My EXCLUSIVE interview with Chaser ‘The Shark’ Brydon Coverdale – Part 4

Welcome back! When we left off last week, we were discussing the casting process of The Chase Australia, and how Brydon got the gig of the Chaser that would be known as ‘The Shark’. But this week, I wanted to explore what it’s like actually BEING ‘The Shark’…


SH: So The Chase Australia has been going for seven years now, and goodness knows how many episodes… Five episodes a week, isn’t it?

BC: Yeah, although they have shown repeats a little bit later in the week for some time. I’m not sure. We’re certainly well past 1000 episodes. I know I’ve done somewhere in the range of 250 or something.

SH: It seems to me that an incredible work ethic is required of you, and you need to be always sharpening that sword.

BC: Yeah.

SH: I don’t think I’d have the stomach for it. And all four of you’ve always got this pressure on you to be that expert. I take my hat off to you all.

BC: Yeah. And at the start, I identified subject areas where I thought, “Okay, this is clearly a weakness of mine that I’ve never been that interested in”. So, I made myself some spreadsheets of operas, for example, and was trying to learn a bit more about that stuff. And I wrote myself some practice questions. And in time, I began to realize that, for example, on the UK version of The Chase, they’ll go into depth with something like opera and classical music. And in Australian game shows generally – not just The Chase – those subjects tend to be not explored in that much depth. Questions will tend to be about just the really famous stuff, mostly. So if you can get your head around that stuff, then you’ll probably be okay. Over time, I sort of worked out what subject areas I needed to brush up on, and what other ones I could just do in a shallower sort of way.

SH: Right. And that comes back to one of the big tips that I keep hearing time and time again, which is; if you want to do well in quiz shows, think like a question writer. In fact, become a question writer.

BC: Yes.

SH: That’s the best thing you can do.

BC: Yeah, absolutely. Because that’s ultimately where all of the questions come from! Someone looks at something and goes, “That’s an interesting fact, I’ll write a question about that”. The question writer has thought, “Well, that’s curious or quirky – that’d make good TV”. So if you’re looking at a list of things you’re trying to study, and you want to do it in a shortcut way… think like a question writer. Look at the information, and think, “Which of these things are the ones that would jump out and be the most interesting to have a question about?”

SH: Yeah.

BC: And so, sort of focus on those.

SH: I think that’s excellent advice. Now, it seems to me that The Chase – and the Chasers themselves – are in some ways, torchbearers of the idea of general knowledge being useful. You see, I have a theory that individual general knowledge is in danger of becoming a thing of the past. A wide range of general knowledge is no longer necessary. Because, thanks to the ubiquity of the internet, if any of us need to know something, we look it up, we use it and we then forget it. Because we can. The next time we need to know a certain fact, we’ll look it up, use it and forget it again. But I really like the fact that your program celebrates individual general knowledge. And I find it heartening that there still seem to be enough people with good general knowledge showing up and wanting to play. And there are, aren’t there?

BC: Yeah, but you can also look at it from the point of view that in the past, it’s been harder to study general knowledge. Now, if you have that interest in the first place, it’s so much easier. When I was a kid, I’d have had to literally browse the encyclopedias if I was trying to study general knowledge. Or if I was going on Sale of the Century back in the 90s. And these days, you literally have all the world’s knowledge in your phone, if you’re interested in looking for it. But you do have to have that interest and curiosity in the first place. And I guess what I’ve always had is, I’ve just wanted to know the stories behind things and why is something the way it is. A lot of people don’t necessarily have that, and that’s fine. But there are stacks of people out there who do, and they want to be the person who gets the right answer at Pub Trivia or who shouts at the TV and impresses everyone by going “Oh, well, I knew that one”.

SH: Yeah, bragging rights.

BC: Yeah, exactly.


You’ll see that I mentioned Brydon’s colleagues (the other three Chasers) above. I’ve interviewed all of them for this blog at one stage or another. If you’re interested in reading my interview with Issa “The Supernerd” Schultz, it’s HERE. My interview with Matt “Goliath” Parkinson is HERE, and my interview with Cheryl “Tiger Mum” Toh is HERE. 

