BBC2’s flagship quiz University Challenge was at the centre of controversy last night, with host Jeremy Paxman set to leave the show in protest at a dumbing-down of the format.
For the first time in the programme’s 49-year history, multiple-choice questions are to be used when the student contest returns later in the year.
Contestants will be able to select between four possible answers for each question, with viewers encouraged to play along at home via the show’s website or by calling a premium-rate phone line.
Teams will be given three lifelines, to be used once only per match: “switch”, “clue” and “phone a professor”. They will also be permitted to confer on starter questions. It is thought that this last change was what persuaded Paxman to tender his resignation.
“Why change it?” said Paxman when contacted by Radio Times. “Why? Come on! I need an answer.” According to one BBC insider, Paxman has been seen around Television Centre “with a very long face indeed”.
Names understood to be on the shortlist to take over as host include Anne Robinson, Nick Knowles, Andrew Castle and Roger de Courcey.
Famous former contestants have been invited to return to the show to “mentor” students from their old universities – but instead they’ve backed Paxman and spoken out against the revamp. “This is the work of footling, crapulescent ninnywipes,” tweeted Stephen Fry, who represented Queens’ College, Cambridge in 1980. “I am severely vexed, I don’t mind telling you.”
Plans to move University Challenge to a Saturday-night BBC1 slot, incorporating lottery results in a new programme called A Degree of Fortune, have however been shelved.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “We are sorry if any viewers are disappointed by the changes, but our market research indicates that we are right.”
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