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

Hello, and welcome to the final instalment of my five-part series on my memories of working on Shafted; a short-lived Australian quiz show from early 2002.

Now, look… I am aware that in the previous entries I may not have presented the rosiest of all possible pictures of the whole experience, so I wanted to start this week’s entry by accentuating some of the positives…

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Firstly, I remember being really impressed by the show’s set; it was brilliantly designed by Mark Dyson at Pitch Design, and when all its multi-coloured, computer controlled lighting was fired up and swooping around, it really did look high-end, glamorous and exciting. During rehearsals, when the studio only had the basic worklights on, the set looked surprisingly grey and nondescript. It just goes to show the incredible difference that clever and exciting lighting design and execution can make.

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

And then of course there were the six Dropping Chairs… You see, one of the memorable features of the show was that every time a contestant was eliminated, Red would pull the big lever on his lectern…… and the chair of the unfortunate ex-contestant would drop through the floor! (with the contestant still sitting on it, obviously). You can see examples of this happening in an episode here, at 6:37, 13:20 and 20:49… (Although, I don’t know why the director stays on the close up as the drop begins, and then cuts to the wide shot during the drop; surely the drop would read better if the whole thing were just shown in a wide shot?) During rehearsals, I got to go on set and have a turn in one of the Dropping Chairs. I suspect it was much more fun for me – with nothing at stake – than it would have been for a hapless contestant who’d just been shafted.

And it was while working on Shafted that I first heard of a “technical event”. This is an industry phrase for jazzing something up when it’s essentially pretty static. So the next time you spot pulsing lighting, throbbing music and swooping cameras distracting you from the fact that you’re really just watching a couple of people standing, or sitting, still… you, my friend, have just witnessed a technical event. It’s a way of convincing a viewing audience that there’s so much dynamic movement here! And action! And excitement! When in fact nothing is happening at all. Now that’s what I call marketing.

Auditioning contestants.

Part of my role on Shafted was interviewing and assessing people who wanted to be contestants. We’d assemble them in the studio and ask them a number of general knowledge questions, including a few of Shafted‘s special ‘split questions’, since they were a feature of the show. Those who scored high enough on this test would then proceed to the interview part of the process, where a few members of the production team interviewed them, to make sure they had enough personality and confidence to go on TV. I’ll never forget one of the would-be contestants coming up to be interviewed by me (after she’d passed the general knowledge test), and opening with: “Gee, these questions are stupid, aren’t they? No really they are. They’re stupid, aren’t they? Because how is anyone supposed to get that one right?”

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

Shafted, Part IV: Remembering the Post Turtle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugly. Just ugly.

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

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

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

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

See you then!

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

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

Destination: Shafted!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, yes.

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

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

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

To say the least.

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

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

Red being interviewed on the ‘Shafted’set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be two hours late.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Shafted’? Well, yes we were, as a matter of fact – Part 1 of 5

The ‘Shafted’ title screen. Why is it all lower case? Why is there no capital S? I guess we’ll never know….

Hello, and welcome to my latest Patented HowToWinGameShowsBehind-The-ScenesReminiscence!

And this time, it’s about my tenure as Head Writer on Channel Nine’s short-lived 2002 quiz show… Shafted.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; I was there for the ENTIRE eight weeks. What follows are a few choice behind-the-scenes memories of the whole experience. But first, in case you don’t remember it, here’s a brief introduction to the show…

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Shafted was an adaptation of a brand new format from the powerhouse production company Endemol, that debuted in England in November 2001. Although it was primarily a quiz show, Shafted‘s gameplay also featured contestants betraying each other, and lying to each other, as they competed to be the two finalists facing off in the show’s central dilemma…

SHARE OR SHAFT?

If both finalists choose to SHARE, they split the entire prize pool.

If one finalist SHARES and the other SHAFTS, then the shafting finalist gets the prize pool.

And if both finalists choose to SHAFT, they both walk away empty-handed.

Another unique feature of Shafted‘s format was its use of ‘split questions’. The idea here was that the contestant would hear the first part of the question, and then decide how much of their cash total they were willing to risk for a chance to answer it. (The idea being that the more confident they were of knowing the answer, the more money they’d bet). But the split questions almost always took an unexpected turn. Here are three examples from the show:

Which controversial blue…

(“Place your bets…”)

Which controversial blueprint for the Nazi movement was written by Adolf Hitler in 1924?

