“I think the thing that I value is a combination of an audience’s quest for interesting TV and their laziness to not change channels after Spicks and Specks,” jokes Wil Anderson.
But what is that brings a show about advertising such a loyal audience?
Next week The Gruen Transfer returns for its third season, with a boost to its series output (12 episodes instead of 10) and a much swifter turnaround from shooting to airing.
“I’m not really sure what the secret is,” he says. “I think when we were making this show we tried to make something that we found really interesting. Most of the things that I find really interesting on television nobody watches and they show it at 2:30 in the morning. You know, like The Wire or The West Wing or Six Feet Under or Lost. The only thing that was harder to follow on the plot of Lost was the way Channel Seven programmed Lost.”
Anderson concedes when he started work on the show he wasn’t sure if the show could be broadly popular.
“I was hoping that if we could do the sort of numbers Q&A was doing, sort of 500,000 or 600,000 and it was really interesting show then I think we would have been pretty happy with that,” he says.
“For it to have captured the popular audience the way that it has, it’s still to this day a bit of a mystery to me.
“But I think it’s probably that we try to always keep the balance of letting the advertising people talk about advertising and be smart and then we can do our job to make it into a light entertainment show.”
This year the show is on a seven day turnaround, unlike Season One which had five weeks of episodes in the can before anything went to air.
“We were making this show blind. We had no idea whether people were going to like it or not and we were already half way through the season. This time we have a bit more of a sense of what people have responded to over the first two series and perhaps changing some elements to better serve the areas that people are more interested in.”
Another addition this year is extended discussions online. The Gruen Transfer website has been a singular success story for the ABC, with traffic booming thanks to the lure of interactivity.
“Every single week we’re going to do what we’re calling a Gruen Session which will be just taking one element or one ad. It could be for example that new Australian tourism ad and get the person who made the ad and just sit with them for 20 minutes and talk through what it was like. Making the ad, the criticisms of it, the positives of it, blah, blah, blah. A real in-depth, long form conversation,” says Anderson.
“So we’re almost writing two shows now, but of equal importance, if that makes sense. Instead of running a half hour show we’re kind of running an hour long show but half of it for the television and half of it online.
“In the old days if a TV show had a website it’s normally the shit they cut out of the show, or the behind the scenes or stuff that’s not value-adding. It’s almost like ‘Here’s some shit we didn’t wanna put on the television but we expect you to go and look at it on the website.’
“We’re going to try and take the opposite approach. Here’s some stuff that would be impossible to do on television but is actually kind of awesome and interesting. In a web environment if people do want to sit and watch a 20 minute discussion of one ad then they can do that.”
Anderson likens the success of ABC panel shows to radio-on-television where the mix of people surpasses the content that is being digested. The Gruen Transfer’s Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson are as integral to the success of the series as the host himself.
“Quite often on the commercial channels they get a bunch of people all of whom are in their own right very funny people. But they don’t necessarily know each other or have any have any chemistry together, and so that comes across,” he says.
“Let’s be honest, Spicks and Specks is just a TV pop quiz show. The reason that works is because of Alan, Myf and Adam and the relationship they have with each other.
“People ask if Todd and Russel get along. They get along great off air and I would say they’d probably agree on 90% of things when it comes to advertising. But the 10% they don’t agree on, are at such extreme ends of the spectrum, that it gives us a great point of difference to talk about.”
Anderson, who was nominated for a Gold Logie (even at a time when the show was off air), is often something of a headliner himself. His use of Twitter sometimes gets him into hot water with media, but Anderson dismisses suggestions he is that calculated.
“I normally just say what I think about things and I’m constantly surprised when anyone finds my thoughts controversial. I always assume people think pretty much the same things that I think,” he says.
“I’m always quite surprised when people go ‘Oh that’s a bit outrageous’!’ I’m like, ‘Really?’
“But Gruen is my two months of the year when I play with the grown ups. The rest of the time I tell dick jokes to strangers in bars and that’s my real life. Gruen is when I get invited to the smart kid’s dinner party.
“Gruen is the grown-up me, the other one is the real me I guess.”
The Gruen Transfer returns 9pm Wednesday on ABC1.