December 21st, 2010
10:15 AM ET
I was really hoping for the best when I tuned in to Monday's premiere of Fox's latest venture into the big-money quiz show genre, "Million Dollar Money Drop." What I got was a game that shows promise, but crumbles due to issues with question writing and presentation.
On the show, teams of two begin each game with $1 million in cash. The teams then risk that money by placing the cash on trap doors that correspond to up to four possible answers for each question. If they put any money on a wrong answer, the cash goes down a chute and is out of play. Teams can put money on multiple answers, but one trap door must be left free of cash.
The questions featured on "Money Drop" range from straight trivia to queries based on surveys. The writing and fact-checking of these questions was not as rigid as I hoped, due in part to a question that cost the first couple featured on last night's show $800,000 of their $880,000 bank.
The question asked whether the Macintosh computer, Sony Walkman or Post-it Notes were sold in stores first. The couple placed $800,000 on Post-its and $80,000 on the Walkman. The show said that the Walkman was correct, as it debuted in 1979, while Post-its first appeared on store shelves in 1980 (the Macintosh debuted in 1984).
But wait one second. This 1984 article from PEOPLE notes that Post-its were test-marketed in four cities in 1977 under the name "Press & Peel." The official Facebook page for Post-its also notes the 1977 introduction, as did inventor Art Fry in a Financial Times interview. At the very least, the question was poorly written - adding the word "nationally" would have solved some headaches.
Update, 12/22 5:16 p.m.: "Money Drop's" executive producer, Jeff Apploff, said in a statement that the show stands by the aforementioned questions:“The integrity of the questions and answers on our show are our No. 1 priority. In this case, our research team spoke directly with 3M, and they confirmed that although they had given out free samples in test markets in 1977 and 1978, it wasn’t until 1980 that Post-Its were sold in stores. 'Million Dollar Money Drop' stands behind the answer that was revealed on the show."
But aside from the question conundrum, the show also falls into the traps prevalent on several big-money game shows of the last 10 years: over-caffeinated contestants straight out of central casting, game-play that moves at a snail's pace, funky lighting and sound effects and awkward segues into commercials. A decent game can be found on "Money Drop," but you have to be patient and tolerant to find it.
"Money Drop" should also take a page from its British counterpart and broadcast the show live, or at least employ same-day tape. "Money Drop" executive producer Jeff Apploff said earlier this month that going live wasn't really an option, "given the numerous time zones." To me, that's a poor excuse. I don't hear viewers in California complaining that "American Idol" or "Dancing with the Stars" isn't live for them, and both shows are ratings winners. The live element would make the show, flaws notwithstanding, worthy of water cooler conversation the next day, and a perfect example of expecting the unexpected.
On the positive side, Kevin Pollak held his own as host. He understood that there are times to step away from the scene and let the contestants be the star, and he kept his comedic side to a minimum, which is appropriate given how tense the game can be.
Overall, "Million Dollar Money Drop" is, at the very least, DVR-worthy. For the show to continue, it needs to get to work at fixing its most serious flaws.
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