Weaver's Week 2019-12-15

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The Weeks of the 2010s: Cookery | Reality | Quiz | Talent | Crafts and Childrens | Entertainments

We've looked all around the game shows of the decade. Cookery shows, talent shows. The changing crop of reality shows, the persistence of quizzes. We've looked at crafty shows, and shows for children.

In the final part of our review of The Decade Without A Name, we put our feet up and watch shows for one thing only:



For the fifth consecutive decade, there was an effort to stage The Generation Game. Bruce Forsyth, Larry Grayson, Jim Davidson, a one-off with Graham Norton. Mel and Sue's effort just about stood on its own merits, but collapsed under the weight of expectation. Everyone remembers The Generation Game from their youth, no two people remember it in the same way, and almost everyone could find some way Mel and Sue tinkered with their memories. The pilot episodes didn't turn into a series.

The Generation Game The inimitable "making a pot for tea" game.

When it was on every week, The Generation Game had space to breathe, to get into its stride. We could appreciate the in-jokes, the banter and camaraderie between Bruce and Anthea, or Isla and Larry, or Jim and Debbie. Such long runs, and such camaraderie, were shown on ITV, particularly to Ant and Dec.

Push the Button was a different family game show, where players worked together and apart in surprising challenges. Here are some objects coming at you on a conveyor belt: pick them up and post them through holes in the wall. You have three days to learn how to play the trumpet. It was great fun for the players, and the audience, but that energy didn't translate well on screen. The second series tried to make live entertainment, but still had just too little entertainment for us.

Push the Button It's a format, it's got one leg missing...

Not to be defeated, Ant and Dec moved on to Red or Black. It's a simple premise, the most simple premise of the decade. Take a lot of people. Split them in half by sheer chance, and then split them again, and keep doing it. By the time we're down to 8 people, bring them live into the ITV studio, and we end up with one person. Again, Red or Black promised great stunts (a man is about to leap off the top of a rollercoaster!) and delivered great anti-climaxes (what colour is his parachute?). The "winner" gets a million quid from being lucky nine times in a row, from a format that was certain to produce someone lucky eight times in a row.

Red or Black appealed to the masochist extremists from The Decade With No Name. It was a show without shade: it was all or nothing, win or bust, victory or Whamhalla, death or glory. Red or Black also appealed to the particularly British sensibility: it wanted risks, but wasn't brave enough to take them. The show ended up as dull, predictable, safe. Even some major changes to the second series – bigger stunts, more skill – couldn't save the show.

Red or Black One giant ball. One million pounds.

Ant and Dec still made I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, and still made Got Talent, and finally agreed that Saturday Night Takeaway was their best format. We entirely agree: a well-rehearsed entertainment piece is television gold, and the Geordie duo deliver so many great entertainment pieces. Ant's well-publicised health problems prevented a run of Takeaway this spring, we look forward to next year's series.

We also enjoyed Stephen Mulhern's spin-off series In for a Penny, silly pop-up games in everyday settings. This item on your supermarket shop: more or less than the last item? How heavy is your holiday suitcase? There's a coherent style, Stephen Mulhern is at the heart of the show. The prizes aren't great, but there's so much fun to be had, and it does show on screen. We can't say the same about the BBC's Saturday night spoiler Ready or Not.

In for a Penny She's only gone and done it!

Stephen Mulhern has had a busy decade – as well as In for a Penny and Go for It, he's hosted a revival of Catchphrase, fronted The Next Great Magician, and done Magic Numbers. It was cut from the same cloth as 90s show Talking Telephone Numbers, stunts and challenges to generate digits of a phone number, with prizes for the randomly selected winner. The show didn't work as a game, but showed his ability to cope with live television and a wide variety of performers.

That's wiped us out

BBC1 had begun the decade with a surprise hit – Total Wipeout was big, silly, and full of people falling into water. It was fun for all ages, the youngest were endlessly entertained by people falling into water, their parents and grandparents appreciated Amanda Byram's guileless interviews and Richard Hammond's snarksome commentary.

Total Wipeout Total Wipeout's most enduring memory.

