Have You Been Paying Attention? survived an uncertain start to become a fun favourite

“To Channel 10’s credit, they left it on!”

By Helen Vnuk
Have You Been Paying Attention? is one of Network 10's highest-rating and most-awarded programs. But in the first couple of seasons, its stars weren't too certain they had a success on their hands. At one point, HYBPA? was attracting fewer than 200,000 viewers each week, as the network struggled to find the right spot for it in its schedule.
"To Channel 10's credit, they left it on," the show's permanent panellist Ed Kavalee, 40, tells TV WEEK. "We moved timeslots a couple of times – who knew what was going to happen? – but then we settled on Monday night and here we are.
"Honestly, it's a funny thing: you need a bit of luck, a good show (hopefully), and a bit of chemistry."
It's chemistry that the show's stars have always had. Host Tom Gleisner, Ed, and the other permanent panellist, Sam Pang, were mates long before HYBPA? existed.
"We muck around with each other because we're good friends," Ed explains. "This show started as a quiz at the end of a soccer podcast with Santo [Cilauro].
"Tom would come in and ask some questions and we would just make up funny answers. Then the guys at [production company] Working Dog put it into their alchemy machine. So it was born out of that dynamic between the three of us."
"To Channel 10's credit, they left the show on!"
Ed says the show "felt fun" from the first time they recorded it. Viewers gradually got the joke, and this year, nearly 800,000 people tuned in to watch the premiere of the show's seventh season. In recent years, HYBPA? has won TV WEEK Logie Awards for both Most Outstanding Entertainment Program and Most Popular Comedy Program.
"Both the awards, the peer-voted and the public-voted, do mean something to you," Tom, 56, says.
"It means people are watching and care enough to vote for you."
One of the reasons 10 was prepared to stick with the show was Working Dog's track record with TV comedy. Frontline, The Panel, Russell Coight's All Aussie Adventures, Thank God You're Here and Utopia are just some of their hits.
The reason for the success of Working Dog – made up of Tom, Santo, Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy and Michael Hirsh – is simple, Tom says.
"We like each other and we like making each other laugh," he says. "We sit around in a room and someone says, 'How about this for an idea?' and it goes from there."
However, he says they don't take success for granted: "Not everything you do works," he explains.
"We like each other and we like making each other laugh!"
Since HYBPA? began in 2013, plenty of big comedy names, including Celia Pacquola, Glenn Robbins and Dave Hughes, have joined the panel. At first, some comedians needed to be talked into coming on, thinking they weren't knowledgeable enough.
"I think Kitty Flanagan might have done our original pilot and wasn't convinced she'd be right for the show," Tom recalls. "She said she didn't know much about news. We said, 'Well, that's a bonus!' She's been a regular and one of our favourites ever since."
He says they're "careful" who they invite onto the show.
"In some ways, we consider it our own little private party," he says. "So we'd be wary of ever casting people who we sensed weren't going to enjoy being with each other."
At the same time, *HYBPA?* is open to showcasing new comedy faces.
"We use the comedy festivals around Australia – Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney – as a great opportunity to go and see fresh comedians," Tom says.
Ed, who got his start on Thank God You're Here, thinks this is something Working Dog don't get enough credit for.
"I'm a case in point," he says. "They found me doing improv in Sydney. I was driving promotional vehicles for 2DayFM and working at a video shop. I've worked with them now for 12 years. I have benefited from their generosity. They find people who they think are funny and interesting, give them opportunities and keep giving them opportunities."
HYBPA? has showcased big names of comedy over the years.
Apart from the host and the panellists, a big part of the show's appeal lies in the guest quizmasters.
Senator Jacqui Lambie was among the first. She was followed by a string of other politicians, including former defence minister Christopher Pyne.
"I remember laughing – perhaps out of context – but he was certainly willing to trade blows with the team," Tom says. "I think if they agree to come on, they tend to be in on the joke."
Of course, showbiz stars who've been guest quizmasters have had to be in on the joke too. There was the time singer Paulini was invited on after having been charged with bribing a government official to unlawfully obtain a driver's licence.
"I think the opening question from one of the guys, probably Pang, was, 'Did you drive yourself in tonight?'" Tom remembers. "They realise it's being done with fun. No-one's there to score points for meanness. It's about mucking around and I hope that comes through."
Seven seasons into helming HYBPA?, Tom still doesn't see himself as a TV host: "I very much see myself as a writer," he explains.
But one thing's for certain – he loves shooting the show each week.
"Hosting Have You Been Paying Attention? is an absolute joy," Tom enthuses. "It's one hour of my week I really look forward to. I don't see it as work. It's a party."

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