Rove in the spotlight

rove1It was Don Lane who once said he never wanted to meet his guests before his live Tonight show.

As our only viable survivor in the format, Rove McManus takes a similar line. Prior to recording his Sunday night show, the cast run through bullet points of each segment. McManus is careful to avoid detail, for fear of losing an on-camera freshness.

“We get together with the cast before the show and sit down and have dinner as a catch-up,” he told TV Tonight. “Run through on paper what the show’s going to be. Each person will briefly give a bullet-point synopsis of what their segment’s going to be, what they’re going to talk about. No jokes.

“Pete for example will run through what’s in Pete’s Space. But I don’t say ‘fill me in,’ ‘what jokes are you going to make?’ or ‘can I have a look at the footage?’ Because I want to enjoy it as much as anyone else at home would enjoy it.”

The key is in extending a lively chat between friends into a rapport with the audience.

“So then that little conversation invariably rolls into us catching up and shooting the breeze, and then that moves onto the set to become the show, and then you extend that out to the audience in the studio being involved –including before the show, during the ad breaks and after the show as well.

“And hopefully the viewing audience is also included in that. Hopefully there’s not too much in the studio a viewing audience member feels their missing out on. Even things like last week’s Easter egg throwing was generated in the commercial break, but you keep it going as you come back on air and in doing so welcome the viewing audience, and the reason I’m doing this is because….not just out of the blue.”

Rove has become a flagship brand for Network TEN. Since moving from community to television to a brief sting at Nine (where rumours that he was asked to drop his mates were true) it remains one of the few chat shows for international celebrities to spruik their latest films and albums. The show has survived an ambitious move from Tuesdays to Sundays, despite having to contend with a starting time akin to a moving target.

“Even now we record earlier in the evening because we can’t book guests for a show with no timeslot. It changes week to week,” he says matter-of-factly. “You can’t say ‘come and be part of the show…Why, when are you on?… I think 9:30 this week, possibly 10 it depends!’ And with people doing breakfast radio too.”

But with television fame comes the public spotlight. There have been magazine gossip stories, and the pain of having to grieve publicly following the death of wife Belinda Emmett in 2006. McManus stepped away from television, unsure whether he ever wanted to return.

“It was a weird feeling because I wanted to disappear,” he said. “I felt like I had some huge red arrow flashing above my head everywhere I went. And I just did everything in my power to get away. Which is why I went up to Queensland and went walking through the rainforest and shaved my head, just to try and hide. Mourning is a hard thing to go though. It’s a very personal thing to go through and you’re doing it on a very public level.”

Without him realising it, the Australian public rallied behind a favourite television son, with enormous support flowing when he signalled a return to the small screen several months later.

“It felt nice. It was a nice, warm feeling to know that everybody was there and almost allowing me to have my space and to say ‘look when you’re ready, we’re ready.’ And obviously the network had said that.”

McManus admits he was very fortunate to have been given the time out, recognising not everybody in his situation is afforded the same privilege.

“What if you’re a plumber or work at a local milk bar….you lose someone who means something to you? Do you get to take the time off that you need til’ you feel you’re ready to comeback?” he asked.

“Or do you get maybe a week if you’re lucky and then you’re back into it again? And then feeling that awkwardness of people not knowing how to react or comment or feel. If anything I’m actually privileged to have been in that position to have been given a lot more time than anybody else would in that similar situation. It makes you really feel for anyone else who has been through anything even remotely close to that who maybe didn’t have the luxury of freedom that people like myself had.”

And with the scrutiny of personal life, comes the scrutiny of professional work too. Away from the cameras, he strives for privacy.

“I’d like to think that people can understand that what I put there is what I do professionally. If I do something on the show, that crosses a line then I’ll have to weather the storm and you can’t turn around and say ‘oh you’ll have to respect my privacy’ because I don’t think that cuts it. It’s something you said or did in that public forum.

“But what I do behind closed doors or when I’m walking down the street I feel is my own business. And you have people who say ‘oh but you’re a celebrity and you’re in the public eye.'”

Some have even criticised his interviewing style, despite the fact he has admirers in US media for surviving in prime time while they air in late night slots. Turning the tables, McManus baulks at some of the questions he hears as an interview subject. To those who question his interviewing style he reminds them: “You haven’t been asked ‘who’s your favourite guest been?’ a thousand bloody times!

“I say f**k off, really. It’s usually coming from someone who doesn’t like you anyway. Some journo with an acid pen or a blogger who thinks they can do a better job. And I think ‘well I’m still going, our numbers are better than ever and I do what I do the way that I do it.’

