Ten years with Rove

Craig Campbell tells TV Tonight it was Rove McManus' warmth and ability to think on his feet that drew him to partner with the young comedian. 10 years later they are still making telly.

rove10Back in the late 90s it was Channel Nine employee Rob Brearley who first brought Rove McManus to the attention of director Craig Campbell.

“Rob saw Rove on Channel 31 and kept leaving me VHS tapes on my desk,” Campbell tells TV Tonight. “And I never got to watch them because of my workload. Finally I put one on and said ‘wow’ and watched another and another.”

That was more than ten years ago. Campbell, who now manages Roving Enterprises with McManus, was working at Channel Nine at the time.

Brearley started in the mailroom at Channel Nine before working as a segment producer on In Melbourne Today. Today he is a producer on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? and a Creative Producer at Roving. He has now been working with Campbell for 22 years. In a business where loyalty is easily traded, it is a measure of both Campbell and McManus that they still have so many long-term allies.

But then, McManus was the man who famously told Nine he wouldn’t dump his on-air sidekicks Peter Helliar, Corrine Grant and Dave Callan. All three return for tonight’s tenth anniversary of Rove, along with Ryan Shelton, Hamish & Andy, Judith Lucy, Kristy Warner, Dave Hughes, Meshel Laurie and Carrie Bickmore.

As the show celebrates ten years on screen (briefly at Nine, and mostly at TEN), Campbell remembers what it was he saw in the young performer.

“His warmth and his ability to think on his feet,” he recalls. “I saw instantly the reactive comedian. At the time I had been working with hosts who were very autocue bound, and probably took the role as actors trying to act the role as TV host. What I saw in Rove was someone who could think instantly and take an idea left or right.

“I thought ‘how cool would that be having someone who could double-think you and you’re double-thinking them?’ So I watched that stuff through until lunchtime and a mate rang me and said ‘I’m in town let’s catch up for a drink?’ But there was one catch. He said, ‘I’ve got to meet this other guy I’ve been working with, do you mind if he joins us for a drink as well?’ I said ‘Who is he?’ and he said ‘A guy called Rove McManus,'” he says.

“I’d just been watching him on tape all morning. The same day.”

More than ten years later, Roving Enterprises now has four shows in production, Rove, Before the Game, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? and The 7PM Project. It has previously produced the ARIA Awards, Skithouse and other projects for Hamish & Andy.

McManus’ first foray into commercial television was a variety show for Nine. But it was short-lived.

“We all ended up doing a pilot early in the following year, and while they were sitting on the pilot, which is about the time Nine signed Mick Molloy and not making a decision, I said to Rove, ‘You know what? If they don’t go with it let’s just get out of here. I believe in it so much that it’s got legs.’

“So at that point I became not the network guy but the Roving guy.”

Nine wanted to retain McManus but not his on air sidekicks.

As Campbell tells it, “Rove just went, ‘Nuh.’

Then the network offered other hosting opportunities in the booming lifestyle genre.

“They had weddings and parties, all these ‘great’ formats they wanted Rove to host. He just kept going ‘No not me, no not me.’ To his credit he kept saying ‘Thanks for the offers but it’s not what I want to do, I’m not here to take the money.’

“We sat out in the wilderness for the best part of 6 to 9 months until we started the show on Channel TEN,” he says.

As Campbell explains, it is important to remember the climate in the late 90’s.

“At the time Hey Hey had been axed, The Midday Show was gone, variety was dead officially –I think that was the headline. And here’s a guy that wants to do a variety show but dressed it up as an ensemble comedy piece. Because they didn’t dare want us to actually have guests come on and talk to them because variety was gone.

These days Roving has over 100 staff to run its four shows. The company sits in the same production realm as Working Dog and Zapruder’s Other Films.

Producing simultaneous television is a constant challenge, including nurturing newer formats such as The 7PM Project. Despite the network’s pledge to stick with the show until the end of the year, and the Roving’s tweaking of the format, there are those who are quick to tear down the show, or even McManus himself.

“I read it a lot on websites and blogs but I’m yet to meet anyone in person who says that,” says Campbell. “But Rove has grown a lot in ten years. When he started he was the guy who had toys on his desk. He was a big kid in a television shop, having a great time. But I think you’ll find Rove‘s grown up now –a lot. Even his style of humour has developed and is more sensitively attuned than ten years ago. So maybe people haven’t come back and sampled him, and have preconceived ideas of what he is.”

With McManus, what you see is what you get, says Campbell. He is guarded on his private life, frequently fodder for women’s magazines, criticised for his interview style, and derided Tall-Poppy-like for being successful.

“Tall Poppy? Yeah. Isn’t that the way?” Campbell poses. “‘Young guy gets successful runs his own company, oh that’s wrong.’

“He’s an incredibly reactive, incredibly generous performer. And to be honest the genuine feedback we get from overseas about Mr. McManus is incredible.

“I read with interest people having a go saying he rips off Leno, or he’s not as good as Dave or whatever. Those people might be very interested to know that there are people from those camps in America that think he’s amazing. People like Jay Leno are a fan. They think he’s got an ability that’s not seen in their country.

“They’re also amazed that he’s survived for 10 years in an environment that isn’t late night, but primetime.”

Rove Turns Ten airs 9:30pm tonight on TEN.

36 Responses

  1. Like the other guy above said:
    “Stealing other talk shows’ segments and jokes has paid off, congratulations.”
    I don’t understand why people think he’s so creative and funny when this is pretty much all he does. Without regulars like Pete and Hamish & Andy the show would be unwatchable.

  2. @Justin Two Minutes At Your Place was always painful. I am glad the “home viewer” element is gone.

    @Dr TV Ryan is clearly the funniest person on Australian TV. I disagree that his support cast used to be better – most of the clips of the originals was from the Channel Nine season in 1999 when it was a very different show. They should certainly do more skits now.

  3. Fantastic episode Rove and team. 10 years in TV land is testament to their determination and success; all of which they deserve.

    Its easy to forget the calibre of talent and stars they have pulled in years gone. What other show in this country can boast that?

    Sensational show guys great stuff!

  4. Congrats Rove.I’m a fan that has watched from day 1 and still love the show today.Watched Rove on Channel 31 all those years ago and remember telling friends at the time this guy is going somewhere if no FTA station picks him up they are crazy.Only one negative comment please get rid of Ryan Shelton,he dos’nt deserve to be on television

  5. All the people saying ‘he’s such a nice guy’ etc have hit the nail on the head as to why he is not as popular as he once was in my opinion – he now tries so hard not to offend anyone and be a vanilla everyman that there is no edge to anything he does.

    I agree his prime was a few years ago and that he really should take a hiatus and retool.

  6. imho… what i picked up from last night was the fact that Rove, the show, was far better in years gone past! it was innovative, and almost not to be missed on a sunday night..

    unfortunately, this is not the case in 2009

    i cracked up at some of the guff from years gone.. especially ms grant, brilliant!

    ryan shelton.. what a yawn, total bore

    Rove, the guy.. sensational 😉

  7. Loved the show last night Rove. Loved seeing all the old cast members back and seeing all the old bits. Hope you get your camera back. Hope we see more episodes Rove. Rove is seriously one of the nicest guys you will ever come across. He deserves his success.

  8. Great special. Thou it did remind me of how the show has lost its edginess and how many great segments that have gone. What The?, Roving with Rove, Tell us where to go and some of the skits like Sex Office. Still, well done Rove on a great 10 years.

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