My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 2

… in which the green shoots of David’s early screenwriting career take root and begin to blossom…

* This metaphor has been brought to you by ‘Gardening Australia’, returning soon to Fridays on ABC TV.

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DP: So, leading up to that first question (and this is why we might take more than an hour!)…

Sweet and Sour was a further development; that was early 80s. By that stage, Paul and I had written a short film that got made that was quite successful; it actually made money. We made money from a short film!

SH: That’s fantastic.

DP: And after that, I can’t think who the connection was, but we were called in to work on this new ABC rock-and-roll soapie. It started off a lot more adventurous and radical than what it became. It got so watered down because of concerns about drugs and language and the type of music… It worked and the audience loved it, so they did the right thing. But for those of us who were in the mix, it all seemed to be getting diluted.

SH: My memory of it is that it was on at six o’clock at night. So, no one on it did drugs or smoked or drank… Rock-and-roll, dude! Shortly after that, in 1985, you and Paul wrote a movie! And it got made! And then it got released! That’s a very rare and impressive thing. How did that come about?

DP: In ‘81 or ‘82 and the New South Wales Film Corporation announced a screenwriting competition for budding screenwriters. But one of the conditions was that you had to have the signature of a credited feature producer on your entry form. As it happened, an Australian film that we really admired at that point was Newsfront, so we sought out its producer, David Elfick. Do you know of him?

SH: I know that name.

DP: He was a guy who grew up in the 60s – he was a keen surfer, he’d started a couple of surf magazines. I think he’d made Morning of the Earth which was a very successful feature-length surf documentary. So, Newsfront was his first fiction feature, and we thought it was a terrific film. So David read our screenplay and said, “Look it’s obviously written by neophytes”, (actually, that word’s too big for him). “Newcomers; it’s written by first-timers, but you got potential so I’ll look at anything else you write. You can bring it to me. I’ll be happy to read it.” We then wrote this screenplay a few years later called Emoh Ruo, which is “Our Home” spelled backwards. I think it’s always a terrible thing when you tell someone the title of your film and you explain that it’s a couple of words backwards.

SH: I noticed that the tagline for the movie is “Try saying it backwards”. The poster tells you what it means.

DP: Yeah. I’m looking at the poster here and it also says, “The funniest Aussie movie ever.”

SH: Wow, that’s pretty good! That’s high praise (according to the movie’s own poster). That doesn’t come along every day.

DP: I know! And posters are pretty discerning…

SH: They really are. The poster advertising the product always is very discerning. Whose idea was the title?

DP: I can’t remember. I went off it – I was concerned it sounded vaguely Polynesian. I didn’t think it conveyed anything to a potential moviegoer. But it came from the idea that in the 1940s and 50s it was an Aussie custom for a lot of homes to have plaques by the front door with a fancy name, as an ironic comment on the fact that this was just a suburban home. Like “Dunroamin’” or “Gloria Soames”… and “Emoh Ruo” was a popular one. Often, they were printed on glass in nice frames; essentially they meant “Proud homeowner”. I actually wanted to call the movie Homesick, because it was about a couple who were desperate to be homeowners. But the decision from the producer was that you couldn’t have a movie title with the word “sick” in it.

SH: I noticed it was re-titled for some foreign markets as House Broken.

The poster from one o’ them there foreign markets. I think Joy Smithers and Martin Sacks may have reasonable grounds to sue that caricaturist….

DP: I don’t know if it worked in those small African countries.

SH: Their posters were great, though!

DP: Certainly… but ultimately the movie was a very big flop. It may well have been “the funniest Aussie movie ever” but no one cared. I believe the poster went along and enjoyed it immensely.

SH: Yes, the poster must have booked out a whole cinema! Was it fun to make? Was the production of its happy memories for you or was it too stressful?

DP: No, it was a completely depressing experience.

SH: Oh really? How so?

DP: Well, earlier, the short film I told you about (Making Weekend of Summer Last) was picked up by (Australian cinema chain) Greater Union and they ran it before a couple of very successful features. And we got regular cheques from Greater Union, because we were on a cut of the box office!

SH: Fantastic!