And of course, my interview with Brydon “The Shark” Coverdale will continue right here next Tuesday!

See you then!

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Chaser ‘The Shark’ Brydon Coverdale – Part 3

Hello, and welcome back to my exclusive interview with ‘The Shark’ from The Chase Australia… Mr Brydon Coverdale!

As we mentioned earlier, Brydon’s book The Quiz Masters isn’t just a collection of reminiscences about his many quiz show appearances, nor is it just a collection of interviews with some of the biggest players there have ever been; it’s also a look at the history of quizzing in Australia…

=====================================SH: Historically, too, I love how you talk about (former Australian Prime Minister) John Howard going on a radio quiz, as a teenager! And (former Australian Prime Minister) Gough Whitlam once went on Sale of the Century… and of course, you also focus on the great Barry Jones.

BC: Yeah. With that John Howard stuff, you can find the audio online. And it is just so funny, because he’s just got this really broad Australian accent, but he’s 16 or something like that.

SH: He’s a bit of a smart alec on the show, if I remember rightly.

BC: Yeah, a little bit, although (its host) Jack Davey had such a quick wit that he was just sort of steering John Howard through. I just thought it was really interesting, that he displayed already (at 16), this thing that all politicians do; if you don’t know the answer, you make it sound like you do. He was very good at saying things with absolute confidence.

SH: Yeah. Now, the cover of your book refers to you as Brydon Coverdale and as ‘The Shark’ – how long has The Chase Australia been on air now?

BC: Seven years. I think July, seven years ago, is when we started filming.

SH: Right.

BC: And it went to air in September. And given the lifespan of TV shows, you know, in the modern era, I’m amazed that we’re still going strong. But it’s a format that was proven in the UK. And so, I think we – the Chasers, and everyone involved in the Australian production – are lucky to be hitching our wagons to a format that people love.

SH: You bet. You do talk in the book a little bit about your audition process. And although I haven’t gone into this on the blog yet, I also auditioned to be a chaser back then. But I can’t remember if our paths crossed at that time.

BC: Oh, yeah. Right.

SH: And when they were trying to think of a persona for me, the producer, Steve Murray, suggested “The Ginger Ninja”! I’m not sure how I felt about that. In the book, you also talk about the constant training that you and the other chasers do; writing questions for each other, and so on. To me, that sounded incredibly daunting, but you seem to love it.

BC: Oh, yeah. Well, I love it now. I mean, it was daunting at the time. All the time that I was going through that audition process, I was constantly thinking to myself, “Is this the point where they realize there’s someone better for it than me?” I’ve been on a lot of shows as a contestant, but I wasn’t successful on all of them. But I guess that what I did know was because I’d watched quite a bit of the UK version of The Chase. I knew the show inside out, and what “a Chaser” had to be.

SH: A professional athlete.

BC: Yeah, more or less. And it’s like being prepared for a job interview. That just gave me such a good base to work on my Chaser character, which is just an extension of who I am in real life (which is probably the case for all of us). I think in the early days of the show, we were probably a bit more concerned about “Oh, what’s the ‘Shark’ character supposed to be?” But it quickly became apparent that what works best is just to be an exaggerated version of yourself, really. For me, that’s kind of throwing in a smartarse comment here or there or having a little joke at the host’s expense, that sort of stuff.

I’d watched a lot of the UK version, but I often found myself going, “Oh gee, I wouldn’t have known that. And I wouldn’t have known that, either”. And so I wasn’t sure I was going to be up to it, from the quizzing perspective. But what I also came to realize was that I was watching British questions. So they weren’t the questions we were going to get. Of course, I’m not going to know something to do with British politics from the 1970s in the same way that I’d know a similar Australian question. And I think the other thing was that I knew it really all came down to that final chase; the last two minutes. And speed has always been one of the things I’ve been good at. So, I think I realized that even if I stumbled a bit throughout the rest of the show, if I could just focus and race through those two minutes, I’d have a good chance of doing better, more often than not.


