When the ABC asked Adam Zwar to deliver a follow-up to Agony Uncles and Agony Aunts he came up with The Agony of Life, a format inspired by the seven stages of man as made famous by William Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
But there was just one problem.
“The ABC don’t have a 7 episode delivery so they asked me to add another stage of life!” he explains.
“So I created the period between 18-22 when you believe you’re Immortal and you don’t believe things will ever go wrong or that you’ll ever die. For most people it’s devoid of hardship.
“Before you actually realise you’re an adult.”
Shakespeare may not be getting any residuals, but in any case Zwar is back to quiz the famous on their experiences and advice, this time merging men and women together under one umbrella.
“The reason why we’ve gone with the boys and girls together is that there’s no reason to separate them any more. Men and women have such different ideas about Love, so it was fine to separate them. But now the show is about Life and we can all share our experiences regardless of gender,” says Zwar.
“The show has evolved. We move along a lot quicker now and the show is brighter, there’s more music and we’ve really honed the format in going from Uncles to Aunts to this.”
Last year’s show won an AACTA Award for Zwar and the format is now generating overseas interest.
Returning before the cameras are Waleed Aly, Lawrence Mooney, Julia Zemiro, Hannah Gadsby, Dave Thornton, Sam Lane, Tom Elliott, Myf Warhurst, Sam Pang, John Elliott, Tim Ross, Mirka Mora, Judith Lucy, and Leah Vandenberg with new guests Dave O’Neill, Yumi Stynes, Shane Jacobson, Kate Langbroek, Stephen Curry and Craig McLachlan.
“The network wanted as many people to watch it as possible so we shied away from writers and academics that we had before and there are probably more ‘telly-centric’ people. Is that a word?
“They’re funny and entertaining people and they’re going to tell you their deepest, darkest secrets.”
Others such as Kick Gurry, Josh Lawson, Brett Tucker were busy but all will remain part of the Agony family.
The contrast between subjects is stark but still they manage to find captivating morsels to impart.
“Judith Lucy is a national treasure,” Zwar admits.
“You can be born hilarious and then you actually have to have the technique of being hilarious and she has both of those things. But she’s also so honest. I just find it a rare commodity these days.
“The nature of the show is that it’s a confessional. That’s the difference between Grumpy Old Men and Agony. Agony is confessional and Grumpy is commentary.
“And where do you get someone like John Elliott? I just got lucky with him and it’s just extraordinary what he says in his double act with his son, Tom.
“One of the questions I asked him was about how you deal with a public scandal and he said some interesting things.
“He talks about the collapse of Elders and his regrets regarding that.”
Yumi Stynes opens up on The Circle comments that created national headlines, Kate Langbroek reflects back on her Panel appearance when she breast-fed her child on air.
Sometimes having a low-budget and a small crew has its advantages, most obviously in gaining the trust of your subjects.
“The camera guy also does the sound so after a while people tend to forget there’s a camera on them. They get very comfortable and we just end up having a nice chat. Sometimes I ring people up and say ‘Are you sure you want to say this?’”
One who let a racy comment survive the edit last year was Glynn Nicholas and a comment about oral sex.
“He came in and had a look at the edit and said ‘yeah that’s fine.’ It was a funny and revealing moment,” Zwar recalls.
Not everyone he approaches ends up in the show. Two he pursued were Jacki Weaver and Ita Buttrose, with the latter even later crossing his path in South Africa over the New Year break.
“We hiked up Table Mountain and at the top of the mountain Ita Buttrose was there. I was too nervous to speak to her,” he laughs.
“I don’t know if she knows who I am but she was standing in line waiting to take the cable car down.
“But it was too late, the interviews had been done and we were deep into the edit. Otherwise if there was still a chance don’t worry I would have put the hard word on her.
“I could have hired a camera in Cape Town!”‘
The Agony of Life airs 9pm Wednesday on ABC1.