Weaver's Week 2018-02-11

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They're flying the same flag in Brighton and Paris.


Eurovision You Decide

A Song for Europe

BBC Studios for BBC2, 7 February

Also: Destination Eurovision, ITV Studios for France2, 13-27 January

Yes, the BBC selection show for the Senior Eurovision Song Contest came live from Brighton, 44 years (less a couple of months) since ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest. To mark the occasion, Måns Zermeløw and Lucie Jones performed a medley of ABBA hits. Mel Giedroyc donned the Napoleon hat, and "Waterloo" played as the interval act. On tape from 1974, naturally.

A Song for Europe Lucie Jones is annoyed, as Mel Giedroyc is dressing up already.

The voting is a 50-50 split. Half the marks come from eight music industry professionals locked away in a BBC broom cupboard. The other half come from votes cast on the BBC website, and via telephone.

The scripted words came from Edward af Sillen and Daniel Réhn, a script full of wit and spark. Unscripted critiques come from three people on stage. The star panel – Tom Fletcher from Bungalow house band McFly, Rochelle Humes from Blue Peter house band The Saturdays, and Rylan Clark Neal from Big Brother house.

A Song for Europe These days: an author, a theatre star, and still on Big Brother.

The stage is a traditional theatre. Some people are in the stalls, more in the circle above, and all are waving flags of one description or another, reflecting the crowd's preferences. There's a video wall behind the performer. Remember, there's no video wall in Lisbon. It's quite a large stage, big enough for all six performers to line up, and have their own spotlight, and leave shadows between them.

A Song for Europe Raya. Backing hunks not pictured.

"Crazy" is the first song, performed by Raya. It's a simple song, with a very strong beat. Raya is joined by five gyrating young men, though it's not clear who is providing the background vocals in the chorus. This is competent, and more than a little predictable, and we can see the producers using it as sorbet between two strong slow songs.

A Song for Europe Liam Tamne, through the Brighton Beach Telescope.

"Astronaut" is performed by Liam Tamne. A soft start, bursts into life after the first chorus. Like the visual effect behind Liam, a swirling starburst that looks great from the back of the arena. Mel will point out there's no LED screen in Lisbon, so this staging must change. Liam shows great vocal capacity, but the song doesn't really go anywhere. Rylan diagnoses the opposite problem, Liam doesn't nail it at the beginning. Can't see this going anywhere.

A Song for Europe Asanda and her scaffolding.

"Legends", sung by Asanda. In the hours before the contest, this column listened to the hooks of all the entries through a mobile phone speaker. Theory: if a hook sounds good on a mobile, it'll sound good anywhere. And this sounds good: it's contemporary for the televote, with enough physical performance to impress the juries. But vocal quality is a concern: that was very breathy, and perhaps a little pitchy. Is it better to flub the national final than the jury final?

A Song for Europe Jaz Ellington: smokey.

"You" gets the vocals of Jaz Ellington. In our mobile check, this intrigued us: there was something, but we'd need to see the visuals. The visual we get is Jaz alone on a stage, ascending spotlights and some smoke in the background. Vocal quality is assured, the switch from falsetto to chest works every time, and the moment half-way through where he starts belting is the recap moment. The simple staging fits with the song.

The star panel said little of consequence, but here's the exception. Rylan diplomatically says that he doesn't want to send "another ballad". That's musical nonsense of the highest order: "Amar pelos dois" was a simple and unornamented song, a murmur from someone half asleep. "You" is complex, it's got levels and complexity, it's from someone who is wide awake and stretching every sinew.

And at this point the line to Brighton went down, leaving us with a still photograph of Mel gesticulating. Quick, cut to a profile of the next act!

A Song for Europe SuRie: crazy spelling, crazy gal!

