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Series / Fifteen to One

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A quiz show that aired on Britain's Channel 4 for (fittingly) 15 years, from 1988 to 2003. Fifteen contestants started out with three lives each, and getting a question wrong lost a life. The idea was basically to be the last one standing. (Oh, and if you actually made it to the final round, attain a high enough score to get on the Finals Board and hopefully qualify for the Grand Final.)

That was it, really. But it worked.

The rounds were as follows:

  • Round 1: Each of the 15 contestants were asked two questions. Getting one wrong lost a life, but getting both wrong automatically eliminated you.
  • Round 2: A contestant was asked a question. If they got it wrong they lost a life, but if they got it right they nominated whoever they wanted to answer the next question. If that person got it wrong the nominator got to choose somebody else, but if they got it right they took control. If a player lost all three lives, they were eliminated. This kept going until there were only three people left.
  • Round 3 (also known as The Final): The remaining three players were given one point for every life they had left and were restored to three lives. The round had a maximum of 40 questions. A wrong answer cost one life (losing three lives eliminated you, regardless of your score), while correct answers scored 10 points. The questions were played on the buzzers until one player gave three correct answers. After that, the player had a choice to take the next question themselves or nominate someone else to take it. Taking a question and giving a wrong answer put the game back on the buzzer, while nominating someone else and them giving a right answer would give them control. The last player left, or the one with the highest score after the 40 questions were exhausted, was the winner; in the first case, that player could keep answering questions at 10 points a pop until they either lost all their lives or went through all the questions. In either case, the winner received 10 bonus points for every life they had left to determine their position on the Finals Board. (After the first few series, this round was played entirely on the buzzer during the Grand Final.)

Hosted by William G. Stewart during its original run, then revived for a special celebrity episode in 2013 hosted by Adam Hills. This in turn led to a revival of the regular series, which ran from 2014 to 2019 and was hosted by Sandi Toksvig.

This show provides examples of:

