I have managed to score a new interview for HowToWinGameShows.com, and it’s my first ever interview with a real life game show contestant co-ordinator. Lalitha Selvendra has worked on several game shows over the years, she’s interviewed hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of aspiring game show contestants, so I thought her experience and insights would be just the thing for this site!  So, if you’d love to be a game show contestant, but haven’t yet taken the plunge and applied, then read on….

=========================================================================SH: Lalitha, welcome, and thanks very much for talking to me today for HowToWinGameShows.com! Can you take us through your career as a game show contestant coordinator? Which productions have you worked on?

LS: My very first game show was The Price is Right with Larry Emdur. It was such a great production to be a part of, and an even better place to learn. Although it may appear to be a simple game show, the amount of preparation that went into every episode was staggering. It involved a lot of people power and the keys, I think, were communication and passion. Everyone who worked on that show loved working on it and a lot of people still have such fond memories. It was a tight-knit crew, with a wonderful host to boot.

I went from Price onto Bert’s Family Feud; thereby being lucky enough to work alongside TV legend Bert Newton. His professionalism and great sense of humour was great to be around. We had a small team but produced a lot of hours and had a lot of fun doing it.

After this I was Talent Coordinator for two seasons of Celebrity Singing Bee, Again, a really fun show to be a part of and a really generous host in Tim Campbell.

Post-Singing Bee, I worked on a few small pilots and went into kids’ TV before joining the current incarnation of Family Feud as Senior Casting Producer. A massive privilege to be working under television’s very own Pam Barnes as EP and alongside an amazingly talented host in Grant Denyer. Bringing back a beloved format is always dangerous and all the elements needed to work to make it a hit.

SH: How would you define the role of a contestant coordinator?

LS: To define it simply, it’s about finding watchable contestants. If I was at home watching from my lounge room, what kind of contestant would I find entertaining? Would I love them? Would I love to hate them? Would I be barracking for them?

SH: What are you looking for in contestants? What would make the difference between a person getting on the show and not getting on the show?

LS: You get to spend a lot of time with contestants during auditions. So, you can tell if they are genuine or putting on an act. There’s no set list of ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ for people getting on a show. But, one thing I would encourage is, definitely do your homework before you go to an audition. Know what the show is about and how it works etc. We also often like to tell auditionees, “just be yourselves but on a really good day”. Be genuine and have fun. For me, if you’re not in it to have fun, then there’s no point.


And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. Next week, as my chat with Lalitha concludes, she reveals more great tips, including the Top Two Things you should never ever do at a game show audition. That’s next Tuesday. Until then, keep calm and Don’t Mention The War…

EXCLUSIVE interview with serial game show contestant Vicky Jacobs – Part II

How to win game shows vicky jacobs 2

Vicky Jacobs

Last week, in my chat with serial game show contestant Vicky Jacobs, we discussed her appearances on Greed, Temptation and Million Dollar Minute. But Vicky’s game show contestant career certainly doesn’t end there….


SH: You’ve also appeared on Millionaire Hot Seat, whose format is very different to the original Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. What strategy did you employ – if any – to make sure your time in the actual ‘hot seat’ was as advantageous as possible?

VJ: I had lots of permutations of strategy in my head going in, but when it came to the actual day, none of them made any difference. I answered the most questions right in my episode, but with the way the day panned out, there was pretty much no chance of getting back into the hot seat. In my opinion, there’s a huge amount of luck in that game and it will only be with a certain set of events that strategy will do you much good.

SH: And most recently, you took to the stage on The Chase: Australia. How did you go, and as a former contestant, what tips or tricks would you now give any future contestants?

