Eddie has a Hot date
Eddie McGuire is back in the quiz biz and facing a tough ratings battle, writes Darren Devlyn
NOBODY, Eddie McGuire insists, has higher expectations of him than the man himself. Even those who’ve made a sport of criticising the Collingwood president and former Channel 9 chief executive officer (pictured) would have to concede he has a formidable competitive streak.
That will be apparent again on Monday, when McGuire returns to quiz show hosting on Millionaire Hot Seat— a fast-paced revamp of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
McGuire, never one to shy away from a stoush, is going up against Andrew O’Keefe’s Deal or No Deal, which has had a stranglehold on game and quiz show ratings.
While Nine is banking on Hot Seat giving it a strong lead-in to the network’s 6pm news bulletin, there’s also a lot at stake for McGuire, who has made only intermittent appearances on our screens since stepping down from his 15-month stint as Nine boss in 2007.
In 2008, he appeared in some episodes of 1 v 100, interviewed Sam Newman for 60 Minutes and had a week as fill-in host of A Current Affair. This year he has interviewed Greg Norman and Chris Evert for 60 Minutes and hosted Nine’s bushfire appeal.
Hot Seat is a 20-episode run, but looms as an opportunity for McGuire to remind the network, and audiences, he’s the best in the business when it comes to hosting ‘‘event’’ television.
‘‘With Millionaire, you start with the best quiz show that’s ever been on television— it’s the big hitter,’’ McGuire says.
‘‘You don’t want to diminish what the show is. Everything that’s great about the original show is still there. With the new half-hour show, we’ve refined the lifelines and put a time limit on the first 14 questions (leading up to the million-dollar question). Whole new elements come into play. Every night a nice big chunk of cash is going into someone’s pocket.
‘‘There’s an amazing warming to this concept off the back of Slumdog Millionaire (the Oscarwinning movie in which a teenager from Mumbai hits the jackpot on the quiz show).
‘‘I went to the cinema to see the movie. When the Millionaire music came on, everyone jumped.’’
Smiling, McGuire adds; ‘‘I was a bit disappointed when the host turned out to be a prick.’’
A Guide visit to the set of Hot Seat suggests McGuire has cause to be optimistic about the show’s chances of success. While the original Millionaire format was a slow-burn affair that traded heavily on the suspense built by a single contestant’s progress, Hot Seat is an ideal early-evening format because six contestants battle it out at once for the cash. There’s a guaranteed winner each episode.
In order to win $1 million, 15 questions must be answered correctly. Each contestant takes turns in the hot seat answering questions of varying difficulty. Contestants rotate when the competitor in the hot seat opts to pass on a question or answers incorrectly.
Asked how he thinks the show will perform against its opposition, McGuire says: ‘‘I play to win every time. Never, at any stage, am I going to be worried about the opposition. We are backing ourselves in.’’
After leaving the CEO job, a recurrent theme in many media reports about McGuire has been that he’s paid extremely well (quoted as anything from $4 million to $5 million) for someone who has spent so little time on air. Does the constant contract talk annoy him? ‘‘It doesn’t even cross my mind,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s been a lot of things speculated about my contract that in most parts have been wrong.’’
You mean they under-estimate what you earn?
‘‘Yeah,’’ he adds with a laugh. ‘‘They write about it as if it’s after tax.
‘‘Look, I don’t think people (public) care about that stuff, it’s just other people in the media. Contracts are a two-way street. Nobody ever put a gun to anyone’s head to sign a contract. If you have a contract in place it’s because two parties shook hands and believed it was a good deal for both parties. I like working and would have been happy to come back on air straight after finishing as CEO.’’
McGuire must contend with the fact that some in the media have been reluctant to support his recent efforts in TV and will be eager to find fault with Hot Seat.
It’s a reason Nine has been cautious in its management of McGuire because it suspects if it places him in a flawed format there could be a media backlash. McGuire backs Nine’s judgment on this. ‘‘It’s the case in any business,’’ he says. ‘‘Big decisions are not rushed into. If you (a network) think you have people in your organisation who might have greater value than just one show, then you try to make sure you get the right shows for them because if you can get those shows to work they can be massive hits. If a first-timer appears on a show that gets axed after two weeks, no damage. They can go and do Big Brother or something.
‘‘If it is a network star, and that’s not just talking about myself, that’s any of the network stars (decisions should be made with caution). Channel 7, for example, would agonise over putting David Koch into something they weren’t quite sure was right for him.’’
McGuire took on the CEO role six weeks after the death of Nine supremo Kerry Packer in December 2005 and was promised a mandate to boost an ailing production schedule.
Having a realistic crack at rectifying Nine’s ills was always going to be tough. Tough became near-impossible when McGuire learnt his role was not going to be so much about creating new TV product, but implementing savage cost-cutting.
A company restructure — James Packer selling down his interest in Nine to private equity firm CVC Asia Pacific — had a devastating impact on McGuire’s hopes of restoring shattered morale and lifting the network’s production stocks.
He did, however, manage to play a central role in re-invigorating local drama production, commissioning shows including Sea Patrol and Underbelly. Millionaire Hot Seat, PG Channel 9, Monday, 5.30pm Re-invented quiz concept Duration: 30 minutes
EDDIE McGuire was criticised heavily for his management style in Gerald Stone’s (above) book, Channel 9?
McGuire, however, says it’s unlikely he will offer his own book.
‘‘I could write a ripping book about my time as CEO, personalities and all sorts of things, but you don’t do that because you’re in that chair in a privileged position and I believe there are a lot of things that should remain confidential,’’ he says.
‘‘And that’s why I’ve never responded to allegations. With Gerald’s book, I still haven’t read it because I spoke to Gerald about it and he was going at it from a particular point of view.
‘‘That’s OK, Gerald’s a fantastic journalist and he’s been able to do well with his book and it’s been exciting for people outside TV to think these are the things that happened.
‘‘For me, I’m not in any rush to dud people who came into my office when I was CEO and trusted me, with a tell-all.
‘‘I have no intention of turning other people’s lives and stories into a superannuation fund for myself.’’