TV shows have recently (in the UK at any rate) hit on this 'get rich quick' scheme. At the end of a show they ask a question with three alternative answers, multiple choice sort of thing. Viewers who know the answer phone the special telephone number printed on screen, listen to some gubbins from the host of the show and then key in, with their touch-tone phones, their desired answer. A 'computer' 'randomly selects' a winner, who receives a holiday, or a TV, or some quantity of cash (you know, standard game show fare).
All very fine and good - lots of winners. No real losers.
The devil, though, is in the detail - and some really dubious assumptions (correct, too, depressingly) about human nature. It costs about a pound to phone up. If one thousand people phone up, and presumably many many more than that do, the prize is instantly paid for. A quantity of what's left over will go to the phone company. The rest, though, is pure profit!
And, considering how many people must watch television these days, even the really awful mid-morning stuff (long live Richard and Judy, and all that), that's a great deal of profit. I wouldn't mind betting that Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (the irony of that title amuses me greatly - the answer, in the song, is 'I don't' because human love is worth far more... ho hum) funds itself, almost entirely, on the people ringing up to get on to the show. That leaves all the advertising, pretty much, for pay cheques and profit.
And human nature? Well - in order to fund whatever it is that the venture is supposed to be funding, people must phone up. The questions, then, must not be too hard or people, simply, won't. In fact, and this is the beginning of the dubiousness, the easier the question, the more we're likely to phone. Surely, the easier and easier the question, the more and more apparent the scam must be? Well yes - unfortunately, though, we phone in anyway. We must do - as the questions, and the phone numbers keep coming. Maybe we like competing, regardless of the difficulty? Maybe we assume, in our own egotistical little ways, that we're the only ones watching - we have to win? Maybe, whilst watching shows like This Morning (with Richard and Judy), our sense of worth has been so eroded that we think that answering 'What was Popeye's girlfriend called? - a) Margarine b) Lard or c) Olive Oil' is all we're good for.
When shows which are vastly low budget, or rather too cynical for their own good, get hold of this idea, though, the results are occasionally hugely amusing. I remember in Win, Lose or Draw, Danny Baker having to draw something (like a famous landmark (he'd tell you that much, too)), and then suggesting the alternatives. 'Is it The Eiffel Tower, The Taj Mahal or The River Danube?' (invariably The Eiffel Tower, I seem to remember). And he managed to fill the alternatives with so much scorn as to be almost side-splitting. 'I'll give you an extra clue when you ring, just in case you can't manage to get it,' he would guffaw. Who phones when they don't know the answer?!! (The marvellous Janet Ellis, one of the regulars on the show (which was like Pictionary) actually screamed out at one point, as if in mental anguish, 'It's too hard! Make it easier!' Fabulous.)
One of the Easter shows on Channel 4 though, managed to ridicule it totally a few day ago... 'The Easter Bunny is famous for bringing a)famine b)pestilence or c)chocolate eggs?' I nearly fell off the sofa. Of course, if you're a hardened cynic, you may be tempted to say all three, eventually...
I notice that this has been soft-linked to the notorious learn how to spell node... I've looked: I can't find the mistake. Someone tell me...!