24 Hour Quiz

Friday, February 20, 2004 by

Sometimes ITV will fling out something that’s just so ITV you have to start wondering if there aren’t channel executives standing around, guffawing up their sleeves. Are we witnessing here a cleverly executed joke that’s been meticulously set-up just to make merry with popular conceptions about the third channel? Because, c’mon, although they sometimes try and smokescreen us with Prime Suspect, The South Bank Show and the – gulp! – “popular” journalism that is Tonight With Trevor McDonald, ITV has always been the button of choice if you want to watch something from the bottom drawer.

Yep, as posh as the channel may sometime try and talk, when it’s putting out something like 24 Hour Quiz thrice daily, there’s just no way it can bluff that it’s got any breeding. Set to run for six weeks, this Endemol production epitomises pretty much all of the negative connotations we can muster in relation to the ITV network. It’s gaudy, its stupid and its got one of those bog-standard shiny 3D logos!

From the off as we descend upon a gaudily appointed set and a perspiring pug of man in the middle of it all, you can’t help but feel this is a programme down on its luck. Here’s Shaun Williamson, a second-stringer spat out by EastEnders now trying to play it dapper and slick with a procession of contestants apparently amorphous in that they all seem to be a) squat, and b) desperate to appear on the telly at all cost (to apply to the show, you tellingly have to text in the word “fame”). Coupling together a traditional gameshow with a “reality TV” format, this is an ungainly beast, unsure where it should be looking to for those talking-points. Are we celebrating the mental dexterity of these inveterate pub-quizzers, or voyeuristically enjoying their sparky personalities when they’re bundled up together (although you could argue that one element precludes the other anyway)? The show never really seems to make its mind up on this score, and, to wheel out that old reviewer’s cliché, ends up falling between two stools.

Ensconced inside the quiz-pod on today’s edition we have Andy, Floyd and Tracy, the latter of whom has now been quizzing for the whole week. Throughout this lunchtime edition, the three of them remain entirely static, sat at terminals inputting the answers to multiple-choice questions. And, in fact, that’s pretty much how they appear throughout the pre-recorded segments too which brings us up to date on the “happenings” in the pod overnight. The sad truth is, as much as the production team might try to pep things up with bottles of beer and Elvis wigs, essentially what we’ve still got here are three people more keyed in to operating their terminals than interacting with each other. Let’s face it, whether someone’s wearing a funny wig or not quickly becomes irrelevant when all they’re doing is punching buttons all day.

Entering the pod, Williamson tries to gee things up a little as he attempts to tap into underlying tensions between the contestants. But there’s little here for him to play with, the three remaining uncommunicative and indolent. All they want to do is win that money and bag as much face-time on national television as possible.

Retreating from the pod for the second half of the show, things get little better for Williamson. At this point he’s given the opportunity to simply play it down the line as a generic quiz show host as 14 members of the public (whom we’re shown auditioning, as though this were Pop Idol or something) enter the studio to try and challenge for a place in the pod. Fantastically, each is introduced by a trite potted biography delivered at great speed by an off-screen announcer: “Jim is a DJ in his spare time and is known as ‘Jazzy J’. He can also do a mean Billy Connelly impression!” But the thing is, who cares? At this point in the game all “Jazzy J” is allowed to do is answer A, B or C to one question … and that’s it. That he can do a mean Billy Connelly is neither here nor there.

So the lunchtime edition ends, but there are two more to go before we get to the end of the day.

Returning to 24 Hour Quiz at 5pm, the rancour of depression becomes ever more pervasive. Whereas the lunchtime episode struggled to fill 30 minutes, this time out they’ve got a whole hour to play with. It’s no surprise, then, to come face to face with the same “highlights” package we already saw at lunch, detailing the previous night’s activities. Williamson is still padding around the set uncertain how to pitch his delivery, and returns to the pod once again for more stilted chat with the Andy, Floyd and Tracy. Yes, there are a few surprises on hand, but yet again these involve the contestants having to remain seated and static. A piped-in phone-call from Tracy’s husband is great news for her but does little for anyone else.

With Williamson once more withdrawing to return to his baiting of the potential pod-challengers, here’s where things very nearly pick-up. With the original 14 contestants having been whittled down to seven, another is lobbed off their number as they’re now broken up into two competing teams of three. There is some genuine tension here, but somehow it all seems to slip through the fingers and before we know it, we’re left with one final challenger who’s going to duel with Tracy for her place in the pod. How’s the dramatic conflict going to be played out? By means of more multiple choice questions, of course.

As Tracy faces off with Jazzy J (for it is he) you have to wonder when was the last time you got to catch a good five minutes of screen time devoted to three unprepossessing, heavily-set people talking trivia. And, you have to hand it to Shaun Williamson too, the man really can sweat. As the multiple-choice answers plop out from the combatants, he appears positively manic. They’re playing for the correct swipe-card from a selection of five that will unlock the pod. With each question they get correct, Williamson removes a bogus card, tossing it onto the floor in a calculated stab at drama. Instead it plays more like wilful litter-louting.

Unfortunately for Jazzy J, Tracy wins through and reclaims her place in the pod. We never do get to hear that mean Billy Connelly, after all.

With the feeling that absolutely nothing has been accomplished, we return to the quiz one last time at 11.30pm. Our man Williamson has gone, to be replaced by Matt Brown. We’re in for another 60 minutes here, but now it’s a much more free-form environment that seems to involve Brown simply hanging around the pod chatting to the contestants. As ever, the three are more focussed on notching up those correct multiple choice questions than entering into idle chat – the result being Brown’s something of a gooseberry hanging around and getting under the skin. It’s a weird hour, this. The most aimless thing you’ll find on ITV1 all day; a gameshow set adrift. This is the sort of thing that should be buried away as some interactive “press the red button” feature, not presented as one of the main thrusts of the programme. Some five minutes before the end an apparently bored Brown suddenly decides he’s off (“see you later” he says to the three), strides across the picture to one exit, before changing his mind and striding back to leave by a different route. So we’re left with the contestants who just carry on making small talk amongst themselves and rattling out the answers until, finally, mercifully the credits roll.

There’s no getting away from it, 24 Hour Quiz is quite the worst thing currently showing on ITV1 (that’s even allowing for Footballers’ Wives). That it’s spread-eagled across the schedules in three separate editions just compounds the agony. This is cheap, worthless television, offering up a huge mallet with which to beat the ITV network. It plays to our worst suspicions about the channel, and that’s just annoying. There’s nothing about the show that’s prepared to confound or surprise, other than its sheer shoddiness.

During one of the overnight challenges, Tracy and co were challenged to swot up on a specialised subject presented to them by a guest expert. In today’s episodes that subject was human excrement. Being presented with a huge fossilised turd – the oldest surviving example of human faeces – Tracy could only respond with: “Oh that must’ve hurt coming out.” Well, the metaphor here is obvious. With its three regular movements every weekday the 24 Hour Quiz is bloody excruciating.


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