It’s never too late for an episode guide… said no one ever. But 12 years (to the day!) since Micallef Tonight was axed seems like a good time to finish the segment guide to both the originally aired TV episodes and the expurgated DVD episodes: for the DVD, Shaun cut the 13 episodes down to eight, leaving out the musical performances and generally re-cutting the order. (not sure why…)
As Mad As Hell was wrapping up a few months ago, Shaun spoke to me about his projects through to next year, including The Ex-PM, Stairway to Heaven and the return of Mad As Hell. I’ve finally written it up, so enjoy!
I can’t think of anybody who’s so heavily involved in so many TV projects at one time (Mad As Hell, The Ex-PM and Stairway to Heaven) – you must be pretty busy at the moment!
I would have been busy anyway, because the plan was to do Mad As Hell at the beginning and the end of the year, and for one reason or another the Mad As Hell at the end of the year was vacated, and I think that was to do with funding generally. [Note: Mad As Hell comes from the Light Entertainment budget].
That meant that the back end of the year was free, so I said why don’t we have a look at doing the documentaries – we’re doing (the filming of) two at the end of the year and one at the beginning of next year. I’m still to have talks about what they are; (the production company) probably know, but they haven’t told me yet.
So it’s more the process of they’ll come to you with a suggestion of “we think you should go here” and you’ll go?
We have talked about where we might go, so it won’t surprise me, it will just be a case of which three they pick.
It was one of the ones we talked about, and oddly enough, I think it was the easiest to get to and the most exotic. Maybe the other ones won’t be so far away. The US might be a good place to go.
You haven’t been to the States have you?
No. It was interesting having never been to India to go to Haridwar, a country town, instead of the big cities, and ditto in the US: I would be going somewhere that would be quite unusual to go to for a first visit.
Is there anything you are hoping to learn in the upcoming three episodes of Stairway to Heaven? Will it be a continuation of the journey in the original special?
Hopefully it’s a refinement, I don’t really know. I certainly didn’t answer every question, and I didn’t ask every question. So, if it is about Mormonism for example, it’s interesting because I’m connected to the basic bedrock of the Christian traditions, so it’s easier for me to follow. But “why is this relatively new strand been so embraced?” It’s not a venerable as Hinduism. It’s a different question. It still links to someone’s absolute certainty about this particular version of faith that people have. The question is the same, it’s probably more about perspective.
So you’ll be treating it as a continuing enlightenment experience, trying to learn from people?
Because it would be in the same family of faith that I grew up in (Catholic), it might be easier for me know what I’m talking about when I ask the questions. So it may be less reverent than it would be in a more foreign environment.
I’m very much looking forward to The Ex-PM, since you teased it so long ago. How is preparation going for it?
Downstairs from the Mad As Hell office is the ABC drama department, so we’re casting for it now. So occasionally on a Wednesday, after doing the edit for Mad As Hell, I’ll go back to the office and look at some of the scripts that are coming in, then pop downstairs and do a couple of auditions, then come back upstairs and sign off on the sound edit and the audio post and the shows finished. So I’ve been doing two things on the Wednesdays. Once we finish (Mad As Hell), I’ll re-write the scripts and we start shooting in late May maybe.
Will it be mostly a set piece, or a bit of outdoors and in-studio?
There won’t be any studio component; it will all be in the real world. We’ll find a house to shoot in.
I guess he (Andrew Dugdale) will be running a home office?
It will be a bit of an upstairs/downstairs sort of arrangement.
And it will air later in the year?
Probably about September; 6 episodes.
Will Francis be in it?
Yes, absolutely. We’ll try and get everyone guesting in it, but Francis will have a role written for him in it, as always.
What are the chances of more Mad As Hell in the future?
It will be next year. It’s a good show, we’re match fit, we know what we’re doing, we just need to wait a year. We’ve done that before, waited a year between the first and the second series. We don’t want to wear out our welcome.
So you’re enjoying it enough that you’d love to come back and do some more?
