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Series: Pointless

A game show shown on BBC One, hosted by Alexander Armstrong (of The Armstrong and Miller Show), with Richard Osman as assistant. It has been broadcast since 24 August 2009.

The object of the game is to score as few points as possible by giving correct answers that the public have not given, or scoring lower than other contestants. The contestants try to look for answers which score no points, which are known as "Pointless" answers. It works like a reverse version of Family Fortunesnote  right down to asking the questions to 100 people: "We gave 100 people 100 seconds to name..."


This show provides examples of:

  • All or Nothing: This is softened by the fact that, unusually, all teams have two opportunities to reach the final. Played dead straight if they make the final round first time however.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: A deciding head-to-head question was types of penguin, with alternating letters missed out of the names given. Both pairs only knew one, "Emperor". The pair going first gave this answer. The pair going second randomly guessed "Macaroni" as a joke as it seemed to fit one of the other answers. Turns out Macaroni Penguins not only exist but, being more obscure, were enough to win the second pair the question and with it the game!
  • Animation Age Ghetto:invoked One suspects Richard's not a fan of it, considering how he often comments how much he enjoys animated films and they are often a good way to get a Pointless answer in film category questions.
  • Aside Glance: Richard, occasionally.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Contestants in the head-to-head who think their opponents have given a wrong answer will sometimes give a different answer to the same question. Unless you're absolutely certain you're right and you don't know any of the other answers, this is an unnecessary risk — best case, they were wrong and get 100 points, so any correct answer would have beaten them. Worst case, they were right and you've thrown away any chance of getting a better score. Once lampshaded on a celebrity edition by Jenny Seagrove.
  • Blatant Lies: According to Alexander, any time a contestant claims they are only on the show for the trophy. This was said in the context of a pair of finalists going for a record-equalling £20,250 jackpot, whose three answers (on the subject of Manic Street Preachers singles) scored 1, 1 and 2 respectively.
  • Bonus Round: 3 (later 5) categories, pick one, come up with three answers to the question in a minute. Any of them are Pointless, win the jackpot.
    • A new format was added in June 2013. Contestants are given four categories to select from, and are given 60 seconds to find a pointless answer by picking three answers from any or all of three subcategories. As before, a pointless answer wins the jackpot.
  • Born Unlucky: The show on 30th May 2012 had one pair who managed to talk themselves out of a winning answer every time they faced a question on the head-to-head, and they got through to it the day before as well, so four times in all. And then the pair that beat them the second time managed to talk themselves out of two pointless answers in the final.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Richard admonishing Alexander for "spoil[ing] the jeopardy" by giving away that Barbara Cartland was a correct answer before it was revealed.
    Richard: You know, "let's see if it's right, and if so, how many people said it", yeah?
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: The top three answers in the "Papal names" category, in ascending order: Paul, John, and John Paul.
  • BRIAN BLESSED: Guest on one of the celebrity specials (with his daughter Rosalind). And it was glorious.
    • Also suggested by an American-born contestant as a Blue Peter presenter.
    Richard: You knew it was wrong, but I think you did it so we could ask Alexander to do an impression of BRIAN BLESSED as a Blue Peter presenter. So I think that's a wonderful idea.
  • Call Back: Competitor Eric's answer "Sebastien Buemi" narrowly missed out on being Pointless when it turned out one person in the survey had given the same answer, prompting Alexander to quip that "I'm afraid Mrs Buemi was in our 100 people." Eric and Keith went on to enter the final, where they faced a question about Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and missed out on the jackpot — again by a single point. Quoth Keith: "Was that Mrs Chaucer?"
  • The Cameo: Johnny Robinson (from The X Factor) made one in the soap edition of Pointless Celebrities as part of a gag about The Other Darrin
  • Captain Obvious: Richard plays this sort of role in a self-aware and typically deadpan style when asked to explain a simple answer (perhaps taken to its extreme when the round was on "nationalities ending in -ian", and even worse when the round was on "countries that have no repeated letters").
  • Catch Phrase: Discussed in one episode when the question was about Game Show catchphrases:
    Alexander: We haven't got a catchphrase!
    Richard: You've got a catchphrase!
    Alexander: I say "Very good indeed!" rather awkwardly - a lot.
    Richard: I say "Well done if you got that at home!", that's like a catchphrase isn't it?
    Alexander: "As ever, when we say country, we're looking for a sovereign state recognised by the United Nations."
    Richard: One of my catchphrases... "Let's take a look at the pointless answers - Central African Republic!" That's a catchphrase.
    • They briefly tried out a call-and-response one (which got a Call Back in another episode when the contestants failed to name the sitcom Bread):
    Richard: Here's a Catch Phrase: 'That ain't bread, that's toast!'
    Alexander: "That ain't bread..."
    Richard: "That's toast!"
    • In addition to his Rules Spiel and the ones discussed above, Xander has "Let's see if it's right, and how many people said it"; "I'm afraid you didn't have that pointless [theme of round] knowledge", "he's my pointless friend, he's Richard", and many more.
    • And Richard has "We're looking for any feature film made for cinematic release in which [name of actor] is given an acting credit. No TV films, short films or documentaries - but voice credits do count", and "by country we mean a sovereign state and a member of the U.N in its own right."
  • Celebrity Edition: The amusingly named Pointless Celebrities.
  • Consolation Prize: The Pointless Trophy is yours regardless of your performance in the final round.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Comes into play when people can only win by getting a really low score, if not a pointless, so they pick an answer they've never heard of or outright make something up. Winning is spectacular, but it's much more likely you'll end up in the "200 Club".
    • A wonderful example: with the question being about British MPs named David, Nick or Ed (the names of the leaders of the three political parties), one contestant admitted she had no idea and picked an answer by taking one of the names and a colour. Her answer - Nick Brown - was Pointless.
    • Another contestant guessed that James Brown might have been an actor in The Dirty Dozen. Armstrong made fun of it, joking that the film could've done with a bit more funk... and then the column started going down! Jim Brown note  played a prisoner in the movie, and he was a pointless answer. This contestant had scored 100 with a correct answer in the previous round.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Alexander and Richard both.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: On the subject of Billie Piper;
    Richard: More famous as an actor now than a singer.
    Alexander: She's a very good actor, actually.
    Richard: Are you implying she wasn't a very good singer?
    Alexander: ...She's a very good actor.
  • Descended Creator: Richard Osman was the producer who originally pitched the show. He made such a good impression that Endemol UK decided to put him in front of the camera.
  • Dissimile: In a round on British Soap Award winners, in which the first five answers all scored 100 points.
    Alexander: This is just like...whatever the opposite of shooting fish in a barrel is...
  • Double Meaning Title: Besides the usual meaning of "Pointless", the idea is to get answers that are worth literally no points.
  • Dramatic Pause: Used between a contestant giving an answer and the column either starting to scroll down to the number of people who gave that answer, or flashing red with a fail-chord as they've given an incorrect answer.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first series had five pairs, and started with a demonstration of the game mechanics.
  • Epic Fail: Every now and again, a team will get two wrong answers in one round, thus "joining the 200 Club". If they manage this on both their appearances they "join the 400 Club" (especially if on both appearances they do so in the first round). The "600 Club" (which would be achieved by a 3rd 100 on the "two pairs get the same score" tiebreaker, on both appearances on the show) would be the theoretical apex of this trope, though no one has yet reached such heights of failure.
    • Best opening round ever. And two of those teams managed to get 100 on the next pass as well.
    • This was then surpassed in March 2012. The category was Robert Redford films, and only three of the 8 contestants had even heard of him. Seven Samurai and Prince of Persia were among the 4 incorrect suggestions in the first pass, which were followed by two wrong answers in the second and another in the tie break. To make matters worse, two of the surviving three pairs got wrong answers in the first pass in the second round, causing the hosts to need to remind the constestants that they actually were supposed to be aiming for low scores.
