‘Quiz’ Pilot Review: Brilliant narrative on game show portrays desperation of TV networks and its aftermath
The first of the three-part series explores the making of the globally popular game show and how it drove millions of people into a winning frenzy
Spoilers for ‘Quiz’ Episode 1
In 1999, ABC launched a game show that would soon become iconic and make the nation go wild with the plan of making millions. ‘Who Want to Be a Millionaire’ has not just been a game show but an avenue that changed lives of millions, for better or for worse, not to mention the huge fanfare it garnered. The credit for its popularity could only go to British television network ITV. But what went in the making of this historical show? The miniseries, ‘Quiz’, answers just that.
The three-part series, as the synopsis says, follows the scandal of Charles Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen), a Major in the British Army and his wife, Diana Ingram (Sian Clifford), who tried to rig the game to win a million pounds. The series opens with a background on the life of Charles and Diana, a pun on the British royalty figures of its time. Their middle class, small-town life in Wiltshire sets the foundation of what to expect of these characters, especially Diana. She belongs to what one would call a ‘peculiar’ community of quizzers. She, along with her father and brother would dedicate themselves to games and quizzes, at home or in local bars. Their dedication goes a step beyond “hobby” and can be called an obsession. And that leads to the “audacious heist” that they attempt.
The show is majorly about the game rigging and the trial that followed, but that’s not what the story is all about. In the late 90s, ITV was struggling for viewership and the only way to do that was to design a program that would override every other TV game show in the country and involve the entire nation, at an emotional level. Enter Paul Smith (Mark Bonnar) and David Briggs (Elliot Levey), the creative duo who come up with a game show idea that will offer cash prize (so far all games shows awarded winners and contestants in kind).
With every question the money gets doubled, leading to a whopping prize money of £ 1 million ($1.2 million). They test it with their program director, and manage to catch his intrigue. Initially named ‘Cash Mountain’ the game pilots in 1998, and creates a lot of excitement, thereafter becoming a weekly television event, cashing in on millions of viewers in the next couple of years.
During its initial run, and garnering a viewership of 19 million, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ also impacts people in ways that would lead to the huge scandal that followed. It does impact people emotionally, just as the showrunners expected. But it also drives people wild with an obsession to make quick money.
Adrian Pollock’s (Trystan Gravelle) aggressive craze to be on the show is a clear indication of the game show’s influence on people; people in desperate need of money, people who love to win any game, and those who excel at quizzes. Pollock is all three, mostly the first. His dire financial situation was the primary reason that made him want to be on the show, come what may. So much so, that he tried to analyze its selection algorithm, the winning process, and even tried to rig the answering machine that selects the player for the “hot seat”. Charles and Diana might be at the center of the scandal but it was Adrian who plants the seed in Diana and the contagion affects Charles and another crazed player, Tecwen Whittock (Michael Jibson).
The pilot episode clearly lays out how a TV game show could be made the most exciting thing in the world, the prize money the shiny thing that everyone desperately wants. And that’s how they cash in on people’s need for more and the want of popularity.
The narrative is fun, fast-paced, and brilliant, to put simply, with an excellent cast that just fit right into their characters and convincingly so. With real-life footage of the actual ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ UK edition episodes, participants, and the emotional rollercoaster of winning and losing, the episode takes you through the behind-the-scenes of how the game show was made and how it was needled into people’s lives.
Whether you know the scandal of the Ingrams or simply want to learn about the history of the iconic game show, ‘Quiz’ is worth every minute.
‘Quiz’ Episode 2 will air on June 7 at 10 pm/ 9c on AMC.