Weaver's Week 2018-07-01

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Last week, we were mostly watching Countdown. This week, we're mostly watching Countdown, albeit through international versions. Which will win in the...


World Cup Countdown

The basic framework is common to all versions. Here are some letters: make the longest word you can, using each letter just once. Here are some numbers and a target: get as close as you can to the target using basic operators. Anything else is a local variation.

Bear in mind that we don't speak most of the languages here, and have only watched a single sample episode. We won't get little nuances; if we watched YTV Countdown, we might assume that every episode featured a magic trick halfway through.

We'll review each episode briskly, under some convenient headings.

Tänk Till Tusen – SVT ("Sweden")

  • Carbon-dated to: 1986, thanks to the closing credits.
  • Opening music: Ghastly slab of orchestral synthrock, rising to a choir singing "Tank till tusen".
  • Set: Mostly white, with the alphabet and numbers listed on the walls in strict order. Looks more like a child's nursery.

Such imaginative decorations.

  • Seating arrangements: Cramped. The two contestants sit at a small desk on one side. The host and the adjudicator sits at a small desk just across.
  • Running time: 17 minutes.
  • Contestant chat: Minimal, at the start of the show.
  • Rounds: 4 letters, 2 numbers.
  • How much choice do the contestants get?: None whatsoever. Letters and numbers selections are made for them. The host announces letters as "A for Anna, B for Bjorn", etc.
  • Clock: 45 seconds per round, shown by a disappearing graphic, and synth-orchestral music. The tune stands up to repetition.
  • Reassuringly low-tech?: Letters are dealt out on the host's desk, we see them as an electronic caption. Number calculations are done on a wipeboard, and their equivalent of Rachel marks each number as it's used.
  • If you're in the audience, how likely is it you'll get on telly?: About 15 people are in the audience, they get a few shots between rounds.
  • Longevity? Lasted three years, doesn't seem to be remembered.

Brojke i Slove – HRT ("Yugoslav Republic of Croatia")

  • Carbon-dated to: 1987, according to the uploader.
  • Opening music: Missing from our copy.
  • Set: Brown, with random letters at the sides.
  • Seating arrangements: Linear. Host sits between the two contestants, adjudicator is to one side.
  • Running time: About 20 minutes per episode, but games last two episodes.
  • Contestant chat: Looks like they talk to the next new contestant at the end of the episode before, to fill time. YTV tried that trick in the late Whiteley era.
  • Rounds: Each day has 6 letters, 3 numbers. It's played at rocket speed.
  • How much choice do the contestants get?: Players take turns to pick vowel or consonant in each round, and which row to take the next number from – the large numbers are mixed with the others.
  • Clock: 45 seconds per round. In the letters round, shown by a digital clock ticking up; not shown in numbers round. We think there was some very quiet music behind, but that might be tape noise.

Literally moving the cards.

  • Reassuringly low-tech?: Letters are dealt on playing cards, a fixed camera put them on screen. The host moves the letters into position. Dry-wipe board for the numbers.
  • Audience on telly? You bet. Most of the thinking time is spent looking at the audience, and there's a roving microphone to beat the players.
  • Longevity? Good question, we don't know how long this lasted.

Paroliamo – RAI ("Italy")

  • Carbon-dated to: 1988, according to the uploader.
  • Opening music: Again, missing from our copy, presumed hanging out with Spagna.

  • Set: Colourful, with a triangle they've pilfered from I Pyramid Game. Letters go along the edges of the triangle. There is no adjudicator on screen, and no numbers specialist. The host does it all.
  • Seating arrangements: Flat. Two contestants with a host in the middle, all behind a massive desk saying "Paroliamo".
  • Running time: About 30 minutes per episode.
  • Contestant chat: Didn't see any in the available clips, but the available clips omit the first few minutes.
  • Rounds: Two letters, two numbers, two letters, and then it changes...
  • How much choice do the contestants get?: None in the numbers, alternate consonant-vowel in the letters.
  • Clock: 45 seconds per round, shown by a digital clock counting down in hundredths of a second. Hundredths of a second! This is Countdown, not the 100 metres!
  • Reassuringly low-tech?: At times, as low as it gets. We're used to the host dealing out playing cards. We don't expect him to have to write down the numbers on the answer board while the contestants try to solve the puzzle. At other times, high-tech. There's a buzzer system, where one player can lock in their answer. Suppose Andrea spots an 8 with ten seconds left, and presses her buzzer. Claudio will have to get a 9 to score points.

No, questo non è comporre una pizza. Vuoi riccia fondo due due sette due due sette.

  • Audience on telly? No audience, but people do get on telly. The last ten minutes or so is given over to a call-and-win quiz, the contestants just sit there. It's live television, more Brainteaser than Countdown.
  • Longevity? Ran 1977-89, by which time Italian Telecom had installed some better phone lines.

Cijfers en Letters – VTM ("Netherlands")

  • Carbon-dated to: 1989, according to the end credits.
  • Set: Crushed velvet and neon lights, very much of its time.
  • Seating arrangements: Two contestants sit next to each other, with massive scoreboards on their desks. The lexicographer and numbers expert sit opposite, and the host between them.
  • Running time: 24 minutes.
  • Contestant chat: Brief, at the start of the show.

