From the early days of television, top games shows have fallen into two major categories: Ones that rely on knowledge and mental acuity (“The $64,000 Question” to “What’s My Line?” to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”) and those built on gimmicks or guesswork (“Beat the Clock” to “Let’s Make a Deal” to “Deal or No Deal”).
“The Million Second Quiz” – which pits contestants in a round-the-clock million-second (nearly 12-day) trivia marathon, set in an outdoor, see-through hourglass-like Manhattan studio – is vying to become, to put it mildly, a game-changer with its debut Monday. Sure, the NBC effort combines the old standbys of smarts and stunts – but it also adds ingredients from a mélange of entertainment genres and delivery methods, encompassing the increasingly melded TV and Internet worlds.
While contestants spout answers as they compete for up to $10 million, an even larger big-money question looms: Will all those elements – and a million seconds – add up to success for NBC?
The show may take place in an hourglass, but its approach is more kitchen sink. “The Million Second Quiz” arrives with the hoopla of a David Blaine-like spectacular. Its privacy-free test of endurance evokes the likes of “Survivor” and “Big Brother.” The glass Manhattan studio carries a hint of the “Today” show. “The Million Second Quiz” even owes a debt to “Saturday Night Live” – after all, it’s live, from New York.
While viewers will be treated to 10 TV installments – the show will air for six straight nights beginning Monday before returning for four nights the following week – most of those million seconds will visibly tick away online beginning Sunday at 6:30 a.m. NBC’s waging a social media blitz and there’s even an app to help the audience play along as contestants slog through the 20,000 questions written for the show.
It will take far more than novelty to keep audiences following the action online or on TV. The contestants’ personalities and their rivalries – not to mention their brainpower – seem likely to play key roles in determining the show’s fortunes.
It’s impossible to know how this all will unfold, which is part of the allure of a live spectacle. But the show lands with a major advantage in the form of host Ryan Seacrest, the last man standing from “America Idol.” The ubiquitous Seacrest excels at building dramatic moments while never denigrating contestants sent walking – or, in this case, stumbling – after a grueling ordeal.
In some ways, the competition harkens to the pre-TV Depression-era marathon dances, where contestants literally bopped till they dropped for the entertainment of others. The potential voyeuristic appeal of “The Million Second Quiz,” combined with the play-at-home aspect, could elevate the show beyond mere spectator sport, and perhaps into a multimedia game show genre of its own.
As we wait for the million-second countdown to begin, check out this promo: