Stephen Merchant Appeared on the British Game Show ‘Blockbusters’ Long Before ‘The Office’

We have seen plenty of celebrities like Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and Harry Styles make careers out of their stints on competition shows. While some stars became famous from movies or music, others became household names through game shows. For example, Stephen Merchant appeared on the British game show Blockbusters long before making a hit with The Office.

The premise of the game show ‘Blockbusters’

Blockbusters was a British game show based on a similar American quiz show. The show involves a single player and a team of two players answering trivia questions. The questions are clued up with an initial of the answer, and the player has to complete the path either across or down a game board of hexagons.

The British version of the show was created in 1981, with the pilot airing the following year. The significant difference between the U.K. and U.S. versions is that the U.S. edition was made for adults while the U.K. edition was made for sixth-formers (AKA 16- and 17-year-olds).

An adult’s edition aired in 1997 on BBC Two, presented by Michael Aspen. Blockbusters had a popular end-credits performance involving contestants doing hand jives that aired in Friday episodes. The gesture first appeared in 1986 after a contestant was bored after filming several shows a day while waiting for their turn.

The gesture was incorporated into the game and lasted for the rest of the series’ original run. Blockbusters ran for 10 seasons from 1983 to 1993 on ITV before moving to Sky One for two non-consecutive seasons in 1994 and 2000. BBC Two took over for one season in 1997 and Challenge for another in 2012, while Comedy Central ran the show for two seasons of 20 episodes in 2019.

Stephen Merchant appeared on ‘Blockbusters’ years before ‘The Office’

Stephen Merchant achieved fame with the U.K.’s The Office. However, a few years before the sitcom would become the big deal it is today, Merchant appeared on Blockbusters, according to Buzzfeed. The writer appeared on the show in 1997 to navigate his way around the game board by answering the trivia questions.

Although he started well, he ultimately finished weakly with 15 points against his opponents’ 50 points. Merchant spoke about his aspirations and revealed that he did some writing and also shared that he wanted to get into broadcasting, and as we know, his dreams did come true.

Stephen Merchant’s success post ‘The Office’

Stephen Merchant and the cast of 'The Office' after winning the Golden Globe for the Best Television Series
Stephen Merchant and the cast of ‘The Office’ | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When The Office first aired, it experienced low ratings, so Stephen Merchant and his co-writer and co-director Ricky Gervais did other jobs while filming. However, after airing in the U.S., the show achieved critical acclaim and spawned a highly successful American remake that aired in 2005.

The show went on to win a Golden Globe Award. Gervais and Merchant continued working together on radio shows and began recording a weekly podcast in 2005. The podcast was ranked the most popular in the world, with Guinness World Records certifying it as the most downloaded podcast of all time.

That same year, Gervais and Merchant began filming a series called Extras that followed the lives of extras working in film, TV, and theatre. Merchant played Gervais’s character’s incompetent agent, a role which earned him a British Comedy Award.

In 2007, Merchant started hosting a radio show on BBC 6 Music called The Steve Show, which aired for four seasons and ended in 2009. Merchant continued doing standup before starring in a sitcom in 2013 titled Hello Ladies.

Merchant landed small parts in films including The Invention of Lying, Run Fat Boy Run, Tooth Fairy, and Hot Fuzz. He also appeared in various TV shows, including Modern Family, Life’s Too Short, and Short Poppies.

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