ITV replied with its own big dumb show where people fall into water: Splash!, diving from a pool in Luton. Where Total Wipeout promised us lots of falling into the water, Splash! took all night to have a handful of technical dives. Somehow, it ran for two series. Total Wipeout could have run forever, and in another universe perhaps it did. In this universe, Pointless Celebrities proved to be much cheaper – why fly 20 people to Argentina when you can book eight celebs for an evening in London? After Total Wipeout had gone to prop up the Challenge channel, only Cannonball tried to recapture the big dumb show where people fall into water.

BBC1's Saturday night still had some shows for all the family. There were strange talents on Epic Win, an idea subsequently used by ITV's Go For It. Back on the Beeb, That Puppet Game Show was a mixture of semi-serious celebrity challenge and heartwarming backstage story; it needed a long run to build all the characters. Len Goodman gave us Partners in Rhyme, visual rebuses that rhymed. This column thoroughly enjoyed The Time it Takes, unorthodox timers and a general knowledge quiz.

Wedding Day Winners Best performance of these three? The cake.

All of these shows had merits; none of them achieved a second series. Lucky to complete its first was Wedding Day Winners, which might have been fun for the parties in the studio, but was an incoherent mess on our screens. It thought about being The Generation Game, but lacked even the confidence of Mel and Sue's show. The show was taken off air after three weeks, and burned off in the long hot summer of 2018.

Other tried and tested formats didn't get beyond pilot episodes – revivals of The Price is Right on Channel 4, and Blankety Blank on ITV both fell off after their one outing. An even worse fate befell My Man Can, a series where wives stake points on the performance of their husband or partner. A full series was made for ITV, and it has remained locked away in an ITV Vault somewhere, never to see the light of day.

Ninja Warrior UK The wall (warped).

Back on ITV, brawn ruled on Ninja Warrior, the modern day equivalent to Gladiators. Upper body strength rules as superfit people try to get along an obstacle course without falling into the water. Ben Shepherd treats the show seriously, without ever forgetting that it's an entertaining diversion and nothing more. They also tried to make Rickie and Melvin into stars with Bang on the Money, a team game that felt more complex than it was, and hence became less fun than it was. The lads had done better on 4Music's Pop Up Pop Quiz.

Other channels

UKTV didn't have a huge commissions budget, but made some decent shows. Scream If You Know the Answer took existing theme park scare rides and built a fun show around them. The Wave asked people to swim for cash, but this decent idea didn't look good on screen. Don't Say It, Bring It was a good idea (find an item without mentioning it), but shown too often that we got overloaded.

ITV2 made some shows of its own. We've discussed Killer Camp very recently; it'll file alongside Bromans in the folder "great idea, not executed well". Release the Hounds ran for much of the decade, and still airs in non-anglophone markets. Bad Bridesmaid had attitude and heart in equal measure.

Bromans Had they invented pugil sticks in Roman times?

On the main ITV channel, Alien Fun Capsule wasn't a panel show, it was a comedy dissection of the tropes associated with panel shows, and hence absolute genius. CBBC's The Dare Devil was stunts and dares for the whole family, aided by a waspish performance from Dan Antopolski in the title role. Could have run on Saturday teatime BBC1.

Apart from a slew of pilot programmes, Radio 2 has mostly moved away from its light entertainment comedy brief, and chucklesome shows are now confined to Radio 4's comedy slots. It's Your Round invited its panellists to invent games they could all play, an idea they might pilfer for Richard Osman's House of Games (3). Family fun on It's Not What You Know (2), an economics panel game More Money Than Sense, and life stories game So Wrong It's Right. Radio Scotland has led with the entertainments in this decade, adding Stop the Press (2) and Breaking the News to everyone's downloads, while The News Quiz stuttered on network radio.

Celebrity Game Night Liza Tarbuck brought too much popcorn.

