Dancing With The Stars

Melinda Houston says spunky, sassy Sonia Kruger is Dancing with the Stars' best asset: a great second banana.

All care, no responsibility. High profile, low risk. Not too many TV celebs these days actually like being referred to as the second banana ("We're a team! It's a team effort!"), but not only does the role have a long and honourable history, it has to be one of the best gigs around.

If you pick your first banana wisely - or at least the vehicle in which you both appear - you get to enjoy ratings success, and much that goes with it (such as a nice fat pay packet, and secure employment) without having to worry about those ratings. It's not your show, after all.

Sure, you may have to take the blame when little things go wrong, but, as long as you're not the headliner, no one can say that, ultimately, success or failure is your responsibility. And, in the meantime, you have a prime-time spot, you get to make the funny with the experts, you get to bask in all that reflected glory. And you get to tell your mates that all the best gags were your idea. (Indeed, possibly the concept of the entire show.)

Of course, being second banana does have its downside, such as being continually referred to as "the other guy". (Steven Merchant, Ricky Gervais' writing partner, has some hilarious stories along these lines, including he and Gervais regularly being posed for photographs just far enough apart so that he can be Photoshopped out.) It'll rarely be you on the cover of TV Week. Plus, if your first banana is a comedian, you may find yourself continually playing the fall guy, being the butt of jokes, having to dress up in women's clothing, and generally humiliate yourself in order to make the boss look good.

But, if you play your cards right, you won't be second banana forever. The support role can be the best kind of apprenticeship. Rove McManus has provided his own little finishing school for local comedians. Having played second fiddle to the Rovester, Corinne Grant, Pete Hellier and Dave Hughes have all built substantial careers.

Jennifer Keyte and Naomi Robson both started out doing little news spots on Steve Vizard's tonight show, gained a following, and blossomed. Red Symons did his best to upstage Shirley Strachan in the old Skyhooks days, but never did. On Hey Hey It's Saturday (which also launched a number of bananas to the top of the bunch) he was comic relief. But now? He's his own one-man celebrity circus.

And last week we welcomed one of Australia's most promising second bananas back to our screens: Ms Glitter herself, Sonia Kruger.

When Dancing with the Stars was launched, the big news was the return to the screen of Daryl Somers, a long-time first banana in the classic mould: immaculately coiffed, lightly tanned, with a practised line in repartee of the "Take my wife, please" variety. All we knew about his co-host was that she was a blonde former dancer with a penchant for eye sequins. But what a package she turned out to be.

The self-described loose cannon has been the making of the show, bringing a good dollop of grown-up spice to leaven the (admittedly, deliberately) saccharine goings-on around her. And, unlike other praiseworthy sidekicks, the real pleasure of Kruger's contribution is that it's spontaneous. Even the best of them, such as Hughes or Hellier, are experienced comedians. So we see them presenting their practised schtick. With Kruger, you get the feeling that even she doesn't know what's going to come out of her mouth next. And what fun that is.

In many ways, that ability to react - with wit and intelligence - to whatever's going on around you is a trait of the first-rate sidekick. You are, after all, the backup, the emergency generator of the entertainment machine.

But it is also a trait of our best first bananas (King Kennedy, for instance) and of second bananas who have graduated to the senior ranks (Bert Newton, for instance).

So, while we welcome the news that Kruger will support Andrew O'Keefe in his slated Tonight show (that's a partnership with lots of promise), we're even more keen on the idea of her getting her own gig. As long as it's on a network, or in a timeslot, that lets her go crazy.


Angus Sampson
The latest graduate of Second Banana School, he began his TV career supporting Dylan Lewis on the ABC's The 10.30 Slot. Soon he was so busy making movies (Kokoda and, now, Where the Wild Things Are) he - sadly - can hardly make time to show them all up on Thank God You're Here.

Bert Newton
The hero and inspiration to second bananas everywhere, Bert served long apprenticeships to both Graham Kennedy and Don Lane before blossoming into a crack solo act.

Denise Drysdale
She did eventually get her own morning show a few years ago, but she really shone as the jolly offsider to Graham Kennedy, Don Lane, Ernie Sigley, Daryl Somers, even Frankie J. Holden.

John "Strop" Cornell
He never scored his own tonight show, but why would he bother? As Paul Hogan's dopey fall-guy he made a motser, he got the bird (Delvine Delaney, herself a fine second banana), and ended up running a pub on one of Australia's most beautiful beaches. Now that's something to aspire to.


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