'The Million Second Quiz' Looks to Make Mark on TV, Game-Show Landscape

With a set that's become part of the New York skyline, the Ryan Seacrest-hosted reality program hopes its live, interactive format will attract audiences.
Ryan Seacrest on the set of "The Million Second Quiz"

Beginning Monday night, a giant hourglass-shaped structure on the far west side of Manhattan will be the site of NBC's 10-night trivia contest, The Million Second Quiz, hosted by Ryan Seacrest.

The set, which sits atop a former Mercedes-Benz dealership that the production has turned into its headquarters, is as ambitious as the show, which runs over 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds -- or 1 million seconds. That it was constructed in New York, rather than Los Angeles or another TV-friendly city, seemed only fitting, according to executive producer David A. Hurwitz. "If you're going to do something on this scale, come to New York," he told The Hollywood Reporter of the live show. "The game that never stops in the city that never sleeps." 

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In fact, MSQ's primetime set is part of the New York City skyline now, something Hurwitz said they definitely want to take advantage of, even using a blimp to get aerial shots during the live show. And in a bid for greater interactivity, the structure will be uncovered, leaving contestants and the audience exposed to the elements. (There's a contingency plan in the event of extreme weather conditions, say producers.) All of it is designed to draw viewers to a genre that's struggled to launch a new hit -- save for  The Voice -- in several years. "I hope this…moves the ball in terms of the way that game shows are done," noted Seacrest. "It's certainly a hybrid of a sport and game, and our hope is that this is something that's innovative and pushes the envelope a little bit."

The primetime hour, which NBC is counting on to help jumpstart the network's new fall season, will consist of three contests. In the first round, the person currently sitting in the "money chair," where the person who's played the game the best will try to stay for as long as possible racking up cash, will compete against someone from the audience. Whoever wins that round will then face off against a "line jumper," someone producers will have selected during the previous night's show, who has played the game the best online and was brought to New York to compete in primetime. The third competition is something the show is calling the "winner's defense," in which the second-round champion will face off against the person from Winners' Row who's played the game the best over the previous 24 hours with the winner taking the other person's money and staying in the money chair. The four contestants who play the game the best will also live on the set in what the show has dubbed "Winners' Row."

In keeping with MSQ's interactive approach, viewers will be able to check in on the contestants on Winners' Row via a live stream on NBC.com. Within the 23 non-televised hours of the day, the competition will continue among the contestants living on Winners' Row, people who go to the New York set to take part in the game and people playing online or via the show's app. During the primetime hour, people will be able to play in sync with the show, with their mobile devices able to listen to what's on television. The series will run through Sept. 19, when the four people left on Winners' Row will turn what they earned in the money chair into hard cash, up to $10 million, and take part in a final competition for at least $2 million more.

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"What's exciting about the show now is that it works in 2013. There's been enough trial and error going on with different shows and different digital components where that medium is now developed to work in conjunction with television," Hurwitz added of the show's interactive nature, noting that the "event" element is similarly crucial: "The fact that it is live makes it more of a must-see event because you want to see who's on Winners' Row tonight or in the winner's defense. To draw on the sport analogy, the only thing people are running to the TV for based on the numbers is Sunday Night Football, the Super Bowl, the playoffs…So if we could drive everybody to the primetime hour, then that makes it more exciting."

NBCUniversal is also using its various divisions, including news, sports, theme parks and cable networks to promote the show. Ads for other NBCUniversal properties have included tie-ins to the show and content from Comcast channels will be fodder for questions.

For Seacrest, all of the elements made the series worth fitting into his busy schedule, which includes primetime projects on three of the four major broadcast networks. "You look at the scale of what this show is and if you think about the fact that a quiz show has not been done live since like the 1960s," he says, "and I thought about the fact that in a matter of ten days somebody can really change their lives, it felt like something I wanted to get in front of."