“Buyers have been looking for more than straightforward Q+A for some time; they want more escapist shows with more fun built in,” says one distribution boss, underlining the challenge of selling question and answer-based shows.
Although Q+A lends itself very well to younger-skewing digital applications, buyers are wary quizzes skew old. One answer is to broaden the basic proposition and bring in elements from other categories of programming.
“There is definitely a demand for some kind of physical piece,” says one acquisitions exec. “Some quiz shows have gone too far and got too big, which has made them difficult to reinvent or scale down. There is definitely a sweet middle spot.”
In the ‘too large’ category, Studio Lambert’s Million Second Quiz failed to ignite ratings for NBC in the US, or set the international world alight last year.
Another big-ticket US quiz show from this year is 500 Questions. The Mark Burnett and Mike Darnell project for ABC was a multi-night gameshow in which super-smart contestants attempted to answer 500 super-tough general knowledge questions over several weekend slots. The main rule is never get three wrong in a row or you are eliminated.
The series took a middling five million average audience, and though it was not officially cancelled by the Alphabet Network, there has been no sign of it returning for a second season.
Quizzes with tough questions do have a place: Parasol Media and RDF Television’s fiendishly tough lateral-thinking quiz Only Connect for BBC Two in the UK or Talpa Media’s celebrity quiz What Do I Know?, in which viewers can play along via second screens, being two good recent examples.
However, adding elements beyond the core Q+A broadens the appeal of a format, making them less about excusive knowledge.
The quiz genre is in ripe for reinvention, says Kate Phillips, who joined BBC Worldwide in January as creative director of formats.
Speaking during Formats Day at BBC Worldwide’s Showcase event in February this year, she said one way of doing this is to look at “quizzes with fact-ent gameplay”.
The UK is the largest format exporter in the world, but local British tastes do not always chime with those further afield. UK viewers devour daytime quiz shows, often stripped, and they deliver a solid, predictable and reliable audience for broadcasters. However, wholesale importers of UK shows such as the Scandis are not big buyers of quiz. Latin America is also tough in this respect, UK-based distributors say.
“There is a market in the UK that is not reflective of the market internationally; the audience at 4pm in the UK wants something different to the audience at 7pm in France,” says Sky Vision’s director of factual and entertainment, Barnaby Shingleton. “That means it can be hard for a UK quiz to break through from daytime and shoulder-peak into later slots [internationally] where people are often looking for something lighter and more entertaining.”
Sky Vision’s 1000 Heartbeats (above) for ITV gets around the problem by adding in a genre-broadening physicality. Contestants attempt to move up a money ladder by successfully answering questions, but with heart rates being measured and tension inducing music playing, they must not exceed the titular number of heartbeats.
“It has a visceral physical element and that produces a visceral response,” Shingleton says. “Adding that physicality lifts it above simple Q+A and makes it a more complete entertainment experience.”
Other market-watchers say that the high-tension dynamic that defined the last generation of hit quiz shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link is no longer a top priority, with many new quiz and game shows focused on fun. Formats like Wild Things (below) which has been a hit on Sky1 in the UK, illustrates several of the quiz/game show trends, with both Q+A and physical game elements and a firm emphasis on fun.
The IWC/Mad Monk & GroupM-produced, Zodiak Rights-distributed competition show has groups of two, one effectively blind in a furry animal costume without eye holes, taking on physical challenges and answering questions in a wacky woodland setting.
Without the humour angle, but also combining quiz with physicality, is One in a 1000. It sees the 1,000 contestants whittled down by half over each of ten rounds. It attempts to level the playing field among the multi-age participants, as they compete for a cash prize, by mixing physical challenges with Q+A and mental agility. While negotiating a huge assault course for example, contestants can avail themselves of short cuts by correctly answering general knowledge questions.
The show is notable for being one of the first formats created by BBC Worldwide and has been developed for a third-party international broadcaster, ZDF, which ended a run for another big event show, Wetten Dass?, last year.
All3Media’s Tower Productions co-created the format and ZDF will run as a three-hour event special. BBC Worldwide is distributing and was introducing it to buyers at the Showcase Formats Day.
“It’s not a typical quiz, or a typical physical gameshow, and we have developed a big catalogue of multi-discipline events to be used in the show,” says Tower Productions’ head of show, Markus Templin. “We’re looking for people with multiple skills and abilities.”
Sony Pictures Television brought an Israeli-originated format from United Studios, Raid the Cage to market back in 2012. Along with The Brain, it pre-empted the physical-plus-Q+A trend and was picked up in ten territories.
Endemol Germany-originated The Brain launched in 2013, and sees people try to perform amazing mental and physical challenges. It sold well in Spain and Lat Am.
SPT, meanwhile, this year brought another quiz-gameshow hybrid to market in the shape of Prized Apart. From Sony-backed Electric Ray, it was a Saturday night primetime show for BBC One. Couples – either married, siblings or friends – were separated, with one flying to a far-off land to take part in grueling physical challenges. They returned home at the end of the week, and the stay-at-home partners then faced head-to-head question rounds to keep their other half in the game and get them back on the plane.
Steeped in controversy over its ownership (Electric Ray founder Karl Warner first devised the idea while a commissioner at BBC, thereby meaning the UK public broadcaster took a larger share of the rights than normal for an indie show), the series took an average 2.7 million across its six-part run, and today it emerged in the Radio Times that it has been cancelled.
Israel being the creative hub it is, it is not surprising it has developed a physical/quiz show. Boom was created by Ido Rosenblum, the host of the local version of Cash Cab. Initially designed as an outdoor gameshow, it was refined by Rosenblum and Merav Schifman and Ran Telem from free TV Israeli broadcaster Keshet.
Q+A is mixed with a physical element that sees the contestant have to select the wires to snip on a ‘primed’ bomb, which explodes if they get their selection wrong.
The premise translates to dramatic viewing Rosenblum says. “Drama has become huge and we wanted to try and capture some of that, to bring the essence of the big screen to the small screen. It takes the standard [quiz and gameshow] genres to the next level – it’s more than getting four right answers and getting some prize money. Boom is like the pinnacle of an action movie.”
The lessons of this year show one clear trend: the difficulty of making a quiz-cum-game show entertainment formats work. As we near MIPCOM, producers and distributors the world over have plenty to consider.