Case Study: Cash Cab

The multi-Emmy Award-winning game-show format Cash Cab gives unsuspecting folks the opportunity to win a small fortune when they hail what they believe to be a normal taxicab, before discovering that they have stepped into a quiz show on wheels. The driver and host poses a series of trivia questions, and passengers in the “cash cab” must provide the correct response to as many as possible before reaching their final destination. However, if contestants miss three questions, they’re kicked out of the cab no matter where they are. The show has traveled to more than 50 territories through sales generated by all3media international.


Produced by Lion Television, Cash Cab originally scored a volume commission from the U.K.’s ITV and launched in 2005. “Quite quickly after that, it was picked up in the U.S. by Discovery, and spread from there,” says Nick Smith, the senior VP of international format production at all3media international. In fact, it debuted on the U.S. network just six months after the U.K. premiere.

Since the launch of the U.S. adaptation, the format has been on the air in countries as diverse as Vietnam, Jamaica, Austria, India, Italy, Lithuania, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Canada (with a separate version for French Canada), Colombia and Japan, among others. It has also aired on MBC in the Middle East. Additionally, Cash Cab Philippines made its premiere in December 2015, following the success of Cash Cab Asia on AXN. “It’s pretty much been everywhere,” Smith says. “If you can think of a country, it’s probably had Cash Cab in it.” He tells TV Formats Weekly that more than 7,000 episodes of the quiz show have been made worldwide.

***Image***“The great thing about Cash Cab is that it’s such an adaptable format,” Smith says. “Some territories have used it as a utility program because it’s quite easy to move about in the schedule, and some have played it in prime time.” In other countries, the show has aired in daytime slots. Thus, Smith explains, the scheduling has “depended on what the broadcasters needed, and it’s played on lots of different [types of] broadcasters as well, from mainstream commercial broadcasters like ITV [in the U.K.] to specialty channels, to public service broadcasters.”

Cash Cab travels so well internationally because it deals with a “very universal subject,” Smith says. “Virtually every country in the world has taxis, and people are familiar with the concept of taxis, so it works all around the world.”

The executive cites the potential for specials that can themselves become series as a major draw for broadcasters. Celebrity, “after dark” and music-themed versions fall into this category. Smith notes that celebrity shows have been done in the U.S. and Israel, among other countries, and music-themed specials work well for niche channels. The idea of the “after dark” versions, Smith says, is that they are “shot in the evenings, often with people that have come out of drinking establishments, so it can be quite funny as you get their reactions trying to answer basic questions when they’re a little bit merry!”

Other variations on the format include bringing the show to different cities within a particular country. “The U.S. is a good example,” Smith says. “There was New York, where it was done originally, but there have also been episodes set in Las Vegas and [a series hosted by comedienne Beth Melewski in] Chicago.”

He also points out that it’s very common for Cash Cab to return to air after a hiatus. In fact, he says, the company will “shortly be announcing the relaunch of the format in Latin America.”

One territory where the show has seen a great deal of success is Israel, where it launched in 2007 on Keshet’s Channel 2. According to Smith, the Israeli version of Cash Cab garnered ratings comparable to those generated by entertainment hits like Dancing with the Stars and Survivor. He adds that the format has also been successful in Russia, where “hundreds and hundreds of episodes have been made.”

One aspect of Cash Cab that has remained consistent across each adaptation is that the format has “always been a quiz show in a taxi, taking people to where they need to go and kicking them out along the way if they get three questions wrong,” Smith says. Yet, while the concept of a game show on wheels has remained the same throughout the world, the specifics of the vehicle itself have varied. “It always needs to be a cab that feels, looks and behaves as though it’s a taxi in the country, and so they vary quite a lot from territory to territory,” Smith explains.

Besides the alterations to the vehicle, Smith notes that “one of the big changes that happened straightaway in the U.S. is that instead of the presenter and host being a licensed cab driver as was the case in the U.K. version, in the version for Discovery the host was Ben Bailey, a comedian. That gave the show a completely different feel, and a lot of countries have gone on to use comedians to host their shows.”

“It’s quite unusual for a quiz show to sell as a finished series because they’re not typically too expensive [to produce locally] and because a lot of the questions will relate to the country that it was made in,” Smith adds. “Having said that, we’ve done pretty well with Cash Cab, so we’re not going to complain,” he quips.