Everyone gets the board game in a box.

  • Rounds: Numbers, two letters, repeat, repeat, and a numbers to finish.
  • How much choice do the contestants get?: Consonant or vowel, and which row to pick a number. Picks alternate within each round.
  • Clock: 30 seconds for the letters, 40 for the numbers. Each second is marked by a small line on screen, and the lines slowly vanish. Very light lift music plays while the players think.
  • Reassuringly low-tech?: Very much so, we see little cards and the number targets are picked by rolling some physical drums. Even our CECIL was always a computerised display.
  • Audience on telly? What audience? It's just us hosts and players in the studio.
  • Longevity? The series was heading towards cancellation, it ran 1973-89.

Numbers and Letters – SBS ("Australia")

  • Carbon-dated to: 14 February 2011, when Valentine's Day fell on a Monday.
  • Opening music: A tick-tock sound, with a gentle synth melody on top. The same motif is used for think music.
  • Set: Deliberately based on YTV's set, so blue with white highlights.

  • Seating arrangements: Host on the right, contestants aside a big clock, with lexicographer and numbers whizz on the left.
  • Running time: 24 minutes, with a break in the middle.
  • Contestant chat: Minimal, at the start of the show.
  • Rounds: 5 letters, 3 numbers, and a conundrum. Host and lexicographer banter just after the break.
  • How much choice do the contestants get?: Each picks a full round of letters or numbers. As we've seen, this is unusual.
  • Clock: 30 seconds per round, with the clock lighting up as it sweeps round the semicircle. The music is a tick-tick-tick, speeding up in the last 10 seconds.
  • Reassuringly low-tech?: Exactly as low-tech as YTV's. Cards with velcro on the back, all that jazz.
  • Audience shots?: There is no audience.
  • Longevity? Only ran for a couple of years, then replaced by YTV's version on a six-month delay. You be sure of...

Cifras y Letras – TVE Madrid ("Spain")

  • Carbon-dated to: 2012, says the uploader.
  • Opening music: Very pleasant slab of light jazz.
  • Set: Colourful and bright, large letters and numbers are dotted around the set. It looks spectacular on screen.
  • Seating arrangements: Spacious. There's plenty of room for the players, host, and lexicographers to spread out.
  • Running time: Just over 30 minutes, plus one internal break.
  • Contestant chat: Minimal, at the start of the show.
  • Rounds: Number-letter-letter, repeated four times. There's a little discussion of words in each round.

Some unusual shot direction, including close-ups of the player's notebooks.

  • How much choice do the contestants get?: Alternating letters picks, numbers are assigned.
  • Clock: 40 seconds for the numbers, 30 seconds for the letters. All marked by the same two pieces of smooth jazz, the shorter would make a tremendous ringtone.
  • Reassuringly low-tech?: Not in 2012, everything is on the computer.
  • Audience shots?: None, as there's no audience.
  • Longevity? This version ran from 2002-12, a prior incarnation aired 1991-6.

Bir Kelime Bir Islem – TRT ("Turkey")

  • Carbon-dated to: 2014, according to the end credits. Plugs for TRT's pages on The Facebook and Twitter fly across between rounds.
  • Opening music: Loud and upbeat.
  • Set: Colourful, with video walls and neon lights.
  • Seating arrangements: It's a full studio. Our young host has two adjudicators to his left, and three contestants stand in front of the audience.
  • Running time: About 35 minutes.
  • Contestant chat: Brief, and as each contestant walks on to their podium.
  • Rounds: Alternating letters and numbers throughout. One contestant leaves after six rounds, the other two play on for six more rounds. The daily champion has a letter and number round for a cash prize.
  • How much choice do the contestants get?: The last letter in each round is a "joker", to be replaced by any letter of their choice. Otherwise, no choice.

The player on the right thinks he's got this.

  • Clock: 30 seconds, counting down to some very brassy music – perhaps the best we've heard all tournament. Players can buzz in to stop the clock, and declare a 9-letter word or solve the numbers – the early buzz bonus starts at 20 and goes down to 10. Points are deducted if the player is wrong.
  • Reassuringly low-tech?: No, everything is computer controlled. Contestants enter their answers on little laptops. The whole programme is slick, polished, well-produced.
  • Audience on telly? Occasional cutaways between rounds, and one or two rounds might get thrown to the audience. Most of the round is looking at the players, because someone could buzz.
  • Longevity? This version lasted about six months, an earlier incarnation had run in the mid-90s.

Slagalica – RTS ("Serbia")

  • Carbon-dated to: 2018, according to the end credits.
  • Opening music: Fairground music and an animated cat.
  • Set: Video walls ahoy, most of them show the animated cat. It just sits there and blinks.
  • Seating arrangements: Spacious, the host can walk between the opposing players and her podium.

It is not clear what Ratz does on this show.

