Tuesday, May 19, 2009



Just to give you an idea of how British I've become in the short time I've been here, I was woken by a nightmare this morning. In it, I was appearing on a quiz show. I kind of knew the rules and I was playing adequately, but I felt that I was a little clumsy and I was frightfully embarrassed for wasting people's time.

I'm certain that this dream was sparked by a real BBC quiz show I had seen yesterday. I couldn't tell you what it is called but the setup is: a spokesmodel pulls a series of random letters out of a bin and two contestants vie to complete the longest word with them. It fascinated me. For one thing, the execution was very low tech. Letters out of a bin? Two bins actually, one for consonants and one for vowels. But the only remotely flashy thing on the set is a giant clock, which counts the 30 seconds during which the contestants pick their words.

The set consists of the giant clock and a semicircular desk. At the far right of the arc sits a distinguished host (they're called “presenters” here) then there is a considerable space until the middle of the arc, where the two contestants sit; then more space and at the far other end, two young attractive judges with a stack of dictionaries. Only one of them, the girl, appears to be doing any actual work. She looks up the word, then tells one of the contestants, “unfortunately 'featured' is not spelled with two e's, but with an 'ea'. I'm so sorry, be we'll have to disallow that.” The guy shrugs and makes a polite quip.

Obviously this show has been on since the late forties.

Looking at it with fresh American eyes, I'm mystified by a few things. One, what's with all the space? Is the set also used for another quiz show that has more people? And with all that space, why keep the contestants so close together where they can see each other's word? Isn't there some better use of screen time during the thirty second countdown than shots of the players hunched over their index cards interspersed with shots of the research girl hunched over another index card and the presenter hunched over yet ANOTHER index card? And what the hell is he doing? What's on that card?

In America we'd at least make the clock digital. The host would be a 30 year old bodybuilder and the contestants would do a LOT more screaming. Especially since they'd be struggling to reach a keyboard to type in their words while being pelted with balloons and water cannons. Oh and no dictionaries. There'd be a paid plug for dictionary.com. And no matter who chose the right word, you'd vote for the winner on your cell phone. They're called “mobiles” here.


wamk said...

Let me get this straight.

There is nothing better to do in London than to watch bad t.v. game shows?

Get out of that hotel room, man!

Publius said...

There was a time when I wanted to visit England. I believe I've grown past that. I'd still like to go to Japan, though. Other than that, I can't think of anywhere I want to visit outside the USA. Of course, I have to go some places on business. But that is different.