Nothing’s quite what you’d expect on Channel Seven’s latest prime-time gamble – a game show called The Wall, which premiered on Monday night.
You would expect the Australian version of an international hit (which aims to help “good people transform their lives”) would have been filmed in Australia with an Australian audience.
Ah, no. It was filmed in the Polish capital of Warsaw – the home of one of the three massive sets built to house the four-storey-high monster wall, which decides the fate of the contestants.
In Europe, it’s common for producers to ferry their contestants and hosts to the set rather than re-build it because it’s cheaper.
But this is something of a first for Australia – though Australian shows have been filmed on New Zealand sets before.
Seven flew contestants, 15 crew and host Axle Whitehead to Poland. They rehearsed and filmed two shows a day over a couple of weeks with a largely Polish audience and a few expatriates.
Chrissy and Dez are the “good people” who feature in the first episode. Their one-year-old son, Joshua has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and they need $100,000 for an operation in the US to help him walk.
To win money, they complete quizzes and then hope for luck as they launch balls onto the wall and see which pot of money they land on.
There are more ups and downs than Snakes and Ladders – and a strong element of risk-taking and gambling for the participants. It’s surprisingly exciting and engaging television.
Whitehead said the language barrier added a couple of hours to each day’s shoot because any instructions to the 80 crew on the floor needed interpreting.
And, even though there were English speakers in the audience, they were sometimes bemused by what was going on.
“I’d crack a few gags between takes and they fell flat because they didn’t get what I was saying,” he laughed.
He’s a warm and spontaneous host despite being, on paper, a surprise choice for this show.
His last studio-hosting gig was Video Hits for Channel 10 in 2004. He was forced to resign after exposing himself in a gag that went wrong at the Aria Awards.
But he redeemed himself later as a musician and then as an actor in Seven’s Home and Away and the US drama Shameless, among others.
He admits he was always the “naughty one” growing up in a farming family in Victoria and was diagnosed with ADD as a child.
“I was put on the dreadful Ritalin drug. Shocking, shocking drug. It would turn me into a zombie and I wouldn’t arc up, I wouldn’t show emotions, I would be very well behaved but then it would cause depression.”
He also suffers from a form of Dyslexia, which means he can’t use an autocue – the main prop for a game show host.
“Nothing scares me more than having to cold read in public. I would rather sing naked than read something cold.”
This is the first prime-time game show on Australian television for many years and Seven will hope the balls on The Wall fall the right way with the audience after a string of flops in the second half of this year.