Guessable? Packs Comedy into a Game Show

Laura Burrell, VP of international formats at ViacomCBS International Studios (VIS), talks to TV Formats about the comedy game show Guessable?, which plays out like a fun-filled celebrity party, packed with curiosity, absurdity, take-away knowledge and big laughs.

Guessable? features two teams consisting of a team captain and two celebrity guests, with every round being a twist on a classic family guessing game. Every answer within the guessing games provides a clue to the identity of a famous figure or object hidden inside the Mystery Box. Win a game and the victorious team can add an answer to their Guess List. Whichever of the two teams has the identity of the person or object in the Mystery Box on their Guess List at the end of the show wins.

Guessable? debuted in October as part of Comedy Central UK’s 2020 original programming slate. It came about as Sebastian Cardwell, deputy director of programs, was looking for a “cost-effective, returnable format as part of his new strategy for Comedy Central that leaned into popular comedy panel shows like Would I Lie To You?, incorporating the instantly gettable and play-along elements of older quiz/game shows like Name That Tune,” explains Laura Burrell, VP of international formats at ViacomCBS International Studios (VIS). “Tuesday’s Child Television was already developing a format based around guessing what was inside a box and pitched the idea to Seb at the beginning of 2020. By combining the parlor games idea with the mystery box, Guessable? was born!”

After the U.K. lockdown was announced in March, the producers reworked the idea to suit Covid-19 filming protocols, and the show was greenlit as soon as production was allowed to resume. The series was filmed at Elstree Studios in the U.K. on a set that was created to be social-distance friendly, says Burrell. “The cozy attic-style design helped to create intimacy and reduce the sense of spacing between the cast. The cast also moves around to play the guessing games, rather than sit static. The result is that it doesn’t feel like a Covid-shot show to the viewer.”

It was also filmed without a studio audience. “It took a little while during the first recordings for the cast to adjust; the comedians, particularly, are used to taking their cues from audience laughter,” Burrell says. “Without a studio audience, all the participants had to focus purely on interacting with one another, and the result is great camaraderie and a whole heap of fun! Two episodes were filmed each day and, of course, all the cast and crew were tested and formed a ‘bubble’ ahead of filming.”

The producers chose guessing games where the cast didn’t have to interact physically—with lots of games leaning more on wordplay—and stripped back the props. With the lockdown measures in the U.K., it was also possible to book some A-list talent that may not otherwise have been available. “The host Sara Pascoe did not shy away from this and makes it part of the comedy,” says Burrell. A second season has been greenlit and will debut on Comedy Central UK later this year.

The format has been optioned in Sweden and Denmark, with discussions underway in the other Nordic territories. “The Nordics have a long tradition of adapting British comedy formats, so we anticipate seeing local productions underway there soon,” says Burrell. She notes persistent demand for this type of format in northern and western Europe, and also in territories like Australia and New Zealand.

The format itself is built around a cast that consists of a host, two teams and a Mystery Box. For international adaptations, Burrell suggests that the teams should consist of a regular team captain and two celebrity guests. The host and the regular team captains should be experienced comedians who can provide quick-witted answers, observations and silly answers. The celebrities should be from a range of fields.

“The guessing games are an essential part of the format, and each episode usually includes around seven different guessing games,” she adds. “We provide a bank of tried-and-tested guessing games as part of the format package. The games are highly visual and easily translatable, making this a universally appealing format.”

Burrell calls the Mystery Box “the glue that holds it all together” in terms of format elements. At the end of the episode, the teams must make their best guess as to what is inside the box based on the clues they have gathered. “The sillier the guess, the funnier it becomes,” she says. “There is no prize money at stake, the emphasis being on the entertainment.”

While these elements should be replicated in local versions, there is plenty of flexibility in the format, Burrell explains. “Our format licensees will be able to create and introduce their own guessing games—perhaps ones that are popular in their own country—as well as using the existing bank we will share with them. In the original series, the famous person in the Mystery Box is in photo form, but our licensees could also decide to have the real person in the box (especially post-Covid-19 restrictions). And, of course, it will be easy to introduce a studio audience when restrictions ease. The role of sidekick to the host could be adapted or eliminated, depending on what balance of gameplay to general chat you wanted to achieve. And finally, more team members could be added to the game.”

The Comedy Central brand has a long tradition of creating vehicles for stand-up comedians and celebrities, and Guessable? continues in this vein. Roast of… and Roast Battle are but two examples from the VIS catalog. Roast Battle, which pits comedians against one another in wars of words, has now been adapted in seven territories worldwide, with an eighth to be announced soon.

Guessable? has the play-along-at-home factor that is so popular with audiences right now,” Burrell says. “It is a fresh feel-good addition to our comedy inventory that’s perfect for the current times: light escapist content that can be produced in and out of Covid restrictions.”