Weaver's Week 2017-11-19

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We're re-evaluating one of the summer shows as we review




Fizz for The Satellite Channel, 6 October – 10 November

Remember the BBC1 summer show Pitch Battle, where Mel Giedroyc and celebrity judges asked teams of singers to sing? Remember how we all thought, "this is a bit meh"? Here's another way to do it.

Sing is an a cappella show. Almost every piece of music in this show comes from the human mouth. From the opening titles to the closing credits, it's all vocals. Resident vocal quintet Sons of Pitches lead us into the breaks, welcome us back, and provide some well-placed oohs and aaahs.

Sing Television royalty.

Cat Deeley is our host. From twenty years in showbiz, Cat is experienced. From years working with massive egos and huge talents – Ant and Dec, Patrick Kielty, Richard Park – Cat is tremendously competent. She is the safest pair of hands in showbiz. If you wanted someone to hold the crown jewels and not drop them, Cat's your choice.

Unlike television's best gentleman presenter (Phillip Schofield), Cat Deeley has a slight air of menace. Perhaps we're remembering Britain's Got the Pop Factor, because Cat occasionally exudes, "This is my show. Welcome to it, enjoy it. If you do anything to mess it up I will kill you before the first commercial break." And that would be unfortunate.

Being similar to Pitch Battle

The basic structure of each show is familiar. Each heat contains five groups. In the first half of the programme, we're going to see an introduction package, and a brief performance of two songs. A mark out of 200 will be awarded {1}.

Sing A group performs.

After all the groups have performed, the single lowest score leaves. The four remaining groups perform in a medley of songs associated with one performer – the greatest hits of Queen, or David Bowie, or Beyonce. All of the groups are scored afresh.

The top two return for the final, a longer medley of the group's choice. Again, the groups are scored, and the higher score in this round wins.

There's very little novelty in an episodic singing contest like this, even the highbrow Eurovision Choir of the Year adopted a similar format. {2} Someone must keep score, someone must voice their opinion. Other shows invite the public to take sides. On Sing, it's a panel of expert judges, retained throughout the heats for maximum fairness.

Sing Do they know it's Midgemas?

Each programme included a star guest – they'd wave at the start, have a quick chat with Cat during the opening rounds, and perform with resident vocalists Sons of Pitches just before the final. We particularly enjoyed Midge Ure's performance, a spine-tingling take on "Vienna".

Being musically different from Pitch Battle

When they promoted the show, KYTV went on and on and on. Mostly about the prize: the series winners get to record an album in Abbey Road studios, and have a single released into the Christmas market.

KYTV also blathered about how Sing was an a cappella show. It's in the extended title: Sing: Ultimate A Cappella. Every performance was done by the human voice. The only non-human bits were some of the stabs used to present the scores, and even those might have been well-processed singing.

Sing -Wake up you old fool, you slept through the show.
-Who's a fool? You watched it!

Sing took its point of difference and made it a virtue. The show was coherent, and we found it more compelling as a result. Here's an honest programme, we can trace every sound to one of the people on stage. It felt that the groups were entirely comfortable with the songs they were singing, as if they always include a short blast of Britney in every concert.

By the end of the series, we'd become somewhat blasé to the a cappella motif. When all music is unaccompanied, the ear quickly gets used to it. The point of difference impressed us in the first show; by the final, we'd come to expect it. A gimmick that looks good on paper but quickly gets forgotten, a bit like E4's Game of Clones.

The groups were mostly small, unlike the large choirs on Pitch Battle. There was no effort to promote a soloist, the groups were allowed to tell their own stories – unison singing, harmonies, counterpoints. Whatever worked for them, they weren't shoe-horned into the BBC's idea of a choir.

Being different in presentation from Pitch Battle

The summer's show on BBC1 had many problems. A messy format, endless knockouts, a little too much shouting. On Sing, everyone did their pieces, and the best could do some more.

Sing They were all yellow.

