Thanks goodness for the iplayer. 2 o’clock on a weekday is not a good time for me. Time alone will tell whether it is a good time for BBC’s new daytime quiz show, The Link. Any quiz show that asks contestants to find links between supposedly random items is going to draw comparisons with Only Connect, and is inevitably going to suffer by comparison. One thinks of last year’s The Common Denominator on Channel Four, for example, which I thought wasn’t actually a bad little show, although it came and went pretty much unmourned, and dare I say it, unnoticed by the majority. So let me say from the start, The Link isn’t Only Connect. That’s on BBC4 on Monday evenings, and if you don’t watch it, you should.
What about The Link then? Well, the basic idea is that we start with three teams of pairs. The host, Mark ‘I’ll get me coat’ Williams, of the Fast Show of Blessed Memory, asks a series of questions. Teams have to buzz in to give the answer. The first answer will be the first item of a connected set. The team who answer it get a guess at the connection. If they are right – well, I’ll tell you about that in a minute. If not, we take the next question on the buzzer – up to a maximum of 4 clues. Now, in this first round, the teams are playing for a set of various amounts of prize money, which dangle on the screen, connected to the top of it by 1 to 6 links. If a team get a link on the first clue, they can cut 4 lines of their choice, and they don’t all have to be from the same amount. Once all the lines to a prize amount are cut, it falls into the pot of the team who cut the last line. Got that? So, we play on until the last link is cut, then the team with the lowest amount of money are out.
Right, in the second round, both teams carry through the amount of money that they have won so far. This is then connected to the top of the screen by 6 lines. They take it in turns to identify to win a number of lines they can cut. So a very hard set earns 4, and an easy set earns one. First team to cut the last link to their own cash take it through to the final. The others leave with nothing. In the final, the cash won is divided up into several amounts – starting very small, but getting progressively larger. For each amount they have to identify the links in much bigger sets. This is not a team effort – they have to take it in turns, and there is only 60 seconds in which to do it. After each amount the team can bail out and take what they get. That’s it.
Let’s make a few observations, then. The first thing I noticed was that on Monday afternoon’s show, Hywel of the team who came second looked awfully like Hywel Carver of the Board Gamers, Only Connect Champions. He did say he had studied at Cambridge, while our Hywel represented UCL on University Challenge – still, I really on balance think that it was Hywel Carver. Had he already won OC when he went on this? Who knows. Now, a show like this stands or falls on its questions and its links. Alright, it’s maybe not Only Connect, but nonetheless I thought that there were some very good, interesting sets, and the play-along-at-home factor was high. The connections were not always obvious at all – for example – Ohio – San Franciso. You got it yet? I hadn’t. I needed the third – Gone With the Wind to know it was Clark Gable. Born in Ohio, made a film called San Francisco. None of the teams actually had that one. Not bad for a daytime show, eh? As for the FAQ (Faffing About Quotient) well, yes, there was a little bit more of that than I’d ideally like, but that’s just me, and it certainly wasn’t excessive for the genre. I did think that there wasn’t a noticeable amount of difference between the difficulty levels of the different sets in the second round, but again, it is all in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. Mark Williams is a dry old sort, and lingering affection for the Fast Show means I am unable to be at all critical about him.
Alright, I’ve only seen one show. Yet normally one show is enough to convince me that I’m not impressed with a new daytime quiz game show, so I’ll make no bones about this. I like The Link. There, I’ve said it, a daytime quiz show that I would go out of my way to watch. I enjoyed this far more than any first programme of a daytime quiz show since, well, probably since Pointless. It has very good play along at home potential, and I can only hope that it finds its audience, or its audience finds it, and that it will continue after this first series. Moving it to teatime on rotation with other established favourites would be a step in the right direction.