Saturday, 21 March 2009

Genius ? - Perhaps not, but a good idea nonetheless

A Question of Genius - BBC 2 Weeknights - 4:15

The BBC seems to be making a serious attempt to woo away the audience of Channel 4's popular "Deal or No Deal" with this new show. On the face of it there's little comparison between the two shows , apart from the fact that they occupy the same slot on different channels. For "A Question of Genius" is a quiz show, which DOND clearly isn't. But is it any good ?

Well, I'll come clean now. I've known that this show was in the pipeline for some time. To their credit the producers have actively encouraged regular serious quizzers to apply. The presenter is Kirsty Wark,- more on that story later - also currently presiding over BBC4's enjoyable The Book Quiz. This tells us that the BBC are serious about this quiz. Why is it that so many BBC quizzes are fronted by either broadcast journalists, or presenters with a background in current affairs and news ? Think about it - Jeremy Paxman and University Challenge - John Humphrys and Mastermind - Dermot Murnaghan and Jeremy Vine and Eggheads, and in the past Angela Rippon and Masterteams, Martyn Lewis and Today's The Day, and Robert Dougal and Pets Make Prizes. Actually I made that last one up. Well, my admiration for Kirsty Wark has been documented already, so she's a plus for the show and so what if she does seem to be enjoying herself a little too much.

How does the game work ? Well apparently the contestants stay on all week, with an extra one joining each day in place of the previous show's winner. However we don't actually get to see the first round where 10 contestants are whittled down to 8. Yes, I did say whittled down. If you perked up when you read that, and the words "Fifteen to One" crossed your mind, well don't get too excited. This is rather more complicated , and nothing like as cutthroat as the Channel 4 show of blessed memory. There are four seperate rounds, a round where 8 are whittled down to 4, 4 are whittled down to 2, 2 play head to head , and a final where the last contestant plays for the money. Each round is called "A Question of . . . " and we have "A Question of Knowledge ", " A Question of Judgement " , "A Question of Pressure " , although not, I have to say " A Question of Sport". Actually, they can call these rounds whatever they like, but they are all general knowledge rounds, just with slight variations in the way that they are played.

Here's where the show's unique selling point comes into play. When you get to answer a question, you get to choose how easy it is. These range from a point for a "what's your own name" question, to up to 5 points for a practically impossible question. In practice most contestants opt for 3 or 2 point questions most of the time, although a couple of these have proven to be surprisingly tricky. In each round apart from the final , it is not about how many questions you answer, but how many points you get. Each of the first three rounds operates on a first past the post system, with 5 points needed in round 1, 10 in round 2 , and 15 to get to the final. So in order to get to the final its a matter of two things - great anticipation and buzzer technique and a good, although not necessarily great, general knowledge.

As for the money round, well, the finalist receives five questions, level 1 to level 5. With each level of question the contestant gets a choice of 2 categories. If they answer all 5 levels, then they will play for £5000.4 levels gets £2000, and so on down. However this doesn't actually earn them any money yet. Before the start of the show each contestant has nominated a Specialist Subject.Examples of winners' subjects this week are The Lord of the Rings and Rising Damp. For the money they get asked one question about their specialist subject. If they get it right, the money is theirs. They also have the option to take a multiple choice, where they are given three possible answers to choose from. However this means that the prize money is halved. At the end of the show, the names go on to a leaderboard, and in the last show the 10 highest money winners will compete for the trophy and the title of series winner.

Does it sound too complicated ? Don't worry. If you haven't seen it , its nowhere near as complicated as it sounds. Most of the time its a buzzer quiz, and I've always liked a good buzzer quiz. I'm not sure how I feel as a viewer in having so many of the same faces come back the next day during the week. As a potential future contestant, I know that it would be very difficult to commit to being available for consecutive days during term time. But if I say this, then I'm really looking for things to criticise. Lets agree, this is no Fifteen to One, but its enjoyable, and easy to watch. So much so that I didn't realise that it was 45 minutes long rather than 30 minutes until I watched Monday's show on the iplayer. Will the show woo viewers away from DOND ? I don't know. But I know what I like, and I like "A Question of Genius"

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