 

Manhattan is one of…

(“Place your bets…”)

Manhattan is one of the films by which director?

 

Which major planet…

(“Place your bets…”)

Which major Planet Hollywood investor played the lead in the 2000 remake of Get Carter?

I remember explaining this gimmick to my mum at the time, and as I enthused about how nifty and ingenious these questions were, I also remember the deeply unimpressed look on her face. In retrospect, I think I was probably trying to convince myself of the novelty and cleverness of the format as much as I was trying to convince her.

AND now that I think about it, that ‘split question’ format was the whole ethos of the show in a nutshell; it was deliberately designed to mislead you, to hoodwink you, to take advantage of your trust and your good faith. Hmm.

In commissioning the Australian adaptation of this format, the assumption was that audiences still wanted that mean and nasty vibe of The Weakest Link, which was successful at the time. (The catchphrase “You’ve been shafted!” was intended to be our version of “You are The Weakest Link. Goodbye!”) So it was green lit by Channel Nine and scheduled for 7:00 PM weeknights, as a replacement for $ale of the Century, which, after a 21-year run, had not been renewed for 2002. This show couldn’t have been more different to its predecessor.

You can actually watch an episode of the Australian version of Shafted right here.

I don’t remember all the details of how I got the job, back in late 2001, but I suspect my manager at the time had put me up for it. By this stage, I’d already written for the game show All Star Squares, and I’d also worked on three shows in at Channel Nine – In Melbourne Tonight, Russell Gilbert Live and Russell Gilbert Was Here – so I’d been around the place a bit, and knew a few people in there.

And so it was that, in early 2002, I found myself in an office at Channel Nine with two other question writers – Graeme Rickerby and Chris Ho – writing questions and scripts for the show’s host Red Symons….

My ‘Shafted’ writing credit – blink and you’ll miss it, as the credits go flying past….

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Next week, I move on to the show’s pre-production period, when the dropping of a bombshell makes us fear  the show might be doomed before it even begins…

See you then!

 

* For those of you playing along at home, the answers to the three split questions are: Mein Kampf, Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone. (And THERE’s a combo you don’t see every day…)

It’s Just Not Cricket… it’s a radio interview!

Hello!

I’ve got something a little bit different for you this week…

It’s 16 minutes and 6 seconds of me on the radio, blathering on about game shows!

A few weeks ago, I received a lovely email, out of the blue, from the producer of the radio show It’s Just Not Cricket, on ABC Radio Perth.

Its presenter, the very charming and affable Glynn Greensmith, was doing a special on ‘the tricks of the brain’, and wanted to interview me. I gladly agreed, and you can hear the result right here, at the one-hour mark.

However, in case you’re geoblocked from listening, or in case the above link is no longer working, you can also listen to the interview from its home here at HTWGS…

If you do, I hope you find some value in it!

See you next time.

‘The ConTest’ – Part 2 of 2

Hello, Happy New Year and welcome to the first official post for 2019! And this week, it’s the conclusion of my Patented How To Win Game Shows Reminiscence about my time working on The ConTest in late 2006. 

When I left off last time (which was also last year, as it happens), I’d mentioned that the whole writing process was done remotely, and I’d had exactly zero contact with the show’s two presenters – Andrew G and Brigitte Duclos. And, as I suspected, this would not prove to be ideal…

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In the example episode of the show that I’ve put up on the HowToWinGameShows Facebook page, at the very end, you can see Andrew G having a mild dig at the sign-off I’d written for him “…and that rhymes, so you know it must be true”….

