Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting Old - In More Ways Than One

It is possible to overestimate Countdown.

It seems to me that a lot of Americans who discover the long-running British game show (actually adapted from an even longer-running show in France) conclude that it's on in primetime, that it's the most popular game show on British TV, and us Americans should be so ashamed of ourselves for watching Wipeout (or whatever game show is a primetime hit in America at the time). The actual fact is closer to The Price Is Right in America - it's a daytime television institution with a very devoted following, but the "general public" looks at it as something you watch when you have nothing better to do.

Like a lot of daytime television institutions - The Price Is Right included - Countdown has (or had, at any rate) a legendary host who did the show for decades - Richard Whiteley, who hosted the show for twenty-three years. For many of those years, Countdown was the show people thought of when they thought of daytime game shows in Britain, and while that's not always a distinction you want to have, at least you're not going to be canceled. When Richard died in 2005 just before taping was to start for the next season, Channel 4 did seriously consider canceling the show. The decision was ultimately made to continue, and new host Des Lynam debuted on October 31, 2005. Unfortunately for Countdown, debuting immediately afterward on Channel 4 was the only daytime game show that could possibly top Countdown - the new British version of Deal Or No Deal, with host Noel Edmonds. Seven years later, guess which one is the show people think of when they think of daytime game shows in Britain?

Perhaps that's the reason Countdown hasn't been able to hold on to a host - new host Nick Hewer, who debuted Monday, is the fourth host to take the job since Richard's death. Countdown isn't really a show that depends on its host anyway, which is a good thing as Nick, who is sixty-eight years old, comes across to me as this senior citizen making the sort of remarks a grandfather would make. Of course, the same complaint could easily be made of Des Lynam and even, from what I've seen of him, Richard Whiteley. None of them were genuinely bad (Des O'Connor, who replaced Des Lynam, was genuinely bad), and this is a good enough game that it can withstand a mediocre host, but Countdown is never going to be "hip" again (if it ever was to begin with) and if we wait a year and a half, Nick will probably be gone too. Maybe it is time to cancel the show (believe me, I feel terrible saying that).

I will leave you with one final thought - according to legend if nothing else, when the decision was made to continue after Richard Whiteley died, Noel Edmonds was offered the Countdown job, which he turned down to host Deal Or No Deal. He has hosted Deal Or No Deal ever since, and shows no signs of stopping. Make of that what you will.


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