Sunday, 25 January 2009

TV Extra

The things I do in the name of research ! Yes, this weekend I have been delving into the sometimes murky world of the quiz game show. Well, to be honest I woke up early on Sunday morning, and idly caught a couple of these shows on cable. So , enough of the self-justification. What have we actually been watching ?

Are You Smarter Than A Ten Year Old ? - Sky 1

I'm given to understand that there are two versions of this show, the primetime version where the prize is a cool quarter of a million pounds, and the daytime version where the top prize is £50,000. I saw the daytime version.

My hopes weren't high. There are a couple of reasons why I say this : -

1)You may remember that the BBC brought out their own "The Kids Are Alright" last year. Now, I have heard it said that this show was put into development before "Are You Smarter . . . " and so is in no way influenced by it. Whatever. The fact is that its a quiz game show with adults and schoolkids, so the comparison is one that you're going to make whether its fair or not. I thought that this show was very poor indeed. John Barrowman consistently irritated the hell out of me by SHOUTING EVERYTHING ! The squeezing of so many different round formats into a relatively short show was annoying too. So you can understand that after watching this show, I wasn't particularly eager to watch anything else from the same genre.

2) I've got a thing about quizbooks that tie in with quiz shows, so I did buy the "Are You Smarter Than A Ten Year Old ? " quiz book last year. I was running a Mastermind competition in my school, so I thought this might give me some questions at the right level. I have to say that there wasn't a great deal I liked about the book. Leaving aside the questions themselves I hated the multiple choice format - The Boxtree "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" quizbooks have a lot to answer for - and there really aren't that many questions in the book, either. So you can forgive me for thinking that the show itself might be as lacklustre as the book.

So what about the show itself ? Let me damn it with faint praise. It was better than I expected. The primetime version, as I'm sure you know, is presented by Noel Tidybeard, but this version is presented by Dicken Dom. Mr. Dom is one of those strange, light entertainment double-bodied organisms, like Vic N. Bob, and the ubiquitous Anton Deck ( who you may remember started his career as a pop performer, under the stage name P. Jane Duncan ) My last experience of Dicken on a quiz show was Dicken Dom's "Ask the Family", which received unanimous acclaim as a complete turkey, and moved the original "Ask The Family" creator to compare it to "an elderly aunt prostituting herself". So the producers were taking a bit of a gamble with them, albeit that there's now quite a large audience of teenagers who have grown up watching them .

I have to admit, though, that I found their presentation style pleasant enough. Neither too abrasive, nor too insincere. They look as if they are enjoying themselves. As for the game, well it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin. Unlike "The Kids Are Alright", contestants are not competing against the kids, the 6 children are there simply to give the contestant a choice of which kid they can use to help them. Each contestant faces a series of questions. Each question belongs to a category and an age group. So, for example, a contestant might begin with an age 6 Maths question. Each contestant has 3 lifelines - a la Millionaire. These are
1) Save - where the contestant can have a question wrong, as long as the chosen kid has it right ,
2) Peek - where the contestant gets a chance to look at the kid's answer ,and
3) Copy- where - oh, you work it out for yourself.
The amount of money increases with each correct answer. As with Millionaire, a contestant can bail out at any time up to when the category of the last question, for £50,000 is announced, but before it is actually asked. Answer wrongly, and you're out of there.

Overall, you can't judge this by the criteria you'd use for a serious quiz show. This is a game show, and its solid family entertainment. Judging it solely on this criteria I have to say that I found it untaxing, but watchable, which lets be honest, is about as much as you're likely to ask from a game show. The main criticisms that you could level at it are that its a little long at an hour, even allowing for regular ad breaks, and there's not a lot of questions asked during the show. However, these are pretty simple questions as you'd expect, and you've also got to say that you probably get as many questions in an hour as you get on WWTBAM, and its alongside shows like Millionaire, In It To Win It etc. that it should be judged. It works because the format is simple, the rules are easy to understand. The kids on this show could easily have become as annoying as those on "The Kids Are Alright", but they don't because they are used fairly sensibly, i.e. - as little as possible.

So - having watched it, what do I know about the show now that I didn't know previously ? Its not something you'd ever watch for the quiz content, but then it was never going to be , and I don't think that it ever pretended to be. However it is pleasantly watchable, in the same way that Millionaire, In It to Win It and 1 v. 100 are. I won't be deliberately watching it again any time soon, but I won't be rushing for the remote if I happen to come into the room and its on either. That's a lot more than I can say for some game shows.


Yes, I know that its 2 years since Dave Spikey's Challenge TV revival came and went, but I never caught it first time round. This was the first half of an early Sunday morning double bill, first on Challenge with this, then on Sky with "AYSTATYO", and that's why it finds its way onto the second half of this review.

"Bullseye" in its original version was a by-product of the darts boom in the early 80s. When snooker absolutely exploded in the 1980s, darts was the next 'sport' to receive the same TV treatment, and for a few years it seemed to be on the way to achieving the same kind of mass audience and following. Enter Bullseye. In the Thames TV region, where I was living at the time, it first hit our screens on a Monday evening, in the slot before "Coronation Street" if I remember rightly. However it soon graduated to the Sunday teatime slot where it became a national institution. Presented by "Lovely super smashing great superb" Jim Bowen, it guaranteed itself a place in the British wing of the Game Show Hall of Fame, with its terrible Bendy Bully consolation prize, and its catchphrases - Keep out of the Black and in the red - and - Lets see what you would have won. Bullseye had staying power too, lasting in its original incarnation from 1981 until 1995.

Its interesting that the revival was presented by Dave Spikey. I think that one of the reasons why there was an upswell in interest in the series was that his Phoenix Nights co-writer Peter Kay did some very funny material about the show in one of his DVDs - either Live at Bolton or Live at the Blackpool Tower. Then the afore mentioned Anton Deck included it as one of the segments in the Gameshow Marathon. So I guess with all this revived interest it must have seemed like a good idea to the executives at Challenge.

So lets get down to the show itself. You can't judge Bullseye as a quiz - you never could - its a game show. It seemed to me to be pretty true to the original format, and it even looked the same too. One difference was that when one pair successfully gambled their cash and won the star prize, they didn't end up with a speedboat, just a massive telly and a home entertainment system. You'll remember that on the original show, if you won you always got a speedboat. The well publicised story is that the producer or someone had a deal whereby he could get speedboats cheap. Cars and caravans only came out for a 'lets see what you would have won'.

Now here come's the tricky part. I'm afraid that this just didn't do it for me. I'm not saying that the show would not necessarily have been a huge success again if Jim Bowen had been coaxed out of retirement, but I'm afraid that there's a big, Bowen-shaped hole in the middle of the show. I do like Dave Spikey, but at times I thought that I was watching Bullseye as presented by Jerry St. Clair, his Phoenix Nights character. Maybe its not fair to compare him to Jim Bowen, but I'm afraid that he's just too happy. He seems to be enjoying himself. Bowen always had the air that he was doing it under sufferance, and that worked for the show. Maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe we've moved on from where we were in 1995 when the original Bullseye ended, and its day really has passed. Actually, I'm sure that we have. After all, thinking back to my childhood, "The Golden Shot" was incredibly popular in its heyday, but would anyone ever think of bringing it back today ? Although I suppose a "Celebrity Golden Shot " is no more ridiculous than "Celebrity Family Fortunes" , "Celebrity Mastermind", "Celebrity Eggheads" and a ton of other celebrity versions that have been on our screens in the last couple of months. If any producer is reading this, and decides to act on this, then I hope they have the decency to drop me a few quid for the idea.

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