* SIGH * You’re welcome, Andrew. I’d have happily written him something he preferred, had I been given the opportunity. Having said that, it can be tricky reinventing the wheel each week; trying to come up with a catchy (but not repetitive) phrase, in the show’s specific language, to use as a sign-off. In fact, in case you’re interested, here are some of the other “same-but-different” parting words that I wrote:

  • We look forward to seeing you next time, when we’ll Test another six people, to see whose encyclopaedic intellect and enigmatic intentions can score them a guaranteed $50,000, right here on The ConTestGoodnight!
  • We look forward to seeing you next time, when we’ll Test another 6 people, to see whose quick-witted quizzing, brilliant bluffing and successful scheming can score them a guaranteed $50,000, right here on The ConTestGoodnight!
  • We look forward to seeing you next time on The ConTest, where every question we ask is a “Multiple Choice”, and everything the contestants say is a “True or False”! Goodnight! 
  • We look forward to seeing you again soon, here on The ConTest – the $50,000 quiz, where the Superior Players have Ulterior Motives… Goodnight!

At least I managed to score an onscreen credit at the end of the show (which is something you don’t always get). If you’re VERY eagle-eyed, you can spot my rather squashed name at the 43:36 mark, for about half a second, just beneath the names of the three directors’ assistants;

The ConTest went to air in 2007, from February 7th – April 11th, and due to rather average ratings, it was not renewed for a second season. Cést La Vie. I think this was indicative of how people’s taste in game shows had changed by then. The concept of The ConTest depended on people lying to each other, deceiving each other, cheating each other and generally being a bit mean to each other. It came along in the wake of a number of shows of that ilk; The Weakest Link and Shafted* being just two examples. I think the fact that viewers largely rejected the show said something reassuring about the public; that they didn’t see people deceiving each other for money as being great entertainment. I must admit, when watching the show, I often found myself feeling not especially proud of all the deception, conniving and lying we were enabling… It is a slightly unpalatable fact that sometimes game shows aren’t all sweetness and light.  

I’d like to think that the type of game show that rewards deception, conniving and cheating is a thing of the past. We can but hope.

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* For which I also wrote, back in 2002. Sorry everyone. And that also not-always-pleasant-experience will be the subject of an another upcoming PatentedHowToWinGameShowReminiscence post here soon….

‘The ConTest’ – Part 1 of 2

Hello!

Today, I begin my latest Patented How To Win Game Shows Reminiscence, and this time it’s about an oft-forgotten game show from 2007 here in Australia – The ConTest. This was a show where contestants didn’t necessarily need to know any of the answers to the questions being asked; in this format, their bluffing skills were far more important. If you’d like to familiarise yourself with the show, I’ve put a sample episode up here, on the HowToWinGameShows Facebook page.

Maybe you’d like to go and have a look at that. Or maybe you’d like to dive right in. If it’s the latter, then read on, dear reader, read on…

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It was late 2006 when my manager at the time got in touch with me regarding a work opportunity; it seemed there was going to be an Australian version of Ant & Dec’s recent UK game show PokerFace, and they were looking for someone to write the scripts – and questions, if possible – for this local version. I went and met the producer Asif Zubairy (who was a great producer, and a lovely man as well), we had a chat, and I got the gig. 

In working on an adaptation such as this, a lot of the groundwork has already been done. We had access to all the scripts of the original UK version, along with all the questions, and all the tapes of the show so far. The Australian version was to be virtually a carbon copy of the original (albeit with a different title), so my brief was pretty much to make it “the-same-but-different”. This required replacing all of the questions, adding a lot of local references into the scripts and making the banter comfortable for the show’s two hosts: Andrew G (now known as Osher Gunsberg) and Brigitte Duclos

The show was to be an hour long, and 10 episodes had been commissioned, initially. Each of those 10 scripts would need to include 38 questions, broken down like this;

ROUND ONE

8 X hard questions

ROUND TWO

5 X easy questions

ROUND THREE

5 X easy questions

ROUND FOUR

5 X medium questions

ROUND FIVE

5 X hard questions

SPARE ROUND

5 X hard questions + 5 X easy questions

So that’s 380 questions in total.

Oh, and I also had to write a rehearsal episode script and supply 38 questions for that. So that’s 11 scripts and 418 questions, after all. Not counting questions that I would be called upon to replace, moving forward, for whatever reason.

