Harder than the Krypton Factor
Finding a decent new concept for an adventure gameshow is hard. David Davies laments their passing
You're on a plane. You're in the pilot's chair, but you've never flown before. The runway appears in front of you. Things are looking good; the landing gear is down, flaps are to full and you're coming in at the correct angle. Then - disaster! A tinny, robotic voice warns you of impending doom, the plane pitches to the left and the wing hits the tarmac. It's all over. You're dead. And on your ascent to heaven, you hear those immortal words: 'In fourth place, with a Krypton Factor of 12, it's Terry from Brentford.'
If TV genres were a family, the adventure gameshow would be the dumb son who never did too well at school, joined the army, left the army, and decided to work in IT. They're TV's dirty little secret, the shows that no one will admit to watching because, well, they're embarrassing. It's a shame, because it would make office conversation more interesting.
That was, if there were any left to talk about. It seems that the adventure gameshow is running its own gauntlet at the moment, teetering on the brink of extinction. Maybe, like Jeremy Beadle, its time has come to move on (though its debatable whether Beadle should be allowed to move anywhere, except into some kind of maximum security prison devoid of light entertainment opportunities). Or, perhaps, it's 'doing an Edmonds', biding its time until a golden format comes along. Whatever the cause, we're missing a bona fide primetime adventure gameshow.
Channel 5 made the last attempt with Fort Boyard, the television equivalent of a fart in a crowded lift. Any synopsis that includes Dirty Den, Melinda Messenger and midgets in the same paragraph should be kept locked away in one of those big wooden crates at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. It's not even camp. The worst crime of all is Leslie Grantham's pantomime acting, which would be funny if it was any different from his serious acting.
No, better to camp it up Rocky Horror style with Richard O'Brien, host of The Greatest Adventure Gameshow Of All Time™. Teams of recruitment consultants would flirt with danger for the first time in their lives, crowding around doors whilst O'Brien cut them to shreds. His mid-game commentary to camera rivals anything Wogan has done on Eurovision. My personal favourites were the '3 mistakes and you're locked in' games, which basically meant they could consider themselves locked in. Then there was the sadistic glee of watching teams enter the Crystal Dome with only 10 seconds on the clock. Unfortunately it all went the way of the pear when 'Hello my name's Ed Tudor Pole but you can call me Ed' replaced O'Brien.
The Crystal Maze got it right because it never took itself too seriously. Recently (and maybe this is the reason for the current state of the adventure gameshow) there have been a series of programmes that commit this crime. Chief among them is Britain's Hardest, hosted by potato-headed uber-muppet Steve McFadden, also known as Phil from Eastenders. Somewhere along the line he took acting lessons off Leslie Grantham, because he seems to think it's all real, and that they will in fact find Britain's Hardest bloke. On paper, watching a guy beat the crap out of a car with a variety of hardcore implements sounds like fun, which makes it all the more disappointing when the actual viewing experience is akin to watching the 100-years War play out. In slow motion. What they needed was a quirk, something to make it a bit more interesting. Maybe get the guy off the Mr. Muscle advert to present it, or Mitch Pileggi - anything a little off-kilter. Why not search for Britain's Hardest woman instead? I'd buy that for a dollar.
The same can be said of SAS: Are You Tough Enough? Why not beat them with novelty-shaped foam sticks when they're blindfolded? Put a little more invention into the training. Have them jump over a sleeping Russell Grant a few times. Send them paintballing. Then there's The Mole, and Spy, two shows so serious they do post-production in the cabinet office. It makes you want to sigh.
If you are going to take yourself seriously, the format needs to be so colossally awful that anything you do within it can be taken as pure comedy. That's why the Krypton Factor worked so well. Gordon Burns, the illegitimate half-brother of Formula 1 guru Jim Rosenthal, hit the ground running by having the kind of haircut that could rival Melvyn Bragg's borderline offensive beehive. Then there were the challenges. Whoever conceived of such brilliance should have a statue in Trafalgar Square. Never has watching someone put coloured blocks together to form a square felt so intense, so important. Genius. Of course, there are only three things people remember from the Krypton Factor. The first is the plane simulation, the second is the zip lining into a ditch somewhere in the Midlands, and the third is the final round, inspired by the video for Bohemian Rhapsody, where it could all change around. Them were the days.
Speaking of the good old days, remember Knightmare? Four kids, one wearing a seriously Jamiroquai helmet, attempted to win the quest for the sword, the shield, the crown, or the cup. No one ever went for the cup. A dirty old man with a dangerous beard aided them on their quest with some top-notch waffling. He also seemed to have pimped himself an elf-bitch, who bounced around a lot and said nothing important except the cue for dangerous beard man to take us to the ad break. As a kid, it was innocent and total genius. Sidestep left! I said sidestep!
As an adult, you need something a little more sophisticated. Like a giant foam finger and a former Wimbledon footballer shouting 'Awoogaaaa!'. We'll spend the rest of our lives trying to forget Gladiators, only to be reminded by the constant repeats on Challenge TV. Hosted by Ulrika-ka-ka-ka and legendary football sticker John Fashanu, we'd tune in every week to see if Wolf would turn nice. For the men there was Jet, for Ulrika there was Hunter, and for the boys in the park battering each other with big, real sticks, there was Shadow. For a few years, getting up the travelator really meant something, and singing Another One Bites The Dust in public was considered acceptable. For a few years, we became America. Long after the tapes have faded and the names have been forgotten, someone, somewhere, will still remember: 'Contendrrsss - readddyy! Gludiatrrrsss - readddyy! Threee, tooo, one...'
TV misses the adventure gameshow. We need a really good one, one that can fight its own corner on Saturday-night primetime, a family format to slot between Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who. I'd go so far as to say bring back Anneka Rice, but I won't because that's crazy talk. No new episodes of Challenge Anneka is already too many. They tried with Treasure Hunt too, but that died on its arse like a rabbit in headlights, the headlights being Homer Simpson in shape. If TV does a new adventure show, it needs to be new, completely new, something we've never seen before. Most importantly, it needs to be something we never want to see again in a few years time.