Unlimited, by Sally Jackson - 5th June 2003
McManus is young and cute with a beautiful girlfriend
and a brand new Gold Logie. He is adored by fans and
doted on by executives at Network Ten, which airs
his tonight show, Rove [Live]. Last week readers of
a Sydney tabloid voted the 29-year-old their choice
as the next governor-general.
spend some time with him and there is no doubt about
McManus's state of mind. Insecure.
is unexpected. But, as any averagely paranoid showbiz
type will tell you, when you have hit the top what
is there left to do but worry about slippery-sliding
to the bottom again? Or, almost as bad, becoming just
middling, like Tim Ferguson?
look at Rove and you can't imagine him being terrified
by anything," comedian and writer Graham Blundell
said recently, contrasting McManus with talk-show
legend Graham Kennedy. But every performer is prey
to doubt. And McManus's success this year has been
enough to test even his preternaturally sprightly
tries hard to stay upbeat about it all. "I thought
my turn [to win the Gold Logie] was a couple of years
away so to have got it so early is great," he
says. But soon the doubts bleed through. "We
just have to see what happens next year. The three
categories we were up for this year we won, so repeating
this performance will be nigh-on impossible, especially
as [rival variety show hosts] Andrew and Shaun and
Effie will also be in the light entertainment category.
It will be interesting to see if we even crack a mention
next year, let alone win. As long as I just get a
nomination, I'll be able to keep my head up."
year a golden boy, next year a nothing? It's hard
to credit. But not for McManus. "You know, people
enjoy what we do now and they're happy to say 'Hurray!
Hurray! for Rove McManus', but I'm not naive enough
to think they'll be saying it forever," he says.
"It's a roller-coaster ride, you ebb and flow.
You'll be popular for a while, then people go, 'We've
had enough of you'."
for a moment the most popular person on Australian
television looks positively despondent.
he shouldn't worry too much. Yes he's young and cute,
but his career decisions indicate he is also clever.
After praising him for his own ability, one industry
source after another mentions McManus's talent for
surrounding himself with good people. Typical is Stephen
Tate, Ten's head of light of entertainment, who describes
McManus as "a combination of an excellent comedian
and a great judge of character with fantastic business
of McManus's people are gathered under one warehouse
roof at Roving Enterprises, the Melbourne-based production
company he formed in early 1999. He was all of 25-and-a-quarter
at the time, but already knew the importance of control.
learnt his craft doing club stand-up in his home town,
Perth, refined it on Melbourne's community television
Channel 31 and perfected it in the commercial crucibles
of networks Nine and Ten.
was while he was making a variety show, The Loft Live,
for Channel 31 (alongside Corinne Grant and Peter
Helliar, who remain core members of his inner circle)
that McManus was talent-spotted by sharp-eyed Nine
executives. One of them was Rory Callaghan, now at
Granada Productions, who immediately recognised his
potential. "Rove was born for TV," he says.
Craig Campbell, then a producer at the network, agrees.
"I knew he was the future of tonight shows,"
Campbell says. "He's warm, he's real, he's a
April 1999 McManus made a pilot for a late-night show
called Rove. At about this time he also formed Roving,
which had four employees: Grant, Helliar and writer
Kynan Barker, who are all still with him, and comedian
Dave Callan. Then, McManus says, Nine left them dangling
for five months and gave funnyman Mick Molloy a show
instead. "They signed Mick and said, 'Well, we
don't need you guys any more'," he says. "Then,
when Mick's show fell over, they came back."
Rove got to air in September that year. It won decent
ratings for its 11pm slot, attracted a loyal following
and went on to win a silver Logie for Most Popular
Light Entertainment Program. But before the Logie
had landed, Rove had ended, lasting only 10 weeks.
McManus says talks with Nine "gradually fell
apart" and that he isn't sure why. Although he
hazards a guess: "They didn't know what they
all occurred in early 2000, which in television years
is so long ago it may as well be the Pleistocene era,
and nobody who was involved, including McManus and
Callaghan, is interested in talking about it now.
But it's worth explaining in order to understand how
Nine came to pass on such a hot property.
sources say that Nine's problem was not with Rove,
or Rove, but Roving. Network executives had been battling
with Daryl Somers and Ernie Carroll over the style
and content of their Hey Hey It's Saturday, which
was nearing its end. By the time McManus came along
they were plain fed up with television personalities
wielding creative control and wanted to keep everything
in-house. But McManus feared they would try to make
him into a game-show host. "The one thing I wanted
was the ability to say no," he says.
not to be made to do anything I didn't want to."
the breach stepped Ten executives John McAlpine and
David Mott, who had no problems dealing with Roving.
Renamed Rove [Live] the show was back on air, on Ten,
in October 2000. McManus is now so much part of Ten
it is hard to imagine it turning out any other way.
personality and the network's personality are closely
aligned - they're both youthful, cheeky, self-deprecating
and comedic," says Tate. "Ten has an excellent
rapport with the 16-to-39 demographic and Rove sits
incredibly well with them." And when he's older?
"I certainly hope he is still with us . . . Rove
doesn't offend an older audience, either." In
industry parlance: "Rove skews broad."
relationship is mutually beneficial. Rove [Live] is
a reliable ratings winner that can pull an audience
ranging from teens to their grans. And for Roving,
hooking up with Ten has seen the business grow tenfold
into a thriving production house employing some 50
people. On its slate so far are three television shows,
Rove [Live], sketch comedy series skitHOUSE and AFL
footy panel show After the Game, all made for Ten.