Wise words there, as Brydon raises a point that keeps popping up time and time again here on the blog; DO YOUR HOMEWORK! You can see here how Brydon’s thorough understanding of the show’s format, along with an intimate knowledge of his own weaknesses and strengths really increased his chances of success. See you next week!

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Chaser ‘The Shark’ Brydon Coverdale – Part 2

Hello! When we left off last week, Brydon and I had been talking in broad terms about his new book, but as a self-publisher, I was keen to learn a little more from Brydon about how the author / publisher relationship works…


SH: In the formatting of the book, was your publisher very hands-on? Did they make ‘big picture’ suggestions, or did they pretty much leave you alone?

BC: More just to do with the ordering of things, I guess. I had the guts of the idea, but I had things in a different order. And Malcolm Knox, – who you might have heard of; he’s a journalist, columnist and writer – he ended up being my editor through the first stages. And he made the suggestion to make it all more chronological. And my story can be told chronologically anyway, so that drives through all the other elements that kind of spin off from it. In the end, that worked really well. But it was very much my plan to do that thing of having a chapter that starts and finishes with my story. And then in the middle of it is almost like a diversion to an interview with somebody who’s relevant to that. But still, this story is meant to be the star of the chapter.

SH: Yes. So you start each chapter with the beginning of an episode from your story, then you go to an interview, but we still want to know how that part of your own story will finish.

BC: Yeah, yeah.

SH: On the book’s cover, you got a quote from (legendary Jeopardy! Champion) Ken Jennings! How did you get that?

BC: Yeah, I was hoping to get one. Because I thought, who in the whole world of trivia is the biggest name? As you know, he’s an all-time Jeopardy! Champion, and now he hosts the show. He was on The Chase in the US, and I managed to get in touch with him through a friend of mine called Bob Harris. Bob is an American former Jeopardy! champ who now lives in Australia. I’ve met up with him and actually become good friends. He’s a fascinating guy. He’s a comedian as well. So, there’s another connection. And he was able to put me in touch with Ken, which was very helpful. And it was a bit of a tight run thing to get the pages to Ken in time for getting it all done. He’s a very busy man, but he was absolutely lovely and very obliging, which, given everything he’s got on, was wonderful.

His book, Brainiac, which I read, came out in about 2006, a couple of years after his big Jeopardy! run. It’s a similar sort of book, in that he goes off and interviews people involved in different parts of trivia. So that was one of the books I had in mind when I was thinking of mine; no one’s done the Australian trivia story. I mean, we’ve been listening to quiz shows on the radio since the 1930s. And they were so massive on TV in the early days, and then Sale of the Century and everything and nobody’s written this book yet! And part of my original goal with it was to do the history of quizzing in Australia, as well. And there are bits of that throughout it. Because it’s just one of those topics that I think so many people are interested in. And for those of us who’ve been involved in working on shows or being on shows as a contestant, there’s so much stuff that the average person would be interested in; how those shows work, what it’s like to be on one.

So, while quiz people are going to be naturally interested in the book, I wanted it to be something that anybody who has ever watched a quiz show and been vaguely interested in it, could pick up and just read through and go, “Oh, that’s an interesting subculture…”


It is indeed. Next week, we delve a little more into some of the historical aspects of quizzing in Australia… with a healthy dose of some pretty impressive name-dropping along the way! See you then!

My EXCLUSIVE interview with Chaser ‘The Shark’ Brydon Coverdale – Part 1

Hello! This week, I’m very excited to bring you the first instalment of my interview with The Chase Australia‘s very own Brydon Coverdale (AKA The Shark)! Brydon has just released his new book The Quiz Masters (which is a great read by the way, and I highly recommend it), but that was only one of the many things I was keen to talk to him about, in our wide-ranging discussion…

=====================================SH: Brydon, thank you so much for chatting to me tonight.

BC: My pleasure, Stephen!

