The Million Pound Drop Live
Phil Spencer (2012 special)
Remarkable Television for Channel 4, 24 May 2010 to present
Davina McCall hosts as contestants are given one million pounds, and all they have to do to keep it is answer eight general knowledge questions correctly, live on TV. But how certain can you be of an answer when £1 million rides on it?
The live show begins with the ever-excitable Davina welcoming the viewers to the studio, an apparently highly secure location, which consists of an audience on raised platforms lining the left and right-hand sides, with a large video screen at the back. In the centre, the play area, consisting of a desk complete with four trapdoors and video screens is elevated, but less so than the adjacent platforms, allowing the audience to look down on the proceedings. Before the game gets underway, Davina reminds us that the show is absolutely live, just in case we haven't noticed the on-screen graphic that also tells us the programme is live. Davina then introduces the players, who emerge through a door beneath the video screen, before climbing a flight of stairs to the play area. In most instances, the game is played by teams of two, although on occasion, a single contestant will play the game solo. This review will read as if two contestants are playing, as that is the situation in most instances. A brief opening exchange is conducted with the two players, before they are usually given a chance to touch the £1 million, which sits on the desk in front of them. The £1 million is comprised of used £50 notes, in forty bundles of £25,000.
The game then gets underway, with the two players being asked to pick a question category from a choice of two on the video screen behind them. After they have made their choice, which Davina usually hurries them into making because the show is live, four possible answers are then revealed on the small video screens adjacent to the four trapdoors on the desk in front of them. Davina then tells the players what the question is. The questions are all general knowledge, however some do play on the fact that the show is live, by making reference to events that have happened on the day of broadcast.
After a few moments to deliberate, a 60 second countdown starts, during which the players must decide on which answer they believe to be correct, indicating it by placing their money on the trapdoor in front of that answer. Similar to the criminally underrated Duel, if they are uncertain of the correct answer; they can cover more than one answer by splitting their money across more than one trapdoor. They can split their money in any way they like, however they are not allowed to cover all four possible answers. After the minute has elapsed, the trapdoors of the incorrect answers are opened, allowing any money on them to fall down through a series of Perspex slides to the ground below where it is collected by security. In the first episode, each of the trapdoors was opened one after the other, with a tension-building wait before each drop. This made for quite a slow game, and seemingly due to comments raised on internet discussion forums, one, two, or all three trapdoors relating to incorrect answers were opened at the same time from the second programme onwards, making for a much speedier game. The game continues in the same fashion for subsequent questions.
If at any point, the players lose all of their money, they leave the game, and two new players are brought on. As this happens, the security team bring the money back up to the play area, which usually results in at least one of the security team blocking the camera as Davina briefly talks to the new players, but then, this is unavoidable because this show is live don’t you know?
Should the players reach the fifth question, the rules are changed just slightly, with one trapdoor no longer being used, and there only being three possible answers. Should the players successfully reach the eighth question, a further trapdoor is removed from play, leaving an all or nothing gamble on the final question. Put their money on the correct answer, and they walk away with whatever money is left in play, put it on the incorrect answer, and they leave with nothing.
Drop ‘The Million Pound Drop Live’?
Although the fact that the programme is live doesn’t really add much to the studio proceedings, it does allow for viewers to play along online, and have their aggregated progress mentioned live on the show. Being live also allowed the programme makers to tweak the programme based on comments made after the first episode, which is a benefit. The mentions of the show being live could do with being less frequent though, as they do begin to grate after a while. The game itself works quite well, with a good degree of excitement, especially when the players lose their nerve with seconds to go and move hundreds of thousands of pounds across to cover another answer. Excitement then gives way to tension as the answers are revealed, which is also good. Some of the questions do need a little work though with some being so simple that anyone would be able to answer them, rendering that particular question rather pointless and a waste of time. Davina is Davina, exuberant or irritating depending on your point-of-view, but clearly in her element. On the whole, it’s not too bad.
By the way, did we mention this show is live?
Double or Drop
Million Pound Drop quickly found its place on Channel 4, an entertainment for Friday and Saturday nights, and designed so that it only made sense when seen absolutely live. There was criticism - too many celebrity contestants, said some; way too many shiny twentysomethings, said others - but the show rolled on, tweaking and refining as it went on.
