Interview with the producers of The Question Jury
Channel 4 Entertainment launches its new hybrid reality-quiz format for daytime, The Question Jury, on Monday July 11. The 20x60’ series, produced by Monkey, airs daily over four weeks and could see contestants walk away £10,000 richer every day. Here, we talk to Will Macdonald, Creative Director at Monkey and Executive Producer Ollie Brack, to get the lowdown on the show.
How does the show work?
O: Seven strangers are brought together at the start of the week and they are locked in a jury room. They must work together to answer questions correctly and build up as much money as possible but, when it comes to the final round, only one of them can have the chance to win that and leave. They nominate the Final Foreman at the end of the show for that last question. They have no help or interaction with anyone else, only each other’s knowledge and gut instincts to rely on.
W: If the nominated jury member gets the answer right, they could leave with up to £10,000. Get it wrong, they’re off with their tail between their legs. As soon as they’re chosen, they’re leaving. The rest of the jury will try again with a new member joining them the following day. Each new week starts with a fresh cast of seven starting jurors! A new gang.
O : That is basically the format. On the seven questions they answer in the run up to the final question, they take turns being the Foreman, so they each have an opportunity to show their mettle and show their worth. All the answers have to be unanimous.
W: It’s such a simple idea, but very different, mixing drama and great reality with a thoroughly play-along quiz; like 12 Angry Men had a baby with Mastermind! It gives us all great qualities - people, relationships, all on camera and nothing is outside the room. They are all strangers, and they are getting to know each other.
So how did you devise the show?
O: We make Made in Chelsea and we started thinking; as the company is so well-known for that brand, what skills could we use that could be translated to other types of TV? The soap opera nature of those reality shows makes them really successful and they are relationship-based. We were talking about the contestants in Deal Or No Deal and how they forge bonds when they go back to the hotel after filming - that’s when they get to spend loads of time together, sharing beers and getting close. We felt it was such a shame that when they come on the show, the most you ever hear of them is someone looking across at another one in the studio and going: “Good luck Mary! I know you need that extension!” They have all this rich stuff going on away from the show, so we thought, if you could put a load of people together, not in a studio, but in a place, a situation similar to how we shoot Chelsea, then it would give it a dramatic feel, just by the very look of it.
W: When you switch on a daytime quiz show and there is neon lighting behind the contestants, you know where you are but when you switch on a show that looks like Chelsea, even when it first started, you thought: “This looks amazing! Is this a drama? No it’s not. Are these people real? What’s going on?” That was the initial thought of it.
O: The format of daytime TV literally follows the scheduling structure of a soap, so we wondered: “What would you do with those people all week to keep them in one place and keep it interesting and keep to a nice, simple format?” We started looking more into the quiz idea. One of the development team had watched the movie Twelve Angry Men that weekend, where a group of strangers are all stuck in a jury room together and they have to work out this problem; so we took that idea fairly literally. That was a real moment and every time we tried to move away from that jury structure, it seemed to fall apart.
W: Yes, the danger when you develop a quiz, is that you start to layer it too much with rules and it all gets a bit complicated, or as we like to say, Quizzlestick, like the very funny Adam & Joe parody of quiz shows, where the rules are so convoluted that you spend half the time explaining it so everyone gets bored! The pitch was always: “It’s a quiz show, shot like a drama, with a soap opera storyline.
How did you develop it?
W: We have spent the best part of a year trying the idea out in our meeting rooms at work; firstly with colleagues who work with us and then with random people who were keen to have a go at it. We realised the dynamic was so pure; we didn’t need to overload it. The jury format just worked. Anytime you’ve got something that exists in real-life, and people understand it, you are on to a winner - there have been so many dramas with juries in them. People love that angle. Everyone gets that, even if they haven’t been on a jury, they know what it is. They know that it’s a group of strangers; they know they’re trying to work something out together and they can’t leave the room until they have a solution.
O: We had a lot of run-throughs! A lot. When you come up with a format, your initial thinking is: “Will it actually work? And will it work again and again, and can we make 200 shows of it?” After we’d tried it out in the office, we started putting it on camera, then we shot our own self-funded mini-pilot, which we took around the channels and Channel 4 very quickly responded to it and then we did some pilots for them. The very first pilot that Will and I made is actually pretty similar to one that will be going on air; even down to looking like a retro jury room - our first place had a hint of wood panelling - then we moved it back to something a bit more modern, but by the time we started to film the series, we decided to return to that look as, just by looking at that set, viewers would know what world they were in.
W: And we found that if you leave a load of people together in a room to answer a load of questions for an extended period of time (whether they are clued up television people who know all the pitfalls of telly or people who have never done a TV show before), people forget themselves and start tying themselves up in knots and get invested in it. We really don’t have to produce them in this show - we just put them in there and then get out of the way! They succeed or fail entirely on their own.
W: That’s when we knew it was working. I remember one of the first read-throughs we did with people in the office and the question was: “What is the most common element in the human body?” And one of the most intelligent women in the office, went: “It’s either earth, fire or water isn’t it?” When intelligent people say stupid things, you think: “That’s pretty good!”
How did you find the contestants?
W: We got the word out and held regional castings and basically got a bunch of people that we liked to sit in a room together. We filmed it and looked at the dynamic and their characters. Based on the format, we picked those with quirky personalities or the capability to have a strong argument. Ollie and I have both done a lot of telly but I can’t remember a show in which I have been transfixed at every recording. Each recording is over three hours. We often say: “How can we get this down and edit it to an hour?” It’s so engaging! I could watch it four hours. And you can always tell it’s a good show when you have got a normally bored crew interested; that’s when you know you are onto something! In fact, during one week, one of our cameramen asked our director if he could swap cameras one day because one of the contestants was winding him up so much, he didn’t want to film him anymore!
