Come on down for more TV trash

Click to follow
COMING TO your television screens next month: a new Saturday night show that promises to combine the undignified public spectacle of The Generation Game with a little raw greed from The Price Is Right - along with, of course, a spade-full of the saccharine emotion of Surprise! Surprise!

The show, called Moment of Truth, has been developed by London Weekend Television from the format of a Japanese show called, rather mysteriously, Happy Family Plan, and will be hosted by Cilla Black.

In the popular, year-old Japanese version of the programme, the (always male) head of a family is invited to master a completely new, silly skill in a few days.

He must then perform it faultlessly in front of his family, the studio and TV audiences. If the demonstration goes well, the family is awarded a large cash prize. If not, they are shown the door.

Perhaps the cruellest element of the game is that the children involved are actually allowed to handle the prizes that may, or may not, ultimately be snatched away.

The British show will work along the same lines, but with Cilla taking the place of the Japanese male and female dual hosts. A prize of pounds 20,000 will be on offer each week.

LWT is anxious to stress that the format has been modified at Miss Black's insistence. The humiliation of leaving the studio entirely empty-handed, surrounded by wailing children, has been jettisoned.

"When we were first thinking about doing this programme, Cilla was concerned that we should introduce some sort of consolation prize," an LWT spokeswoman said. Miss Black, 55, who also hosts Blind Date and Surprise! Surprise!, is paid pounds 2m a year.

"So now we make sure that we find out, through our researchers, what the children of the family are really interested in and then we find them a gift that will make them feel a little better if they do lose."

Nevertheless, critics of exploitative television feel the show marks a new low in the bid for big Saturday night ratings.

"We really do need to make sure that the watchdogs' and producers' codes are strengthened on this one," said the Rev Graham Stevens, president of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association.

"How awful if someone went on to this programme for a bit of fun and in the end not only lost pounds 20,000 but also felt a failure. Especially in the case of a family without much money, you can imagine how it might well damage relationships.

"It is all a question of whether contestants know what they are letting themselves in for," said Mr Stevens.

One occasional viewer of the Japanese show, Junko Hanna, who works in Tokyo as the entertainment editor of a section of the national newspaper, The Daily Yomiuri, said that while Happy Family Plan has quickly become popular throughout the country, it is also widely regarded as tawdry.

"People do seem to think that the show relies to a large extent on greed," she said.

Voyeurism also plays its part in the Japanese version, as viewers are given a chance to peek inside contestants' homes - Through the Keyhole- style - as their efforts to learn a new skill are chronicled. "You get to see the whole process. They are given hand-held cameras and at the end, of course, the whole family is rooting for them," said Miss Hanna.

Moment of Truth is one of the main planks of LWT's new schedule, but it is accompanied by several more experimental attempts at new game-show formulas. John Leslie, formerly of Blue Peter, will host a one-off pilot show called Give Your Mate a Break, in which a guest nominates a talented friend who will take a shot at the big time. It is a kind of crossbreed of Jim'll Fix It and Michael Barrymore's My Kind of People.

ITV also has Red Handed waiting in the wings, a Jeremy Beadle-inspired show in which members of the public play pranks on friends. The BBC has also attempted to spark interest in a one-off pilot called Truth or Consequences, a kind of son-of-Confessions, the recently axed BBC show which was hosted by Simon Mayo. The newer show is hosted by another DJ, Simon Penk, and his guests were each invited to tell the truth on a variety of different subjects, or pay an embarrassing forfeit.

The current rush to find new prime-time game show formats is the result of falling viewer interest in such stalwart shows such as Noel's House Party and Blind Date. In their heydey, they could be relied on to draw in high viewing figures.

Moment of Truth starts on 5 September at 7pm.

Closet Blind Date fans, Culture, page 3