Test - 5th January 2004 (Credit:
Sydney Morning Herald)
There it is, tucked above a
listing for a "business consultant and clairvoyant"
and another for "a course in lucid dreaming".
It's an advertisement as brief as it is unassuming.
"Presenters Course," it proclaims, with
the brazen implication that apostrophes are redundant
in a visual medium. "Learn from the best the
industry has to offer."
dial the number. "It's a course to teach you
the basics of being a TV presenter. It runs for six
weeks from this Tuesday night."
me in. Reading an auto-cue? Hardly rocket science.
Being sent to exotic locations? Bring it on. Making
a fool of myself on camera? Embarrassment is my middle
name. Talking with "authority" on subjects
of which I know nothing? Hey, I'm a journalist.
at the appointed hour, I arrive at an inconspicuous
you're Sacha?" says Di Smith, the diminutive,
vivacious redhead best known as a presenter on Seven's
The Great Outdoors. Smith is teaching the course.
thought Sacha was a girl," she says. Yep, I get
that a lot. Especially from my wife.
notice I am the only male in a class of eight.
would be a great course for single men. Or gay women.
gives us a handout. "Presenting uses all the
skills required of the actor, some of the journalist,
some of the stand-up comedian and some of the surgeon
juggling a power tool while whisking an egg-white
meringue before the lava flow behind him reaches the
camera tripod," the handout says. "Welcome
to the world of thinking on your feet."
right, how hard can it be?
later, I am about to faint. Or throw up. Or both.
to make my first attempt as a presenter, my heart
beats loudly and disturbingly. Like a Phil Collins
haven't felt this nervous since I interviewed Haley
Joel Osment. (He's just scary, OK?)
an introductory assignment, we are instructed to write
a short piece about ourselves and present it to camera.
easy, especially given the subject is my favourite.
(Me.) But, as my debut nears, the doubts grow. I am
going to have to take off my jacket because I'm sweating
so much," a classmate says.
is my script: "Verbose? Moi? Well, yes, but mainly
because I get paid to be. I work as a writer at The
Sydney Morning Herald, and I have three modest ambitions:
to write a novel; to be a TV star; and to win a gold
medal in shot-put at the Athens Olympics."
the camera rolls, here is what I say: "Angary
everyone assures me I made perfect sense. I soon realise
this is a pleasantly supportive environment.
also realise, now that my first take is in the can,
that my nerves have been replaced by a sense of elation.
This may not be as easy as I'd thought, but it's fun.
move straight to our second exercise: presenting a
segment for a children's show. "Action,"
Smith says from behind the video camera.
tall," I say to the camera, enunciating clearly
as I read from a kid's book. "We are all small.
All ball. We all play ball." At least this time
I'm making perfect sense.
sense, that is, until Gertrude - a finger puppet that
looks like a rare species of platypus found only in
Chernobyl - lets me down. Operated by my right hand,
Gertrude is supposed to turn the pages. Unfortunately,
her little puppet claws can't grip the paper.
Gertrude and I fumble, the awkwardness continues for
seconds, which feel like hours. Like a Phil Collins
the page is turned, but by now young viewers would
have had enough time to learn how to read, make themselves
a toasted sandwich and a cup of hot milk, and methodically
make their way to the end of the book for themselves.
were great," my classmates say afterwards. They're
lying but I love them for it.
first rule of being a presenter is you have to learn
to cope when you make an arse of yourself," Smith
says. OK, I'll put this down to a learning experience,
just like the time I was blazing at 110 kmh on the
freeway and put the car into reverse.
we watch the playback of our performances, I absorb
another rule. Namely: Do Not Wear A Shirt With Stripes.
That way you will be guaranteed to get more good lines
than your shirt.
then, suddenly, I learn something truly profound about
myself. A revelation. And it is: apparently I have
a chronic habit of raising my right eyebrow for emphasis.
It is intensely irritating.
wonder if a pill exists for this? Would Botox help?
the end of class one, I feel as if my ego has been
to the gym. It has been stretched, pummelled and exercised.
Fortunately, courtesy of friendly classmates, it has
also been massaged. So I am hooked.
for week two, I take another look at Smith's handout,
which lists some of the "necessary skills"
for TV presenting. They include "being spontaneous
12 times in a row".
also include "working as a team".
remember a sports coach once told me there is no "I"
in "Team". That's why I dislike it.
class is less about teamwork than short-term memory,
another necessary skill. That's frightening, given
mine is so thoroughly perforated. Today's class is
also about presenting info-tainment. There are a few
rules to keep in mind, Smith says, quoting from some
authority or other. "Somebody's invited you into
their home through the TV. So don't be a boring guest.
Or an uppity guest. Or a know-it-all guest. Be friendly.
