Pointless is a British television quiz show produced by Endemol Shine UK for the BBC. It is hosted by Alexander Armstrong with assistance from Richard Osman. In each episode four teams of two contestants attempt to find correct but obscure answers to four rounds of general knowledge questions, with the winning team eligible to compete for the show's cash jackpot. All questions used on the show are factual in nature, and are asked of a panel of 100 individuals in a pre-conducted public survey. Contestants seek to find correct answers that were given by as few of the survey subjects as possible ("points"); each round is won by the team with the fewest points. "Pointless" answers, given by nobody, score zero points, the best score. Every pointless answer given during the main game increases the jackpot by £250, and one such answer must be given in the final round in order to win it.
|Also known as||Pointless Celebrities|
|Directed by||Nick Harris|
Richard van't Riet
Stuart McDonald (celebrity)
|Presented by||Alexander Armstrong|
|Theme music composer||Marc Sylvan|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||22 (regular) |
|No. of episodes||1193 (regular as of 15 October 2019) |
197 (celebrity as of 1 June 2019)
|Executive producer(s)||Pam Cavannagh (BBC)|
Tom Blakeson and David Flynn (both Brighter Pictures then Remarkable Television)
Ed de Burgh
|Production location(s)||Television Centre |
Elstree Studios (2013–)
|Camera setup||Multiple-camera setup|
|Running time||45 minutes (regular)|
50 minutes (celebrity)
|Production company(s)||Brighter Pictures (2009)|
Remarkable Television (2010–)
|Distributor||Endemol Shine UK|
|Original network||BBC Two (2009–11)|
BBC One (2011–)
|Picture format||576i (16:9 SDTV)|
|Original release||24 August 2009 –|
Although it originally debuted on BBC Two on 24 August 2009, its success in its first three series led the BBC to broadcast it on BBC One from 2011, though on occasions when the channel is to feature live broadcasts of major news and sporting events, the programme is transferred to BBC Two. As of August 2019 the programme had been shown for 21 series and has had peak audience figures of over 7 million viewers. A celebrity version entitled Pointless Celebrities was first shown in 2011, and as of August 2019 had reached series 11. The format has been exported internationally.
The object of the game is for contestants to provide answers that are not only correct but also as obscure as possible, with each game consisting of teams of two contestants. In its early days the programme featured five teams at the start of each edition, but this was later reduced to four. Prior to each show, 100 people are given 100 seconds to provide as many answers as they can to a series of general knowledge questions as part of a pre-conducted online survey, and in each round, contestants are asked these same questions. These questions are set into categories, with the contestants given rules regarding what they are searching for in terms of answers, more importantly what answers will be accepted for the question given. If the answer is correct, the team scores one point for each participant that gave it during the survey; if none of the surveyed participants gave an answer listed for the question and a contestant gives it, the team scores zero points for providing a "pointless" answer. If the answer is incorrect, the team scores the maximum of 100 points. After a question is done, a list of answers that are pointless are given, along with the high-scoring answers given in the survey, usually the top three.
The format of the show starts with two elimination rounds, in which teams must achieve as low a score as possible. The team with the highest score in each round is eliminated from the game. If two teams are tied for the highest score in either of these rounds, a sudden-death "lockdown" round is played between the two, with the higher-scoring team losing. In the next round, the two surviving teams compete against each other ("the head-to-head") to find the lowest-scoring answer in a series of questions. The winning team moves on to the final round.
Teams eliminated while making their first appearance who have reached no further than the head-to-head are eligible to appear again in the next consecutive game; teams that have appeared twice or reached the final round cannot return (with the exception of the teams that appeared in the 1000th episode). The team that reaches the final round is awarded a trophy to keep. They must then supply three responses to a question with many correct answers (e.g., name films directed by a specified director or name a song by a specified singer). If any of the answers is pointless, they win the jackpot as it stands for that game; otherwise, the money rolls over to the next show.
