Saturday, 15 October 2011

High Stakes

What was I doing on Tuesday ? Oh yes, I was invited for dinner at my daughter’s flat in Cardiff. This explains why the debut of Jeremy Kyle’s "High Stakes" passed me by completely. You know, my path did cross once with JK’s. It was back in 2007, when I was recording my first round heat in the 2007 SOBM of Mastermind. This was recorded in the 360 Media studios in Manchester, where they also record JK’s show. I was having my slap applied, when he arrived and I was asked if I would get out of the chair so that he could be touched up . Ooh, Matron. Well, fast forward to 2010, and the filming of the final of Mastermind Champion of Champions. You're right, I didn’t actually take part in the final, but as the highest scoring runner up I was stand in, and invited along to the studio for it. As I was walking from the car park to the studios I saw a substantial queue waiting outside the audience entrance . – Wow ! – I thought – The Champions' final is really popular ! - Then I saw the notice that said this was where people had to queue to get into the Jeremy Kyle show.

OK, well, back to High Stakes. Now that I’ve caught up with the show, what can I tell you about it ? It’s categorized as a quiz show, and while that’s right, this is very much a game show. Now, we all know about game shows, don't we ? Let's not expect great questions, or many of them, or very knowledgeable contestants. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, either. But it does have implications for how entertaining a quiz I'm likely to find it.

Boiling it down to essentials, the show consists of single contestants taking a go at winning up to £500,000 . To win they have to cross 6 lines of 7 numbers, on a big, presumably computerized board on the floor. On the first line, for £1000 I think, one of the numbers is booby trapped. On the second line 2. On the third line 3. You get the idea, I’m sure. The contestant has to pick numbers to stand on in each line. Now, if a contestant wanted to do it completely randomly , they could. On each line, a contestant has the choice of taking a risk, which means stepping onto a number blind, and hoping that its not a trap. However a contestant also has the option of taking a clue. The clue will tell them which number to avoid – for example, the very first one was – Avoid the year in which J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “ was first published. The options are all consecutive numbers.

Now, basic arithmetic tells us that with 10 clues available, a contestant can get £25,000 without having to take any risk. However then that would lead you needing to avoid a lot of traps just by gambling. So I doubt that we’re going to see the jackpot won any time soon. Not to worry. Once you avoid all the traps on any one line you have the option of bailing out with whatever cash you have won. Even if you find a trap, you at least get the amount of money you won two lines ago.

Well, that’s the idea of the game, then. To be honest, it’s OK. They make out in the publicity for the show that the big USP for it is that the host is allowed to give you help. Well, yes, JK did at times, but I wouldn’t say that it was worth tuning in for this feature alone. Some he knew, some he didn't, or at least pretended that he didn't. If I’m honest I wouldn’t say that there’s anything outstandingly innovative about the show, though – single contestant playing for increasing amounts of cash, with increasing difficulty going with each prize money hike. Still, my initial impressions were that it’s not as unentertaining as some I’ve seen.

It has its negatives, of course. As tends to be the way with game show quizzes aimed at anything like a prime time audience, a large proportion of the questions were about entertainment and popular culture. You don’t get a lot of questions for your money, either, but then that’s par for the course with a game show quiz. It never did Millionaire a lot of harm for example, and the pace of this show wasn’t quite as funereal as some that I’ve seen. Not quite, anyway. I'll be honest, though, the whole number thing wears thin pretty quickly. There were two contestants in the first show. One was 39, and the other was . . . a bit older. It was nice to see a prime time quiz resisting the urge to go running to the 18 – 30 age group for its contestants. As is usual for this particular corner of the quiz show market, the contestants both were ordinary MOPs ( members of the public ) and I shouldn’t be surprised if this remains the same for the whole series. Yet the fact that you HAVE to gamble if you’re going to earn more than £25,000 probably means that really serious quizzers wouldn’t be much more likely to take the top prize than any MOP would.

As for Jeremy Kyle . . . he was OK. I will confess that I don’t find him anything like as annoying as Shouty McGurney from Million Pound Drop, but that’s just a personal thing. I will admit that his assumption of a 'funny'Northern accent to go with his first contestant's grated a lot. I thought that doing that sort of thing went out back in the 70s. I didn't like his calling the audience 'my friends' and the contestants 'mate' all the time either. It had all the sincerity of Hughie Green. He does seem like something of a strange choice to present this, though. His role in the show seems to be very much as the contestant’s friend – yet every 5 minutes or so I couldn't help expecting him to start shouting at them and tell them to ‘grow a pair’ . It’s a mental hurdle to get over, and I don’t know that I’d ever stick with the show long enough to.

I don’t know whether the show will be allowed the time to let other people make this mental adjustment either. I may be mistaken but I think that the viewing figures were less than 2 and a half million, which is far from great for the time it was on. ITV aren’t renowned for being patient with shows and allowing them the time to find their audience. As for my verdict, well , I know I keep coming back to this , but it’s OK.Not good, IMHO, and not bad, IMHO. Its OK. Of course, as always, feel free to disagree. It’s not really my sort of show, but it’s not the sort of thing that I’d go out of my way to avoid. Whether it’ll be around for long though, is something I wouldn’t like to try to predict.But what do I know ? I thought Million Pound Drop would be dropped after one term.


Gruff said...

Hi David, would you be able to publicise the Cleverdicks casting call on here?

Having been involved in play testing the format I think it will be very popular with your readers.

Londinius said...

Hi Gareth

I've already posted a cleverdicks casting call on this very blog ! It was about 2 days and 7 or 8 posts ago !