Sunday, 6 April 2014

Review: (All new!) Fifteen to One

Saturday saw the hotly anticipated return of Channel 4's Fifteen to One, a show that, if you're reading a blog about quizzes, really needs no introduction. Off air for over a decade, we were given a taste of things to come last September with a celebrity special hosted by Adam Hills. Now a 20-episode series with normal folk will be gracing our screens. Everyone's favourite Dane Sandi Toksvig is in charge and there's a whopping £40,000 up for grabs. Can it possibly live up to expectations?

So what's new?

In terms of basic gameplay the reboot is near-identical to its predecessor. 15 contestants, three lives each, last quizzer standing makes it onto the leaderboard. With 19 episodes before the final you just have to avoid being one of the four lowest-scoring winners if you want to come back and battle it out for the cash. The only major rule change is that anyone knocked out before the final three gets (up to) two more bites at the cherry. While this may seem like the famously ruthless show going just a tiny bit soft, it seems a sensible change for a contest that could send you packing after facing just two questions.

Floor lighting gives a snapshot of the state of play.
With Toksvig the show is in safe, experienced hands, while her intellect and warmth make her an excellent match for a quiz known for being challenging but always friendly. The set design works well enough, with some neat floor lighting that shows who's in, who's out, and who's nominating whom. Question difficulty seemed a bit low overall, but with some absolute stinkers thrown in you certainly needed a bit of luck along with solid general knowledge. While this volatility is an inevitable part of the game it strikes me as very easy for someone to come out feeling rather hard done by. The extra chances to appear do mitigate this somewhat, though.

For better or worse?

Comparisons with the original are inevitable, and much of the online discourse I've seen has focused on the show's length. Coming in (with ad breaks) at an hour the remake is twice as long and, with no extra quizzing to fill the gap, that time has to be made up elsewhere. A bit of extra chat, some bonus information after some questions, and an overall slower pace do the trick, which together leaves it without the original's trademark 'efficiency'. Understandably, this has disappointed the more devout fans, who were hoping for a return to the veritable barrage of questions that used to grace our teatime TV screens. However, if the remake is viewed on its own merits (rather than in the shadow of William G Stewart) I think it largely stands up to scrutiny.

Sandi with the latest in high-tech
question asking technology.
As a case in point I recently introduced my partner - who had never seem the show before - to some old episodes on YouTube. He is, of course, a fairly serious quizzer himself now, but viewing it with fresh eyes he found the pace too fast for comfort. While to me, Saturday's episode certainly felt slow, in the context of many of the current crop of quiz shows its questions-per-minute seemed perfectly respectable.

Fifteen to Fun?

Overall then, it's a perfectly fine remake of an undisputed classic. It will be interesting, however, to see how it fares with the viewing public; ultimately I'm not entirely sure who it's trying to please. For quiz purists it will certainly feel like a rather diluted imitation of the original. The more casual viewer, on the other hand, seems liable to tire of a 'question question question' format once the nostalgia novelty wears off. A 4.30pm time slot is a curious choice, as it means an overlap with gameshow goliaths Pointless and The Chase. Perhaps the idea is to lure viewers in and hope they'll hang on to 'see what happens', but as the opening round suffers the most from the ponderous pacing I'm not so sure.

For now, though, I'm happy to have it back. Perhaps there's a touch of expat-induced homesickness creeping in from my new life in the colonies, but while they may be slightly slower on their feet, it's always nice to see an old friend again.


  1. Totally ruined by the intensely irritating background "music". It seems to be the fashion on quiz shows these days - God knows why.

    1. Interesting - I must admit I hadn't noticed the background music at all until I saw someone else mention it. I'm not sure it's an entirely new phenomenon, though, Millionaire (1998) springs immediately to mind, for instance.