Quiz Show Underground: Time Shock

What does The Chairman do when he’s not The Chairman? He oversees a revived quiz show, of course.

If you had to pick what was the most exciting minute in TV game shows, what would you choose? I’d imagine most people age would say the Winner’s Circle.  90’s kids might go for the Obstacle Course while older folks may go for a Speed Round.  They’re all good answers, but I have a suggestion that may actually be in a class by itself because “TV’s most exciting minute” is basically the premise of the entire show: Quiz Time Shock

Beginning in 1969, the show’s premise was very simple: Contestants choose one of 10 sets of questions.  They are then asked one question every five seconds for one minute.  Whoever can answer the most correctly wins and gets to come back and defend their title.  Sounds easy, right? Well, aside from the occasional tricky question and the ticking clock, you are also strapped into a chair elevated about 3-5 meters off the ground in the middle of a light clock that not only tells your time, but also your score.  It’s a hell of a thing, and easily the most memorable part about the show, but it gets better.  While you got money for each question you got right, you had to get at least four in order to avoid the humiliation of being spun down to earth in your chair.  Anyone who got all 12 of their questions right won a prize package worth ¥1,000,000 and retired.  If there was a tie for top score (among players who didn’t get all 12) an inventive tiebreaker called “Take A Chance” was played.  All tied players were given the same question and had the choice to lock in an answer.  If you were wrong, you needed the other player(s) to be wrong to continue.  Not answering was better than being wrong, but not as good as being right.  The last person standing in this Janken-like substance won top honors.

In a way, the tiebreaker highlights the best part of QTS: the questions.  You wouldn’t think you could do a lot in 5 seconds, but many questions are curveballs or require lateral thinking or just good memory. (My favorite QTS question is “What question number is this?” How many shows can do that and have it be difficult.) The staff behind QTS are the best in the business and I have yet to see a quiz show anywhere on Earth that rivals the question-writing of Time Shock.

This fun yet exciting waste of a half hour lasted for 888 episodes, earning as high as a 29% TV rating (i.e. 29% of households were watching it) before signing off in 1986.  In 1989, a revival was attempted using basically the same game, but with added tension.  Some of the question packs in each game had one or even two “Shock Points.”  If you got a question with a Shock Point wrong, your game ended instantly and you won no money, regardless of your score.  There were also smoke machines and strobes and Lord knows how many children you would traumatize.  This version only lasted 22 weeks, but the next attempt would provide arguably the most notable version of all.

CM for Time Shock 21

Screencap from a CM for Time Shock 21

Free from the original Iron Chef and having recently voiced the bad guy for Pokemon: The Movie 2000, Takeshi Kaga was tapped to play the Time Keeper (personal translation of “Tokei no Bannin“) the new and drastically revamped Time Shock 21.  Initially, teams of five would compete against each other admist a post-futurist backdrop for their shot at the mad minute by playing three very different elimination rounds.  First was “Opening Time Shock” where each member of the team got asked two questions over the course of one minute.  Round 2 was “Visual Time Shock,” an orgy of Year 2000 CG graphics and brain teasers, that really weren’t time- or shock-related. Round 3 saw the two remaining teams get a minute each to try and guess the Top 10 of a given list in “Data Time Shock”.  The surviving team sent their captain into the chair for up to ¥10,000,000 like every other Big Money Show of the era.  The major twist, however, was that you needed 6 right answers to be safe from harm.  Any less, you were subjected to the Tornado Spin, a gyroscopic whirlwind that sent you spiraling downward to defeat.  Sadly, while Kaga continued to chew scenery as Chairman Pluto the Time Keeper, the show continuously tinkered with its format (as evidence, here’s part of episode 29), eventually reverting to a high-stakes version of the original QTS. Each week, individual contestants would battle it out for up to ¥1,000,000 and a chance to return the next week.  On TS21’s final episode in 2002, the two co-champions had the chance to earn ¥10,000,000 if they survived a murderer’s row of quiz brains and past winners, not to mention the mind-bending questions.

Luckily, the show lives on in specials where 2 dozen talento and geinojin try and be the last person standing (and the last person not spun).  TS21‘s hosts (Hideyuki Nakayama & Chiharu Niiyama) as well as its in-house expert (Machiru Kitano) made the jump to the celebrity version, as did the Tornado Spin.  Mr. Kaga, however, has moved on to bigger and better things.  The original series seems hard if not impossible to find on the internet, but you can find plenty of the rest, including the ’89 revival (apparently fans of Ultra Quiz contestants), TS21 (here’s the first and last episodes), and various specials can be found on English and Chinese youtubes, but more on that later :3