A game show that promotes itself as featuring “geniuses” that may be too smart for its own good, 500 Questions is a seven-night ABC “event.” The set-up is what you’d guess from the title. A contestant has to answer 500 questions, from a variety of categories, to accumulate big money. Get three wrong answers in a row and you’re out.
Like just about every game show since the advent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, 500 Questions is staged on a dimly-lit set, with a few red spotlights for color. You can barely make out the studio audience, and a few times I thought host Richard Quest was going to trip over a black step as he flitted about the stage.
Quest is a British news personality who’s probably best known in America as a CNN Business correspondent. He has a braying voice and an energetic manner that works well as a news personality. As a game show host, though, he comes across a little hectoring and pushy — not so much in regards to the contestants, but in hyping the show we’re already watching. “All our contestants are certified geniuses!” he bellows. “Let’s meet our first genius!” “If this isn’t genius, I don’t know what is!” Alright already, we get it. “Genius” on this show can be ascribed to a neuroscientist who is “a published author and visiting scholar at Harvard.” That guy seemed like a nice enough fellow, but Quest’s bloviating intro made me want to coo derisively, “Ooooh, fancy that, now — a published author, are we?”
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The show, executive produced by Mark Burnett and spread over one or two hours a night depending on when you watch, is ultimately exhausting rather than what a game show needs to be, which is mildly exhilarating. Within the simple set-up there are all sorts of unnecessary diversions — a “Top 10 Battle,” in which you have to guess five of 10 questions correctly; or a “Triple Threat,” in which $1,000 will be handed over if you get all three questions in a row correct.
I’m not sure how much genius you need to be able to identify the actress who starred in both Grease 2 and Scarface, or what the name of Adam and Eve’s third child was (hint: the answer to one of those questions is “Seth”) — but I’m also not sure you’ll want to hang around to hear the answers. The long, slow slog toward answering 100 questions correctly sets up a viewer for sorely tested delayed gratification. And here in the U-S-of-A, Richard, we want to see a winner every half-hour, as on Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune. Who wants to watch the Survivor version of a game show?
500 Questions airs at 8 p.m. on ABC.