Letters and Numbers

There's a humble new gameshow in town, with no-fuss puzzles based on a French format with a long history, and a consolation prize of a Dictionary.

From today there are now two game shows on televison produced by Shine Australia: Minute to Win It on Seven and Letters and Numbers on SBS ONE.

On one show there’s $1m up for grabs, an arena with a mammoth lighting rig, a pumped up audience, cheering contestants, computer graphics and a cheeky, youthful host. On the other the wrinkly host is seated behind a desk, no audience, a bloke with a dictionary, a girl manually shuffling letters on tiles and a consolation prize of a Dictionary.

The two could not be more further apart.

But despite the apparent appeal of Minute to Win It‘s “Egg Roll” and “Noodling Around” it is Letters and Numbers that has a long history on international television.

Veteran presenter Richard Morecroft, who hosts the show for SBS, isn’t shy in asking for viewer support.

“It’s a format that has been a global phenomenon, airing in countries around the world including France in the 1960s and the UK since the 80’s. And of course, we’re hoping the show will be just as popular here,” he says.

It contrasts markedly from Darren McMullen’s confident style that would have you believe Minute to Win It is an instant hit.

Aiding Morecroft is research mathematician, Lily Serna.

“It’s certainly a long way away from computational fluid dynamics, but I’m really excited about having some fun with numbers,” she says. Riiiiiiight.

Poring over the Dictionary to verify answers is Cruciverbalist (a glorified name for a crossword enthusiast) David Astle.

Each episode has two contestants. The first night included an art enthusiast who is also part of a knitting group.

As the title would suggest, the gameplay is divided into two games. The “Letters” round sees contestants request a number of consonants and vowels, randomly selected by Lily manually onto a large board. While Adriana Xenides gave letter spinning her own brand of glamour on Wheel of Fortune, Lily isn’t given any of the bells and whistles (or gowns either), but she’s cheerful at this very perfunctory task. I couldn’t help but wonder if having a female given such a manual job was still necessary in this era, but presumably somebody has to prove the letters are chosen fairly.

The contestants have 30 seconds to come up with the longest word they can think of while Astle checks the accuracy and meaning from his very large book.

For the “Numbers” round contestants choose a group of numbers from Lily (as either large or small numbers: 100, 75, 2, 9, 5, 7). Then they are given another “target number” which is the sum total of the numbers via multiplying and adding -they just have to figure out the right path in 30 seconds to score more points. This was a tricky challenge but in explaining the answer, Lily’s skills come to the fore. She’s a bit of a wiz in adding and subtracting in no time at all.

The final round is worth extra points as a way of throwing a wildcard into the outcome.

This is an unapologetically humble show and in a 6pm timeslot it is likely to have a small, devoted legion of fans. I can see a lot of older viewers warming to its logic challenges. As Morecroft reminded us, it has decades under its belt in France as Des chiffres et des lettres and in the UK as Countdown.

The interactive element for playing at home is simple -I beat the contestants twice- but then I’m not under the pressure of TV lights and cameras.

If you enjoy alternative game shows on public broadcasters (ie. The Einstein Factor) this should appeal.

Letters and Numbers airs 6pm weeknights on SBS ONE.

21 Responses

  1. Having rechecked my earlier statement of finding a full monty, I find that I have made one big bloomer. Sincere apologies to the staff and contestants on that night. Am now standing in the corner with egg on my face, feeling I am now letters and numbers numero uno dillus maximus!!! Richard.

  2. I was at this yesterday as a contestant, rather not say how I went, but honestly its very different playing under the lights than it is sitting in the ‘audience’ and playing along.

    In my defence I was up against a maths teacher.

    Its Ep 54 to air in October

  3. saw bits of the show tonight, it was good but not sure it’s really a good fit for SBS. Seems to me to be more of an ABC1 or ABC2 type show. But it is strangely addictive even if I haven’t got a chance in figuring out the puzzles I found myself still trying.

    Being a Victorian, it was probably the first time I’d seen Richard Morecroft on the TV since he hosted Behind The News back in the ’80s!

  4. I watched this tonight and really enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I have fond memories of the UK version (countdown) from way back in 1982 when it was the very first programme to air on channel 4, and its still going strong. I recorded it tonight, but even with the pause button held for a lot longer than 30 secs I still couldn’t beat the contestants words. I hope it does really well for SBS as its a great format

  5. I really enjoyed the first ep tonight.

    It was a little clunky in parts, mainly the spontaneous comments from Morecroft, but Lily Serna was excellent and David Astle was surprisingly good.

    The constant ‘i’ll have a consonant please, Lily’ gets tiresome and could probably be edited out but that aside it’s a pretty nice, entertaining if humble game show.

    Looking forward to watching it again tomorrow night.

  6. Does SBS pay that well known Australian independent producer Shine a format fee? I want to know. I’m sure Shine really need the money and the opportunity. Hosted by that well known new Australian, Richard Morecroft. And SBS want more funding. What for? To pay Elisabeth Murdoch, no less, more format fees? What is anyone in management thinking? Are they thinking? Maybe they need new management?

  7. I like watching Countdown – it’s oddly compelling despite, or maybe because of, its glacial pace – but it’s not a show SBS should be doing. Would it be too much for them to spend their money on the multicultural programs they’re actually meant to produce, rather than knock-offs of British quiz shows and an endless stream of Mythbusters episodes?

  8. i do generally watch the news at 6pm on other networks, but i will give this show a go. It looks promising.

    Only if the ABC would put back The Einstein Facotr, and Nine with Temptation, and i’ll be happy

  9. this show is an icon in the UK, its very popular amongst the blue rinse brigade, I have fond memories of watching it as a kid growing up in the UK. Will definately check this out tonight

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