The Chase - ITV1 - 5pm
Well, just as we were starting to get used to "Divided" - or not , as the case may be, ITV replace it with "The Chase". This one has been in the pipeline for a little while now, so its a pleasure to finally see it emerge from its chrysalis into the full glare of the early evening weekday schedule. But is it more butterfly or moth ?
The format of the show is relatively simple. 4 contestants take turns to face a round in which they must first earn an amount of money, and then bring it home to the team. Money is earned by answering general knowledge questions against the clock. So, for the sake of argument, 7 correct answers will bring you £7000. Then the contestant must bring the sum of money they have earned down a runway of a series of steps - one correct answer brings you down a step at a time. Ah, but here's the catch. At the same time that they answer questions, so does the Chaser, a well known figure from the world of serious quizzing. The contestant starts three steps down the runway. The Chaser will offer a reduced amount of money to allow the contestant to start from further down, and an increased amount to start from one step further up. Every time the contestant gets a question wrong, and the Chaser gets it right, then the Chaser gets one step closer. If the chaser catches the contestant before they get to the bottom, then the money is gone, and so are they.
For the final round the contestants who have eluded the Chaser team up and answer questions against the clock. Each question takes them a step further away from the Chaser. Then the Chaser must answer questions to catch them. If the Chaser gets a question wrong, then it is passed over to the team. If they get it right, then the Chaser goes a step back. If the Chaser catches them, to paraphrase a well known presenter, they leave with nothing. If the Chaser doesn't, then the money is theirs.
OK - is that all clear ? Don't worry if its not clear in writing. if you watch the show its pretty easy to follow as you go along. But is it any good ? Well, at this point I should announce that Chaser on tonight's show was a friend of mine, Mark Labbett. If you're a regular TV quiz watcher you'll know Mark from many shows - with possibly the best known being The People's Quiz of 2007, where he came runner-up in the Grand Final. Mark is actually a hell of a good guy, despite the way he was portrayed as an almost pantomime villain during The People's Quiz, and I thought he came across pretty well in this. Ian , our second contender tonight took the gamble of going for the £20,000, and it paid off, and I thought Mark was suitably gracious about this. On the other hand the last contender, Driss, seeing a large whack of £20,000 in the prize fund, opted to start further down for a measly £200, which predictably earned Mark's scorn. As for his own performance, I may be wrong, but I think that Mark answered all bar one of the contestants' questions correctly, which was a terrific performance. They were a real mixture of easy ones, old chestnuts, ones to make you think, and even a couple of snorters too.
I'm not clear whether Mark is just one of a group of Chasers, or whether he is the one and only. My guess is that there are more than one of them. Time will tell.
So what's my verdict ? Well, the show has its negatives. I think its a little too long, and could be trimmed. Gareth Kingston on the IQAGB forum has noted that there's no need for us to be shown the Chaser walking to the chair at the start of each round, and suggests that we could be shown the contestant and the Chaser's answers at the same time. I think he's spot on with that. He also made a telling point that the contestants have to buzz in to give an answer in the final round, which does put them at a disadvantage.
These are tweaks which could be made, though, rather than gaping flaws in the whole concept of the show. The show delivers a significant amount of questions. I hesitate to draw the comparison with Eggheads, but if I don't then I'm sure others will, Eggheads being the first 'pro - am' quiz show of the modern - and indeed probably any - era. Compare the number of questions Eggheads delivers per half hour with the number "The Chase " delivers per half hour - yes, I know that the chase is a longer show, but compare the ratio - and I suggest that it will come out heavily in the latter's favour. I found the final round genuinely exciting too, as Mark very nearly didn't make it - letting the pressure get to him enough that he answered "Henry VIII" when he knew very well that the answer was "Henry VII". I liked it, and will certainly watch again - whoever the Chaser is.
Its a butterfly, then ? Well, possibly so. However butterflies are delicate and fragile things, easily crushed. This looks and feels like a big prime time show. But its not on at prime time. Ironically, if it was on Channel 4, maybe as part of a Countdown - Deal or No Deal - The Chase triple whammy, I think its success would be assured. But how ambitious are ITV for it ? Or put it another way - what sort of audience will it need to deliver for its future to be assured. As with so many things in this life, only Time will provide the answer.