    • Zizagged in a series 11 round on winners of the Best Actor/Actress at the British Soap Awards, which was another extremely high scoring round, though more through incredibly bad luck than ignorance. The first five answers all scored 100, as did the 7th, but the 6th and 8th scored four. This made the round the first in the show's history where only two different scores were achieved. Unlike previous cases where the contestants have known nothing of the subject, every answer given was a prominent soap star who just happened not to have won the award. Perhaps deservedly, the round delivered the first ever pointless answer given in a tiebreak.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Whenever a French word or place name comes up in the round, Alexander always enjoys pronouncing it in a fluent but overly enthusiastic manner, sometimes slightly intimidating the contestants who have just said that word in their normal English accent.
  • Game Show Host: Alexander Armstrong
  • Genre Blindness: Sometimes affects contestants who are "safe" — someone's scored a higher total than they could possibly get — who will still opt for a high-scoring answer they're confident of rather than taking a risk-free punt and potentially raising the pot.
  • Genre Savvy: The Central African Republic was a pointless answer four times in the first series and again in one of the celebrity specials. Finally somebody thought to give it as an answer on the basis it had been pointless so many times before in a 2012 episode. This was capped in a 2013 episode, when the couple in the final round needed a third answer, threw in Central African Republic on the off chance — and it won them the jackpot.
  • Gesundheit:
    Richard: This is what I would like to be: I would like to be a Kittitian.note  Alexander: Bless you.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • An ornithological picture round had the hosts making all the 'tit' gags they could think of, ending with Richard saying, "Think we got away with that."
    • A midwife claiming that the female reproductive system would be a good subject for her, causing Alexander to pretend to admit that he'd been asking Richard for that for ages - only not phrased in exactly those terms, as Richard quickly pointed out.
    • In a round about famous people named Richard, Osman milked the opportunity to say his own name as often as he could. Alexander's reaction to the 14 Richards the contestants were getting was "That's a whole lot of Dicks..."
  • Hidden Depths: Richard will sometimes ask Alexander if he knows the answers after the contestants have had a go, and Alexander sometimes turns out to have unexpectedly detailed knowledge of some subjects (such as comic book heroes and villains).
    • He does have a degree in English literature, and so can normally cover any related round with ease. In general he's normally better at the rounds than most of the contestants.
  • Humiliation Conga: Alexander gets this when he reveals the word he'd thought of for the round of "Words ending in ...ind" was "befriend". Even one of the contestants inadvertently gets in on it.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: All involving working the title into phrases. Guaranteed to happen at least once per episode with Alexander always introducing Richard as "my pointless friend..."
  • Informed Attribute: Richard is very tall, but as he never gets up from his desk, all the jokes about it turn into this for the audience. Richard did get up from his desk twice during the 300th episode - once to present Alexander with a gift, the other to show and hand out cake to the audience.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Xander will often give a silent display of satisfaction after making a particularly lame pun.
    Alexander: Where are you from?
    Contestant: We're from Halesowen.
    Alexander: Ah, Halesowen. Where the Hale's Ow-angels come from.
    *celebrates with elaborate air-drumming routine*
  • Last-Second Word Swap:
    • Done gloriously by Richard in a Pointless Celebrities special which included Tony Blackburn, a past winner of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. As that show is known for making its contestants eat disgusting Australian 'bush tucker' as a challenge, Richard got some out, and said that any time a contestant got a question wrong and scored 100 points... "Xander has to eat some". Alexander's Double Take reaction has to be seen.
    • In a round of "Words ending in ...air", Alexander was about to describe an incorrect (but worthy) answer as being "unfair" before realising and succesfully switching it with "unjust".
  • Line-of-Sight Name: In one round where the contestants had to name authors, one man had no idea and went for "Richard Alexander".
  • Little Known Facts: In the more recent series Richard has taken to mixing some of these into the actual facts about answers he reads out at the end of the round. His deadpan delivery is such that if the joke is subtle enough, sometimes the audience can't tell if they're straight facts or or not.
