When word broke last week that NBC had ordered a new reality game show featuring 24/7 competition, a possible $10 million dollar cash prize, and — oh yeah — live broadcasts for 12 consecutive days from “a gigantic hourglass shaped structure in the heart of Manhattan,” where the game’s champions will also live for the duration of the contest, the news was greeted with a collective “Huh?” The Million Second Quiz, frankly, sounded more like a ludicrous, Truman Show-inspired reality show parody than an actual event that will air on network TV this fall.
But according to Paul Telegdy, NBC’s president of alternative and late night programming, the show is actually “mind-blowingly simple when you really lay it out.” And perhaps more importantly, Telegdy swears that The Million Second Quiz will feel more current than the vast majority of today’s popular reality shows — nearly all of which were created before online video and social media had come into wide use. (The exception to that rule? The Voice, “which, lucky enough, is on NBC.”)
Here’s how it works: Before the quiz begins, wannabe contestants will line up beneath that enormous hourglass set — a complex Telegdy rather ominously refers to as “the structure.” Things will kick off when the first two people in line are invited into the hourglass for a round of trivia. They’ll draw lots to see who gets to sit in the Money Chair, the show’s hot seat; the longer a contestant sits in the Money Chair, the more cash he or she will earn.
If the Money Chair’s occupant loses the bout of questioning, she’ll be out of the game and her competitor will take her place. If the occupant is victorious, she’ll be escorted to another section of the hourglass called Winner’s Row, “a kind of living leaderboard” where the game’s four reigning champions will both compete to win immunity from elimination and live “a slightly Clockwork Orange or Orwellian existence,” in full view of both the show’s audience and Manhattan passersby.
Questions will be asked continually throughout The Million Second Quiz‘s 12-day run, meaning that the makeup of Winner’s Row could be in constant flux. Viewers can keep up with the action 23 hours per day online and one hour per day in primetime, when new contestants will challenge the champions, attempting to snag both their spots on Winner’s Row and all of the money they’ve won so far. Those at home will also get a chance to win a spot on the show by playing along via The Million Second Quiz‘s app or website. This at-home play will reward those who watch the show live, without succumbing to the urge to fast-forward: “Whilst the commercials are airing, you can be asked questions about the commercial content,” Telegdy explains.
Million Second Quiz will have one major advantage over other trivia games: topicality. Telegdy says that the show’s questioners will draw from stories occurring in real time as well as pop culture, history, and other general knowledge categories; comparable series, which tape weeks or months before being aired, don’t have that same luxury. The champions in Winner’s Row will also have access to media, and will be expected to stay informed in case of questions referring to current events in the outside world.
Additionally, Telegdy says that the game is designed to take advantage of the resources unique to a broadcast network — that is, NBC’s network of nearly 200 local affiliate stations. Every night on the primetime airing, newly selected contestants will be surprised on their doorsteps by their local affiliates’ local talent, who will inform the fresh meat that they’ve made it onto the show. “It makes virtue of what a broadcast network actually is,” Telegdy explains, “and that’s sort of why the show is so exciting to us.”
A series that makes use of affiliates, demands big web traffic, and practically forces engaged viewers to watch commercials? No wonder Million Second Quiz got picked up. Moreover, if the show is a success — “and that’s a big ‘if’ in any circumstances in broadcast these days,” cautions Telegdy — it’ll be easy for NBC to bring it back onto the schedule whenever the net has a hole to fill. “The structure is enclosed, so we could bring back a seasonal edition around Thanksgiving, Christmas,” Telegdy says. “We could bring it back in the new year, after the Olympics, before the Olympics, during the summer.” Million Second Quiz: Arbor Day Edition, anyone?