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Cathode Ray Mission: THE QUIZ HOUR (2013-)

CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

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Late-night television is a crapshoot. Channels of all sizes and budgets will often show whatever cheap films and television reruns they can scrounge up. Sometimes, actual Canuxploitation is shown. The talk show is another late-night fixture; since Canada fares poorly in this genre, the shows often make for great train-wreck viewing. This is the “fun” side of late night television, the stuff that passes through the nostalgia filter. Mention Geoff Peterson, Svengoolie, and/or The Masturbating Bear to people, and at least one person will actually know who they are.

Late night television also contains brokered and/or paid programming, which is rarely as much fun. Night owls know the drill – JR Digs’ latest vanity comedy/talk show hybrid (if you’re watching Global), televangelism, televised poker, infomercials, sex hotline ads, Liquidation Channel, infomercials, psychic hotlines, the odd cooking or car show, infomercials, and – did I mention this one? – infomercials.

One genre of brokered programming stands alone, a genre more heinous than any infomercial – the televised quiz show. THE QUIZ HOUR (CHCH, 2013- ) is Canada’s newest televised quiz show, and it’s…something. It’s not something good, or even watchable, yet THE QUIZ HOUR is already ripe comedy fodder for Cathode Ray Mission.

The Basic Formula
There’s not much to THE QUIZ HOUR. It’s literally one man in front of a camera, for at least an hour. Sometimes, a close-up of “The Money Jar” is seen, through relatively primitive on-screen graphics. Both 900 and mobile numbers are displayed throughout the program, as well as the alleged “prize amount,” and sometimes the names of “winners.”

THE QUIZ HOUR is one big come-on. The games are either basic memory puzzles, or basic word puzzles. One of the games asks callers to find a word with x number of letters (e.g., “hare,” “wolf,” “pudu,” “lion” for four letters), written in a y-letter-row grid. Once a letter is used, it can’t appear again in that column. THE QUIZ HOUR uses a whiteboard to display the word puzzles, while The Money Jar spins on a turntable. High-tech shit!

What ruins THE QUIZ HOUR – aside from the host leading his possible victims away from their money – is the pacing. There should not be thirty-minute-or-more gaps between winners, yet there is. On the February 2, 2013 episode of THE QUIZ HOUR, almost the full ninety minutes were spent on a “difficult” (read: easy) memory puzzle. Viewers were supposed to find a human face profile, hidden within a four-by-four picture grid of a white tiger.

It’s hard to believe no one solved the puzzle in ninety minutes. Of the three callers “patched into” the studio, one caller “hung up,” and the other two gave wrong answers. Then again, THE QUIZ HOUR exists to relieve fools of their money. Believability is not the main objective.

If THE QUIZ HOUR is rigged to “add to the drama,” well, there’s no drama in sixty or ninety minutes of a hard camera in medium shot. The show isn’t even watchable at sixty minutes. At least Frank D’Angelo’s THE BEING FRANK SHOW (CHCH, 2010- ) looks like a proper talk show. Regardless of what one thinks of D’Angelo and his business practices, D’Angelo tries a lot harder than THE QUIZ HOUR.

The Backgrounder
There’s not much to say about THE QUIZ HOUR‘s origins. It just appeared one night, without much fanfare. Commercials for THE QUIZ HOUR air on CHCH, and look just as bad as the show itself.

Of note is the mention of a German company, multiConnect GmbH. This isn’t surprising – Telemedia InteracTV’s GAMETIME CANADA (Global/TLN, 2009?-10; 2011- under various names) originates from, of all places, Malta. Telemedia InteracTV runs a similar contest on V, which launched as CALL TV during the dying days of TQS, and currently exists as L’INSTANT GAGNANT.

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The main objections with televised quiz shows are, of course, that they’re rigged, and that they’re badly disguised lotteries. The paid-programming nature of THE QUIZ HOUR means it can be fobbed off the schedule, if it becomes too controversial for CHCH. In practice, shows of this nature invariably leave the airwaves, come back after an unspecified period, then repeat this cycle as often as necessary.

So far, THE QUIZ HOUR holds to simple word games and picture-in-picture “memory” games, avoiding the nigh-unsolvable “math” problems CALL TV and its variants are infamous for (i.e., 75+75+75+75=502, or whatever screwy wording is in favour that week). That’s not to say THE QUIZ HOUR is on the level, as it abuses the length of time between the penultimate and final winners. Televised quiz shows evolve very slowly.

Let’s Watch
The snarky comments I add on this video are actually there to cut into the boredom. Honestly, it’s someone standing in front of a camera for at least an hour, while Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, John Carpenter’s theme from HALLOWEEN, and various mixes of Lalo Schifrin’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE theme play in the background. Oldfield should be thrilled that, forty years after he recorded one of the great albums of the twentieth century, his music is fodder for a 1-900 contest.

Cultural Legacy
You’re kidding, right? Does anybody like these programs? Televised poker is more interesting, and more upfront about its gambling elements.

The Final Cut
THE QUIZ HOUR genuinely looks like it came from the 1980s, both in set “design” (which is to say, a light blue curtain and gift bags), and in presentation. Only the modern-style text crawls, and mentions of “mobile numbers,” keep THE QUIZ HOUR from looking like a genuine 1980s Canadian game show.

I honestly don’t understand why THE QUIZ HOUR‘s largely discredited form of brokered programming persists into 2013. THE QUIZ HOUR is a possible financial gold mine for CHCH, but how does it help the station in the long run? If THE QUIZ HOUR was well-run, it wouldn’t be so bad, but nothing about it works.

As an aside, check out this February 10 winners’ list. THE QUIZ HOUR‘s final two winners that night are George and Carlin. I sincerely hope George and Carlin are legitimate winners, as THE QUIZ HOUR is a show George Carlin would have eviscerated in one of his comedy routines. If you’re going to make up names, don’t be stupid enough to mention Mr. Conductor. He knew what he was talking about.