O: We have a real cross section of people from all over Britain, like a real jury would; all ages, backgrounds and places. We worked very hard on the questions so that they would bring out stuff about their lives that would become interesting to you, the viewer. So one of them may say: “When I was in the 1980s, I was living here, doing this job”, so it helps them answer the question and you get to know about them. Their life feeds into the question.
Any obstacles along the way?
O: The end game was always hard to get to. Boy did we have a lot of versions of those end games. We ran them all with different people. That took a lot of time but then it came back as a nice simple thing. So we stayed with that.
What makes it different from other gameshows?
W: It looks unlike any other quiz show. It looks like a drama and it is about people. Yes there are questions - but it’s about the way the people get the answers. It’s very different. What is also great about this show and makes it unlike other quiz shows is that it gives people time and time creates doubt. So, the question is read out: “What colour is the sky?” Someone will go: “The sky is blue” - and bang, there it is. In a normal quiz show that will be the answer they give but in The Question Jury, someone else goes: “Are you sure?” And another person puts in: “Oh I dunno” And then, yet another contestant will suggest it’s red. And after you’ve been through several minutes of conversation, it’s red. Intelligent people fall apart when you give them time to doubt. We love this show. The most important thing to us is the story-telling
O: One person leaves at the end of each show and someone new replaces them in the morning and due to the soap opera nature of the show, it sometimes happens that by Wednesday or Thursday, contestants who are still there start thinking: “I have been here for days now and I haven’t won a penny!” They get resentful and think: “So and so is annoying me, you two are flirting” and their blood really starts to boil! In the second batch of recordings, someone actually stood up in a middle of question and said: “People are coming and going, I have been here a week, and I don’t know what I am doing here” and really blew a gasket! But there is also great camaraderie too - people who have been bitter rivals and have had real animositywil stil helptheFinalForemanwinthemoney. There’s nowt so queer as folk! It’s a handbrake turn and they are all celebrating and yelping at the end. It’s amazing. I cried quite a lot in the gallery.
The great and unique things about The Question Jury is that we also have reality scenes that we film in amongst the questions at the end of what we call ‘the recess’. They’ve done a few questions, a quick fire round, banked loads of money, or done disastrously and not won anything in that whole part and the judge over the intercom announces a pause to catch their breath. By this point, they may have missed the £1,500 win for various reasons and need to get it off their chest, so they take themselves to the coffee machine or the bathroom for amusing, interesting debates, arguments and personal anecdotes - right in the middle of a quiz show!
Any funny anecdotes/behind-the scenes in the making of the show?
O: One of my favourites was a guy called Ed. He was brilliant, from Manchester and a father of two, and he will appear in the first week of transmission. He was a real character and one of life’s clowns and the type of guy who is the joker in the office. At the beginning of the week, people took against him but as the week went on, they were really coming around to him and saw him for who he really was - good guy with a good head on his shoulders. On the Thursday, he argued so intelligently, so passionately for a question that he believed he knew the right answer to - but they overruled him and he went with the team and they were wrong and he was right. He had overcome a really difficult week so when that question didn’t go his way and he had invested so much emotion in it, he got up quietly, toddled off to the bathroom and just lay on the floor on his back in complete silence! Will and I looked at each other and then used our camera phones and took screen grabs of the monitor. Because we thought: “If we put this on a poster; a new daytime quiz show from Channel 4, and there is a bloke lying on his back in a bathroom”, you’d think: “What the hell are you talking about?” We realised then: “This show is great! We love it!”
W: And we thought that there was another contestant who was starting to lose his mind! After a few days, he literally couldn’t take any more - and the more he questioned himself, the more mad he went. One day, the connection with one of the questions was something that had happened in his life but he couldn’t quite work it out. People kept interrupting him and saying that they had to move on, so in the end he got up and stood in the bathroom and was standing there, talking to himself, trying to get the answer! He was wandering around like Rain Man. That was a moment. You realise with a show like this, which is pretty unique as a quiz dynamic, there is no such thing as an easy question. And another thing we found, is that the loudest voice is often not the most intelligent voice! And when those people take over, they often quash the voice in the room who is the silent one with the correct answer.
What can we expect from the show?
W: Laughter, tears and that’s just in the gallery! There are definitely tears in the room - the dynamics between the contestants change from day-to-day. There are amazing moments of people pulling out the right answer at the last minute, persuading other people to go with them. People persuading the others that the obviously right answer wasn’t right, which can lead to heated conversation! Definitely, it’s TV gold. You see people warm to different personalities. The little looks are so telling. They can reveal a story. Some of them are: “I really fancy you”, others are: “I connect to you as a person” and others, “you really annoy me!” Some contestants physically recoil from each other. There is even a bit of flirting on the series, for sure, and we know that numbers have been exchanged. And one couple went on a date but it went disastrously. By the end of the week, contestants have all been on a journey and are sad to leave even though some don’t leave with money. They become institutionalised and want to stay in there! I hope our enthusiasm translates to the audiences.
The Question Jury is on weekdays at 4pm on Channel 4 from Monday 11th July.
The Question Jury was produced in Manchester by Monkey, the creative team behind E4’s hit reality show Made in Chelsea.
Syeda Irtizaali, Commissioning Editor, Entertainment at Channel 4 “This is one of the most compelling formats I’ve ever commissioned. Watching seven strangers size each other up to play a quiz, mixed with the reality dynamic across each week as they get to know each other, creates a really gripping series full of drama. It feels really unique and different to anything else out there and I hope viewers will love it as much as we do.”