“Welcome to Cram!, the only quiz show in the entire world where the players get the answers before they’re asked the question” – well, apart from every other quiz show ever made, because if quiz shows only asked people questions they didn’t already have the answers to then the contestants would never get any answers right. And with that basic misunderstanding of the very nature of quiz shows, Cram! was off and running.
Unfortunately no-one bothered to check which direction it was running in and so it promptly went directly off a cliff. At least the basic idea was both straightforward and not completely hopeless: two teams, three people per team, they each get shown a short video and then have to try and remember as much from it as possible. “It sounds easy, right,” says Helliar, “well, in theory, it should be”. Way to build suspense there, Pete.
Here’s how bad Cram! was: it’s a quiz show with an exclamation mark in the title. Not a question mark, which would actually make sense because the very basis of quiz shows is asking endless questions, but an exclamation mark because yeah! Excitement! Thrills! Peter Helliar! Wait, that can’t be right…
The only reason we’re cutting this awful, awful show even the slightest bit of slack is because despite being clearly rubbish on pretty much every level they did manage to get one bit right: they figured out a way to get the people at home involved. We hate comedy quiz shows here for all manner of reasons, but one of the big ones is that we’re lazy sods who want our shows to entertain us with as little effort as possible on our part. Quiz show fans, on the other hand, like to take part in their viewing. Yeah, because work is so much fun lets do even more of it in our limited time off, right?
Have You Been Paying Attention? works because it’s fast, funny, and is based on current affairs so quiz show fans can test themselves against the contestants; in theory by showing both contestants and home viewers the same videoes in Cram, the people at home can also play along when it comes to answering questions about the video. Trouble is, if the rest of the show is a boring trudge through a self-congratulatory swamp, nobody in their right mind will want to watch long enough to find out they can play along. Welcome to the debut episode of Cram!.
Here’s a question Cram! didn’t get around to asking: has Peter Helliar ever hosted a successful show? Sure, he’s been involved in various forgettable sports-related shows – Before the Game, The Bounce, The Trophy Room – and there’s been that extremely long stretch where he appeared behind and slightly to the left of Rove (Rove, the Rove-produced The Project) – but aside from being a good mate to Rove and liking sport, what exactly are his qualifications for hosting a prime-time game show? The ability to say “Cram!” three dozen times without throwing up on himself?
And why do these comedy quiz shows still think it’s a good idea to have “banter” before the questions? Again, we point at HYBPA? – there they power through the pre-quiz banter as quickly as possible (at this stage it’s little more than “nobody dead? Let’s begin”) and then occasionally ask the contestants stuff in between questions if there’s anything interesting to ask. Here’s there’s a good minute or so of people answering the gripping question “anyone here ever flown on a plane?” Sure, Woodley got to make a 90 year old contortionist joke (“I wanted to be a contortionist but I could never get into it”), but when that kind of material is the funniest thing on offer why are you making a quiz show?
All the usual, played out elements were on offer: rounds that mean nothing, “cryptic images” as a way to select topics, endless host prattle, people laughing at nothing, endless cutaways to other people laughing at “jokes”, pointless “intense” lighting, idle musing on exactly when Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation will be airing in 2018… okay, the last one was probably just us.
Suffice to say that even with an endless and completely inexplicable bit about a horse that said “baa” instead of “neigh”, there was nothing on offer in Cram! that made it stand out in any way from any other totally forgettable comedy game show of the last decade or two. Even All-Star Family Feud is more memorable, and that’s just Family Feud with people we don’t recognise.
Launching a new game show with barely a month left in the ratings isn’t exactly a vote of confidence in any aspect of the show. Even for something that presumably cost around $4.95 to make this was dire: the contestants went in as people audiences weren’t excited about and left pretty much the same way, the host is a proven dud who delivered roughly the same performance that’s sunk every other show he’s ever hosted (again, where is the solo success Peter Hellier can point to as justification for ever getting work again?) and the format was slow, dull and almost completely without charm.
Cheer up Woodley, it’ll all be over soon.