Roving also produced last year's Australian Record
Industry Awards ceremony for the network, with Rove
hosting, and will do it again this year.
has committed to Rove [Live] until at least the end
of 2004 and last month renewed skitHOUSE for a second
series, which will air later this year. Such contracts
offer a security rare in the television business and
McManus doesn't take it for granted, vividly remembering
the early days of Rove [Live] when Ten would commit
to only 13 episodes at a time. "We'd get to episode
12 and wonder if we should plan a goodbye for next
week," he says.
sidelines are the online merchandising business at
www.rove.com.au (offering logoed $15 coffee mugs,
$20 hats, $35 T-shirts and CD compilations of music
heard on the program) and a weekly radio show, Saturday
Morning Rove, which is syndicated on the top-rating
Austereo network and can be heard in the five mainland
capitals plus Newcastle and on 23 regional stations.
all adds up to a lucrative business. Industry sources
estimate making Rove [Live] would cost at least $100,000
per show, which at 40 shows a year would value the
deal at $4 million a year minimum. They guesstimate
skitHOUSE, which runs for 30 minutes, would cost in
the order of $150,000 per show. With two series of
13 episodes each, that deal would also be worth in
the ballpark of $4 million a year. Then there are
the "add-ons": the ARIAs, the Austereo fee,
the merch and the low-budget After the Game.
told, it's hard to see Roving turning over much less
than $10 million a year. McManus may soon feel as
at home on the cover of BRW as TV Week.
would feel like a fraud," he demurs. "I
sometimes feel like a fraud on the cover of TV Week,
as well. But I'm not a businessman. I've never done
a course. I just make decisions based on what I like
or what I don't like and it has proven to be successful."
As for Roving's future, he agrees "film would
be fun. But at the moment there's no plans for that."
He adds, "Although, initially we didn't have
any plans for anything, so you just never know."
is the face and heart of Roving and, officially, its
director, but it isn't a one-man show. "Rove
has chosen some of the best management and production
people in Australia," says Ten's Tate. His business
partners are the former Nine producer Craig Campbell,
now Roving's executive producer, and Kevin Whyte,
also McManus's manager.
McManus left Nine Campbell quit to go with him, a
brave and savvy move. He oversees all Roving's projects
and has many fans in the industry himself. "He's
a very, very, very, very good producer," says
one senior industry figure. Says McManus: "He's
got an amazing mind for television."
who runs Melbourne-based management agency Token Artists,
does the books and negotiates the deals. "I have
to be across the deal-making side, but most of the
business decisions my business manager comes up with
and runs by me," McManus says.
how tight-knit the Roving world is, of the 16 personalities
managed by Token Artists at least half are members
of the McManus circle. Apart from Rove himself, the
list includes Grant and Helliar, who appear on Rove
[Live] and Saturday Morning Rove. Helliar also hosts
After the Game. Others are radio presenters Greg Fleet
and Wil Anderson and comedians Dave Hughes and Adam
"Go You Big Red Fire Engine" Hills, all
familiar Rove [Live] guests, and comedy group Tripod,
which features on skitHOUSE. (Whyte was holidaying
and unable to be contacted for this article.) Another
key figure is McManus's publicist, Maria Farmer, whose
other clients include Holly Valance, radio duo Merrick
and Rosso (who are managed by Token Artists), Sass
& Bide, Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths and Baz
Luhrmann. And last but not least, and in his life
first, is McManus's girlfriend, actor and singer Belinda
Emmett, who he met at the Fox Studio! s opening party
in late 1999.
McManus is comfortable blending his personal and professional
lives, he emphasises his projects are staffed on the
basis of talent, not mateship. "Even if they
are friends, that's not the reason they get the gig.
They're just people who are incredibly talented,"
though, the bonds among his circle run deep. "It's
more than a working relationship," says Tate.
"There are very genuine friendships there, as
broadcast from Melbourne, this month Rove [Live] went
to Sydney for four shows. On a rainswept Monday night
the 180-strong audience files into Global Studios
in the Epping hinterland and is prepped on the response
to McManus's opening monologue. "If it seems
like he thinks he's funny, laugh," says the warm-up
don't require much coaching. Everyone is ready to
love Rove, and he handles the crowd like a star. But
not a stuck-up star. Instead, he disarms with self-deprecation,
joking that now we'll be able to tell our friends
he is "shorter and more gay-looking" than
show follows a well-oiled formula. The topical opening
routine is followed by ad-lib banter chased by some
set-piece hijinks. A couple of star guests get a once-over
lightly and plug their latest projects. And it's all
rounded off with a song. The format is fast and fun
and the viewers lap it up, in the studio and at home
- that night's show draws almost 1.2 million viewers,
making it one of the 50 most popular shows of the
makes it look easy, but it isn't. His pre-show preparation
is perfectionist and his on-air concentration ferocious.
He's a pro. And while he may doubt his longevity in
this industry, he's one of the few who does. As Callaghan
says: "He's got a great face for TV, a great
head for TV. And he's a fantastic bloke. He'll be
around for a long time."
takes gold - 19th April 2004