Thursday, 18 February 2010

Ambience, Atmosphere, and A Few Changes

I have more radios at home than is probably healthy. Now, I am perfectly aware that the best reception and best sound quality comes from my Bush DAB radio. Yet somehow I’d rather listen to Brain of Britain, for example, on Long Wave on my navy blue Roberts R200. On Monday evening at 10:30 on Radio 2 there was programme about Smokey Robinson at 70, which I wouldn’t have dreamed of listening to on anything other than my Bush VTR103 – styled the same as the classic Bush TR 82 radio – big round dial, carrying handle, but the first one they produced which could receive FM, or VHF as they called it. My Hacker Democrat is perfect for the cricket on longwave, and so on and so forth. I call it a question of ambience. My kids call it ‘sad’ , and Mrs. Londinius mutters dark phases about ‘houseroom’ and ‘chuck them out’

Ok – I’m getting to the point now. Ambience, or atmosphere matters to me. Even in quizzes it matters. Or does it really ?

When you get right down to it, a quiz is a person asking questions and other people trying to answer them. But within that catchall definition there’s a huge variety of different formats. In the same way that I feel the pleasure of a particular radio show can be enhanced by the radio on which you choose to listen to it, I also feel that certain types of quiz lend themselves more to particular venues.

I was moved to write about this because of what’s happened recently to a quiz I play in from time to time. The pub is in an area which I believe would be described as affluent. It’s a gorgeous pub, a genuinely old building with bags of character, lovingly maintained inside. In recent months a new landlord has ditched the old format of two rounds of 25 questions, all general knowledge, and a seperate seven questions for a cash jackpot. The new format is 7 rounds of 10 questions. The first and last are always General Knowledge, and the other five are themed rounds. There is a joker for each team which must be played on one of the themed rounds. There is a beer or wine prize for the winners, and no jackpot. To give you a flavour of the quiz, Tuesday’s themed rounds were – Stars of the Silver Screen ( self explanatory ) – Childrens’ TV Themes ( sound round ) – Games – Up and Under ( rugby union and rugby league ) – Monuments ( picture round ) . If you’ve been with me for any length of time you’ll know my feelings on themed quizzes, and also my feelings on quizzes which devote too much of their questions to entertainment topics. After the quiz, the landlord picks three names of teams out of the hat to play a version of Play Your Cards Right for cash.

When this began, I thought that the quiz absolutely would not have suited the regulars in the venue, and that some of them would stop coming. I could not have been more wrong. They love it. I don’t find it as satisfying a quiz as the previous format, but the place is heaving on a Tuesday night. So what do I know ? I didn’t think for one minute that the new format would work in the same venue as the old one. But it does, at least for the vast majority of the teams who come and play week in, week out. I can’t even say that they enjoy this one because they don’t know any better. The hardcore of teams did come for the previous format, but many of them, on the quiet, have said to me that they prefer this one.

I’m not prepared to concede, though that atmosphere makes no difference. If you’ve ever played in a weekly quiz league you’ll appreciate what I’m saying. There is a world of difference between playing in a huge, mostly empty bar, where people occasionally enter, or walk past you to go to the toilet, and you can practically hear the tumbleweeds rolling down Main Street, and playing in a side room, or upstairs room, where the two teams are sandwiched together so closely that you have to communicate by sign language, or even better , telepathy .

Likewise, I’m sure that Trevor Parry’s Monday night quiz in Newport, where you get three rounds of 20 GK questions in each, a picture handout worth usually 30 points, a lists handout worth usually around 50 points, and a 3 question rolling jackpot, wouldn’t go down that well in the Aberavon Rugby club on a Thursday night. Different venue, different punters. Horse for courses.


While we’re on the subject of formats, I think I should mention that I was a phone a friend for a friend on WWTBAM last weekend. This is the second time that I’ve been one, and its also the second time that I’ve not been used – that’s life. No, I’m not going to say anything about that actual show, or what happened to my friend, since I’ve no wish to spoil the show for anyone;

What I found interesting, though , is the tweaks that have been made to the game. Again, I have no wish to spoil the series for anyone, so at the risk of being called a tease I’m not going to give details yet. Suffice it to say, though, that at least one of the cherished hallmarks of the show has disappeared, and in some ways the gameplay is rather different. Is it a confident decision to breath new life into the show, or a mark of desperation ? Until the public get to see the changes of the show in action, I have no idea.


Myron said...

They've tweaked the Millionaire format here in the USA to within an inch of its life, and most of the fans on the unofficial WWTBAM message "Bored" hate-hate-hate it.

Most significantly, they've dropped the phone-a-friend lifeline entirely, because people were googling, and that's not fair (the powers that be claimed). Never mind it's the thing that folks here most associate with the show. Although it is telling that most people are apparently not watching the current syndicated version and don't realize that lifeline is gone.

Add a clock and a much steeper climb to the big money, and it really is a different game.

I'll be interested to see what changes are being made to the grand-daddy show, and whether you think they be good or bad.


Londinius said...

Hello Myron, and welcome to LAM. Its a great pleasure to have a contributor from the US join us.

I'm interested to hear that the US version has dropped the phone a friend lifeline. Obviously from my post this one is still with us here. TBH, for anyone to google the answer in 30 seconds is pretty good going. In fact its less than 30 seconds when you deduct the time that it takes to read out the question too. The changes to the UK show do affect the lifelines among other things.

I think the new series in the UK is a different game from what it was too, although I haven't seen it yet, only been told about it by a contestant friend.

I think that this kind of tinkering with and tweaking of a format is a dangerous game to play. I always come back to the old dictum of - if it ain't broke, then don't fix it - and then a new dictum ( new because I just made it up ) - if it is broke, then you're going to need a lot more than a sticking plaster ( band aid ) . Millionaire has been a top show in the UK since it was first created 12 years ago. There was a real wave of new, big money quiz shows in the UK which followed in its wake, but that wave washed itself out a couple of years ago now and even Millionaire is losing its popularity. Its had a good, long run,and was helped, I think , by the publicity over the film "Slumdog Millionaire" a year or so ago, but I can't help thinking that maybe this is a last attempt to push the ratings back up before they shelve the show. I may be wrong - I hope that I am. But you have to wonder.

Thanks for dropping by