Is It A Crime In Britain To Cheat On A Game Show? New AMC's Miniseries Has An Answer

Jun 1, 2020
Originally published on June 1, 2020 6:00 pm
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The true tale of how an unassuming British couple allegedly cheated England's most popular TV game show is the story of "Quiz." It's a three-part miniseries now airing on AMC. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's also a story of how an unsuspecting TV titan was outfoxed by a pack of passionate fans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: One of the most surprising scenes in "Quiz" depicts producers and the TV network behind Britain's super-popular game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" unable to answer a simple question. Is it a crime in Britain to cheat on a game show? Here's the scene as the head of the network asked that question of the network's lawyer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "QUIZ")

PAUL BAZELY: (As Lionel) Well, it's not not.

RISTEARD COOPER: (As David Liddiment) It's theft. It's a million pounds. If this was a bank vault or a diamond store in Hatton Gardens, there'd be helicopters by now.

JASMYN BANKS: (As Nicola Howson) All I'm saying is, is it a crime to cheat on a game show?

BAZELY: (As Lionel) Well, it's - it's, well...

COOPER: (As David Liddiment) Stop saying well, Lionel.

BAZELY: (As Lionel) I'm from legal. It's my job to say, well.

DEGGANS: That's the spirit that makes "Quiz," a British miniseries directed by Stephen Frears, such a sly delight. It's a wry, sometimes poignant look at how one of TV's most popular game shows may have allowed itself to get hacked. These days, contestants sign extensive contracts. But if AMC's "Quiz" is to be believed, back in 2001 when contestant Charles Ingram unexpectedly won 1 million pounds on the show, producers hadn't even contemplated that contestants might help each other or worse. Just before Ingram competed, the show's executives worried the contestants all looked homogenous. They weren't wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "QUIZ")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It's like they know each other, and they're somehow sort of helping each other.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Is that against the rules?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It's against the spirit of the rules.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) They're getting on, and they're getting bolder. Now, we think it almost feels like something's coming.

DEGGANS: What was coming was a trial in which British Army Maj. Charles Ingram and his wife Diana, along with another contestant, were charged with using a system of coughs to cheat on the show. U.S. fans may remember the American version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" as a blockbuster hit that saved ABC in 1999. But "Quiz" shows that the creators of the British show originally had a tough time pitching it to networks, who worried it was a...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "QUIZ")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Fusty old game show.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) It's not a game show. It's a quiz. That's the joy of it. People love a good pub quiz - a uniquely British invention combining our two greatest loves, drinking and being right.

DEGGANS: They ditch the dopey original name, Cash Mountain, crafting a format where contestants are asked increasingly difficult multiple-choice questions to reach a 1-million-pound grand prize. "Succession" co-star Matthew Macfadyen is perfect as Charles Ingram, a well-meaning but kind of dimwitted guy, whose wife Diana, played by "Fleabag" co-star Sian Clifford, was the real trivia nut of the family. Colluding with a network of supporters, Diana teaches Charles how to get on the show and then coughs strategically to signal the correct answers, including on this question about a British pop star.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "QUIZ")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Craig David.

SIAN CLIFFORD: (As Diana Ingram, coughing)

MATTHEW MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) You know, when I'm at home and I'm practicing, I guess wrong 80% of the time.

(LAUGHTER)

MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) So I think I'm going to go with Craig David.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Charles, you never heard of him a moment ago.

MACFADYEN: (As Charles Ingram) No, Craig David; I'm going to...

DEGGANS: "Quiz" does a masterful job showing how the producer's naivete and fan's passion combine to create a situation with no easy answers. Viewers of "Quiz" will have a grand time coming up with their own responses. And that's my final answer.

I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.