The cash jackpot begins at £1,000 at the start of its run. Except in the final round, every pointless answer given adds £250 to the cash jackpot. If the jackpot is not won at the end of a game, the amount (including any increases from pointless answers) is rolled over to the next game and increased by £1,000, offering returning and new contestants a chance of winning a bigger cash prize. As of August 2019 the highest recorded jackpot won on the show was £24,750 on 8 March 2013. Once the jackpot is won, the amount is reset to £1,000. For the celebrity version, the jackpot is set at £2,500, and increases by £250 for each pointless answer found, while special editions have the jackpot set at £5,000, and increased by £500 for each pointless answer found; in neither version does the jackpot roll over to another show.
During an elimination round, teams aim to score as few points as possible, with the team having the highest score at the end of the round being eliminated from the game. Each round consists of a question derived from a subject, with each member of a team required to give an answer during a pass; each round consists of two passes, and teams are required, prior to the question being given, to decide who answers during the first pass, with the other answering during the second pass, without conferring. The order of play differs; in the first elimination round, it is determined by drawing lots in advance of recording, while in the second, it is determined by the scores in the previous round, though in both, the team nearest to the host answers first, moving on towards the team farthest from them, before going back in reverse order during the second pass. In the event of a tie, the tied teams are allowed to confer and give an extra answer to the question, until one team manages to score more points than the others; if no team can give a correct answer on this pass, the question is thrown out and a new one is asked in its place.
Five different formats for the questions are or have been used during the programme's run for the elimination rounds in each game:
- Open-Ended – Contestants are given the question, and have free choice of what answer to give. In the first series, this format was used three times in this round, before subsequent episodes used it no more than once. A variant of this format was introduced in the seventh series, in which a list of categories is shown and contestants can give an answer as long as it fitted into any of the categories shown (for example, they could name any member that was in any band on the list); contestants are not required to identify which category their answer belongs to, and will be still credited for a correct answer even if they attribute it to the wrong category. This variant of the format was mainly designed to combine several smaller categories into a round (e.g. the films of several different actors) or to narrow down a wider category (for example, by limiting answers to those starting with certain letters).
- Possible Answers – Introduced in the second series, contestants are given a board of potential answers to a question and must pick up, attempting to find the obscure ones on the board and avoid picking out a wrong answer. Each pass consists of two boards, each possessing at least one pointless answer and one incorrect answer, the latter usually having some indirect link (often humorous) with the question, with Osman going through the board after a pass, revealing the points scores of the correct answers and which were incorrect. This format allowed categories to be used in which no commonly agreed definitive list of correct answers exists. It was discontinued following the end of the fifth series.
- Clues and Answers – Introduced in the third series, contestants are given a list of clues related to the topic of the question, whereupon they must select a clue and provide the correct answer connected to it. An example of this format is that a list could contain the names of different battles, and the questions requires a contestant to name the country that it took place in (e.g., "the Battle of Hastings" – "England"). Although the round follows a similar style to that of the "Possible Answers" format, there is no guarantee that contestants may find a pointless answer from within the list.
- Linked Categories – Introduced in the fifth series, each pass consists of two closely related categories; one team member provides an answer related to the first category, while the other provides an answer to the second category. The format follows the same principles as that of the "Open-ended" format, but was rarely used, and was later discontinued after the series.
- Picture Board – Introduced in the seventh series, contestants are shown a picture or pictures, which contain many people or objects that they have to identify, attempting to seek out those that are more obscure than others. The format is occasionally used, and often replaces the "Open-ended" format when it does.
The two teams that survive elimination in the initial rounds, now compete against each other, answering questions with the intention of finding the lowest answers possible. Both teams can now confer, and the winning team of this round moves on to the Final. The format of this round has differed, as listed below:
- Series 1 – Both teams provide as many correct answers as they can to a single question, with the aim of providing answers that score as few points as possible, with the round ending if a team goes above 100 points. The team who scored the lowest in the elimination rounds gets pick choosing which of two categories to answer, with both teams required to give an answer on each turn, regardless of their opponents going over 100. If both teams go above 100, then the team that is nearer to 100 goes through to the final.
- Series 2–5 – Both teams compete in a multi-question best-of contest; best-of-five for the second series, best-of-three from the third series. Each team must give an answer to a question, and once both have done so, the lower score of the two wins the question and earns that team a point. Each question will usually have a minimum of four answers to choose from, and the order of play is that the team who acquired the fewest points in the elimination rounds gets to answer first on the first question.