Yeah! [said emphatically]
Do you like to seek out these projects, or do these opportunities come along for you to pounce on?
These days I don’t have to do much chasing. Mr and Mrs Murder was easy to get up, harder to do. I’ve been really lucky. There have been projects which haven’t gotten up, you just draw a conclusion that it wasn’t the right time or it wasn’t a strong project. If the will isn’t there, no amount of pushing is going to get them to do it.
It’s alright, I don’t mind. There are worse things to be remembered for. No one is asking me to do Milo professionally on a TV show – if that was the only job I was being offered I’d be a bit bitter I suppose. It will come to that maybe, turning up in someone’s short film and that’s all they’ll want me to do.
I think we the fans feel part of an in-joke when you reference your previous work, as you do a bit in Mad As Hell. You like to layer the jokes, so everyone can feel like there is a joke for them.
Like throwing in the clips from The Micallef P(r)ogram(me), it doesn’t hurt if you don’t know the reference. Maybe it’s a bit more of an interesting experience if you go: “I remember that when I was 15.” Everything I’ve done had references in it. It’s about the level of commitment to it; if it’s just a reference and it doesn’t matter here nor there, that’s the way to do it. We did a New Years Eve show which was just layered with references to the past, and that was probably a bit too much. You can’t visit the past too much or it looks indulgent.
Thanks to Shaun and all the Mad As Hell crew (Anthony specially) for their time and assistance.
Shaun’s documentary “Stairway to Heaven: Gods, Gurus and the Ganges”, which aired on SBS last year before Christmas (and was repeated again last week – watch it online) is to become a series.
Artemis (the producers of the series) and SBS have secured funding for another three “Stairway to Heaven” specials, where Shaun will continue on his “quest for the meaning of life, as he immerses himself in the lives of people whose strong beliefs lead them to take extreme measures.”
No word yet on which religions he will immerse in, but we expect the specials will be shot later this year to air in 2016.
This wasn’t entirely unexpected, as Shaun indicated to David Dale of SMH late last year:
The Tribal Mind: Many viewers will be surprised to see you in this, because they’d assume you’re a sceptic, from the way you mock the politicians in Mad As Hell.
Shaun Micallef: It’s something I’m really interested in, which is people’s unquestioning commitment to faith. There are people who have that, and I don’t have that, and I find it a very enviable thing. The premise of what we hope will be a series was to just go off and immerse myself in these communities – seminaries, monasteries, wide open spaces in India – and meet these people and just see what it is that makes them so certain, to go in with an open mind, to not be cynical or even sceptical, to be genuinely curious and just observe.
The difficult thing for me was getting rid of the feeling that I needed to make jokes all the time. If there was going to be any humour there, I should let it occur naturally. It’s got nothing to do with comedy, it’s about life.
TM: I understand you thought about being a priest when you were a teenager. Are you still a Catholic?
SM: Yes, we still celebrate the feast days, we’ve brought our children up in the Catholic Church. If it’s all up to me, I’m in big trouble. There’s got to be some grand architect.
TM: Did the experience of making Stairway To Heaven transform you?
SM: Maybe it didn’t change me, but it gently moved me to look in a different direction. If I’d sorted it all out in one documentary, there wouldn’t be any reason to do another one. I haven’t quite got the answer to the meaning of life yet, but it’s not a bad objective for a TV series.
TM: So if it becomes a series, we can follow your trajectory …
SM: Until I’m a pure beam of energy.
Since it first premiered in 2012, Danger 5 has become a bit of a cult classic – a 60’s style spy series anachronistically set during World War II, with a team of agents from across the globe working together to stop the Nazis and kill Hitler. The show is a pastiche of dubbed Japanese adventure dramas, such as Monkey, and spy series, such as Thunderbirds (with a dash of Get Smart). You can watch the prequel episode on YouTube.
