Features

True Story: Behind the scenes with Hamish and Andy

Zoe Samios chats with Hamish Blake, Andy Lee and True Story's co-creators Ryan Shelton and Tim Bartley about how the show comes together, what the duo misses about radio and why they want the show to be better than last year.

It’s been months since I’ve heard former Hit Network radio stars Hamish Blake and Andy Lee on air, and I’m in a taxi on my way to Lee’s old school, which is doubling as the set for an episode of True Story with Hamish & Andy.

It’s March, and the pair are back on deck working on their second season of the show. Last year, True Story’s first season premiered with 1.282m, winning the TV ratings night. It went on to deliver metro figures around the 1m mark, before dipping to 700,000. Since then, Warner Bros has acquired the format, with the show expected to run in Germany and Israel.

Admittedly, I’m nervous. I don’t know what to expect of the pair I have listened to for more than 10 years.

Before my meeting with Hamish and Andy, I sit down with the co-creators of the show, Ryan Shelton and Tim Bartley.

From L-R: Andy Lee with Ryan Shelton and Tim Bartley

The pair have known Blake and Lee for decades and together the four, who had worked together on a community TV show Radio Karate as far back as 2003, have moved on to bigger and better things.

But their bond is unlike most radio or production teams, something that’s evident from Bartley’s comments.

“[True Story] takes this amazingly unique ability of Hamish and Andy – which is that people feel comfortable with them immediately, they feel like they can share anything – and then the audience at home loves laughing alone with them,” Bartley says.

“They are definitely not just presenters, they are bringing so much to the interview.”

When Blake and Lee finally walk over towards me, they both have a sheepish look on their face.

“Hey Zo, great to meet you,” says Blake.

He looks over at Lee, who is holding a tennis ball and is agitatedly swinging it, before adding: “So…we can’t wait to do the interview, but we need to watch Ryan – see he reckons he can throw the ball the length of the hockey field.”

I look over in the direction of the hockey field and laugh. There’s no way he can do that, I think.

Blake and Lee walk over the the hockey pitch, where Shelton will have a crack at a throw

“Want to come?” Blake asks.

It was, in fact, the perfect way to meet them. For years I’d wondered if Blake and Lee’s capacity to turn everything into a bit fun was just for show, and yet here I was standing on a hockey field with Blake pointing out that Big Bash sixes are 90m, telling me there’s “no way” Shelton, the co-producer of True Story with Hamish & Andy, will be able to throw this ball.

It turns out, he was right. Shelton’s attempt to throw the ball the length of the field is laughable.

“The best thing about Ryan is he has no idea of distances and he’s a terrible estimator. The worst thing about him though is he’s too acutely tuned to people’s behaviour. As soon as we sense blood in the water and we are getting so excited about circling for the kill, he knows it and he gives up and goes ‘Yeah you are probably right,’” Blake laughs.

On set though, Shelton is more of a perfectionist (and more successful). He and Bartley have been behind the scenes of Blake and Lee’s productions since the Australian audience first warmed to them. 

“We are just trying to make a better show than we did last year,” says Shelton. “A lot of it comes down to luck and where it is placed. All we can do from our point of view is make sure as many people as possible know it’s on and make as good a show as we can.”

And humble as they might be, the two of them have also been involved in the sale of the format internationally. Despite this, they still emphasise the learning curve they have undertaken and recognise the research and storytelling teams who work endlessly behind closed doors.

“It’s the same show. We learnt a lot of things as anyone would doing a show for the first time… a bunch of stuff which was mainly about processes and how to do things more efficiently,” says Shelton.

“Hamish and Andy don’t hear the stories until they are literally in the studio sitting in front of the storyteller. Tim and I only hear the pretty good ones out of those 8,000, it’s the researchers and story producers who literally read and follow up those 8,000,” he adds.

Putting together True Story with Hamish & Andy isn’t simple. Beyond the research team, Shelton, Bartley and the camera-fronting duo are heavily involved in the production side, putting together scripts and scenes, tweaking it to perfection.

“We’ve got a lot of us talking to people in the studio, we have to cut that down to the actual story, because Andy and I have never heard the story before, we ask a lot of irrelevant questions that in hindsight are just nuisances and hand breaks all the time. But some of them work,” Blake explains.

For the pair, it’s like learning to kick with the other foot: challenging but rewarding.

Creating the show is like learning to kick with the other foot

“It’s a different muscle for us and certainly it’s the most fun, coming in and seeing an already funny story become funny because of reading what Hamish has written or we are doing a table read and can hear all the scenes coming out. That’s a really exciting time. We spend about two and a half months just throwing those around,” says Lee.

It’s my turn to take a look at how a scene comes together. My attention turns to Lee. He particularly likes this set, as it’s his old stomping ground. He introduces me to his old trumpet teacher, who is still working at the school after all these years. We chat and it doesn’t take long for me to realise Lee is one of his proudest achievements.

But Lee is more focused on showing me how the scenes come together. He comes from an accounting background and on set it really shows. He’s very methodical and is holding the iPad, which has a complete break down of the script and the shots required. He has even timed how long the shots need to run for, so as to fit with the overlay of the storytelling.

On set of True Story with Hamish & Andy

We head over to the tent surrounded by cameras. A boy in uniform is standing on a step with sunglasses and a lollipop.

Shelton sets the scene up. Lee is watching on his iPad with headphones on. Blake, meanwhile, is a lot more relaxed. He’s also sitting in front of the cameras, but is leaving Lee to handle the intricacies of production.

But do Blake and Lee enjoy the change of pace and more importantly, not sitting in front of a microphone every afternoon?

“The short answer is it’s still a really creative field and there might be a few similarities with something like radio but they are vastly different skills,” says Blake. “So it’s fun to develop and flex your muscles a bit in another area that isn’t just sitting down and creating a show everyday. Although that is tonnes of fun and we do miss that.”

Hamish and Andy in 2006

“That’s the reason why the podcast exists,” adds Lee.

“In many respects, radio or that kind of broadcasting or podcasting is where Hamish and Andy are at our best, and it’s certainly where I have the most fun because we are not telling each other anything to say, we are sitting back, two people on a microphone and what comes out comes out.”

But, he admits, it is a challenge to pull away. And yet, there’s a bigger problem for bigwig media personalities like them. It’s the expectation of the public when you ‘quit’.

Our interview is the day of Jessica Rowe’s resignation from Studio 10. Blake can relate. After all, the duo have not ruled out returning to radio, one day.

“At some point, unless you are sacked, you are going to have to call it yourself. If you were an accountant and you were like ‘You know what, I’m going to switch over and have a look at mergers and acquisitions for a while’, I don’t think the hoo-ha would be like ‘You’ve quit, you’ve quit, you’ve quit’,” says Blake.

“Even Jessica Rowe, I got suck into some clickbait this morning saying ‘She dramatically quits’. She literally went on air and said ‘I’ve chosen to leave to spend more time with my family’, but to the rest of the world it’s like ‘Well if you are not sacked, you are quitting’ and it’s dramatic,” he says. 

“There is a third option, but that’s just not a good headline which is: We had a great time, we’ve decided to do something else.”

Zoe Samios travelled to Melbourne to the sets of The Block and True Story with Hanish & Andy as a guest of Nine.

ADVERTISEMENT
Advertisement

SUBSCRIBE

Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing