Saturday, 8 February 2014

That really was the Final Final Answer

So farewell, then, Millionaire. I’m sure that you know that the last ever show was broadcast on Tuesday. I was reminded of the fact when a member of the production team on the Jason Mohammad Show on BBC Radio Wales rang me at work on Monday morning. Basically Jason was doing a feature on Millionaire – and quiz shows in general – and they wanted to know whether I could do a phone interview at about 11:30. Oh, wouldn’t I have loved to do that?!!! You might remember that I went on the show back last Easter and it was a fabulous experience. But the thing is I was due to teach a class at that time, and so I had to make my apologies and decline. You know how much I love my quizzes, but at the end of the day, the day job has to come first.

Still, it’s maybe just a small measure of just how important, influential and popular Millionaire really was. In my own experience I had far, far more people wanting to talk to me about throwing away £15,000 on Millionaire than I ever had wanting to talk to me about winning a whole series of Mastermind. This wasn’t schadenfreude either, or at least, I don’t think much of it was, but simply the fact that Millionaire was still, at that time, a Big Deal.

Like many of the great quizzes, Millionaire has given us phrases – phone a friend – final answer – which have passed into the lingua franca of quizzing. Fantastic players like David Edwards and Pat Gibson won the top prize during its run, and Judith Keppel became, for a while, a household name, and later, an Egghead off the back of being the first ever Millionaire from the show. Major Charles Ingram gave us one of the funniest shows I have ever seen. Not worth a million pounds perhaps, but nonetheless I thought the ITV special which presented his episode was superb entertainment. Millionaire ushered in an era of the mega-money quiz, which was short lived, but nonetheless still clings on tenaciously in the shape of Million Pound Drop.

Speaking personally, I find it hard to write critically about Millionaire because I appeared on it, and because things didn’t go as I’d hoped. I would hate anyone to think it is sour grapes on my part. Still, in the interests of fairness, I’ll say my bit here, and you, dear reader, must take it as you will. Looking at it purely as a quiz, I like more questions per show than you ever got on Millionaire. But then it was never purely a quiz. It was never just about answering the questions, it was about holding out very large amounts of money to people and seeing how well they coped with the pressure – and some of us, to be honest, couldn’t. Which was a shame, really, since they treated us royally all day, and looking back it was still a great experience.

It doesn’t matter what I say anyway. History has already delivered its verdict on Millionaire. It was one of the most wildly successful quiz shows ever created anywhere, and certainly the most successful created in these isles. It gave a lot of people an awful lot of pleasure for a decade and a half, and let’s be honest, that's a damn good epitaph for any show.


Jack said...

Even though WWTBAM's glory days were well behind it, it's still sad to see it finally go after all these years. I'll always remember watching it in the evenings (I was always very nervous in case they got one wrong!), and also recording the really late shows. I stopped watching full time after Judith K. won the million, and caught the occasional show afterwards.

Most I've spoken with believe the relentless celeb editions to be responsible for the show's demise. I never watched many of them, so I can't say any views for sure.

Still, the show had a very good long run, and has definitely made a big mark on the face of British game shows. I'm sure it won't be forgotten in a hurry.

George Millman said...

I remember watching it when I was quite a young child. I've been into quizzes since I was about six or seven, and my first three were Millionaire, Weakest Link and The People Versus (which was a quiz with Kaye Adams on ITV - it was really good actually; I wasn't sure if it was just me looking at my childhood with fondness, but I've watched repeats on YouTube and Challenge and it was a really good quiz. It wasn't on for that long, but I'd like to see it return.)

Anyway, I really enjoyed Millionaire - I had the quiz books and the electronic game! But I feel that it was dumbed down a little - the question reduction and the timer and everything. The success was down to obviously the large amounts of money, but also the wonderfully simple format, and once they started tinkering with it I feel that the magic was lost. Shows such as Mastermind and University Challenge have lasted so long because they don't feel the need to change - their success comes from being just as they are.

Londinius said...

Hi Jack - Hi George

Yeah, I was never a great fan of the sleb shows. Lacked something which the real show had in my opinion.

I definitely remember The People Versus - which was a good show - and in the context of the National Lottery slot which it once occupied, a very good show. I haven't seen Kaye Adams hosting another quiz show wince, which is a shame.
Let's be honest, I think we all knew that the writing was on the wall once they made the tweaks, and changed the ladder and the lifelines.

It's interesting you mention Mastermind, George. They did actually tweak the show. For the first few Humphrys seasons - including mine - there was a chat with John before the start of the GK round. For all I know other contenders enjoyed them, but they went on for a lot longer than they used to broadcast, at a time when, to be honest, all you wanted to do was get on with the round. I was glad to see them dropped again, if I'm honest. If comments I made in LAM at the time in any way contributed to the decision to drop them, then I'm very glad.

We do have rounds of different lengths now, which is something which I know the hardline Mastermind purists don't like. Mind you , this pales into insignificance compared with the tweaks they made for 2001's Discovery Channel Mastermind. Rounds were all 90 seconds long, and they had incidental music! Not cricket at all.

George Millman said...

Okay, Mastermind has been tweaked a little, but I don't think it has been tweaked to any extent that actually changes the feel of the show. I feel that the tweaks to Mastermind are equivalent to changing the Fastest Finger First from an ordinary general knowledge question to a 'put these in order' question. It wasn't a change to the extent of the later series of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which I feel ruined the simplicity of the formula.

I also think that Kaye Adams was a great quiz show host. It is rare to find a host that has the perfect balance between chat and gameplay. Many hosts chat to the contestants far too much. On the other extreme, you have the William G Stewarts and the Jeremy Paxmans of the world who do hardly any - which is better than chatting too much, but sometimes you want to know a bit more about the contestants. Kaye Adams kept the balance splendidly. She kept banter to a minimum, but she was still able to build a quick rapport with the contestants, and she didn't seem cold at all. Victoria Coren also has that ability. I'd like to see Kaye on another quiz show as well - or, if I was in charge of ITV, I might try to get TPV recommissioned.

drgaryegrant said...

WWTBAM was always going to be a short-lived concept - it was undoubtedly a brilliant concept, but there were really only ever a few possible outcomes in any given game (unlike a show where you compete against other people), and so it was never going to last for years and years.

In my view, also, it was too easy to 'stick' by taking the money, rather than the more televisually exciting 'twist and risk it all' option. A revamp of the rules might have helped in this regard.

But doubtless it will go down as one of THE great quiz shows, although I'm fully with Dave when he says there weren't enough questions per show to make it an absolute favourite of my own.

Andrew B. said...

There were a couple of minor tweaks made to Mastermind in the Magnusson era: 1988 was the first series where the contestants came out for round 2 in reverse order; and before 1992 contestants could (and often did) revert to their first specialist subject for the final.