'We Need People To Say We Want This And We Want It Now': Melissa Leong's Ready For More Dinner Guests

As part of the Pilot Showcase for 2022, Narelda Jacobs, Susan Carland and Melissa Leong put together a talk show unlike anything else on TV.

After chatting over social media, Narelda approached Melissa with a kernel of an idea for a talk show where diverse voices often not given the spotlight, would have an opportunity to shine.

"Initially it started as a more classic panel show," Melissa told 10 play. "We thought, if [I'm] involved, why don't we do it over food? Food is the great equaliser, we share it with people we love, it lowers inhibitions so let's do that instead."

Thus, Dinner Guest was born, a show where Narelda, Melissa and Susan invite an extraordinary Australian to dinner, and the four have an open conversation, talking about the things they've all been thinking but haven't been able to voice in public in the past.

READ MORE: 'Fresh, Fierce And Fearless': Narelda Jacobs Invites You To Be Her Dinner Guest In New Groundbreaking Show

"We had lunch with [producer] Stamatia Maroupas and we were like wow, we should be filming this conversation," Melissa said. "Talking about the things we really want to hear and see on television that we haven't before. Why not now? I think it's the right time."

Though Narelda, Melissa and Susan hadn't spent much time together in person, when they first met up Melissa said there was an immediate shared sentiment of what they wanted to do, why they felt like they were in the media space in Australia, and how they could push the needle forward.

In the pilot, the trio were joined by presenter, journalist and RN Breakfast host Patricia Karvelas and, while the episode is 30 minutes, their lunch went for four or five hours.

"There was such an air of excitement we'd finally get to do that," Melissa said. "It was such a massive treat having Pat there, she's so brilliant on so many levels... the way she articulates her life experience is really nothing short of inspiring."

Sitting down at Salona in Melbourne's Richmond, the cameras were set up so they weren't directly in the line of sight, allowing the four women to almost forget they were even being recorded.

"We pretty quickly forgot about the cameras and just got to the business of eating and sharing stories and listening to each other. It was a really warm, comfortable dynamic from the beginning," Melissa said.

As the series was Narelda's brainchild she got the honour of selecting the very first guest but Melissa explained that in each episode, the hosts would take turns inviting a new guest to dinner - and that guest would choose the venue, giving a completely different feel to each episode and conversation.

"It could be in a pub, it could be on country somewhere outside, I would love to see all sorts of different environments," Melissa said.

"I think that changing energy every single time really showcases and shines a spotlight on the guest but, also, it allows us to be seen in different lights as well and maybe change our perspectives on people and on the subjects we're speaking about."

Unlike regular panel or interview shows, Dinner Guest allows Narelda, Melissa and Susan the opportunity to equally share their own experiences and thoughts with the guest.

"It's a conversation," Melissa explained, "and I think, how many times do we have conversations with friends over the dinner table... it's such an insightful forum for an exchange of ideas, it's an even playing field.

"Yes, someone is a guest, but no one is an expert. We're all here to learn."

While Melissa has always been very clear about the boundaries she's put on what she is and isn't willing to share about her personal life in public and on social media, Dinner Guest gave her an opportunity to feel like she was in a safe environment.

"If it's in the context of an exchange of ideas and on a theme that connects us all as humans, then I can see a broader application for wanting to share," she said. "It gives me a bit more confidence to say okay, I can talk about whatever it happens to be because all of our human experiences are relatable in some way.

"If it helps someone out there feel less alone, starts a conversation that needs to be started then that's okay for me. I can see that as justifiable."

Though Dinner Guest is just a pilot, for now, Melissa said it would mean everything if the show was picked up for a whole season.

"I love getting to talk about food, and getting to talk about culture through the lens of food on MasterChef," she said. "This would be an extension and a growth of that, and I love being in this space at the moment.

"We need to encourage people to speak up and say that they want it because that's how pilots become shows," Melissa continued. "We need people to be more than 'That's a nice idea', we need people to say, 'We want this and we want it now'. Hopefully, we can encourage people to do that.

"All the shows in Pilot Showcase are fantastic, they're all unique and different and warm and beautiful in their own way, and I think I could see all of them finding a place within the 10 family," Melissa said.

"But, rather selfishly, this one's quite different because it's far overdue."

Dinner Guest is available to stream exclusively on 10 play on demand now