Halfway through filming the next series of Pointless, I caught up with Richard Osman to talk about why he loves Two Tribes so much, what he’s learnt by moving in front of the camera, and who he’d have on his quiz show tribe.
Richard Osman may have started his presenting career in 2009, but behind-the-scenes he’s been working in TV for many many years. He was a writer for Have I Got News For You? and Whose Line Is It Anyway, and then produced many a show including Deal Or No Deal, Total Wipeout and 8 Out Of 10 Cats.
When he pitched Pointless in 2009 it was clear that Alexander Armstrong should host, but when it came to a co-host, not even Richard could believe the BBC wanted him! From there he went on to present Two Tribes in August 2014 and next week the series returns for 30 episodes, the second half of the second series which began in February.
First of all congratulations on the second series of Two Tribes and the success of series one. Were you surprised by the recommission?
I’ve spent my life working in telly and everything take you by surprise really. It’s lovely, I mean in terms of my timetable it would have been lovely if it hadn’t have been successful because we have to make more!
But no, I’m really really chuffed because it’s a show that’s really dear to my heart
Obviously on Pointless you’ve got Alexander Armstrong, on Two Tribes you’re on your own... Is that strange? Do you miss him?
Yeah. I really do miss him. Being the frontman I find quite hard, and obviously we record so many of these shows that it’s nice to have your mate to bounce off. It’s different. but funnily enough it’s all the same crew that makes both shows, so it’s the same floor manager, same cameras, all that stuff. So actually it’s a lovely big gang anyway.
Why do you think, as a nation, we’re obsessed with game shows?
Well I think it’s the same as asking “Why are people obsessed with sport?” - because we like a competition, and quiz shows you can take part in.
People love testing themselves, people love being cleverer than the person they’re sitting next to, people love knowing the answer to something, people love learning stuff, and as long as you present it with some intelligence and some wit, then people like being a part of that community I think.
You don’t feel dirty after watching a quiz, you sort of go... “Oh, I feel a bit cleverer!"
And what about your fascination with game shows then?
I don’t know really. I’ve always loved telly, I’ve always loved sport, and I’ve always loved facts. I think those three things combined suddenly mean that quiz shows are kind of the perfect thing for me.
Because sport is just a format where people compete against each other, the thing I’m best at in the world is just knowing stuff, I was absolutely rubbish at sport. So a quiz is essentially a sport for people who know stuff, and then you stick it on telly, which I’ve always loved, and I think it’s the perfect storm for me.
What is it about Two Tribes in particular that you like?
Well, I got pitched all sorts of different things and I just wanted to do a proper old fashioned quiz that had loads of questions. It was half an hour long, it wasn’t padded out, but you’re going to get 90-100 questions in the same show. So I wanted to do a show like that, where proper quizzers would like it.
I love this idea of splitting people into different groups because you find out so much about people. You know that bit you traditionally have on quiz shows where you’re asked - “What sort of things do you like?” - we don’t need to have that, because all through the show you find out unusual things about people.
You then get these unusual combinations of people who shouldn’t really be put together but they are, and at home you can always decide I’m on this tribe or that tribe.
I think it’s neat, I think you find out about people and you get loads of questions.
Who would you want on your tribe then?
Who would I have on a quiz?... Gosh... Well I tell you who’s super bright, I love Jon Richardson from 8 Out Of 10 Cats, I work with him a lot, he’s great in a quiz. I’d love someone like JK Rowling, who you just know is so smart and knows everything about everything.
God, who else would I have on my quiz team?... Mel and Sue are both super bright, they’d be good. I think Mel, Sue, JK Rowling and Jon Richardson. That’s a tribe isn’t it?
I don’t know what unites all five of us though. I don’t know what that could be! (Laughs)
Surely you’re everyone’s first choice when it comes to a pub quiz?
I’m alright, people tend to get quite serious when I walk in. There are areas that are real blindspots for me, I’m not great at science, as soon as it gets to food and drink I’m not brilliant. There are certain rounds that I’m useless to be around.
I do sometimes take part in a pub quiz, but it’s a bit awkward these days, so less than I did. Every town has their amazing pub quiz full of good quizzers, where you know you’re going to have a good battle on your hands. I like that.
You’ve done a fair bit of presenting now, do you enjoy presenting more than producing, or do you enjoy both?
Well I love being able to do both. I think if I just focussed on presenting, it would drive me mad because you’d be far too worried about if people will go off me. And you know what, if people do go off me, then so be it, I’ll go back and do the thing that I love as well.
But funnily enough, they’re both very similar jobs. There are so many things that you do when you’re presenting that I would be doing up in the gallery, decisions that you make that I would be making as a producer.
So actually a lot of the skills are quite similar to tell you the truth. I’ve loved it, I love being able to do both.
Have you found that being in front of the camera has changed your opinion of on-screen talent, after working in telly for so many years?
I think it has a little bit. Because you know what, you know how sometimes teachers say - “This job would be so much easier without any pupils”? - Well as a producer, sometimes you think - “Oh my god this show would be so much easier if there weren’t any presenters. You think just do this, just do that.
When you are the presenter, you slightly start to realise the added pressures of being out on the floor and being in from of the audience, and being the host of this sort of dinner party if you like. I slightly retract some of my previous criticisms of some of the presenters I’ve worked with! (Laughs)
Are there any game shows you haven’t been involved with that you wish you had?
Well as a format I think The Weakest Link was an incredible format. I was always envious of that as a format because it was so neat and clever and you can see why it ran for so long. Equally, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was equally a brilliant format. It was just simple.
Lots of complicated rules, but the basic thrust of it was very simple. So I was envious of both of those.