NBC has seemed a little too desperate to turn “The Million Second Quiz” into “an event,” even marshaling the collective resources of Comcast behind it. Still, in terms of the shifting DVR-heavy TV landscape, “live” certainly makes sense as a twist on the old-fashioned quiz show, and much like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in its infancy, the pre-fall season timing is a good way to either jump-start the network’s launch efforts or, conversely, mitigate the damage of the gambit falls flat. The bottom line is if this otherwise nondescript concept works, it will be a triumph of marketing and little else.
Viewers who haven’t been paying close attention might wonder why the producers joined the show in progress, as it were, launching straight into a head-to-head matchup between a young guy already occupying “the money chair” and a sweater-vested challenger. Think of it as Thunderdome for people with a rudimentary interest in a lot of things, including current events and the weekend’s football results.
Being timely is an advantage, especially because it mitigates the need for real knowledge as a point of differentiation. The online component also offers a way to work in a little “American Idol”-like back story on the players, which has become increasingly common in gameshows — “Jeopardy!” meets Publishers Clearing House commercials — without really adding much to the festivities. (Affiliates even get in on the act, with NBC’s Salt Lake City station — if memory serves, the one that tends to preempt any of the network’s racier shows — surprising a woman with the big news she’d be on the program.)
Once the game gets going, though, there’s really nothing particularly distinctive about it — a throwback to “Twenty-One,” perhaps, with “The Weakest Link’s” color scheme, and multiple-choice questions about as hard as the early “You should feel like a dope if you go out now” rounds of “Millionaire” until near the very end of the hour.
The same goes for host Ryan Seacrest, who has turned blandness into an asset and wears over-exposure like a badge of honor. Sure, he’s perfectly fine and wildly enthusiastic, but based on his Fox Sports show, Regis probably would have taken the gig for free.
Not surprisingly, NBC larded the premiere with promos for its upcoming series, which gobbled up a sizable chunk of the 1,000 seconds or so of ad time. The hope, obviously, is interest will rise along with the stakes as big money comes into view — potentially totaling millions.
Still, having watched the opening 2,600 seconds of actual “Million Second Quiz” content, hey, wake me when it’s almost over.