Working Dog’s hit show is going out with a bang after its first year at Channel 7, writes Megan Miller
WORD’S out, and the halls of Victoria University’s Footscray campus are suddenly packed with rubbernecking students eager for a peek at what’s going on in front of the cameras.
Working Dog’s Rob Sitch is directing a scene and Santo Cilauro is scampering for the best vantage points for his hand-held camera.
But that’s not who the students are craning to see.
A sign stuck to an upstairs window that reads ‘‘Hamish, come to L201’’ leaves no doubt.
When radio funnyman Hamish Blake finally emerges, girls giggle and whisper to each other.
When he steps into full view, the giggles turn to peals of laughter because he’s dressed in sweats and a school tie.
The scenario — inspired by the mega-hit US show High School Musical and a dash of dance flick Centre Stage, a personal favourite of Sitch’s — will form part of Thank God You’re Here’s season finale.
Working Dog’s ethos has always been about doing it bigger and bigger or not at all, and the production values on set prove that.
It also reflects the bumped-up budget the show has had to play with since jumping ship from Channel 10 to Channel 7.
The 90-minute finale will feature five guests walking through the blue door rather than the usual four. Joining Blake will be actors Angus Sampson, Toby Truslove and Josh Lawson, and comedian Felicity Ward.
And for this particular prerecorded scene — one of the most ambitious in TGYH’s four-season history — there are more than 100 extras to be wrangled.
About 30 of them are professional dancers, a whirl of fluorescent lycra and Fame-style leg warmers as they rehearse their high-voltage routine before the doors open and the five guests milk the scene for every last drop of comedy.
Blake is loving channelling High School Musical teen heartthrob Zac Efron, who plays basketball star Troy Bolton in the Disney films.
‘‘There’s a scary amount of Efron going on,’’ he says towards the end of the shoot.
‘‘I’m like Efron with curly hair and some muffin-topping happening over my basketball shorts.
‘‘My character’s a bit of a basketball bad boy. It’s also sort of my life, too. I had an NBL ring in the driveway growing up.’’
Blake still has nerves despite being a 10-stint veteran of the show. But the butterflies are a good thing. They help keep the show fresh.
Despite his sketch-comedy show with radio buddy Andy Lee being dumped by Seven in 2004 because of poor ratings, Blake has found success on the small screen as a solo performer. He regularly crosses networks on Ten’s Rove, ABC1’s Spicks and Specks and on TGYH.
He also starred in the first two episodes of the British version of TGYH early last year. One reviewer called him ‘‘a naturally sharp and funny guy’’.
Working Dog’s Jane Kennedy, who does the casting for TGYH, knows the power of Blake’s popularity.
SHE’S also clearly a fan. ‘‘Hamish has a really great ability to bulldust,’’ she says. ‘‘Frighteningly, it comes very naturally to him, but along with a bit of charm, which goes a long way.
‘‘I think his appeal is that, as much as girls love him, guys enjoy him just as much. It helps that he appeals to both sexes. Also, he doesn’t seem to stuff up. We can throw him into any situation.
‘‘The joy on his face is a little scary. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all take up secret dancing lessons after this.’’ Thank God You’re Here, PG Channel 7, tonight, 7.30pm Improvised laughs Duration: 90 minutes
Butterflies: Hamish Blake, channelling Zac Efron with curly hair and some muffin-top, still gets nervous doing TGYH.