The premise of Deal or No Deal, for anyone that’s been living in a cave for the past year, sounds much like a question in an A-level maths exam. Twenty-two identical boxes containing 22 different sums of money are distributed between 22 cash-hungry punters who await their opportunity to become the player.
The player, without knowing what their own box contains, must open each of the others in the hope that they won’t eliminate the higher cash prizes (thus prolonging the possibility that their box contains the biggest prize, £250,000).
At regular intervals they will receive a cash offer for their own unopened box from a mysterious figure known as the Banker. In a battle of wills they must decide whether to cut and run or continue in the hope that:
Two questions arise. Firstly, how on earth did someone pitch that idea to Channel 4 without a commissioning editor developing deep vein thrombosis? And secondly, when it looks like that on paper, what right does it have to be the single most dramatic, compulsive quiz show on TV?
It is the game show deconstructed. Who’d have thought that replacing the glitz, glamour and big-money guarantees of its forebears with Noel Edmonds and a telephone could create a show with such unique drama.
I tell no lie when I say that I once watched it in a pub with a group of strangers who were whooping and shouting at the screen with an abandon normally reserved for the Cup Final. By the time that particular day’s contestant was opening her box to reveal that she’d beaten the Banker to bring home the bacon we had all but embraced.
We all love to watch somebody gamble. We can’t help but admire the guile of anyone willing to leave their fortune to chance. We can’t stop secretly hoping that the contestant with the smug grin becomes a quite enormous cropper. It isn’t just television drama, it is (as vomit-inducing as this may sound) a human drama, the biggest non-documentary human drama on TV.
This is largely owing to the fact that each batch of 22 contestants shower each other with the support and affection indicative of a cult where Noel and his Christmas jumpers have been installed as a deity.
They’ve developed their own belief system based around applying cosmic logic to the random selection of numbers. They’ve created their own terminology (“the power five”, “the money mile”, “the crazy chair”, “the 1p club”). They’ve even recorded their own history, constantly referencing the shows that have gone before.
It’s like watching the start of a new civilisation, as though much more rests on the contents of those boxes than the mere matter of the difference it will make to someone’s bank account.
Throw in Noel’s expert stewardship of what could easily descend into chaos, some great use of atmospheric music and the kind of balletic camerawork more akin with Strictly Come Dancing, and you have a show so fresh, so ground-breaking and so bloody good it sometimes sends shivers down my spine.
Yes, I feel I have to say it. Deal or No Deal ticks all my boxes. Sorry.