Three weeks after retiring from television Andrew Denton took time out to record his oral history with Alec Morgan in the NFSA’s Sydney office. The interview is rich with Andrew’s philosophies and stories. He discusses the importance of daydreaming, risk taking, failing, his techniques for interviewing and seizing opportunities to make a difference to people’s lives.
The conversation travels through Andrew’s early life, with stories about his family and his schooling. His early influences included The Goons, Morecambe and Wise, Dave Allen and Monty Python. He had his pick of religious beliefs – he attended a Jewish kindergarten, Roman Catholic primary school and Church of England secondary school – and left school as an atheist and is now agnostic.
After university Andrew worked at Prudential Life making training videos, where he learned to write, edit, and work with actors. He attended an Australian Writers’ Guild camp where Geoffrey Atherden and Andrew Knight were his group’s mentors. In a roundabout way this led to his involvement in Theatresports and, from there, to a career in television.
Andrew discusses the many television shows he has initiated and hosted including Blah Blah Blah (1988), The Money or the Gun (1989-90) and Live and Sweaty (1991-95). Enough Rope with Andrew Denton became a hit for the ABC and ran from 2003 to 2008. He talks about his meticulous research utilising the skills of a team and his planning for Enough Rope interviews. Andrew was executive producer on The Election Chaser (2001) and CNNNN (2002-03) and, with collaborator Jon Casimir, he developed The Gruen Transfer (2008-current).
The idea for Hungry Beast (2009-11) was provoked by what he saw as the absence of a new generation of television minds. Producing the show in the face of scepticism and low ratings (at a time when the ABC particularly valued ratings) and guiding novice television presenters through their journey was a difficult task. The show ran for three seasons and eventually won awards; more significantly, 17 of the 19 ‘newbies’ have developed careers in television. Hungry Beast remains the television show that Andrew considers his greatest achievement.
In this clip, Andrew talks about his decision to take a risk and become a freelance writer. It was taking part in a comedy-writing workshop that led to his career-changing involvement in Theatresports.
Andrew explains how he prepares for interviewing guests on television, the importance of knowing his material sufficiently to be able to conduct the interview without notes, and how he remembers all the details.
Andrew reflects on the importance of the ABC, the inspiration for Hungry Beast and why he considers it his greatest achievement.
Andrew’s last word on tipping success with a show, and the one group of people that knows what works on television.
Listen to the full interview below: