Weaver's Week 2017-11-05

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Don't mention that show with the cakes and the marquee. It's history.


The Big Family Cooking Showdown

The Big Family Cooking Showdown

Voltage TV for BBC2, 15 August — 2 November

Long preview clips explaining the show. Do we need this at the start of every single episode? Only when we consider that the show's going to be repeated ad infinitum on the BBC's commercial partner channels.

So, if you're reading this after seeing an episode on UKTV Really 3D in spring 2026, welcome. This is what we thought at the time.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown From opening shot to closing credits, it's typical of the genre.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown is a microcosm of the cookery show from the 2010s. Created after Bake Off came to an end on the BBC, it had enough points of difference to satisfy lawyers, and enough points of similarity to make viewers feel at home.


Joint hosts for the show were Zoe Ball and Nadiya Hussein. Zoe is an entertainment legend, unflappable on live television, and able to get into the emotional heart of the matter in moments. Nadiya Hussein – winner of Bake Off just two years ago – has made a number of primetime documentaries and recorded series for the BBC. This is her first competition show as host.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown Nadiya and Zoe.

Critics and judges are Rosemary Shrager, most recently seen on Chopping Block; and Giorgio Locatelli, who we think is new to television. Between them, they cover off two key points: "cuddly gran with a sharp knife" and "expressive middle-aged bloke who looks a bit impetuous". A combination familiar from another Holly-berry.

Teams of three compete. They are related to each other, by blood or marriage, and come from more than one generation. The basic format is a knockout: the judges choose one team from each heat, and one from each semi-final, to make the final. There can, of course, be only one winner.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown Caution: family at work.


For the heats, the challenges were:

Ten Pound Challenge: make a meal for four, on a budget of £10, to a time limit. This is the first challenge, during which we hear about the players, and see them at home. We also get to see what they're making as they make it.

Favourite dishes: the judges visit the families at their home, where the contestants make their best food. The challenge is a two-course meal – main and sweet – in a limited time. It allows Zoe or Nadiya to poke about the kitchen, gawp at the collection of condiments and look at the spice rack. This isn't going to stop the show, because it will continue afterwards.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown It's 1997 all over again: here's Zoe Ball and the Spices.

Before the final challenge, we get a judges' recap – what has impressed them so far, what has been trouble. This isn't necessary for the competition, but helps the viewer keep track of what's been seen.

Impress the Neighbours asks for two more dishes – a starter and a main – to a time limit. There's no mention of a budget.

At the end of the episode, the judges pick their winner, who come back for the semi-finals.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown The judges: Giorgio and Rosemary.


For the heats, the families knew what would be asked of them. They could plan and prepare and rehearse. In the semi-final, and in the final, they didn't have this advance knowledge. Everything would have to be done on the hoof.

What's in the fridge? The judges provide some items in the fridge, and give one hour to make a main course for four people. The offerings are not unreasonable – one episode had chicken thighs, chorizo, filo pastry, spinach, sweetcorn, tomatoes, and some items from the larder. Again, this allows us a chance to see the families at home, and a recap of what happened in their heat.

Perfect puddings tested skill at sweets. Two different desserts are nominated, all the ingredients are provided, and they've even given an outline recipe. This isn't so much a test of ability as a test of timing: the base of a Bakewell tart is a one-person job, the sponge for a Black Forest Gateau needs more work. And there's nothing technical about it.

The nation's favourite took a familiar dish and asked for something different. Take, for instance, fish and chips. How can you possibly improve on this? (Well, shorter queues at the chippy would be nice.) The contenders had a chance to prepare for this challenge, giving triple-cooked chips, spiced fish, and home-made coleslaw.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown Mmm, fish and chips.

The final was a long and continuous challenge, preparing a range of nibbles, mains, and desserts for a large family get-together. Various dishes were served at different times: it was a test of planning, communication, and efficiency.

Regulo 5

Actual cooking, the challenges proper, are done to the typical cooking style. Lots of close-ups of things frying and being turned, little coverage of bread just sitting in the oven. Some leading comments from the judges, chosen so that their decisions will make sense later.

The show is carefully and skilfully edited to form a product. This isn't misleading, nothing important is omitted – if there's any drama, we'll see it. Dropped quiches, melted ice creams, kneading that sticks to the work surface, disagreements between hosts and judges. The story of the cooking session is told; so far as they tell a story, the narrator is reliable.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown More food.

There are so many cooking shows these days, we must have reviewed a dozen since the start of the decade. (Yes, when we come to write the Week of the Decade, cookery shows get an edition of their own. As you know, reader from 2021.) In terms of style, many of these shows tend to be indistinguishable. Lots of shots of the food, pizzicato strings from composer Wayne Roberts. There's a chic and twee set (designed by Peter Gordon, dressed by Rosie Westwood). And there's a "safe" amount of minor tension, because if it all goes wrong it's only a bit of cooking. No-one will die.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown is in the same area as Bake Off was, it's friendly and personable.