“If I think it’s relevant I’ll certainly ask it. I won’t ask something salacious for the sake of it, because often I think that’s more the ego of the person who’s asking the question who wants to say, ‘well I asked them this question!’ And what do you get out of it? A guest who clams up.”

McManus says such criticisms usually come from print media, who have the luxury of deciding what does and doesn’t make their final copy.

“It’s usually print people who will say that because they can ask a question and it can get edited. If they don’t get a response they just don’t write it. The amount of times I’ve spoken to people and called them to task on stuff like that and it doesn’t even make it into the interview….

“Whereas if I bring it up on air, it’s there. From start to finish that’s my full interview. If I ask a stupid question and it gets a stupid answer I lay it out there. I don’t hide behind editing. I don’t hide behind how I will then interpret it when I write my column or edit this package together or whatever it might be.

“If I tried to please everybody that’s out there I’d fail miserably because I do it so subjectively,” he said.

“So I just keep doing what I’m doing and as long as I’m enjoying it then hopefully everyone out there will too. And for the most part that’s the best way to do it.”


  1. awesome article David. I’ve been waiting for this since Rove mentioned it on Twitter. One of the best articles I’ve ever read on your site, and I think it’s awesome to see a “realness” to Rove. Emotion in a interview is always awesome. I’d love to see a full transcript, or if you’ve got a recording of it, it would be awesome to hear!

  2. I must say, I’ve read a lot of these interviews, and David, these are excellent. I’d love to see a full transcript though – questions they didn’t answer, questions they baulked at etc.
    Top work man.
    Meanwhile, Rove is still succeeding in an extremely tough timeslot – 8:30pm Sunday, when (as Rove himself mentioned) is usually on at 11:30 in the US.
    Did you ask him about a possible half-hour nightly show like the Daily Show? I don’t know if it has been green-lighted or just proposed.

  3. Intersting interview. Don’t agree that he is keeping anything ‘fresh’ though. Tired and stale and more and more juvenile each week I would say.

  4. I think Rove stands on its own ast he only show of its type on Aus TV. The interesting part of that is Rove himself is not particularly funny these days. Compare this to Micalef and Mick Molloy who are far more tallented comedians but have had shows cancelled. What makes Rove successfull in my mind is firstly Youth. He is older now but started out in a ballpark of his target demographic. His humor and subject matter was on the money. It still is to an extent. He is clever and schrude. The people he surounds himself are extremely tallented. Pete Hellier, Hamish and Andy, Ryan Shelten and the recent poaching of Dave Hughes. All these people could have there own shows. Together its am effective team and at least one or two of these people is going to make you laph. I cringe sometimes when Rove himself talks. His questions can be a little too stupid for me. I think he is best in those improvisational moments. Those seem further away now as the show is not live and the format has less jumping in swimming pools with Steve Irwin. I am critical of his actual tallent as an entertainer but it is too easy to overlook what he has actually become – an artisan or leader. Roving enterprises , his production company, has had a few hits and some critical success. He wont be pushed around. He is a player. He has an ego. Perhaps his ego stops people telling him he is not funny. Perhaps thats why people laph awkwardly at his jokes. I enjoy him on another level now. He is a creatve force whose own comedic prowess has been compromised with time and success but keeps a show going that is pretty good. A one word name we all know. A man who has suffered great tragedy. A happy public face junxtaposed with the hardball businessman who wants to do things his own way. If he quit tommorrow he has already acheived much, but he wont and who knows what he will surprise us with. That is one thing Rove has – an unpredictability. The show changes around every year or so in format. Shapeshifting. New blood. The ability to change is the shows greatest asset.

  5. I’ve been to Rove’s show a few times and its great how he talks to the audience before the show, during the ad breaks and after the show he still hangs around. He also used to autograph things during the ad breaks that you had bought before the show. He is a great guy.

  6. rove just has a very now style of interviewing, he’s like mc donalds u know, fast quick and leaves you with a bit of indigestion where as someone like parkinson was like an expensive sit down dinner at a fancy resturant, relaxed and you came away with a little bit more knowledge and appreciation of the subject.

    its not a knock its just that is the way of tv now, fast and to be honest pointless a few cheap laughs and off you go. Roves the best at this entertainment.

  7. What a great interview! I really enjoyed it. I really liked what he was saying about it being the ego of the interviewer to ask the “tough” questions and how with print media or a pre-recorded interview they can edit it to suit whereas he can’t. Never thought about it like that before. Well done David!

  8. Great interview and story, David.

    I’m intrigued by what seems to be a now-common assumption on the part of interviewees, though, that blogger=evil. I’ve done several interviews over the past year or so where the words “blog” or “blogger” were uttered in absolute disgust.

    If I was an interview subject, I’d be more worried about the Hun/NW cabal, myself… 🙂

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