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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 10:23 GMT
McEnroe takes to The Chair
John McEnroe
John McEnroe has turned quiz show host
By entertainment correspondent Peter Bowes in Los Angeles

A new quiz show has debuted in America in which the contestants have to keep their heart rate under control to win the big prize.

Tennis great John McEnroe is the presenter of The Chair which the ABC television network is hoping will become the next big hit after its initial ratings success with Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.


I like the challenge of doing something different

John McEnroe
The Chair is designed for people who think they can keep their cool in the most pressurised situation.

The contestants are strapped to what looks like a dentist's chair and take part in the show from an almost horizontal position.

Surrounded by the audience, they peer up to a large screen, where they can see McEnroe posing the questions.

Each contestant is fitted with a heart monitor to measure their degree of calm during the ordeal.

Each has a predetermined rate above which their heart can not rise if they want to continue answering questions - and winning money.

To add to the tension, the contestants face additional scares along the way.

On the first show, which aired on Tuesday night, they had to cope with the chair being surrounded by a ring of flames and one woman managed to remain stoney-faced as a live alligator was suspended just centimetres away from her face.

Control

McEnroe, not known for his ability to stay calm under pressure, says he relishes the opportunity to host the show.

"I like the challenge of doing something different - different to what I've been doing playing tennis and commentating tennis."

He adds: "The concept for me is interesting because it relates to sports and what I did in the sense that you do better when you keep yourself under control but then you've still got to perform."

The Chair
A rival network claims ABC stole the idea for The Chair
The top prize, which was not won on the first show, is $250,00 (174,048).

As contestants begin to feel the pressure - and their pulse increases, hundred of dollars of winnings are taken away for every second they hover above their so-called red line heart rate.

"I like the idea of people being linked up to a heart rate monitor - being thrust into a difficult situation and then having the opportunity to win a quarter of a million dollars," says McEnroe.

Off-screen, the producers of The Chair are involved in a legal battle with a similar show, on the rival Fox network.

The Chamber aired for the first time last Sunday and is based on a similar theme.

Contestants answer trivia questions while being subjected to violent variations in physical conditions.

Copyright infringement

These range from excessive heat or cold, combined with simulated earthquakes, sprayed water and a spinning chair.

The similarities between the shows prompted the makers of The Chair to file a lawsuit for alleged copyright infringement.

Fox television has responded with its own counter suit.

On The Chair, McEnroe exudes a kind of boyish charm not generally associated with the excitable tennis star.

The show's host failed to live up to some aggressive trailers produced by the ABC network in which he appeared to berate the contestants as if they were taking part in Anne Robinson's The Weakest Link.

The mild-mannered McEnroe may prove to be the show's downfall.

According to one TV critic, The Chair is "every bit as exciting as you'd expect a series named after a piece of furniture to be."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Peter Bowes in Los Angeles
Ten contestants are about to make TV history
See also:

17 Jun 01 | TV and Radio
Weakest Link to battle Millionaire
16 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Weakest Link hits US screens
16 Apr 01 | Wales
Robinson ruling 'a whitewash'
20 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Anne Robinson - Goodbye Britain?
16 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
US hype for airbrushed Anne
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