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Beat the Nation

It's a deep philosophical question when it comes to quizzes. How do you judge the difficulty of a question? There are several schools of thought. One suggests that there are only two difficulty levels - easy (you know the answer) or hard (you don't). Another school of thought relates to how many people would know the answer would determine how difficult a question is - most people would be able to answer a question along the lines of "what is the capital of England?" (the answer's London), rather less would be able to tell you what the capital of Macedonia is (Skopje, as it happens), ergo the latter question is "more difficult". Only one thing's for sure, they're only easy if you wrote the questions.

Beat the Nation is a quiz based largely on the second idea. Using YouGov, every question on the show was tested out on 1000 people up and down the country. The more people who knew the answer, the easier it is judged to be and the less points the question is worth. Each question is worth one point per percent of the country that got the question wrong.

Four contestants compete. In round one, each question bamboozled at least 50% of the country. It's first on the buzzer, and the first three to break 150 points goes through to the second round. This usually takes three questions although can be done with two tough ones, and the value of the question isn't known until someone gets it right.

The loser gets a chance to win £100 in a game of statistics. A question is asked, and the contestant has to guess what percentage of the nation got the question right. If they're correct to within 10% then they win, if not then it's thanks and goodbye.

Round two is the celebrity round. It consists of six questions on the buzzer, but excitingly each of these questions have been asked of a random C-list celeb for one reason or another. Whoever buzzes in and gets it right can then try and guess if the celebrity knew the answer or not for double points. We know not what the point of this round is, but there you go. The person with the lowest amount of points is eliminated and plays a consolation game for £100. A question was asked of two diametrically opposing groups (for example, monarchists and republicans), and the player just has to guess which group had the higher number of correct answers.

Round three is the head to head. Each player starts with three lives and questions alternate between the players with a life being lost if you can't answer. The questions start off easy but get harder every time one is answered correctly. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the jumps in difficulty, sometimes a 12% is followed by a 35%er, but other times 15% will jump to 64%, say. The person who loses all their lives plays 'The Fame Game" for £100, simply having to guess which of two celebrity faces did more people recognise.

For the final player, they get a chance to Beat the Nation. They have to answer ten questions of increasing difficulty within ninety seconds, beginning with a question 90-100% of the nation got right, then 80-90% and so on up to 0-10%. Failure means they get to come back on the next episode to try again, success means winning a whopping £500 and a chance to come back for £25,000 at the end of the series if they finish fast enough to get on the leaderboard.

The show is hosted by ex-Goodies funnymen Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor, and if there were ever a pair of hosts who seem to be having less fun hosting a show than these two then we'd like to know about it. Garden reads the questions and Brooke-Taylor is responsible for the statistics.

The title sequence is of a town where all the street signs are made up of questions, and our virtual camera flies through it with gay abandon accompanied by one of the jolliest bouncy horn and piano themes we've heard in ages. What a shame then that the presentation of the show seems so dull and lifeless. What the show really needs is a proper studio audience for Tim and Graeme (comics by trade, let us not forget) to play to. This sort of gentle show demands a gentle sort of atmosphere, and currently it's a bit cold and stark, albeit friendly.

It's an OK game, lying somewhere between gentle and hardcore (what an excellent description that was - Ed) but could do with using more questions. For a show which uses buzzers, it's hardly quickfire.

There are some neat touches. There's always a question going into the ad break which only 1% of the respondents answered correctly for you to chew on, and we quite like the interesting statistic they tend to end each show on which normally points out how stupid we are.

In summary then: Beat the Nation is a show with potential which will probably not get realised because Big Brother not withstanding, Endemol seem perfectly happy to be merely "OK". It's production line, it just about works, it features celebrities, it's slightly above average. It will have the fact that it replaced uberquiz 15-1 working against it.