I’m not sure of the exact reason why The Weakest Link was eventually cancelled. It could have been because of falling audience figures, or it could have been because Anne Robinson’s face no longer moved. Either way, the replacement of it with Pointless was a masterful move, not least because the two programmes are so different from each other. The Weakest Link was cold, bitter and heartless; a sterile, clinical quiz show if ever there was one. Pointless, on other hand, is quite the opposite, and a welcome throwback to the classic age of the quiz show from the 1970s and 1980s when audiences were allowed to get to know the contestants, hosts could be funny without being insulting, and questions didn’t solely centre on who was who in the world of trashy TV. Pointless reaches its 500th show this week, and here’s hoping it continues for many years to come.
I did catch Pointless near the beginning of its life, and thought it was the most ridiculous thing I ever saw. I’m not sure if the format changed over the years (I don’t remember those early shows well enough), but it certainly seemed much slicker, funnier and worthwhile when I started catching bits of it by accident before the 6 o’clock news. The format is a clever one, with each contestant having two chances at reaching the final round, and thus making the show more addictive with their being continuity from show to show (Deal or No Deal uses a similar trait of getting to know contestants over a number of shows). Pointless can be enjoyed as single episodes, but viewed regularly it is more rewarding, with returning contestants, running jokes, and contestants and questions referred back to from time to time.
Of course, what makes Pointless so watchable is the chemistry between its two hosts, Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman who, no doubt, would storm their way to the final round if they were a team on the show. They are a welcoming pair, happy to both provide jokes and be the butt of them, but without any malice between them. Pointless, therefore, becomes perfect eat-your-tea-in front-of-the-telly type viewing and is, no doubt, why it works so well. There are moments when the hosts must have a sinking feeling when a barrage of ridiculous answers come their way, but they smile their way through it – although there are occasions when Armstrong’s mouth is saying “and these are today’s players”, but his eyes are saying “Oh God, where did they get this lot from”. Luckily for the show, Armstrong isn’t faultless (despite seemingly able to answer 95% of the questions), having referred to the show as “Countdown” in the past, and offering “befriend” as word ending in “ind” – something still referred to many shows later. Osman, meanwhile, sits behind his fake laptop, no doubt relishing the moment that he gets to tell an English teacher that The Pickwick Papers wasn’t written by Stephen King, but that he’ll give them the answer at the end of the round.
There have also been attempts to keep the show fresh for regular viewers – some are improvements, and some are not. I admit to not liking the current incarnation of the “head to head” round, much preferring it when people could win through to the final by naming things Rick Astley was “never gonna do”. But still, Pointless has become one of the most genial of all quiz shows, and perhaps the only one currently on TV where the roots can be traced back to classics of the genre as hosted (when I was a kid) by Bob Monkhouse, Paul Daniels, Jimmy Tarbuck and others. It’s a quiz show that refuses to take itself seriously, something which many other shows could learn by.
So, happy birthday Pointless and long may you reign.