SH: I just finished the book and really enjoyed it. It’s obviously my cup of tea, though!

BC: Yeah, that’s good. I mean, it’s just one of those things that I would have enjoyed reading, obviously being interested in what I’m interested in. And so hopefully, people like it; people who watch quiz shows and go to pub trivia and all that.

SH: When did you decide to write it, and how long did it take you?

BC: I’ve been thinking of a book like this for years. For more than five years anyway, because I did the first interview, which was Carey Young, back in 2017. Back then, I knew I wanted to do a book like this, but I didn’t have any publisher interest or anything; it was just something that I know I want to do. And so I thought, with some of these interviews, it’s like, “Alright, why don’t I just go and do it?” Then I’d have them there as a bit of a base to work from. The idea of it evolved a bit, and it turned into a little bit more of a memoir than I intended it to, but that helped drive the narrative through the various areas that I wanted to explore, anyway. And the more I thought about it, the more I was like, “Oh, yeah, well, I’ve actually got personal experience with that and that and that”.

SH: Of course. And any reader who’s interested in the subject is going to be interested in your experiences as well, and in learning from you what to do and what not to do…

BC: Yeah, yeah.

SH: It’s very valuable. And I must say, I really liked how you seeded trivia questions through so many pages, with their answers at the bottom of the page in the footnotes.

BC: Oh, yes.

SH: One of the things they say about good game show formats is that you have to be able to play along at home… but in the process of reading your book, the reader can play along at home, too!

BC: Yeah, exactly. And I just treated it like an opportunity to put in some of that random extra information, like I do on The Chase. You know what it’s like when you’re the person who’s into trivia, you love to share additional interesting facts. So it was just an excuse to put a whole bunch of that stuff in as well.

SH: And it’s great, because – you draw this parallel too and I think it’s a really valid one – great trivia facts are a bit like jokes; when you hear one, you can’t wait to share it.

BC: Yeah.

SH: And it’s fun to share them, and it’s fun to get the reaction of the other person too.

BC: Exactly. And, yeah, that was one of the reasons I was interested in exploring that link between comedy and trivia. Because there’s a huge amount of comedians who either work on a quiz show or have been on quiz shows or just have an interest in it. And chatting to Matt (Parkinson, comedian and ‘Goliath’ on The Chase Australia), he says there’s a parallel between finding those little bits of day-to-day life where the comedian goes, “Oh, that’s funny”. And the trivia person goes, “Oh, that’s interesting and quirky”. It’s a very similar mindset, I guess.

SH: Yeah, I’m sure we’re probably using similar parts of the brain making those connections.

BC: Yeah.

SH: And I loved that you put the answers to the trivia questions at the bottom of the relevant page, rather than making us go all the way to the back of the book to look up the answers. That would have been very impractical.

BC: Oh, yeah. Well, I’ve read a couple of quiz books that do a similar thing. And one of them put the answers at the end of the chapters, and I went “Oh, that’s annoying.” And another one put them upside down, so you’re often spinning the book around… that’s also a bit annoying.


And that’s where we’ll leave Brydon this week. Next week, I ask him about the publishing process, and how he managed to get an official endorsement from the greatest Jeopardy! champ of all time – the mighty Ken Jennings!  

In the meantime, remember that Brydon’s book The Quiz Masters is OUT NOW... and I heartily recommend it!

See you next week!

Revisiting Russell!

Hello! Just a quick one today…

Recently, a friend* drew my attention to an interview on ABC Radio here in Australia with Sale of the Century Grand Champion Russell Cheek.

Russell Cheek

Here’s the link: 

It’s a wide-ranging chat about all of Russell’s extensive quiz show experience, but the Sale of the Century part of it starts at 29:52. 

Although I’ve interviewed Russell here (in fact, he kindly agreed to be one of my very first interviews for this site!), it’s great to actually hear him tell his story. He certainly knows how to spin a yarn! And you’ll find there are some pretty darn nifty quiz show homework tips in amongst it all, too. I hope you like it!

