Bringing back a beloved television show is always a dangerous game.
The world moves on, tastes change and formats evolve.
When Who Wants to be a Millionaire launched and captured the imagination of telly addicts in the UK (and later the world) we lived in a different time.
In 1998, internet users in Britain were dialling up to Ask Jeeves what time Millionaire was on before waiting 10 minutes for a pixelated photo of Chris Tarrant to download on their desktop computer. Mobile phones were the size of armchairs and the only distraction they offered from the gogglebox was an unhealthy addiction to Snake.
Put simply, it was a golden age of linear television – there was no glowing distraction in the palm of every hand, no constant draw from streaming giants with bottomless pockets… and you could still buy more than a two bedroom flat in London if you won the top prize on Millionaire.
Add to this Project Rose-Tint™ where everything was better when you were young (not because it was actually better, but because you were carefree and youthful) and you end up with what is commonly known as a tough act to follow.
Enter Millionaire 2018 with a new host, tweaked format and all of the above to deal with, and it has to be the first time anyone has felt sorry for Jeremy Clarkson.
But against all these odds Millionaire has more than earned its place back on primetime ITV.
Although there have been a few tweaks to the format, at its heart the show has returned to the simple and gripping cash ladder of its heyday. In the death throes of UK Millionaire in the 2010s (before it finally got the boot in 2014) several format changes designed to make it feel fresh (like timed sections and a reduction of questions from 15 to 12) undermined the simple mechanic that made it so popular. These have been resigned to the big quiz scrapheap in the sky – with only the ‘choose your own safety net’ and the charming (if virtually useless) ‘ask the host’ as additions to the 1998 format.
And that brings us to Mr Clarkson. He has the unenviable task of picking up a show that was “made” here in the UK by Chris Tarrant’s Mr Nice, once with 19 million people tuning in on Saturday nights.
It’s a bold choice to bring JC, with his marmite credentials, to primetime ITV – but his act not only suits the modern reboot, it positively makes it.
Gone is Tarrant’s apparently genuine rooting for the contestant, replaced by the nonchalant and at times quite cutting Clarkson.
His matter-of-fact approach to getting on with the show, annoyance at nobody winning big money and inability (or unwillingness?) to assist contestants with the ‘ask the host’ lifeline bring a slightly more edgy and modern feel to what is otherwise a familiar and comfortable format.
Clarkson has been missed from terrestrial TV and, although he’s now a big budget global superstar on Amazon, having a big beast of British television at the centre of a showpiece ITV format has clearly pleased much of the audience.
Ratings have been solid for the “stripped” seven night run (against the backdrop of unseasonably good weather) and viewer reaction has been generally positive.
Is this a rare case of a TV reboot that has legs? I think so…
ITV, give us more Millionaire with Clarkson – and please don’t change a thing.