King Of The Castle (ITV, 2001)
This is a short-lived daytime game show that I don’t remember watching that much at the time, but I feel that it is worth featuring here because almost two decades on, there are some significant things about it. Firstly, it was only shown in the Carlton region when there was much more regional programming on ITV, and it was half-an-hour long. It definitely seems that the era of half-an-hour game shows is now just about over.
But secondly, the show was rather ahead of its time and an indicator of how game shows would develop over the next few years. King Of The Castle was hosted by Alistair Stewart, best known as a presenter on ITN in the 80s and 90s, before joining Carlton’s main news programme London Tonight. This is the only game show that he has hosted to date, and as we’ll see, he didn’t really get a chance to develop his own style.
And also, there was rather droning background music almost continually throughout the show, plus lots of gloomy lighting, a gimmick in those days, but again just about the norm for game shows now. Nine contestants take part (“nine in a line…”, oh, wrong show). General knowledge questions are asked on the buzzer. Get it right, and you go through to the main game. Get it wrong though, and you are frozen out of the next question. Seven contestants qualify, the remaining two are politely told to clear off.
In the first round proper, the contestants are placed into the pyramid which is the centrepiece of the show. The pyramid has levels of seven, five, three, and one, and thanks to some tricky they appear on TV screens, which makes their movement around the board much easier. More questions are asked, and the contestants have the option to move up one level, or take an opponent down by one. Again, they are frozen out by wrong answers.
At the end of this, the two contestants on the lowest level are eliminated. This leads Alistair to say something like “you just weren’t ruthless enough”. Even though it had only launched a few months earlier, The Weakest Link had caused a stir, as for just about the first time on a game show contestants were criticised by the host for their wrong answers and tactics. It seems to be such a blatant copy here though, does it really work?
The next round is similar, this time featuring the one-on-one challenge, the top row is now in play, and again two contestants are eliminated. When three contestants remain, one more round is played, this time with a time limit. Whoever is top at this stage is declared King Of The Castle and progresses to the final. However, this does mean that there is the possible scenario of someone who has been on top just about all the way through being replaced at the last move and missing out, which does seem rather unfair.
The final is the rather straightforward money chase, work your way up the pyramid again with eight correct answers in 60 seconds to win the star prize of £1,000. Alistair then ends with “you’re King Of The Castle. At least, until our next show…”. At least he didn’t wink and didn’t say “goodbye”. There was only one series of King Of The Castle, maybe it could’ve done a little better with some more original ideas, and the “look this is very serious” tone could grate, but it was still a worthwhile try.