You can keep abreast of what Russell’s up to these days at his website




* Fun fact: the friend was actually game show host and producer Michael Pope, who also agreed to be interviewed for this site, a while back… 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with game show producer Steve Marshall – Part 8: The Conclusion

Welcome back.

As I draw to the end of my epic discussion with the great Steve Marshall, I hope you’ve found it as entertaining, informative and educational as I have. I often like to conclude these interviews by asking my guests for their best tips, gleaned from their years – or sometimes, as in this case, decades – in the industry. And this interview is no exception to that rule.


SH: Steve, what top tips would you give to aspiring game show or quiz show contestants, do you think?

SM: Going back to what we were saying earlier, I guess I’d say do your homework. I mean, a lot of people would come in saying “I came here with nothing and if I go home with nothing, it’s fine”. But it’s a lot better to come here with nothing and go home with a lot! So, if it’s a general knowledge quiz, read through some books, look at some old shows. Do some homework on British royal families, do some stuff on geography and politics and current affairs. It can’t do you any harm. So many times I heard contestants going “You know what, I wouldn’t normally have got that question, but I was reading the encyclopedia the other day….” So that’s probably the main thing.

The other thing is to have your head around the format of the show. Just so you don’t get flustered or don’t know where it’s going. I would struggle going on The Chase; I still don’t quite understand how The Chase works!

SH: Right.

SM: But again, that just goes back to doing a bit of pre-show homework. And part of your homework is knowing how many questions. I saw many times, contestants on Sale would sit back, thinking, ‘that’s the end of the round’ and then there’d be another question! And suddenly they’d be scrambling to get their hands back on the buzzer. That’s an easy mistake to rectify there.

SH: That’s right.

SM: And with The Price is Right of course, you needed to know the prices of all these supermarket items, and in theory, you could learn all that. As we used to say at the time, “The Price is Right is the show for people not smart enough to get on Sale of the Century!” Which is a harsh way of looking at it. But it was true!

SH: And you’re not in publicity anymore, you say?

SM: (LAUGHING) I was never any good at it.

SH: (LAUGHING) “The show for people not smart enough to get on Sale of the Century!”

SM: (LAUGHING) Yeah, I’ll never know why they didn’t use that in the promo…

SH: Indeed! Well, thanks very much for your time today, Steve. Are you working on anything else at the moment that you’d like to mention?

SM: I’m developing some new show ideas with a director, and developing a new format for one… which, if we do get it up, you’ll be getting a call.

SH: Okay, thanks!

SM: It’s not a panel comedy show, but it does involve performers and very clever performers who can perform all sorts of roles.

SH: … And you’re wondering if I know any?

SM: (LAUGHING) Yeah. Hally knows everybody, he can find us somebody who’s funny!

SH: In my address book, sure. Thanks very much. Beautiful. Well, thank you so much again, Steve. It’s been great.

SM: Oh, please. Anytime. That was fun, actually, going through the old days.

SH: Excellent! Thanks again!

SM: Thank you, Hally, cheers.


And there you have it. Again, I’d like to thank Steve for being so generous with his time, his reminiscences, and his advice! If you’d like to follow him on Twitter (under his alias Sergio Paradise), he’s there, at

And if you’re interested in catching the podcast he does with Titus O’Reily (Titus and Sergio’s Variety Hour), you can find it right HERE.

I’ll see you again soon…


My EXCLUSIVE interview with game show producer Steve Marshall – Part 7

Hello and welcome back. Last week, we left off just as Steve was talking about his stint writing quiz questions for Million Dollar Minute. And if you’re not too familiar with Million Dollar Minute, I’d recommend you take a look at THIS interview I did with one of that show’s biggest winners, Alex Dusek. Of course, since Steve brought it up, I felt I had to ask him the one question I ask all question writers…


SH: What do you think is the secret to writing a good quiz question?

