Tenball (ITV, 1995)
You will be familiar with snooker of course, but can’t it be dull sometimes? There isn’t much action. BBC1’s Big Break was an attempt at bringing snooker into a game show format, but Tenball would take it one step further with various changes to the rules, along with statements such as this will bring the game into the new millennium and everyone will soon be playing it down the pub instead of pool which will suddenly be rather boring by comparison.
Tenball (a cross between a sport show and a game show) was hosted by Phillip Schofield (yes, he was hosting every other programme on ITV even in the mid-90s) and it was a knockout tournament where eight professional snooker players including Steve Davis, Alex Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jimmy White competed against one another in best-of five matches in a futuristic-looking arena to become the first Tenball champion. There was even a VHS released featuring how to play and offering advice for anyone interested in having a go themselves.
Tenball had various different rules to snooker. Firstly, there was no yellow ball. Instead, there was the yellow and black Tenball which had a value of ten points and was placed on what would be the blue spot in snooker, with the 15 reds surrounding it in a diamond shape. The first colour that a player potted after their first red determined the points value of all other colours for that break, followed by potting the colours in sequence for their usual points value. This meant that if they went for the Tenball the maximum break was 200 (the highest score in the series was Peter Ebdon’s 122, although Ronnie O’Sullivan achieved the maximum in a practice match).
Other innovations included players being able to make their opening break in a pool style, there were cameras on the cues and in the pockets, and we were also told things including how fast a ball was hit. Also to try and help speed up the play there were changes including a ball having to hit at least one cushion in every shot and balls wouldn’t be returned to their previous position after a foul. This meant that there was more emphasis on potting and less opportunity for safety play.
The eventual series winner was Jimmy White (who beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final) who received the main prizes of a trophy and a cheque for £20,000. Steve Davis (who was among the divisors of the game) also appeared alongside Phillip to offer some analysis, and of course all of the players along with Phillip said that Tenball was a great idea that they were sure would catch on and would soon be played across the country by viewers who found this an exciting watch.
There was just one problem though, this didn’t happen at all. Tenball never returned for a second series on ITV, and some regions didn’t even show it, although mine (LWT) did, but by the end it was relegated to Saturday afternoons. Although it wasn’t a success, I do remember watching and thinking that this was an interesting idea, and there have been some snooker tournaments in more recent years that have tried to do something different, including having timed matches featuring a basketball-style shot clock to speed up play.