IF Tim Ferguson starts whistling Dixie or asks the audience to sing a
verse or two of Waltzing Matilda while hosting Don't Forget Your Toothbrush,
it's a sure sign the man is in trouble. With an audience of 400 to control, an
hour of live TV to work through, outside broadcast vans roaming the suburbs and
helicopters flying over some of the nation's more famous landmarks, Ferguson may
be heading for a disaster.
"If something blows up and we have to head in a totally different direction,
the bottom line is I'll say, 'OK everyone, start singing Waltzing Matilda' until
I work out what the hell to do next," he says.
"If you hear me whistling Dixie, then you know something has plummeted out of
Ferguson - whose credits include the Doug Anthony All Stars, World Series
Debating and most recently Funky Squad - is a funny man. He likes to laugh and
to make other people laugh. But he may have to draw on his own sense of humour
when his new show premieres on Channel Nine next week.
Ferguson will be in the driving seat of a juggernaut which has the potential
to run out of control.
Don't Forget Your Toothbrush is an hour of live entertainment - featuring
music, interviews and a swagful of gags, pranks and tricks - which not only
involves the studio audience but also viewers at home.
Be one of the studio audience (the show will be taped in Melbourne, Sydney
and Brisbane) and you may have to sing, dance, play a game, join in a prank, and
generally make a complete nong of yourself on national TV.
Each week's prize is a trip overseas or in Australia - it could be Monaco or
Mudgee, says Ferguson - which is why you mustn't forget your toothbrush. But
don't think you're missing out at home. Roving camera crews will be peering
through the curtains of homes around the country to catch someone unawares.
Ferguson is penning the scripts with writer Rob Brearley, but Ferguson's
renowned wit will have to be razor-sharp to make the whole thing gel.
"Technically it's a nightmare," he says, "but having done live TV for several
years now, it's not such a daunting thing.
"With the show being totally scripted, it takes the elasticity out of things,
so everybody's got a much better idea of what they're doing. Then again,
anything can go wrong."
The studio audience reaction will be vital. "When I was on The Big Gig, we
had to get the cattle prod out and beg people to dance and they'd start
scratching their groins and looking at each other awkwardly like teenagers at a
"Whereas with Toothbrush, we've tried out our audiences and it works. They'll
sing and dance, which is great fun."
While the basic format is a copy of the British edition of Don't Forget Your
Toothbrush - when the second series ended in February, it was Channel Four's
most successful show - the local version will be Australian in nature and
"There's only so much we can blindly rip off," Ferguson says. "The rest of it
has to be original and that's my greatest fear, coming up with the right
scripts each week."
After 10 years of live performances with the Doug Anthony All Stars and with
more than 20 international festivals and a dozen TV series under his belt, the
time is right for the now-solo Ferguson to undertake the 16-week Toothbrush
"The role of host is perfect; it's just what I needed," he says. "I now have
the skills to do something like this. Five years ago it would have been
impossible to think of myself singing, dancing, interviewing and controlling an
audience of 400 people on live TV."
The show will have a final run-through tomorrow, the last chance to get
things right before the debut. Comparisons with Hey Hey It's Saturday will be
natural, but Ferguson said the show is different.
"The magic of Hey Hey is the ad libbing, the fact that anything can happen
next," he says. "We have a far more rigid structure and a lot less slapstick.
But it's a blank cheque in many ways, which means we can spring some surprises."
With a wife and three children at home, Ferguson doesn't plan any live
performances or overseas travel for the foreseeable future: "It's good to have a
regular job that only keeps me busy for 25 hours of the day," he says.
SHOW: Don't Forget Your Toothbrush
DAY: Begins Tuesday, August 15
TIME: Nine, 8.30 pm
DURATION: One hour
Don't Forget Your Toothbrush is the latest in a swag of Australian shows
which have copied British or US programs:
TONIGHT LIVE (Seven): The most shameless rip-off of all, with Steve Vizard
vainly trying to fill the shoes of American chat show king David Letterman.
HINCH SPECIALS (Nine): Cosmetic surgery, rape, diets ... if Derryn Hinch's
gabfests look familiar, they are, because Oprah and Phil have been doing them
GLADIATORS (Seven): Are you ready?! Actually they were ready and willing a
few years ago when they first muscled their way onto British TV screens.
TODAY (Nine): Wanted: Two genial hosts and a whacky weatherman for a clone of
NBC's Today. Enter Steve, Liz and Monte, our very own Bryant Gumbel, Katie
Couric and Willard Scott.
ALAN JONES LIVE (Ten): A blatant copy of Larry King Live - one of the most
popular shows in the US, complete with microphone, braces and talkback - doomed
from the start.
CRIMESTOPPERS (Seven): Ann Sanders and her cop squad couldn't hide the fact
that the show was guilty of counterfeit TV, an identikit version of Crimewatch