  • And Your Reward Is Clothes: Throughout the show's run, the only major prize in each series went to the winner of the Grand Final: a classical artefact such as a vase from ancient Greece (Stewart era), or £40,000 cash (Toskvig era). Individual episode winners got nothing (Stewart) or a trophy (Toksvig), and a special trophy was given out to the player at the top of the Finals Board going into the Grand Final.
  • The Announcer: Anthony Hyde originally. Laura Calland (Stewart's wife) took over the position in 1989; later on, she alternated in the position with Philip Lowrie, with Sarah Wynter as an occasional substitute. Calland would also appear in-vision to present the prizes in the Grand Final.
  • Author Filibuster: Stewart once quipped that should the first round ever eliminate twelve people, he'd fill the time that would otherwise have been used for the second round by speaking about the Elgin Marbles. In 1996, he got the chance to use the programme as a device to deliver an hour-long lecture, complete with fifteen replicas of the Marbles at the podia in the place of contestants (although this resulted in Channel 4 getting slapped down by the Independent Television Commission, the precursor to Ofcom, as the speech — which made the case for the Marbles to be returned to Greece — was not impartial and no alternative point of view was offered).
  • Catchphrase: As seen here, almost every episode would adhere to the same terse script. Hence almost every segment has recurring phrases.
    • Fifteen people "are all here to play Fifteen to One."
    • "Twelve down, three to go."
    • "You'll need to see this as well as hear it."
    • "Accurately, and in full please ..."
    • "The three surviving contestants in today's Fifteen to One final are..."
    • "Question or nominate?"
  • Celebrity Edition: Two were done during the original run, in 1990 and 1992 respectively. A one-off special in 2013 led to more celebrity specials and the revival of the civilian series.
  • Closing Credits: Despite taking up 30 seconds of screen time (at first; by the final series, the usual sequence lasted about 5 seconds), they didn't say very much. The usual credits sequence, in its entirety: "Fifteen To One, Developed by Regent Productions from a format by John M. Lewis, Produced by William G. Stewart, Directed by (director's name)."
  • Credits Pushback: Subverted. While the credits were never squeezed down, from about 1994 on, whichever announcer was on duty whenever the program ended would promote a program over the closing music, normally Countdown (which followed Fifteen to One for all of the latter's run).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: If you came up against such prominent players as Daphne Fowler, Michael Penrice, or Nick Terry, there wasn't much hope for you. When Fowler and Bill McKaig got 432 and 433, respectively, Stewart invited the other two players in both games to come back another time as a result of this.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Lots...
    • Voiceovers were originally handled by Anthony Hyde, with Laura Calland taking over towards the end of 1989.
    • Stewart wasn't even introduced by the announcer until the second series; after Hyde announced the players, Stewart simply walked on and started the show.
    • Everyone started with 0 points at the start of Round 3; ties on the finals board were decided by a rather complicated system that was phased out by the start of 1989 in favor of the usual point for every life left over at the end of Round 2.
    • A unique sound effect was used for when someone got past 30 points, as opposed to the series of dings used later on.
    • Once only one player was left in Round 3, they had the option to simply take 10 points for each life left instead of facing more questions; this only lasted through the first series.
    • Various stylistic elements were played around with: for example, for the fourth series in late 1989, the studio used a bright orange background as opposed to the usual blue (although the lighting did change to a darker blue for Round 3).
    • Round 3 in the Grand Final was played the normal way for the first few series, not settling into the usual "everything on the buzzer" format until series 8 in 1991.
  • Epic Fail: Possible in both Round 1 and 3.
    • While it never happened, the result of Round 1 sometimes teetered close to making Round 2 completely worthless. The worst ever result at the end of Round 1 was 11 down, 4 to go, which still left a lot of time to fill at the end of the show.
    • On the other end of the programme, the time a contestant won Round 3 with a score of 10 (as his opponents had knocked themselves out). He declined the invitation winners normally got to come back in the next series.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode:
    • "15 to 1 for Schools" in the summer of 1999, featuring not only a different contestant structure (three teams of five) but also a vastly different round structure (points mattered throughout the whole game, and lives only mattered in the last round).
    • The "Millennium Quiz" special on Christmas Day 1999 invited back 25 past contestants to compete in a four-round contest. As in the Schools edition, scores determined who advanced or dropped, and lives were only used once the field had been narrowed to three for the final. The winner received a silver trophy.
  • Game Show Host: William G. Stewart throughout the original run. For the revival, Adam Hills for celebrity specials and Sandi Toksvig for normal episodes.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: Played with. Originally, as long as you won your episode (or lost with a high score), you could come back for the next series, whether or not you made the Grand Final. Around 2001, Grand Final winners stopped being invited back.
  • Home Game: There were several tie-in quiz books. Making a conventional home game would have been a bit difficult, what with the whole "15 players" bit.
  • Home Participation Sweepstakes: For most of the later series, viewers were invited in the first programmes of each series to send in postcards with what they thought would be the top and bottom scores on the Finals Board. At the end of the series, five of the correct answers were chosen to receive £50 of book tokens.
  • Intro Dump:
    • The opening sequence lists all 15 contestants, along with their hometowns and occupations.
    • Also, the intro to Round 3, which typically described the three remaining players' hobbies.
  • Losing Horns: Type A, played with throughout the run. Originally, anyone who lost their lives in Round 3 was played off with a bar of synthesized music that didn't quite resemble the main theme. Later on, everyone eliminated in Round 1 was played off at the same time with a sting that had previously been used going into the break, with Round 3 losers being played off in the same way.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Mostly called for in unique, or at the most occasional, situations.
    • The celebrity specials in the original run stopped anyone from being eliminated in Round 1 to accommodate the longer running time; instead, players who got both their questions wrong started off Round 2 with 1 life.
    • The change to "everything on the buzzer" for the Grand Final, instituted after the regular format led to players nominating each other to get everyone to lose their lives.
    • A further Grand Final change in the revival opened up questions that a player got wrong to the others to answer.
    • A more permanent change: From about 2000 on, in Round 2, players who just got control were no longer allowed to nominate the player that just nominated them unless they nominated someone else first.
  • Rearrange the Song: The electronic theme tune was changed to an orchestral version of sorts towards the end of 2000.
    • Done to a further extent for the revival, which kept only a small portion of the original theme.
  • Rules Spiel: One for each round, with slightly different variations depending on William G. Stewart's mood that day.
    • Round 1: "Two questions each in the first round; one correct answer from you to survive."
    • Round 2: "[Player], you face the first question. Give me a wrong answer and we go to [next player]; give me a right answer and we can start nominating."
    • Round 3: "3 correct answers opens the game up, then after that it's "Question or Nominate."" In the early series with the "Round 2 lives earn 1 point each" system, this was preceded with an explanation along the lines of "your lives from Round 2 now form part of your final score."
  • Serious Business: The show was possibly the toughest, most pressure-packed quiz on television.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: William G Stewart always wore a selection of suits during the original series. Many of the male contestants likewise wore suits. Less evident in the revival.
  • Shown Their Work: Stewart is a keen classicist, setting many of the questions in this area himself.
  • Studio Audience: There originally was one, but it was abolished after the first few series after they whispered answers too many times (or alternately, when their snores started showing up in the broadcast). Canned applause was used for most of the show's run.
  • Un-Cancelled: In The New '10s, first for a one off celebrity special with Adam Hills as host, followed by a full 20 show series in 2014 with Sandi Toksvig hosting (with additional celebrity specials with Hills also being shown throughout the year).
  • Unperson: One contestant in the last Grand Final of 2000 was edited out for legal reasons, leaving a rather noticeable gap in the episode.
    • In the late series of the original run, anyone who was eliminated in Round 1 didn't get to stay on stage for Round 2; instead, Stewart said "those [however many players lost their lives] must now leave us," with said players then shuffling past those who hadn't been eliminated.


Video Example(s):


Fifteen to One

The 15 contestants, their occupation, their hometown, a mention of the returning contestant, and the series leaderboard. Need anymore?

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / Introdump

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