Nobody Likes a Smartass
BBC Two, 28 July to 1 August 2003 (5 episodes in 1 series)
The opening titles are short and to the point, featuring people with targets on their heads being knocked down like ducks in a shooting gallery. Jo Brand is our host, while the audience is all drawn from one town or city.
Four celebrity brains are already on stage, each with a specialist subject. Some of these celebs are relatively famous, Gyles Brandreth on Shakespeare, or Jeremy Beadle on London murders; others require knowledge of other BBC networks, such as James King who speaks to Radio 1 on motion pictures.
Each celeb starts with four lives. In the first round, the celeb is asked one question on their home subject. An incorrect answer costs them shame, embarrassment, and one life.
In the second round, two questions on each specialist subject emerge. A member of the audience nominates which celeb will face which question, so most of the questions will go to non specialists. A correct answer wins applause, an incorrect answer docks one life if the panellist answered the question on his own, or two if he conferred with the co-panellists. Incorrect answers go to the studio audience for a vote, and if the audience gets the correct answer, the celeb loses another life.
A celeb who loses all four lives has to leave the show at once. They walk through the middle of the audience and out of the game.
After eight questions, any remaining panellists play the finale. They combine forces to answer ten questions, pitched by the audience, on all four specialist subject(s) in 90 seconds. The lives, so important in the opening two rounds, are completely discarded for the finale. Fifteen-to-One exhibited a similar discontinuity in its opening two series, but broke finals board ties by preferring contestants with "the most correct answers and lives remaining" in the earlier rounds.
The choice of guests, presenter, and mix of boos and cheers bring to mind BBC Radio Five, the short-lived young people's speech station of the early 90s. Room 101 and They Think it's All Over both originated there, and Smartass falls most neatly into that conversation-with-a-bit-of-game genre.
The pacing is certainly appropriate for radio: after the introductions and such, we're left with twelve questions in around twenty minutes, with plenty of time for discourse, rambling, and general verbal entertainment. The quickfire finale draws a sharp contrast to the rest of the show.
Another comparison with Radio Five's gameshows: there is no prize budget, because there are no prizes. The celebrity smartiepants don't win a prize, even if they beat the audience; neither does the audience win anything other than the honour of beating four semi-famous names at once.
This television game didn't hugely convince us, primarily because it feels like something radio would do far better. It's an interesting little diversion, perhaps could do without the bad atmosphere that sometimes arises, but it was never going to work as a full-time show in the 6pm slot next year. Indeed, the show might have fit better at 2100 Monday nights, bridging the gap between Highbrow Quiz Hour (Mastermind, University Challenge) and the weekly comedy strand. In the event, after one week in July 2003, the show was not recommissioned.