If you haven’t caught this new show yet, it’s on in the important 5pm slot on Channel 4. Now, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have normally watched anything fronted by Gurny von Shout, but we all have to make sacrifices for quizzes sometimes. Is it a quiz, though? It’s a fair question. It isn’t a straight quiz, no, it’s a game show. However it does have some fairly strong quiz elements within it.
There’s a couple of things which make me think that Channel Four have fairly high hopes for this show. Firstly, they gave it to Davina McCall. Her screen persona may not be my cup of tea, but she is one of the channel’s big draws. Secondly, the very first show was a celebrity special. Normally with a quiz/game show you don’t get a celebrity special until it’s already quite well established. Is the confidence they seem to have in the show misplaced, though?
The mechanics of the show work like this. Pairs of players – they may be friends, couples , married couples, whatever, take it in turns to try to win up to £50,000. The two of them will decide who will be the player, and who will be the timekeeper. The set is dominated by a huge and impressive hourglass. At the start of the first game the top of the glass is full of £50,000. The players are given five minutes to divide up between 5 games. The timekeeper will choose one of a number of different categories with catchall titles like film buff – wordsmith etc. The exact game will be explained, and then the timekeeper has to decide how much of the five minutes to allow the player for the game. The games themselves remind me of the first round mental agility puzzles of the old Krypton Factor. The player can keep answering , but has to get 5 right. Once the time allotted is up, the hourglass begins to flip over, and the money drains away, until the game is completed.
The team does have the option of using their emergency stop button for one of the five games. When this happens the hourglass is reset with whatever cash remains, and a random game is chosen by the computer. The player then has the same amount of time as in the previous game to complete it. So the only way to take £50,000 to the final is to complete every game within the time. Money that drains away is deducted from the total. Once the team has completed five games – the failed game and emergency game together make up one of the five – then they go to the final. They will be left with one category. The timekeeper and the player swap places. The gameplay of the final game is similar to the previous.In this you'll be given a category - eg The Most popular authors with British teachers - and asked to find 5 correct answers out of the top 10 as quickly as possible before the money drains away. Any money that hasn’t drained away, they get to take home. It’s as simple as that.
It is simple, and actually that’s a strength of the show. The games that they play do vary in difficulty. There’s a game where you are given five numbers in figures. You have to give the numbers in alphabetical order if they were written in words. Try it – it’s difficult! Then there are ebay-style ads which give clues to a person – eg – a little black dress – with the tag – you could wear it at Tiffany’s = Audrey Hepburn. I think that in a show like this, it will only really work if it has good play along at home potential – and I’ll admit that I did enjoy playing along with the games at home. I liked the fact that if you want to take much money home you’ve got to play well. Maybe there’s luck involved in which kind of game you get for which category, but this is relatively negligible, and that’s a strength as well. In fact I think that Channel 4 has a good show here.
It’s not without its drawbacks, though. Look at the timeslot. This is up against the kings of the teatime quizgame, Pointless, and the Chase. I would argue that a huge proportion of the potential audience will be watching Pointless, before catching up with The Chase on ITV+1. So not only does it have to lure viewers away to get them to watch the show in the first place, it also has to be strong enough to keep them. Granted, I like the games, and Davina in the three weekday shows so far has been at her least annoying. However, like many hour long game shows it would benefit from trimming down. There are two pairs that play in each show, but one only finishes their game, and another only starts. If it was cut down to 45 minutes you’d get one game in quite nicely. Also it’s early days yet, but I’ve watched each show apart from the celebrity one, and on each show Davina has been by some way the oldest thing on the menu. It’s been painfully obvious for a long time that Channel 4 want to attract a younger audience, and this is usually reflected in the average age of the contestants on their shows. We’ll see how we go on this score. As an incipient wrinkly myself I’d like to see at least a sprinkling of my people being represented during the series.
On reflection, then, I won’t be watching this instead of Pointless, but I may well keep watching it on 4OD for a while to see how it develops. I’ll be interested to hear what you think if you decide to give it a try.