Culture: The Million Pound Flop
Television connoisseur Andrew Brogan takes an analytical look at quiz-show phenomenon The Million Pound Drop.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? shook the world of quiz-shows when it was released, and you need only read the Wikipedia page to get a list of statistics advocating its triumphs and syndications, which I won’t present here as if I have obtained them from any other source. It was extremely gripping television, hoping someone would lose before the 5th question, or else get to the really challenging questions – either was an acceptable outcome really. It certainly changed the television-quizzing field, but was it for the better? Looking at the way in which quiz-shows present themselves today, the mechanics which made Millionaire such a success have infiltrated every quiz show you can watch on television. With The Million Pound Drop, Channel 4 has succeeded in the most unusual task of distilling all the negative qualities of Millionaire into an hour and a half of unwatchable tripe.
An obvious feature of both shows, unwelcome in any quiz, is the multiple choice question. The MCQ format is the guaranteed pass on the horizon that every failing student loves to see, but it significantly detracts from the general knowledge aspect of any quiz. Millionaire’s tried and tested “Four, choose one” MCQ is scrapped in MPD in favour of an “N, choose N-1, with the prize money distributed at your discretion”, which of course, dramatically improves your chance of proceeding to the next question, albeit most likely with less prize money.
However much that this MCQ element may take away from the quiz element of both shows, it is imperative for these shows to be as successful as they are. They are not trying to lure in viewers with trivia, but rather with suspense. It’s seems difficult to claim that MPD is any worse than Millionaire in this respect and certainly neither are as bad as Noel Edmunds’ Leave-Your-Brain-At-The-Door Suspensathon Deal or No Deal. However to analyse the over-reliance on anxiety, we need only look at the question per minute ratio. The suspense just feels so much more intense in MPD because they only ask around 9-11 questions in your average 90 minute slot. Presumably this is justified by the fact that you are potentially always playing for a million pounds, but it really hinders this already banal televisual non-event.
Space Invaders famously becomes incrementally more difficult as you play, as your friends who read Cracked probably tell you every time they get the slightest opening in any conversation, and this was also extremely evident in Millionaire, it was an essential part of the format. Although MPD seems aware of this, they have opted for a system of increasingly insipid rather than difficult questions. The questions tend to be in the vein of “Which has more/less” and will usually revolve around you knowing the answers to two unfathomably tedious questions. Using this system, they ensure that the final question (Where N=2) will almost certainly be a very high risk coin toss, which is, based on its success, what the modern quiz watching public are really looking for.
A show which relies so heavily upon this form of question really turns its back on general knowledge. Whereas “Who wants to be a Millionaire” was a quiz show which was very tightly held together by its gimmick, “The Million Pound Drop” is little more than a gimmick with a quiz show very loosely hanging onto it. Having said that, perhaps its triviality is more true to what a quiz show should be than I could ever understand, but I’ll stick with my first answer – no one with a passion for general knowledge wants to watch “The Million Pound Drop”.
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