  • Running time: 21 minutes.
  • Contestant chat: A few words at the start of the show, and the loser chats to end the show.
  • Rounds: 2 letters, 2 numbers. And then they go into (gasp!) new rounds! One that feels like a "who am I" for diminishing points. One that is the code-finding Mastermind. One that is a general knowledge quiz. And one that looks like a connecting cross where the connections themselves form another connection.
  • How much choice do the contestants get?: Shout "stop" to pick 12 letters, 4 small numbers, one of 10-15-20, and one traditional big one.
  • Clock: Shown by a small bar in the middle of the screen, filling from black to yellow. Tinkly music plays throughout, even while the players make their declarations.
  • Reassuringly low-tech?: Naah, it's all computers these days.
  • Audience?: What audience?
  • Longevity? Slagalica has been on and off RTS for donkey's years; it's at the sweet spot between cheap and popular.

Des Chiffres et Des Lettres – France 3 ("France")

  • Carbon-dated to: 31 May 2018.
  • Opening music: A gentle synth melody.
  • Set: Video effects, with circles the dominant feature. They've thought about what this looks like.

  • Seating arrangements: The host walks about, and the contestants move a step or two from a computer workstation to buzzers
  • Running time: 29 minutes.
  • Contestant chat: A discussion with both players at the start of the show, and there's quite sone discussion about word answers.
  • Rounds: A tricky numbers game starts the show, on the buzzers for a prize. Then 4 letters, 4 numbers. Letters rounds have (gasp!) 10 letters. And then The Duels: on this game, unscramble the name of a departément, spell a word, and solve a long equation. Winners goes to the cash game – find the word of 7, 8, 9, 10 letters in these selections, 100€ for each correct answer.
  • How much choice do the contestants get?: Pick the number of vowels in each letters game.
  • Clock: A big CGI display, filling the edge of a circle.
  • Reassuringly low-tech?: Computers can't play, but they do all the graphics.
  • Audience?: No audience here, either.
  • Longevity? Des Chiffres et Des Lettres has been on screen since 1965. There would be a revolution if they tried to take it off air.

In summary

Countdown has a flexible format, it can frame the call-in contest on RAI, it can lead to the more complex game on RTS. It can be as sedate as we see on Channel 4, or as cut-throat as on TRT. Were we looking to sell Countdown to our North American friends, we might try to sell them TRT's interpretation.

Though each broadcaster adapts the show in their own way, some facts seem to remain. The thinking music is usually memorable and never grating. The set is usually small, and rarely lavish. An audience might – or might not – get involved with the game, but the show works without an audience. And if the players get any choice, it's at the margins, how many vowels a letters round has – Channel 4's "four large numbers" is a format outlier.

And we didn't see any celebrity guests at all. Adjudicators seem to be with the show forever, only on Channel 4 do we have a guest who will entertain us with a brief talk. That's what we bring to the table, the wit of Susie Dent and the wisdom of Coin Murray.

This Week and Next

Catchpoint is coming to BBC1, shouts the BBC Press Office. Along the back wall of the "Catch Zone" are ten large screens. The contestant stands under the right answer, and then a ball is released beneath the right answer. Catch the ball to win some points; easy if you're under the right answer, more difficult if you've got the answer wrong.

Paddy McGuinness is to host the show, made by Possessed and 12 Yard (both ITV Studios imprints). It's primed for Saturday nights, which suggests we aren't getting a new series of Partners in Rhyme.

The Time It Takes is also dropping onto a screen near you. "What takes longer – unwrapping every sweet in a family pack of sweets, completing a Rubik’s cube underwater or deflating an air bed and putting it back into its original box?" These unorthodox timers measure out a round of quizzing, and the best performer goes on to win a dream holiday.

Joe Lycett hosts the show, and they're still casting for a referee. Hat Trick are making the show, set for Saturday evenings – possibly in the new year.

The Beeb's also going to make a celebrity edition of All Together Now, the decently-successful singing show from the start of this year.

  • BARB ratings for the week ending 17 June.
  1. Mark Pougatch's The World Cup teed off. Top score came from Federação de Futebol XI protiš Selección de Fútbol XI (BBC1, Fri, 8.7m). Top game show remains Love Island (ITV2, Tue, 4m).
  2. Trailing in the wake of Love Island come A Question of Sport (BBC1, Sun, 3.9m), its best rating in years, and Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, Sat, 3.55m). ITV's top game was The Chase (Tue, 2.7m).
  3. Breadxit Crème de la Crème continued (C4, Sun, 1.85m). The Crystal Maze had a thoroughly poor episode (C4, Fri, 1.35m), and lost to Mock the Week (BBC2, Thu, 1.4m). Almost 500,000 for The £100k Drop (C4, Thu), and two other days above 400,000.
  4. Blind Date returned (C5, Sat, 730,000); that's less popular than a random Celebrity Juice repeat (ITV2, Thu, 850,000). In the battle of the beasts, The Chase pulled 250,000 on Challenge (Wed), and Raven scored 145,000 (CBBC, Mon).

The schedule choice: well done if you predicted AABA for this round. One final this week: Taskmaster (Dave, Wed). One new series of note: BBC New Comedy Award starts (Radio 4 Extra, Friday), and previous winners have done well at Got Talent lately.

Photo credits: SVT, HRT, RAI, VTM, SBS, TVE Madrid, TRT, RTS, France 3.

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