Alan Dedicoat (voiceover)
Initial for BBC One, 3 December 2005 to 4 March 2006 (14 episodes in 1 series)
...or to give it its pedantically correct title, The National Lottery Millionaire Manor. Yes, we know - it makes your heart sink, doesn't it? The weekly lottery tie-in is the one guaranteed game show slot on the most-watched TV channel, and while Jet Set and In It to Win It are genuinely popular, they're the equivalent of a pot noodle when we really want a solid meat and two veg. To add insult to (er...) more insult, the one half-decent lottery format, Winning Lines, was unceremoniously dumped in 2004. This, in effect, is its replacement. Is it the killer format we've all been waiting for? I think you can probably guess the answer to that one, but first let's go through the keyhole...
The setting is a nice country house complete with butler and cook, though slightly spoiled by the fact that the hallway is taken up by a glitzy game show set, all podia and illuminated blue panels. There is vertical tube lighting up the side of the staircase and all round the balcony above. It sort of works (although it does put us rather in mind of a giant tanning booth). Up on the balcony are the four families hoping to "live the life of millionaires" for a week. Due to lottery regulations, these do not include anyone under the age of 16. Each family is represented by two of its number, who descend the staircase to take their place on the set proper.
Round one: We see pictures of two rich people, and the contestants simply have to say which they think is the richer. About half a dozen of these posers (and accompanying questions about which poser is the richer), then the lowest scoring team are eliminated.
Insert Thunderball draw here.
Round two: The contestants are asked to pick out the most valuable of three similar objects (say, antique chairs or signed sport memorabilia). The team that fails most abjectly in this will be eliminated.
Insert Lotto and Lotto Extra draws here.
Final round: The end game has the two remaining teams facing five multiple-choice general knowledge questions in an "answer questions until you get one wrong" format which means that the early questions don't really count for anything at all. At least a wrong answer on the last question does not automatically forfeit the game (questions continue to be asked until someone gets theirs right) but it's still a lousy way of arriving at a result.
The winners get to move into the manor until the following week. Probably the best bit of the whole show comes in the credit sequence, when the winners' photograph is shown hung on the sitting room wall, while the upbeat modern theme tune briefly gives way to a blast of baroque-style harpsichord music (or is a spinet? Actually, it's probably just a synth. Still.) Were Millionaire Manor a better show, this would cap it off neatly. Shame it isn't.
This is a pretty lightweight format, and derivative too (are 12 Yard getting licensing fees for Endemol's use of their "ludicrously drawn-out multiple-choice quiz" trademark?) but that's not the big problem. The big problem is that this show is 40 minutes long, where naturally it would fill a shade over 20. That's a hell of a lot of padding. There are some hosts who actually could pad out a show to this extent and be entertaining (Noel Edmonds does it six days a week), but Mark Durden-Smith is not one of them. Oh sure, he can fill any length of time you want - but he's boring.
So let's examine the evidence... uninspired rounds, daft lighting and 15 minutes or more of outright padding. Who'd want to spend Saturday evening in a house like this? Well, we'll have to wait and see. National Lottery shows seem to defy all reason, and this could be a hit in spite of its basic rubbishness. After all, if In It to Win It can be a ratings winner in this slot, anything can. But the answer to our original question is clear: it most certainly isn't the killer format we've been waiting for. It's not even a decent replacement for Winning Lines. It is not a manor to which we would like to become accustomed. It's just plain dull. (And as it happens, the great British public agreed with us, and the show was axed after just one series. Even Wright Around the World hobbled to two.)
One other thing to consider - Jet Set is still running on the BBC. Jet Set sends people around the world and opens the door to all sorts of great experiences, locations and trips. Millionaire Manor gets them a pod on the London Eye and some tickets for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Essentially, it is Jet Set on the cheap - in all senses of the word.
Nice house, though.