Where there’s a Wil . . .
WHEN The Gruen Transfer became one of the ABC’s highest-rating shows of last year, no one was more surprised than host Wil Anderson.
The series, which features industry experts explaining the ins and outs of advertising, averaged more than 1.4 million viewers each week, while its spin-off Gruen Nation became ABC’s highest-rating show for the year and was one of the top 10 shows across all networks in 2010.
‘‘ When we started doing the show I had lunch with Andrew [ Denton, the show’s creator] and he said, ‘ I want to make a show about advertising which gives people the tools to understand it in the same way Frontline gave people the tools to understand current affairs’, and I was like, ‘ Great, fantastic, what else have you got?’,’’ he laughs.
‘‘ We were going to do a show about ads on the ABC, which doesn’t show ads, with people from the advertising industry, not professional entertainers, and I just assumed it would be, at best, a show that filled a void like Media Watch does.
‘‘ Just a little show that people in that industry might look at. I never imagined it would so broadly connect with people.’’
Anderson is still trying to work out why the show has struck such a chord with audiences, but believes part of the reason is its balance of information and humour.
‘‘ I think we invite people into that world where you can come for the dick jokes and stay for the knowledge about how you’re being manipulated in the market,’’ he says.
‘‘ I always say to the advertising guys, ‘ You don’t have to be funny, you don’t have to be entertaining, you just have to be smart and talk about what you know’.’’
Does Anderson feel the pressure to make the show a ratings winner again? ‘‘ Not until you said that,’’ he laughs. ‘‘ I think we’ll try to be less popular because that’s when it goes better.
‘‘ Last year we did a four-week election special [ Gruen Nation] where it was like, not only are we doing a show about ads on the ABC but political ads, and people seemed to respond to that so I think the more non-mainstream we go, hopefully the more people will come.’’
Anderson is playing down the show’s chances of ratings success this year, declaring the days of high audience numbers are over thanks to the expansion of digital TV.
He instead hopes the show is simply well received across its three platforms – ABC1, the repeat on ABC2 and its upload on ABC’s online channel, iview.
‘‘ It’s never been a show that was meant to rate well so I don’t feel like that should be an imperative of what we do,’’ he says.
‘‘ It’s a show with a name that no one understands, with ad guys sitting around talking about the bits of TV shows you normally fast forward through. It’s hardly MasterChef or big event television.’’
Anderson, 37, has had enormous personal success in the past 18 months.
His stand-up show Wilful Misconduct played to sell-out audiences and received a Helpmann Award, he was nominated for a Gold Logie and was named GQ magazine’s media personality of the year.
‘‘ I just feel like this is a good patch. I feel like I’ve got a nice balance in my life,’’ he says.
‘‘ I feel like I do Gruen for enough time that it’s smart and engaging but I don’t get bored with it and I don’t get restless and I still feel I can do the things I want to do.
‘‘ This year I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of overseas travelling as well, which freshens you up because you’re performing in front of audiences who don’t know who you are, so you have to work a lot harder and you have to really have your head down.
‘‘ And I’ve also been able to do really cool little things, like my podcast I do with my mate, that are just the complete opposite of that – so there’s a nice mix.’’