The Moral Maze with laughs
In new Radio 4 comedy panel show Dilemma, guests are told that there are no wrong answers.
But that doesn't mean they can relax. The questions posed by host Sue Perkins are the kind that would have many people choosing their response very carefully, even when it isn't going to be broadcast on national radio.
Questions like 'would you cheat on your spouse for a million pounds?' or 'would you sell your grandfather's war memorabilia to someone on eBay who turned out to be a Nazi sympathiser?' or even, 'would you give your obnoxious colleague the credit for your work if it meant they got a job somewhere else?'
Such moral conundrums are the basis of the show, which asks contestants to put their moral integrity on the line in front of a chortling live audience. Of course, it may seem simple for a guest with one eye on their reputation to sail through on the most obviously 'moral' answers. But that's where the devious questions and devil's advocate host come in.
'The first round of the show works by us posing a tricky dilemma, which could plausibly be right or wrong,' explains producer Ed Morrish. 'Whatever you say, Sue has a list of reasons you're wrong. We try and find the tipping point, try and make them change their minds.'
So when comedian John Finnemore was asked by Perkins whether he would alert security if he saw an old lady shoplifting, and replied in the negative, he was promptly informed that the lady was actually pocketing luxury goods and looked very well off. This failed to sway his position, but when told that said shoplifter was in a store run by a pensioner struggling because of a supermarket opening nearby, enough was enough. The comedian conceded defeat and decided the security guard should be told after all.Adventure choice
Dilemma is the idea of Danielle Ward, stand-up comedian and one of Radio Comedy's in-house bursary writers who is on a year-long contract to write on all the unit's shows as and when she's needed. It went through, says Morrish, a 'fairly lengthy' piloting process, beginning with a 'pub pilot' where unwitting drinkers at a local alehouse were dragged downstairs to watch several different rounds of a rough version.
A proper pilot followed, which 'nearly worked but was missing something'. It was then re-piloted ('quite rare, actually') with a tightened dynamic: 'It's hard for the host to stay in control if you give the contestants too many options - if you say to them 'what would you do' you have to be prepared for a lot of work,' explains Morrish. 'If you instead say would you do A or B, Sue gets to prepare a bit more in-depth.'
This got the green light, and a six-part series co-scripted by Ward was commissioned. Panel guests range from Kaiser Chiefs singer Ricky Wilson to journalist Dominic Lawson, who will take part in varied rounds ranging from surreal quick fire a la Shooting Stars to a collaborative 'choose your own adventure' style challenge.
All will test contestants' moral nerve, in appropriately humorous fashion. 'It's partly about being good people and partly about appearances,' says Morrish. 'We're like the Moral Maze with laughs.'
Dilemma, Radio 4, November 13.