A quiz show must evolve with the times: BQC host Derek O'Brien

Derek O’Brien’s name is synonymous with Bournvita Quiz Contest. The Parliamentarian, who’s been hosting the show for the past two decades now, is back on the small screen with the quiz show in a new, evolved avatar. With the show completing 40 years (it started as a radio show in 1972), O’Brien speaks about the secret of its success and how it has evolved over the years. Excerpts from the interview.

Derek O’Brien believes that BQC’S message of making knowledge interesting has helped sustain the show

How do you look back upon the initial days of Bournvita Quiz Contest?
It’s been an extremely rewarding journey. BQC was presented in radio format in the 1970s and 80s. There was a team of researchers led by Ruth Deshpande who provided content for the show at the time. The radio show was first presented by Hameed Sayani and after his demise, by his brother Ameen Sayani. 1994 saw a two-pronged approach where the show made its TV debut and the ground events were held across 90 Indian cities. The biggest difference that the show underwent then was that while the radio event only went to metros, the TV avatar saw it reach homes across India. Also, the radio show was conducted in English. Now, we have bilingual versions for Hindi and Tamil audiences that will air on weekends. (English/Hindi version on Colors, every Sunday at 9.30 am and Tamil version on Sun TV, every Saturday at 5 pm) Nisha Krishnan (Tamil) and Saumya Tandon (Hindi) are my co-presenters for the shows. I even learnt some Tamil! It was wonderful to work in this new format.

Your father Neil O’Brien was the pioneer of quizzing. What insights did he share with you regarding quizzing?
My father always encouraged us three brothers to ask questions. He taught us to look for information in places other than books. According to him, you can get information from anywhere and everywhere -- be it on a postage stamp or a message on the back of a bus. He encouraged us to write down everything. Till date, when I come across any interesting bit of information, I jot it down.

What do you think is the reason that BQC has survived for so many years?
There are two factors that have kept BQC alive after all these years. Firstly, our message, which is about the show’s content -- making knowledge interesting and helping young minds grow. Our message has always been a constant. The second factor is the medium, which has evolved over time. We’ve ensured that the show has not got left behind: from live shows, books, radio to television in English, bilingual format (Hindi and English/ Tamil and English) and now, the new social media space including Facebook, Twitter and the new IndiaPlaysBQC app.

Do you think children are better equipped when it comes to gathering knowledge now, because of the advent of technology? In that sense, do you think technology is a boon?
Today’s students are definitely better equipped to soak in the pressure, be more resilient and gather more information; they’ve learnt how to accept winning and losing, better. Information is just a click of a mouse away and students today are much more aware of what is happening around them. So to answer your question, in the search of gathering useful information, technology is definitely a boon.

The quiz show has taken a tech savvy turn, adding a phone app for users. How has it evolved over the years?
Two big forces have emerged. When we started, the recall of knowledge was what mattered. Now, the focus is on self-improvement -- the development of soft skills and source of information. In the 1970s, schoolchildren looked to books and libraries for information. Today, the search for knowledge is not just ephemeral but more solid. It’s more about the application of knowledge. Content in this age must be relevant, and knowledge, more enduring. Yes, we have introduced a unique, first-of-its-kind second screen concept that will enable millions of viewers to play along live and participate while the show is on air. For this, you need to download the IndiaPlaysBQC App which is available for free and this will not only test your general knowledge skills but also enable you to get a taste of the BQC experience as you will have to respond swiftly and answer questions before the contestants every Sunday.

What are the qualities that a good quiz show should have to sustain? Also, what’s your opinion of Kaun Banega Crorepati as a quiz show?
To sustain, a show must be willing to evolve with the times. When BQC started on television, it was a niche English show for a select group. Today, it is bilingual and reaches out to a wider mass. The type of questions that we asked in the 1970s would not work today and vice versa. Mr Bachchan is an iconic figure and a brilliant quiz show host. He has helped in a great way in taking quizzing into the dining room and making quizzing a game show for the entire family.

Any interesting personal moments on the show?
In the early BQC days we would have a celebrity guest quiz master on each show. IK Gujral was invited to the show and his slot was first up in the morning. As I made my way to host the show, the security stopped me from entering the Nanavati Studio. I had a difficult time trying to explain to them that I was the host. Finally I was rescued by one of my production team members who had come out wondering why I was so late. It was all very amusing. 

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