“I enjoy the lighter side of things”
The demise of his latest TV show recently made headlines, but as Rove McManus tells Stellar, he’s drawing inspiration – quite literally – from his new career move
The demise of his latest TV show may have made headlines, but an optimistic Rove McManus tells Stellar he remains committed to his small-screen career.
Believe it or not, this year may yet prove to be one of the sweetest in the career of Rove McManus.
Despite the fact he recently endured the disappointment of having his latest TV effort axed after just two airings, McManus has finally fulfilled his dream of becoming a cartoonist. The three-time Gold Logie winner has written and illustrated two children’s books, largely inspired by an adoring relationship with his five-year-old daughter Ruby – a welcome achievement that has helped offset the bad news.
Earlier this month, his variety series Saturday Night Rove was dumped from Network 10’s line-up, with sagging ratings marked as the culprit. McManus has kept a low profile since the axing and even now, when pressed to discuss his feelings on the show’s demise, he declines to say much – though he will say its failure won’t keep him from trying to score another small-screen hit in the future. “TV has been as much a part of my life as drawing,” McManus tells Stellar. “So I’m sure I’ll find myself back there again, too.”
Social media lit up when the news broke – plenty took pot shots at the popular presenter while plenty of others came to his defence. Even some senior figures from rival networks expressed their dismay at the show’s demise, including Michael Pell, the executive producer of Seven Network’s Sunrise, who voiced concern that such a hasty decision could result in fewer attempts at creative live TV shows.
“It surprises me how some people talk about television,” Pell tells Stellar. “In other industries, the ceasing of production is usually met with disappointment; when it comes to TV, so often people applaud an axing if they didn’t like the show. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but often I think people forget these shows represent the livelihoods of hardworking professionals who put everything into their craft. They have families and mortgages like everyone else. And they care. TV is a popularity contest and shows do have to rate to be viable, but if we keep passing judgement so quickly, we can’t really complain when networks are reluctant to take risks.”
Comedian Adam Richard, who got his start with McManus on Channel 31’s The Loft Live, believes the triple-Gold Logie winner had an unwinnable task given his new show was up against The Ashes, NRL and AFL. “The pile-on is just a symptom of the good old Aussie tall-poppy syndrome,” Richard tells Stellar. “I don’t know the ins and outs of what happened, but cancelling a show is not a lightly reached decision. It’s really hard to face snarky internet behaviour when you personally know people who are now going to struggle to pay the rent, having been promised three months of work that turned out to be barely one.
“If Rove’s show had been given the same kind of faith that was given to The Project or Have You Been Paying Attention?,
which also had very meagre ratings when they first started, maybe it could have built an audience.”
But for now McManus, 45, is choosing to stay focused on his new venture, utilising a whole new set of skills: his self-proclaimed mastery of silly voices and (thanks to Ruby) an encyclopaedic knowledge of the My Little Pony universe.
“Nothing makes me sadder than when a child wants to play and a parent says to them not to be so silly, or to calm down,” says McManus of his refusal to chastise his daughter while they are out in public and he attempts to sip a coffee. “Obviously there is a time and a place, but there’s no reason for a child not to be able to play and have fun just because they are at a cafe or at the shops. Why not continue whatever adventure you may have been having
with them in the car while you’re in the cereal aisle?”
There is one place, however, where playtime has its limits – his office, where he keeps a trove of cherished Dr Who figurines, obscure cartoon collectibles and antique toys. “Ruby had a friend over recently and they were in the study, which is understandable because there’s lots of brightly coloured things to look at,” he says. “They were clattering around in there and I heard Ruby say, ‘Now, remember Daddy’s toys are for looking at, not for playing with!’ I have taught her well.”
His collection is the stuff of legend. “I remember when I first met him, hearing him talk about his Pez collection,” recalls friend and colleague Carrie Bickmore of The Project, which is produced by Roving Enterprises, the company that Rove co-owns. “I thought he was joking. Nope, he still has [it], and it’s bigger and better than ever. He sees the small joys and has that same zest for life you see in kids.”
Peter Helliar, another longtime mate from The Project, adds, “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone with so much relentless energy, and he’s able to maintain it, even through tedious production meetings. It’s infectious.”
“I certainly enjoy the playfulness and the lighter side of life, and that has always stood me well for working in the comedy stratosphere,” admits McManus. “It’s also the perfect way into connecting with kids.
“I have never had any hesitation about playing the monster or the superhero, or whatever is required when I’m playing with my daughter. But I was also doing that way before I had my own kid, with my nieces and nephews.”
As a child, Rove says, he was actually quite shy, and spent hours in his bedroom drawing characters to cut out and use in elaborate games. “I’m not a natural performer, but I’ve always enjoyed the escapism of writing and animation.”
His wife, actor Tasma Walton, tells Stellar her husband is always Ruby’s preferred bedtime-story reader. “He can effortlessly create a seemingly limitless range of character voices and will happily ad-lib throughout the book, making the whole process last twice as long,” she says.
This year, McManus has added his own titles to Ruby’s pile of bedtime favourites. Disgusting McGrossface came about after he tried to explain his irritation with litterbugs to Ruby during a trip to the park, while Rocky Lobstar was an idea he initially pitched as a cartoon series to Nickelodeon when he was living in America. And now, with the growing success of Australian animation series such as Bluey, McManus can see potential for the latter to make the jump from the page to the small screen, too. “And,” he laughs, “I could cast myself in the lead role, of course.”
Disgusting McGrossface ($17.99) is out now; Rocky Lobstar: Rocky To The Rescue! ($14.99) is out Tuesday, both via Scholastic Australia.
“I’ve always enjoyed the escapism of writing and animation”
ROVE WEARS Paul Smith suit and shirt, paulsmith.com/au; (opposite) Paul Smith jacket, knit and pants, as before; Calibre shoes, calibre.com.au
(from top) Rove McManus on the set of Saturday Night Rove last month; with wife Tasma Walton in January; with Peter Helliar and Carrie Bickmore at the Logie Awards in 2007.