November 16, 2015

1000 Heartbeats Starts November 23rd

We get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look from series creator Paul Farrer.

ITV’s newest trivia hit, 1000 Heartbeats, is returning for a second season starting November 23rd. I’ve lauded the show as fresh and original, and a renewed order seems to back up the claim. In an exclusive interview with BuzzerBlog, series creator and conductor Paul Farrer tells us about what he heard about his show’s reception.

“The reception to Series One was incredible. To see an idea grow to a full TV series made with some of the most creative and technically respected people in their game is an incredibly unlikely thing. To then have the end product transmitted and warmly received is basically a dream come true. I was bowled over by the reaction.”

Paul Farrer, probably best known for his work as a composer for television shows like The Chase and The Weakest Link, devised the format, and the Radio Times has called him “an evil genius” in return. And if you’ve seen the show, you probably agree. Contestants get strapped into a heart rate monitor. From a bank of 1000 heartbeats, every heartbeat they take in their actual heart gets counted and subtracted from that bank. If you run out of heartbeats, you die the game is over. Players experience different games of trivia and logic, with harder games banking more cash. The only way to take your money home is by successfully completing one final game called Cashout with whatever heartbeats are left in your bank. Cash out successfully and take home hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Watching the heart-rate change on screen, and listening to the tempo of the live instrumentals rise and fall in sync with the heart rate, is probably the most exciting atmosphere in game shows today. Maybe even too exciting, according to Paul. “One lady complained to me that her young daughter was too terrified to watch it because she thought if a contestant flat-lined that they actually died,” he says. “Another lady tweeted that we should get rid of the music element entirely because ‘if anything, it DISTRACTS the poor contestant!’”

I asked Paul if he and the production team thought about making any changes or improvements for the upcoming season. “When ITV gave us the opportunity to do it all again we knew we had a great chance to pull the show apart a bit, look at all the individual components and see how they could be improved, updated and tweaked. It’s a fascinating thing to do, because it’s all about which elements we loved and which we felt we could do better. We were lucky that most of the key people came back for the second series but new people were also fantastically helpful to bring fresh perspective.” They brought in a new series producer, Eve Winstanley, who’s worked on shows like Two Tribes and Fifteen to One.

They’ve also added some new games for contestants to conquer. “We have some new games to throw at the contestants that are really good fun,” Paul tells me. “I won’t reveal too much but they are fiendish – scream at the TV kind of challenges, that when you think about them calmly at home are pretty straight forward but in the heat of the moment caused some absolutely brilliant contestant catastrophes and crash-outs.”

Paul, first and foremost a composer and musician, also took into consideration the oft-praised soundtrack of the show. As someone who loved the NBC remake of Twenty-One solely for its live orchestra, I was excited to hear the changes in store for the show’s soundtrack. “The track we hear most often in game play is Question Bed One,” Paul says. “All contestants start with this one so it had to be right. This was the biggest challenge for me. I was chipping away at it and re-doing it and re-doing it for months over the summer. I’d thrown away about 19 different versions and finally settled on one I was happy with that I had tweaked and adjusted until everyone near me was sick of hearing it.” As any creative will tell you, a fresh perspective is always needed to bring a piece closer to perfection. “I scored out all the parts for the [1000 Heartbeats Quartet] but during rehearsals it just wasn’t sounding like I wanted it to. On our final day of rehearsals in the studio 14 hours before we were due to start filming I asked them why after all this time it still wasn’t working. They said, ‘because it’s rubbish’. They were, of course as they always are, completely right. So I went home that evening feeling like a complete failure, opened a bottle of wine and stayed up until 3AM re-writing the whole thing from a blank piece of paper.”

If wine be the muse of gods, drink on. According to Paul, as soon as they ran tape the next day to record the episodes, the music worked perfectly. Phew.

Other musical cues were enhanced, changed or otherwise experimented with. “There is a new Question Bed in 3/4 (waltz) timing, as well as a new one in the incredibly rare 5/4 time signature. Again it’s wonderful to be able to experiment and take a few risks while still making it work in the greater context of the show and ITV have been incredibly supportive in encouraging and nurturing that at all stages of the process.”

The second series of 1000 Heartbeats starts next Monday, November 23rd on ITV. Special thanks to Paul Farrer for talking to us and giving us access to these wonderful music cues.