The first thing I did was trawl through all my databases of old trivia questions on my computer. I’d been writing and running pub trivia for years, and so I had quite a few old standard questions which always worked – they were interesting, they were entertaining, and the passage of time hadn’t hurt them. After I’d selected – and in some cases re-jigged – a good number of these, I then started writing questions from the news of the day; going through newspapers, and getting up to speed with what was going on in pop culture at the time. Asif, and the network, would give me notes about the questions; these “Easy” ones are too hard, these “Hard” ones are too easy, these ones aren’t appropriate, these ones aren’t interesting enough, and so on and so on. I then had to tweak these questions, or come up with replacements that they were happy with.  

Here’s my delivery schedule, and the record dates: 

  • Deliver 76 X questions and scripts for Eps 1 & 2 by close of business Wednesday 29/11/06
  • Deliver 76 X questions and scripts for Eps 3 & 4 by COB Friday 01/12/06
  • Deliver 76 X questions and scripts for Eps 5 & 6 by COB Wednesday 06/12/06
  • Deliver 76 X questions and scriptfor Eps 7 & 8 by COB Friday 08/12/06
  • Deliver 76 X questions and scripts for Eps 9 & 10 by COB Wednesday 13/12/06

 

  • Rehearsal in studio in Sydney – Wednesday 13/12/06
  • Rehearsal in studio in Sydney – Thursday 14/12/06
  • Record Episode 1 in studio in Sydney – Friday 15/12/06
  • Record Episodes 2 & 3 in studio in Sydney – Sunday 17/12/06
  • Record Episode 4 in studio in Sydney – Monday 18/12/06
  • Record Episode 5 in studio in Sydney – Tuesday 19/12/06
  • Record Episode 6 in studio in Sydney – Friday 22/12/06
  • Record Episode 7 in studio in Sydney – Friday 05/01/07
  • Record Episodes 8 & 9 in studio in Sydney – Saturday 06/01/07
  • Record Episode 10 in studio in Sydney – Monday 08/01/07

My main recollection of writing The ConTest is that it was all done remotely. I was living in Melbourne at the time, the show was being made in Sydney, and my involvement didn’t extend beyond phone calls and emails to Asif. I was never present at the studio for any of the rehearsals or records, and I had no contact with either Andrew or Brigitte. I don’t recall ever getting any feedback on whether they were happy with the words I was writing for them to say. Feedback would have been handy, though; I’d have liked to have had the opportunity to tweak it more to their taste. I always think TV presenters appear more comfortable and confident when they’ve had input into what they’re saying on camera. I also remember this period as a very busy time; the workload and deadlines ended up being a bit tricky to meet, since I was also fitting this commitment in around my shooting dates for The King. 

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And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. When I return with Part 2, in the new year, I’ll discuss feedback from presenters, show some snippets from the scripts, and look at the general game show trends at the time. Until then, then!

 

Talkin’ ‘Bout Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation – Part V

Hello and welcome to the fifth and final instalment of my recollections of the original incarnation of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation (2009 – 2012).

I thought I’d round out this series with a few random memories, interspersed with some Interesting* Facts**. So here goes….

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One very strong memory from my time writing on the show was of my often standing on the sidelines, feeling frustrated. During record days, as I watched the games unfold, time and time again I’d find myself biting my tongue. Not just as a trivia buff and quiz enthusiast; “How can you NOT know that answer!? That’s such an easy question!?”… but also as a comedy writer and performer; “How can you not go for that gag?! Come on! We set that up for you!!!”  Not that I wanted to be out there on one of the teams… I was just repeatedly staggered by the players’ woeful general knowledge, and disappointed by the joke opportunities they so frequently let slip by. I’d often have to tell myself ‘Let it go, Hally… that’s just the gig…’

INTERESTING FACT: Did you know that “pottery” would be an anagram of “poetry”, if you added an extra “T”?

Another strong memory is the expertly light touch of Executive Producer Peter Beck, who never said “Wouldn’t it be funny if…?” He always just let Shaun, Michael and I write the comedy, never butting in with editorial suggestions. In the past, I’ve worked with some desperately unfunny producers who – despite their total lack of comedy qualifications – feel entitled to make inane suggestion after inane suggestion for the show’s comedy content. Peter Beck was the opposite of that. I’m now working for him again, on Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, and his cheerful, can-do, hands-off-the-comedy approach has also contributed mightily to this show’s success. Grazie Pietro!

