Friday, 15 October 2021

Fair play

I’m still awaiting the results of my Covid test, dearly beloved. They did say-  “If you haven’t heard from us in five days, then call us.” So I have to be patient for at least a couple of days more.

In yesterday’s post I put forward some thoughts on the issue of how much of a duty of care production companies have to the participants of their quiz shows. Today I’ve found myself thinking about the issue of fairness.

How can you make a pub quiz fair? Well, I’d argue you can go a long way towards this by using a wide range of general knowledge questions and making sure that all the teams playing have the same amount of time to answer them, do not cheat on phones, and are marked impartially. And let’s be honest, that it do-able, isn’t it. Yes, if you’ve been to enough quizzes you’ll maybe have played in some which have fallen a bit short of this ideal, but probably plenty which achieve it too.

When it comes to TV quizzes, though, there is a problem. Giving all the contestants the same questions creates problems which we’ll go into in a little while. Which is why most quizzes don’t do it. So you either have separate questions for separate contestants, or the same questions where contestants have to win a buzzer race to answer them, or a mixture of both. Now I know for a fact that shows like Mastermind, Brain of Britain, Only Connect and University Challenge go to huge lengths to ensure that the level of the questions set is fair and gives every contender a fair chance, and they do a fine job too. But nobody’s perfect.

Thinking off the top of my head, the only quiz show I can remember which had a significant number of questions, all of which were given to all of the contenders, was 100%. (There may have been others – I’m getting on a bit now and the memory isn’t what it was.) If you’re too young to remember it, or have forgotten it, 100% was launched at the start of Channel 5 in 1997 (I think). In this show three contestants faced the camera. In the course of the 30 minute show, the disembodied voice of Robin Houston would ask the contestants 100 questions and they would have to choose between 3 answers. After 100 questions, the person who had answered most correctly and therefore gained the highest percentage of correct answers would be the winner, and receive £100.

So was this the purest quiz show on TV? Well, that’s up for debate. Was it the best quiz show on television? Not in my opinion, no. I don’t know anyone who would have said that it was either, although you must as always please feel free to disagree. I really liked the lack of waffle about the contenders. I really liked the volume of questions too – 100 in 30 minutes (in fact if you take the advert break out the show was even shorter.) But as a piece of early evening entertainment, it was somewhat lacking. There wasn’t a great atmosphere about it, nor was there much drama about it. For the first couple of years, it was a case of winner stays on, which meant that Ian Lygo bagged a total of 75 consecutive wins in 1998, which was a stunning achievement, but did mean that what drama and excitement there was in the show was further diminished during his reign. So the Grundy Organisation changed the rules to limit the number of wins anyone was allowed to 25.

As a quiz, also, there were problems with the show. After all, if you’re aiming for a decent audience, you maybe want to pitch your questions at a level which is going to offer the person playing along at home a decent chance of getting some of the questions right. On the other hand, you probably don’t really want anyone getting close to 100%. This resulted in a level of questions which could vary wildly between the ridiculously easy and the ridiculously difficult. Not only that, but with a number of the questions, the choice was between two plausible answers, and one ridiculous ‘jokey’ answer for option C. A lot of the time it seemed to me that 50/50 would have been a better title for the show.

Probably trying to find an audience, the original idea of 100 pure general knowledge questions was diluted after a while, so that only the first 10 ad the lst 10 questions were general knowledge, with the rest being in categories, and every fifth question being a true or false question. Yuck.

There were spin off versions – 100% Gold and 100% Sex but I don’t think that they added anything much to the show, and it ended in 2001, after 4 years. To be fair, there were over 1000 editions, so on that score you could claim it was a success on these terms.

I think that it all illustrates that there are some things which can only work well on TV when you change the format. For example, I really enjoy Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year and Landscape Artist of the Year. However, the titles of both shows are a little bit of a misnomer. You see, each of the artists selected from their submissions to participate are given just 4 hours to produce their picture, and even a dauber such as me can tell you that 4 hours to produce a painting from scratch is nothing. So it should be called “Sky Arts’ Speed Portrait Artist of the Year” And there’s nothing inherently wrong with this – it’s a good show which I enjoy watching.

So when you get right down to it, if we go back to my definition of a ‘fair’ pub quiz, while I enjoy playing in them, I’m not sure I would want to just watch one.


George Millman said...

Test the Nation posed a significant number of questions to all the contestants at once (and there were a LOT of contestants per show).

Londinius said...

Hi George. I have to be honest, I've heard of it, but I don't remember it.