DP: Yeah, it wasn’t much, but it was like “who makes money from a short film?” So, that was terrific. And when Emoh Ruo came around, the idea was that Paul and I would not only write the film, but we’d also direct it, because we’d had experience directing a successful short film. There was a bit of nervousness from all concerned about that. So there was a board meeting in the Greater Union head office, where Paul and I had to sell ourselves as directors. And it’s one of those kinds of cliched horrible scenes where you’re sitting at a very long table with serious-looking men in dark suits who aren’t going to put up with any bullshit. At the end of the meeting they just said, “Look you’ve convinced us. We’re going to put money in the picture and we’re happy for you to direct.” And we just thought “This is terrific!”

SH: Yes!

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Things are on the up-and-up! David’s kicking goals left, right and centre! Everything’s coming up roses! Nothing can possibly go wrong!

Or can it?

To find out, tune in next Tuesday afternoon, right here at HowToWinGameShows.com…

My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 1

Thanks tiny-fonted Wikipedia, I’ll take it from here.

I think it’s fair to say that David Poltorak is a legend of Australian TV game shows. After his 1986 World-Record-setting win on Sale of the Century….

See?

he returned for several ‘Champion of Champions’ tournaments, before becoming a question writer and adjudicator for that same show.

Since then, he’s worked behind the scenes on many Australian TV quiz shows, and last year, he became a contestant once again, and won BIG on Beat the Chasers…. 34 years after his original Sale of the Century triumph!

Besides all that, he’s a screenwriter and standup comedian, and he’d already had his first movie produced before any of his quiz show success.

This was a delightful and really wide-ranging discussion, and I thought I’d kick it off by delving into David’s origin story…

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SH: David Poltorak! Thank you very much indeed for joining me today for HowToWinGameShows.com.

 DP: It’s my pleasure Stephen, thanks very much.

SH: Prior to your game show career I know you were a TV and film writer. Your first TV credit on imdb.com is from 1984 for writing two episodes of Sweet & Sour: an ABC drama about a young pop band (which I watched religiously as a teenager). How did that come about, and how was that whole experience?

DP: Yes, it might be my first IMDB credit and fair enough. I wrote those two episodes with a long-term co-writer Paul Leadon (who, in recent years, has been the Head of Comedy at Channel 10). We’d been at uni together, studying architecture. We both dropped out and got heavily involved with our annual architecture review, and that led to work writing sketches for what was then 2JJ. One of the early directors of that station mentored us; a guy called Marius Webb, who was very helpful to us.

We wrote sketches and then we got on – I think in ’77 – The Garry McDonald Show. Garry McDonald had been playing his famous character Norman Gunston for years, and he was sick of that character and he wanted to do a sketch show that was a completely Gunston-free zone. It was a pretty terrible show because it made you realize in retrospect what a great anchor the Gunston character was for him. And so, without that character, he was just another actor in comedy sketches.

SH: How long did that last? I don’t remember that show at all.

DP: Well, I think it only had one series. The head writer was Morris Gleitzman, who went on to become a successful children’s author. It was produced by John Eastway who was an ABC comedy producer at that time. It was a great experience for us because having grown up as a Monty Python obsessive, I just had this enormous weight of Monty Python sitting on my head and just feeling overwhelmed by what I saw as their quality and what they’d achieved. They were such a big influence on me.

SH: Was it helpful having a writing partner, being part of a team? Surely you could bolster each other up in those moments of self-doubt?

DP: We could. We wrote more stuff together later. Initially, although we were hired as a group, we were all writing individually, not actually collaborating. So it still felt like a very lonely, isolated experience and it’s not one that I look back with any great joy, apart from what it meant in career terms. After that, we did another comedy series called Jokes which was the same thing; just half an hour of unrelated sketches. That was also on the ABC, produced by John Eastway. And that was a short-lived thing. In later years, Australia produced much more successful shows: D-Gen, Full Frontal… but at this early stage, everybody was just scrambling. We didn’t know where we were going.

SH: I’m guessing you’re in your early twenties at this stage? Not long out of university.

DP: I’m in my early 20s. I’m a pretty heavy dope smoker, I’m a cab driver. I’d been on the dole for about a year after I dropped out at uni. Back in those days, you could front up to your local Commonwealth Employment Service office and say, “Look I’m sick of being a bus conductor. Can I go on the dole, please?” “Yes, sign here. Here’s your first cheque.”

