Floating on air
Andrew O’Keefe is on a high as The Chase Australia triumphs in the ratings
“EVERYONE wants to be on top,” The Chase Australia’s
host Andrew O’Keefe says, “whether it’s a matter of pride, or the more practical matter of employment.”
O’Keefe knows all about that. In 2013, having spent much of 11 years of his life churning through five shows a day “in front of 150 screaming maniacs” on Deal or No
Deal, Channel Seven pulled the pin. Although Deal had seen off six other challengers, Nine’s rival
Hot Seat had ended up victorious. For 18 months O’Keefe was underemployed, hosting Weekend
Sunrise in Sydney and doing “a few little theatre things”.
Despite not really understanding what The Chase was – or even thinking it’d work – he agreed to host on the advice of his accountant because, “You’ve got to keep the wolves from the door”.
With its first birthday fast approaching, The Chase Australia is dominating the all-important battle of the game shows – 1.3 million viewers tune in some nights, with almost four million Australians watching at least some of the show in any given week. And rather satisfyingly, it’s beating
Hot Seat by 100,000 viewers in the cities and 350,000 nationally.
O’Keefe – suffering jet lag from a trip to Sicily, yet in the middle of recording nine new episodes – says the ratings are nothing short of remarkable.
“That’s really gratifying because it’s very seldom you have a show outside of official prime-time hours that cracks the top 10, and we seem to be doing it with some regularity and outrating a number of marquee shows that are in prime time,” he says.
And those ratings are only set to increase through August thanks to Seven’s decision to run The Chase throughout the Olympics, exposing it to a whole new audience.
“It’s another great opportunity,” O’Keefe says.
“I’ve found most people who’ve viewed it like it and return – it’s a matter of getting them to view it in the first place. Whereas
Deal, as fun and fantastic as it was, simply didn’t appeal to some people. Obviously if you were deeply enamoured of luggage you’d continue to watch!”
Seven’s director of programming Angus Ross says they chose
The Chase as a replacement for the struggling Million Dollar
Minute with one simple goal: to increase ratings for the news. “We thought it’s the perfect mixture of quiz and entertainment,” he says. “We also thought the Final Chase is absolutely riveting and takes you directly into the 6pm news.” The plan has worked: compared with the same time last year, Seven’s news is up 23 per cent in Melbourne, 15 per cent in Sydney and 18 per cent in Brisbane. “The whole slot from 5pm to 6pm has become increasingly important over the years as … audiences are less
rusted on to one news service than another,” O’Keefe says. “So, yeah, it’s a great lead-in and I’m led to believe it’s boosted the news share in all of the markets around Australia.
“And as long as that remains the case, I guess I’ll have a job.”
O’Keefe says he knew the show could be great the first time he met The Chasers: “The Shark” Brydon Coverdale, “The Governess” Anne Hegerty, “Goliath” Matt Parkinson, “The Supernerd” Issa Schultz and recent UK import “The Beast” Mark Labbett.
“I realised what a wonderful, entertaining and incredibly impressive group of people they were and I thought, ‘Well, tally ho – I’m not the star of the show any more’,” he says.
These big personalities are a big part of the appeal.
“As a viewer, you win regardless of who wins the day in the quiz, because it’s just as satisfying to see the extraordinary mental dexterity of those Chasers winning out as it is to see a bunch of gutsy contestants winning out,” O’Keefe says.
The fast pace also helps – the final two minutes can have more questions than an entire episode of Hot Seat.
“In an era when you can google anything in five seconds, I’m not sure it makes sense to tarry too long over any particular question, so we really do keep it moving,” he says.