NBC has had a disastrous season when it came to launching new shows, watching glossy entries like Brian Fuller’s serial killer drama Hannibal sink and canceling reality entry Ready For Love. But its fortunes have improved somewhat with the return of reality singing competition The Voice. So it’s no surprise that the network’s going back to the only thing that really seems to be working for it at the moment this fall, and launching a “trivia knowledge and endurance” show called The Million Second Quiz that will air on primetime and be broadcast digitally when it’s not on the network. And it sounds…kind of insane:
The Million Second Quiz will originate from a gigantic hourglass shaped structure built in the heart of Manhattan. Its walls will be made out of glass so the contestants and the game play is visible from the street, somewhat in the vein of David Blaine’s stunts.
The four players who have remained in the game the longest at any time serve as reigning champions and get to live in the hourglass. To avoid being unseated in the primetime show where one of the reigning champions gets challenged, the four must continue to play 24 hours a day, taking strategic breaks to rest and sleep.
Viewers will be able to play along at home in real time and sync to the live primetime broadcast in what NBC calls “the first fully convergent television experience.” Viewers playing from home who win will be flown to New York to appear on the show in primetime.
Most reality shows collect footage 24 hours a day, but then edit it down dramatically. NBC is flipping the script and hoping to generate cross-platform revenue by having actual events going 24 hours a day—or at least hoping that audiences will be interested in watching contestants not go nuts while living in an enormous transparent hourglass. And they’re doing it in a way that might let them eliminate the need for the kinds of expensive celebrity judges that are one of the primary draws to shows like The Voice. The Million Second Quiz may require a talented master of ceremonies, but it seems like an attempt to combine novelty and cheapness in a single swoop.
And that NBC is building a show that’s specifically designed to stress people’s endurance, and to do so while exposing them to the public in a very real way, should be cause for some concern. It’s one thing to test how smart your contestants are, and to give viewers at home a chance to test their wits against those contestants, and even to enter the ring themselves if they prove smart enough. It’s another to set up an incentive structure that encourages people to, say, not sleep in order to rack up points. I hope that those “strategic breaks” will be monitored by doctors who are paid independently from the network, and given some sort of authority to call time on the competition if someone suffers physical or emotional ill effects. If you’re going to ask people to put themselves through significant stress in a way that constantly exposes them both on-set and in broadcast, you owe it to them to protect them.