Television is generally a good indication of what to expect from a country’s culture. Of course, it’s not the be-all and end-all of their cultural output. Thank God. But it does give some indication of the values of that country, the things they find entertaining and their general outlook on life.
Tonight I happened to catch a little bit of possibly the most uninspiring quiz show I’ve ever seen. It takes the very essence of England and Englishness—grey boringness; small talk about grey, boring things; reluctance to show any sort of enthusiasm whatsoever—and turns it into a spectacular example of how to get what is a pretty well-established format amazingly wrong.
The show is Eggheads. It appears to pit a team of clever people against a team of “Ha! They’re from the public! They must smell awful!” people. Presumably it’s intended to be some sort of triumphant David and Goliath situation, with, at some point, the team of great unwashed defeating the people with two brain cells to rub together.
There’s one very simple thing this programme gets wrong. Tension. Quiz shows are made by their tension. It can be created in many ways, and for many, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is perhaps the best example, as it uses all of them. Music. Audience reactions. A host who milks the situation for all it’s worth. None of these are things that require lots of money and flashy effects to produce. They simply require a bit of personality. And, crucially, an audience.
Eggheads doesn’t have an audience. This means that even the most spectacular victory scored by the hoi-polloi is greeted by absolute, complete and utter stony silence. And this means the participants have no energy whatsoever. If they won, they’d probably just nod their head sagely and go “oh, thank you.” It’s the televisual equivalent of when you find yourself sitting outside the headmaster’s office and all you can hear is the ticking of a grandfather clock. Assuming you went to the kind of school that had grandfather clocks in it.
Contrast this with even the most cheap and nasty of American game shows and you’ll see a very different side of things. You’ll see participants whooping, hollering, cheering, jumping around and generally acting like they’re happy to be there. Of course, you have to be in the right mood to find this entertaining, as overzealous enthusiasm can be just as grating as stark boringness if you’re in the wrong frame of mind. But it somehow seems rather more appropriate for the game show format than what I witnessed tonight.
As for Japanese game shows? They do stuff like this. Kind of like The Generation Game. But, you know, good.