Remembering 1 vs. 100 with former host Chris Cashman

Five years ago today, Microsoft announced that interactive game show 1 vs. 100 would not return for a new season. Today, Shacknews is looking back at the popular Xbox 360 online show by speaking to former host Chris Cashman.

3

In 2009, Microsoft kicked off one of the most interesting ideas of the last console generation. The publisher took a game show that had been running on NBC for a couple of seasons and decided to adapt it for a massive video game audience. But this was no mere retail tie-in. This was the first ever live massively multiplayer game show that would air on a weekly basis.

For Xbox 360 owners, 1 vs. 100 quickly became a household favorite. There was nothing in video games quite like it, allowing for friends, roommates, and families to all play and participate at home along with a nationwide audience of online gamers. On top of that, there was the possibility that lucky users would get called to be either a contestant or a part of the 100-person mob for prizes. It was an idea that was truly ahead of its time, bringing a new sense of interactivity to the classic game show format. The game would amass over 114,000 users at its peak and would even enter the Guinness Book of World Records.

But regardless of its popularity and its inventiveness, 1 vs. 100 was an expensive endeavor. Because it was so costly, Microsoft made the unpopular decision five years ago today to pull the plug on 1 vs. 100. The decision was heartbreaking to the game's loyal user base, but it was also heartbreaking for the various members of the show's staff, including former host Chris Cashman.

Today, Shacknews is taking a look back at 1 vs. 100 and remembering all the good times the game brought gamers of all stripes. To help us do that is Chris Cashman himself, who took time out of his schedule to speak to us about getting his start with the show, the first episodes, the fateful day the show was canceled, and whether a show like 1 vs. 100 could still work today.

Shacknews: How did Microsoft first approach you about 1 vs 100? What were your first thoughts when they first gave you the pitch?

Chris Cashman, former 1 vs. 100 host: I was actually called by my talent agent (gets on-camera and voice work for clients), who said Microsoft was casting for a new game show. I have always been relatively quick-witted and like to be spontaneous so a game show format has always been appealing to me. It sounded like fun but I didn't quite understand how it would work for Microsoft. I don't think I even knew it was for Xbox. I went to the audition at a casting agency in Seattle and mostly only remember reading some lines like "Do you want the money? OR the mob!" It was years ago, so it's a bit foggy, but I know I had fun with it and it went well.

Then I got a call saying they wanted to see me again. A "call back," as they say in the industry. That was actually a one-on-one with the game producer at Xbox. His name was Oren and he was hired from the TV world to help make this happen. That part excited me, because I knew they were bringing in professionals from entertainment. I got the feeling it was down to me and another couple people. I knew this was an important meeting and would probably decide things. That said, I still didn't know much about the game or how legit it would be. Oren basically through me in to a bunch of odd scenarios. Strange stuff, like, "Would you rather have bananas for hands or a watermelon for a head?" Oren might remember what he asked me, but I remember the watermelon part. I don't remember my answer, because it was spontaneous, but I knew I needed to be funny. Fortunately, humor is a strength, so I just had fun with the process. I also got the impression that Oren was trying to throw me (and the others) into the fire to see who could survive. I got my first job on TV in a similar audition. I could tell that a big part of the audition was to see who could keep talking and keep things going no matter what. I don't know if I was "better" than the other candidates, but I do think Oren told me I was the only guy who just kept answering and didn't crack.

I had been working in TV and radio for a decade but this new Xbox Live experience was the most exciting thing I had done. I remember thinking that I might very well be on the ground flood of a massive new form of media.

I was really excited when I got that call and learned I was chosen, but I still didn't know exactly what it meant or what the game would become. I was immediately impressed when I met the team and started to see a Beta version of the game. I was working on the radio at the time, so I basically left one studio and went to another on the Microsoft campus. Ultimately, my radio work helped me to translate the game into more of a show. That's where the idea of having guests game from. I could take calls on the radio, why not on the game? I even called in a few favors and got a few celebs like Joel McHale & Jeff Probst to call in. That was, in my opinion, a game changer. The studio realized that they had an opportunity to market in a whole new way and we eventually started featuring notable people from the gaming world -- Felicia Day, Cliff Bleszinski, etc. I had been working in TV and radio for a decade but this new Xbox Live experience was the most exciting thing I had done. I remember thinking that I might very well be on the ground flood of a massive new form of media.