SM: It’s probably no real secret, but every quiz question is just a sentence or question, basically. You want to make sure the clue part doesn’t come in too early, or too late (unless the point is to have quick answers, like in a ‘Fast Money’ segment on Sale of the Century.) But it’s mainly just structured so all three contestants can have an equal go at it. And the better ones will pick up that clue quicker than the others. I guess the most important thing we found on Sale and is that a good question should only have one answer.

SH: Yeah.

SM: We’d have a question meeting before every record; I would sit there with David Poltorak, and we’d do it all the time. If the answer to the question is “London”, what if they say “UK”? What if they say, you know, a specific part of London? Do we need to restructure it so there’s only one answer? The last thing you want is to have a contest say “Actually, I was right on that question. But they wrote it wrong.” So, you have to be very careful in that regard. And in those days, there was no Google or internet.

SH: No.

SM: David – who’d be sitting upstairs in the control room during records – had a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica and about eight dictionaries, maybe the World Book Encyclopedia, there’d be atlases.

SH: Right.

SM: What you’d never want to do is to have the show make a mistake and have to address it and then bring the contestant back for another go. It happened occasionally. Very rarely.

SH: Yes.

SM: That’s a part of behind the scenes that a LOT of work goes into.

SH: And you can spend an hour on one question.

SM: Oh yeah, easily, easily! At which point we’d usually go “why don’t we just ditch it?”. Who was the Prime Minister of Australia in 1963? That’s a straight-up answer.

SH: Sure. Steve, you’ve worked in the industry over so many shows and over so many years, you’d have seen a lot of highs a lot of lows… What common mistakes did you see contestants make?

SM: The biggest one on Sale of the Century was being a smartarse. Because we used to see it, occasionally. We had one contestant – and I’ll certainly not name him – but he was an annoying guy on air and he made smartarse quips and one-liners in between the questions… I used to say to him, “Just pull it back a bit. Just answer the question. People don’t like that.” But the audience would watch Sale of the Century and the ratings would go up if somebody was winning each night… Because the audience loved seeing people win a lot. But they also used to watch when the not-so-likable contestants were on, hoping they’d lose! That was probably the biggest thing, just be yourself and just be pleasant. If you try too hard, sometimes you can make unnecessary mistakes.

SH: And was that annoying person you mentioned there for a long time?

SM: Yes, he won the lot.

SH: Oh, right!

SM: He was that good. But just to show you how annoying he was… he won the Audi which was an amazing navy blue sports car. And about six weeks after his winning episode went to air, I got a call from the guy at Melbourne Audi.

He said, “I’ve got a problem with this contestant – he won’t pick up his car.”

I said, “Why won’t he pick up his car?”

He wants a purple one. I told him, he can have navy-blue, silver, British racing green, black, white… But as far as I know, Audi has never made a purple convertible.”

So, I rang the contestant and said “If you don’t pick up the car by Friday, you’re not going to get it”, which was just pure bluff on my part. Eventually, he picked up his car. But he was an excellent player. Unlikable on air (and off, to a degree) but very good.


Yikes! What a charmer… Of course, I was dying to know the name of that person, but despite all my ham-fisted amateur journalistic probing, Steve never revealed it. He’s too much of a gentleman for that. So we’re just left to speculate… Oh well, maybe next time.

Join me next week for the last instalment of this epic chat, where Steve reveals his TOP TIPS for any aspiring game show contestant. (And they’re great, as you’d expect). Until then, then!

My EXCLUSIVE interview with game show producer Steve Marshall – Part 6

Hello! This week, the conversation takes a bit of a left turn, as we make a detour to peruse the other feathers in Steve’s cap, to examine the other strings to his bow, to check out the other runs on his board…

Well, you get the idea.


SH: It strikes me that there’s been a lot of variety in your career, Steve. Apart from all the game show producing and writing, you’ve also done loads of radio, under your pseudonym ‘Sergio Paradise’... but these days, you’re doing a podcast, aren’t you?

I should perhaps point out that. although this recording artist was indeed the inspiration for Steve Marshall’s radio alias, this is most definitely NOT a picture of Steve Marshall.

