They’re the yin and the yang, the left and the right, the ‘Margaret and David’ of The Gruen Transfer.
Ad gurus Russel Howcroft (pictured, left) and Todd Sampson (pictured, right) are essential ingredients in making the ABC panel show such a joy to watch. Both love the advertising industry, but view it through completely alternate lenses. When host Wil Anderson poses a question it’s easy to sit back and watch the sparks fly.
And from all accounts, that’s exactly what happened at their most recent shoot.
“Unfortunately Russel and I got into it in the first episode,” admits Sampson.
“I started the season thinking ‘Ok, let’s not fight.’
“But I don’t know, he just jumped straight into it. He baits me a bit, he took a position on Carbon Tax, and he knows it’s a position that I won’t like. Then it’s less about Carbon Tax and more about advertising in general, and we’re off… Ep One!”
Back for its fourth season the show tackles the Gillard Government’s contentious $12m dollar campaign but it let to a volatile discussion.
“I tried to choke myself in the first episode to end the pain. It was pretty full on, but we’ll have to see how it washes up in the edit.
“He sent me a text afterwards saying ‘Good fun, really!’” he laughs.
“It was a challenging episode to start with because Carbon Tax by its nature is a very heated topic and everyone’s position was in keeping the politics out. I’m not interested in communicating my politics. But it’s a heated topic so everyone’s going to jump in.
“It didn’t get personal, but there was one stage where Russel said ‘Advertising is deeply and inherently honest.’ And he says it with such abandon that he baits me into it.
“While I love Advertising, because I’ve been in it for fifteen years, there are aspects of it which are not great. The show is good at exposing all kinds.”
But Sampson insists what you see is what you get, with no coaxing from producers to turn on the fireworks.
“We have no rehearsals, we have no idea what we’re going to say to each other, we only know the topics and the rough flow a couple of hours before the show. So when we get out there that is actually our chemistry. That’s actually how we relate to each other,” he insists.
“Not once has anyone ever given us any guidance. No-one has ever said to us, ‘Why did you guys fight?’ We didn’t even know each other before the show started.”
The first episode of the season the pair are joined by Dee Madigan and Rowan Dean, with the spotlight turned on the latest Coles and Woolworths campaigns. Popular segment The Pitch returns with all challenges having been submitted from the audience.
Later this year Sampson will also appear in the second spin-off, Gruen Planet, which widens the canvas to include PR, marketing and more.
That’s likely to include even more fireworks between Sampson and Howcroft.
“The thing is we both love to do this. That’s why we’re in it but we both enter it from different points of view. I don’t think one is necessarily better, I just think it’s different.”
The Gruen Transfer returns 9pm Wednesday on ABC1.