John McEnroe, The Chair
Credit: The Chair: Bob D'Amico

Boy, it was great while it lasted, wasn’t it?

I’m talking, of course, about the torture-game-show trend, in which Fox’s ”The Chamber” and ABC’s The Chair competed for our hummingbird attention spans by subjecting squirming, strapped-down contestants to licking flames, blasts of freezing air, and flashing lights, all the while demanding that correct answers be provided to banal questions like ”Don King or Larry King has been married seven times?”

”The Chamber” shed millions of viewers with each of its three airings and has been pulled. ”The Chair,” also facing fluttering ratings, ties its contestants into what appears to be a souped-up Barcalounger. It’s hosted by the great tennis player/hothead John McEnroe, who has managed to find the only job that might elicit sympathy for him. One’s heart cannot help but go out to a once-dominating athlete reading cue-card lines like ”You may love tennis, but you’ve just been aced by [short pause for pathetic dramatic effect]…the Chair!”

McEnroe presides over his show’s salient gimmick: Contestants must keep their heart rates below a predetermined ”redline” level before they’re allowed to respond to quizzing. Thus ”The Chair” offers the static, tedious spectacle of a bound-but-not-gagged nervous Nellie sitting in a chair, waiting for his or her heart rate to lower so that he or she can answer a question such as ”’The Practice,’ ‘Ally McBeal,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ and ‘Boston Public’ — which of these TV shows is not set in Boston?”

”The Chair” and ”The Chamber” are barely worth watching more than once.

The Chair
  • TV Show