It’s easy to be so put off by the basic idea of a new show sometimes that you’re already mentally writing the stinging review before the first five minutes are over. Knowing the concept of “Tipping Point”, the latest ITV entry to the teatime quiz stakes I made a conscious decision to give it a fair chance, despite the fact that the concept, as I understood it, held out every possibility of delivering a 24 carat stinker.
The concept of the show, then , is this. In each slightly different round of the show players answer questions to earn plastic tokens. These they get to feed in to a large version of a Compton’s Penny Falls amusement machine. If that name doesn’t mean anything to you, well, just think about the last time that you paid a visit to an amusement arcade. You’re bound to have seen one of these machines – which have two shelves going back and fore, sweeping either 2p pieces, or 10p pieces in some cases. You drop a coin in, and hope that it will help sweep some coins over the edge, into your grateful grasp. You remember now. Well, that’s basically it. If you win tokens, then you choose where and when they are released in the machine. If any of the tokens in the machine end up swept into the collection area, then you get £50 for each one.
The mechanics of the show are extremely simple. The first round starts with 4 players, buzzing in to answer questions. The contestant in each round with the lowest total in his or her bank is out. Each of the other rounds varies slightly, but the principle of lowest total holder leaves remains the same.
In the final round, the last contestant standing drops a ‘star ‘ token into the machine. He then is given 6 categories. He can answer an easy question for 1 token, a medium for 2, or a hard for 3 in each. So the contestant has a maximum of 18 tokens to knock the star token back out of the machine. Any other tokens he sweeps out are added to the total. If he should manage to knock out the star, then he wins £10000. If not, then he still picks up the running total, which could easily be a couple of thousand pounds. However, he will also get offered a gamble. A further three tokens to knock out the star for the jackpot. However, if the contestant gambles and fails, then he leaves with nothing.
You probably know what I’m going to say about this show. But I do want to be fair. This show isn’t aimed at me. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it isn’t really aimed at people who have much of an interest in quizzes in general. The questions seem very simple. That’s not necessarily a handicap to making a popular teatime quiz show – it never seemed to do The Weakest Link any harm, to name but one. But I make the comparison deliberately. If the questions or the quiz elements of the show are not enough to hold an audience’s interest by themselves, then you have to offer something else as well. In the case of WL, there was Anne Robinson’s bitchiness, and the voting off of contestants. Alright, I was never a great fan of these myself, but enough people were to keep the show going for over a decade. At least you got a decent amount of questions in the show as well.
What does “Tipping Point” offer other than quizzing elements, then ? The slot machine. Therein lies the problem. Whatever presenter Ben Shepherd might say, this is a game of luck, in which skill and strategy plays only a small part. Just because you answer more questions correctly than any of the other contestants, it doesn’t mean for one minute that you will earn more money than they do. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that this essential part of the show’s mechanics will put people off. With regards to the slot machine aspect of the show, there is no escaping the fact that it is, to be honest, a bit of a bore.
ITV viewers aren’t stupid. Two or three years ago ITV launched three quiz shows in what had previously been the Golden Balls slot. Of the three of them, Divided, The Chase and The Fuse, ITV themselves were said to be most fond of Divided. The Chase was kept as well, due to good viewing figures, and the Fuse, which was actually a show with potential, was made to walk the plank. Despite ITV’s hopes for Divided, they couldn’t force viewers to watch a show which , frankly, wasn’t much cop. Why is The Chase still going ? Because it was by far the best show out of the lot of them. People aren’t stupid, and the majority know when they are being sold something which doesn’t work.
I’m afraid that, in my opinion, “Tipping Point” doesn’t work. Ben Shepherd is so inoffensive you hardly even know he’s there, but he is very bland. It doesn’t work as a quiz show because the questions are too simple, and there aren’t enough of them. It doesn’t work as a game show because the game itself is, well, a bit of a bore, and there’s no variety in it either. Drop – sweep – oh tough luck. As in the original amusement arcade game, I should imagine that this show is a lot more fun to play, than to watch someone else playing. Now, I wouldn’t want to give you the idea that this is awful. Awful is an adjective which should only ever be applied to shows like Ted Rodger’s 3 – 2 – 1. But even awfulness has a certain fascination to it. There’s nothing fascinating, or even interesting about “Tipping Point”. I have a mental image of a production company exec looking across a sea of bewildered faces, and saying, in a hopeful voice , “Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but it just might work. “ Trust me. It doesn’t.