Shaun was a big fan of the first series calling it “the funniest thing I’d seen in 10 years on TV”, even writing to the creators to express his enjoyment. So when series 2 was commissioned, the team jumped at the opportunity to get Shaun involved. This time, it’s the 80’s, and Hitler is back for vengeance. Shaun will play dual roles as a school teacher and a bald-headed Nazi, and will appear in more than one episode.
Season 2 of Danger 5 starts on SBS2 on January 4th at 9:30pm.
As previously hinted here, and reported by TV Tonight recently, Mad as Hell is only returning for the one series next year. Although budget cuts have been touted as a reason, the most likely explanation is that Shaun will be working on his other big project for the ABC: “The Ex-PM”. So it’s not all bad news!
This is not unprecedented though: in 2013, Shaun took most of the second half of the year off after two seasons of Mad As and one of Mr & Mrs Murder, giving himself time to finish his book “The President’s Desk”.
On the topic of The Ex-PM, TV Tonight spoke to Rick Kalowski, Head of Comedy at the ABC, about the show:
“It’s a great concept and the quality of the idea has really come along in the development process. The scripts are so funny. I think you’ll see a more humanistic side to Shaun’s comedy. It’s not just about a person struggling with relevance deprivation syndrome –which in and of itself is funny at a very high stakes level,” he explains.
“But there’s something about what happens to men when they get to the end of their careers, running around like whirling dervishes, convincing themselves they are doing it for their families or countries. They get to the end of their careers and they are faced with the question: Was it all worth it? Or to put it even more painfully: Have I Led a Worthwhile Life? I think the show has the potential to open up the way people see Shaun as a comedian.”
As if Santa had set his clock forward, a Micallef-sized gift has come early. Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven was originally announced by SBS to air next year, but luckily for us, it will actually air this Sunday 7:30pm!
After his experience on Who Do You Think You Are, he was invited to travel to India and immerse himself in the Hindu world of Gods, Gurus and the Ganges. He’ll travel away from the crowds and the polluted Ganges, to meet a Guru who encourages him to challenge his beliefs, confront his fears, strip back his ego and examine the ‘Self’. Eventually Shaun will find himself heading deep into the Himalayas, towards the ultimate source of the Ganges and maybe the source of life.
This is sure to be more than just another “comedian discovers spirituality” story, with a good dose of the Shaun deprecating style to make it unmissable.
Shaun is a really enjoyable person to talk to and interview, and I recently had the opportunity to talk to him after a taping of Mad As Hell. Here’s how it went:
Me: Mad as Hell is continuing to have an impact on the zeitgiest, with you being referenced from what you’re referencing (ie. Darius Horsham), how is the season feeling for you? Is it feeling as comfortable at the previous one?
Shaun: It feels as comfortable. I think the main difference between the season earlier this year and this one we’re doing now is that there’s a lot more at the desk just of me talking, and also we’ll often spend 5, 6, 7 minutes on a given topic, rather than being driven from news item to news item. It’s actually a bit more openly editorial now, it’s just me having a conversation. Apart from news from other countries, I’m not really playing a news reader now, I’m just talking to the audience. We were on our way to that in the first season this year, it just feels that’s mainly what the show is now. And a lot of the language of the show is quite peculiar now, and not terribly related to what a news show is.
Do you have plans to continue Mad as Hell in 2015?
That’s the plan, to come back in February and do another season. It’s as locked in as anything can be at the ABC. So we’re not ending the series, but at the very least we’ll come back and do 10 next year.
I’m really enjoying The President’s Desk, I really liked that among the editor’s note, introduction, and preface, you made a note to the genuine inaccuracies, like the positioning of the Oval Office. Is there anyone you’ve ever thought may have actually been re-created as a robot?
I haven’t been to Disneyland, but they’re all there apparently. From what I’ve heard, they say the Reagan one is very lifelike, but I think that’s more of statement of how un-lifelike the real one was. It may well be him.
Do you think any Australian Prime Ministers could ever have had any interested furniture related stories?
