I’m greatly indebted to William Barrett. My current cable TV package doesn’t include Sky Atlantic, but William provided me with the Youtube link so that I could watch the whole of the first episode of Cleverdicks in its entirety.
It’s fair to say that I expected quite a lot from this show, judging by some of the pre publicity, and knowing some of the excellent people involved with it. Was I disappointed, or did it live up to expectations ?
The format of the show is deceptively simple. We began with 4 contestants in round one. Now, remember that this show, unlike many, actively encouraged really good quizzers to take part. They certainly had some in this show. I can’t vouch for Steve or Susan personally, but Steve was certainly no slouch. It was difficult to judge with Susan because she wasn’t really around long enough for me to tell, losing in the first round. David and Rob, though, I can definitely vouch for. David Stainer is captain of the all conquering Crossworders, champions of champions of champions on Only Connect. He is also one of the most highly ranked quizzers in the whole of the UK. As for Rob Hannah, well, Rob is a fellow Brain of Britain runner up, quiz setter, and all round good egg – as is David of course. In the first round, players took it in turns to give answers based on a series of up to five clues. The fewer clues needed, the more points scored. If they could get the answer from the first clue, then as well as the points they would also be awarded the dubious prize of being hailed by Ann Widdecombe with the words “Cleverdick. “ The player with the lowest score at the end of the round was out. For the record, David managed a mind boggling 44 on this round, and was awarded more ‘cleverdicks’ than you could shake a stick at.
So to the second round. This was a buzzer round. A clue appeared, and the first person to buzz in with the correct answer was awarded points, and a try at 3 supplementary questions. Any they missed could go for a bonus. If they got all three right, then yes, they were awarded with yet another of Ann W’s cleverdicks. The player with the least points at the end of the round was eliminated. Here David’s vast knowledge wasn’t enough to get him through, since he was beaten by the superior buzzing of and particularly of Rob. Hard lines, that.
The third round was a head to head. Both players took turns to answer single clue questions.Each question dropped in a box on the screen between the two players. If you got it right, then the wee box holding the question dropped off the screen. If not, then another one dropped down on top, and they began to pile up on top of each other. Once your pile of unanswered questions reached a certain line, then you were out . Sound complicated ? Not really. Rob clearly had the better of this exchange, and progressed to the final round.
Winning the show, Rob had earned the right to appear in the next show, and also to try to earn some money – a rolling jackpot starting off, I believe, on £2000. This was a variation on the previous game, with the exception that Rob was allowed to drop two question boxes he couldn’t answer. In order to get the money, he had to last a certain amount of time before his pile reached the line. Not easy by the sound of it, and not at all easy as it turned out. Still, he did live to fight on another day.
So what’s the verdict ? I found this a genuinely interesting show. It’s a remarkable hybrid. Really and truly it’s a gameshow. Let me qualify that remark. All quiz shows are gameshows, but some are more gamey than others. What I tend to think of as the more ‘pure’ quizzes – MM – UC – 15 to 1 – BoB to name 4 really don’t use any huge variety of particularly gimmicky rounds at all. “Cleverdicks” does – 4 of them. If they used a set of usual bog standard TV quiz questions instead, then this show would look completely at home in the Saturday evening lottery quiz spot, occupied at times by In It To Win It et al. Where you’ll never see a really good quizzer in a month of Sundays. Yet “Cleverdicks” doesn’t use bog standard gameshow questions. Cleverdicks uses interesting and difficult questions, that make you think, and I thought they had good play along potential for the serious quizzer. Whether they will prove to be of enough interest to the average viewer, that I wouldn’t presume to say. The only other show I can think of which combines different round formats in this way with genuinely interesting and testing questions is “Only Connect”. Not that I’m saying “Cleverdicks” is on a par with OC. I did like it, though. For one thing it’s refreshing to see a show where great quizzers are really tested like this.
Which is not to say that it’s by any means perfect – as we always say, no quiz show is, although 15 to 1 came close. For one thing there’s quite a lot of fat which can be trimmed off this joint. I fast forwarded, for want of a better word, through a lot of stuff, and I think you could easily bring this 45 minute show in at around half an hour, and it might be all the better for it. I know it’s a game show, and a ‘let’s meet the contestants’ section seems to be obligatory, but it wasn’t really necessary at all. “What makes you a cleverdick ? “ Ann W. was forced to ask, amongst other things. Oh please. This sort of thing makes me cringe. It does nothing for me or the majority of viewers, I would imagine, and I’m sure it does nothing for the contestants either, who, if they are anything like me, would far rather just get on with the show. I’m not saying that the whole show needs be stuffily formal and po faced, but come on – by the very nature of the questions asked on the show you are probably aiming for a slightly more mature audience who should be able to handle doing without this sort of guff. Even if you’re not aiming for that audience, I’ll lay odds you’ll get it. Is it really necessary to have Ann W. trill “CleeeverDICK!” every time someone answers a question on the first clue ? It may be a gimmick, but to be honest it’s not necessary, and it’s irritating after a while.
It’s a shame about this flaw too, since I was surprised at just what a competent job Ann Widdecombe did. I did worry when I heard that she would be fronting the show that we would be treated to some producer’s idea of her ‘personality’ – an uber Anne Robinson, spreading scorn and derision in all angles. Yes, I know that Ann W. is a highly intelligent person, more than capable of standing up for herself, and unlikely to be forced into doing anything she didn’t want to, but then so is Anne Robinson. Instead we got what one suspects is something close to how Miss Widdecombe really is in person, slightly formal, not to be taken lightly, but rather more warm and pleasant than you might have expected. Let’s not forget, whatever any of us might think, presenting a TV show is not a doddle, and Ann Widdecombe is very much a novice. I thought that she did a good job.
It’s a rare quiz show that couldn’t be improved by having a few tweaks after its first series. As it is I think that “Cleverdicks” has bags of potential. In a way, I’m rather sorry that it’s on Sky Atlantic. Surprised too. This could be a BBC2 hit, I think. Whether Sky will have the patience to wait around until it gains whatever word of mouth audience it can get – well, time will tell.