University Challenge first aired on television throughout
the U.K. from 1962-1987. Airing 23 "series" (equivalent
to seasons in the U.S.) over 25 years, the program was a popular
institution on the ITV network. The original presenter (equivalent
to the host in the U.S.) was broadcaster and scholar, Bamber Gascoigne.
In those years, 6 leagues of 4 teams each competed in the preliminaries.
Then the top 8 teams played off in the "knockout stage"
(a single-elimination format) for the Championship.
University Challenge began airing again in 1994-95 on BBC
channel 2. The presenter is Jeremy Paxman, one of Britain's most
distinguished television journalists. In addition to presenting
University Challenge, he is the main presenter for BBC2's news programme
The current series format involves 24 teams per year. Those 24
teams compete in twelve preliminary matches, taped in June each
year. Then, the top 16 teams from the preliminaries (the 12 winners
plus the top 4 losers) compete in a single-elimination tournament
for the U.K. Championship, taped in December of each year.
University and University Colleges apply to compete in the series.
After an initial written application, a team of University Challenge
staff tours the U.K. to interview and test the applicant teams.
In all, teams representing approximately 250 universities or university
colleges are seen annually. In each of those cases, a standardized
quiz and personal interviews are used. Following that "road
trip", the average team score on the quiz and the interviews
are used to select the 24 teams for the year's series. While Universities
and University Colleges may apply in successive seasons, teams are
new each year, as students are not allowed to take part in consecutive
series representing the same Institution.
The University Challenge programme follows the quintessential
College Bowl toss-up and bonus format, but with a number of twists.
Toss-ups are called starters. Bonuses are all 15 points and usually
(but not always) contain three 5 point questions. The length of
the game is not fixed. Of the available broadcast time (usually
29 minutes and 15 seconds), after deducting the actual opening and
"chat" preceding the game and the standard time for the
closing/credits, the balance of time (usually 26 to 27 minutes)
is allocated to the game. As no commercials are aired, the game
is played in its entirety from start to finish. Unlike play in the
U.S., the time a team is given to respond to a starter or bonus
is not timed, it is at the discretion of the presenter.
The University Challenge programme is taped at ITV Plc. facilities, a state of the art broadcast centre in Manchester,