A little bit of context here, this was part of a one-off eight episode series on the BBC called The Viewing Room. Hosted by Kaye Adams, it went out late night on BBC2 once a month (as we recall) and gave the viewers the chance to put questions to the producers and people who make all the decisions. There were also chats with some of television’s leading lights highlighting issues in broadcasting, of which this segment was one of them.
Kaye Adams is our host, and our guests are David Young (at the time of 12 Yard Productions) and Paul Ross. At the time of broadcast, the pilot episode of Friends Like These had recently been shown, as had the second series of Challenge’s Endurance UK.
We offer this transcription without comment, but put it up as quite an interesting document.
Adams: How far would you go to win a holiday or a big cash prize? Would you go as far as our friends in Sweden and Holland, who are jumping at the chance to take part in ever more extreme so-called ‘jeopardy’ TV gameshows.
Adams v/o: Sweden’s Expedition Robinson puts a bunch of strangers on a desert island and waits for the tensions to develop. As time passes the group votes to eject one member at a time, until the ultimate survivor is left. The winner gets £40,000, but there’s a lot to lose. In an earlier series one contestant committed suicide after being thrown off paradise island.
Another jeopardy show is Big Brother from Holland. Once again hell is other people. This time strangers are thrown together in a specially adapted house and filmed 24 hours a day. The winner’s decided by an e-mail and phone poll of viewers who vote the flatmates out one-by-one.
Adams: Well I hope you like the look of those because according to our sources both formats are headed this way soon. Not that UK channels haven’t already hooked on to the jeopardy concept, ITV’s Moment of Truth is the show that shatters kiddies dreams when their silly old mums and dads foul-up Cilla’s challenge. And on saturday night the BBC entered the fray with the pilot show of Friends Like These which pitches boys against girls and tests friendships to the limits.
[Clips of Friends Like These, dated Saturday 6th November]
Adams: Well we have David Young who is the creator of Friends Like These with us he’s also the head of BBC’s Light Entertainment and Paul Ross presenter and ex-producer for his sins of The Word. Now David we’re using this buzzword jeopardy jeopardy jeopardy. What exactly do we mean by this concept in terms of a TV gameshow?
Young: Well I looked up the word jeopardy before I came on and, er, apparently it means danger. That’s what my dictionary said anyway.
Ross: I find it worrying that the head of a BBC department didn’t know what jeopardy meant! [general laughing]
Young: We always like to get our facts right! Erm, but what it is with jeopardy is that there is risk involved. And if you look at gameshows that we’re making, which is effectively Friends Like These, erm, the Millionaire show, right the way back through to… Game For A Laugh or Blind Date that’s been with us a long time, and jeopardy is the key element in any successful gameshow, that there is risk, and then there is reward.
Adams: So not only can you win things but, you can lose things. And that’s what you’re really pointing up which is kind of the difference in the quiz shows that we’ve been used to over the years…
Young: Absolutely. But really, I based Friends Like These on a penalty shoot-out concept. Actually what happens is you’ve got a team of people together, five of them step forward, one by one they go up with the weight of responsibility of their friends on their shoulders. They try and do something, if they get it right they’re the hero, if they get it wrong they could be the villain. However, the thing is that they start with nothing. They’ve got a great holiday on offer and they’re going to have a go at doing it. They’re all in it together, collective responsibility.
Adams: Paul, now I hesitste to ask you this question but do you find it disturbing at all?
Ross: I was disturbed by Friends Like These in that I thought it was a bit too cute and cozy. It’s a good show, but it wasn’t cruel enough. I think the function of shows like this and the function of a lot of quiz shows and a lot of gameshows on telly is to laugh at losers. Now yes you want happy endings, but I hope. occasionally, you’re going to have unhappy endings on Friends Like These.
Young: Oh absolutely!
Adams: Well let’s show this clip now just to really illustrate because I mean obviously people aren’t yet familiar with Friends Like These although I suspect they very much will be in the future. This is the end, the girls have won, you’ve set up a situation where they’ve got answer questions about each other, and if I don’t answer it correctly about you, then you don’t go on holiday.
Ross: [rubbing hands] Fantastic!
McPartlin: It rests on you, if you answer correctly she goes on holiday. If you don’t, she stays right here. OK, are you alright?
Donnelly: OK, we’ve got an answer. OK. Rachel had her tongue pierced in Newcastle on which date. It was… [turns over card] the 8th of February.
McPartlin: We’ve got the 5th of February [turns card] here, sorry about that. [Audience awwws].
Donnelly: Sorry Rachel, you’re staying at home [audience applause]. Go back to your seat. Sorry about that. So! Penny’s going, but Rachel is staying at home…
Adams: The one thing I must admit I find quite worrying about it is the language that you use and it is, you know, “if you don’t go, then you’ve got a friend to blame…”
Adams: [finger pointing] “Don’t blow it for the rest of the team…”
Young: Absolutely. However, you saw the reaction of the girls in those clips, they were all holding hands all the way through. Supporting each other. You know, they were in it together, they knew, they shared the risk, but actually they had nothing to lose when they came along!
