Written by Radio, TV

TV Formats

Have you seen the new ITV gameshow presented by Chris Tarrant yet? It’s called The Colour of Money and has nothing to do with the Terry Pratchett novel of the same name.
ITV’s clearly very excited by it. It’s presenter comes from the global phenomenom that was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the production company behind it 12 Yard is owned by ITV and has the team who were also responsible for another highly successful format – The Weakest Link (although I believe the BBC retains the rights to that format).
A couple of weeks ago there was a good Money Programme looking into the format business Media Revolution: Tomorrow’s TV (it wasn’t actually called The Money Programme, and you might only have known that it was from that if you’d recognised the theme tune). That looked at global formats that come from the UK like Millionaire, The Weakest Link and Dancing With The Stars (aka Strictly Come Dancing). They all feed lots of cash back to a burgeoning production sector.
So ITV undoubtedly has high hopes for The Colour of Money – not just as a popular early evening Saturday night gameshow that leads into Ant and Dec, but the production fees payable from all over the world as local versions are made.
I looked carefully at the credits of the show, because I wanted to know one thing – was Capital Radio responsible for it?
You see for many years, Capital Radio in London has had someting called The Bong Game. Listeners phone in, and perhaps after some kind of qualifying question they get to play for cash as a voice reads out cash amounts that get higher and higher until either the listener yells “Stop” or the dastardly bong comes in at a pre-determined point and the listener wins nothing. It’s all about greed then.
In The Colour of Money, competitors are told that they must win a certain amount of cash and they have ten goes to reach that sum cumulatively. The “cash machines” they play against work just like the voice in the Bong Game, stopping at a pre-determined point. Competitors need to bank that cash a machine at a time until they’ve reached the sum they must reach. It’s all or nothing.
So effectively it’s like playing the Bong Game ten times in a row and getting to keep all the cash if there’s enough of it.
There are other elements to the game of course. We get heartbreaking stories of each constestant explaining just why they need to win so much money. And the machines are all colour coded so that the element of sheer randomness becomes more akin to the bizarre reasoning behind contestants choosing boxes on Deal or No Deal. I’d love a constestant to play one of those games just going in numerical order or left to right. Let’s get rid of this fake nonsense.
Interestingly, The Money Programme I referred to earlier explained that Millionaire had its roots in a Capital Radio game, and in particular a man called David Briggs who had worked on promotional games for the Capital Breakfast Show – presented by Chris Tarrant. He is also the man behind The Bong Game.
This is much more obviously based on the Bong Game format. But does Capital Radio, or its owners Global benefit?
Gameshow formats are an interesting thing, and unless you rip them off completely and in detail, it seems that they’re hard to protect. Most of today’s big talent shows like Idol, X-Factor and so on are essentially remakes of Opportunity Knocks. And many gameshow formats are deceptively familiar. Wikipedia notes that Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has had plenty of disputes over its format. And ownerships change. Celador sold the Millionaire format to 2waytraffic (although retaining the rights to use the format in films – hence Slumdog Millionaire produced by Celador). 2waytraffic was in turn swallowed up by Sony.
There’s no David Briggs listed on the credits of The Colour of Money. Instead, six other people are credited with its creation.
But then if the Bong Game is renamed, as it has been, can other radio stations run it? Well they do. I’ve heard it in many guises and on many stations over the years. I hear that another radio format the “secret sound” has had lawyers chasing around in the past, but the idea that getting listeners to identify a mystery noise is copyrightable seems difficult to support. I’m sure that it’s existed in radio for as many years as phone in competitions have taken place. It’s probably best not to call it the “secret sound” however.
Anyway, I’m sure Global has enough lawyers to chase after any infringers of their copyright.
And finally, if you’re looking for a great unproduced format: I still have one.
Just to be clear, in case any lawyers are reading this, I’m in no way suggesting that there’s anything untoward about any of these formats or their ownership. I just find the whole area very interesting.