Roger Dowds wasn't exactly an obvious pick for a game show contestant. He'd lived a quiet, sheltered life and had little faith in himself.
So it was surprising to everyone, including himself, when he was picked for Ireland’s popular version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and even more surprising how he changed as his winnings accrued.
Roger Dowds: Millionaire Winner won a Best Documentary: Honorable Mention Award in the 2006 Third Coast Festival/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition.
Ronan Kelly is a producer with RTE Radio 1 in Ireland. Kelly studied communications at the University in Dublin and then began his career as a commercial video producer. He was an intern for Channel 13 in New York and for CNN in Atlanta when, having given Ted Turner all his good ideas, he came back to Ireland to resume his career. Kelly worked as a reporter for RTE TV for three years before finally finding his niche as a radio producer. He has worked for RTE for 16 years.
Roger Dowds: Millionaire Winner first aired in Ireland on RTE, on the program Flux.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Producer Ronan Kelly
What is the concept behind Flux and how did it get its name?
Mostly I have worked on live shows with a combination of long, substantial interviews and phone calls. But I love the idea of recorded pieces where you tell the story with a mix of location recording, narration, and music. Part of it is a control thing -– I like the idea of turning the pages of the story myself. Live shows are thrilling and engaging but sometimes the pages are turned by too many people.
Flux means "flow" in Latin -– which is what happens in the programme -– the stories have a flow to them but so also does the programme itself. I like the idea of flow because Ireland is undergoing huge changes at the moment and I wanted to nod to that; too often stories are told to arrest or fight change and while this may ease short-term fears, it doesn’t really help negotiate life in the long run.
Flux is also a substance that helps bind metals together in metalwork. In much the same way, the sharing of stories helps bind people together –- contrived eh?
When you decided to feature Roger did you know much about him? What about him intrigued you from the start?
Roger’s story came from a producer working on a daily magazine show. They had a feature where they invited different age groups into studio to talk about their lives -– so it began with teens, then 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and so on. Roger wrote to the show to tell them about his life. He wasn’t invited into the programme but they passed his number on to me.
What really intrigued me about Roger was the way he used the media to fulfill a need he had. There’s a great theory of media developed in America in the 1940s (I think) called the Uses and Gratifications Theory. Researchers discovered during an election in Pennsylvania that different electors drew different conclusions from the same articles. So they proposed this theory that we all use the same media for different reasons in our life: for distraction, to learn about the world, to confirm our views about the world, and so on.
Uses and Gratifications theory refers to the public as consumers but there’s also the phenomenon of the public using the media as participants. It’s said that this is a phenomenon of reality TV –- nobodies getting on TV because they want to be somebodies. I disagree, surely it’s been around since the first person got up to perform on the radio or to participate in a quiz show?
Anyway, what I liked about this story was how Roger was using Who Wants to be a Millionaire to build up his self-esteem and the prize money was not so important to him.
Were you surprised by the sad twists and turns in Roger’s life?
Yes I was -- I learnt about them at the same time as the listener does. Normally, when someone goes on the radio you know what they're going to say beforehand from the research. In my case, I do very little research beforehand and enjoy watching the story unravel during the conversation; and I hope it shows in my tone of voice and questions.
That's the luxury of being on a relatively cheap one-man operation with a show every week or fortnight. When I was producing on RTE's main shows, I would want to know every detail before putting an interviewee in studio -- not to produce the life out of it but to get the best out of it.
You ask Roger a number of very difficult and probing questions and he seems very willing to share what most would consider private, even embarrassing facts. Had you spent hours or weeks building an environment of trust?
RTE 1 is a national station with a reputation for broad informative programming and a long tradition of people sharing their stories. It’s a station that many people have a "relationship" with. They’ve grown up with it. Roger knew when I visited him that his story was on the agenda. I recorded him for about an hour and a half in his house -– the recording and research happened at the same time.
I also recorded him while watching the programme in a studio (we did this because he didn’t have a video player in his house.) I was hoping to record him visiting his elderly friends in the retirement home but that didn’t work out.
Is there any reason why this story was best told on radio? Would TV had added or taken away anything?
There are perhaps two advantages I can think radio might have had over TV in this story. First, that if the TV producer felt the need to illustrate the story with lots of extra pictures then it could have diffused the intensity of the conversation. Secondly, Roger might not have been so comfortable –- after all, it was just me him, a mic, two cups of tea, and his excellent biscuits.
In the end, was this a happy story?
No such thing. Moments of happiness –- made real by moments of the ordinary and depressing. Stories are part of a process –- a flow, flux.
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