TV reality is really fiction. Ain’t no such thing as wingin’ it before the cameras anymore. Case in point:
The Secrets of a TV Quiz Question Writer
by Siobhon Smith
Q: How do you write questions for some of TV’s hardest quizzes?
A: Ask Jo Dean.
For 20 years she has been a question writer on TV quiz shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, The Weakest Link and – her current job – Eggheads.
She got into the business of question-setting after taking part in a pilot for a new quiz show – as a contestant.
Dean was approached by the producer who – impressed with her knowledge – suggested she try her hand writing some questions for the series.
A day in the life of a question writer
In her current job on BBC Two’s long-running Eggheads, Dean explains that one writer will aim to write around one show per week, which amounts to 70 questions.
“I try to focus on a category a day, so I’ll think, right, I’m researching history today,” she says.
“I find sports is really challenging and we have a guy in the question team who is really strong on sport, so he might swap me for arts and books.
“So you can write to your strengths. I’m a big fan of musicals so, for me, those questions are really easy. And I need to remember that a lot of people don’t like musicals!”
Shows like ITV’s The Chase have nearer to 200 questions per show, and a team of around 20 writers.
Dean estimates they are more likely to have a daily quota of around 30 questions.
How hard is too hard?
Questions go through several processes before they are approved to be used on any quiz show.
“Gauging the level is difficult,” explains Dean. “It’s quite subjective depending on an individual person’s knowledge.
“But over time, you get a feel for what people tend to know. You’ll realise people are better at countries in Europe than countries in South America, generally.
“With music, for example, you might think something is really obvious – a pop question from the ’80s. But you get a 70 year old and they haven’t got a clue, but they might love a classical music question….”