"Storm" comes from the mouth of SuRie. Good to see the light poles from RTBF's entry last year make a return; not a surprise, when we realise SuRie was a backing vocalist for Blanche, and before that for Loïc Nottet. This song sounds like the sequel to "City lights": the song we can hear when the darkness is drawing to a close, the first rays of sunshine are creeping over the horizon. It's optimistic, and it takes us out of the moment. SuRie stays static on stage, the camera remains calm and controlled. She waves her hands about a lot, to help with the vocal capacity. That got a really strong crowd reaction.

A Song for Europe They're called GOLDstone. Geddit?!

"I feel the love" comes from Goldstone. They're three young women, a constructed group and not quite like O'Gene from last year's show. There are some nice harmonies, and the choreography works, but the cheap synth backing reminds us too much of Bananarama. This one's a show opener, the producers would want it on first, or first after the adverts.

Our complete single transferable vote:

  1. Storm
  2. You
  3. Re-open nominations – we can't honestly cheer for anything below this
  4. I feel the love
  5. Crazy
  6. Legends
  7. Stay at home – we're not comfortable with a winner beneath this line
  8. Astronaut

This tells us something: the BBC is getting better. Two years ago, we put half the entries beneath the "stay at home" line. Tonight, just one falls that low, and not by much.

And France, too?

Waving flags for Emmy Liyana.

While the BBC do their thing (including clips from last year, and from 1974), we'll discuss France Television's selection. A three-part affair, Destination Eurovision had two semi-finals, sending half their songs to the final.

The show was filmed in a relatively small studio, with a compact video screen and video floor. A catwalk led to the main stage area. The result was an intimate setting, cameras could get close without getting into shot. The stage in Lisbon will be unimaginably larger. You might think it's a long way to the end of the universe, but that's nothing compared to the Senior Eurovision Song Contest stage.

Just like on BBC2, what we saw on F2 may not be the finished presentation, but it's a clear indication of how they'd like to do it. Backing dancers will remain as backing dancers. Backing vocalists may or may not be in shot. Those LED displays will have to go.

As well as their contest entry, the performers on Destination Eurovision would showcase themselves with a cover of someone else's song – in the final, a duet with a star. This gave a chance to show two postcards – an introduction to the performer, and then an introduction to the song. It also gave us a chance to get accustomed to the voice. We can be sure that professional jurors were only marking on the contest song, but the viewer vote might have confused these elements.

There was a panel of three experts in the studio. Amir, who sang last year's F2 entry. Isabelle Boulay, who's been a massive star for twenty years. Christophe Willem, Nouvelle Star champion 2006 and judge on X Factor TF1. Each awarded marks for their six favourite songs, 12-10-8-6-4-2. From this, we learned that the French for "douze points" is "twelve points".

We have no idea, either.

Votes also came from an international panel, the delegation heads for SVT, RAI, and BTRC. For the final, they were joined by delegates from BNT, AMPTV, SSR, C1R, YLE, RÚV, and Eurovision Song Contest debutants KAN{1}. We note two of F2's closest friends, there are usually points from (but not to) "Switzerland", and points are exchanged with "Armenia".

Not everything was a highlight. Pheno Men turned up in heat one, the vocal group felt out of time and out of tune. Igit qualified from heat two with "Lisboa Jérusalem", shamelessly listing off large cities in the Eurovision zone while a wooden puppet danced.

Highlights of heat 1 included "Eva", Lisandro Cuxi's performance was the first to grab us by the lapel and say, "You're going to televote for this. Yes you are." When Emmy Liyana performed "OK ou KO", we were again picked up and flung in the direction of the televote. It was no surprise when these two won the jury selection, and no surprise that both were downloaded like hot cakes.

Max Cinnamon came from the burning zone.

From heat 2, "Mercy" by Madame Monsieur was a treat, a really strong song with mean and moody presentation. We may have been encouraged by the opening performance, any act that can do justice to "Désenchantée" is on to a winner. Nassi qualified with "Rève de gamin", hindered by a fussy video display behind him. "Ailleurs" from Max Cinnamon was a simple song, he clearly went for the Ed Sheeran vote.

