Weaver's Week 2020-01-12

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Coming up, a look at the game shows from the Christmas break. One of them had us calling up the telly to say "This is brilliant! Make it a series! Quick!!" But which?




Spun Gold for ITV, 29 December

Watch now (UK only, expires 28 Jan)

"The cleverest contestants from tough quiz shows go head-to-head in a battle of the brains." Jeremy Vine's quiz lived up to its billing.

Fifteen contestants from tough quizzes were in a Salford studio. Who are these people?

  • From Mastermind: Kevin Ashman (champion, 1990), Isabelle Heward (champion, 2018), and Shaun Williamson (Celebrity show winner, 2003).
  • From Who Wants to be a Millionaire: David Edwards (million, 2001), John Robinson (half a million, 2019), Pat Gibson (million, 2004).
  • From University Challenge: Eric Monkman (Wolfson Cambridge, finalists 2017), Bobby Seagull (Emmanuel Cambridge, semi-finalists 2017), Freddie Leo (St Edmund Hall Oxford, finalists 2019).
  • From The Chase: Terry Pratt, Diane Howe, and Susan Price-Williams.
  • From Fifteen-to-One: Ailsa Watson (champion, 2015), Gareth Kingston (champion, 2016), Olav Bjortomt (finalist, 2003).

Quizmaster The Salford arena is pulsing.

There are world and European quizzing champions in the hall, and they're not reticent about coming forward with their brilliance.

Survival of the Fastest was the opening round. Fifteen players enter, and eight will leave after this round. It's a quickfire buzzer contest, anyone reaching four correct answers will be a winner and will take their place in the next round. Give a wrong answer and you'll be frozen out from the next question. Questions can be interrupted, and were interrupted.

Quizmaster Graphics made a complex round reasonably simple to follow.

Questions in this round were a mixed bag: the opera in Ghost rubbed shoulders with Henry III, Skepta, and the wedding of David Beckham and Victoria Posh-Spice-Beckham-Aadams. Though he couldn't finish a question, Jeremy often paused to consider the scoreboard and say "If this is right, you're going through". Contestants were called by Roger Tilling, who does the voiceover for University Challenge.

It's fast and brutal: after fifteen minutes of non-stop buzzer quizzing, the seven contenders emerge.

Danger Lists was next, a round where they tested specific lists. Given a category, our players are given 30 seconds to give as many correct answers as possible. One point for every time the player speaks, but two points will be deducted for any incorrect answers. Repetition will incur a one point penalty.{1}

Quizmaster A countdown around the edge of the arena.

This round looked good on paper, but turned out to be the weakest on the show. Eric Monkman listed chemical elements ending in "IUM", gave 19 answers of which three were "rubidium", so scored 17 points. Pat Gibson gave countries on mainland Africa, scoring 30 of the potential 49 answers. David Edwards was asked for presidents of the USA, gave forename and surname for 17 points.

Gareth Kingston then took a stinker of a category, Tom Cruise films. 43 possible answers, but many are quite long names. "Chad" is a deal shorter than "The Wolf of Wall Street". Seven answers, one of them wrong, so 5 points. John Robinson was gifted football teams that have played in the (men's) English Premier League, named 31 of 49 possible answers. There are clear edits while the answers are checked by the backroom staff.

Ailsa Watson needed 17 to progress, naming state capitals of the USA. She'd discussed the topic just before answering, but a momentary brain fade left her on 10 points. Kevin Ashman played last, tried to name Agatha Christie novels – another round requiring long answers – and 8 wasn't enough. An unfinished list is unfinished business, and Quizmaster didn't include the remaining correct answers. Perhaps we weren't meant to be shouting answers at the screen in this round.

Quizmaster It's Jeremy Vine, everyone.

Sabotage was the next round. Buzzer questions – quite long ones, the Going for Gold style – allowed players to pick from a set of ten subjects. Pick one for yourself, and pick one to give an opponent. Repeat until everyone's got two subjects. It turned out that everyone picked one topic for themselves, this wasn't guaranteed. Once the topics were selected, there were three – quite tough – questions around the topic. Highest single score goes straight through to the final.

John Robinson chose "Dogs in Literature" and was given "Knitting". These were not the strongest choices, he scored 1 and 0 points. Pat Gibson chose "Diseases" and was given "Spice Girls", for 2 and 2 points. David Edwards chose "Queen Victoria" and was handed "Piers Morgan", scoring 2 and 0 points. Eric Monkman picked "Nuclear physics" and was given "Tour de France", also scoring 1 and 0 points. After the initial buzzer activity, this was quite a slow and reflective round, ramping up the tension by asking difficult questions in a calm, unruffled manner.