Can we have less cooking and concentrate on the contestants' personalities?

There's one key difference between Family Showdown and Bake Off: the competition structure. Bake Off kept the same contestants from week to week. We got to know about the contestants by osmosis, just by watching them work. Week after week, we could learn about the abilities, the troubles, the quirks, the foibles.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown All the families are hard at work.

Family Showdown is an elimination tournament. We will only see the winners in three weeks out of the series, a lot of people will appear once and then never again. It's more difficult to get to know the players, and to remember them from week to week. The producers help, taking two teams in the heats – we only have six new people at a time. With three teams in the semis and final, little recaps and vignettes help to refresh our memories in the later shows.

But it's an uphill battle. Unless we're watching very closely, and almost keeping notes, we won't remember some players from one show to their next appearance two months later.

Bake Off took us on a journey. Like Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor, we could follow people's progress in real time, we could see them grow at a natural pace. Family Showdown was a series of windows into the competitors' world, it didn't have the narrative strength from week to week.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown Zoe and a team let off steam.

Would Family Showdown have worked better if they did away with the overall championship, and each programme stood alone? We think the individual shows might have worked better on their own merits, but the competition element provides some structure to the BBC2 schedule.

Stand alone shows tend to be daytime programmes, the likes of Bargain Hunt and Gok's Lunchbox can be taken in any order and it doesn't matter if you miss one. Had Family Showdown been isolated programmes, we could have criticised because that's very different from competitions on primetime telly. {1}

Washing up

Overall, The Big Family Cooking Showdown left us unimpressed. We didn't watch every episode, and we don't think we missed very much. The show tries hard to be as similar to Bake Off as possible. It looks like Bake Off, it sounds like Bake Off, even the judges' pieces to camera are very Bake Off. A more confident style, a show that dared to be different, could have helped.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown

Our main problem, though, is the knockout structure. Every week, a different set of people. For the viewer, it's an effort to invest emotion into a show where we're likely not going to see these folk again.

Earlier in the year, we said that BBC The Voice was a quick fling, and The X Factor was like marrying the winner. Same thing here: while Bake Off was a ten-week commitment, Family Showdown was seeing someone three times in twelve weeks. We just don't make the emotional investment, and don't get the payoff at the end.

Leftovers: a footnote

This column is sad enough to read Radio 4's commissioning documents for pleasure. The speech station very clearly wants comedy-drama series, not serials. The difference: a series can be heard in any order, and (implicitly) missing any one episode won't hurt plot development. A serial has to be aired and heard in the right order.

An example from the game show world? Bargain Hunt is a series: each episode is self-contained, and the overall plot doesn't develop much from one episode to the next. At the other extreme, Strictly Come Dancing is a serial, if you jump from week 2 to week 5, two couples will have vanished for no reason.

The heats of Family Showdown were a series, they could have aired in any order. Only the grand final had to be aired last. Bake Off, like Strictly, makes little sense when aired out of order. Back

New Shows Alert

Our report from MIPCOM has been delayed through a surfeit of crystals, the spectre of Noseybonk, but mostly because our correspondent spent so much in the bar that he had to walk back.

"I don't think TV's about quantity; it's about quality. But you have to make enough shows to be relevant,” said the Big Cheese of Movistar Plus, winning the Statement of the Blindingly Obvious award.

Bell Media won the Sounds Like Friday Night gong, they claimed to introduces "The Next Big Music Series". It's so big, even the description has got capital letters. The Launch will be, er, premiered somewhere else.

Shall we get on with the games?

Lost in Translation: 6 teams work together to find treasure and escape from an island. The twist? They all speak different languages.

Did You Get the Message?: Deliver a piece of information by creating improbable situations, and it's all filmed on hidden camera. The description doesn't say whether the contestant creates the implausible scenario, or just acts in it.

Family Food Fight Down Under: diverse families undertake cooking challenges to be crowned "Australia's Greatest Food Family". We presume this is distinct from Family Food Fight on Channel 5, and different from The Big Family Cooking Showdown.

AI Mission: A contest between artificial intelligence and humanity, with the AI playing a series of away matches against experts in their fields.

Mission 2110 Cybele!

All Together Now: Contestants perform before The 100, a group of epic singers.

Change Your Tune: We begin by seeing some rubbish singers. "How is this different from Sounds Like Friday Night?" chortle the critics as the curtain drops. Weeks pass. The singers get trained. Curtain raises and they are now professional singers. But are they any good?

Catch Me Out: Ordinary people fool a theatre audience into believing they're professional entertainers. All3Media for BBC1, apparently.

Stars Under Pressure: celebs answer one single question about their own past career. The question is asked while the star is doing a death-defying stunt.

