needs someone to talk to, by Michael Idato - 3rd July
the end of 1999 the emerging star of the talk
show genre, The Panel, had seen off its competition
- the venerable Midday and the bloated but long-running
Hey! Hey! It's Saturday. "We were the only
live variety show of any description," recalls
The Panel's producer and co-presenter Rob Sitch.
"I don't think I liked that."
should have been more careful about what he wished
for. The failure of Seven's The Chat Room notwithstanding,
this year has seen a talk show renaissance. Rove
Live, launched in 2000, has been joined by Andrew
Denton's Enough Rope, Shaun Micallef's Micallef
Tonight and the Australian clone of The Kumars
at No. 42, Greeks on the Roof, with Mary Coustas
reprising her role as Effie.
all these shows rating at around the million mark,
none is a runaway hit (in terms of potential audience,
Denton's performance on the ABC is the most impressive).
However, the ratings are good enough for all three
newcomers to claim success. And the reason for
that, says Rove executive producer Craig Campbell,
is that each has a main point of difference.
is ad-lib, Andrew is a researched long chat, Effie
and Shaun are scripted; they are all different,"
he says. "And don't forget The Panel, which
is five on one."
the heart of the talk show lies the art of the
interview, which has proved Denton's greatest
strength and Micallef's greatest weakness. ("He's
never been an interviewer prior to this show so
his approach is going to be a bit different to
the others," argues Micallef producer Todd
think Andrew is a wonderful listener," Enough
Rope's Anita Jacoby says. "He listens to
what people say during the interview and he does
a hell of a lot of research beforehand. There
are four or five drafts before he sits down and,
remarkably, he memorises everything."
Noble, executive producer of Greeks on the Roof,
believes his show's format - Effie and family
running a talk show from their rooftop - is the
ace in his hand: "It allows us to have an
interview but to do jokes in a legitimate, good-natured
Live, which appeals to the youngest audience,
is built around Gold Logie winner Rove McManus
and guests promoting albums and movies. "What
you see is what you get," Campbell explains.
"There is nothing contrived or fake about
him - on camera and off camera he is the same
person. His rapport with the guests is genuine."
show, however, is vulnerable to the kind of criticism
that Enough Rope's Jacoby levels at some of her
opposition - that their interviews are simply
think Andrew can get away with asking harder or
deeper questions because he has more time,"
Campbell says. "We are on a six-minute cycle
and in that time we have to get a lot of ground
covered. Sure, the film companies are there to
get something, but we're there for a good interview."
contrast, The Panel was intended as a reinvention
of the tonight show format. "Our show is
more about observations," says Sitch. "It's
not as pumped-up as a traditional tonight show.
Our guest line-up is more along the lines of people
we are interested in speaking to, whereas a traditional
tonight show is more showbiz-oriented."
that chat, all those smiling faces, yet it should
come as no surprise that the jolly genre of talk
TV is anything but. There is enormous pressure
on producers to wrestle decent talent into the
think it's probably fairly well known that there
is some aggressive lobbying for guests going on
out there," Abbott admits. "There are
obviously only a certain number of guests to go
around . . . We all need to find creative solutions
to making sure that the programs do not revolve
around the guests."
argues that Micallef Tonight is not a guest-dependent
format and, given his host's comedic mettle, he's
probably right. "We feel like we're doing
a show that is unique and entertaining and it
does not live or die on the strength of our guests,"
he says. "It's a show about Shaun's view
of the world; we're not trying to do a roll call
of whoever is in town that week."
of the producers we spoke to deny that they have
an exclusivity policy, although many confidently
claim their rivals do. Sitch admits that these
days, with so many similar shows around, he's
conscious of where his guests are appearing, but
says "It's more of an audience thing for
us. If someone is going to be interviewed three
nights running, for the audience's sake we'll
go, 'Perhaps you can have the night off.'
understand why you hear stories of booking wars,
and I am sure there is a bit of that going on
at the moment, but I don't think we're raising
too much dust on that front."
who is? The answer, claim several sources, is
none other than that cheeky talk-show-next-door
flattered to think we might have muscle,"
Campbell laughs, denying the claim. "We never
demand exclusivity." And yet several film
and music industry publicists who schedule interviews
for their talent claim that Rove does.
way, there was much mirth among Rove's competitors
following his exclusive interview with pop singer
Avril Lavigne. It was at best uninteresting, at
worst excruciating. "I'd be asking for a
refund," laughs one producer.
sources suggest that Rove's manager and co-executive
producer, Kevin Whyte, and his publicist, Maria
Farmer, have brought their considerable might
into the equation. Whyte, who owns Token Management,
has a client list that includes Anthony Morgan,
Judith Lucy, Wil Anderson and Merrick and Rosso;
Farmer represents a range of A-list clients including
Miranda Otto, Toni Collette, David Campbell and
how difficult it is to book talent when two of
the biggest agents in the city won't do business
with you because you're competing with one of
their other clients?" says one source.
is an accusation both Whyte and Farmer deny. Whyte
points out that Lucy appeared on Micallef Tonight
last week and McManus himself was on Enough Rope.
David Campbell has been on Micallef, adds Farmer,
Peter O'Brien was on The Fat and Rachel Griffiths
does The Panel whenever she is in town.
at Nine and Seven, meanwhile, ancient rivalries
flared recently when Nine presenter Sam Newman
appeared on Seven's Greeks on the Roof. According
to sources, the deal was that Effie would do Micallef
in return, but Seven reneged. Nine has closed
ranks over the story, prompting Seven to do the
don't remember that part of the deal," says
Greeks producer Kris Noble. "It was much
more to do with the Logies than Micallef. If she
did the Logies, Sam would come on the show; Micallef
was a secondary issue. That is something that
has been added to stir the pot."
producers acknowledge that talent booking is a
tough game. "Ten and Rove obviously feel
at the moment that they have a Logie winner and
think they can push the market," Noble says.
flattering that they think they have to try and
push their weight. If Avril Lavigne is in the
country and Rove says 'You have to come on my
show first', well, there will be a time in the
near future when people will say 'I don't care.'
damaging is the shows' reliance on "cross-promotional"
guests from within the network stable. There was
Home & Away star Tammin Sursok on Greeks on
the Roof, Stingers' Gary Sweet and McLeod's Daughters'
Bridie Carter on Micallef Tonight, and various
Big Brother cast-offs on Rove Live.
practical reality is that a lot of potential guests
in Australia, where our highest-profile entertainment
industry is television, will be television people,"
Abbott says. "The Australian networks are
not keen to let their stars appear on shows on
other networks . . . We have to be honest, that
is going to be an occasional limitation."
is more candid. "We said from day one we'd
have anyone on. We started off with that vibe.
But if you go back the other way, we've almost
forgotten some of the Channel Ten shows. If I
was running a network I'd probably have a different
attitude," he laughs.
Enough Rope with Andrew Denton
Denton: Aussie talk show king
Mediaman: Media News