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Exclusive: Behind the scenes of 'Deal Or No Deal' - Part 1

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Since its launch back in October 2005, Deal or No Deal has achieved somewhat of a cult status among the British public, appealing to those who rush home from pre-school to those in nursing homes.

Despite its ridiculously simple format, Deal or No Deal, fronted by the television legend Noel Edmonds, has, in six months, fully established itself in the hearts of the nation, encapsulating its audience with banter from the mysterious bribing banker and witty repartee from the contestants and Noel alike.

But who would have thought the process of opening 22 independently sealed and adjudicated boxes could be so entertaining?

What is it that makes the show so appealing to all corners of the British public? What is it that draws viewers back day upon day? What exactly is it that has made this show what it is?

I'm sure many of you have asked yourselves the same thing; many a sleepless night I've had pondering such questions.

Lucky for me, I was invited down to Bristol to try and find out.

My day kicked off early with a train at 7.24am. One change, 20 stations and almost five hours later, I eventually arrived in sunny Bristol. Of course, I still hadn't arrived at my destination. A short taxi ride down the road and I rolled up outside the Endemol West studios.

Smaller than I expected, they are situated about 10 to15 minutes away from the city centre. If I'm honest, I didn't really know what I was expecting.

From previous visits to studios, I knew that the DoND studio was definitely going to be smaller in real life than how it appears on television.

I was greeted by producer and chaperon for the day Stephen Boodhun, along with production manager Jane Atkinson. Both were exceedingly welcoming and I knew at that point I was going to have an enjoyable day.

Moving out of reception, the first port of call was the set itself, situated in a black-painted warehouse just inside the complex.

Entering the studio, I have to say, felt somewhat alienating. I hadn't even figured out which direction I was making my way in from – suddenly, everything that I'd previously seen on screen sprang to life.

There seemed to be an aura about the place. It was surreal to be standing on the set – almost as if I had stepped aboard the Marie Celeste – nobody was there; no crew, no cameramen, contestants or presenter… The lights, however, were performing their in-show rituals and looping through their pre-programmed cycles.

After a few photographs and a gander around the set, I got to work – and yes, I did go there to work!

Just what is involved in the making of the show? I asked.

"Most of my day happens in two shifts," producer Steve explained. "We have people in here from 9 o'clock in the morning and right up until we finish the shows at about 10 o'clock at night."

I don't know about you, but I couldn't even begin to imagine how large or small the crew is. From the outset, you wouldn't think that many people would be involved in the opening of 22 boxes. Apparently, there's more to it that meets the eye. "First, we have a contestant team – which consists of about eight people now. They go all over the country holding auditions to find all of our contestants as there are 22 people in the line-up with one in and one out every show. As you can imagine, that's quite a lot to go through and we have quite a lot of shows to film. There's a lot of planning, logistical planning, to get everybody down here from as far as Scotland and Northern Ireland, the west coast, the east coast and even as far as the Isle of Wight."

Then there's the audience, of course. The apparently small studio can actually hold a lot of people – more than you might imagine. "We also have the audience team that does a very similar job to the contestant team," Steve continued. "We have an audience of well over 100 here, I think it's 120 and we record three shows a day in two sittings, so that's quite a lot of audience researching to do.

"We get one set in the afternoon and then we record two evening shows and use the same audience for those two. Some of the people come after work, so it's constantly evolving in that sense – lots of people coming and going every day."

So where does the day actually begin for the contestants? A care team looks after their every need - and it’s an early start, explained Steve.

"We have a long day which begins with our care team going to the hotel, picking up the contestants and bringing them to the studio by coach. Then the contestants go into makeup and wardrobe before getting a briefing, because we have new contestants coming in all of the time. The briefing is just to see how you play the game because you know how the game plays at home, but it's a little different when you've got the lights and the cameras all around and you get a little bit nervous – so that's another job for the care team."

The big question in my mind was how the boxes were sorted out behind the scenes and how the contestants are allocated the boxes on each show. It's a very simple process, as Steve detailed: "The independent adjudicator, as you know, loads all the boxes before the show and they are brought out onto the floor. Then the floor manager walks round randomly with a large bag of 22 balls and the contestants each pick one out before being allocated the box corresponding to whatever number they have chosen."

It's as basic as that. I actually saw this process unfold with the boxes lined up along the walkway and each contestant being allocated the relevant box after selecting a ball. A relatively simple process and, I can assure you, completely random.

Speaking of random, there's been a lot of speculation since the show started about how the day's contestant is chosen from the 22-strong line-up. I, myself, found it hard to believe that the selection was random, since a contestant couldn't obviously be on the show for months at a time. But no: the selection is indeed carried out by the producers.

"This is the thing I've noticed with your website, actually, and a few other forums; people think how could it be random when we pick the people to play?” said Steve. “We never say it's random for the selection of the contestant that plays on the day. That's mainly because we can give people time to get used to the show and they can build their character, like Lucy. She really came out of herself and is our longest serving contestant – she was on 50 shows!

"So we choose them day by day and we never say it's random. We know beforehand who's going to play and so does Noel. The contestants don't know and so you get the shock on their face. They all know that they're going to play, because we say to them if you come on, you're going to sit in the chair eventually, but we need to know who's going to play on the day. It's practical that we and Noel know so he can have in his head 'oh Lucy's coming up, I know Lucy and I know all about her'."

So it's when the production team feels the time is right for a contestant, is it? They're picked when they're ripe then, Mr Producer? "Everything else is random, but it’s at this point that we make the decision on who will be playing,” said Steve.

The gap between the filming and transmission dates varies, with some 15 shows being filmed each week. They were actually filming a programme for June while I was there – which is all rather thought-provoking. Let’s face it, they've got two months' worth of shows stockpiled – and who knows, somebody may even have won the £250,000 within that time…

Filming 15 shows a week is naturally time-devouring for crew and contestants alike, so I asked my host how much time contestants were asked to give up and how long they were with the show.

"In TV land, it will be about 27 shows,” he explained. “It runs six days a week so it will seem like about a month. We always ask contestants to give a minimum of three weeks, sometimes four. That’s the sort of commitment they need to make, which is staggering.”

Indeed it is. I find it hard to believe that so many people are prepared to put their lives on hold for the show. The producers, themselves, couldn't believe it either.

"At the start, we didn't think anybody would do that, but they really are committed. It is a great commitment to make. I mean, they leave their friends and family - and some of them have just got young children - there's quite a lot of sacrifice we ask for."

What's more staggering is that some contestants even give up their jobs for the show, as Steve recalled. "A couple have given up their jobs. It's generally young single men. I remember James who was the first one that gave up his job. He won £10, I believe. It was a real shame. He really played the game well and it's such a shock when people do badly."

Coming up next week: Tactics, strategies, longevity... and Noel.

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