Couple or not: are they dating?

Bi the Way: a single woman tries to find soulmate among men and women. At show's end, she chooses between last man + last woman. It's one way to slowly break down the stereotyped gender boundaries.

Golden Brain: Celeb couples compete in challenges to see how their male/female brains work together. This is not a way to break down stereotypes.

The Perfect Question: How general is your general knowledge? Here's another way to find out. Contestants invent Qs to ask 100 audience opponents. The more wrong answers, the more points won.

Money Monster: Quiz show where the prize for a correct answer is as many bank notes as the contestant can count in one minute.

Beat the Wheel: From the blurb, sounds like a derivative of Take Your Pick. "Will contestants take cash offers + run… or try luck at beating the wheel, where risks + rewards rise?"

Look out for all, some, or fewer of these shows coming to a screen near you.

This Week and Next

Do you want to re-create Hunted in your neighbourhood? The people at Fire Hazard Games have this unusual desire, and are planning The Hunted live "experience". We suspect it'll be closer in spirit to Wanted, with contestants required to come in contact with the public in order to win. Let's hope that no-one asks for Mumsey's social media details, and that Paul Denchfield's Left Eyebrow stays directly above his eye.

Rare that Pointless gets its jackpot into five figures, but it happened this week. Janet and Emma's request for films was granted by the Pointless Gods, and the pair scooped £10,500. ITV's Alphabetical came off air last week, dangling a carrot labelled £58,900, but that prize hasn't been won in 30 editions and may never be claimed.

University Challenge pitted Ulster against St Anne's Oxford. Ulster won by 175-90.

Mastermind was not shown as scheduled; we'll keep an eye out for Heat 14, featuring House of Cards. Ah. Hmm. Yeah. That's why Mastermind is a series, not a serial.

Heat 15 went out in its place, pre-poned from 10 November. Everyone scored 12 or 13 on their specialist subject, everyone scored 21 or more in total. Both of these are remarkable achievements, well done everyone. Philip Isaac won the match, taking Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. His score is 26 (3 passes), average for this series so far.

Ian Slater creeps onto the repêchage board, Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels helped to 24 (2 passes). Michael Clark (23) and Sarah Elder (21) deserve praise: they could both have won many other heats.

Only Connect was replaced by men's football. The football won.

Have I Got News for You is a serial, and this week was the "speak up for the private school boys" edition. One friend of the column remarked, "We started watching Have I Got News for You on the tivo, but host Jo Brand introduced Quentin Letts, so we just deleted it without watching."

This was the right move: another friend said at the end, "BBC One, it is totally shameful you’ve allowed HIGNFY tonight to belittle the sexual harassment scandal and the victims that have spoken up."

We didn't see the edition – this column was watching Sing on The Satellite Channel, and Midge Ure's take on "Vienna" is better than anything Quentin Letts could offer. We don't intend to catch up. (Sing gets a review in two weeks' time.)

BARB ratings in the week to 22 October.

  1. Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1, Sat, 11.5m; Sun, 9.85m) the biggest thing on telly. Liar (ITV, Mon, 8.5m) the big drama, ahead of Gunpowder (BBC1, Sat, 7.5m).
  2. Breadxit Burn-Out (C4, Tue) is almost as big as Liar, scoring 8.45m. The X Factor went abroad (Sat, 6.8m). Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, Sat, 5m) and Have I Got News for You (BBC1, Fri, 4.9m) also do well.
  3. University Challenge (BBC2, Mon, 2.65m) just beats Celebrity Hunted (C4, Tue, 2.6m). In the battle of spin-offs, Strictly It Takes Two (BBC2, Mon, 1.9m) is ahead of Burn-Out Extra Sic (C4, Thu, 1.7m). The Big Family Cooking Showdown was disappointing (BBC2, Thu, 1.34m), but still ahead of Robot Wars (BBC2, Sun, 1.33m).
  4. Top digital game shows were Celebrity Juice (ITV2, Thu, 1.19m), A League of Their Own (The Satellite Channel, Thu, 790,000) and Taskmaster (Dave, Wed, 575,000). By comparison, Disney's Descendants 2 pulled 695,000 on Friday teatime.
  5. Other strong commissions and acquisitions: Landscape Artist of the Year (Artsworld, Wed, 285,000), Masterchef Down Under (W, Mon, 275,000), Your Face or Mine (Comedy Central, Wed, 120,000), Next Top Model and Project Runway (Lifetime, Thu, 145,000 and 102,000).

A new run of Masterchef The Professionals (BBC2, from Tue) has us asking one question: when are they bringing back the mince pie martini? For fans of music, Cythrel Canu is back (S4C, Thu), and Sing ends (The Satellite Channel, Fri). Dick and Dom are on Pointless Celebrities next Saturday.

Photo credits: Voltage TV, BBC Scotland.

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