Jon Olb: Hitmaker

TV Tonight talks to one man behind three hit shows: Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation, Spicks and Specks and Thank God You're Here.

tbyg2With three hit shows Director Jon Olb has been keeping a frenetic pace lately. But if ever there was truth to ‘making hay while the sun shines’ it’s now. The economic gloom has powered his television gigs, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, Spicks and Specks and Thank God You’re Here.

As Series Director on all three -and on three different networks, no less- he has to be one of the hottest properties in television right now. So while all his shows are firing, Olb’s recent workload has been relentless. He’s lucky all three shows are produced in his home base, Melbourne.

“People want their dose of reality and light entertainment. They don’t want anything too austere or complicated I guess,” he told TV Tonight. “If I was going interstate all the time it would physically be impossible.

“I love what I do. I feel weird when I’m not working. But beyond all of that it sounds like a lot more than it is. Admittedly it’s been a very, very hectic last month.  Depending on what the project is my involvement can be one day a week, or it can be absolutely full on, particularly if I am doing a sketch comedy or something like that.

“For example this week I did Thank God You’re Here, and Talkin’ ‘Your Generation. They’re separate days. And I’ve been doing some commercials in the meantime. Recently when Spicks finished (filming) I did three shows. The week before it was four shows. I think that’s the most I’ve ever done on different shows. And at the end of last year I started off The Biggest Loser.”

Of his three big projects, Olb nominates Spicks as the project that has ‘settled down’ the most, whilst the other two require slightly more massaging.  Next up he is director on SBS’ new history panel show AD / BC hosted by Sam Pang. That elevates Olb to four networks at the same time.

“Sam is the host and there are two panels of two. It’s very Spicks-like again, in as much it is the Spicks and Specks of History. What it doesn’t have is anecdotes about the people themselves. It’s very entertaining and one of the few things I work on where I actually take away a lot of information.”

Each panel will consist of one comedian and one scholar. Olb notes that Tony Martin enjoyed the experience so much he is set to return.

Being so pivotal to the success of light entertainment shows, Olb carries more secrets with him than Fox Mulder. He has to be careful not to be compromised from network to network, particularly when it comes to new formats finding their feet.

“One of the things about being a freelancer is it’s pretty clear, at least in my mind, of the boundaries. I’m very fortunate that the people who employ me can actually see the benefits of me working across many projects. Obviously it gives me a great deal of experience and we all learn from out own mistakes, and others,” he said.

“With Generation v Spicks for example, both parties have been very, very supportive of each others’ shows. It’s a professional environment so they’ll never ask me compromising questions, which I would have to not answer anyway. I guess in employing me they get the experience in similar formats. But I don’t have to give away any trade secrets.”

Olb limits his conversation on rival programmes to content that is actually on air.

“You can say ‘well on another show in a game with a similar dynamic, the host will encourage a certain line of questioning or recap.’ Whatever is going to give you the best comic effect.”

A key to the success of Spicks and Generation is to allow guests the freedom to interact around the gameplay, even if  quite a substantial amount  of footage hits the cutting room floor.

“Thank God You’re Here is the only one of the three shows that is recorded essentially live to tape, as much as possible. The editing attrition rate is not high on that,” he said.

“Working Dog work very hard to install a lot of safety nets for the performers. They do everything they can to make the performer feels comfortable. So in the construction of the scenarios there are lots of checks and balances. If something doesn’t doesn’t work then hopefully something coming along very shortly is a cue that will produce some magic.”

Olb got his break in television as a 22 year old on Fast Forward, attributing his break to the likes of Ted Emery, Andrew Knight, Kevin Carlin and Steve Vizard. His CV is now dotted with familiar shows: Tonight Live with Steve Vizard, The Adventures of Lano & Woodley, Jimeoin, The Panel, Live at the Chapel, The Wedge, Project Runway Australia, Comedy Slapdown, Newstopia plus segments for The Farmer Wants a Wife, Logie Awards, The Footy Show and Australian Idol.

His newest hit, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation was developed by three people, Hilary Innes, Peter Beck and Ros Breden all from Granada, mostly via a series of workshops rather than a traditional pilot.

The show now has broad appeal thanks to its multi-generational panels. Olb reckons all the anecdotal evidence he gets is that families love watching and playing together. He also notes that “it’s not too blue, and there’s plenty for adults to enjoy.

But he acknowledges the biggest appeal of the show to host, Shaun Micallef.

“I know through mutual circles that Hilary (Head of Programming at Granada) had been looking or the right format for Shaun ever since Micallef Tonight. With Peter Beck they had been very intent on trying to lure Shaun,” he said.

“To the best of my knowledge he was the first and only real candidate, assuming he was interested.”

Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation airs 7:30pm Tuesday on TEN
Thank God You’re Here airs 7:30pm Wednesday on Seven
Spicks and Specks airs 8:30pm Wednesday on ABC1.

11 Responses

  1. Appreciate his work however Australias No 1 5:30 game show Deal or No Deal is also woth noting and a credit to Butch Franc. He has come a long way from his footy days playing half forward for Sandy. Slick production Butch.

  2. I like TBYG a lot, but it’s definitely at that awkward stage that Spicks and Specks had in its own first season, where it’s still trying to find its feet.

    I think the guests aren’t sure what the expectations and boundaries are, which causes the occasional mystified pause, and Shaun Micallef isn’t good at dealing with filling in a gap without going completely wacko, which just mystifies the guest even more.

    I, on the other hand, love it when Shaun is at his surreal best.

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