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Series / The Chair

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What do you get when you take a person, a chair, a pit that probably represents Hell, and someone who's practically The Devil himself (well, in the world of tennis anyway)? You get this short-lived ABC Game Show hosted by tennis analyst and former player John McEnroe, who was best known for several infamous on-court confrontations during major tournaments. The show was in fact a Kiwi creation for Touchdown Television (now Eyeworks Touchdown) by Julie Christie, Darryl McEwen and Brian Bigg.

Contestants were asked a variety of questions while seated in the titular chair (which was elevated above a giant pit they entered the studio from), going up a money ladder of seven questions which added to the player's bank (which began at $5,000 and could go up to $250,000). However, contestants were analyzed prior to the show to gauge their reaction to sudden events, and to establish their resting heart rate. If a contestant's heart rate went a certain percentage over their resting heart rate at any time after a question was read (starting at 60% or 70% above, referred to in-game as "redlining"), the contestant would start losing money for every second they were over the threshold. The contestant was not allowed to answer the question until their heart rate decreased again, and the game ended immediately if the bank fell all the way to zero. (Redlining between questions or while a question was being read carried no penalty.)


The redline penalty increased from one question to the next, starting at $100 per second and increasing to $1,000, and the threshold was lowered by 5% of the contestant's resting heart rate after every question. Two "Heartstopper" rounds were also played in between questions; the player had to endure a random event of Nightmare Fuel for 15 seconds, such as a fake alligator lowered from the ceiling or McEnroe serving tennis balls at them, while still subject to the redlining rule. If the player was over their threshold after time expired, their bank would still decrease until their heart slowed again.

The show wasn't a hit, and it had to compete with FOX's even more diabolical The Chamber. Neither lasted long, but The Chair was objectively considered to the better (and safer) of the two.

Not to be confused with The Chair (2014).


This show provides examples of:

  • All or Nothing: Any contestant who redlined all their money away, missed any of the first three questions, or missed a question (or violated the "Countermeasure" rule for a third time) without using the Stabilizer (see below) left with nothing.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Alright, it is game time!"
    • "You may (not) answer the question."
    • "You've been beaten by the Chair."
  • Cool Chair: The titular Chair is in fact pretty cool looking, actually.
  • Deadly Game: In the vein of one, but not quite that deadly.
  • Epic Fail: Happened at both ends of the game. One player made it through six questions with a bank of nearly $125,000, then redlined it all away on the last question. Another redlined as soon as McEnroe finished asking the first question, never got their heart rate down, and went broke in 50 seconds.
    • In the Russian adaptation, Pavel Artemyev managed to correctly answer every single question, but still walked away with nothing since his heartrate went above the redline and stayed there for seven minutes during the final question.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: The player's heartbeat and the beep-beep sounds of the monitor were heard throughout their game.
  • Large Ham: John McEnroe, especially when announcing correct answers.
  • Lifelines:
    • The Stabilizer, earned after the third question, could be used after any correct answer from that point on. It allowed a player to set a checkpoint at whatever total they had earned, guaranteeing that they would keep that amount if they missed a question later on. However if they redlined their bank below this checkpoint, said checkpoint would also go down to match. In the British version, the player must stabilize after question five if they had not done so at that point.
    • After the fourth question, a player could give back the $25,000 they earned on it and keep their redline heart rate unchanged for the next question. Very rarely (if ever) used.
    • In the French version, once during the game, the player could seek help from the person they had brought with (dubbed the "Joker") with the question and/or to calm down and avoid redlining.
    • Also in the 2004 French version and the Austrian version, if the player had redlined for at least 10 seconds, they could press a red button placed next to them for a "break" of 30 (or 20 seconds, respectively) to attempt to reduce their heart rate as relaxing music played.
  • Non Standard Game Over / Obvious Rule Patch: The "Countermeasure" rule required the contestant to stay alert (keep their eyes open) during their entire game. If at any time they closed their eyes or performed some other task in an attempt to lower their heart rate, the host would give a warning. If the player received a third warning or suffered a medical issue, they would be disqualified but could still leave with their stabilized amount (if any). In the Korean version, this rule only applied to Heartstoppers.
  • Speed Round: In some international versions, usually for the first Heartstopper only, the player would have 45 seconds to answer as many open-ended questions as they could. Each correct answer added 1 back to their heart rate threshold.
    • The original New Zealand version used this variation in at least the first episode. Another variation existed: the contestant must answer 7 questions in 60 seconds on a chosen category from the three shown on the screen. Each correct answer would earn them money; each wrong answer would take away money only from their stabilized amount.
  • The Stoic: Invoked by the show's very premise, which forced the contestants to stay as calm as possible.
    • Not So Stoic: Also invoked, as contestants could drop the calm act as soon as their game ended. At least one contestant managed to win the top prize, and immediately went from stoic to ecstatic.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent:
    • A very faithful British adaptation ran on BBC One from 31 August to 9 November 2002, hosted by McEnroe (as surely anyone who's played Wimbledon would be well-known there. Paul Hendy did the unaired Pilot) and with a top prize of £50,000.
    • The Turkish version, which aired on Kanal D in 2002, was hosted by Osmantan Erkir and had a top prize of 250 billion Turkish liras (later 100 billion liras).
    • The Spanish version, which aired on Telemadrid in 2002, was hosted by Constantino Romero and had a top prize of €100,000.
    • The original New Zealand version, which aired on TV 2 in 2002, was hosted by ex-Rugby league player Matthew Ridge and had a top prize of NZ$50,000.
    • The French version, which ran on TF1 and JET from 2003 to 2005, was hosted by Jean-Pierre Foucault and had a top prize of €15,000 (later €30,000). Titled Zone Rouge (Red Zone), this version featured even more types of questions, including True/False, guessing what their "Joker" was miming and recalling lyrics to a given song.
    • The Austrian version emphasized the game's Hell aspect through the title: The Chair - Nimm Platz in der Hölle (Take a Seat in Hell). It ran in June 2003 on ATV, was hosted by Oliver Stamm and had a top prize of €25,000.
  • Who Wants to Be "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?": Aired by the same network as Millionaire and had a considerably lower cash prize, but still has a money ladder, lifelines, a scary and glitzy set, and debuted during the "renaissance" of primetime game shows that it had influenced. Unlike Millionaire, however, The Chair used a variety of different question styles instead of just multiple-choice, including observation, lists and timelines.