INTERESTING FACT: One of the earliest known murals – in the Chauvet Cave in France – is still clearly visible after 32 000 years. And they didn’t even use an undercoat.

I remember the show was successful enough to spawn various items of merchandise, including a board game (which I wrote quite a few questions, and other bits and pieces for)…

An interactive DVD game….

And Michael Ward’s brilliant book; The Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation Book of Everything Ever…

… which is a fantastically funny read, and I recommend that you buy it immediately.

INTERESTING FACT: The stubble on a man’s face known as “five o’clock shadow” can actually appear at any time between 4:15 and 5:30.

My next memory is more personal. Between the third and fourth seasons, I moved to Sydney. The show was still being made in Melbourne, so for a few months, I flew myself down and back each week, staying three nights a week in Melbourne at my Mum’s. I have very fond memories of those times – sitting up late, chatting and watching Bing Crosby & Bob Hope’s Road To… movies with Mum on the nights when I was staying at her place. It was very different to the rest of my domestic life back in Sydney (with my wife and young daughter), but a lot of fun, and I know it made Mum very happy to have me back in the family home again. Of course, I couldn’t have known that she’d be gone just 2 years later. I have TAYG to thank for that precious time with Mum.

INTERESTING FACT: “Bones” was the nickname of Dr McCoy on the 60s TV series Star Trek. The nickname of Captain Kirk was, of course, “Daryl”.

The show finished its first run in 2012 after 80 episodes… but was then revived this year, on a different network! The new version again featured Shaun as its host, but the 3 generations were updated. The Baby Boomers were gone, and the 3 generations for the 2018 version were Generation X, Gen Y and Gen Z. It’s a great reboot; every bit as fun and entertaining as it was the first time round. The team captains are Robyn Butler and Andy Lee (who were both guest players in the original version of the show) and the young actor Laurence Boxhall, who’s quite a discovery. I was invited to work on the new version, but was sadly unavailable, as I had an acting gig at the time (Brigadoon). Otherwise, I would have done it all again in a heartbeat.

INTERESTING FACT:  It’s well known that George Clooney once had a pet pig called Max. But did you know he also has a pet mosquito called Ronald?

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And that’s it for my 5-part TAYG series. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any memories of this show, please do feel free to share them in the ‘Comments’ section below. See you next time, with

* May not technically be interesting.

** May not technically be a fact, either.

Talkin’ ‘Bout ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation’… Part IV

(L-R) Baby Boomers Captain Amanda Keller, host Shaun Micallef, Gen Y Captain Josh Thomas and Generation X Captain Charlie Pickering

Hello, and welcome to the fourth instalment of my patented HowToWinGameShows reminiscence about working on the original incarnation of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation (2009 – 2012).

Here’s the show’s theme, by the way….

… which was composed by Yuri Worontschak. How many different song snippets did you identify in it?

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  • INTERESTING FACT: Despite its name, the average ‘smart car’ has an IQ of just 89, and can’t complete even the most basic Sudoku.

I mentioned last week the joy of writing for the show with Michael Ward and Shaun. Quite apart from the fun of it, along the way, our writing also attracted some professional attention, earning Michael and I an Awgie Award nomination in 2010. Here’s the certificate;

The production kindly paid for our tickets to the event, but Michael and I came away empty-handed, losing to Good News Week. Cést La Vie. The show did pick up a few other awards during its run, though;  

  • The 2010 Logie Award for Most Outstanding Light Entertainment Program
  • The 2010 Logie Award for Most Popular Light Entertainment Program
  • The 2010 Logie Award for Most Popular Presenter (Shaun Micallef)
  • The 2010 AFI Award for Outstanding Achievement in Television Screen Craft (Shaun Micallef)  

And after 8 years, I’m still not entirely sure what that last one means.

  • INTERESTING FACT: Despite their name, most modern irons are made of plastic, aluminium and steel. Which means that although they’re not technically irons, they are technically ironic.

The show also attracted some controversy from time to time, but there’s one example of this that stands out above all others. It was Season 3, episode 5, which aired in March, 2011. This was one of our family-themed episodes, in which,

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