Channel 5 tried hard, but Celebrity Game Night, magic show Impossible?, singalong Lip Sync Battle, and everything else suffered from the channel's chop-and-change scheduling. If they want us to watch shows through catchup, they've got to promote shows really well. E4 does promote shows well, it just schedules the good ones after midnight, as happened to Sorority Girls. 5 Star had the chortlesome Silent Library, and BBC3 has given us a version of RuPaul's Drag Race.

Channel 4 has made some tentative steps into entertainment game shows, but suffered because none of the shows were much good. Was It Something I Said?, Comedy World Cup, The Mad Bad Ad Show, all were panel games that relied on established stars. Famous and Fearless tried to stage stunts in the Liverpool Arena, without any competitive races. The Crystal Maze was revived, to the enjoyment of its fans but general ennui amongst everyone else.

The Crystal Maze Pick up as many red balls as you can.

Alan Carr had a long-term contract with Channel 4, and fronted Celebrity Ding Dong, 12 Stars of Christmas, and Alan Carr's The Price is Right. If Alan Carr appealed to you, these were must-see shows; if Alan Carr didn't appeal, these were shows to miss.

One show you had to miss was Alan Carr's last Channel 4 effort, I Don't Like Mondays. It was a self-indulgent piece of nonsense, aimed at shiny young twentysomethings who work nine-to-five in an office. While the final round was a spectacular game – people were strapped to a wheel and literally spun around – it didn't give us any compelling reason to bother tuning in.

One-series wonders

Not many people tuned into Cheap Cheap Cheap, Channel 4's daytime competition to find the cheapest item possible. It was the most bizarre thing we've seen all decade (and remember, we watch Junior Eurovision). Noel Edmonds, relieved of his box-picking duties on Deal or No Deal, comes back with this programme.

Cheap Cheap Cheap Your fee for the show, Mr. Noel.

The game is simple: which of these three items is the cheapest? The gamble is compelling: risk it all for a better prize. But this is set in a fantasy world of Noel's devising, a corner shop with a manager, a delivery guy, a gobby cashier, and a holistic purveyor of all things woo. If you can buy into the setting, Cheap Cheap Cheap becomes a modern-day sitcom wrapped around a game show. The problem was, hardly anyone could buy into the setting, and the show crashed and burned.

Armchair Detectives was part of Susan Calman's World Domination Tour. In the studio, she asks questions of three detectives, sitting in plush armchairs. They watch a murder mystery unfold on video, see the evidence about the case, and eventually accuse one of the characters of the grisly murder. If you like to solve a mystery in 45 minutes, this is the show for you; the cases were watertight, and whoever wrote them did a spectacular job.

Armchair Detectives Nobody gets away with murder in Mortcliff.

But there's more. The acting is just hammy enough to be entertaining in its own right, and all the information comes out at a pace slow enough to be written down in a notebook. There are chances to discuss the evidence already seen, a gentle recap to help the viewer who might be interested but have no clue how these detective puzzles work. And, if all else fails, there's Susan Calman, a brilliant television performer. ITV might have Stephen Mulhern as the decade's breakout star; the BBC has made Susan Calman.

"Hello households!" The Button was a gloriously fun effort to bring the zany and the silly into people's everyday lives. Family units sat round all day, watching for the button atop a television screen to turn red. When it did, there was a challenge to be had. Consume a whole cucumber in this room! Spell a twelve letter word beginning with B! Find someone called Gary! Each show ended with a massive and delightful challenge, such as find the bell in a room full of plastic balls.

The Button Do try this at home.

The Button was an upbeat and happy show, it zipped with positivity and crackled with life. The competing families were often sorry to win, because it meant they had to stop playing. Brilliant editing meant we saw the story unfold in real time, moving from action to action as it happened. It's a celebration of ingenuity, teamwork, and put a smile on every viewer's face. Sadly, ratings weren't quite there for a second series, but we never know when a channel might have a vacancy for a task-ish show hosted by Alex Horne.

That concludes this column's review of the decade. Thanks to this site's editor David for continuing to grant us space. Thanks to Jenny and Thomas and Simon and all of the other editors behind the scenes who help to keep these writings comprehensible. Thanks to Chris for starting all this off, to Jae for being there, to Dan for moral support, and to Mike for a very helpful word just when we needed it. We remember Travis Penery and David Cooper, gone but ne'er forgotten.

