The Book Quiz
David Baddiel (2007)
Kirsty Wark (2008-9)
Allan Bardsley (2007)
Robert Powell (2008-9)
Granada (Manchester) for BBC Four, 17 July 2007 to 12 June 2009 (22 episodes in 3 series + 2 specials)
David Baddiel, gawd bless him. His name is mentioned in practically every development meeting for any intelligence-meets-comedy format, alongside Clive Anderson, Michael Palin, Griff Rhys-Jones, Tony Robinson and Stephen Fry. While not the first choice for a quiz show necessarily, he famously has a double-first in English from Cambridge. Lord love a duck, finally someone's come up with a format that makes Baddiel's game show debut possible (Edit: But only for a year - oh, the irony!).
The rounds are various, usually for 2 points per correct answer. The first is "Of which book is this the opening line?", plus bonus points for spotting the link between the books in the round. One round is "Which of these book titles is made-up?" in which the most banal is always the correct answer. There's "What book are these people talking about?" in the Child's Play style. A bluffing round invites the teams to talk about a book only one of the pair has in fact read, and the other team have to spot who's bluffing. The questions themselves revolve around the high-brow bestsellers you usually go past when walking into Waterstone's, and whether they entertain or even encourage you to read a bit more is highly debateable.
Unfortunately, the entire format comes right off the rails at the very end with a quickfire round of 90 seconds to each team, again for 2 points per correct answer. While fine in principle, it means that for 25 minutes of the show the teams will have scored around 10 points, then all of a sudden they can end up with 36. It's so unbalanced it's the Perpetual Motion Engine of formats. This is very disappointing given that the show is made by much the same production team as University Challenge. The winners get - yes! - a book token each.
And now in paperback...
The second series came back as a completely different show in all but name. There's now a proper desk on set, many more rounds and questions, and a different host in the form of the bulletproof Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark. Usually such a radical change indicates a reaction to mainly negative audience research, but in this case it may have done its job as nearly all the changes are for the better.
The format clips along at a much more satisfactory pace, cramming in seven rounds which feels like the old days of Have I Got News for You. In nearly every round, questions are worth 2 points or 1 point if they're offered to the other team. New rounds include: an audio archive round, identify the book from these picture clues, a categories round where each team chooses the topic for the other team (from a choice of four), a slightly unwieldy Talkabout-style list round, and a rather too easy "identify the book from this crossword clue" round. Mercifully, the buttock-clenching bluffing round has been dropped.
Because of the increased pace, the scoring is a lot more even and most shows now have a decent competition in them. The three-minute final round of quickfire questions doesn't jar either.
Wark isn't quite as much fun as Bladdibub, but arguably a lot more appropriate for this reformatted Q&A version. The questions haven't been dumbed down much, but there is definitely more opportunity for the uninitiated to shout out a few answers, and some of the questions research is rather good, achieving QI levels of "Wow, I didn't know that..." at times.
Interestingly, the show uses a University Challenge-style knockout system, with only the winning celebrity pair moving onto the next round. This gives the show a little bit more edge and, rather cleverly, ensures that the last few shows automatically have a higher standard of participant.
Overall, a classic case of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
David Ayres and Felix Tod
Recorded at The London Studios, in spite of the fact it's a Granada Manchester production. Maybe they don't expect Mancunians to be able to buy books after all those costly Oasis albums.