Yesterday night my daughter Jennifer and her boyfriend Shaun flew back from Spain where they’d been visiting my mother-in-law, and it was down to me to pick them up from Bristol. It’s about a 90 minute drive home from Bristol airport, and so they had plenty of time for a pretty much blow by blow account of their week in Alicante. Now, one of the things Jen mentioned was a new quiz/game show on Channel 4 which they’ve been watching in the afternoons, called "The Common Denominator”. She's really been enjoying it, and suggested that it might be worth me having a look. I hadn’t heard anything about it, and so, in a spirit of bold investigation I checked out one of last week’s episodes on 4OD this morning.
Is “The Common Denominator” really a quiz? Fair question. It’s certainly a game show . There’s only one question, which basically is ‘which word connects two seemingly unconnected words/ pictures?’. Now, if you haven’t yet seen this Channel 4 mid-afternoon show, don’t get too excited. It’s about connections, but Only Connect it certainly isn’t. Mind you, it isn’t trying to be, and so it wouldn’t be fair to judge it against The Best Thing On BBC4 Ever.
What’s it all about, then? Host Phil Spencer has, for the time being at least, changed his vocation vocation vocation from property show presenter to game show presenter. He challenges three contestants to find the words connecting pairs of words, pictures or ideas. In the first round each of three contestants is called up to the front in turn, and each is given four sets of pairs to solve. For each one they have ten seconds once the pair are revealed, and they can shout out as many answers as they like. It might be a good idea if I give you an example of one of these. So for –Obi Wan – and – Toucan – we wanted the answer Guinness. At the end of the round the contestant to solve the fewest is out. In the event of a tie, the two or three of them all try to solve the same clue. Buzz in and get it right, you’re through. Get it wrong and you’re out. In round two you play head to head. There are four sets, and some of these could be pictures. You take it in turns. If you don’t solve yours within 10 seconds, then it goes across to the opposition. So it’s either first one to three, or the one with the highest score when all four have been asked. The winner goes to the final, and the loser doesn’t. In the Final, the winner has to answer a sequence of pairs. For each one, he wins a rising amount of money. These aren’t huge. However for the final pair the prize leaps from £2500 to £10,000. Nice. You get one lifeline, a pass. That means that pair goes, but you have to answer another pair for the same amount of money. You can bail out at any stage on the prize ladder. However here’s the rub. If the time runs out while you’re still trying to solve one, then you leave with nothing.
I go back to my original question – is it a quiz? I ask, because you do actually need general knowledge to work out the answers. So although it’s certainly not a ‘straight’ quiz, it probably does fall within our remit. Is it any good, though? Well, actually, yes – I rather think it is. There are many different factors which have a bearing on whether a quiz game is a smash hit, or an oven ready turkey, or something in between the two. Not the least of these is the basic format/gameplay. The format of Common Denominator is simple, and virtually foolproof. It’s easy to play along at home as well. Taking another positive, on the show that I watched the FAQ ( Faffing About Quotient) was fairly low, and this meant that the pacing of the show was fine. There are presenters – Victoria Coren and Jeremy Paxman being two very different examples – who add to the overall enjoyment of their shows, but these, like jockey’s legs, are few and far between, and I don’t ask a great deal of a presenter – just speak clearly , keep the puns and catchphrases to a bare minimum, and try not to get in the way. It’s fair to say that Phil Spencer manages this much.
Of course, in the interests of balance I should probably add that this is a Channel 4 show, so 43 year old Phil is by some distance the oldest thing on the menu. I somehow doubt we’ll be seeing any wrinklies or mingers on it any time soon. But there we are, Channel Four likes young, pretty people and that’s just the way it is, I’m afraid. It might just be me, but on the show that I watched it did seem that a lot (although not all) of the pairs were constructed to be particularly accessible to the Big Brother generation, but then if tat’s Channel Four’s target audience, then that makes sense anyway.
In my opinion, and as always, feel free to disagree, this is a well thought out and pretty engaging show. It moves along at a decent pace, and is quite fun to play along with at home. I think it certainly has legs, and you never know, if the right audience discover it, then maybe it could have a decent run ahead of it.