  • Little "No": Alexander tends to do this when a contestant gets a question wrong.
  • Losing Horns: BZHOOOoooom
  • Lovely Assistant: Alexander's "pointless friend", Richard Osman; a rare male example in the world of game shows.
  • Milestone Celebration: For the 200th episode, they had four of the teams who had managed to score 200 in a single round (the maximum possible - two wrong answers) back for another go.
    • For the 300th episode, Richard actually got up from his desk to exchange gifts with Alexander.
    • The 500th episode in June 2013 brought back the 'best losers' from the entire series - those who made it to the final before but got the closest possible to winning, with a larger-than-usual jackpot up for grabs. The couple who made the final actually had the best record - one 2-point answer, and two 1-point answers - but missed out once again (6-1-3 in the final round).
  • Mission Control: Richard sits at a desk with a computer, giving detail on what answers they'll accept, explaining why wrong answers were wrong, etc. The computer is a prop, which was lampshaded when Alexander gave Richard a power cable for it in response to viewer complaints that it isn't plugged in.
  • Mundane Made Awesome:
    • Alexander announcing a tie in a 2011 episode in a hammy manner.
    • The dramatic chord that plays when contestants step up to the podium, as well as the manner in which the coveted Pointless trophy is introduced.
    • Similarily, the lights dimming and the set turning red in the Head-to-Head round.
    • Any time Richard makes a point of how many people have been requesting an upcoming round, how much fun it's going to be, how much he's looking forward to it... expect something utterly mundane like "types of trouser" or "varieties of lettuce".
    • Alexander's stock line preceding the head-to-head round: "And this is where things get even more exciting!!"
    • In one of the celebrity specials, Alexander announces the head-to-head as "the athletes versus the Chuckle Brothers!"
  • Narrating the Obvious: Reasonably often, done by both hosts for a joke.
    • Alexander generally makes a comment as the location of the red line that indicates the score a contestant has to beat in the second pass to guarantee their progress to the next round - if the line is nigh-indistinguishable from either the top or bottom of the score indicator (due to the contestant effectively needing only to get the question right or to get a pointless answer respectively), Alexander will note with knowing understatement that the red line is "quite high/low".
    • Richard gives an explanation as to what a given correct answer means, which sometimes, particularly in the Words category, is incredibly obvious, leading to this. He will however occasionally subvert it by giving a random definition, or one that makes fun of a contestant's ridiculous incorrect answer earlier in a round. Such subversions are guaranteed if a answer is legitimate and non-vulgar, but still inappropriate for extended discussion on a tea-time show - such as when the answer "jizz" was given (for 17 points) as a word ending in "zz".
  • Overly Long Gag: The hosts painting an exquisitely detailed picture of Sebastian Faulks settling down with a cup of tea to watch Pointless, seeing "Sebastian Faulks novels" come on, pausing the telly and calling his whole family in to watch it... only to see neither team able to think of a single one.
    Richard: Poor old Sebastian Faulks. Sitting at home, nice cup of tea, thinking, "Oh, I like Pointless..."
    Alexander: "Oh, I tell you what, I'll have a little bit of a break from my new - what is it, my seventh novel?"
    Richard: Eleventh novel!
    Alexander: "Eleventh novel - I'll just settle down and watch a little bit of Pointless..."
    Richard: Got the whole family sort of upstairs, doing things, and he says "Everyone! Everyone!" - presses pause - "They're doing me on Pointless! They're doing me on Pointless! They're gonna guess my novels! Wonder what they're going to say? Which of my novels do they like best, I wonder?" The whole family coming down the stairs - "What is it, Dad?"
    Alexander: "You're on Pointless? Quick! Dad's on Pointless!"
    Richard: All fifteen of the Faulks clan now, all sitting on sofas, he's just pressing unpause there, he's on live record - "Everyone, now, absolute quiet, sssh! Dim the lights! Pull the curtains, dim the lights, because there's a reflection on the screen!"
    Alexander: "Quickly! Ring everyone we know!"