Sing put the music first. After each performance, the conversation was limited. Cat might ask how that was for the performers, but she didn't then turn to the judges and ask for their opinions. No, the judges just pushed their buttons and gave their marks. It made for a slick presentation, the show had pace and zip. In the commercial hour, KYTV had almost as much music as 90 minutes of primetime BBC1.{3}

Another difference was that Sing felt like a celebration. It was positive: the bulk of performances in each round would come back. Whoever your favourites were, we were likely to see them again. In retrospect – and we didn't spot this at the time – Pitch Battle was a negative show, finding losers more than finding winners.

If there's one criticism, it's that the later rounds in each show tended to be superfluous. When one choir's got a clear lead in the opening round, they're going to boss the rest of the show and emerge on top. When two are clear of the others, they're going to make the final, and the middle round is strictly for entertainment.

Sing We missed the episode where they performed in the box office.

We enjoyed the look and feel of the show. It was filmed in a real theatre, the Troxy in London. Shot direction was very interesting: in the final's medley section, one group was shown walking up the aisles of the theatre, another was in the well beneath the judges' balcony, and the others came on in interesting ways. This wasn't the tedious and predictable BBC shot direction, but something we don't see so often.

Final chorus and coda

Sing Sounds like champions.

The series was won by Vadé. A press release puffed how the group have signed a recording contract with Decca Records, and released their single "Cry your heart out", written by Niall Horan from One Direction. The album will be released on 8 December.

The press release continues, "Vadé's signature sound draws inspiration from traditional gospel music, with a dash of added Motown and soul. Their debut LP will feature and eclectic mix of covers from a string of genres ranging from 'Motownphilly' by Boyz II Men and 'Kiss From A Rose' by Seal, to 'Don't You Worry Child' by Swedish House Mafia and Rag n Bone Man's 'Human'{4}, as well as the brand new original song 'Cry Your Heart Out'."

Sing Sons of Pitches, the resident house group.

There's very little to criticise in Sing, we enjoyed all of the episodes, and we're interested enough to look up some of the performers. Will we be joining the ranks of a cappella choirs? No, it rains enough as it is. Will we be interested to see some in performance? We just might be, and that would make Sing a major hit.

Or it would in our eyes. The viewing public appear not to have been so impressed, choosing to watch other programmes on a Friday night, or just not watch telly at all. Ratings have not been strong, and the series final was moved up a week by holding two heats back-to-back. This doesn't show much confidence in the programme.

Sing All the Statlers and Waldorfs.

{1} Ben Sawyer, Rachel Mason, Aaron Lee Lambert, Joanna le Strange, and Carol Pemberton are the judges. None of them slept through the show. Each awards a mark out of 10 in Vocals, Musicality, Interpretation, and Performance. Broadly, that's technical vocal expertise; rhythm and dynamics; making the notes their own; and stagecraft. We never see the individual judges' total marks, still less their scores in each category. Back to article

{2} Though in Riga, everyone went straight through to the final round, and the scores weren't published. Back to article

{3} A curiosity: in the Friday episodes of Sing late in the series, there were just two commercial breaks in a 60 or 75-minute programme, far less than normal. The programme flowed even better as a result, but how much revenue did KYTV forego? Back to article

{4} Don't believe the press releases, folks! We checked the songwriting credits. "Motownphilly" by Dallas Austin, Michael Bivins, Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman. "Don't you worry child" by Steve Angello, Martin Lindstrom, John Martin Lindstrom, Axel Hedfors, Sebastian Ingrosso, John Martin, Michel Zitron. "Human" by Jamie Hartman and Rory Graham. "Kiss from a rose" is by Seal. Back to article

This Week and Next

Six years ago this weekend, Tim Gudgin read his final football results on Grandstand. This was a coda to his main job, four decades as a clear announcer on BBC Radio. He hosted game shows including Top of the Form and Treble Chance, music shows such as Round the Bend and Saturday Night at the Light, and lent his voice to Quote... Unquote and the Bleep and Booster stories for Blue Peter. Tim Gudgin died this week; he was 87.