SH: Different times.

DP: Very different times! Anyway, Paul and I then became a duo and worked on kids’ shows on the ABC and did other sketch shows…. none of which are remembered by anyone except the people who made them, because they made such little impact. Back then, the top-rating current affairs show was on Channel Seven, hosted by Mike Willesee. He’d been dominating the ratings, but in 1981, Channel 9 premiered Sale of the Century up against him. And Sale of the Century was a monster – so huge, so successful!

And as a result, Mike Willesee had this brainwave that he’d introduce comedy to his current affairs show. So he hired a bunch of people to write and perform sketches. Doug Mulray, Austen Tayshus, (who at that stage was just called Sandy Gutman) and Paul and me. So, there’d be a production meeting in the morning with Mike and we’d all sit on the floor while he sat behind his huge oak-panelled desk. We would discuss the big stories of the day and he’d get one or two of the writers to write a sketch and then somebody else would perform in it for that night. Paul and I didn’t perform; we just wrote. I think it lasted about three months. Mike was getting killed in the ratings by Sale of the Century, so he tried comedy, but it didn’t work. But it was great training; we’d have to write at least one sketch a day in the morning. We only had a couple of hours to do it, but it was terrific. It was great having the subject to write about because you then knew what the sketch was. And they’d try and film as much as they could during the day.

SH: But they would broadcast it that night?

DP: Yeah, it was very ‘on the hoof’.

SH: That’s really exciting.

DP: It was exciting, yeah. It was a pity it didn’t work. And although Sale of the Century was beating it, to me Sale was just this other thing out there… if I happened to be watching TV, I liked to sit there and answer the questions, but the idea never entered my head that I’d ever go on it as a contestant.

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“Well, of course not – what possible reason could there be for David to want to do that?” I pretend to hear you ask.
As it turned out, there were actually 376,200 reasons.
And we’ll get one step closer to all of them when we pick up David’s story next week.
See you then!

Announcing my first EXCLUSIVE interview for 2021!

Hello! Just a quick update today, to let you know I’ve secured my first exclusive interview for 2021… and it’s a Biggie! I’m really pleased to have booked a chat with a man whose vast experience in the game show industry is simply incredible. He’s held a variety of powerful positions behind the scenes, in a career that spans decades. He’s brought loads of the world’s biggest hit game shows to our screens and – on a personal note – he’s also been a great mentor to me, teaching me an awful lot along the way.

Thank you, Fry – I’m pretty sure it will be. There’s a lot for us to discuss, so I’m sure our chat will run over several weeks here on the site. And it’ll all be kicking off soon, right here at HowToWinGameShows.com!

 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Game Show Host Ian Rogerson – Part IV – the conclusion

Hello, and welcome to the final instalment of my chat with the host of All Star Squares, Mr Ian Rogerson! To put you in the mood, here’s a blast of that crazy theme tune…. 

We’ve covered Ian’s memories of hosting the show fairly extensively in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this conversation, so I figured there was pretty much only one thing left for me to ask him…

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That was then…

SH: Now, I know All Star Squares was 21 years ago, so… what have you been up to since then?

IR: (LAUGHING) Working! I mean, radio’s been something I’ve done for 40 years. So I’m now at the age of very-very late 30s.

SH: (LAUGHING) Yes!

… This is now!

 

IR:

I’m not desperate to go out and get myself a gig right now, but invariably things come up.

SH: And I know that you and your wife Nicole are both very heavily involved with Autism Awareness Australia. Would you like to tell us a bit about that?

IR: Yeah. Our son Jack is autistic and we had to go through the journey – which started when he got diagnosed, finally – of living with a disabled person. But it’s amazing the difference you can make if you get the right therapy and spend a lot of one-on-one time with your child. We’ve been very lucky and you know Jack’s 24 now, rockin’ around… I think he’s drinking my beer, I’m not sure.

SH: Well someone is!

IR: Someone is. But he’s got a job and everything and so that’s worked out quite well. But the advocacy of it is something my wife has really driven because of who she is; she’s that kind of person. She’s a real advocate for it and I think they’re a real force for good and certainly a voice for the autism community, particularly the parents.