VJ: I had a great time on The Chase. I’d been watching the British version avidly and was busting for a chance to play myself. I knew the odds were low of going home with money – I just wanted to play! I got through to the final round – there were only two of us left – but we got caught by the Chaser, losing $22, 000. My advice would be to do everything in your power to have four people playing at the end. Chat about it when you’re hanging out backstage (they don’t seem to mind this).  And if you do get to the end, have a “passing” strategy, with a clear leader who is boss of the passing!  I think we may have squished in a couple of more questions if we had have worked something out beforehand.  Also, this is a small thing but I think could be helpful – don’t stress too much about the chit-chat bit with Andrew O’Keefe beforehand – if you say something goofy, it really doesn’t matter, just keep your head in the game.  I reckon we lost one of our players to this on the day I was on. 

SH: Vicky, obviously game shows are a recurring theme in your life, and you’ve applied and been accepted time and time again. What do you think are the keys to being selected as a game show contestant?

Continue reading

EXCLUSIVE interview with serial game show contestant Vicky Jacobs – Part I

How To Win Game Shows Vicky Jacobs

Vicky Jacobs

A brand new interview for you this week, with someone who’s “been there and done that” a number of times! Vicky Jacobs is a musician, musical director and vocal coach, but she’s also a serial game show contestant, having appeared as a contestant on at least five different game shows. In fact, it could even be said that game shows are in Vicky’s blood, being, as she is, the daughter of a genuine Sale of the Century champion. I was curious to ask Vicky about her diverse game show adventures, and whether she had any hard-won tips, drawn from her wide and varied experience.

And so I did. 


SH: Vicky, welcome and thanks for chatting to me today for www.HowToWinGameShows.com

VJ: My pleasure!

SH: I’d like to start our chat today by hearing about your dad – you mentioned he was a Sale of The Century champion. When was that, and what did he win?

VJ: I think it was 1992. He’d won all the prizes except for the car and was playing for the car when he got beaten. It was the fifth episode they’d filmed that day and I think he was probably a bit tired and hungry by that stage. But we won heaps of cool stuff! It kept turning up at the house for months – all the game show classics: saucepans, luggage, ski gear, a home gym, a giant Garfield (still got it!) and we even got a family trip to Vanuatu… so not a bad couple of days work!

SH: How did your dad’s win change your family’s life?

VJ: I’m not sure I’d say it changed our lives significantly, but was definitely lots of fun while it was happening and a real talking point at school (I was in Year 8 at the time)!

SH: Was it your dad’s win that started your fascination with game shows? Or did you “catch the bug” later in life?

VJ: Funnily enough, Mum had actually done Sale of the Century first – she didn’t win her episode but did bring home some prizes so I think she probably gave the bug to all of us. Who doesn’t love free stuff?!  My whole family loves a game of Trivial Pursuit and are highly competitive, so it was kind of inevitable! 

SH: Which was your first game show appearance? Would that have been Greed, in 2001? How did you go during that appearance, and looking back now, was there anything you would have done differently?

VJ: I’ll start this story by pointing out that I was quite young and didn’t know much stuff in 2001. But essentially what happened was: I got a 50/50 question wrong which lost our team $100,000 and put us out of the competition. And that wasn’t the worst bit! The worst bit was being put in a room with them after I’d stuffed it up, while they filmed the rest of the episode. Small talk with strangers who hate your guts – not the funnest hour of my life! I’m not sure I would have done anything differently, as it was a luck-of-the-draw type situation: I simply didn’t know the answer. For anyone playing at home, the question was “Which of these is a currency: ‘punt’ or ‘kind’?”  I now know it’s ‘punt‘ !

SH: Then a few years later, you were a contestant on Temptation (the rebooted version of Sale of the Century). What advice and / or training did your dad give you, as you prepared to go on? After all, he’d been there and done that…

VJ: Dad told me to buy everything that was offered to me!  It was great advice for that particular competition. I was ahead for much of the game so I took everything that was offered. I got beaten in ‘Fast Money’, but when I did the maths afterwards, I still wouldn’t have won if I hadn’t bought, so it was excellent advice.

SH: And what did you end up winning on Temptation? Continue reading