Bill Cashmore has also died, aged 56. He'll be best remembered as "The Piemaster" on Lee and Herring's Fist of Fun, and as a playwright and public speaker. His game show connection is on Knightmare, where he was Honesty Bartram, Snapperjack, and Bhal-Shebah.

On University Challenge, Emmanuel Cambridge took on Strathclyde, and won by 170-105.

Another Perfect Round on Mastermind, Brian Chesney went 15-for-15 on Harold Wilson, and won the game with 30 points. Andrew Gregory took George Orwell and finished second, 25 (4 passes) puts him fifth on the high-scoring losers' board. Darren Smith had The Vicar of Dibley, and 24 (0 passes) is sixth on the losers' board. Hugh Williams made 21 points, a strong score in any week.

Wanderers and Inquisitors met on Only Connect, and the Wanderers got off to a great start. Bespoke typefaces and people who died aged 100 helped, as did sitcoms with women in the title role. The match was lost on the walls: for the second time, the Inquisitors couldn't make the final connections. A strong performance in Missing Vowels advanced the Inquisitors' cause, but the Wanderers won 25-21.

There's no Mastermind next week, and Only Connect doesn't return until 8 December. Which means, after Christmas, they'll move into the Second Chance Round.

BARB ratings in the week to 5 November.

  1. Blue Planet II the biggest show of all (BBC1, Sun, 13.95m). Strictly Come Dancing the biggest game show (BBC1, Sat, 11.95m; Sun, 10.65m).
  2. The Grate Breadxit Burn-Out finished (C4, Tue, 9.55m; Extra Sic, Thu, 1.65m). Highest rating of the series, but the only episode to beat the opener. Viewing figures are down by a third from last year, and the damage to Channel 4's reputation is not yet clear. Still, they'll have made their money back, worse things happen at sea.
  3. The X Factor stayed on its live shows (ITV, Sat, 5.75m; Sun, 4.55m). Pointless Celebrities continues to soar (BBC1, Sat, 5.5m), and Have I Got News for You continues to be sexist (BBC1, Fri, 5m).
  4. University Challenge was up a million when restored to its usual slot (BBC2, Mon, 2.85m). Strictly on Two hit new heights (BBC2, Mon, 2.2m). The Big Family Cooking Showdown had its final, and the biggest score on Thursday (BBC2, 1.95m). Celebrity Hunted concluded (C4, Tue, 2.7m).
  5. Top on the diginets: Celebrity Juice (ITV2, Thu, 1.255m), the Taskmaster final (Dave, Wed, 805,000), Masterchef Down Under (W, Fri, 325,000).
  6. Next three new shows: Landscape Artist of the Year (Artsworld, Wed, 245,000), Top Class (CBBC, Sun, 165,000), Next Top Model (Lifetime, Thu, 150,000).
  7. Two episodes of Sing (The Satellite Channel, Fri) recorded 131,000 and 100,000, including viewers to The Satellite Channel Plus One. That's not good, but at least it made the channel's list: Bromans missed ITV2's top 50, less than 280,000 viewers. (For the record, this column gave up about halfway through, The Shannara Chronicles was more appealing.)

Another item off the autumn calendar: I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! is back (ITV and TV3, from Sun). Would I Lie to You? (2) also returns (BBC1, Mon).

The Susan Calman takeover continues with Armchair Detectives (BBC1, weekdays). Sue Perkins bites back with Insert Name Here (BBC2, Mon). Michelle McManus and George Sampson are on Pointless Celebrities TV Winners (BBC1, Sat), and The X Factor hits its semi-final stage (ITV, Sat and Sun).

It's Junior Eurovision Song Contest week. Daily reports from the ESC Insight podcast, and the final will be live next Sunday on Fun Kids radio.

Next week's Week should be published on Friday. Do not adjust your calendars.

Photo credits: Fizz.

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