By the final, these highlights were just about the only game in town. "Eva" had the momentum on social media, but the televote broke decisively to "Mercy". We didn't feel a particular need to vote for this, but clearly a lot of people did.{2} We do know that "Mercy" did well – but not brilliantly – amongst the juries, and hit the televoter very well. Repeat that in May, and F2 could slide up the board.

Madame Monsieur, sur la route du twelve points.

We don't get this information from the BBC. All we get is the winner. F2 made Destination Eurovision into proper Event Television, they gave the songs and the performers two-and-a-half hours. More than enough space to show their merits, enough room to make their flaws clear.

By comparison, the BBC's show felt a faster, running the traditional talent show conveyor belt – three minute performance, one minute critique, two minutes to set up the next one. It's not distracting, it's not wrong, but it is faster. Some of the dodgier performances would have suffered under the spotlight of a 15-minute feature, some of the more marginal ones might have worked better if we had a run-up.

Back in Brighton

A Song for Europe Waiting for the result.

But back to Mel and Måns. Eventually, after the usual interminable pause, we find that "Storm" has won. Good. Best of a very decent bunch.

There was something different about tonight's show, and it took a re-viewing to spot it. No jokes against other competitors. The only national stereotypes used were the ones the English tell about themselves. Slowly, gradually, gently, the Senior Eurovision Song Contest begins to lose the patina of petty nationalism, caked on by Terry Wogan and the xenophobes who found him a useful idiot. Let's hope Graham Norton and Ken Bruce get the message for May.

Where might "Storm" end up on finals night? That's a tricky question. The staging in Brighton fits, and it looks deliverable, and it could work on the massive stage in Lisbon. SuRie's vocal ability gives something for the jury to love. The song is contemporary enough to get some televote. We can see a Decent result is likely, and by "Decent" we mean "left-hand side, or in a cluster that includes 13th place".

The hard work starts now. It shouldn't be difficult to have a good song, performed well, with good staging. The BBC has managed this trifecta twice this century ("Come back" in 2002, "It's my time" in 2009). Once again, the record industry and musical theatre and fandom and the public have combined to give the BBC a promising song. For the last few years, the BBC has selected promising songs, but they've been compromised by loose staging.

Let's hope they've learned from their mistakes, and fly the BBC flag into a Decent result.

A Song for Europe The crowd in Brighton win the Eurovision Flag-Waving Contest.

This Week and Next

Straight to the quizzes, and a historical note. We call this double-elimination quarter-final the "group phase" as a nod to the men's cricket World Cup. That tournament's group phase also lasts months, and produces the result we'd expect from a straightforward knockout.

Only Connect, for instance, saw the Inquisitors beat the Eco-Warriors by 17-14. Neither side coped with the Connections, the Eco-Warriors waffled their way to error, the Inquisitors were close but wrong. Eco-Warriors opened up a lead on Sequences, answering a very loose question (on 5, 6, 7, 8 sporting achievements) and a puzzle about prime ministers' initials. 9-2 after this round: is it all over?

No. Inquisitors took seven from their wall, Eco-Warriors escaped with just three. (They offered "put an e on the end to get a famous actor", but we can't find a famous actor Riche.) Missing Vowels is strong for Inquisitors, and they took the round 8-2 for a come-from-behind victory.

University Challenge pitted Fitzwilliam Cambridge against Merton Oxford. A match of two parts, Fitzwilliam led by 65-(-5) after three starters, and it looked like it would be a runaway win. It was a runaway win: Merton took 12 of the next 14 starters, averaged 2/3 of the bonuses, and came out ahead by 270-125. Fitzwilliam impressed us, faced with ages of people in Genesis, they thought, "these are going to be well-known answers" and offered Jacob, Methuselah, and Adam.

Binary scoring in this week's Mastermind semi-final, with all contenders scoring 10 or 11 points. We'll follow them into the general knowledge round.

