Come and Have a Go... If You Think You're Smart Enough
Interactive television is often cited as one of the most exciting reasons for going digital. In theory (amongst other things), you should be able to play along with your favourite programmes. Challenge have been quick to pick up this playalong factor but other than the excellent Banzai, the main channels have been quite slow to utilize things.
That was until a small innovative Dutch show came along, dubbing itself a "national IQ test". It was a massive success. The BBC were very quick to come along and nab their own version of it. Ten years ago, you'd have had to have played using pencil and paper. But hey! This was 2002 and we've got the internet and (yes!) digital television. It's future was assured.
Loads of Test the Nation specials later and we arrive at 2004 and everything's lovely and wonderful. There's usually some sort of Test the Nation national whatever test once a season on a Saturday night which regularly pull in 6-8 million viewers. So what if they did a similar sort of thing every week? Or, and the concept gets better, we went round the house of the home player that did best and get them to play against the studio for a large cash prize? Live on a Saturday night? This would be truly exciting interactive television!
And so we have Come and Have a Go... If You Think You're Smart Enough (which I'm just going to call Smartarse from here on in, because the acronym CAHAGIYTYSE is pleasingly similar and I'm not writing out the whole title each time. CHART SHOW STYLE FACT! It was originally piloted as Don't Get Mad... Get Even, clearly the feeling all the way through has been that of violent competition.). On the face of it, an exciting technical marvel. Players at home ring up a 50p number and register their intention to play for cash. Anybody with a telly can do this, however it's vital you either have a connection to the Internet, a JAVA enabled mobile phone or are enabled for digital television via Freeview terrestrial or satellite (digital cable viewers can't press red yet, but seeing as the broadband is cheap they're probably playing over the internet anyway).
The reason this is the case is so that the questions and answers are synchronised with the live television programme. If you're playing on the web, the answers get fired out at you the same time as they come up for the contestants on television thanks to the power of Macromedia.
Co-incidentally, there are four teams of four in the studio all vying for the same £30,000 + cut of the registry fees that you are playing along for at home. Whilst everybody faces the same 35 questions, a studio team is eliminated after question 10, question 25 and question 35. Ties are broken by "guess the picture on the slifey block puzzle" buzzer of sudden death.
Because of the high technology being used, the theme tune has lots of bleeping in it. Correct and good. The graphics on show throughout the programme are clean and functional but rarely exciting. The set appears to be something they've nicked off Test the Nation.
The first ten questions of the game are always general knowledge. Each question is usually accompanied with a photograph or a video clip. Each question has four possible answers and everybody has 10 seconds to select their answer. Playing along for fun online, you can see the answers on screen but must have access to a television to see and hear the question. Whatsmore, the answers seem to come up one or two seconds before the question finishes so you're at a very slight disadvantage, in my experience. Other than this, playing along on the web works very well
After the first round and a team has been eliminated the game changes tack slightly. The rest of the games questions will be in batches of five, each batch relating to a different random category and with different categories each week. These diverse categories range from entertainment (TV comedies, 80s pop, soap operas) to entertainment (Sci-Fi, Football) with some more entertainment thrown in for good measure (oh all right, there's normally one subject each week that comes near to being quite worthy such as The Human Body or World Leaders). Nicely, these are actually quite tough questions that are nicely pitched and on the whole quite interesting (as a guide, and I'm not really a hardcore quizzer, I scored a total of 19 out of 35 on the two occasions I've played along. Worryingly, about eight of those come from the general knowledge opener). It's just a real shame the categories seem a bit restricting and couldn't be a bit more diverse.
Another shame is the slow pace the whole thing is played at. Nicky Campbell does a lot of talking at the players in the studio and occasional 'how are you getting ons' to the one or two teams where there's a satellite camera set up (look how exciting and technological and live the whole thing is!). In fact you just want him to get on with it really. I suppose this is the problem with a 50 minute show and only 35 questions to fill it with.
Anyway, at the end of the quiz we're left with our best team in the studio. But what about everyone playing along at home? Well if you score above 26, the application gives you a scorecode and a phone number. Within 15 minutes of the show finishing, you ring the number and quote the code and then apparently, an automated system calls you back with more questions. Whoever at home does the best at these questions is the smartest home team, and a satellite camera is whisked round their gaff in time for the big prize live final later on. Whatsmore, high scoring teams go into a draw to become studio teams for the next show the next week.
So it's ninety minutes later and it's time to give away the cash. Hopefully there is a live picture link to our home winners but if not there's always the telephone. Each team is going to get asked eight questions (three general knowledge and one from each of the evening's categories). Each correct answer wins a point, but, and here's the rub, a wrong answer wipes your score clean. Oh man! They've broken Gameshow Commandment #6: Thou shalt not make the big final round of a gameshow one where the person who makes the final mistake regardless of however the rest of the round has gone loses. This, for me, really ruins the end game. It's a show that's based largely on performance and this just feels completely out of place. To make it even more exciting, each team can pass one (and only one) of their eight questions across. So it's the Weakest Link penalty shoot-out stretched to fill 20 minutes with added artificial danger. Boo. However, in a nod to originality, if it's a tie after eight questions there's quite a good tie-break procedure. The team who scored the most questions correct out of 35 earlier gets to see four answers but no question. They've then got to decide, based on the answers, whether to play the question or pass it over. The question is revealed to the relevant team. If the question is answered correctly, that team wins, and if they get it wrong they lose. The winning team pockets all the cash and comes back as a studio team next time. Wooh!
And that's fine and lovely, except nobody seems to be watching it. Certainly there seems to be no media buzz about what could and should have been quite an exciting show. It reinforces, just a little bit, the idea that interactive television is a bit of a white elephant.
In summary then, there's a lot of interesting things on offer here let down by being quite slow, quite limiting in how you can play along for real and having the world's most lazy big prize endgame. A shame.