SH: And they’re at AutismAwareness.com.au.

IR: It’s a not-for-profit; it’s just basically there to advocate.

SH: Great.

IR: So, I guess that’s really it from me, as far as All Star Squares is concerned. It’s an interesting little footnote, isn’t it? I hope they resurrect it one day, because it’s actually a great game show.

SH: It is. When it’s done right, it’s just really entertaining and silly; one of those shows that you just let wash over you.

IR: Yes. When the chemistry all comes together on the show, it’s fantastic fun. I think there were some days where we were doing that show, we really all had heaps of fun and I think the audience was enjoying it too.

SH: Yeah, for sure. Perhaps one problem with the format is that you do have your regular celebrities who you can count on, but then for the guest celebrities, you get a mixed bag of athletes, actors, singers, whoever’s doing the promotional rounds… and some of those people were just rabbits in the headlights when it came to answering the questions. Sometimes we really had to rely on our regulars do the heavy-lifting.

IR: Yes, I think you guys – the writers – were doing the big work before the show back in the Green Room… just trying to get those people to loosen up.

An “Additional Material” credit! Whoo-hoo!

SH: Yeah because when it came to the guests, you just got who you were given, and they were not all necessarily naturals in that situation….

IR: You’d always be so happy when Lano & Woodley turned up.

The glorious Australian comedy double act Lano & Woodley, who appeared on the show (both crammed into one square!) several times.

SH: Hallelujah! Yes!

IR: And all the pressure would be off.

SH: Exactly! Well, thank you so much, Ian. This has been very enjoyable indeed and thanks again for taking the time to have a chat with me!

IR: My pleasure Steve. I mean, if you ever come to Sydney or if I ever get down there, we must catch up. It’d be great to see you.

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Aww, right back at ya, Big Fella! I’d just like to thank Ian for being so generous with his time, and remind you that he has a website here, he’s on Twitter here, and of course, you can find Autism Awareness Australia at www.AutismAwareness.com.au/

And that is where we leave that late nineties, late afternoon curio All Star Squares…

Aaall…. All Star Squares! Hey thanks I-an, for all the

MEM’RIES YOU’VE SHARED!!

I’ll see you next Tuesday

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Game Show Host Ian Rogerson – Part III

Ian Rogerson

Hello and welcome to the penultimate instalment of my chat with Ian Rogerson, who hosted All Star Squares, on Australian TV back in 1999. I worked on the show as a question and gag writer, and I’ve written about my experiences on it here before, but it was great to learn that Ian remembers it with such fondness too….

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IR: The whole show was so much fun. We’d sit there in the Green Room between shows with Tim Smith and Michael Caton… and I just remember lots of jokes.

SH: Yeah, it was very convivial! I remember Tim Smith in particular; going through questions and gags with him and just laughing a lot and him always wanting to make it better, as funny as possible. What a lovely bloke. Those were very happy memories.

The great Tim Smith.

IR: Yeah, I think in another timeslot the show might have worked. Who knows?

SH: You never know. Do you have any specific memories of any of the contestants?

IR: Did we give a car away once?

SH: We might have.

IR: I think we did.

SH: I think we did!

IR: It was a while ago, but I seem to remember that it wasn’t a huge car….

SH: No…

IR: I remember the live studio audiences really enjoying it as well. I really can’t remember too many of the contestants and that’s only just because of time, I think.

SH: Yeah.

IR: But the bizarre thing was that after it all finished, Channel Seven repeated the show over the next two summers.  But maybe that was just in Sydney.

SH: I don’t know; I don’t recall that happening down here in Melbourne. As we said, it wouldn’t have been a cheap show. The celebrities you mentioned, I think you’re still friendly with a few of them. Is that right?

IR: I’ve known a lot of those people from years previous. There are firm friendships; Tim Smith… and Michael Caton, I saw just last week. We both scream at the television over American politics.

SH: (LAUGHING) Oh good. It’s good to have that in common; that’s lovely. When it was on, did you find you were thrust into the spotlight? Did you find you were being recognized?

