Back in January, I worried with my infinite wisdom about an application to the CRTC by Discovery Channel Canada to allow game shows as part of its programming categories. I worried that this might be an excuse to import a
U.S. British trivia show called Cash Cab into Canada, stretch the limits of the channel’s mandate and suck up some easy cash.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. The CRTC approved the change in its license, and Discovery announced that it was carbon-copying importing the format for use here. I still held out hope that the format would be predominantly educational in nature, and/or that the subjects of the questions would deal with science, technology and nature.
After watching a couple of episodes (you can see complete episodes online here), it seems my original fears were more than justified.
For those who haven’t seen it (or don’t want to see it), Cash Cab’s format has a guy driving a van through the streets of Toronto, and then surprising people who come aboard by telling them they’re on a TV game show they’ve never heard of (a part that’s either hilarious or awkward depending on your tastes). He then asks them questions, gives money for each right answer, and when they get three wrong they’re booted out of the cab.
It’s nothing more than a cookie-cutter trivia show with a lame hook. Some of the questions are certainly scientific in nature, but others relate to sports, business, history and even popular culture. It’s hard to distinguish these questions from the ones on every other trivia-based game show out there.
Discovery’s reputation: Destroyed in Seconds
For how bad Cash Cab is, Destroyed in Seconds is worse. This embarrassment of programming is essentially a carbon copy of World’s Most Amazing Videos (which currently airs on Spike TV), in all the bad ways imaginable. Here’s how both shows work:
- Find a video that shows some catastrophic event: a plane crash, a bridge collapse, an explosion. Usually this will be amateur video of poor quality, but that’s ok. In fact, it adds to the realness of the show.
- Ensure that nobody dies in the event that took place. You wouldn’t want to be accused of profiting off someone’s death, after all. You want miraculous escapes and/or recoveries here. Exceptions can be made if the video is really good and you don’t actually see any bodies.
- Show the video as a man with an exaggerated voice explains the situation (usually something along the lines of “it looks like an ordinary day, but in a few seconds their lives will be in mortal danger”), until the surprising, terrifying event happens.
- Have the narrator explain, as briefly as possible, what caused the catastrophy, as well as the aftermath.
- Show the moment of catastrophe over and over and over again. Slow-motion, zoomed-in, any different way you can think of. Have the narrator point out how the people on the video were “inches from certain death” or “moments from disaster” or “lucky to escape with only minor injuries”
- Move on to the next clip.
There is no educational value to this show whatsoever. You learn nothing other than what an explosion looks like.
Compare that with a show like Mayday (my personal favourite) which re-enacts airplane accidents (with cool computer graphics) and then explains very seriously and clearly what caused them and what has been done to ensure they don’t happen again. Or Mythbusters, which tests sometimes silly hypotheses, but does them in (mostly) scientific ways. Both have the idea of teaching viewers as the main focus, and entertainment is a convenient medium to do so.
For Cash Cab and Destroyed in Seconds, the main focus is to entertain. That’s not a bad thing, and these shows have their homes (Cash Cab on the Game Show Network, Destroyed in Seconds on Spike TV), but neither belong on the Discovery Channel.
If we’re going to continue with the idea that specialty channels should have protected formats (and you’re well within your rights to question whether that’s necessary anymore), we should honour those formats, not try to find ways around them to pad the bottom line.