Since I’ve been staying up late most nights melting in the heat and playing worms (and by that I mean idling on IRC cursing various people) I’ve come to notice this program that occupies ITVs schedule from midnight until 4am – The Mint. It infuriates me on many, many levels.
The premise of the show is this: a seemingly simple puzzle is displayed on screen. There is a phone number on the screen, and a down-on-their luck broadcaster who has to stay up all hours of the night saying things like ‘Call in now! Remember to turn the volume down on your TV!’ and other banalities. The call costs 60p, a flat charge, so you think ‘hey, I’m not going to lose any money really!’ and phone in. So why does it annoy me?
Firstly, because the puzzles are ludicrous. The most common one I’ve seen is a game where a word is displayed, like ‘eye’ or ‘super’ or ‘water’ and you have to phone in and suggest a word which goes with it, like watertight or watercress or supersonic. So, is it just me, or does this equate to guessing a random word from the dictionary? I mean sure, you think ‘how many possible words can there be?’ but after watching the fucking thing for four solid hours you realise there are hundreds of possibilities. If an hour or so goes by with no winners, they’ll insult your intelligence by giving you a clue (‘also a kind of mozzarella, _____ Bill, a cowboy’ - the answer was water buffalo) and then the presenters will stand around going ‘Why is no-one phoning in? This is so easy!’ which is a complete scam. Of course people are phoning in! Who wouldn’t? You can win £10,000 ($50,000) for saying a word that is blatantly obvious. Why is no-one actually getting through? Because the show isn’t letting them! They’re sitting around on hold for ten minutes whilst more and more people say to themselves ‘Jesus, it’s still up there… I have to phone in, I’m guaranteed to win!’ and give 60p over to the production company.
And when they’re not raping you with guessing games, or forcing you to wait ten minutes to get through to the show (where, incidentally, you go straight through to the presenter which disarms the majority of people) they get you with the puzzles. I saw one that went like this the other day:
Nineteen minus five
4 + 3 x 2
6 - 5
I mean what the fuck?? This requires some higher kind of logic. Or a set of rules. ‘Nineteen minus five’ is worded instead of numerated – why? ’4 + 3 x 2′ is just plain wrong – I mean, is it ‘(4 + 3) x 2′ or is it ’4 + (3 x 2)’? (In case you can’t figure it out, the former would yield 14 and the latter would yield 10.) ’6 - 5′ is simple enough (I assume, anyway) but when you’ve figured it out, then what? I mean for God’s sake, do I add each result together? Multiply? Fucking integrate?? It’s a con.
The worst part about this is that it’s bad TV – it’s cheap TV, and it has no entertainment value. It’s about making money out of you, the audience, the viewing public. How do I know this? Because it’s the only show on ITV that doesn’t have an ad break. The only reason for this would be because they’re making more money from the phonecalls than they are from the ad revenue. This is just wrong, and horrible to boot. People have enough shit in their lives without having to get robbed by the TV. Channel 4 will give us premium, expensive drama like Lost because they pay for it through advertising. The BBC use the television license, and rewards viewers with the best quality broadcasting in the world. ITV… host a faux-gameshow which is a thinly veiled scam on the scale of a bloody pyramid scheme. And if they can give away up to £110,000 a night (the totalled value of the prizes for guessing words which follow ‘water’ tonight, which is the highest prize day (Big Money Thursday) and £40,000 of that is a ‘top prize’ which I’ve never seen won) then think about how much money they’re making themselves.
Other shows do this kind of thing – where you have to phone in to win a cash prize, and the show takes the money from all the calls put together and gives it out as the prize – but that’s fine. Why? Because I’d guess the majority of the money goes into the prize itself, and regardless of that, you’ve probably watched an exciting and suspenseful show. You’ve got your money’s worth.
I know this is from ITV Play, which is an entire channel dedicated to this kind of shit (I won’t get into it) which is a product of the digital TV revolution, and it just makes me think… wasn’t it better before? Companies weren’t spreading their budget over twelve channels, and producing piss-poor television, were they? I mean, Sky is one thing – you have to pay for it, but they have all the money to buy the syndication rights for most American shows before the terrestrial channels, so you do get quality programmes (albeit with a shitload of adverts, in keeping with the Americana) but digital has opened the floodgates for a whole load of shit. The only advantage I could ever see to more TV channels is the oppourtunity to repeat some classics from the vault which couldn’t find their way into normal schedules due to the quantity of good new stuff. To get repeated on terrestrial you have to be in the Only Fools and Horses or Fawlty Towers league, which is rare - so with dedicated channels you get to watch the less fondly remembered, but great, TV shows like Red Dwarf and The Fast Show.
And really, with DVDs, we don’t even need those channels anymore either. So, digital TV, please go away – or at the very least, someone take the money from ITV Play and put it into reducing the BBC TV license fee. Shit! It could probably pay for it outright.