There aren’t many shows on television built around relentlessly mocking your guests, the channel you’re on, and your audience, but then again there aren’t many shows like ABC’s Hard Quiz. Hosted by Tom Gleeson, the show is one of the strongest and most consistent performers when it comes to TV ratings – so the audience can’t mind being laughed at too much.
Mediaweek spoke to Gleeson about how the show is produced, whether it could work on a commercial network, and what it’s like getting a bonus year as the incumbent Gold Logie winner.
Casting Hard Quiz
The Hard Quiz contestants come from all walks of life and often give as good as they get. Gleeson says that the contestants might be the secret to the show’s success, and that selecting them comes down to a science.
“Very early on I got asked ‘do you want to choose the contestants?’ and I thought I’m not going to choose them based on what jokes I may or may not make. Also with a long-running show, I’d eventually go insane.
“I always said to [the producers] ‘just serve me up four people and I’ll see what I can make of them.’
“The original casting producers used to work on MasterChef, so we cast it almost like a reality show. When they apply online they have to pass a quiz just to even get a look in, and then when they come in and audition they compete in the auditions, and so people who have made the cut to get a call up to come in are already pretty smart. After that, it’s kind of a combination of personality and their expert subject as to how we choose them. There’s a bit of a weird science to it.”
Working with Thinkative TV
The production team behind Hard Quiz is Thinkative TV, a partnership between Kevin Whyte, Chris Walker, and Charlie Pickering. Gleeson says that working with Thinkative TV has been great, and it’s with their support that all the mayhem gets broadcast.
“The quiz itself could really be hosted in quite a straight fashion and it would work as a quiz show, but they give me this quiz show and then they allow me to absolutely trash the contestants, the conventions of TV, the ABC, just anyone and anything. Chris Walker, he’ll take all those chaotic moments and put them to air. A lesser producer would say ‘oh I didn’t like it when he was mean to that contestant, we’ll take that out cause we’ll try to make it seem all nice.’ We edit our show in a back-to-front fashion, we take all the bad behaviour and leave that in, and take all the pleasantries out.”
The combination of airing on the ABC and Gleeson having no commercial arrangements or private sponsorships means that Hard Quiz is in a unique position to make fun of anything it wants. Gleeson says that if the offer was there, though, he likes to think the show could work on a commercial network.
“Could it work on commercial TV? If they were starting to edit bits out because I was making fun of Toyota or something, that would be a problem. Having said that, I think commercial networks are smart enough to recognise that Graham Kennedy was very popular because he took the piss out of sponsors. Some people get it. If I paid out Toyota, they’d probably get far more traction out of that than me saying something nice about them.
“The biggest stumbling block is just ad breaks. That’s one of the beauties of the ABC – when you turn on Hard Quiz the tension remains in the show for the full 30 minutes, you don’t go anywhere and it’s far more gripping. Every time you go to an ad break these days you’re just saying goodbye to viewers, and when you’re competing against streaming services I think ad breaks are really, really hard to justify.”
Going up against The Cube
Earlier this year Channel 10 announced that it would be launching The Cube, a game show hosted by Andy Lee in the same prime time slot as Hard Quiz. Gleeson says that he hasn’t watched The Cube, not out of any malice, but because he’s been busy watching something else.
“I haven’t watched The Cube. Not out of any spite for Andy Lee, I like Andy, I think he’s very funny, he’s a very nice chap. I’m just probably watching Netflix. You know what, actually? I would be watching Hard Quiz. I know that sounds ludicrous but because Hard Quiz is recorded ahead of time, and there’s so much ad-libbing and fucking around in the show, by the time it goes to air I can’t remember what happened.
“Sometimes I miss things the contestants say, so when I watch it back at home I’m like ‘man, that person was funnier than I realised.’ Or I play along at home, I play the quiz cause I don’t remember the answers.
“So I haven’t seen The Cube because I’ve been watching Hard Quiz. I’m sure it’s a really good show, but I’ve just been watching other things.”
Winning the Gold Logie
After the 2020 Logie Awards were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gleeson found himself the reigning Gold Logie winner for an extra year. He scooped up the statue in 2019 after a campaign based on mocking the awards, and while he didn’t win in a conventional way, he says it was worth the effort.
“It’s funny, I’ve got all the benefits of incumbency. From a publicity perspective, you couldn’t ask for more, could you? Every time the Logies gets mentioned in the press, they have a big goofy photo of me holding the Gold Logie, so it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
“There were probably a lot of people who had never heard of me before in their life and have a cynical sense of humor who thought ‘that’s pretty funny,’ and then came back and checked out Hard Quiz. I think that might have happened because our ratings have gone up and I’m selling more tickets to my live shows. I think there were a lot of people who might have found out about me for the first time and I reckon it created a lot of new fans. So it’s definitely been worth it.”