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The Chase: What You Need to Know About ABC's New Primetime Game Show

Three Jeopardy! legends take on (and trash-talk) trivia mavens.
  • James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter host The Chase. (ABC)
    James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter host The Chase. (ABC)

    America may still be reeling from the recent loss of Alex Trebek, but this news from the game show world may serve as a balm for grieving Jeopardy! fans. On the heels of the Jeopardy! Greatest of all Time tournament, its competitors — Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauer — have been tapped to star in ABC's The Chase, an adaptation of a popular U.K. quiz show in which contestants pit their trivia knowledge against a resident know-it-all. The View's Sara Haines, who will host the show, rounds out the cast.

    The Chase, which premieres tonight, seems perfect for this moment: the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament brought its contenders back into the spotlight right before Trebek's passing got the nation feeling nostalgic about game shows. Moreover, The Chase's fast-paced gameplay and bold aesthetic suggest a slightly hipper show than its forebears, which mayinspire fresh enthusiasm in a new generation of viewers.

    Here's a breakdown of everything we know about this latest addition to America's game-show roster.

    It's a head-to-head competition… but it's also a team one.

    The vast majority of iconic trivia-based game shows have been fiercely individual competitions, whether it's one person staring down a question board as in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or three people battling each other a la Jeopardy!. Boasting more frenetic and intense gameplay than either of these shows, The Chase takes a more cooperative approach, with all three contestants standing to split the pot equally if they can collectively answer more trivia questions than one of the house players, known as a "Chaser." (On this version of the show, that Chaser will be either Jennings, Rutter, or Holzhauer.) Each team member, in turn, answers a series of rapid-fire questions in the first round, known as the "Cash Builder," which determines how much money they're each playing for.

    In the next round, team members go head-to-head with the Chaser in an attempt to add that money to the collective pot. In the final round, depending on whether or not the Chaser has defeated them, the team will either collectively compete against the Chaser or choose one contestant to challenge the Chaser one more time. Throughout the game, the Chaser looms above the contestants at the other end of the scoreboard, projecting intimidation that's only about 75% facetious, lending additional pressure to the proceedings.

    It's insanely popular in the U.K.

    The Britons love their quiz shows, and they've loved this one harder than most: now in its 14th season, the U.K. Chase has been one of ITV's longest-running and highest-rated daytime shows. Each of its stable of Chasers has their own unique sobriquet (e.g., "The Governess," "The Dark Destroyer") and quiz style, and each has risen to practically A-list status. Contestants almost always arrive with strong opinions about which Chasers they'd most (and least) like to face, which feels reminiscent of the challengers on Iron Chef (although, unlike the Iron Chefs, the Chaser for each episode appears to be randomly selected).

    And as long as we're drawing comparisons to Iron Chef, Mark Labbett is clearly the Morimoto of the Chasers: he's the most recognizable face of the brand and the most formidable of its stable of villains. The 6'7" trivia prodigy, nicknamed "The Beast," has competed on a staggering 12 quiz shows in Britain, and he's been a part of the U.K. series since its inception in 2009, as well as serving as a Chaser on the Australian and previous U.S. adaptations of the series.

    This isn't the first attempt at a U.S. version.

    American networks have been mining British television for show formats practically since the birth of quiz shows. Cash Cab, The Weakest Link, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire all originated in the U.K. The Chase's format was first optioned by Fox in 2012, although it ultimately didn't get picked up by the network. Instead, it was passed on to Game Show Network, which aired four seasons from 2013 to 2015. Despite critical acclaim and decent ratings, the network declined to order a fifth season of the show and it was quietly dropped from its lineup.

    So why does it make sense to bring The Chase to a network now? For starters, ABC's Chasers are known entities. That Jeopardy! has, in the same year, left a vacuum with the loss of Alex Trebek and raised the profile of the U.S.'s only bona fide quiz-show celebrities makes this the perfect time to take a show like The Chase to prime time. Mark Labbett, who served as the sole Chaser for GSN's adaptation, is a unique personality, to be sure, but he had no cachet outside of the game itself. Had Fox picked up the first U.S. adaptation, it would have been merely one game show (albeit a decent one) in a long line of game shows that typically hit prime time for a few summers before being relegated (ironically) to reruns on GSN and remembered (even more ironically) only as trivia questions themselves.

    This isn't even the first Chase for two of these Chasers.

    As most game show geeks are already aware, one of the most memorable contestants on the GSN version of the show was James Holzhauer, who played the game in 2014, well before his famous Jeopardy! run. On The Chase, Holzhauer set a record for most correct answers in a single game and walked away with a third of the $175,000 prize pool, easily defeating Labbett, who claimed that Holzhauer's game was "the worst beating [he] faced" on the U.S. series (and even insinuated that Holzhauer would have been too good at the game to be cast for the U.K. version).

    Based on his dominant performance, Holzhauer was even invited to audition to become a Chaser on GSN himself, although ultimately he would have to wait another six years to step onto the other side of the podium. Holzhauer's swagger and intensity, which polarized Jeopardy! fans throughout his multi-game run, seem tailor-made for the Chaser role, and his trivia resumé is unimpeachable. But he's not the only Jeopardy! GOAT who's previously been considered for the job. Back when Fox was pondering the series, they ordered a pilot in which Mark Labbett alternated in the Chaser slot with Brad Rutter.

    It's unclear why Rutter wasn't ultimately hired for the GSN version, although it's easy to see how his laid-back, slightly goofy energy might have been a strange counterpoint to Labbett in particular. However, if the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament proved anything, it's that its three trivia powerhouses bring their own chemistry that extends beyond the friendly competition. Their personalities — cocky Holzhauer, affable Jennings, and unflappable Rutter — complement each other, which gave the Greatest of All Time tournament the feel of three pals settling a friendly wager and will give the Chasers' bench a sense of consistency while still allowing viewers and contestants to evaluate the pros and cons of facing each individually. Moreover, the good-natured ball-busting they worked up during the tournament should fit into The Chase's framework seamlessly. While we may not yet trust any of them to fill Alex Trebek's shoes individually, they certainly seem capable of sharing this load.

    The Chase airs on ABC January 7th at 9:00 PM ET.

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    Jessica Liese has been writing and podcasting about TV since 2012. Follow her on Twitter at @HaymakerHattie

    TOPICS: The Chase, Jeopardy!, Brad Rutter, James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings