“Life’s Too Short Not To Be Authentic”: Osher Günsberg On The Bachelor, Idol And Twitter TV

We got some life lessons from Australian reality TV royalty.

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Osher Günsberg is nervous and that is making me nervous. We’re speaking ahead of the new season of The Bachelor — which has now been on for two glorious, romantic, back-stabbing weeks — and he doesn’t want to let anything slip about Richie, the new season or the Indonesian military. He doesn’t let anything slip, of course (also, why would I want to get Osher in trouble! I don’t want Osher to be in trouble!). This is not his first rodeo after all.

For Australians of a certain age, it’s kind of hard to remember a time when Osher Günsberg wasn’t on TV; hanging out with the Offspring backstage at the Warped Tour on Channel V, announcing to a national audience of three million people that Guy Sebastian was our first Australian Idol and now, hosting The Bachelor and The Bachelorette which have largely become social media smash hits due to his Twitter commentary.

When it comes to even the vaguest details about the making of the show, Günsberg won’t reveal a thing — unsurprising given he probably knows the importance of reality TV suspense more than anyone in Australian television. One thing he feels okay about talking about though, is how “lovely, lovely, lovely” 30-year-old Bachelor Richie Strahan is. “You just want to give him a cuddle. He’s such a nice chap,” Günsberg says.

“I mean, it takes a special kind of person to do the kind of job he does. Have you ever met someone who does a job like a rope access technician? It’s not generally a normal member of society who hangs off a perfectly good oil rig 100 feet above the swirling Indian Ocean in a storm. He’s a special kind of person.”

Richie is appealing, but it’s hard to ignore the hordes of people who watch The Bachelor for the tiny Osher moments — being protective over contestants, laughing at jokes that were too rude to air. We spoke to Osher Günsberg about his stamp on Australian reality TV, why Twitter is a vital part of how we experience live television and how to be an authentic person in the world (yes, really).

Junkee: One of the reasons that people have responded so enthusiastically to The Bachelor and The Bachelorette is due to your live-tweeting of the episodes. It’s an essential companion to the show. Did it just occur to you like ‘Huh, I wonder if people would like if I made myself into a meme’ or did it just happen organically?

 Osher Günsberg: I think it was the 2009 Logies that was the first live television event that I was in attendance for that was also after Twitter had gotten big. And that night I recognised the extraordinary power of being able to have a conversation with so many people as if it was just me and them, just texting. And since then I remember tweeting during Australian Idol ad breaks, that was always super fun. Having Twitter being a part of live television, I have always felt that it’s the future of how TV works and if you’re not authentically bringing your audience along for that ride, you’re really behind shows that do.

The opportunity to engage with people so personally… I mean, you can think about when was the last 24 hours you went without a phone being two meters from your body? That thing is with you, it’s a personal totem. It’s a tool you associate with your loved ones, who you’re married to, people you’re having sex with, people you’re trying to have sex, with and to be allowed in your phone through your Twitter feed is a great honour for me. And I love the idea of having a reason to have that conversation, particularly around a show like The Bachelor. I love making it and through Twitter I like to give to people who otherwise wouldn’t have watched the show a reason to watch it. Plus it’s really fun to be so meta and have weird conversations about yourself on telly. I think it’s great.

Last year The Bachelorette sparked some fantastic Twitter, I’m thinking of the time when a contestant was particularly rude to Sam Frost and you told him to leave. 

[laughs heaps]

You were very firm with him!

Yes, threw some shade. It was pretty fun. With that show you can only do what the job is and the job is to go in there, count roses and give people the bullet and say, ‘Okay, it’s time for you to go’. The job is not for me to commentate. But when I’m on Twitter, I’m able to commentate and I think that’s what’s the appeal; to have a personal thought track of someone who was in the room. I didn’t think moments like that would blow up, but I really like that the extra dimension of watching the show with Twitter is what makes it so special. You could never watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette without Twitter open. Everyone’s commentary is as much fun as the show itself.

It must be interesting for you to see that shift in how we consume TV, because you’ve worked on some of the most zeitgeist-y Australian shows of the last ten or so years.  

Thank you for saying that! That’s very nice to hear. I was lucky to be on live TV right at the time when broadband speeds were starting to fire up. I started at Channel V in 1999, and that was the first cable modem I had ever touched. We were able to put a live internet chat stream to air, so people were watching internet chat on their televisions for the first time. Therefore we were able to bring the viewers directly into the studio. We were the first people to put SMS polling on TV and to put texting on television, long before any of the commercial networks even knew what it was.

