Monday, 12 October 2009

Review: Pointless (TV)

I watched the last episode of Pointless on iPlayer today. It's a game show that I'd not been aware of at all before now, but the concept is intriguing. Contestants compete in pairs to give answers to a question that will have many correct responses (such as "Name an EU currency replaced by the Euro"). Each contestant gives one answer in turn and gets points for it. At the end of the round the team with the highest points is eliminated. Yes, highest points.

Before the show, 100 members of the public were given 100 seconds to answer the same questions the contestents are given, and the score given to the contestents is equal to the number of people who gave that answer in the survey. So by coming up with an obscure answer, contestents will score fewer points and survive to the next round. Obvious answers score higher and are more dangerous, while wrong answers automatically score 100 points.

I like the concept a lot - in the manner of all good game shows, it rewards trivia knowledge, with the twist that even being right isn't always enough. Seeing how many members of the public thought of that answer is interesting, and there is an analysis of the best and worst answers that could have been picked at the end of the round, which is also entertaining. The show itself is fine, and I'd be happy to watch it or a variation on it again. The problem I have with it is the presentation.

Pointless is 45 minutes long. The actual content of the show would take about 25 minutes, maybe even less, but there is a lot of totally needless time wasting. There are interviews with the contestents beforehand, which seems to be a new strategy in quiz shows, perhaps to get a better connection between public and contestent, but it is one that frustrates me. I'm happy to know the name, age and occupation of the contestents, but any more information about them seems to be window dressing. The point of the show is for them to compete against one another in trivia, and we don't need to know anything more about them to enjoy that competition. Or at least what we could learn in a two minute "interview" is unlikely to be enough to make us empathise with them, and yet wastes 10 minutes of the programme.

In addition, there is a lot of explaining and re-explaining the rules, and a lot of totally needless tension building. I like Alexander Armstrong, who presents it, in his comedy show, but in this he wastes so much time that I start to irrationally despise him. He seems to pop up between each answer and state something totally obvious about the rules or the scores. And the scores pop up so often it's unreal. There is no need to spend a minute of the programme reminding us of the scores in detail every half-round. We can remember 5 numbers. If you're that worried about us forgetting, put them on the screen the whole time, but don't bore us by constantly bombarding us with filler material.

Anyway, the upshot of all this time-wasting is that you get one topic per round, rather than the two or three you would get if the pace was a little more urgent, which means people who might have a really good knowledge base can get caught out and eliminated without having shown what they can do. Multiple questions per round would force people to be consistent to get through, and would seem fairer to those who do get eliminated, since they'll have more chances.

The situation we have in the final round in the episode I linked above is a good example. The contestents had to name Premier League football grounds, and it was obvious from the first two answers who was going to win the round, since one team obviously knew far more obscure grounds than the other. The rest of the round was just a totally unneccesary exercise in dragging the result out.

Basically, I don't see why it had to be that long, and the sooner television escapes from the frustratingly simplistic idea of linear scheduling, and allows programmes to be as long or as short as they need or want to be, the better. I don't care if a show is 37 minutes rather than 30 when I'm watching it in my own time rather than when a network says I can, so there's no need to cut good elements or pad with poor ones. And the sooner shows like Pointless can be made without the needless filler, the happier we'll all be.

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