Paul Kaye (non-broadcast pilots)

Tony Livesey


BBC Two, 9 to 13 February 2004 (5 episodes in 1 series)


Nine people gather in a studio; two are "traitors" and will lie their way to the money; seven are "civilians" who will tell the truth. If the civilians eliminate both traitors, the survivors split the money; should the number of civilians fall to the number of traitors remaining, the traitors have the money. Tony Livesey is the moderator, though he doesn't get his name in the opening credits.

The format of the show is a little odd: after each person introduces themself, the traitors are revealed to each other and on screen. This is done in silence, so it's possible for the viewer to play. Tony Livesey cadges along a discussion amongst the group. He asks questions of some group members; the civilians will talk about their real lives, while the traitors will lie and talk about lives they have made up. We don't know how long the traitors have had to prepare their fictions - there's clearly been some preparation, but whether it's one day, one week, one month, we're not told.

At any point during the deliberations, someone can stick up their hand, and accuse someone else of being a traitor. The accuser makes their point, the defence has its moment, then it goes to the vote. If there are more "traitor" votes than "civilian", then the person reveals their allegiance and leaves the game; if it's a tie, or the "civilian" wins, the accused remains in the game. The accuser doesn't leave, but has marked their card and will alter the way the rest of the panel perceives them.

At seemingly random points in the game, the surviving traitors get to eliminate an honest civilian. That person gets to make a short farewell speech, and leaves the game. This may be timed in the studio, or after a set number of votes. After the first such elimination, Tony Livesey offers a clue to the identity of the traitor.

The studio set is showy, generally in white, but with good use of red during elimination votes, and with back-projection screens changing all the time. It doesn't sound much, but does add a lot to the proceedings. There's music running through the game, it's mostly imperceptible, but if one notices it, it can get a bit grating. Certainly bad: the clips at the start of the show, showing what you're about to see. This is Spoiler ... Oh Who Cares territory.

Perhaps the best thing about Traitor is Tony Livesey's moderation: by turn sarcastic, probing, explanatory, but mostly he knows when to shut up. In this format, the host is not a player, and shutting up is often the best thing to do.

Make no mistake, Traitor is not a bad show. It's not over-original - the BBC may have invented the precise format, but it's a clear derivative of a party game with various names, usually "Werewolf" or "Mafia" (as described on Wikipedia), all based on finding the enemy within. Indeed, Traitor owes a lot to The Enemy Within, as indeed it does to another 2002 one-shot series Liar. There are elements of Without Prejudice? visible, huge chunks of 2003's Double Cross, while the elimination sequences cry out for the simple "You're off the show" line from Shafted. They've even got the revolving camera in from French show La Cible, though it doesn't become the star of the show.

There is an argument to suggest that the party game behind Traitor has influenced most of the above shows. The Mole and The Enemy Within also have an informed minority hoping to outwit an uninformed majority, Liar and Shafted were also predicated on bluffing, Double Cross was simple psychology at its most simple.

The intensity of the show means it's not suitable for stripping in the 6pm slot. Indeed, it's not really possible for someone to join the show part-way through without losing a huge chunk of the plot, and that's very bad for a 6pm show. The intensity of the hunt also militates against airing the show every day in any slot. Perhaps airing the show once a week at 6:45, or in a late night slot (perhaps after 11pm) would give it more room to breathe.

Ultimately, when we're sitting at the first episode, wondering where that bit came from, and where that bit came from, it looks like the show's onto a loser. Shame.


Tony Livesey was chosen as host because he's editor of infamous tabloid newspaper the Sunday Sport, who no doubt know a thing or two about lying.

During the show's (rather long) development process, the idea was to detect the aliens on a spaceship with Paul Kaye on hosting duties.


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