- Since Series 6 – Both teams compete in a multi-question best-of-three contest; while the format is the same since the third series, questions are now designed around the "Clues and Answers" format. Each question now has five answers to choose from, and there are three kinds of questions in this round: a picture/sound question, in which contestants are shown five pictures or are played five sounds or pieces of music, labelled A to E, and must identify them, often with some letters given as an additional clue; a facts question, in which contestants are given a list of clues to notable facts, and must identify the answer based upon the clue given; a word puzzle question, in which the answers, connected to the subject of the question, are given in the form of an anagram, an initialism, have alternate letters missing, or complete a quote or title.
The winning team that survives both the elimination rounds and the head-to-head receives a trophy to keep, regardless of what happens in the final round, and now attempt to win the game's jackpot; the host reminds viewers of the amount, including any rollover from previous games. In order to win it, the team first chose a category from several offered to them, whereupon they are given questions connected to it with multiple correct answers (e.g., name films directed by a specified director or name a song by a specified singer), and have up to 60 seconds to jointly provide three answers. If any individual response is pointless, the team wins the jackpot; otherwise, it is rolled over to the next show.
Originally, contestants could choose from one of three categories, with those not chosen remaining in the list for five days or until they were picked. This format was used between the first and fifth series. The number of categories to choose from was then increased to five at the start of the sixth series. By the start of the second half of the ninth series, the format of the round was modified in that the winning team must supply answers within three subcategories connected to their chosen category, though they may elect to go for any or all three subcategories with their answers. In addition, they must state which subcategory each of their answer belongs to; if it is for the wrong one, their answer is considered incorrect.
Following the success of Pointless and its transfer to BBC One, the BBC commissioned a celebrity edition of the programme, entitled Pointless Celebrities. Like the main show, the celebrity edition featured teams of two celebrities competing against each other to win the jackpot for their chosen charities. While the show used the same format for rounds, the celebrity edition featured notable differences. Unlike the regular show, the celebrity version was reserved for the weekend and placed in a prime-time evening slot for its broadcast. In addition, celebrities can return in more than one episode, with the same partner or a different partner, most episodes usually featured a theme in regards to the celebrity contestants that took part - for example, a celebrity edition aired in December 2015 consisted of celebrities who were made famous on reality television shows like Big Brother and Made in Chelsea.
Teams compete for a jackpot of £2,500 for their charity, plus £250 for every pointless answer given before the final round. The jackpot does not roll over if not won, but the programme rewards all teams with £500 for taking part, regardless of how well they performed.
The show's format (originally to be called "Obviously") was conceived by Tom Blakeson, Simon Craig, David Flynn, Nick Mather, Richard Osman and Shaun Parry, producers at Endemol UK, in 2009. They envisaged it as a "reverse Family Fortunes....rewarding obscure knowledge, while allowing people to also give obvious answers....a quiz which could be sort of highbrow and populist simultaneously". Osman was not intended to be co-presenter; originally, he filled the role only as part of a demonstration laid on for the BBC. However, the BBC executives asked him to continue when they commissioned the first series. Osman then approached comedian Alexander Armstrong, a peer of Osman during their university days, to be the main presenter. Armstrong, who the previous year had been lined up to present Channel 4's Countdown only to back out for fear of being pigeonholed as a presenter, agreed to present what was perceived as a lower-profile show, with the presence of Osman helping to convince him.
The first series aired on BBC Two between August and October 2009, with the corporation announcing on the day of the final episode's broadcast that it had commissioned a second series. The series' audience had peaked at 1.69 million viewers, 17.2% of audience share for the timeslot, while averaging around 1 million viewers per episode. The second series saw audiences grow modestly; the format was tweaked prior to the start of series three, reducing the number of rounds and giving more time for banter between the hosts which had previously been edited out. The change saw strong viewer growth, and the show was moved to the BBC's main channel BBC One in 2011. By 2013, the programme records four episodes in one day, and averaged 3.6 million viewers daily, gaining more viewers than ITV game show The Chase, which airs in roughly the same time slot.