Adam Gilchrist took the sitcom Frasier, and scored 10. First into the chair means he has to set the target for everyone, and his round is almost as much pass as hit. The final total of 18 (4 passes) doesn't feel like it will win.

The history of Warrington Rugby League football club cannot be adequately summarised in 90 seconds, though Cliff Houghton had two tries (one converted) for 10 points. A stumble in the middle of his round doesn't help, but 20 (1 pass) might keep him in contention through the round.

Tonight, John, Chris Cummins will be Absolutely Fabulous. That was his specialist subject, on which he scored 10. This general knowledge round is a thing of beauty: Chris glides past John's questions, answering swiftly, even when he's wrong. Every second of the two minutes counts, and Chris's speed allows him one extra question. It takes him to 23 (4 passes).

Alfred Williams scored 16 in his heat's general knowledge round. Tonight, he hit 10 on the Life and Music of Erik Satie. Again, his general knowledge performance is superb, answering as quickly as Chris Cummins did, but just a little more accurately. The bar goes up again, 25 (1 pass).

That's the challenge for Madeline Grant, she scored 11 on the Life and Works of Jane Austen. From the fidgeting and early errors, this isn't going to be a winning score, and we'll cut to the final of 18 (3 passes).

Alfred Williams will therefore join us again for the grand final.

BARB ratings in the week to 28 January.

  1. Top show overall was Call the Midwife (BBC1, Sun, 8.8m). For top game, Dancing on Ice (ITV, Sun) edges BBC The Voice (ITV, Sat) – both on 6.15m.
  2. Pointless Celebrities the third-top game show (BBC1, Sat, 4.3m), edging out The Chase, 4.05m saw Monday's episode. All Together Now debuted well (BBC1, Sat, 3.9m), ahead of Through the Keyhole (ITV, Sat, 3.6m) and Take Me Out (ITV, Sat, 3.5m).
  3. On Channel 4, Hunted (Thu, 2.45m) and Sas Who Dares Wins (Sun, 2.4m) both made the channel's top five. Catsdown did well on Friday (2.05m) and Village of the Year continues to beguile in primetime (Sat, 1.05m).
  4. BBC2 also has its regular winners, University Challenge (Mon, 2.45m) and Dragons' Den (Sun, 2.4m), chased hard by Only Connect (Mon, 2.1m), Mastermind (Fri, 1.75m), and QI (Fri, 1.65m).
  5. Celebrity Big Brother continued (C5, Wed, 2m; MTV, Sun, 50,000). Blind Date splutters on (Sat, 900,000).
  6. Top digital shows are Celebrity Juice (ITV2, Thu, 590,000), Four in a Bed (More4, Sun, 505,000), and Would I Lie to You? (Dave, Sat, 470,000). Of note: David Tennant attracted 420,000 to Portrait Artist of the Year (Artsworld, Tue). Rupaul's Drag Race has been picked up by Comedy Central. None of its 160,000 viewers watched live at 2am Saturday.

This section revised 6 March after data for BBC channels was released.


Which daytime show is back? Check the tower: Tenable is in at 3 (ITV, weekdays). Go 8 Bit returns to the evening schedule (Dave, Mon). Brain of Brains (R4, Mon) finds the best champion of recent years.

Quizzy Wednesdays are go, as Brightest Family (ITV) segues right into Celwydd Noeth (S4C). Got What It Takes? is back, with a spicy surprise (CBBC, Wed). New on ITV2: Survival of the Fittest (from Sun), a daily programme from the people behind Love Island.


{1} Don't recall all the broadcaster acronyms? Very well: the heats included entries shown on screen as "Sweden", "Italy", and "Belarus". The final also had scores from "Bulgaria", "Armenia", "Switzerland", "Russia", "Finland", "Iceland", and "Israel". Back

{2} Full disclosure: we had "Mercy" around the line where we might or might not cheer for it. Two weeks on, we think it's a good song, but there were better songs in the selection. Back

Photo credits: BBC Studios, ITV Studios France, Initial (part of EndemolShine group).

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