By Sally Rawsthorne
This is a brand new frontier in the current television landscape,” Ten’s head of drama and The Great Australian Spelling Bee EP Rick Maier told Mediaweek. “Lately, there has been criticism of too much derivative programming, and there is nothing like The Great Australian Spelling Bee currently on air.”
The series is made by Shine for TEN, and is an original format. “This one has been developed in Australia. If it’s successful, then the format has the potential to sell in many territories overseas. The expertise from Shine in this area is second to none, and the key producers and creatives from MasterChef have been on board from the start. It is designed very much with that family-friendly audience in mind,” he continued.
While we’ve seen spelling-related shows on our screens before, Maier was adamant that The Great Australian Spelling Bee was unlike anything that’s come before it. “The fundamental motor is spelling, but that’s pretty much the only similarity. This show also includes tests involving speed, teamwork and comprehension.”
He also noted that the show will be interactive, and should engage a wide audience across key demos. “There’s a significant play-along element. The spellers’ parents and guardians are also a key part of the storytelling. This is a show for everyone, and the best television always engages on a personal level: how would you go if it was your child, or if you were the one in the spotlight? It’s simple and we hope compelling. If families and schools engage beyond the show on their own spelling adventures, then that would be a terrific bonus for all of us,” he concluded.
The Great Australian Spelling Bee starts on Monday August 3 at 7.30 on TEN.
• Finding Australia’s Greatest Spellers: The MasterChef philosophy
Spelling was the one and only base from which TEN and Shine cast the spellers, said Maier. “Applicants in the target age group completed an online spelling test. The most successful were then Skyped and tested for a second time with more difficult words. Those successful applicants were then interviewed in their home state and put through a third spelling test. The degree of difficulty increased at each stage. From that group we were then able to select our top spellers and bring them to Sydney for the production.
“The MasterChef philosophy is also hard at work here – this is a nurturing environment and we want all our spellers to do well. This is about elevation, encouragement and excellence. The spellers are sensational, and they are truly inspirational. Those that didn’t make it through this year we hope to see next year.”
• Predicting a Logie
I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here’s Chrissie Swan and Family Feud’s Grant Denyer will host the format, alongside on-screen newcomer Chris Edmund. “[Casting Chrissie and Grant] was probably the easiest part of the equation. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more appropriate for the roles,” Maier said. “We also searched high and low for the third key on-camera element and that is our pronouncer Chris Edmund. Chris will be an overnight sensation despite working successfully behind the cameras most of his adult life. Get onto Centrebet now for next year’s best new talent Logie.”