In February 2014, Pointless was extended for another 204 episodes, giving three more series, taking the total commissioned to 13 in February 2014. A further 24 celebrity episodes were also ordered. For the 1,000th episode, which aired on 16 January 2017, Armstrong and Osman traded host and assistant duties, and four previous couples who had distinguished themselves in various ways were invited to compete again. The jackpot for this episode began at £2,500 (the usual starting value for Pointless Celebrities), and every pointless answer during the main game added £1,000 to it. On 23 February 2016, it was announced that the show had been recommissioned by the BBC to make 165 more regular daytime editions along with 45 prime-time celebrity specials, taking Pointless to the end of 2017. On 4 September 2017, it was announced that the BBC had commissioned a further 204 episodes, including 165 regular and 39 celebrity specials.
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes||Notes|
|1||24 August 2009||6 October 2009||30||No episodes on 31 August or 10 September 2009|
|2||8 March 2010||16 April 2010||30||Series 2 had no breaks|
|3||30 August 2010||22 December 2010||50||Series 3 took breaks from 4 to 14 October and 22 November to 21 December 2010. Episode 50 was a celebrity special.|
|4||14 March 2011||26 August 2011||60||Series 4 took a break from 18 April to 8 July 2011|
|5||29 August 2011||6 February 2012||60||Series 5 took a break from 17 October 2011 to 2 January 2012|
|6||13 February 2012||24 August 2012||70||Series 6 took breaks on 23 March, from 2 to 27 April, on 3 May and from 4 June to 10 August 2012|
|7||29 August 2012||5 December 2012||70||There was no episode on 16 November 2012|
|8||2 January 2013||2 April 2013||65||Series 8 had no breaks|
|9||3 April 2013||25 September 2013||55||Series 9 took breaks from 29 April to 24 May and 24 June to 30 August 2013.|
|10||26 September 2013||19 March 2014||70||Series 10 took breaks from 7 to 25 October, 2 December 2013 to 3 January 2014, and 3 to 21 February 2014|
|11||20 March 2014||29 September 2014||55||Series 11 took breaks from 21 April to 23 May, and 19 June to 5 September 2014|
|12||28 October 2014||25 February 2015||55||Series 12 took a break from 20 November 2014 to 2 January 2015|
|13||23 March 2015||28 July 2015||51||Series 13 took breaks from 13 April to 3 May, 25 May to 11 June, and 25 June to 10 July 2015|
|14||29 July 2015||29 February 2016||55||Series 14 took breaks from 3 August to 4 September, 30 September to 23 October, 17 November 2015 to 1 January 2016, and 27 January to 26 February 2016|
|15||1 March 2016||20 September 2016||55||Series 15 took breaks from 21 March to 19 April and 24 May to 26 August|
|16||24 October 2016||15 March 2017||55||Series 16 took breaks from 21 November to 9 December, 15 to 28 December 2016 and 24 January 2017 to 23 February 2017.|
|17||19 April 2017||29 September 2017||55||Series 17 took a break from 7 June to 1 September|
|18||2 October 2017||12 February 2018||55||Series 18 took a break from 6 November 2017 to 1 January 2018|
|19||2 April 2018||15 June 2018||55||Series 19 had no breaks|
|20||19 June 2018||25 January 2019||55||Series 20 took breaks from 20 June to 31 August and 19 October to 27 December. There was no episode on 1 January 2019.|
|21||28 January 2019||29 May 2019||55||Series 21 took a break from 13 February to 29 March|
|22||2 September 2019||TBC||55||Series 22 took a break from 16 October 2019 to 1 January 2020|
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes||Notes|
|1||4 July 2011||8 July 2011||5||Daily at 5:15 pm|
|2||25 February 2012||16 June 2012||8||On selected dates across four months|
|3||20 October 2012||27 December 2012||9||Weekly on Saturday evenings at 5:40. Episode 9 was broadcast on a Thursday due to Christmas schedules|
|Daytime||10 December 2012||21 December 2012||10||Daily at 5:15 pm|
|4||16 February 2013||7 September 2013||6||On selected dates|
|5||14 September 2013||21 December 2013||12||On Saturdays at selected times|
|6||28 December 2013||3 January 2015||31||On Saturdays at selected times. The series took a break midway through.|
|7||11 April 2015||26 September 2015||7||On Saturdays at selected times|
|8||29 August 2015||30 January 2016||17|
|9||9 January 2016||3 September 2016||8|
|10||14 May 2016||31 March 2018||45|
|11||23 December 2017||1 June 2019||39|
|12||31 August 2019||TBC||22|
|6 June 2013||500th Episode|
|16 January 2017||1,000th Episode|
|23 March 2019||The Good, the Bad and the Bloopers|
With the start of the 11th series of Pointless Celebrities on 23 December 2017, the show's set design was changed, with some new graphics, and an updated intro replaced the one used since the show's debut. This extended to the 19th series of Pointless, which started on 2 April 2018.
