‘Quiz’ – Coughing and cheating and winning big money
An upcoming miniseries revisits a game-show scandal that rocked British television in 2001 on AMC.
“Quiz,” a three-part series airing consecutive Sundays beginning May 31, dramatizes the story of Charles and Diana Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen, “Succession,” and Sian Clifford, “Fleabag”), a British army major and his wife, who with accomplice Tecwen Whitlock (Michael Jibson, “Les Miserables”) were accused of cheating their way to a million pound grand prize on the U.K. version of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
The series delves into the creation of the show on the network ITV, its subsequent popularity and the community of viewers that formed to devise ways to game the show’s system. Many of them had been contestants prior to Charles’ appearance, including Diana and her brother, which raised suspicions among some who worked on the show, but not with host Chris Tarrant (Michael Sheen, “Masters of Sex”).
Even more suspicious were the coughs from the studio audience that appeared to signal the correct answer to the multiple choice questions. Whether that actually affected the outcomes, the show makes unclear. But what is clear, says James Ingram, who wrote the script for the series, is that the intention to outsmart the system was there.
“What was exciting about researching this story,” he says, “was that it goes way beyond the characters that you might be familiar with, the Ingrams and Chris Tarrant and the creator. I discovered a whole network of obsessed ‘Quiz’ fans who tried to and successfully hacked into the show.
“It’s like the hole in the Death Star that Luke Skywalker found,” he continues, “and it was the most valuable asset the network had, and there were these fundamental weaknesses that meant a certain network of very well-to-do, middle-class dweebs were allowed to find vulnerabilities into it and get their people on the show. And some of the things that we discovered in making it in the past few months has never come to light, and we’re going to be revealing in the show about quite how successful they were in penetrating ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ ”
At the heart of it was Charles Ingram, whose wild vacillations in answering questions initially had Tarrant wondering how an idiot managed to get on the show. But as Ingram advanced, the host realized he underestimated the man in the hot seat.
“You can see that Tarrant starts to have a newfound respect for this man,” Sheen says, “So it was interesting to see how his relationship to the person in front of him (evolved), who he says, ‘It was just fascinating to be that close to this guy who was sort of the most … extraordinary contestant we have ever had.’ So that was really interesting doing all that.”