Either/Or (UK Play, 1999-2000)
UK Play was a great music and comedy digital channel that tried out a lot of things. Among the original programming were a few game shows. Two were Pop Upstairs Downstairs with Mark And Lard, and Mental with Iain Lee, which were fairly straightforward. But the third was something entirely different, it was like nothing else that there has been in the genre, real nightmare fuel.
Either/Or was hosted by comedian Simon “bid again, Simon” Munnery, who was best-known at the time for his anarchist character Alan Parker Urban Warrior, who appeared on various TV shows including the revival of Saturday Live, and the BBC Radio 1 series Alan Parker’s 29 Minutes Of Truth. Munnery also performed as the self-styled “The League Against Tedium”, made a sketch show for UK Play called FuturTV.
It’s fair to say that his comedy style is at the more surreal/weird end of the scale, he has worked with Lee And Herring, and he made a very late-night BBC2 sketch show called Attention Scum, which also featured Johnny Vegas and The Actor Kevin Eldon in the cast. It’s not really easy to explain the format of Either/Or, as this was almost closer to performance art than a traditional game show, but here goes.
This was essentially a game about quick decision making. Munnery had a rather distinctive look, including a big hat. He also had a sword-type thing that had a camera in it, so we saw rather a lot of his face in an extreme close-up (this also meant that the majority of the show was in black-and-white). To make things even more strange, there was a female opera singer accompanied by a pianist, who would perform songs about the situation in the game.
The contestants who took part numbered 14 to 20 (no “more contestants than viewers” jokes). They all wore a robe with a hood which had a number on it. They would be asked a question that had two options (such as “either Rioja… or Jarvis Cocker”). When “You Must Decide” appeared on the screen, they had to hold up a card that represented the “either” or “or” option, and this was done a few times.
If Munnery didn’t like their answer, felt that they couldn’t justify their answer after asking them about it, or just plain didn’t like the look of them, they would be asked to remove their hood, and then he would take the camera and shove it right in their humiliated face, so we got an extreme close-up of them instead. And you thought The Weakest Link was harsh.
After a few more questions, whoever still had their hood up could leave the game and retain their anonymity. This would get to a point where there would usually be only two contestants remaining. The one left out of them would be made famous. You would think that this would be a great prize, but they soon realise that fame isn’t all it’s made out to be.
The show would end with a sequence featuring their picture on mock newspaper front pages and other things, their name would appear on the screen, and the singer would sit next to them and perform a song about how terrible they are, so they discover that success has made them the “loser” all along. Either/Or was a baffling, unsettling, unique show, bending TV like little else that I’ve seen, but also amusing and creative.