When Jenny Brockie took Insight to an audience of Americans last month, there were plenty who wanted to talk. After all, a microphone and a television camera is a badge of honour in the USA. At times, particularly during a forum between young Americans, Brockie was forced to straddle a curious line between host and referee -something that she rarely visits with Australian audiences.
So what are the differences between Australian audiences and Americans? Jenny Brockie spoke to TV Tonight about some clear distinctions.
“They’re great talkers, Americans,” says Brockie. “I think the talk show format for them often equals things like Maury Povich and Oprah. Programmes that are very different to ours. Their concept of a talk show is much more that kind of thing. People yelling and screaming.”
Brockie has been hosting SBS’ Insight since 2001, and this is the fifth year in its current format. The show seeks to cover a broad range of issues including social, political, health, economic and human interest topics. Only twice has the show ventured beyond Aussie shores, once to Indonesia and last month to the US. Brockie found the US forums deeply rewarding, but was just as keen to see what the studio audience felt of the experience.
“I think in a way they were really interested in what we had done with that format, to turn it into a forum for ideas, where people were actually supposed to engage with one another with their ideas. To listen to one another. Talk to one another, in a very different kind of way. And they actually commented on that to me, afterwards. They were really interested in the format.”
Filming in New York City, Insight in America drew upon a cross section of locals, from the wealthy Upper East Side to the Bronx, Harlem, Queens and Staten Island.
“Quite a few of them said to me afterwards they’d never sat in a room with people with such different backgrounds to their own. Even though they all lived in the same city. Which was fascinating for them to all be brought together. They were hearing one another talk about these things whereas they normally didn’t have a forum to do that.
“A couple of time we had to stop and I just had to say to them, ‘we’re not getting anywhere now, nobody can hear any of you.’” she says. “Twelve conversations were breaking out at once, that’s what it seemed like to me. It’s funny, they were very interested in what was going on themselves and at one point an author just said to the room, ‘we’ve gotta actually listen to one another because Australians will just think we’re all like Jerry Springer!’
“Half the time they’re really just trying to talk over one another and dominate. And it’s all very fast, very pacy –people battling to get their point of view in.
“I found it great, I actually loved doing it there. Because they are great talkers. I found it very satisfying, but it was a bit of a wrangling exercise at various stages.”
Brockie says Aussie audiences haven’t been brought up on the same verbal culture s Americans.
“What you get with Australians is more light and shade in terms of the people who are prepared to talk and the people who are more prepared to sit quietly and listen. And you really have to draw people out more, I think. So you have to draw on those skills.
“Your job as a host is more to create an environment where people feel comfortable about telling their stories, and engaging with one another.
“We do culturally have a different approach to speaking up and speaking for ourselves, I think. And there are strengths in the way Australians respond. It’s not by any means a negative to say Australians are not as verbal and not as willing to talk.”
Several years ago a number of our networks were keen to come up with an Aussie-Oprah or Ricki Lake style show. A number of networks filmed pilots but found that studio audiences were reluctant to give their opinion in the same electric way as Americans.
“I do think if you create the right environment people will talk,” says Brockie. “But I don’t think we’ve got as much of a culture of talking as they do over there. That doesn’t mean they have better programmes, though!”
Tonight, Brockie is back on home turf, discussing the topic of ‘Greed.’
“Everybody’s been talking about greed, greed, greed. The Prime Minister’s been mentioning it, all over the world it’s being talked about so we thought we might just take it apart about and find out what that really means. Who’s being greedy? What’s the difference between greed and aspiration? It wasn’t that long ago that we were being told to all aspire to things.”
Brockie was also complimentary about ABC2’s new youth forum show, The Hack Half Hour.
“The more talk the better,” she says.
In fact so unique is the town-hall style format in Australia that Brockie says it made quite an impression on the Americans.
“For a nation that prides itself on talking, they don’t have a show that tosses around substantial ideas, in the kind of format that we do.”
Insight airs 7:30pm tonight on SBS.