Lifestyle with a lighter touch
IN RECENT years, some of TV's most popular shows have been devoted to travel, cooking and renovations. Getaway turns 20 this month, MasterChef returned last night and The Block is into its fifth series. So the creators of The Living Room had a simple idea: to blend these topics into one show.
''This is a lifestyle show about all the stuff I like,'' the show's anchor, Amanda Keller, says. ''It's not a how-to show. There's Miguel Maestre, our Spanish chef, who won't be telling us how to make paella; he'll be making paella as part of a story. There's Chris Brown, who is doing travel, and whose stories are comedy as much as travel. And there's Barry Du Bois on renovations. Then we're linking it together in the studio, where we sit on big, comfy sofas. Hopefully, there's something there that can make you laugh, and you might learn something.''
The bad news is that the approach has been tried before, in the same timeslot. In 2005, Channel Nine launched Our Place, a Friday-night lifestyle show featuring renovators, foodies and miscellaneous experts. Unable to eat into the audience of Seven's Better Homes and Gardens,Our Place was axed after five weeks.
Holding the key ... Amanda Keller.
Why, then, does Keller think The Living Room will succeed? ''That's the magic question,'' Keller says. ''Better Homes and Gardens is hugely successful. We're not reinventing the wheel, we're just doing a version of that with a lighter, more comedic touch.''
The show's fortunes will largely be determined by its presenters. On paper, it's a formidable foursome. Since her Beyond 2000 days, Keller has become an audience favourite with her quick wit and warm heart. Her ABC TV show Mondo Thingo was short-lived but she is a regular on Talkin' 'bout Your Generation and her radio career thrives. A waxwork replica of her was made recently for Madame Tussauds Sydney.
''I've seen it, which was freaky,'' Keller says. ''I was expecting some sort of shop mannequin, but the minute I saw it there was this surreal recognition and I burst into tears. I still don't know why. That was couple of weeks ago. Maybe the honour overwhelmed me, because there's Dame Edna, and there's Oprah - although she didn't have her head on yet.''
For Brown, The Living Room will mark a big departure. Or rather, many big departures. After four seasons of Bondi Vet, Brown will switch from diagnosing pets to diagnosing destinations. ''Chris is like he's been put together by committee,'' Keller says. ''Chest? Tick. Shoulders? Tick. Brain? Tick. It's all there.''
Du Bois, seen previously on The Renovators, is a builder who retired at 46 to spend more time aboard his yacht. ''Barry is this crazy genius,'' Keller says. ''He's like a building savant, who then liquidated his life to go and live on a boat for six months. But he's discovered he likes making television.
And Miguel is this cheeky, spunky Spanish chef. He's like a wind-up toy.''
Keller has no illusions about TV but feels quietly confident about the show. ''They said they'd let us go till the end of the year. And the first episode probably won't look anything like the last. We'll get the chance to loosen up and tighten things up as we go.
''But there's a certain freedom to it, and we all think the show's good. This is the stuff of life.''
The Living Room
Ten, Fridays, 8pm