I can only imagine that Wil Anderson unnerves the best of TV Publicists.
He doesn’t hold back with his opinions, letting fly with the barbs and refusing to toe the corporate line.
Yet it’s his candour and his bad boy demeanour that has won him legions of fans via Twitter, stand-up routines or the ever-popular Gruen brands.
For his upcoming Gruen Sweat series on the Olympics, I ask whether he’ll be looking at the way Nine and Foxtel are promoting themselves. Will Gruen, for instance, tackle Foxtel’s viewer contest to replace “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi Oi Oi?”
Nope. Anderson thinks it’s a shit competition.
“I have absolutely no interest in the advertising industry, I’m interested in why we buy what we buy,” he says.
“There’s nothing more boring than the media sitting around talking about the media, in some ways. We’ll be talking about the way things are sold.
“I don’t really give a shit about how Australian television networks market themselves. That would be like going to an orgy and commenting on the flowering arrangement, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve got the Olympic Games, the world’s biggest marketing festival and the biggest athletes and the biggest stories in the world, I could give a f*** what Foxtel do with their advertising.”
Why we buy what we buy is the glue that sticks all Gruen shows together (this is the fourth edition) and the Games has it all.
“The Olympics themselves is one of the most dominant brands in the world and they’re incredibly protective of the brand that no other brand in the world is. We can’t even call them the Gruen Games or Gruen Olympics because of the control they have,” he says.
“A cafe in London had to change their name from the Olympic Café. There was a butcher in London who had sausages in the shape of rings and they made him take them down.
“Then you go down a step to their sponsors and what’s in it for Cadbury or Coke or McDonald’s, the branding exercise for London and Australia, what is our brand? And then you have the individual performers and their own endorsements and the way they can change.
“What we want to do more than anything is be receptive to the things people are talking about. If for example Nick D’Arcy wins a Gold Medal it’s obviously a fascinating story because can you align a sponsor with a guy who is so unpopular? Can you get a product that would actually work with him?
“How much money can you get for a Gold Medal? I guess we will concentrate on those sorts of stories.”
In the 4 episodes, duelling advertising gurus Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson return along with Gruen‘s regular segments. But due to rights limitations there will be limited access to footage from within venues.
“We won’t be able to use much footage but at the same time I don’t really give a shit about footage of the Olympics. We’re only going to be giving a shit about whether Usain Bolt is changing his shoes. I think it was Ryan Bayley at the last Olympics when he won a Gold Medal talked about how much he loved KFC. They’re the moments that I’m going to be interested in,” Anderson insists.
“It’s not a Sports show, it’s about the marketing of the Olympics. Often with these things it just forces you to be more creative. Everybody in the world is going to be talking about the Olympics so we have to find a way of bringing something special to the table.”
Immediately following Gruen Sweat the show resumes with Gruen Planet which now replaces the defunct Gruen Transfer. But the wider landscape allows the show to tackle all of the same topics and more.
“The truth of it is Planet is Transfer, it’s just Transfer on steroids. The ABC f***ed us a little bit last year because they made us do the two shows back to back and that forced us to draw more of a difference between the two shows. But we’ve always seen Planet as the show that Transfer just grew into. It’s the same show but it’s older and it knows more and it wants to talk about more stuff,” he says.
“We had to do the two shows back to back last year which was f***ing ridiculous.
“Now that there is no more Transfer we’ll have much more freedom to incorporate our favourite elements into Planet.
“I thought the last 4 or 5 episodes of Planet were the best things we’ve ever done. Now we come back knowing what we know and we can start fresh.”
This season Gruen returns to the profile 8:30 Wednesday slot, with Randling bumped to 9:15pm. But Anderson is under no illusions that the show will be the answer to ABC’s ratings prayers.
“If anyone thinks Gruen is going to have the sort of ratings it’s had in previous years then they’re kidding themselves. The whole broadcasting industry has changed, as you know better than anybody. Shows are either massive blockbusters or niche lower-rating things. That’s the industry in which we all live now.
“No, we’re definitely not going to be the ABC’s Wednesday night saviour,” he attests.
“This is no-one’s job. This is everybody’s second job. It’s something we do because we think it’s interesting and we try to do things that we think are interesting, and that’s all it is.
“I certainly hope it will be the place where people go to to find out ‘How does this work? What’s with this?” and they’ll come and find the show.
“But the massive problem with ratings is very simple. They measure quantity of audience not quality of audience. There is no rating of how much people like a show. You’d rather rate 200,000 if all of those people felt it was their favourite show than 2 million if none of them thought it was their favourite show. I know which one of those two I’d like to be.”
Gruen Sweat airs 8:30pm Wednesdays on ABC1.