TV NOW is a magazine supplement of The Sun-Herald, Sydney, published by John Fairfax Publications PTY LTD .

WinnerTakes Nothing


ere is a strange but true story. A game show with an arbitary scoring system and no prizes starts on the ABC, looks doomed for the budget-driven chop, is reinstated last minute, becomes a ratings success for the nationaal broadcaster and attracts marquee name guests.

That show is Good News Week , the satirical panel program which won a stay of execution last year after a public outcry.

That loyalty is evident the night TV NOW attends a live recording of the show at the ABC's Gore Hill headquarters. The studio is packed with about 200 people from students to the more traditionl grey-haired ABC viewers, all of whom seem to be enjoying the show in equal measures.

Host Paul McDermott, in a shap suit to match his razor wit, abuses them good-naturedly and they abuse him back. Team leader Mikey Robins is less cutting in his approach, using his generously-proportioned body to great effect as a sight gag. The other team leader, Julie McCrossin, greets the audience like old friends, blowing kisses and waving to regulars.

This was not always the way, according to McDermott, formerly of comedy trio The Doug Anthony All Stars, now working both ends of the day on GNW and Triple J's breakfast program with Robins.

GNW 's troubles started because viewers simply didn't get the format, comprising two panels trying to outwit each other in their analysis of the week's events.

"A lot of people asked, 'How do you have a game show with no prizes? What's the point?'," McDermott says, sitting in Triple J's garishly decorated conference room, having just finished his radio show.

"Viewers were grappling with that because we've been spoon-fed these afternoon programs where if you get a question right, you get a prize. So it's like Pavlov's dog situation. You salivate as soon as you see the kitchenware. We don't have that, it's a bit different."

Once viewers were familiar with the show, fans came out in force. So devoted is the audience, members snap up tickets as soon as they become available as well as sending in contributions for Magazine Mastermind (where players read an obscure magazine and are tested on how much they have absorbed) and Strange But True (where players use props to gues a story from that week's newspapers).

The GNW of 1997 is quite different from the Damocles' Sword version of 1996. For a start, there is a real set, as opposed to what McDermott describes as "three bits of plywood stapled together".

"There is a sense of permanence about it," the 34-year-old says.

And, like many employees of the budget-stricken ABC, McDermott is trying to cement that permanence. Using Bananas In Pyjamas as his economic model, he and his colleagues are planning a merchndising-driven campaign to stay on air.

"The socks, the slioppers, the soft toys the pyjama holders are all coming out this year," he promises.

The next stage of this two-pronged attack is to get Federal Communications Minister Richard Alston on as a guest to convince him of the program's worth.

"There is an open invitation to Richard," McDermott reveals. "He hasn't actually responded in a positive way, as far as I'm aware. Hopefully, he'll be coming on. Richard's a good speaker, great raconteur, has a great sense of humour too."

Strange, yes. But true? Maybe not.

-Rachel Browne

Good News Week airs on the ABC at 8pm on Fridays.

Typed up by ktwong.