Reflecting on the Million Second Quiz.
As I’m posting this, Night 10, the final night of NBC’s nightly game show experience, The Million Second Quiz, has concluded. Questions were answered, people won cash, and the touted “Biggest cash prize in game show history” – Greed from 1999 would like a word with you – was won. I sat through all ten nights, playing along. Hell, I even have the GetGlue stickers to prove it. Now that it’s over, I wanna look back on this whole ride.
I had not heard of the Million Second Quiz until about a week or two before its premiere. Funny, considering the game show nut that I am, you would think I would have known about it months beforehand. I remember seeing an ad for the MSQ app while at PAX Prime in Seattle, which is baffling considering the average age of people who go to PAX are likely in their teens-early twenties. I don’t see them vying to download an iPhone/Android app and try on a game show.
The only other thing I remember about MSQ was talking with my friends on Skype about it. They’re big game show fans and even host their own versions of game shows on the air. Opinions on Night One from my friends on the East Coast was mixed, whereas my west coast self was mildly anticipating it.
Then, the show went live. The set, adorned with a several-story-tall hourglass, had a ticker on the top with the million seconds ticking down. Inside the hourglass set were three podiums, one of which had a seat with a round circle showing a cash value – the amount of money the person playing was winning at that moment. The moment a contestant was in that money chair, they accumulated $10/second, which suddenly reminded me of a different game show. The big-ass hourglass shows the New York City skyline in the background. Unless it’s raining like hell, in which they move the production to a smaller, closed stage that looks like it was done on a local NBC station.
While the camera sweeps down, host Ryan Seacrest greets the viewer for watching, and gives a recap of the player’s quest in the money chair up to that point. A random audience member is chosen to face off against the contestant in the money chair, and the game begins. Questions are asked, correct answers get points, most points wins and takes the money chair to make cash. At any time a contestant can challenge their opponent to answer to double the points, but they could double them back for four times the amount. Each game is timed, which is from 300-400 seconds depending on the bout.
Of course, there’s more to the game than that, but it seems to the average viewer that it didn’t click with them too well. They broke one of the simplest rules of a game show: Explain everything quick and concise. On Night One, they went right into it as if the show had been on the air for years, and only three game shows can get away with doing that: Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy!. I would’ve treated the first few nights a little more slowly and explain things more clearly, then streamline it as the show progresses. Think of many classic game shows, a lot of them started a bit slower to explain things to new viewers, then went into their more traditional format after a period of time on the air.
Even though the show ended at 9PM sharp, segueing into shows like The Voice, Seacrest exclaimed “The show continues at NBC.com!” …unless you lived on the West Coast like I do, in which case I saw the Winners Row players sleeping, or seeing a “stream will be back shortly” message like I did constantly. They continued to do online games with an off-screen host, for 500 seconds, each question equaling a point, and no doublers. It’s dumb to change the rules for the online streams compared to the TV broadcast, because in this bare-bones format, all it takes is two screw-ups and you’re done.
There are several problems with the Million Second Quiz. A lot of the questions are based on current events rather than pure trivia, which reminded me of The Challengers. There’s a boatload of sponsorship, from Hota Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford on Today to Carson Daly on The Voice to Steve Harvey’s talk show – not surprising since they’re all NBC/Universal shows. The inconsistency between the online games and the TV broadcasts. Finally, the rules constantly being glossed over or explained poorly for the sake of having more fancy camera pans and dramatic music cues. Surprisingly, Ryan Seacrest was not bad, he did fine with what he was given. I’ve seen bad game show hosts, even ones that could tell you the rules down pat but had the personality of a dull knife. Seacrest did fine as a host. Then again, I never understood his hate besides “He’s everywhere.” If that’s your argument, I take it you hated it when Dick Clark was hosting American Bandstand, Bloopers & Practical Jokes, The $25,000 Pyramid and a radio show at the same time as well?
Despite that, I couldn’t stop watching. I downloaded the app, playing along with the show and random strangers across the country. While I amassed enough points to qualify as a contestant, nobody from KGW (my local NBC station) was knocking at my door. Funny enough, the concept of “play along at home” game shows reminds me of my brief experiences playing along with lesser known game shows like Paranoia and webRIOT almost fifteen years ago. Maybe I’ll talk about those some time.
Million Second Quiz is a weird concept. It’s a generic quizzer focused on large sums of money, with added social interaction thanks to Twitter, Facebook and GetGlue. NBC wanted this to be their version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? – that game show that gets a lot of buzz and gets people talking. Alas, the show’s several faults turned people away, and likely won’t be returning for a second season. It’s sad, too, because I thought the idea was sound, just needed more polish. I’ve seen worse game shows in primetime – Identity, Set for Life, Show Me the Money – and the Million Second Quiz sits firmly in the middle: Not amazing, but not memorable either. At least Ryan Seacrest got to host another game show, even if it took him 14 years to do so.