Eight years after it began, Gruen remains among the ABC’s highest ratings programs with an average audience of 1.4 million. It returns tonight, a month after the election and Wil Anderson explains how they missed this year’s biggest load of spin.
Where’s home for you now? Realistically my life is in a suitcase. I have a place here in Sydney and I have a place I rent in LA and I duck between the two where the work is. But even when I was back here for a couple of months earlier in the year, you’re on the road.
Why did the The Advertiser in Adelaide reject you for a cadetship as a young man? I graduated first in my course and I was just swanning into these interviews like ‘How much do you want me?’ And The Advertiser were like ‘Not at all, to be honest!’ And they’ve kept that general disinterest in my work throughout my subsequent career as well ...
Gruen had its highest ever ratings during the last two elections — why did you miss the 2016 election? We wanted to. Our entire year was based around it. (But) we didn’t know when it was going to be — Turnbull had said it might be September, so we put five months out of our (work) calendars and then Turnbull called a really, really early election, which wasn’t in those five months. Todd (Sampson) was training with the French Foreign Legion and Russel (Howcroft) was in Cannes. Surprisingly enough out of everyone, for once, I could have made it work.
Did you think of doing Gruen with new panellists? There was some talk, because Todd might have been available for a week or two, (that for) the sake of an election show could we cobble together a bit of a different style panel? But Gruen is one of those shows where it’s very hard to explain why it works. Because we’ve changed the show so much over the years the only real Gruen consistency is myself, Todd and Russel and I felt it wasn’t really a Gruen show if it wasn’t that.
Were you disappointed? I remember being devastated when we resolved we couldn’t do it. (But) we dodged a real bullet because it was so long and so boring and every single minute detail of that election was covered by everybody, so the capacity for us to identify things that were unique would have been an incredible challenge. I couldn’t have been more devastated at the time and I couldn’t be more relieved how it worked out.
And now you’re on during the Olympics, but not as Gruen Sweat. We said should we do Sweat, and risk having the exact same conversations we had four years ago? There are still some really interesting marketing and advertising aspects to the Olympics (this year) so we just thought, let’s just make some Gruen shows and if there’s something interesting to talk about around the Olympics, we’ll talk about it.
Are there any new panellists? I always think the show benefits, even to just provoke Russel and Todd, if there is someone new in the mix.
How do they audition? There’s never anyone on Gruen who hasn’t done a full panel audition or mock show and often more than one. We do four panels of four new guests — we audition 16 new panellists — and out of that process we might find two or three.