IR: Look, I’d already been through it in the eighties. I’m really not after the spotlight; I’m more of a cabinetmaker than a television show host. But I always wanted to host a game show, purely so that if something happened on a plane and somebody yelled out, “IS THERE A GAME SHOW HOST ON BOARD?” I could say, “Yes, I’m a Game Show Host – step aside.” I wanted “Game Show Host” on my passport.

SH: (LAUGHING) That’s good – you’ve achieved that goal!

IR: Look, as you know really well Steve, gigs come up… and you do them!

SH: Sure. Because… why not?

IR: Yeah and also, they might even pay you some money! AND give you some free chocolates.

SH: Yeah, “delightful Duc d’O chocolates” indeed! Now, the show didn’t last as long as we might have liked; what were your memories of its ending, and how did you process that at the time?

Continue reading

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Game Show Host Ian Rogerson – Part II

Hello, and welcome to the second instalment of my exclusive four-part interview with game show host Ian Rogerson about the whirlwind of activity at 5:30 on weeknights way back in 1999 that WAS All Star Squares.

Now let’s dive straight back in, with Ian’s candid thoughts on the show’s appeal….

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IR: In hindsight, I think the show was just on the borderline of almost being interesting. It had all the basics of the game show, plus some writing that goes in there and the false questions and the real questions…. But because it was a network game show, there were areas where you couldn’t really push the boundaries.

SH: Oh, for sure. And it was a 5:30 time slot, so it had to be family-friendly. The parameters were sort of…

IR: Relatively tight.

SH: Not exactly “broad”, for sure.

IR: Yeah. But we had a lot of pretty funny people in there. I mean… you, Kim Hope was funny, Tim Smith and there were a lot of people who were prepared to go a little bit around the edges, but it never really got a chance to develop… because it only ran about six months. I think it was in the wrong time slot. I may be misremembering here, but I was always under the impression it was going to go on at seven o’clock or six thirty.

SH: Oh, that’s interesting.

IR: … Originally. And then it was sort of like “Oh… 5:30”. And that’s an expensive show to run at 5:30.

SH: It really is. When you got the gig, what was your initial reaction? I imagine your previous work had prepared you pretty well for it. Were there any new skills or techniques you had to learn?

IR: Look, by far the hardest hurdle I had with that show is the fact that I was going a little grey (LAUGHING) and I said to them “You’re cool with the grey hair, aren’t you? That’s not a deal breaker, is it?” And they went, “Oh no – it IS a deal breaker.”

SH: Wow!

IR: I had to dye my hair, and I hated that! Because I’m not that kind of guy. I just like to be natural; if I’ve got grey hairs, I’ve earned them. But they weren’t going to have a bar of it. So, I was never happy with my hair for the full six months, which is off-putting when you’re a game show host.

Exhibit A.

“Aaaaaall, All Star Squares! They made Ian Roger-son DYE HIS GREY HAIRS!”

Johnny (Jonathan Coleman) and I had done Have a Go in 1988, which was basically a game show, so I knew all about recording five shows in a day and then having those episodes stripped through the week… So, I just thought ‘All Star Squares is going to be fun’, and it was a lot of fun! A lot of fun. But it was just so quick and then they killed us.

SH: Yes. I have very fond memories of it, but as you say, it was an expensive show and that’s such a crucial time slot for them, leading into the news….

IR: Yeah, and I don’t think we ever cracked it; we never got higher than second place (in the ratings).

SH: Yeah. What aspects of hosting the show – if any – were uncharted territory for you?

IR: I had no idea how tall the pyramid they were putting me on was going to be!

SH: Oh, that’s right!

IR: Yeah, I remember the set very clearly; the squares were huge. And that would have cost a lot of money to bump that in and bump that out of the studio every weekend. But also, my position was elevated on this really tall pyramid. I was having delusions of grandeur out there at one stage (LAUGHING).

SH: I’d forgotten that! Were you level with the second – or even third – level of the grid?

IR: I think I was across from the second level. You know I had vultures circling me at various times. I got nosebleeds if the pressure dropped (LAUGHING).

SH: Elevated like a lifeguard, or a tennis umpire – yeah.

IR: That’s right! So, when people would run notes up to me, it was like coming up the mountain to bring me a new set of questions.

SH: Do you have any specific memories of things that might have gone wrong during the show?