We were malleable enough to do that and we recognised quite early that engaging the audiences through the devices in their homes was absolutelty the future of television. Now it’s the way that audiences expect to engage with TV. It’s like watching MasterChef — I love watching Matt Preston tweet during MasterChef! It’s almost like DVD commentary… if you remember what DVDs are.

To kids in the early 2000s, Channel V seemed like the coolest place to work on the planet. 

It was the coolest. The coolest job in the history of the world. I’ve never done a job that was more awesome than that. It was a start-up TV channel, we had capital and we were given a mandate to just make it interesting, to give young people something they couldn’t get anywhere else. So we did. For a couple of years there, we were able to operate in an extraordinary environment. You see all those San Francisco start-ups with bean bag chairs and all the rest, and that’s exactly what it was like. We wanted to have a connection with our audience.

And then came Australian Idol… 

Yeah! And that too was just before internet speeds were good. YouTube was only really 2005/2006, so for the first few years it was pretty much must-watch and the only way you could watch it was on TV. I’ve been lucky enough to be in broadcasting at a time when it’s changing enormously quickly. So if someone is able to come up with an internet service that leapfrogs the NBN — which won’t be too bloody hard, let’s be honest — broadcasting is going to change again in this country and hopefully I’ll still have a ringside seat. I don’t even know if ‘broadcasting’ the word will even exist. We talk about content — I’ve got a 12-year-old kid here and she doesn’t watch any TV live at all. Everything she watches on her phone. It’s interesting to see how the industry will change and I’m excited by it.

When Australian Idol started on 2003 it felt like one of the first Australian reality TV consensus shows because so many people watched it live, interactive voting was still relativity new and it appealed to such a wide demographic. It’s so rare now to have a show like that dominate the cultural conversation. Was it daunting to be a part of initially?

I’ve got to say, at the time I really didn’t understand what was happening.

The pressure had increased so gradually that I didn’t really notice. It’s only when I look back now I see that that kind of thing will never happen again, because the audience is so fragmented now. I think those kind of shows will still exist though. You’ve just got to make your show so big and make it such an event that people absolutely will not miss it. Sport will keep TV alive; until Apple or YouTube takes AFL off free-to-air. But giving people live event television is important. Nothing makes me happier than when people send me photos of 10 or 20 people in their living room watching The Bachelor. That makes me so happy that people are coming together to watch this show!

You and James Mathison really were just plucked from freewheeling Channel V to host this huge, important show and it seemed like you two were just as starstruck by everything as the audience was. 

[laughs] It was intense. I’m not going to lie. We were very lucky to have had that Channel V experience beforehand. I’m sure they won’t mind me saying so, but at the time the Idol producers were like, ‘Okay so what this is called, is that we’re going to go live and what that means…’ and I had just come off tour doing a bus show with two thousand kids every day for six weeks. I’m going to be okay! This particular producer was an old Channel Nine guy and the culture at Channel Nine was that live television didn’t exist. This was the nineties, so things are very different now. So James and I had this incredible position of just coming in fully formed, which was pretty exciting. I love Jim.

Does it feel like The Bachelor brought you to another level? Or is this just the natural culmination of you being on Australian TV for 15 years?

I would like to think that when I started on Channel V, I just wanted to represent myself on telly. And when it came to Idol, you can’t really be yourself that much because you’re a traffic cop, there’s no room for comment. The Bachelor is even more finite than that. As far as injecting your personality and authenticity into it, that’s not really what the job calls for. I’d like to think that in the last few years I’ve managed to put some of who I am back into what it is that I do through Twitter and my podcast.

That connection to the audience is key. 

The way that we connect with people in pop culture now is through devices in their pocket too. I’ve got no problem whatsoever with sharing my life with others if it can help people. I’ve definitely got a lot of feedback that when I’ve talked about living with a brain that’s a little different from others. I’ve gotten emails from people like ‘Thanks for talking about that, I didn’t know how to describe it that way’.

Life is too short not to be authentic anymore, Sinead.

The Bachelor is on Channel Ten at 7.30pm Wednesdays and Thursdays from now until forever. Read last week’s power ranking here.