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Deal or No Deal

We were a bit ahead of the game with this actually. We were sent the very first Australian big money episode about two years ago which had a $2m top prize and 26 brifcases. It also had a twenty-minute quiz to determine which of the 200 lucky people would get to play for the money. What struck me about the show was how utterly simple it was - pick numbers, hope to be lucky. Despite the simplicity, I felt compelled and intrigued and at no point did I actually feel bored. However, the question mark remained - can a game based on entirely on maths and theory remain entertaining in the long term?

We're still not actually sure. But hurrah! We're going to give it a try anyway, and not only is it being produced by The Mole wunderkind Glenn Hugill but they've even persuaded Noel Edmonds to come back out of televisual retirement to host it.

Twenty-two people from around the UK pick one of 22 boxes before the show begins. One of them is selected by the computer to play the game today, although in the weeks to come everyone will get a go, being replaced by new contestants as they take their crack at the cash and then leave the show.

In each box a cash value has been printed on the lid ranging from 1p to £250,000. The boxes are sealed by an independent adjudicator so nobody on the production crew knows the contents of any of the boxes. The remaining cash values remain on the gameboard at the far end of the studio at all times.

One by one the contestant asks for other boxes to be opened and as they are, the values contained within are wiped from the gameboard. As the game progresses, the player gets a much clearer idea as to how valuable the box they're holding is.

But as an important complication, periodically an off screen banker phones up the big telephone on the desk and makes the player an offer for their box based on the cash values remaining in the game. The banker tries to buy the box off them for as little money as possible and tries to play up the contestant fear that they've got a really low value prize in their box when in actual fact they might have a very high value prize. The offer is made based on the values left on the gameboard and the contestant must make the agonizing decision whether to "Deal" - to take the guaranteed money on offer and leave the game - or "No Deal" - reject the offer and open more boxes. The hope is to eliminate more low valued boxes and force the banker to offer you more and more cash. The very real risk is you knock out higher value boxes so the banker reduces his next offer accordingly. It's all rather abstract.

When just two boxes remain, the one the player had at the very start and the one remaining on contestant's row, the player can choose to take the banker's offer or to take the money in their box.

And that, as they say, is it. Although if they get down to the final two boxes - the player's and the other one, and he chooses not to deal, the banker will phone up and give the contestant the opportunity to swap the boxes - this doesn't change any of the odds at all but does add an extra layer of exciting decision.

Except: that's not really it.

All the criticisms you could level at the show ("it's just dumb luck!" "you could fit it down to half an hour!" "there isn't a general knowledge question!") are all absolutely true. Certainly it's never in the production's interest to have the contestant bail out too early and so is likely to offer very low-end amounts in the bank offers. When about eight boxes remain then the game gets very serious and the banker will start making much more interesting offers. Half an hour of preamble for fifteen minutes of proper excitement. And that's fair enough but actually wrong. The daily version of Deal or No Deal is actually about people. Each contestant could be on contestant's row for up to four weeks so really the show is X days + 30 minutes to decide whether you like someone or not and to determine how much money you'd like them to win and 15 minutes to determine how much they actually win. As the days pass you get a good idea as to who to are really looking forward to see play because they've been lots of fun to watch on contestant's row.

I'm happy to say that despite the show's highly repetitive nature I'm not bored and it doesn't drag. Yet.

Noel Edmonds seems like a very strange choice of host to begin with but about halfway through your first episode he clicks. He's on the contestant's side but with a slight edge to offer reality checks as and when they're needed. He'll whip the audience up into a excitable frenzy when the luck has to go the contestant's way. He's also the middleman between the contestant and the banker. When the phone goes, Noel has quite a lengthy chat on occasion, passing on the banker's words to the contestant (before anyone asks there is actually someone on the end of the phone, we predict it's Glenn Hugill taking his role from The Mole and extending it but we don't have any evidence for it). The banker seems to be developing quite a character for himself which we quite like - it adds another comedy element to the show. Finally Noel play's Devil's Advocate with the contestant, even on really quite low offers.

On the whole, the show has a slightly darker feel to it than the other daily versions we've had a look at. Whether this is because of the necessary addition of pauses to make the show 45 minutes a day or because the whole show seems to be set in the back of a warehouse I don't know. When we knew the show was happening, we were expecting it to be rather more high energy and celebratory than it actually is but now we're used to it we quite like the more laid back yet intense approach.

It's a big money daily show and whilst it wants to look generous it actually doesn't want to be giving away tens of thousands of pounds every day. In the original big money 26 case version, the banker would make an offer after the 6th, 11th, 15th, 18th, 20th and then every case thereafter, so if at the end lots of small values remain and one big value it becomes a game of chicken with the bank increasing its offer each time until the big value goes and suddenly the bank doesn't have anything to worry about. This rather gives the player the advantage during the exciting end sequence. In our version, the bank makes an offer after the 5th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 20th boxes have been opened. We've already established that the bank doesn't need to bother making a decent offer until the Round of Eight. Three more boxes go so now there are five boxes left. As the player still has to open three boxes before the final round this represents an absolutely massive risk for the player with just one or two worthwhile values left and most people bail out at that point. You can't blame them really. Perhaps having a bank offer after each box gives the player too much power. It's been suggested that perhaps a comprimise of two then one would heighten the excitement for everyone watching, give the player more of an incentive to risk it a bit more and still not cost Endemol too much.

In closing, we think calling it "event television," is a bit much. We do think it's carved it's own little "appointment television" niche to itself - 4:15 is now the time where some people repetitively open some boxes and hopefully win lots of money on Channel 4, and if you want you can follow it everyday and get to know lots of different people. Or you can dip in when you feel like a bit of tension in the afternoon. And it's just that - a big old 45 minute block of tension. But one we're rather fond of.