IR: I know that my wife came down one weekend and we went to the Flower Drum restaurant and drank so much white wine on the Friday night…. I was actually lying on my dressing room floor the next morning, feeling seriously hungover, thinking “How am I going to do five shows?” Of course I got up and did them, but I still can’t remember those five shows.

SH: So ‘Doctor Showbiz’ kicked in? You somehow found the necessary adrenalin?

IR: Yes. But I’ve never touched white wine since. And then, when my wife was in the audience that day, the warm-up guy Michael Pope used to throw chocolates out into the audience….

SH: Yes?

IR: He got Nicole, right in the middle of her forehead!

SH: Oh dear!

IR: Wham! Nicole never forgot that; she still brings it up occasionally.

SH: “Delightful Duc d’Os” were maybe not quite so delightful for Nicole…

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I must confess, the show’s sponsorship arrangement with the Belgian chocolatier Duc d’O was a certainly a fond memory for me*, although I certainly do empathise with Nicole; all the “finest ingredients”, “pronounced boldness” and “pure Belgian craftsmanship and expertise” in the world don’t mean much when the box is hitting you full force in the forehead.

Ah… Showbiz, eh?

See you next week.

* Because, you know, free chocolates.

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Game Show Host Ian Rogerson – Part I

Ian.

Hello, and welcome to my latest HowToWinGameShows.com EXCLUSIVE interview! And today, we’re wandering down Memory lane, all the way back to 1999, with the host of All Star Squares; it’s that stalwart of the Australian entertainment industry; broadcaster, columnist and all-round lovely bloke… Ian Rogerson!

==========================

SH: Ian, thank you so much for joining me today for HowToWinGameShows.com!

IR: My pleasure!

SH: For our overseas visitors… you didn’t start out as a game show host; for many years before All Star Squares came calling, you had a long and successful career on commercial radio and TV, as part of the comedy double act ‘Jono & Dano’ (with Jonathan Coleman).

IR: I used to refer to myself as “one third of ‘Jono & Dano’.”

SH: (LAUGHING) Did you really? That’s very modest of you. How did you two meet and start working together? And when did you know that your chemistry was really going to pay off?

IR: I’d been working at Triple J in Sydney for about a year. One Saturday night they brought this guy in and said, “Do you know him?”
And I go, “No.”
“You watch Wonder World (the kids’ TV show Jonathan was on at the time), don’t you?”
“No.”
“Well look, we’re just trying him out, just operate the panel – don’t worry about it. We just want to see what he’s like.”
And I thought ‘yeah, okay, fair enough’. And then in comes Coleman, who blathers on for about 20 minutes… I just basically had to interrupt him! And that was the beginning of a ten-year relationship.

SH: So, it wasn’t organic, it wasn’t by accident, or because you both moved in the same circles… it was sort of pre-fabricated by the station?

IR: It wasn’t even that! We just ended up doing the rest of that show together. And that’s where that sort of chemistry came across. They said, “Okay – you guys are doing Saturday nights now.” And that was it.

SH: Wow that’s interesting! I had no idea. Then after Triple J (which is a subsidiary of the ABC, our public broadcaster), when did you go to commercial radio?

IR: About mid 80s. ‘84 I think. Most of it’s a blur, to be brutally honest…

SH: Sure.

IR: I was having a lot of fun. Sorry, I was very busy – very busy.

SH: That too.

IR: In ’84, the Triple M people came and offered us more money than I’d ever seen, so it was like, “Okay, let’s do that!” So, I ended up working there for a few years and got a TV show with Channel Seven. We ended up doing a tonight show (Late Night With Jono & Dano); one of the world’s worst tonight shows, although we did win the ratings on the last day of the show.

SH: Why do you call it that? Surely it couldn’t have been that bad.

IR: We were idiots (LAUGHING). We weren’t serious; we were just idiots. And I think we were such fans of the David Letterman show, we realized the only place we could watch it come in live was off the satellite in at Channel Seven. So I suspect we were partly doing the show so we could watch the Letterman Show during the week, when it came through at about midday!

SH: You were in it for the perks!

