David Tench

David Tench


The world's most animated host

He's smart, funny, quick on his feet, at ease with the stars and on exceedingly good terms with himself. All the things you might expect in a talk-show host. The difference with David Tench, of course, is that he's a computer animation.

His official biography would have us believe that he's a boy from Echuca who got his big break on TV in the US (hence the accent) and has returned to Australia to "put something back" into the local industry.

In truth, Tench is the brainchild of Andrew Denton, brought into the world by the electronic midwifery of Animal Logic, an Australian firm that has created visual effects for The Matrix: Reloaded, The Lord of the Rings and House of Flying Daggers.

He is also a world first. No one has ever created an animated talk-show host before, much less one who interviews his guests in real time.

"We are so far out there, without help," Denton says. "We have no lifeline, which is very exciting and pretty scary. "It's had a nine-month gestation. It's a baby and there's a lot more that will and can be done with it, but it will also have its flaws."

Tench, however, seems to be taking his first steps with aplomb. His guests, seated before a live audience, see him talking to them in real time on a video screen. Motion-capture technology affixed to the actor who plays him gives Tench an amazing range of facial expressions. Often he says as much with his face and his body language as he does with his preposterous repartee.

At a taping last week, Tench had football star Dwight Yorke and author Matthew Reilly in stitches. Yorke later pronounced him the new [Michael] Parkinson. Reilly happily endured Tench's literary criticism ("Like all Australians, I hate literature. But I love your books.") and confessed that he was pleased to have been interviewed by someone who had done his research.

The identity of the man who plays Tench is a closely guarded secret but Denton is happy to reveal the identities of those who provided the inspiration.

"There is some Gordon Elliott in there, there's some Alan Jones, there's Norman Gunston, there's some Max Headroom, there's some John Tesh, there's dozens of people," Denton says. "He's no one person - he's unique - but there's a lot of people's DNA in him."

That genetic make-up seemingly renders Tench unable to ask anything resembling a serious question.

"What I think is nice for both the audience and the guests is they're being asked to engage in something which they can also just have fun with. There's nothing important riding on it," Denton says.

"Tench is set up to be purely half an hour of fun and entertainment. It has no other pretensions. It is meant to be funny and fun and surprising, beginning and end of story.

"The guests are great and we always want good guests, but the show is about David Tench. It's about a character and he's the character.

"It's a nice thing to see on television - guests actually genuinely laughing and being surprised. We're kind of used to television being predictable, and hopefully if we get the show right you won't be able to predict the guests' responses or the host's attitudes. As a viewer, that's what I seek on television, something that surprises me."

It's a sentiment shared by Ten's programming chief David Mott, who says the decision to go ahead with the show was "hugely risky" but not as risky as not doing it.

"You want to find shows that get people talking about it the next day in the office, chatting on the internet," he says.

"I loved the fact that it was risky television ... You have to be (prepared to take risks) nowadays. You've got to put your balls on the line and go 'You know what? Let's do this.' "

Having made that decision, Mott says he intends to stand by it. No matter what the ratings are, he says, Tench will not go the way of Ten's spectacular reality failure Yasmin's Getting Married, yanked off air this month after just four episodes.

"We are absolutely committed to this show because it deserves a run, it deserves time to breathe so people absolutely understand it, get to know who David Tench is and what the format represents," Mott says.

Tench made a respectable debut in the ratings last week, attracting 1.15 million viewers nationally against Celebrity Survivor (1.2 million for its first half hour).

"In television these days you can't be the least objectionable," Mott says. "That's the easy way out. It's a cop-out.

"You can produce television that's not wallpaper. For that older audience that's satisfied that there's a Getaway or a this or a that there, you'll always get an audience, but the breakouts, the shows that people are really going to talk about, are shows like Tench.

"Part of my philosophy is that we're never going to get it right with everything, but if we don't take the bold moves like this, television won't grow as a medium, won't grow as an industry."

Mott said Tench hadn't been particularly expensive for the network, and that there could be money to be made out of it, as he and Denton are planning on selling the concept overseas.

In the meantime, whether Tench turns out to be a golden-haired boy or a problem child, Mott says he and the other network bigwigs will be keeping their noses out of it.

"What we have here is a group of people who are not only very intelligent, they know television, they know their craft very well, and I'm saying to them, 'Guys, you deliver us the goods.' "

David Tench Tonight screens Thursdays at 8.30pm on Ten. http://www.davidtenchtonight.com


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