The first significant format changes were made in summer 2013. The opening question was itself dropped, so there were three questions with four options, three with three choices, and an all-or-nothing question seven. Players who survived this faster track to a million were shown the answers to question eight - but not the question - before deciding whether to go double-or-quits. Not many people took the double option: even when the producers ran the clock down, the winnings resolutely remained on the table.
This series also brought in a team game. Up to four players could be used, though only two played each question. Rather than choosing the category of question, the team was allowed to swap members out for each question, playing to strong and weak points; once substituted out, players couldn't return until the double-or-quits last question.
After that, MPD disappeared from our screens for almost a year. It returned in summer 2014, in an unusually early 8pm slot, and was no longer live.
In the first series, when the two players were absolutely certain of the correct answer to the first question, and then spent the 60 second countdown trying to pile the 40 bundles of notes onto a single trapdoor which was woefully under-sized. The second series saw the trapdoors enlarged in response to this problem.
'Let's play The Million Pound Drop Live'
'Move your money back'
'Have you beaten The Million Pound Drop?'
Officially, the contestants are actually given the £1 million before the first question is asked. As such, all of the unsuccessful players theoretically have a claim to having lost the largest amount of money ever on a UK game show.
The largest amount of money lost through a single trapdoor is the full £1 million, thereby fulfilling the title of the programme. This was lost by contestants Micah and Joni in the fifth episode of the third series. In the fourth episode of the first series, two consecutive drops released the full £1 million, however the money in both cases was lost through three trapdoors. The first £1 million was dropped in three stages, however the second £1 million was dropped all at once.
The largest amount of money won on the show is £300,000, won by comedian Jack Whitehall and his father Michael in the eighth episode of the fifth series. The largest amount of money won by civilian contestants is £250,000. This was achieved in the fifth episode of the fifth series, by contestants Nick and Katie.
The first episode gained some extra publicity from an unexpected source when it was announced that the UK's first ever TV advertisement for abortion advice services would air in the first break (except in Northern Ireland, where the law on such things is different).
In June 2010, Fox ordered 12 episodes of the programme for American audiences, airing from December 2010 as The Million Dollar Money Drop. Despite the programme's success in the UK, it did not receive the same reaction across the pond, and the programme was not renewed for a second series.
Networks in at least 23 countries including Albania, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Russia, Spain, and the Ukraine have commissioned their own versions, all under the title of The Money Drop. We question why they passed on the completely obvious, and undoubtedly better title of The Million (insert local currency here) Drop, but we digress.
The first series was stripped across six consecutive evenings in May 2010. A second series in October 2010 was also initially stripped, this time across five consecutive evenings, before becoming a twice-weekly programme, with two episodes airing in each of the following two weeks. By the third series in January/February 2011, the programme ceased being stripped, and instead followed the twice-weekly schedule established by the latter half of the second series, with eight episodes airing over four weeks. In addition to the main series, four specials aired shortly before Christmas 2010.
On the sixth episode of the second series, for their third question, contestants Johnny and Dee were asked who had played the role of Doctor Who for the longest period of time, with David Tennant, Sylvester McCoy, Christopher Eccleston and Paul McGann being the possible answers. Uncertain, they decided to split their £650,000 equally, placing £325,000 on both Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. The answer was subsequently revealed to be David Tennant, meaning they lost all their money down the drop, and left the show. However, in the days that followed, a number of people (later revealed to be 106) contacted Channel 4 to say that it was in fact Sylvester McCoy that had played the role of Doctor Who for the longest period of time - for two years in regular series from 1987-1989, and in two one-offs in 1993 and 1996 - making nine uninterrupted years. This was longer than the four years David Tennant had played the role, meaning Sylvester McCoy was the correct answer. In response, Channel 4 contacted the Doctor Who production team at the BBC who confirmed that Sylvester McCoy had indeed played the role for the longest period of time. As a result, Channel 4 invited Johnny and Dee back on the eighth episode of the series the following week, to continue with the £325,000 that would have remained. On their return, they managed to beat the drop, and walked away with £25,000.