Shacknews: How do you feel the first show went? Did you feel that it worked or was there any sort of apprehension from the crew?

Cashman: The first shows were Beta and it was often more about working out the timing -- How much time I had in "the lobby" portion where people were logging in, how much time I had to transition from rounds, etc.

I was in a mic booth and watched a TV screen that featured 1 vs. 100 in real time. The difference is that I had visual data on-screen. I could see how many people got answers right and what percentage voted on what. I could share that info live with the audience. "Don't worry, 80% of you got that one wrong, so it was a tough one." The whole Beta phase felt like dress rehearsals, but we took it very serious. I could tell that this was a very exciting new platform and I was honestly very excited and motivated to make this fun for everyone. The crew was great and made a lot of new tech work. Most of the team sat in a big audio control room that was across the glass (soundproof) from me. They were really cool about keeping up with the changes, too.

When I tried to convince them that we should have guests call in, it was obviously met with some resistance, mostly because it hadn't been done before. I saw it as a practical idea that they could do, because they had more sophisticated audio control than I worked with in radio. We even experimented with recording calls. I do remember talking with Oren about my conviction that celeb guests could really elevate things. A part of my job on TV was interviewing celebs to promote movies and stuff. I knew it would be a bit challenging to convince movie studios that they should have their stars make a visit to a video game, but that was also the part I found cool and progressive. We had tens of thousands of engaged participants playing along live across the United States and Canada. If I was selling something, I would sure like to get my message in front of an engaged audience like Xbox Live.

We tested that theory by eventually asking the crowd to do things. I remember asking my producer if I could engage the players to email us. Just to see how engaged they were and how responsive they would be. I vividly remember the moment we did that and Oren got bug eyed and was staring at his computer screen. He turned the screen around to face me in the booth. I think it was around 3,000 emails or so and that was in a minute or two. Eureka! We did the same thing with phones. I asked the audience to send a pic of where they were playing and who they were with. We got tons of pics and it was fascinating to see our audience. TV doesn't get to do that. We got pics of kids, teens, families, and more. It was really motivating. Once again, I felt like I was a part of a very exciting new form of media.

Shacknews: What was your favorite moment while working the show? Any cool behind-the-scenes stories with you and the crew?

Cashman: Hard to pick a favorite moment, but I will say that I often look at those celebrity moments as a highlight. It wasn't a part of the original plan, I pleaded to consider it and when it worked I was thrilled. Joel McHale called in and promoted his then-new show "Community." Jeff Probst talked to us about "Survivor" and even said he was blown away by what we were doing at Xbox Live.

A big thrill came when we got Jimmy Fallon to call in. We shared a sponsor (Sprint), so that's how it really came to happen, but I was blown away when Jimmy made references to the game that only someone who plays would know. He was so gracious with his time and the fact that he really did play was highly motivating to me. That's about the time that I became convinced that we were just scratching the surface and that this interactive game experience could become a juggernaut. I still think it would have become that.

Ultimately, I loved working with our team and it felt like a special club. I joked to a friend that I felt like Batman. No one on the street knew I was the guy who hosted that cool new game on Xbox Live. One of the more memorable moments came when I traveled to San Diego for some corporate work. I was walking through the airport when a woman ran up and said "You're Chris Cashman!" If I was in Seattle, I would have assumed she recognized me from TV, but I was in San Diego, so it threw me. Then she said, "My boyfriend will never believe this! We play 1 vs. 100 all the time! He's in the Navy and I'm picking him up today." All of that info was stunning to me. This person recognized me from Xbox! She played the game... with her boyfriend... who is in the Navy! We took a selfie (before that was the thing!) and I left in a fog of empowerment. She eventually told me that she saw a driver holding a sign that said "Chris Cashman," so she wanted to stick around to see if it was me. I forgot that I did appear as myself in the game, because we did some fun video promos that would run throughout the game. It was a great experience, because it was proof that what we were doing was working on several levels. Once again, I was convinced we were on to something really big.