Having seen the office of the Prime Minister, it’s a very disappointing, jerry-built, IKEA influenced, generic room. There’s nothing special in there at all, because it’s not an illustrious building. I haven’t been in Kirribilli, but I imagine that would have some very nice furniture; Kirribilli House rather than Parliament House. Even Old Parliament House, there’s some pressed ceilings and some decent woodwork there.
Do you enjoy the character of Roland in It’s a Date, and would you ever break him out again?
It was good fun working with Rove. I kept listening to him (Roland), thinking “Oh, he sound’s like Fabio!” It was interesting, because it was a supporting character for Rove and Adrianne’s story, and as we didn’t see a lot of him I could make him a little big bigger than if he was the centre of attention. But as it turned out, he dominated quite a lot.
Were you surprised how that edited together?
Yes, because I had done a really big performance, like a terribly overdone one, but I think it fitted in. It didn’t seem too big.
Is it more fun to play with someone else’s script, or your own?
It’s different, it was all done with permission, it was all collaborative. It’s quite nice to come in just as an actor, I’ve done a bit of that lately. All care and no responsibility, just to look after your part. They sent me some outakes, which we very funny, some of the stuff between Rove and I.
Were you trying to make him laugh a lot?
Pretty much. For two people who’ve had their careers run along side each other, we haven’t overlapped that much. The only time I’ve ever really met him was on set, when we’re on camera. It was the first time I’ve spent any time with him off camera.
Wasn’t there a time you brought a guitar on his show? Was he expecting that?
No, we didn’t tell him. But he was good that way, he had no brief about what I was going to talk about. He was good fun to play with. And to his credit, Adam Hills did exactly the same. I think that’s more fun, I hate telling them what I’m going to do.
Mr and Mrs Murder has been aired on PBS in America recently, are you surprised that’s it’s getting a successful audience over there?
I can’t think why it wouldn’t work in the US. I’ve never really liked to play up the Australian side, I watch it in others, but it’s not something I usually do. So therefore, Mr & Mrs Murder had none of those hallmarks. (With no particular intention) it wasn’t “Australian”. It was peculiar, it had Kat’s sense of humour and my sense of humour and that was a good combination.
In many ways it was the couple’s relationship which drove the enjoyment of the show. It was a very sweet and supportive one, with lots of the in-jokes that couples have, and it felt very real.
It’s like the nicknames we’d worked out for each other. Nicola called me “Chuka-Khan”, and I called her “Fizzy”. We never explained it, and if you’d written it, they would have had someone explain what “Fizzy” meant – Nicola, Cola, Fizzy. That’s what I loath about a lot of bad writing, it’s so exploratory, and there is no room to give performances on another level to the writing. You’re just serving the writing, then going home. It was a way to have some decent dialogue.
Of course, Shaun has already shared that there’s almost no chance of a second season of Mr & Mrs Murder, but we’re grateful for the one we got!
During the interview, they found Shaun’s second last copy of The President’s Desk (which he’d used as a prop), which he was going to send to his mum – if only we got to hear her review!
Thanks to Shaun, for being very giving with his time, as always.
Photo by David M. Green
In addition to his ABC shows, in 2015 SBS will also air Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven, a one-hour documentary where Shaun heads to India to immerse himself in the Hindu world of Gods, Gurus and the Ganges, on his quest for the meaning of life.
It was Shaun’s first trip to India and was filmed in June/July of this year. The show is produced by Artemis International, the same people behind “Who Do You Think You Are“, which was how the whole thing came about.
Andrew Dugdale, Australia’s third longest-serving Prime Minister, was a man who dined with presidents and kings, co-hosted world summits and changed the lives of millions of his fellow Australians. But since losing his grip on power, he now has far too much time on his hands and no one to waste it on. Described as a tale of redemption somewhere between House of Cards and One Foot in the Grave.
The show is a CJZ production in association with ABC TV, and will consist of 6 episodes.
We can’t wait!
It’s also been confirmed that Mad As Hell will return for an unprecedented (for Shaun) fifth season! Congratulations to everyone for a very successful show.