IR: (LAUGHING) Yeah, it was fantastic. And then at the end of the 80’s, Johnny went off to England, I went back to Triple J when they set it up as a national network and worked there until about the mid-90s and then I did bits and pieces; a series of interview shows in America, and stuff like that… I then came back and then All Star Squares came my way in 1999.

SH: So how did that come to be?

IR: They were auditioning for it and that’s where I met the producer Tony Skinner; he was a lovely man. I liked Tony. He really knew game shows, and he was a game show guru. So, they were doing auditions and it got down to Larry Emdur and me. Which is also the name of my new sitcom.

SH: (LAUGHING) Larry Emdur & Me! Wow – the original odd couple! I’d pay to see that.

IR: And I ended up getting the gig, so that’s where I got to meet you.

SH: Indeed. When you auditioned for it, had you seen either of the previous Australian versions, hosted by Jimmy Hannan? There was Celebrity Squares (1975 – 1976), and there was Personality Squares in 1981. Were you familiar with the show and the format at all?

IR: Yeah, it really goes back to Hollywood. I think it was a 60’s show originally, wasn’t it? Hollywood Squares, that was it. The format was a no-brainer, it was just a case of how you fill up those squares and who you get. I thought that you had to have some regulars; so the people who are coming back to the show are going to know and feel comfortable with it. So, they were the Michael Catons, the Tottie Goldsmiths and the Tim Smiths… Everybody was “Smith” on the show, for a period of time!

SH: Why didn’t we get Ron Sexsmith? That’s my question!

IR: (LAUGHING) Exactly!

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And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. Next week, Ian and I discuss the physicality of the show’s set, the vagaries of time slot programming, and the one thing that the network warned him was definitely “a deal breaker”….

In the meantime, if you’d like to follow Ian on Twitter, you can! He’s at https://twitter.com/ian_rogerson

Also in the meantime, if you’re curious to learn more about All Star Squares, there’s also my three-part PatentedHowToWinGameShowsBehindTheScenesReminiscences of the show, RIGHT HERE.  

See you next week!

P.S. Ron wasn’t available.

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.

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Game Show Host Mark Humphries – Part X

Welcome to the penultimate instalment of my chat with Mark Humphries about his tenure hosting the game show Pointless. Last time, Mark told the story of how he was really emotionally affected by one contestant’s story during the taping of the show….

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MH: … And then in the very next episode, the winning contestants – two guys in their sixtieshad been lifelong friends, and as it turned out, one of them didn’t own a television. They had blitzed through the game, and when they got to the final round, the category was ‘Participants on Gogglebox Australia‘; we were looking for any of the couch people on Gogglebox Australia back then. I was thinking “Good luck with this – this guy doesn’t even own a television!”

So they gave their answer; “We’d like to go with these two names…”

I didn’t know any of the people on the show, so I said “Okay, away we go – let’s see if you’ve got a Pointless answer…”

And sure enough, they did! I was really surprised, and so I asked “How do you know that? You don’t even own a television!”

They said “Well, we actually went to school with that man – ”

“Oh right,” I say. “That’s great!”

” – and sorry to lower the tone for a moment, but last year he took his own life.” 

SH: Oh no! 

MH: And it just floored me. It’s something you’re just not expecting; you’re not thinking about anything like that, and I just burst into tears. Oh god, even just thinking about it now, I’m getting a bit… Sorry… 

SH: Oh, Mark… What a punch in the guts.

MH: Yeah, and so I had a little chat to those guys after the show, and the next day one of them actually found me on LinkedIn and sent me a really lovely message. But in a weird way it was kind of beautiful; the fact that their connection to him ultimately lead to them having this little celebratory moment. But that was something that never aired – because if it had, that would have created all sorts of issues. 

SH: Yes, yes – I understand.

MH: But as sad as it was…  

SH: It must have been very moving. People can surprise you. And people do surprise you. All the time. 

MH: Yeah. And after that happened, Andrew (Rochford, Mark’s co-host) was fantastic. 

SH: Right, that’s great to hear. Because I guess it must have felt very much like the two of you were in this together… I imagine the fact that you’re going through all this with a compadre must have been comforting?

