This Simon Cowell-produced gameshow was inspired by the real story of Ashley Revell, a British man who sold everything he owned to gamble the resulting $135,000 on the spin of a roulette wheel in Las Vegas back in 2004. Red Or Black? taps into that story's simplicity, as 100,000 contestants are whittled down over the course of 10 simple games with a 50/50 outcome.
Beginning in a huge arena for a pre-recorded stunt (e.g. daredevil bikers jumping through a gap of decreasing size), or outside on location (e.g. a giant bungee-catapult stunt next to Battersea Power Station), thousands are eventually reduced to a handful of people who get to appear live in the studio, playing more intimate games with a "red or black" outcome. Eventually, one lucky person remains and gets to spin an enormous roulette wheel, watching a clattering white ball decides if they walk away with a cool £1 million... or nothing.
There's no denying this all makes for exciting TV, but one ingredient's been overlooked by Cowell's creative team: unlike in Ashley Revell's true story, there's no actual gambling involved. Every contestant has literally nothing to lose. So there are no stakes. No cash is rewarded over the course of the 10 games, so it's quite simply a case of blind luck. Gameshows like Deal Or No Deal? may get flak for "dumbing down" the gameshow genre, but Deal at least plays into people's sense of judgement and greed. In Red Or Black? there's literally nothing to lose, but everything to gain.
It's still fun and entertaining, of course, partly because it all costs £15 million to stage (making it the world's most expensive gameshow), and is therefore a definite spectacle. But considering how episode 1 already saw the jackpot won by bricklayer Nathan Hageman, has it peaked too early? How interesting will it be to see people choose "red" or "black" at random, guessing their way through various games to become a lucky millionaire, or leave empty-handed? I'm not sure.
Right now, Red Or Black? is a finely-tuned extravaganza that makes for perfect "event television" for the late-summer: likable Ant & Dec are the hosts, the stunts/games are entertaining and unusual, there's some X Factor/Britain's Got Talent cross-promotion (David Hasselhoff and Louis Walsh appeared), it has live music (X Factor superstar Leona Lewis), and nobody can deny that final roulette wheel spin isn't a masterclass of televised tension. Watching a white ball clatter around, occasionally sitting in a losing colour, before being spun clear to find a home in the winning colour, had my fingernails buried deep in my sofa.
Red Or Black? continues most evenings till next Saturday (a similar schedule to how Channel 4 serve up their own big-money gameshow Million Pound Drop), so they could possibly create seven millionaires over its run. Or, more likely, three or four. Who knows? It's random! It's luck! It's coin tosses in multi-million pound clothing. Despite all that, I really enjoyed it and I'll be watching more, but I also can't help thinking it's a mistake to have ditched the gambling component. If each contestant was winning money per game, eventually ending up with something like £50,000 and the chance to risk it all for £1,000,000, wouldn't that be more exciting? Or would it be too unlikely anyone would ever gamble £50,000 in this economic climate?