Kid­ding around

Rove McManus puts an Aussie spin on his hit pro­duc­tion, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Your Say -

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.’’

Class mas­ter:

Rove McManus with the new class of chil­dren on Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

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