    Richard: "There's a reflection on the screen! I can't see Tony! I can't see Tony's face when he's gonna say my novel!" And then... Look what you did!
  • Pants-Free: In the category "types of trouser", a beskirted female contestant complained that she was at a disadvantage, being the only one in the room not wearing trousers. Richard reassures her from behind his desk that he isn't, either.
    • This has turned into a bit of a Running Gag with the number of times he's mentioned it. Fortunately he has turned out to be wearing them on the rare occasions a shot is taken from far enough to one side to see.
  • Progressive Jackpot: £1000 is added to the jackpot every episode if it isn't won. £250 is added for every Pointless answer
  • Pungeon Master: Richard.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Richard and Alexander delivered one to both couples in the head-to-head after they failed to remember any Sebastian Faulks novels, asking them to imagine what he'd think if he was watching - see Overly Long Gag.
    • Richard will sometimes give shorter ones to the anonymous 100 people in the surveys, in particular when more of them know something obscure about a frivolous subject like celebrities or reality TV than know something obvious about an important subject such as who's in David Cameron's cabinet.
  • Retired Game Show Element: The S1 head-to-head structure (one category, pairs answer alternately until one or both go over 100 points) and the S3-5 "choose from a prepared list of answers" questions are dead and buried, as is the rarely-used style of question in which two linked categories were used in the same round, one on each pass.
  • Retool:
    • The show was revamped for HD broadcast in 2012, with a new set, a slightly changed colour scheme and some modifications to the question scheme: the first head-to-head question is now always a picture roundnote , the second is usually a "Clues to Facts about X" round, and the winning pair have a choice of five rather than three categories for the final.
    • A later revamp significantly cut down the "let's meet the contestants" bit at the beginning, scattering the introductions through the first round instead.
    • As of episode 501, the final round consists of four categories rather than five, but there are three separate questions within it. Contestants still need to give three answers within 60 seconds, one pointless, but can mix and match between the three categories. The only caveat is, unlike with earlier rounds, the question being answered needs to be specified. Fundamentally, this format-change allows the show to include questions for which there is only or two pointless answers (so as to avoid forcing contestants to give an incorrect answer, such questions were unusable before this).
  • Rickroll: "Things That Rick Astley Is 'Never Gonna' Do", with Richard playing the refrain of the song instead of reading off the answers.
  • Rule of Three: In full effect - three pages of pointless answers will be shown at the end of a round (assuming there are that many) along with the three highest scorers, the head-to-head is a best-of-three competition, and three answers must be given in the final round. Originally, there were three categories to choose from, but a further revamp added three questions to the categories.
  • Running Gag:
    • Richard Osman supposedly being related to The Osmonds.
    • The Central African Republic as an obscure answer for any question involving "Name a country that is X", invariably being Pointless. In a recent episode it actually scored 2 points and Richard joked that it was because they had been raising awareness for the country on Pointless for so long (the same thing happened in a series 8 episode with another oft-times pointless country, Vanuatu. Richard joked that he'd been given a month's holiday by the country's tourist board, which he enjoyed much more than that of CAR, which was in the middle of a civil war at the time). Such is its infamy on the show, that on the 300th episode Richard gave Alexander a framed picture of the country as a present.
    • Richard offering the opinion that Armstrong's comedy partner Ben Miller is the more talented of the pair, and that Mitchell and Webb are more talented than either of them, to which Armstrong, being the affable chap he is, will invariably meekly agree.
      • Reached new levels on 2 March 2013 Comic Relief special of Pointless Celebrities as Ben Miller himself appeared as a contestant.
    • After the contestants have been introduced and talked about their interests to Alexander, Richard claiming that the upcoming rounds are themed around one or more of the interests they have mentioned.
    • Richard claiming a particular round is exhilarating, intense, or much-requested - only for it to inevitably be something like "types of trouser" or "varieties of lettuce".