And thanks to you, in the wide and diverse game show fan community. This column couldn't exist without the passion and energy that everyone around brings. You have better ideas, you stick with shows where others give up, and you're vocal about the things you love.

This column will not attempt to predict the future. Our guess that "interactive television will be the big thing in the 2010s" proved completely wide of the mark, but we were right about "shows that bypass the traditional mass media", the Youtubes and Netflixes atomised the viewing experience and made an informed community even more essential.

Let's see what the 2020s bring!

The Weeks of the 2010s: Cookery | Reality | Quiz | Talent | Crafts and Childrens | Entertainments

This Week and Next

Countdown has moved into its finals week, and very nearly had another record score. James Haughton, hit nine-letter words "Nefarious", "Monradite", and "Unroasted", but he managed to be beaten in a later round when David Law spotted "Sailings". Had James found that word as well, he would have recorded 155. As it was, the top seed "only" has a score of 147.

The Krypton Factor For the first time, a Krypton Factor champion has been elected to the Commons. Aaron Bell, champion in 2009, was returned by the electors in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The Krypton Factor

BARB ratings in the week to 1 December.

  1. I'm a Celebrity remains atop the charts (ITV, Mon, 11.05m), with Strictly Come Dancing snapping at its heels (BBC1, Sun, 10.95m). Seven Worlds One Planet the biggest non-game (BBC1, Sun, 7.05m).
  2. Have I Got News for You (BBC1, Fri, 4.15m) is the third game, with Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, Sat, 3.95m) not far behind. The Hit List (BBC1, Sat, 3.9m) was the biggest music show on Saturday night, miles ahead of The X Factor Celebrity final (ITV, Sat, 3.179m). Not only is X Fac behind Hit List, it's also behind Bradley Walsh's Cash Trapped (ITV, Mon, 3.181m).
  3. Masterchef The Professionals continues to lead on BBC2 (Thu, 3.6m). University Challenge wins its second Monday night in a row, inches ahead of Only Connect (2.60m to 2.58m). Dragons' Den follows (Sun, 2.05m), with Strictly It Takes Two (Mon, 1.8m) and House of Games (Tue, 1.7m) a formidable teatime double-bill. Top game on Channel 4 was Buy It Now for Christmas (Thu, 855,000).
  4. Top on the non-PSB channels were I'm a Celebrity Extra Camp (ITV2, Mon, 820,000), Gigglequiz (Cbeebies, Tue, 495,000), and Stephen Mulhern's Celebrity Catchphrase (ITV2, Sun, 330,000). Next biggest new show was Landscape Artist of the Year (Artsworld, Tue, 205,000).

Coming up this week, it's the final of Masterchef The Professionals (BBC2, Tue-Thu). And with that out of the way, time for ITV's annual The Big Quiz (2) (Thu). We've also the final of The X Factor Colon The Band (ITV, Sun).

Christmas specials are all over the schedules like a spilled selection box: take your fill from Dragons' Den (BBC2, Sun), 8 Out of 10 Cats (E4, Sun), Come Dine with Me (E4, from Mon), Top Class (CBBC, Thu), A League of Their Own (The Satellite Channel, Thu), I'll Get This (BBC2, Thu).

As the Week doesn't intend to publish next week, here are the highlights for the Christmas season:

There's another Bake Off on New Year's Day, along with some Only Connect specials. Best Home Cook is back on Thursday 2nd January (BBC1), and there's a Big Fat Quiz of the Decade (C4).

We'll return on (or about) 29 December with the Week of the Year. We hope that you (yes, dear reader, you) have a festive season that you'll remember for all the right reasons. Be wonderful to each other, and good games to all.

Photo credits: BBC Studios, Gallowgate, Syco and ITV Studios, ITV Studios and Mitre Television, Initial (an Endemol company), Panda Television, Potato, Electric Ray, Monkey, Fizz and RDF West, Hat Trick Productions, Tiger Aspect, Avalon, ITV Studios.

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