Sunday, 11 January 2009

So - How DO you get on the telly ?

Those Three Little Questions

Dateline - Thursday 5th January 9pm - Aberavon Rugby Club. The first quiz of the New Year in the rugby club is always compiled and presented by Brian, who has coordinated the quiz since long before I first started taking part 14 years ago. Its always a quiz about the events of the previous year, and my teammates and I have always said that if our Fairy Quizmaster were to magically appear and say to us that we could only win one quiz in the whole year, but we could pick which one it was, this would be the one we'd pick. In 2008 we came second, after winning it for more than a decade, so you can imagine we were a little on edge and keyed up for this one. As it was we needn't have worried. We won fairly comfortably in the end.

I mention this quiz for two reasons. Firstly, Brian gratified a wish I expressed some months ago, namely, that I'd be in a quiz where it would be asked who won the last series of "Mastermind". I'm sure he only did it to gratify my ego, but God bless him, Brian asked it.

That's not the main reason why I mention the quiz though. At the end of the quiz a guest player from one of the other teams, whom I didn't know at all, came up to me. He wanted to talk about Mastermind, and then,very nicely and politely, he asked me the three questions I'm most commonly asked by people who want to speak to me because they've heard about the Mastermind thing. These are : -
1) Have you been on any other TV shows ?
Answer - Yes -
Come and Have a Go If You Think You're Smart Enough
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

2) How did you do ?
Answer -

3) How do you get onto all these shows ?

Its this last question that makes me pause for thought most. You see I have been on 4 different quiz shows, making 7 TV appearances in total, but that's actually not that many compared with a lot of other people I know. So I'm not setting myself up as some kind of expert on this. Still, for what its worth, here are my thoughts on the subject : -

1) Nobody is going to ring you up out of the blue and ask if you would like to go on a particular TV show. You have to go through some kind of application process, which means getting off your backside and doing something. Most people who say that they'd love to go on this show or that show never actually make an application. If you don't apply, you don't get on.

2) Find out how to apply. Do a little research on the internet. Many shows have their own web page which will give you an idea where to write to in order to obtain an application form. Some of them, for example Mastermind, have an online application form as well. Find out where to get one from, and then make sure you do actually send off for the form.

3) Do a little homework. Maybe you're applying for an established show which you already know well. That's fine. But if you're applying for a new show or one you've never seen, try to find out what sort of thing its going to be. Different shows will want different types of contestants. As a rule: -
Big money / Game-type quiz shows - eg. Millionaire - In It To Win It - Weakest Link -
won't really be looking for people with a lot of quiz experience. Your personality will be far more important, in fact, lack of quiz experience will probably go in your favour.
Serious quiz shows - eg. Mastermind, Brain of Britain -
Many very talented and successful quizzers do appear on these shows. However being a first timer won't count against you either. I believe that you do need to demonstrate a certain level of General Knowledge in the audition, but then this is as much to protect potential contestants from making a fool of themselves in quite a traumatic stituation as anything else.

4) Fill in the application form. Be open. Remember that this is your opportunity to sell yourself. Somewhere on the form they'll give you the opportunity to write a little about yourself, hobbies, interests etc.Think of something interesting or unusual about yourself, and shove it down. For example - I usually mention the fact that I have five children. OK, its not the most fascinating fact you've ever heard, but its just a little something which I guess makes me stand out from the majority - and sometimes that's all you need. Maybe, for example, you have an unusual occupation. A taxidermist, for example, has a built in advantage. Anything, really, which would give a researcher something to talk about with you if they give you an audition.

5) At this stage, I should probably add that although you haven't sworn an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on your form, please : -
- especially where it asks you whether you've been on television before. Apart from the obvious dishonesty, some of these forms have little legal clauses against you providing false information. So while you don't have to volunteer any information that they don't ask for, do please answer all the questions honestly.

6) One of two things will happen now. Either you'll get an audition , or you won't. Some shows will send you a polite letter saying that you have been unsuccessful for this series, and some won't even do that. If you don't get an audition, then move on, and start applying for another show.

If you do get invited for an audition, then it means that the production company can see you being a contestant. What they want to know is how will you measure up in the flesh. I don't think that the way you look is hugely important - otherwise how would I have ever found my way onto television ? What I do think is important though is that you show that you can hold a relaxed , chatty and informal conversation with someone you've never met before - the researcher. Nobody will expect you to be able to discourse like David Attenborough on a wide variety of subjects. To be honest it probably doesn't matter if you're talking complete rubbish. So long as you're talking. They need to be convinced that you're not going to clam up before the cameras.
If you want to do a little preparation before you go , though, you might like to think about a couple of things you can talk about. If you're having an audition for an established show, you might like to think about the question - why do you want to go on . . . ( whatever show it is )? Again, your answer isn't all that important - although a little judicious flattery of the show will probably not go amiss - its the fact that you've thought about it at all and have a ready answer which matters. Likewise, you'll possibly get a chance to tell a self deprecating story some time during the audition - for example you could say about the biggest mistake you ever made in a quiz. I have a couple of embarrassing incidents from my teaching career up my sleeve for this purpose.

As a rough rule of thumb, Millionaire - Weakest Link - Eggheads - In It To Win It ( and the other lottery quizzes ) want big personalities who are going on for a bit of a laugh, who won't go all silent, and will have a laugh with the host if the opportunity arises.

Mastermind, Brain of Britain etc. are looking for people who can more than hold their own in a general knowledge quiz, but can also talk confidently about other things as well.

7) If at first you don't succeed . . . Perseverance is a virtue. My audition for the first series of Eggheads was unsuccessful. In the end, that probably wasn't a complete disaster, though. The more you go through the application process, the less daunting it seems. The more auditions you go to , the more relaxed you'll become about the whole process, and the more attractive you'll become as a contestant. Don't give up , and keep applying.

That's really all that I can say. The hardest part is making your first application to a TV show. Then once you've made your first appearance on TV, chances are one of two things will happen. Either it will get it out of your system, or you'll be hooked, and eventually become a serial contestant. Best of luck.

As it happens, they'd rung for closing time before I finished telling him all of this. For which he looked exceedingly grateful.

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