SM: Yeah, well, I stumbled across Titus O’Reily on Twitter, who’s made a real name for himself as a sporting satirist. And I sent him a message one day saying, “That’s your funniest line ever”, whatever it was. And he came back and goes, “Oh, that’s great. I used to listen to the Saturday radio shows. We should get together and do something. Why don’t we start a podcast?” Which we did. And we’ve been doing it for about five or six years now… and we even did a live tour. We did seven cities in seven nights.

SH: Fantastic. What’s it called?

SM: It’s called Titus and Sergio’s Variety Hour. We call it that because it rarely runs for an hour and it contains very little variety. We just talk sport, mainly with an AFL angle, whatever’s going on in the world of sport and anything we feel like talking about really, and generally weekly.

SH: And when you toured it around, what sort of venues did you play?

SM: It was small theatres, it was booked through Mushroom Records. The late, great Michael Gudinski started the comedy arm of Mushroom, and they put together this Titus O’Reily tour and they wanted me to tag along. I put together all the visuals and we did 400 seat theatres in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane. We sold out every one.

SH: That’s awesome! Nice work if you can get it!

SM: Yeah.

SH: Just moving back to the game show world… you next popped up on Million Dollar Minute, which must have been around 2013? 2014?

SM: Yeah. A guy who had worked at Grundy’s for many years (who was actually the copywriter on Sale of the Century before me) was the head writer on Million Dollar Minute when Channel 7 was putting that together. And he rang me and said, “We’re looking for question writers. Do you want to do it? You could do it from home and it’s all pretty easy.” Sure, I’m in. It was good.

SH: Was that the first time you’d written questions?

SM: The first time I’d written them. Back in my later years at Sale, I used to program all the questions. I’d deal with guys like David Poltorak and all the other question writers. They would submit X number of questions per week and we’d go through them. And some would be like, ‘I’m never going to use that one’ or ‘That’s too hard – nobody will have ever heard of that person’. But then you have to program them so they don’t get too repetitive, and all that sort of stuff. So, I had a pretty good head for questions. The Million Dollar Minute questions were very similar to the Sale of the Century ones – they were pretty much straight up general knowledge. And we could use more topical subjects and incidents and people…

SH: Well, it wasn’t just the questions that were similar; the whole show was pretty similar to Sale of the Century, just quietly…

SM: Yes, although it lacked a bit of drama, and there was an X factor that always made Sale….

SH: It was good to see a proper quiz show, though. They’ve seemed to have gone the way of the dinosaurs now, apart from The Chase. But The Chase is a bit weighted against the contestants, I find.

SM: Yeah, but I think quiz shows might come back. Everything on TV comes back eventually… just not the same as it used to be. Somebody will devise a new format. I remember when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire came out. The CEO of Grundy’s called me to his office. He said, “Have a look at this show from England!” I thought “Wow – just imagine, you can phone a friend, LIVE while you’re on TV, to get their answer!” It was completely revolutionary, and the million-dollar figure was a really big deal in those days.

SH: Revolutionary.

SM: Yeah, yeah. And that changed how quiz shows work. Yeah, I think for quiz shows to come back again, somebody’s gonna have to come up with something as revolutionary as Millionaire was in its day… I hope somebody does.


So do I, Steve – so do I. Can’t say I see anything like that on the horizon at the moment, but as always, we live in hope. We’ll see you back here next week for the penultimate instalment of this chat, in which Steve and I discuss the art of writing great quiz questions, and one of the biggest mistakes he saw contestants make during his many years behind the scenes at Sale… 

My EXCLUSIVE interview with game show producer Steve Marshall – Part 5

Hello, and welcome back.

When we left off last week, Steve was telling us about his first gig as a fully-fledged producer – the Name That Tune-style game show Keynotes, which replaced Sale of the Century during Sale‘s production break in summer 92/93…


SH: And after producing Keynotes… you went back to Sale, I think?

SM: Yeah.