Adams: and you, you’re not telling me you’re not waiting for the headlines the next day with the five friends saying “we haven’t spoken to each other since…” “we had a punch-up afterwards, it was dreadful…” “I have never spoken to them, we were friends for 16 years, and now there’s nothing.” That’s what you’re waiting for isn’t it?
Young: No actually that’s the opposite, I would probably lose my job if that happened. You know, I don’t want that that they’ve had a punch-up and actually what you get is you get the real strength of their friendship comes through.
Adams: But in fact there was a happy ending wasn’t there because you gave them the opportunity for the three girls who did get through to answer another question.
Ross: Now David, you wimped out!
Adams: You bottled out.
Young: We gave them the chance of risking it again however, they were given another question, and the three that were going had to decide were they going to take it, if they were, but they knew that if they got it wrong none of them were going. Still there was the same thing: risk and reward.
Adams: But there will presumably be a situation on Friends Like These where people will go home with nothing.
Young: Oh absolutely, there could have been on that one. We didn’t say “oh, you’re all going anyway,” we said “you’ve got another chance”. Three of you, are you going to take the risk of throwing away your own holiday away for the sake of your two mates. Are your… is your friendship strong enough that you will risk that, and they said yes they absolutely would take that risk. But if they got the question wrong, none of them would have been going. We won’t change that.
Ross: The problem with that is that you make it back to the group again, it goes back to the group so it’s shared responsibility…
Ross: One person, and make them suffer in front of their friends. That’s what would make the show a huge hit!
Adams: Where are you going to draw the line on this because the show has been recommissioned, that was a pilot, but there’s going to be a commission for next year…
Young: Yeah, for two series.
Adams: So presumably you’re going to have a situation once where four friends say “sorry! See ya! We’re off! You’ve had it.”
Adams: I find it quite nasty!
Young: It’s interesting, when we had the show audience researched, the reaction was “you can’t do that,” “that’s outrageous,” “how can you do it,” and they they said “but we love it, that was our favourite bit.” So I think actually… the public have a massive appetite for it. We will only go so far, ITV, Channel 4, Sky, will always go further with it, we have some responsibility.
Adams: But I mean the BBC is already getting involved in this to a limited degree but we’ve got shows out there apparently – we’ve already mentioned Big Brother and Expedition Robinson – coming here where the stakes are much higher and they create those very intense psychological situations…
[Clips of Dutch Big Brother, October 1999 ]
Adams: what about Big Brother then because you know everything points to us having that over here relatively soon and also, um, Expedition Robinson. Erm do you see them being successful to a British audience?
Ross: Big Brother I think is… cack, having seen it because it’s full of unattractive Dutch people. Now TV should be about people you want to see and places you want to be…
Young: I can’t talk about Big Brother other than what I’ve read in the newspapers about it. I haven’t seen it although I do know about the concept. I can only speak for the BBC and certainly I don’t think we will get involved in shows like that. I think Friends Like These is probably you know going as far as we possibly can.
Ross: And if you’re out to shock people, and we did two series of Endurance, and by the time you come to think of a series you think what are we going to do, are we going to get a goat out and blind it? Are we going to run over people’s feet? And you kind of run out of things that are acceptable and also entertaining and kind of vaguely clever…
Young: It is quite shocking what is coming out of other territories, er, the range of programmes they’re doing. I was at a pitching competition in Europe and one of the countries pitched this idea called ‘Fertile TV’, and they took three childless couples and they compete for IVF treatment, and you know it’s sick, and we were shocked, and you know, this is how far they’re prepared to go…
Ross: That is hardcore, that is hardcore…
Young: And one of the games – and I might not have this exactly right – but it was something like you put a baby on a mat and put three contestants, three couples, around the mat and they call the baby over and the one who gets the baby comes to them goes through to the next round and you eliminate the loser from it. That’s never going to be on British TV!
Adams: But we’re shocked now – even Paul is shocked at that one which is really something – will we be shocked in five years time, or will we be saying “go baby!”?
Ross: In five years time I still think you still think this is actually not people turning up with nothing going home with nothing, this is people turning up with a desperate human need and you then disappoint that. Now that is too much, that is manipulative and your TV is a puppet master.
Adams: Well we all seem to agree that jeopardy writ large is the next big thing but how far do you thnk the audience is going to want you to go as a programme maker?
Young: I don’t think they want us to go too far, I think it’s interesting looking at Moment of Truth – really great format on ITV – ass changed significantly from the first series to the second series because people didn’t like children crying and so what they do is make sure the children get some great prizes to go home with on the second series now so they’re not so disappointed. They’ve done that because they responded to public taste and public appetite for it, I don’t think, is great. So therefore, I don’t think we’ll go too far. Shows coming in from Europe, I either think we’ll have to tone them down a hell of a lot or otherwise they won’t work. Certainly not on BBC.
This article originally went up in 2007.