Awards and nominations
|2012||National Television Awards||Comedy Panel Show||Longlisted|
|TV Choice Awards||Best Daytime Show||Nominated|
|2013||National Television Awards||Most Popular Daytime Programme||Longlisted|
|2014||National Television Awards||Most Popular Daytime Programme||Nominated|
|2015||National Television Awards||Most Popular Daytime Programme||Nominated|
|The Television and Radio Industries Club Awards||Daytime Programme||Won|
|2016||National Television Awards||Most Popular Daytime Programme||Nominated|
Following a news-themed edition of Pointless Celebrities which aired on 27 October 2014, several fans expressed annoyance at former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie's appearance as a contestant. This was in reference to MacKenzie's front page report concerning the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which made false allegations of bad behaviour against fans of Liverpool FC, 96 of whom had died in the disaster. Osman responded to this criticism with at least twenty comments on Twitter, stating that he had not known MacKenzie would appear until "about an hour before" recording, and that he had "strongly argued against it".
Legend: No longer airingCurrently airing
|Country||Local title||Channel||Presenter(s)||Starring||Premiere date||End date|
|Pointless||Network Ten||Mark Humphries
|N/A||23 July 2018||10 May 2019|
|Míň je víc!
(Less Is More!)
|ČT1||Jan Smetana||N/A||5 January 2015||17 December 2015|
|Tog se nitko nije sjetio
(No one thought of that)
|RTL||Antonija Blaće||Krešimir Sucevic-Međeral||29 April 2013||7 June 2013|
|Jo færre, jo bedre
(The fewer, the better)
|TV2||Steen Langeberg||Marie Tangaa||6 January 2019|
|Personne n'y avait pensé!
(No one had thought of it!)
|France 3||Cyril Féraud||N/A||16 July 2011|
|Das Erste||Dieter Nuhr
|N/A||20 July 2012||1 March 2013|
|Zero e lode!
(Zero with honours!)
|Rai 1||Alessandro Greco||Francesco Lancia||11 September 2017||1 June 2018|
|Pointless||NPO 1||Lucille Werner||Owen Schumacher||27 July 2015||28 August 2015|
|Sitel||Snezana Velkov||N/A||1 November 2014||7 March 2015|
|TVP2||Tomasz Kammel||Radosław Kotarski||27 February 2014||30 May 2014|
|Toga se niko nije setio
(No one thought of that)
|Prva||Tamara Grujic||Dragan Ilic||5 April 2014|
|Weniger ist mehr
(Less is more)
|SRF1||Patrick Hässig||N/A||20 August 2012||September 2014|
An American version was commissioned by GSN in 2017, but as of September 2019, no such version has screened.
On 26 February 2014, the official Pointless app, Pointless Quiz, was released for iOS, with an iPad, Android and an Amazon version released a few months later. The Pointless app features animated versions of Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, and allows the player to tackle questions in a similar format to the TV show. Five books have been released of the show: The 100 Most Pointless Things in the World, The 100 Most Pointless Arguments in the World, The Very Pointless Quiz Book (not to be mistaken for The Pointless Book), The A-Z of Pointless: A brain-teasing bumper book of questions and trivia and "A Pointless History of the World". All five were released by Coronet. In the books, Armstrong and Osman give their insight to pointless matters. Three editions of the official board game have also been released, plus two mini-sized versions, each of which contains updated questions, A Nintendo Switch version is to be released in November 2019 by BBC Studios, with Armstrong and Osman at the helm.
In popular culture
Pointless appeared in the BBC sitcom Not Going Out (series 7, episode 5); Armstrong and Osman both played themselves. Pointless was also parodied in several sketches of the satirical show Newzoids, in which a caricature of Osman interrupts people in regular situations with phrases used in the game show.
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