Stateside spelling is a sport with the Scripps National Spelling Bee covered by sports channel ESPN. And it’s all rather different to the high tech made for TV quiz show, inspired by the film Spellbound, that is the BBC’s Hard Spell. While we do catch a glimpse of the American way with the clips of early heats in Manchester Town Hall and elsewhere, its slick professionalism is its undoing.
The US version comes from a different place, with ESPN covering a 79 year old institution rather than owning it. And Spellbound documents a sport, while Hard Spell is a quiz show. So perhaps it’s inevitable that the film is so much better in every way; we have the tension and excitement of competition together with proper studies of the competitors. I felt Spellbound betrayed its subjects, while Hard Spell’s cruelty – lingering on a young lad standing alone, in tears after losing his way – was more upfront. So Hard Spell will never become the British version of the nerdish institution that is the Scripps National Spelling Bee; it’s got no roots and British TV’s habit of over exposing new ideas (why not weekly rather than nightly?) means we’re more likely to quickly tire of it.