    • The show's catchphrases generally had become this by series 7, including the "That ain't bread! That's toast!" forced attempt at one. The definition of "country" (and by "country," we mean any sovereign state that's a member of the UN) has become a veritable Overused Running Gag, with Richard visibly sighing when Alexander points out that he forgot to say it.
    • Whenever a contestant mentions being interested in baking, Alexander and Richard will immediately assume that they've brought a cake and talk about how much they're looking forward to eating it. Actually happened in an episode in series 8 - the contestants were knocked out after the second round, and the promised cake was brought to them by one of the production staff at the end of the round.
    • In later series, Alexander and Richard deriding younger contestants for using "it's before my time" as an excuse for not knowing answers on a given subject (such as mid-20th century film or music), frequently pointing out reasons why this isn't acceptable (such as the music still being on sale). Richard told a 93-year-old contestant that he would have no excuse for saying this.
    • If a contestant says they're a civil servant, or is otherwise vague about their job, it will be suggested the contestant is actually a spy, which Xander and Richard think is the coolest job in the world.
    • Xander's mimes, particularly of eating.
  • Rules Spiel: Shortened after the first series, which included a demonstration of the answer bar decreasing to varying lengths after different answers, using examples from questions from the previous episode.
  • Schmuck Bait: Some of the wrong answers in the now-discontinued multiple choice rounds. Arguably, the very rare 100-point answers as well, since it should be obvious they're obvious (so to speak).
  • The Scottish Trope:
    • Discussed and spoofed in one episode, in which Richard said that he couldn't understand the big deal about Macbeth. He proceeded to say it repeatedly, against the warnings of Alexander about all the heavy machinery above their heads, whereupon the studio lights were briefly cut.
    • A 2013 episode has a round where the answers are all Shakespeare plays, including Macbeth. Richard and Alexander discuss whether a TV studio is sufficiently un-theatre-like for it to be safe to say, and Alexander glances nervously at the studio lights, but nothing happens — except that Richard announces that his computer (by now well-known to be a non-functional prop) has mysteriously started working.
  • Shout-Out: While eating a cake brought in by one of the contestants in an episode of series 8, both hosts delivered compliments in the style of The Great British Bake Off, quoting catchphrases of the hosts of that show as they did so.
  • Shrouded in Myth / Memetic Badass: Alexander has taken to introducing Richard in this way, similar to the Stig from Top Gear, emphasising his credentials in obscure knowledge.
    Alexander: He is our lantern in the twilit world of the half-known and the barely-remembered - he's my Pointless friend, he's Richard. Richard: Did you say "toilet world"?
  • Small Reference Pools: The format depends on the Small Reference Pools of its "hundred people"; the winners are the contestants who most successfully defy the trope. Frequently discussed, as Richard and/or Xander express surprise at how high an obscure answer, or how low a stupendously obvious one, scores.
  • Studio Audience
  • Take That:
    • Regarding the pointless astronomical phenomenon of "protostars":
    Richard: They're huge gas balls that haven't yet become a fully fledged star. Alexander: Like some of the people on Britain's Got Talent, you mean?
    • Richard actually apologised to the contestants when the category was "Rolf Harris top 40 singles".
    • Alexander once introduced Richard as "the only man who spends more time thinking about pointless things than the cast of The Only Way Is Essex".
  • Title Drop: They have a lot of fun with it. "You've won our Pointless trophy", "Let's see if you can win our Pointless jackpot", "You won't be surprised to hear there are a lot of Pointless Madonna movies/Cliff Richard songs/[insert category here]", etc.
  • Unobtainium: Once invoked as an answer to "Elements whose name begins with their chemical symbol". In the jackpot round... as the contestants' most confident answer. Ooops.
  • Verbal Tic: "Lovely low score", "Great contestants", "Wow!" (Alexander Armstrong).
  • Witty Banter: Like Countdown, the presence of a co-host gives the presenter someone to riff off, keeping up the energy of the Filler segments. Unlike Countdown (or most shows utilising Witty Banter, for that matter) the people involved are genuinely witty.
  • X Makes Anything Cool: Richard calling Alexander "Xander".
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