First published on 11 Jul 2012. Updated on 20 Jul 2012.
Wil Anderson is a worker-bee of a comedian. With his various ‘Wil’-titled shows (Wilarious, Wilosophy, Man vs Wil and so on) he spends the bulk of his time on planes and on stage – in all corners of the world. But around this time every year – or for the last four, at least – the dark-fingernailed funny man nests down in Ultimo and settles into a role that keeps him still, for a while: hosting ABC1's Andrew Denton-produced Gruen programmes.
Yes, that's plural. Since the first series of The Gruen Tranfer in 2008, the advertising show has reinvented itself multiple times. Transfer became Nation, Nation became Planet, and now comes Sweat, a four-part dismantling of the marketing and spin around the London Olympics. “I always think of Radiohead,” Anderson says about the spin-offs. “They had a choice to either keep writing OK Computer all over again… or to say, ‘Alright, let’s see if we can do it better and better, or in a more and more interesting way.’”
The Gruen formula has proven itself adaptable and ever-popular, with the essence of the show remaining unchanged as the title switched around. “The whole point of Gruen showsm is why be buy what we buy. People talk of it as a show about advertising, but it’s really about what we know of consumers, and what we can learn about ourselves through looking at ads and advertising. With Sweat, we’re going to be looking at the sell of the Olympics.”
Before production commenced, Anderson was already bursting with questions for the panel: Is it really a big deal that Coke and McDonald’s are sponsors? What’s in it for BP and Dow Chemicals? How hard is it to negotiate the deals? Can you wear your own shoes in a race if your team is sponsored by somebody else? How big do the logos have to be?
Anderson gets a huge kick from unpacking such questions. “I don’t have firm opinions on any of those topics, but I would like to ask people who are smarter than me,” he explains. In the pre-production workshops, he found himself gobsmacked by what he was learning from the would-be guests – tidbits of information like, when an Olympian wins a medal, they receive a substantial payment just for taking the stand. “I thought it was just the glory of being on the stand!"
Every year, it’s been the little pearls from guests that sustain Anderson’s mini-rapture over Gruen. “Like with conditioner," he says, gearing up for another reveal, "you know how you’re told to rinse and repeat? They’ve done studies to show the only reason you’re told to rinse and repeat is so you use more conditioner! It’s amazing!"
Gruen Sweat will roll straight into a second series of Gruen Planet. In its first series, Planet acted as the global-media focussed successor to Gruen Nation – a program concerned with Australian political ads. The first series of Planet was forced to differentiate itself from its predecessor due to the close air times of the two. This time around, Anderson plans to re-introduce certain elements of Nation into the mix for a more confident, well-rounded show.
It's all a labour of love and a learning curve for Anderson. But as much as he enjoys the seasonal gig, he switches off when the set is packed away. Touring from hotel to hotel, he’ll always watch the sport, but he has no time for the ads. “When the ads are on, I change the channel. Like a normal person.”
Gruen Sweat begins Wed Jul 25, 8.30pm on ABC1. Gruen Planet begins Wed Aug 22, 8.30pm on ABC1.