Thursday, 7 May 2020

Lockdown Quiz Pleasures (guilty or not)

I’m a great fan of comedian Dave Gorman. I love all of his TV shows, have seen him on stage several times, and as far as I know read all of his books. In his excellent “Modern Life is Goodish” series for Dave, in one of the shows he takes issue with the idea of the guilt pleasure. Basically, he argues that if you enjoy it, then there is no earthly reason for you to feel guilty about it – only he does it much more amusingly than I just did.

I say this, because I’ve been reflecting on the quiz shows I’ve been enjoying during the lockdown, most of which I would otherwise have described as guilty pleasures. In no particular order then. . .

Tipping Point

Back in 2012, on its debut, I wrote this,I’m afraid that, in my opinion, “Tipping Point” doesn’t work. Ben Shepherd is so inoffensive you hardly even know he’s there, but he is very bland. It doesn’t work as a quiz show because the questions are too simple, and there aren’t enough of them. It doesn’t work as a game show because the game itself is, well, a bit of a bore, and there’s no variety in it either. Drop – sweep – oh tough luck. As in the original amusement arcade game, I should imagine that this show is a lot more fun to play, than to watch someone else playing. Now, I wouldn’t want to give you the idea that this is awful. Awful is an adjective which should only ever be applied to shows like Ted Rodger’s 3 – 2 – 1. But even awfulness has a certain fascination to it. There’s nothing fascinating, or even interesting about “Tipping Point”.”

Ok, I’m ready for my humble pie now, Mr. DeMille. I’ve often watched and enjoyed “Tipping Point” during the lockdown. I could hide behind the fact that my 6 year old grandson Ollie really enjoys it, but that would be cowardly. Addressing the points I made in 2012, either I was completely wrong about Ben Shepard, or he’s developed in hosting style. But you watch the show now and you are seeing someone who appreciates that the questions are among the easiest on any TV show, and that the average contestant is not overburdened with a  decent working general knowledge, and this comes out with just the odd sly little comment or dig. Anyway, the questions are at best unimportant to the watchability of the show, and at worst irrelevant. It’s about the outrageous slings and arrows of fortune. OK, knowledge comes into it, as the more questions you answer correctly, the more counters you get to put into the machine, but lets face it, this is mostly about luck. And there’s something about that which works. One of the most gratifying TV moments of the lockdown was seeing a contestant not only get the £10,000 counter over the tipping point, but also the double your money counter at the same time, thus earning £20,000. Had he done anything noticeably more clever than any other contestant? Not really, yet I love it. Admittedly, part of this is the ritual of guessing who is going to be the most annoying contestant from their introductions. Tipping Point seems to encourage contestants to loudly and rather pointlessly comment while others are having their turn – ooh, you’ve got a coople on the edge for you there, luv” and other variations on the theme. So yes, I would admit that quite a it of my enjoyment of the show is from schadenfreude, because its often this kind of contestant who is eliminated after the first round.

Richard Osman’s House of Games

Every weekday of the lockdown, at just before 6pm, after the Government press conference on BBC1 has ended, I switch over to BBC2, and my grandson Ollie and I watch House of Games. It’s easy to put my finger on what makes this show so watchable. First and foremost, it’s Richard Osman himself. Fans of Pointless know that although there are times when his banter with Alexander Armstrong falls embarrassingly flat, he’s a witty and highly intelligent individual, capable of saying ‘that was a bloody stupid answer you just gave’ without actually saying it, being inoffensive and at the same time leaving nobody in any doubt that was what he meant. This is absolutely essential for a show which features 4 ‘celebrities’, because you can guarantee that at least one of them will probably set your teeth on edge. For example, in a recent week, Anneka Rice was one of them. Now, thirty odd years ago when she was running around in a jumpsuit on Treasure Hunt and Chalenge Anneka, I could take her, because she was in a position where her talents were probably shown to their best . But let’s be honest, almost everything that dropped from her lips on House of Games made me want to shout “Shut up Shut up Shut up!” at the telly. This is why you need a talent like Richard Osman heading up the show.

However, I also rather like the quirky question rounds. In fact, I so much like the questions where the answers are rhyming pairs, and the Answer Smash ending round, that I stole the format for a video quiz I did with my kids a couple of weekends ago – and what’s more they worked brilliantly. My favourite answer smash was on the show repeated yesterday, where we saw a photograph of Donald T. Rump and were asked – in a fairy story, who spun straw into gold? – Answer – Donald Trumplestiltskin. Made me laugh, anyway.

Beat the Chasers – Right, this is something different. Tipping Point and House of Games are both fairly sturdy old teatime warhorses which have been round the block a few times, and already had their audience. Beat the Chasers is something rather more ambitious. For over a decade The Chase has duked it out with Pointless as the early evening quiz show of choice. And let’s make no bones about it, they’re both great shows. Beat the Chasers then takes the central pro-am idea, and twists it, and put it on later to make it into event TV. So in Beat the Chasers its every contender for him or herself. We still have something equivalent to the cash builder round. Then we get the twists.

The contender will have to decide whether to play against 2, 3,4 or all 5 chasers. The play consists of a round of questions. When the contestant gets one right, then the chasers have to answer. Both contestant and chasers have to keep answering until they get one right, when the go passes over to the other side. While the turn is with the contestant, then their time, which starts at 60 seconds ticks away. Once all your time is gone, you lose. Same goes for the chasers. Look we’ve seen this kind of round before in several different quizzes, all the way back to Going for Gold in the late 80s.

However, as I said, the contender must decide to play against a number of chasers. So while a weak contender might get an offer of, say, £3000 to play against 2 contenders who will get 35 seconds of time, then they would also maybe be given an offer to play against all 5 Chasers for £100,000 in 45 seconds of time.

This is a fascinating development of the original show. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the format.

·       I think that it doesn’t make a huge material difference having 2 chasers against you or 5. That’s not me being disrespectful – it’s actually the opposite. The fact is that for the vast majority of the population, each of these Chasers can beat you comfortably on their own in even time. Yeah, OK, one of them has to hit the buzzer, but you can bet your life that for most of the questions, the others knew it too.

·       However, the amount of time you have does make a big difference. Massive. In “The Chase” come the final chase you have to answer more questions correctly than the Chaser does.You just do, it’s in the mechanics of the game. In “Beat the Chasers” you don’t necessarily. You just have to still be standing by the time their time runs out. If you’ve got, say, a 20 second advantage, then you don’t even need to answer every question correctly. If you can keep your head, and you have an average geeral knowledge, then you have a chance. If you’ve only got a 5 second advantage because you’re taking on all the Chasers, well, it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve been offered because you ain’t going to do it. Except . . .

·       One of the most interesting things about this format is that while, in The Chase, the format favours the Chaser in the Final Chase, this is reversed in Beat the Chaser. I’ll explain that. In The Chase, the two, three of four who make it through have to buzz in to answer their questions. When it’s the Chaser’s go he or she can just shout them out without buzzing. However in Beat the Chaser, it’s the Chasers who have to buzz. It’s not a massive disadvantage, sure, but it’s still a disadvantage.

I will confess that I recorded each show so that I could fast forward through Bradley Walsh bantering with the contestants. Look, he’s just not for me – not everyone can be. I like him very much as an actor, but I’m into this show for the questions. If you ask the Chasers though, they’ll all say that Bradley is the reason for the show’s success – Anne herself says that he is the Chase’s secret weapon. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the shows. Long term readers of LAM might remember that my principle point about pro-am shows is when the format gives an advantage to the pros, who are so good that they don’t need the advantage anyway. This is different, and so to my mind a very interesting proposition.

No comments: