NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, June 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a new British series inspired by the real life scandal that rocked the popular game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Pop quiz, what could be more entertaining than a farce, a mystery, and a morality play all rolled into one?
CLIP: The higher up you go, the more you can earn, but the more you can lose. People love it. But the networks don’t. That’s why they all turned it down the first time. Fusty old game show. It’s not a game show, it’s a quiz. That’s the joy of it. People love a good pop quiz. A uniquely British invention by combining our two greatest loves, drinking and being right.
In 2001, we had the internet, but no Google. The search for online information was slow and cumbersome. A tailor made environment for a trivia-based game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
That show, and a scandal involving one of its winners, is the real-life inspiration for AMC’s new drama, Quiz.
We learn how the monster hit came into being. How it crossed the Atlantic to win huge ratings on ABC. But mostly we learn how a dedicated community of “quizzers” grew up around the program.
CLIP: How long was this relationship? It’s not a relationship. It was contact with someone who was just a fan of the show. And I know you might think stupid or boring or silly, but I don’t care. It’s not illegal is it? We just liked something a lot for a bit, that’s all.
There’s something sweetly human about the fringe community who find connection through their mutual obsession with the show. Eventually though, shared fandom takes a less sporting turn as the quizzers figure out how to game the system.
This allows Diana Ingram, her brother, and finally, her husband, Army Major Charles Ingram, to maneuver themselves into the winners’ circle.
It’s the unlikeliest sort of crime syndicate. If, that is, it’s a crime at all.
As feckless Charles stumbles and second-guesses himself to the biggest prize, Millionaire’s producers start to smell a rat. They rewatch the tape of Charles’s performance and suspect the subtle coughs from the audience are really signals.
CLIP: What about the police? The police? Is this a police… Well it’s not not. It’s theft. It’s a million. If this was a bank vault or a diamond store and Hatton Gardens there’d be helicopters by now, roadblocks. All I’m saying is is it a crime to cheat on game show. Well, well it’s. Stop saying well Lionel. I’m from legal, it’s my job to say well.
It’s at this point that Quiz becomes something more than an amusing legal mystery. Charles’s big winning episode is the original viral video. The public watches and rewatches the tape. Specially edited by the producers to amplify the coughs and Charles’s odd behavior, it seems to point to his guilt.
Everyone thinks they know what they saw. Everyone has an opinion. Those opinions lead to dark turns in the story. People who’ve never met the Ingrams feel justified in meting out mob justice, harassing their children, shooting their dog, and spitting on Charles as he takes his daily walk.
Truth, of course, is always truth, but human beings aren’t the perfect arbiters of it that God is. Perception can be deceiving. A reflection of the vicious public debates we seem to have every few months about viral videos these days, the second two episodes review events from other angles with broader context.
The Ingrams’ lawyer ably shows that other interpretations of events are also reasonable.
CLIP: Another of my favorite facts, given that that’s what this trial is all about, right answers, wrong answers, knowledge, truth. Is that, when we are remembering something, we’re not actually recalling the original event. What we’re doing, is we are remembering the last time we remembered it. So we are constantly wiping our pasts and editing together a new one.
More than just interpretation, though, the lawyer highlights how quickly we render judgment and form ranks against those whose background, personality, and behavior doesn’t align with our own.
CLIP: Have you ever heard of this little thing called confirmation bias? When an assumption signals into the brain, it rearranges and re-organizes all facts to support the assumption. Like on the show, relay, people suspicious of a man from a strange family talking together, something’s weird, on a loop, he’s a real dodgy one, I think this guy’s cheating as well. Now might that not have created a shared fiction?
This engaging story about a million dollar tempest in a teapot makes us question the difference between pursuing justice and pursuing the appearance of justice. Quiz illustrates how we can wreck lives when we care more about appeasing an opinionated public than finding facts.
But I don’t want to give the impression that Quiz is a hectoring morality tale. With sharp, satirical performances, it entertains as much as it educates. Though there is a fair amount of language.
In the end it has no easy answers about the Ingrams and whether justice was done in their case. But it leaves us in no doubt about how one piece of video, expanded, edited, or taken from different angles, can impact our impressions and how careful we should be before we rush to judgment and punishment.