MH: Yes. Andrew was a total rock, and those two episodes (this one and the one mentioned in the previous instalment) were the third and fourth episodes that we shot on that five-episode record day. And on top of that, I think it was our second or third record day in a row! So we’d done thirteen or fourteen episodes back-to-back, at that point. And Andrew turned to the producers – and I’ll always love him for this – he turned to the producers and said “you can’t put Mark back on after that. we have to call it a day.” Because I’d burst into tears in Episode Three and Episode Four on this one day! He was great, and everyone on the production was so understanding. And that’s why there are 184 episodes… (LAUGHING)…  instead of 185! 

SH: Really? 

MH: Yes! But it’s just something you don’t expect when you sit down to watch a game show, or indeed when you’re presenting one! You don’t expect the real-life elements to slip in like that.

You know, even though the show never had huge prize money, for some winning contestants, it meant the first holiday they were able to take together as a family. Or it meant they could afford the new fridge that they desperately needed. That was really nice; when it really meant something to people. You couldn’t help but be touched by that. It’s easy to dismiss the whole thing as ‘just a commercial game show’, but it was real people with real lives being, in some cases, really improved… even if it’s just in a small way. That’s actually what I miss about it the most. Giving the money away; the joy that that gave people. 

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I know I’ve said it before, but I just want to reiterate my gratitude to Mark for opening up so much, and being so candid about all the experiences that hosting Pointless brought his way. Very generous of him; thanks again Mark. Next time, we bring the whole thing thundering home, as we discuss how the show ended, how Mark processed all that, and what happened next!

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

 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Game Show Host Mark Humphries – Part IX

That’s Mark on the left, rubbing shoulders with his ‘Pointless’ co-host Andrew Rochford.

Hello, and welcome  back to my EXCLUSIVE interview with Mark Humphries.

When we left off last time, Mark was saying that the highlight of the whole experience was getting to attend the Logie Awards (also known as AustralianTelevision’sNightOfNightsWhenTheBrightestClichesComeOutToShine).

BUT, as it turns out, that wasn’t the only highlight of his whole Pointless hosting adventure… ============================================================================

MH: The other highlight was finally having a decent income for a change! Because obviously there’s not a lot of money in what I had been doing (comedy sketches on the public broadcaster). And the shows that I’d been working on don’t run all year round; so there are months at a time where you are unemployed; there are lots of rocky periods with freelancing. And before I worked in TV, I worked in a warehouse so I’d never really had a proper job. It was nice to finally go “okay, I can breathe”; nice to get a little bit of breathing space. 

SH: Great. Because, yeah – it is commercial TV, so you’d expect it to be fairly well paid. And you did record 184 episodes, for goodness’ sake! 

MH: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t crazy money, but it was enough to give me some breathing space. I’d have loved it to have run for years so that I could get the deposit for a house or something. It never quite got to that level, but it was nice to have some breathing room, because I was one of those people who was always about two weeks away from bankruptcy! So that was an upside.

But there was a downside too; the people who would go out of their way to make you feel terrible. The people who would Direct Message you on Twitter or Facebook to tell you they don’t like you 

SH: Really? 

MH: Yeah. I must say they were largely Family Feud fans, and I get it. (Family Feud was the previous show in the Pointless time slot). Grant (Denyer, Family Feud‘s host) was part of their lives for many years, and they loved that show. It was part of their routine… but it was insane, some of the stuff people would send.

SH: So how do you protect yourself from that? Because I guess it can take you by surprise, if you’re just unsuspectingly opening a message. I guess you could give yourself a blackout on Facebook and Twitter, but then you’d miss all the good stuff too, wouldn’t you?

MH: (LAUGHING) Yeah! I never got to read all the lovely comments! I did get to read all the lovely comments when the show was cancelled, though! How did I deal with it? Well, I guess the process of being in the public eye over a number of years has led to a gradual hardening of my skin.That’s  slowly built up. But yes, it was unpleasant and there were moments of frustration… but then I had been through some of that stuff before, in response to some political stuff that I had done. People had very strong opinions about some of that stuff.

Andrew Rochford was very good with any of that negativity stuff; he’s really good at compartmentalizing, and he was a great, great help to me. From a mental health standpoint, he was incredibly supportive and understanding. So I’m really indebted to him; I don’t think I would have managed to get through the process without him. In fact, there were actually a couple of episodes where I burst into tears during the filming. 

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