My views on quiz channels are fairly well documented on this blog. But among the shameless scammers and gormless presenters there was one clear ‘least worst’ phone-in quiz programme — Quizmania. And it’s been axed. The final programme is on tomorrow at 10pm.
What does it say that the one quiz programme that seemed to care a little bit about its viewers and paying contestants is the one that had to be dumped by ITV? Most quiz channels part viewers with their cash by setting puzzles that look easy, but are actually extremely difficult. Difficult because they never tell you the method of getting the answer.
Add the numbers is a notorious example. It is said that producers sometimes decide to count hidden Roman numerals in a piece of text as numbers! Count the pennies is another one. You really might as well just pick a random number, which is what many callers undoubtedly do. Ofcom regulations say that games must involve skill and not luck. Luck would make it a lottery and the quiz channel would have to give much of its taking to charity. Quizmania was different. It never got any worse than the relatively innocuous “tower” games.
But that wasn’t the reason I liked Quizmania. The reason was that Quizmania was genuinely entertaining. Due to the nature of the genre, quiz television is probably the closest television comes to the style of presenting more common on radio. By necessity, you get to know a presenter’s on-screen persona pretty well. This helps if a presenter actually has a personality.
Most quiz channels are fronted by totally gormless presenters who have nothing to say. It is more like World Championship Stare-Out than a phone-in quiz.
Quizmania, on the other hand, has the amazing Greg Scott (warning: link contains music that automatically plays!). What a guy. Scary inside-out knowledge of gameshows. Here is ten minutes of him in action:
Part of what made Quizmania amazing was the way the crew got involved as well. Other programmes may try to involve the crew, but they will never do it as well as Quizmania has done it. Flash is incredible! Who knew that a camera operator could be so entertaining?!
When the rockstar in waiting was allegedly banned from appearing on camera he got around the ban by holding cardboard cutouts and doing hilarious impressions of Morgan Freeman (“I played God!”) and Paul McCartney. Flash ought to have his own programme really.
This week probably hasn’t been a pleasant one for the Quizmania crew, as one by one the regular presenters have done their last shows. It is clear that everybody involved in the show genuinely loved working on Quizmania. Poor Lee Baldry was in tears.
Meanwhile, Make Your Play, which is what has replaced Quizmania on ITV1, is an utterly characterless programme. It reminds you that at its heart, quiz television is all about making money from callers; not keeping viewers entertained. Quizmania was a gem because it did both — and it wasn’t as deceitful at parting viewers with cash as many other quiz programmes are.
Don’t forget that Quizmania is the programme that was so successful for ITV1 that it led to the launch of ITV Play. It feels like an injustice. There will be many who think that Quizmania should not be forgiven for being part of the phone-in quiz disease that’s ruined late-night television over the past couple of years. But I think it should be applauded for making an otherwise dire format fun.
Luckily, many of Quizmania’s best moments have been immortalised on YouTube forever, and I present a mini Quizmania YouTube extravaganza below the fold. Unfortunately, many of my favourite moments of the past year and a bit aren’t on YouTube, but I’ve done the best I can.
The time when the Quizmania crew made fun of rival channel Quiz Call, which has inexplicably replaced its regular presenter with a bikini-clad fug who could only repeatedly say, “Come on!”