In the fourth series, one player who beat the on-line version of the game was invited to play for real in the studio.
On 2 January 2012, as part of celebrations to mark Channel 4's 30th year of broadcasting, the channel aired an evening of special programmes, entitled the Channel 4 Mash-Up, which saw the presenters of different Channel 4 series take part in a 'job swap'. One such swap saw Location Location Location presenter Phil Spencer take the helm of The Million Pound Drop Live, while regular presenter Davina McCall and her father became the contestants. They reached the final question with £50,000 still in play, however they were ultimately beaten by the drop, and took home £5000 for their charities. This special episode of the programme, split into three segments across the evening, was the first episode not to be shown live.
From the second series onwards, periodically, celebrity contestants played the game for charity. The following is a chronological list of these celebrity participants -
- George Lamb (presenter) and Larry Lamb (actor) - Beat the drop. Took home £50,000 for their charity.
- Johnny Vaughan (TV and radio presenter) and Jimmy Carr (comedian) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Janet Ellis (former Blue Peter presenter) and Sophie Ellis-Bextor (singer) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Emma Bunton (ex-Spice Girls singer and Dancing on Ice judge) and Jade Jones (ex-Damage singer) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Bruno Tonioli (Strictly judge) and Pamela Stephenson (psychologist and actress) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff (ex-England cricketer and A League of Their Own team captain) and wife Rachael - Beat the drop. Took home £25,000 for their charity.
- Vernon Kay (presenter) and Luke Downes (Vernon's Best Man) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Jack Whitehall (comedian) and Michael Whitehall (Jack's father) - Beat the drop. Took home £300,000 for their charities.
- Micky Flanagan (comedian) and Mike Flanagan (Micky's dad) - Beat the drop. Took home £25,000 for their charities.
- Paddy McGuinness (comedian) and Christine Martin (Paddy's wife) - Beat the drop. Took home £275,000 for their charities.
- Davina McCall (TV presenter) and Andrew McCall (Davina's father) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities. (as part of the Channel 4 Mash-up)
- Dermot O'Leary (TV and radio presenter) and Fearne Cotton (TV and radio presenter) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Chris Moyles (TV and radio presenter) and Andi Peters (TV presenter and producer) - Beat the drop. Took home £25,000 for their charities.
- Mollie King and Rochelle Wiseman (from pop group The Saturdays) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Alan Carr and Melanie Sykes* (TV presenters) - Beat the drop. Took home £175,000 for their charities.
- Chris O'Dowd (actor) and Dawn Porter (presenter) - Beat the drop. Took home £25,000 for their charities.
- Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer (TV property experts) - Beat the drop. Took home £125,000 for their charities.
- Harry Judd (McFly singer) and Michelle Smith (member of the public) - Beat the drop. Took home £50,000. £25,000 for Harry's charity, £25,000 for Michelle to keep.
- Joey Essex and Sam Faiers (The Only Way is Essex stars) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Josh Widdicombe (comedian) and Alex Brooker (TV presenter) - Beat the drop. Took home £100,000 for their charities.
- Louis Smith and Greg Rutherford (Olympians) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Keith Lemon (TV presenter) and Patsy Kensit (actress) - Beat the drop. Took home £150,000 for their charities.
- Zara Phillips and Anthony Joshua (Olympians) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Peter Andre (singer) and Alison (surname unknown) (member of the public) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000. £2500 for Peter's charity, £2500 for Alison to keep.
- Mark-Francis Vandelli and Ollie Locke (from Made in Chelsea) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Peter Serafinowicz (comedian) and his wife Sarah Alexander - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- JB and Aston (from pop group The JLS) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Charlie Condou (Coronation Street actor) and Jessica Hynes (Spaced creator) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
- Duncan James, Simon Webbe, Antony Costa and Lee Ryan (pop group Blue) - Beat the drop. Took away £50,000 for their charities.
- Stephen Webb and Chris Steed (from Gogglebox) - Beaten by the drop. Took home £5000 for their charities.
* - Alan Carr was originally due to play alongside Gok Wan. However Wan was unable to take part due to illness, resulting in Melanie Sykes playing alongside Carr instead.