After the runaway success of True Story with Hamish & Andy season one, Hamish Blake & Andy Lee began to have interviews with US execs, thanks to a deal with Warner Bros. International Television.
But while Australia had embraced the format of bizarre tales brought to life with a comedic tone, it was a different experience overseas.
“‘Hero-ing’ the everyday person and the idea that you don’t have to be famous to have your own bio-pic is something that was really resonating here. But the United States doesn’t buy into that a lot,” explains Lee.
“They buy into how it sounds,” offers Blake. “They were saying ‘Yeah cool. But in reality we cast the people? You don’t really let normal people be on TV! We’ll put that in the marketing, but obviously we’ll get actors!’
“The fact that it was really real, and not marketing-real, was possibly an element that surprised them!”
Thankfully Germany got the concept and is proceeding with its own adaptation. Both Blake and Lee are not planning to intervene too much into the German series they created with Tim Bartley & Ryan Shelton -both of whom form part of production company Radio Karate with the duo. What works in Australia doesn’t necessarily translate verbatim to Germany.
But the fundamentals are the same: the hosts hear a story for the very first time (courtesy of secret-researcher-business), then spend several month scripting it into comedy form and filming as a re-enactment with room for some embellishment.
Re-enactments and comedy also drew some parallels to Drunk History (which some US execs thought was a good thing). As Lee explains that’s where the similarities start and finish.
“It’s about story-listening as much as it is story-telling”
“It’s probably more like Banged Up Abroad where someone is sitting down, first-person telling a story. So there are a lot of documentaries that it’s like, but we’re doing the comedy version,” he continues.
“Yes it has re-enactments! But it’s about story-listening as much as it is story-telling.”
“That’s where we feel the unique-ness lies,” adds Blake. “It’s in the conversation. Re-enactment as a technique is shared by hundreds of shows, and Drunk History is one of them. But it’s a knee-jerk reaction because they are both comedy shows.”
“Quite often they’re people who are reluctant to tell the story”
The duo believe this year’s stories are stronger than the first season. While a call-out on radio & social media elicited some 1500 – 200 stories for 2017, the power of television resulted in over 8000 submissions for 2018, including a lot more older storytellers.
“There’s no-one there where you think ‘You’ve seen this as a chance to perform.’ Quite often they’re people who are reluctant to tell the story, because it’s embarrassing or they’ve been dobbed in,” Blake reveals.
“It’s so Australian. People are going, ‘I’m happy to do this, but I wouldn’t choose to do it. I’m here because I respect a good story, not for any other reason’.”
While the first season drew solid ratings and universally good reviews, for Lee one of its achievements was that people responded to what the show was trying to achieve beyond a 30 minute chuckle.
“People identified aspects of the show that we thought were important: these are people on telly you don’t often see; it has a sense of warmth to it; it’s inclusive; and it really felt like ‘their’ show, not ours. They were the things we wanted to achieve making this show,” he explains.
“The hope was that we could create an environment where someone would come on, perhaps a little bit nervous and unsure, but trusting the joy and fun of telling a good story,” agrees Blake. “Then we have the bones to make great television.”
This season again features a shopping list of performing talent: John Waters, Dan Wyllie. Bruce Spence, Rob Carlton, Rob Sitch, Mark Mitchell, Jane Allsop, Anne Edmonds, Dave Lawson, Stephen Hall, Katrina Milosevic, Kate McCartney, Luke McGregor, Mandy McElhinney, Dave Hughes and on it goes.
While a lot of ‘favours’ were drawn upon in the first season, this year big names -including Essie Davis- were making it known they wanted to appear. But for Blake & Lee it is the storytellers who are the stars.
“There are two in this series that are just unbelievable.”
“I would say there are more surprises this year,” Lee observes.
“There are two in this series that are just unbelievable. The researchers went and did full background checks thinking ‘This can’t happen!’”
“Then they produced the story in the paper with everybody mentioned by name!” adds Blake.
True Story with Hamish & Andy airs 8:40pm Tuesdays on Nine.