Grant Denyer’s move from Channel Seven to Ten, where he began his 15-year career as a news reporter, seems precariously timed, given the latter network’s recent financial and ratings troubles.
As the host of Ten’s "re-energised" version of classic game show, Family Feud, Denyer is also taking a punt that the revival works. But a call from his old boss, former Seven news chief Peter Meakin, who took up that role at Ten in February, was enough to convince Denyer that he was up to the challenge.
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Network Ten hope their latest gameshow offering Family Feud will help bring ratings success.
"[Meakin] doesn’t make many bad decisions," Denyer says. "The [Ten] network is trying really hard to turn its fortunes around. It’s exciting to be in a place like that and trying to help achieve that. Obviously, I’m a competitive guy," he says, referencing his side career as a racing-car driver.
At Channel Seven, Denyer has been the go-to man for light-entertainment hosting roles since 2006, when he became the adventurous Sunrise weather reporter, and later host of It Takes Two and Australia’s Got Talent. But it was at Ten, where he was discovered by former producer Adam Boland, recently the subject of ABC’s Australian Story, that Denyer learnt the tools of the television trade.
"Ten was a really good place for me to start," he says. "It allowed me to grow. I made a lot of mistakes but I’ve learnt more from my mistakes in life than I have from my successes."
Based on the current American format, hosted by comedian Steve Harvey, Ten’s new Family Feud will be essentially the same simple quiz that delighted Australian families from 1977 until 1996, where all that is required is a tendency to think like an average person and make the occasional risque remark. It will be brighter and faster, and will include an online interactive component and YouTube clips of answers deemed too smutty for broadcast.
"[Family Feud] is designed as a brief break between the news and intellectual stuff on The Project," Denyer says. "This is the perfect opportunity to whack the brain in neutral and just have a laugh. Whether it’s at someone else’s stupidity, it doesn’t matter. It’s still a laugh. It knows what it is and that’s the beauty of it. It celebrates itself for being nothing but pure simplicity."
Denyer was initially worried that the Australian contestants wouldn’t be able to match the confidence of their American contemporaries, but his fears were allayed during the pilot episode.
"People are a kind of a little bit more in tune and comfortable with being on television maybe than they were the last time this series was on," he says. "A modern audience is a lot more confident in front of the camera and a lot more out-there and that helps us now."
Fremantle producer Pam Barnes, whose credits include In Melbourne Tonight, Hey Hey It’s Saturday and The Circle, says she had her pick of television-savvy contestants from the 25,000 applications received.
"Everyone who knows the game so far has put together really good, fun family members. It is a challenge [casting a whole family], and so far, so good. They work it out who the best four for their particular family are and so far we haven’t had to say, ‘Leave Uncle Bill behind’."
As the eighth in a hosting line-up that includes Tony Barber, Daryl Somers, Sandy Scott, Rob Brough and John Deeks, Denyer makes his trademark joke about his diminutive size, and recalls doing impersonations of Brough around the dinner table. He imitates the show’s famous "ba-bowww" buzzer sound, and asks, "Who doesn’t remember that? The show has a soft spot in everybody’s heart and that means that half the work is done. It doesn’t have to change the world, ratings-wise. Ten isn’t asking too much of it."
Family Feud, Ten, weeknights from Monday, 6pm.