TV Game Shows Are Dying and I'll Miss Their Shiny Pointlessness
Look, 'Million Pound Drop' and 'Deal or No Deal' may be the sort of telly that only your great-aunt still watches, but we need them.
Big, brash game shows may be on their way out. After 13 series and an obligatory celeb spinoff, the tabloids recently reported that The Million Pound Drop has been axed by Channel 4 in March. A spokeswoman for Endemol told VICE that it hasn't definitely been culled, but did confirm that there are no plans for Davina McCall and her gigantic bundles of cash to return to our screens for now, after its last airing in March 2015.
With rumours towards the end of last year that Deal Or No Deal might also be coming to an end after 10 years, the death of the overly theatrical, big money gameshow could be here. Looking at ratings alone, once niche quiz show Only Connect – miles away from the razzle-dazzle of The Million Pound Drop – evolved into a sleeper hit on BBC One last year and didn't need a "shiny-floor" format or official hashtag to do it.
Frankly, I'm gutted. I've long been a fan of the see-you-after-the-break tension and big, visual elements of shows like The Drop and Deal; with the latter it's those mysterious red boxes with their faux superstition, while on the former it's big stacks of pinkies teetering on trap doors as perma-tanned couples try to hold down their vomit. Post-grad student and one-time game show contestant Alex Fraser admits being attracted to the drama of it all. He was once on BBC Two's Eggheads and describes it as "very dry".
"It's just a shot of the contestants' faces, a shot of the Eggheads' faces, a shot of Jeremy Vine, on a loop," Alex says. "The viewer doesn't get as much opportunity to know the contestant, or to get involved." Conversely, The Drop was one of the first shows to integrate playing along at home with an online site before quiz show apps became the norm, snagging a BAFTA for digital creativity back in 2011.
Rather than just write a heartfelt farewell letter to The Million Pound Drop, I decided to speak David Flynn, its creator, to find out what he makes of its possible demise. A quiz mogul and former UK creative chief for Endemol, who also masterminded Pointless, he reckons there's a winning formula to The Drop that will lead to its return.
"Everywhere it's gone it's done very well, because there's something very pure within the format that people like," he says. "They love that sense of people risking it all to try and win big, seeing people lose it all at different stages or take those risks and get through to that final question and win the cash." He's also keen to stress that the format is still licensed in some 54 "territories" worldwide, so even if British broadcasters aren't game, TV audiences in other countries from Afghanistan to Vietnam may still be.
Andre Sousa, a quiz show developer and assistant producer at ITV Studios, is also optimistic about the future of these sorts of shows. "Alongside talent shows, heavily formatted quiz shows have got a lot more potential to travel around the world, as they're easy and cheap to make," he says, as someone who's worked on entertainment formats in both the UK and his native Portugal. But with The Drop currently on ice in the UK, will we ever see another show on the scale of, say, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
"As with everything, it's cyclical," he explains. "While it's hard to come up with something that really takes off, I would expect it to happen sooner rather than later. As humans, the tendency is to go bigger and better, so I won't be surprised if there's a show in the future with much bigger prizes than £1,000,000 – especially if you manage to start charging players at home to engage with the show".
Likewise, barrister-turned-quiz champion Shaun Wallace, from ratings favourite The Chase, doesn't think audiences are tiring of the genre either, citing the longevity of shows such as his own. "I think that a key part of The Chase's success are the theatrics and the rapport that Bradley Walsh in particular has built up with the viewers," he says. "Our viewers love testing themselves, but if the show was merely a quiz I don't think it would be as successful as it is." That said, like Sousa, he understands the need to innovate.
"It's a shame that The Drop has seemingly been cancelled, as it was a fun show," he says. "While it was fast-paced, having a time slot of 8PM on a Friday can make it difficult to build a loyal fanbase. I also think that as with all successful game shows, such as Millionaire, they have to be changed up to keep the audience's attention. Thirteen series is a long time."
Even if glossy, garish game shows might not be in as much trouble as it first appeared, it will be interesting to see how things develop. If austerity worsens, I'd find it hard to justify formats that demand that we pay for privilege of playing along, and celebrating huge sums may move from light entertainment to tacky bad taste. Will the next big hit seize some of the cerebral nature that's made Only Connect so big, or will questions still revolve around 90s sitcoms and the royals? Can The Drop just bounce back? I know what I'd prefer. But in the words of former Millionaire host Chris Tarrant – now promoting an off-brand lotto in the ad breaks – the questions are only easy if you know the answer.
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