Accio Harry Potter nerds.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” WarnerMedia and the Wizarding World put together a four-part weekly quiz show to put contestants’ magical knowledge to the test.
The quiz show, titled “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses,” is a bracket-style competition, in which contestants will be tasked with answering hundreds of Wizarding World trivia questions as they play for one of the four Hogwarts houses.
Think of it as like the Triwizard Tournament. But televised for muggles, hosted by Oscar-winning Dame Helen Mirren and (obviously) not as dangerous as the fictional tournament at the center of “Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.”
But how do you create a quiz show that’s both fun and challenging about a beloved franchise that so many are obsessed with? That’s the challenge that executive producers Robin Ashbrook and Yasmin Shackleton faced when putting the show together.
Ashbrook and Shackleton, who have produced a number of reality shows, said they wanted to ensure the show appealed to more than just the superfan.
“Because we’re celebrating 20 years [since the first film], my kids all know the franchise,” Ashbrook said. “But the challenge was how do you make a show that appeals to a dad who doesn’t know anything? Or a daughter who doesn’t know that much about Harry Potter?”
For the superfans, the producers added a lot of Easter eggs on the set, including Tom Riddle’s diary and the actual sorting hat.
“If you know, you know,” Shackleton said. “And if you don’t know, you don’t know. We were lucky enough to be lent some items from actual films that you’ll see dispersed around our set.”
For newer fans, or those who have never really tuned in to Harry Potter, they also knew it was important to feature content from the first film.
“We have a lot of clips in there so people can enjoy and remember the magic of the Harry Potter films,” Shackleton said. “We have a lot of stills in there, too. We really bring the world to life.”
The casting process wasn’t easy, especially given the number of wizards and witches out there who wanted the opportunity to show off their knowledge.
“It’s safe to say in terms of casting we’ve never had such a high amount of people apply for a show. Sifting through and finding the most fervent fans was a joy,” Shackleton said. “But with that joy came that pain of realizing how much details these people know about the Harry Potter world. They’ve all read the books 20 times and seen the movies 20 times.”
Michelle Tsai, 25, who competed on the Slytherin team, said she knew when she saw the application online that she had to apply to be on the show.
“After a few Harry Potter pop quizzes, Zoom interviews, and a few more weeks of waiting, I finally got the call that I was one of six finalists being flown to LA for the taping,” she said in an email interview. “We had to go through a few rounds of COVID testing, went over gameplay rules and our wardrobe options with producers, all while still not knowing if we’d make the final cut. When Helen Mirren called my name from the audience and I found out I was actually going to be able to compete on the show, it was probably the most excited I’ve ever been in my life.”
The other big challenge for the producers was coming up with the questions, which were created by a specific team of question writers.
“When we were casting, we gave the people who applied multiple quizzes to gauge their knowledge, and then we did multiple run-throughs with other Harry Potter fans,” Shackleton said. “I think one of the things we realized was how much information the fans knew, and [thinking] how do we also make this program accessible to those new to the Harry Potter world.”
More than half the questions were purposefully made multiple choice so viewers could more easily play at home, as well.
“Of everything, the questions were the trickiest balance to get right,” Shackleton said. “But I think we got it.”
Ask some of the contestants and they’ll agree: Getting on the show involved a lot of studying.
“I started by re-watching all of the movies and re-reading all of the books, so they would be freshest in my memory,” said Tsai, who lives in New York City.
“As I watched, I took note of any potential deep-cut trivia questions that I didn’t know the answers to off the bat and added them to a deck of flashcards to review,” she said.
Trey Beachum, 31, of Dallas, said he listened “to Harry Potter Audible books to and from work every day.”
“I watched pieces of the movies every day, even if I don’t have time to finish them,” the Gryffindor added. “I also talk Harry Potter with other Harry Potter fans online every day.”
Contestants said Mirren, among the most famous British actors who was not in the Harry Potter film franchise, helped make the experience even more magical.
Tsai described Mirren as “so elegant and stunning.”
Mirren “has a royal sort of presence about her,” she said. “She was also super nice to all of the contestants, and made us feel really comfortable throughout the taping process. We would chat during breaks when the camera stopped rolling, and she gave the teams hugs when things didn’t go our way.”
Beachum said, “Though her presence in the room can be felt, she is a truly humble and kindhearted person.”
Mirren told The Associated Press that “it was a great way to be able to participate in the whole extraordinary phenomena that is Harry Potter.”
The show features cameos from cast members, including Tom Felton (who played Draco Malfoy), Simon Fisher-Becker (who played the Fat Friar, the ghost of Hufflepuff House), Shirley Henderson (who played Moaning Myrtle) and Luke Youngblood (who played Lee Jordan). Superfans Pete Davidson and Jay Leno also make appearances.
The first episode debuts Sunday. Viewers can join in and compete in the Wizarding World Quiz Championship, the companion digital quiz event on WizardingWorld.com.
But, just as in the books and the movies, only one house will be crowned the House Cup Champion at the end. And no one has the help of Felix Felicis.