Rove and the single woman

Peter Saxon digs deep into the relationship

By any measure, age gap for example, it’s a strange pairing. For a show with so much riding on it, Humphrey from the classic BBC series Yes Minister, would go as far as calling it “courageous.” 

Rove McManus, at 41 is a seasoned performer with 16 Logies to his name, three of them Gold. He is both a talent and a successful producer through his company Roving Enterprises. 

At just 22, Sam Frost is young enough to be … well, she’s young enough to be a successful reality show contestant, a Bachelorette, no less. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Plenty have gone on to become very successful radio hosts including Chrissie Swan and Ryan “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. But right now, Sam is a total radio novice starting her broadcasting career at the very top –  Breakfast in Australia’s biggest market.

Yet the former finance executive is unfazed. And why not? Of all the stakeholders Sam has least to lose. “Im quite spontaneous and this was just another one of those things,” says Sam, “I never went in having false expectations of what would happen afterwards, like, I’m going to get my head on tv. It was more like, what a cool experience.”

Rove, on the other hand has much more skin in the game. A significant chunk of his salary will come from a package of shares in SCA worth around $2.1 million over the next three years at current value. How those shares perform in the future, for him and his fellow SCA shareholders will directly correlate to how Rove and Sam perform in the ratings. Like Sam, he too seems unfazed.

“I heard an interview with Grant (Blackley, SCA CEO) where he talked about how it makes the talent invested in the product and I think thats a very true statement – not that I wouldn’t be loyal to the brand if there wasn’t some sort of share investment. But certainly the ups and downs of the company, you follow a little bit more.”

Oddly enough, Rove, the seasoned businessman doesn’t represent himself. He leaves that to one of Australia’s leading agents Kevin White who did the deal on his behalf, personally, rather than through his company Roving Enterprises. Yet, it’s hard to know whether Rove’s kidding when he says, “I don’t know how the shares work. I don’t even know if they’re a real thing. I don’t expect it’s something that comes in an envelope or wrapped up in a nice little bow. What do I do with them? I don’t really know.”

 It was my wife Tasma who said ‘What about Sam, have you thought about her?’

It was Rove, who owns one of the most extensive black books in the business, who was instrumental in choosing Sam for his co-host. “You look at your friends and they’re all busy doing other things. And you say ‘right, who else is out there that maybe I haven’t thought of and maybe isn’t the most obvious choice because quite clearly the people who are good at this job are already doing this job?’ 

“So, now it’s about doing that magical thing of finding some undiscovered talent. It was my wife Tasma who said ‘What about Sam, have you thought about her?’ while we were watching her on The Project. I just assumed that she had a network deal to do something after the Bachelorette. 

Surprisingly she was free so we got her into the building and we did a bit of playing on the microphones with a couple of topics. It was pretty loose but from that found that there was an immediate chemistry.

I think everybody would like to think that they know Sam. She does a very good job of making you think that you’re connected to her. She’s very warm  and engaging and very personable. Just great to be around,” says Rove.

Top people working in Content will tell you it’s all about the chemistry. Rove being one of those top people, when asked whether you can coach chemistry had this to say, “It has to be there naturally. There were a couple of people that we did test outside of Sam and she was just the best fit and there were those that I have known longer than I have known Sam but for some reason it didn’t quite click when the microphones went on.”

The instinct is always – ‘There’s dead air! Quick, fill it!

Executive Producer, Tim Dunlop is charged with guiding and polishing the pair to success, “He’s sitting outside for the whole show, so he probably has a good perspective of where we’re at,” says Rove.

“We got a note the other day, it started with, ‘This is nitpicking but good that we are already at that point of it being nitpicking.’ And the note was really about how many times we ummm’d and ahhh’d.  Instead of pausing for a second to get your thought ready and the deliver it, the instinct is always – ‘There’s dead air! Quick, fill it! And if that’s you going Ummm Ahh, then you do it. So, if that’s where we’re at at this point, it’s pretty good.”

Sam adds, “That wasn’t even two weeks in. That was a week and a bit. I quite like constructive criticism because I have the outlook, on any job that I have, that if I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, then how can I improve?”

Rove says, “I might be more experienced as far as hosting or being in the business but that doesn’t mean that I know how to do a breakfast radio show from top to tail. So, I’m very open and honest in saying that I have a lot to learn as well.”

I think people may have the impression that we just rock up for 3 hours a day, talk rubbish and then go home.

Sam, being the junior partner in this enterprise has most to learn, “I think, for myself, I want to get better at interviewing. I’ve never interviewed before and I work with the best interviewer in the business in Rove and hopefully one day I’ll be half as good as him.”

Despite her inexperience, Sam was under no illusions coming in to this job. “I knew that it would be like this,” she says. “It’s a lot of hard work. I think sometimes people underestimate how much work goes into a show. I think people may have the impression that we just rock up for 3 hours a day, talk rubbish and then go home. But there’s hours of production meetings and ideas. So much goes into one show to get it right. But I love it! It’s a challenge and one I wanted to take on and we’ve got a team that backs both of us so it’s good to have that support.”

It’s no secret that there remains some residual acrimony between SCA and their erstwhile breakfast duo Kyle and Jackie O and would dearly love to win back some of the audience they took. “I’m no fan of Rove and I’ve been saying that for a long time but I was surprised that they decided to go with someone that does scripted, rehearsed humour rather than an off the cuff, edgy show,” Kyle recently told 

We find people are acknowledging how much better we are getting at this.

Acrimony aside, Rove & Sam will need to make some inroads into the Kyle and Jackie O audience base on KIIS to succeed. Unlike Kyle, who’s happy to stir up controversy, Rove remains ambivalent about beating them. “I don’t know that that’s our job as such,” says Rove. “For me that’s not the narrative or the reason why we’re doing it. We want to do a good job but were not sitting here with targets on anyone else because if you play that game your’e not going to get any better because you are too busy watching what everyone else is doing.”

If nothing else the unlikely pairing of Rove and Sam has generated a tsunami of publicity for their show. Rove says, “I think that a lot of the questions that people would have had was around whether this was a legitimate pairing or just a flashy billboard… an easy marketing campaign.

“We find people are acknowledging how much better we are getting at this. It seems at this moment that it’s a fair review that we are getting at this point so I would thank everybody for that because we have a long way to go. We are investing in this for the long term and it’s nice to think that people are appreciating that and want to come along of the ride.”

 Peter Saxon