Shacknews: Talk about the final days. When did you and the crew first sense that the final show was near? How did the showrunners break the news to you guys and what was the atmosphere like afterwards?

Cashman: I didn't have any "insider info" on the cancellation, but I did get a call from another producer about a week or so before they were ready to announce that we weren't going to continue. The people I worked with at Xbox were amazing and always very cool to me. They did give me a week or so heads-up, so that I wasn't left wondering. It was very sad to hear, but I wasn't totally surprised. I knew that what we were doing was unique, innovative, and certainly out of the usual. I knew that we might be too complex to survive.

Ultimately, it was a familiar tale of many corporate downsizings. One boss left, another slid into his seat. The new person didn't value the game the way others did. My team was mostly reassigned to work on new and developing stuff, like ESPN on Xbox Live. That said, pretty much everyone I worked with was bummed and frustrated we didn't get more time. I know a big part of the puzzle was that 1 vs. 100 wasn't an original concept and was licensed from Endemol. They are a massive global content provider and I have no idea what they charged Xbox to license the game, but I would imagine it wasn't cheap. I'm sure that's a big part of the game's demise.

I was overwhelmed by the response online. People really cared and made sure that their digital voice was heard.

Unlike other games, 1 vs. 100 had a need (and opportunity) to make money with advertisers. We had in-game commercial breaks and the ability to sell advertisements. I know the sales folks were probably trying to figure out how to sell ads inside video games, but I always saw it as a golden opportunity because we had a captive audience. Unlike TV, our audience logged in and was involved in an active way. When I said "Email us," they did. When I said "Send us a photo," they did. I think advertisers would have enjoyed a very engaged consumer market that they had never been able to tap in to before, but I would imagine sales people weren't sure how to sell it at the time. We did run a few commercials and I remember running a pizza commercial. I remember thinking that in a year or two, they could probably make it so that you just click a button on your controller to order stuff, like a pizza. Don't leave the game, just click on the ad and process your order. It seemed like a no-brainer, really.

Ultimately, the news was published that we weren't going to continue, so I posted my video for kicks. I figured that the audience would be bummed, but if I had a laugh about it they might also. It was rather devastating, but I tend to lean on humor to get through rough times. This was no exception. I was overwhelmed by the response online. People really cared and made sure that their digital voice was heard. I couldn't believe how many people were up in arms and even arguing that a part of their Gold membership was to play our game. All of the articles posted seemed to be in support of the fans and questioned the move. The comment threads went for miles and it was 99.9% in protest of the cancellation. It's silly, but I did take pride in knowing that the audience wasn't going to take it gently. I got numerous interview requests for Podcast and various publications. It was really flattering that people seemed to genuinely care so much about what we were doing. I still meet fans of the game all the time. I host and produce on a comedy TV show here in Seattle, so I get approached by fans all the time, but it never ceases to amaze me when one of those fans really wants to reminisce about 1 vs. 100! It happens a lot. It's simply amazing that it still resonates.

Shacknews: Do you feel like 1 vs 100 could still work today?

Cashman: YES! I wait for the phone to ring. Not really. I do in my mind though!

It could and should exist. We barely tapped into the potential and I would imagine that if we were still around, we would be as close to a household name as a video game could get. I think we were breaking the mold of gaming. We heard from lots of people who said they hated the idea of a game show when it was launched, but eventually tried it and became legit fans. I met a dad who told me he loved our game, because his kid was a nut for gaming and all he wanted to do was play Xbox. The dad said it was a legit struggle at home, but when they discovered our game it became a family affair and they made it appointment family time. That's really cool. Parents loved to see what their kids know and they got to watch them learn... while playing video games. Win-win scenario!

I am still amazed that no other interactive games have come along. I still get people tweeting to me about the game and even sending me links when a Microsoft or Xbox exec makes mention of interactive content. 1 vs. 100 has even been referenced several times at E3 and the likes, but I haven't ever heard a peep from anyone at Xbox. When Xbox One launched, there were rumors circulating. Sadly, it doesn't seem to have much relevance at this point and I don't know if they are indeed working on something like 1 vs. 100. I would jump at the chance to work with Xbox again and I keep my fingers crossed. Toes, too. Until that red Bat-Phone rings...we all wait!

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty