Enough Of Enough Rope!
Let’s get this straight. Andrew Denton is not the best interviewer in Australia. If you had to choose someone to wear that crown it would more likely be Phillip Adams, Kerry O’Brien, Tony Jones or Geraldine Doogue.
Denton might be in the running as the best celebrity interviewer. But what is the competition? Ray Martin, Rove, Richard Wilkins, Molly Meldrum? He is no Parkinson but maybe he is the closest we have. Compared to the now-retired Ernie Sigley he is a genius. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.
I found Denton’s style a little too twee and smug at times. Occasionally he seemed so pleased at a guest’s reaction that I thought he might hug himself with glee. But to give credit where it was due he was not just the best of a bad bunch he created his own niche.
What Denton has done is, with the help of the ABC, to go where commercial stations have feared to tread and proven that there is an audience for good talk, or even moderately good talk, on television.
Then again, Denton is only as strong as his research and production team. Writers such as Chris Beck give some depth to the questions while his editors whittle down hours of talk into bite-sized chunks. These are the people who deserve some awards. I have heard that some interviews have gone for two hours and end up as 20 minutes segments. You can often tell this from the editing that features many non sequiturs.
The hallmark of Denton’s style, as noted by other writers, is the search for the emotional moment, when the guest’s tears well up. When this happens you can almost sense Denton’s satisfaction. This is his money shot and he goes for it with all the finesse of a pit bull. These are the moments that will are featured on the promos and will no doubt feature in the as for the DVD. Washington journalist Helen Thomas spotted it immediately. ‘This is what you want,’ she said almost disdainfully.
Of course, the problem with the ‘celebrity’ interview is that usually the interviewee only allows you to glimpse what they want you to see. Though I am fairly certain that Denton would not have agreed to submit a list of questions to high profile guests (as some commercial interviewers have agreed to), as far as I could tell they have remained in total control. Most of the celebrity guests had some sort of barrow to push, whether it was Bill Clinton, Alan Bond or the ubiquitous Bono. And who wants to see a musician break down and talk about their drug abuse while they are also plugging their band’s latest tour?
The best example of this manipulation was Wayne Carey, who used the program to promote his public redemption. The problem was that Carey’s story was not that interesting in light of the fact that he seemed incapable of self-analysis. In the end he remained a drunken footballer who has abused women horribly.
A few times we got to really learn something new – but mostly that came with Denton’s interviews with ordinary people, many of whom became extraordinary because of their stories. Some of these were the high points of the series.
Often Denton was forced to play the media game. The interview with Rod Stewart last year, recorded in Los Angeles, just happened to air a few days before concert tickets went on sale. We may never now if the touring company paid for Denton to fly over and interview Rockin’ Rod. For all his trouble, he still failed to elicit anything from Stewart that we didn’t already know. Far better was the interview Tim Rogers, which really uncovered some aspects of Rogers; personality that most would not have known.
But let’s face it, Denton was playing to a ‘commercial’ audience, making them feel comfortable switching over from the other networks, and he helped the ABC achieve unprecedented rating in the time slot.
If you want to listen to a program that is not tied to plugging a product then listen to LNL with Phillip Adams on Radio National. Adams has eclectic tastes but he doesn’t necessarily feel the need to cater to local publicists. He will talk to an overseas author months before their book is published here. He will pursue important topics that the mainstream media ignores.
Denton presented his final show last night and it stuck pretty much to his formula. The use of old TV clips for the Ben Stiller interview was interesting but I was hoping that he would ask Stiller about Zero Effect, the brilliant film he made with the then 24-old Jake Kasdan (son of the famous director Lawrence Kasdan). It was probably Stiller’s last straight role.
Denton probed Wendy Whiteley in an attempt to get the tears flowing but failed. You could see him trying to prise something out, ‘That must have been really, really difficult’ (or words to that effect).
Denton said that the show ‘has been the most extraordinary ride and privilege.’ It has also been lucrative and enabled his production company to get a vehicle for his partner Jennifer Byrne, who sits and grins through the Tuesday Book Club like a Cheshire cat.
In the end, Denton’s smartest move may have been to finish Enough Rope before he started to endlessly repeat guests (as Letterman does). Or maybe he just got tired of being a salesman for other people’s work.