Rove McManus puts an Aussie spin on his hit production, writes Colin Vickery
FOLLOWING the likes of Steve Vizard, Don Burke, Daryl Somers and Andrew Denton, Rove McManus realises that real money, and real control, come when you produce shows rather than just perform in them.
The 34- year- old’s Roving Enterprises has an enviable track record — Rove, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?, Before the Game, Real Stories, and Skithouse, as well as the ARIA Music Awards telecasts. Not all have been outright hits, but McManus, on BRW magazine’s rich list with reported annual earnings of $4 million, stacks up well in an industry where one hit in five is considered a decent strike rate.
He also has been instrumental in developing the careers of performers including Hamish and Andy, Peter Helliar, Ryan Shelton and Corinne Grant.
‘‘It’s great when you have the ability to give talented people that first shot or to kick-start their career,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s a very privileged place to be.’’
McManus is clearly settled and happy on and off screen.
He’s contracted to Ten until the end of next year and his relationship with actor Tasma Walton has brought renewed contentment and stability to his personal life.
The prospect of hosting a US late-night show has faded (he was mentioned as a contender to replace Conan O’Brien as host of Late Night with Conan O’Brien), but he seems more than happy to be focusing his efforts on local producing and hosting gigs.
‘‘Next year will be an interesting year for Ten without Big Brother,’’ he says.
‘‘There’s lots of programming holes to be filled and it all can’t come from overseas. I don’t know what else Ten has on the table at the moment, but hopefully we can come up with something to fill one of those holes.’’
McManus has taken carefully planned steps with each new show.
Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? is a calculated move away from conventional variety and offers the chance to work on a format created by reality-TV heavyweight Mark The Apprentice Burnett.
‘‘In the early days there was a lot of unnecessary criticism about the show being an American format,’’ McManus says. ‘‘I was thinking, ‘What’s Idol, what’s 60 Minutes, what’s Family Feud?
‘‘We were never going to just copy the show anyway. We learnt from them and then added our own expertise to make it more accustomed to what Australians are used to seeing. Once the show went to air, I think people could see it was really just a good, fun show.’’
5th Grader has been a solid hit, launching to more than 1.2 million viewers nationally, but the format has been tweaked for series two by McManus and executive producer Sandy Paterson.
‘‘We had a look at where we could freshen it up and we’re in no way embarrassed about that,’’ Paterson says. ‘‘People will notice that it’s pacier, with a greater sense of excitement and suspense.
‘‘We’re giving away more money than before (top prize is $500,000), we’ve brought some celebrities in (including Hamish and Andy, Stephen Curry, RickiLee Coulter and yellow Wiggle Sam Moran) to play for charity, and we’ve chosen contestants who we thought would be smart and challenging — a scientist, lawyer, a fifth-grade teacher, a school principal.’’
McManus has slipped into the hosting role with ease. He admits, though, he is often stumped by some of the questions.
‘‘It’s not the feeling of not knowing the answer, but the worse feeling of, ‘I did know this, I was taught this and I don’t remember it any more’,’’ he says.
‘‘As adults, we have this grand assumption that we know more than kids, but kids have brilliant retention skills so they can surprise you.’’
McMANUS says starting his own production company ‘‘was never about giving myself more and more shows to host’’ and that 5th Grader is ‘‘the exception to the rule’’. Future Roving Enterprises shows are set to centre around other stars.
‘‘There’s plenty of room to branch out and do other things,’’ he says.
‘‘We’ve really only scratched the surface. I’d like the company to remain healthy and keep producing entertaining shows that allow new and talented people to get their faces out there.’’
Rove McManus with the new class of children on Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?