SH: Which leads me to a very specific question… would you have been there in September 1994, by any chance?

SM: I was. And I did look at that clip on your Facebook page, which features a very young (and-slightly-less-hirsute-on-the-cheek-and-a-bit-more-hair-upstairs) Stephen Hall. But I hate to say this, Hally; that episode didn’t ring too many bells. But I was there at that stage, yeah. I would’ve been the guy chatting to you in the ad breaks and saying “you’re doing well” and “keep it up”, you know.

SH: I’m certainly not surprised you don’t recall that particular episode – over the years you must have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of contestants!

SM: Yeah, yeah, literally hundreds. And three contestants per show, so… but you did get to know some of them. I always say, nobody ever won Sale of the Century through “good luck”; all the winners were good players. (Some more likable than others). And that’s why I asked you earlier if it changed your life because it was a life-changing thing to win such a big wad of cash tax-free, and all those prizes. And generally speaking, most of the contestants were all really great people. And they enjoyed being there.

SH: Did you ever cross paths with Quiz Master Cary Young?

That’s Cary there.

SM: Oh, yeah! Well, Cary had made a name for himself before I got involved, back in the early days of Sale, as one of the big winners. And they used to get him back whenever they had World Championship tournaments, where they’d fly in great quizmasters from the UK, and America, Asia. Cary was always one of the leading players from Australia – probably the best I ever saw. Cary Young used to memorize birth dates and death dates of famous people. So, whenever it came to a ‘Who Am I?” question, they’d go, “I was born in London in 1852 and died in 1886”. Bang, straight away, he’d know who it was. Most other contestants would need a few more clues to work out who that was. Cary also had an innate understanding that when you buzzed in, the host would always get probably two more words out after you buzzed. I mean, Tony would say, “Who is the captain of the Australian -”, Cary would buzz in, and then Tony would say “cricket team”, before saying Cary’s name. Then Cary would answer “Greg Chappell.”

SH: Because after the host says your name, you still have another three seconds.

SM: Yeah, you got three seconds to think about it. Yeah. So, Cary was a master, not only of general knowledge, but also in the technical way he played Sale of the Century. And a lot of the better players had little quirks like that. Because the thing with the Sale of the Century was that you were competing against two other players. So, it wasn’t just a general knowledge quiz, it was also a test of speed as to how quickly you can get the opportunity to answer. And all the good players had that speed.

SH: Yes. When I was speaking to David Poltorak recently, he said he used to watch the show at home and compete against the people on the screen in his lounge. I loved hearing that because that’s exactly what I did, too. And I really believe that gives you such an edge over the people who just turn up to the show going, “Well, you can’t really study for it, can you? It’s just general knowledge…”

SM: And you reaped the rewards, as some of the better players did. But there were plenty of people who thought “I’ll just get up and give it a go”, or “I’ll give it a chance, we’ll see what happens. I might win a new kettle from the gift shop, and I’ve been on telly! That’s a good day’s work!” Whereas the good players like yourself and all the other big winners, there’s a lot more to it than that. They are prepared. It is like training for a marathon or a sporting event.

SH: Yeah.

SM: And the better players all had that brutal competitive edge. They didn’t want to just win the money. I mean, sure – that’s a fantastic byproduct of winning the show! But it was as much for the competition and proving that they were the best player over the course of a week. And again, I liken it to an athlete. You don’t see too many people in the world of sport reach the top without having that killer instinct.


“Killer instinct” – I like it! And Steve’s point is well made; if you’re serious about game show success, you really do need that ruthless, competitive streak. Of course, you can be – and you should be – as pleasant and polite as possible… but there really should be that unshakable confidence, focus and determination bubbling away underneath. That’s certainly something I tried to achieve in my game show adventures, and (unsurprisingly), I highly recommend taking that approach!

Until next Tuesday, this is Stephen “Killer” Hall signing off. 

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

Welcome back.

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

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


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

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

SH: How old were you at this stage?

SM: 29, 30…

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

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

SH: He’s born for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

See you next week!