Be fun. Be entertaining."
assignment is to learn a script by rote, then present
it to camera while performing a completely unrelated
task, such as making a cup of tea while rhapsodising
about the Caribbean, or taking off a jacket while
discussing a trail bike. It's the TV-presenting equivalent
of rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the
the camera rolls, so do the mistakes. Jackets refuse
to co-operate and door handles stick. Make-believe
tea is spilled everywhere.
efforts make us laugh, but aren't exactly career-making
performances for our showreels.
like the world's most boring out-takes," says
a class member, watching the playback.
is hard," someone else says. Smith nods. "Performance
is a form of torture," she says. "A form
understand what she means. Watching the playback,
I desperately want to mutilate my shirt.
having learnt my lesson about stripes, I opted for
a colourful batik number. And now I am learning fashion
lesson number two: Never Wear A Shirt With More Personality
week later, we have a substitute teacher, because
Smith is away filming a segment for The Great Outdoors.
When I realise who the sub is, I am ecstatic. It's
Moira. As in "Here's Moira", from Bert Newton's
GMA. The advertorial queen. TV royalty.
is here to teach us how to sell products on TV: knives
that don't need sharpening; eco-friendly steam cleaners;
hair removal creams; anti-wrinkle ointments; and so
is good money in advertorials," Moira says -
but, then, she had me at "hello".
Moira asks me, with the camera rolling, "will
this product make cleaning fun?"
well, no," I stammer. "But it might make
it a little less painful."
Moira suggests I lacked belief in the product. I agree,
and venture that it might have been because I didn't
believe in the product. I never have been much of
I watch the playback, I can't help thinking things
might have gone better if I had been selling Botox.
I also feel like I've let Moira down somehow.
so it goes week by week, small triumph tempered by
harsh reality, as we slowly learn the skills of TV
presenting, increment by increment.
I begin to become aware of both my weaknesses (wardrobe,
puppeteering, memory, salesmanship, eyebrow) and my
strength (dedication). Of the eight original classmates,
six of us are left for the final lesson. Leaving the
studio/terrace, our final assignment is to wander
around the streets of Paddington and present a PTC
- that's piece-to-camera - about the region's shops.
This presents a whole new set of challenges, including
mussed-up hair, noisy buses and hecklers.
about a hot date?" yells a passerby. Not at me,
gets more difficult out in the real world," Smith
says. "But it's also easier to be more natural."
refuse permission to shoot in shops; kids ruin PTCs
by loitering in the background; and inanimate objects
make a nuisance of themselves. "I've come to
Paddington for some salvation ..." a class member
tells the camera, "... if my top stops falling
the shoot, we retire to the safety of the classroom
for a final wrap-up. And everyone is pleased.
difference between what you just shot and the stuff
you did at the beginning is immense," Smith says
to the class. "And I would happily give any one
of your tapes to any of my producers."
Smith, I, too, am impressed by how quickly my classmates
have become confident and competent. I wouldn't be
at all surprised if one or more - Julia Achilleos,
Lisa Brown, Megan Macgregor, Lee Poulson and Laura
Vozzo - soon landed a regular gig as a TV presenter.
one of my classmates is positive about my talents
too. "You have a great right eyebrow," she
famous TV presenter upsets
Kennedy created a defining moment in television when
he impersonated a crow ("faaaaaark") during
a commercial on his live-to-air show. Nine's switchboard
ran hot and the Broadcasting Control Board banned
Kennedy from appearing live. The incident was a turning
point in Australian public morality, ending a censorious
era when a TV star could be dragged off air in the
name of decency.
Carpenter, a BBC mouthpiece, was calling the annual
Oxford-Cambridge boat race when he was sunk by an
accidental pun. "Ah, isn't that nice," he
said. "The wife of the Cambridge president is
kissing the cox of the Oxford crew."
a long, feted career, Bert Newton has made only a
few gaffes. His most famous was at the Logies 25 years
ago, when he said of visiting heavyweight Muhammad
Ali, "I like the boy." Ali was shocked,
until he realised the racist connotations were accidental.
1967, on his Tonight show, Don Lane asked World Championship
Wrestling's Killer Kowalski to demonstrate his lethal
"claw hold". "Hey, you'd better get
in shape, Don baby," Kowalski said, applying
the hold. Kowalski finished by tossing Lane onto the
floor and storming off. Then, in 1980, Lane had his
turn as aggressor. A fan of spoon-bender Uri Geller,
Lane invited Canadian sceptic James Randi onto his
show. When Randi tried to expose Geller as a fraud,
Lane scattered Randi's props and told him to "piss
1989, Mike Willesee attempted a comeback on Nine's
A Current Affair but lasted only two nights after
slurring his speech, giggling and dubbing an interviewee
a "bullshit artist". Derryn Hinch later
opened his rival show on Seven with, "I'm Derryn
Hinch and I'm sober." A year later, Willesee
admitted he had had a drink before the show.
a police siege at Cangai, Willesee phoned the three
gunmen who had killed five people and abducted two
children. Then he played the interview on A Current
Affair. "Do you know that Leonard [Leabeater]
and Robbie [Steele] have killed some people?"
Willesee asked the kids. "Have you seen Leonard
and Robbie do some bad things?" The exchange
prompted the highest number of viewer complaints to
the Australian Broadcasting Authority that year.
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