Could Countdown (UK Game Show) work in the US?

Let me start by stating that I am an American. [Obviously, if you check my location.]

Having said that, I know very little about the UK show Countdown. Apart from a few youtube clips and a few bloopers, I know next to nothing about the show.

As far as I can tell, the game revolves around an anagram type game* perhaps closer to jumble than scrabble. The game also has a numbers round, where a target number must be reached using random numbers, multiples of 5, and basic operations.

At once, I want to say this game is too intellectual for American audiences. Please tell me I’m wrong. *Then again, if the kids over there are this smart, I could be more right than I thought. :eek: That kid schools everyone within earshot, I swear.

**Do you think Countdown could work in the US? **

I watched the two numbers ones, but I don’t get it? Why was the 500 round supposed to be so easy? Do you not have to use all the numbers like they did for the 952 round?

That’s Numberwang!

no, you just have to get the number required.

You just have to get to the number, or to within 10 of it for less points. The number is decided at random, and there’s randomness in the numbers to be used to get there too. So some will be more difficult than others. Some will be impossible.

I don’t think it’d work without prize money. If it were started up now in the UK, without the previous 20+ years of history, it might not work without prize money either.

I’m supposed to be going on it, by the way. Passed the audition but haven’t heard anything more back, and I haven’t pushed them on it because, going on last season, I’d end up being publicly beaten by a 12-year-old boy.

I remember seeing [British writer, actor and *Countdown fan] Stephen Fry talking about when his friend, the American novelist Jay McInerney, was staying at his place in England. Countdown happened to be on the TV, and McInerney was watching it in disbelief. “You’re shitting me - people actually watch this?”, was his bemused reaction. But, Fry went on, within a few minutes McInerney got sucked into the game and was desperately looking for the longest possible words as the clock counted down. “LATER. No, LADDER… wait, LEATHER!”

So I think the hardest part would be the initial pitch. Once the show had been running for a while it would have a hardcore audience of addicts, like it does in the UK.

  • [edit] of course, I now see that he could have had LATHERED from those letters. But I just made that example up.

I would say no, but I would say no if it was suggested for English TV these days. 30 seconds going by without a whoosh transition? Contestants not chosen for their heart-wrenching back stories or zany personalities? No crazy double points rounds where the letters swap every three seconds?

These days it would maybe eke out a living on BBC4 with Only Connect and documentaries about tables.

There’s an Australian version (called, imaginatively, Letters & Numbers*) which is extremely watchable if you like that sort of thing (and I do) but probably one step up from Extreme Watching Paint Dry for most people. Unsurprisingly it’s on SBS. :wink:

Incidentally, Countdown was featured in an episode of The IT Crowd, which also introduced the show’s less reputable, “underground” counterpart, Street Countdown, which is exactly the same but played outside. :smiley:

*Yes, I know that’s a translation from the French version, what with the show originally being from France and everything, but even so

It’d never work in the US - you’d never find a US TV letter turner who can also do basic math. Bazinga!

Erm, seriously I have no idea if people would watch it. I would (and sometimes do, although it’s not the same post-Whiteley) but then I’m the target audience for Only Connect and so represent a very tiny television-viewing subculture.

I don’t think the letters round is particularly more intellectual than the game show “Scrabble”, for instance. The numbers round is a little obscure, though.

I remember that there was a programme shown on UK tv a year or two ago where they took several British shows and showed them to a sample US audience then interviewed them afterwards about their reactions.
Countdown was one of them, and, iirc, it failed almost completely to win any support.
People were bemused that anybody would actually watch it, let alone become a fan!

Hey, American kids laughed at the Beatles initially, with their goofy haircuts.

But yeah, on second thoughts I think Countdown would be a tough sell anywhere these days, if you were starting from scratch, even in the UK. It’s worth pointing out that it’s fairly niche here too. I don’t know many people who watch it. Or perhaps none of us admit to watching it?

There was certainly an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe which did exactly that. Also showed The Bill, either Eastenders or Coronation Street, and various others. Only the soap went down well.

And lo, here it is:
(focus group part from 5:50)

A slightly… *eclectic *selection of British TV. Bullseye, Countdown, Springwatch, *The Bill *and EastEnders. The hoots of derision from the group are pretty funny. *EastEnders *was indeed the only one they cared for much, although one of them did seem to quite like Bullseye.

It’s shown at 3.10 every day (and then an hour later on channel 4+1) and not repeated later (except at something like 4am, I think) so the current audience is never going to be mainstream, unless they watch it on 4ondemand.

It’s kinda strange that a show that’s so well-known (in the UK) has never tried to break into the big time, but maybe they’ve gone the unusually sensible route of looking at the viewing figures for that time of day and realising that it has carved out its own immoveable niche so moving it would mean breaking down the walls which support it.

My PGCE (post-graduate certificate of education - the qualification you have to get to be allowed to teach in mainstream schools) mentor used to do the numbers round in her form period. The kids loved it. I tried it with lots of classes afterwards and it worked with them too - seriously, even the work-refusing kids would join in.

I think that it being arithmetic rather than harder maths means it makes maths dunces feel good about themselves, especially me.

Well, yeah, Countdown was tailored for that specific time-slot from the beginning: it just wouldn’t work anywhere else.

I’m a little surprised you think that’s unusual. Generally speaking, programme commissioners and schedulers (in the UK at least) have a very sophisticated and detailed idea of who’s most likely to be watching which channel at any given time of day, and arrange their programming to the best effect. They don’t always get it right, of course, but they do know exactly who their audience is.

Let’s play Wangernum!

I’m sure that was it; hadn’t realised it was nearly 5 years ago, though!

Because they often move shows to prime viewing times. Of course, right now I can only think of the Weakest Link, Changing Rooms, but then it’s never easy to remember examples when you want to.