Need for Speed was the exact reverse. Score 15 points by answering quickfire questions correctly, the fastest player to reach the target will win. Points from Sabotage are carried forward, not that this made much difference. The questions were graded, starting out very difficult and becoming noticeably easier towards the end. "Where in the body would you find sinovial fluid" moves towards "How many people appear in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper" and eventually "Which Beatle married Yoko Ono in 1969?"

Quizmaster Monkman makes master's move.

The questions appeared on the screen, so we had a chance to understand what was going on. It's an excellent move, otherwise we'd have struggled to keep pace with the intense questioning. They were also right to make questions easier as we went on, it keeps the round down to a manageable length. We're reminded how the producers on The Chase start final rounds with some easy questions, quickly getting more difficult, then easier towards the end of the set – the narrative on that show requires close finishes, and that order is most likely to produce a close finish.

On this show, Eric Monkman struggled with popular culture from these islands, reaching his target in 2 minutes 4 seconds. John Robinson proved faster, reaching his target in 1 minute 46. With a one-point head start, David Edwards completed the task in 1 minute 35, and took the last place in the final.

The Final was a very simple format. Questions will alternate, best of five wins. It's the 12 Yard shootout, it's The Weakest Link, it's Eggheads, it's so many quizzes across the years.

Quizmaster Head to head, Edwards and Gibson.

Except there's a twist. The questions have been picked by their opponent, from banks of about 30 questions written by the producers. So David is able to choose questions on Pat's weak spots, and Pat is able to choose questions on David's weaknesses. These players know each other, it's like choosing the music for your friend's party.

David knew that Peter Schmiechal was the first goalkeeper to score in the (men's) English Premier League. Pat was close but not close enough with the nickname of KSI, a fact that amused KSI himself. Voices on Danger Mouse, Green Day album covers, Marcel the monkey from Friends all appeared in the round – Pat got that last one.

This proved to be a peach of a final round – the questions were written so that we'd certainly know the answers when we hear them. And they're the sort of thing we might know at home – we might know that Kevin Eldon voiced Penfold, we might be a Green Day fan, or remember Daft Punk's album "Random Access Memories".

Pat did remember that album, and it secured a come-from-behind 2-1 win in the contest. Pat Gibson is the winner of Quizmaster 2019.

Quizmaster Pat Gibson (right) gets congratulations from David Edwards.

Very much worth watching, and a well-constructed 90 minute programme. It wasn't just wall-to-wall quiz, there was some effort to invite familiar characters and try to find out what makes them tick. The structure was designed to be reasonably accessible to the ITV viewer – a fair number of pop culture questions, lists, unusual subjects like Coronation Street. We wouldn't want to see Quizmaster very often, because a "best of the best" quiz needs to be top-drawer quality throughout. An annual event might be the limit.

{1} In the event of a tie, the player with fewer points deducted through repetition will be placed first.Back!

Hewlfa Drysor

Hewlfa Drysor

Avanti for S4C, 26 December

Watch now (worldwide, expires 30 January)

Our favourite show of the Christmas period was this Welsh-language gem. The show – which translates as "Treasure Hunt" – shows off an area, and demonstrates the relationships within a carful of people.

Hewlfa Drysor A car full of people.

The basic idea is simple. Take three cars, rigged with little cameras on the dashboard and in the ceiling, and with a small 360-degree camera on top of the car. Fill each car with a team of four – friends, work colleagues, or a family. Assemble in a car park in Crymych. Give them a clipboard with questions, things to collect, and an approximate route to follow.

And then let the teams drive off. In the opening section, we meet the teams – the family, the cafe workers, the OAPs. They've been selected as a cross-section of viewers, all ages, mostly women, and all speak Welsh. With three teams and twelve faces to remember, there are enough people for variety, but not so many that we get confused.

Hewlfa Drysor This is your first clue.

During their afternoon out, the teams will be asked some observation questions. "How many bridges do you drive over on the route?" is a stinker. "Where do you see the number 1910?" Three people in each car keep their eyes peeled for markings on walls and houses and other brickwork; the fourth person really should keep their snoopy eyes on the road ahead.

Some of the clues are modestly cryptic. "When does Pat come to visit?" is next up. Pat, who do we know called Pat? Oh, it's a post box, as in Postman Pat, someone else who likes driving around country lanes. Four brains put together will get this, right?

Hewlfa Drysor Who arranges the flowers?

"Go from one church to another: who is the October flower arranger" Which suggests you're looking for a church, perhaps one where the flower rota is pinned up in the porch. But does it take four café workers to write down the answer?

Along the way, there are some tasks to do. Stop the car at the horse centre, get out and talk to the host. You're to find... a horseshoe in this pile of hay. More fun than finding a needle – and less likely to cause injury – the task gives an opportunity for all in the car to show their abilities. In particular, it's a chance for the driver to shine, and not just make snarky comments.

Hewlfa Drysor Where's the horseshoe?

Snarky comments are the commentator's job. Lisa Angharad and Welsh Whisperer tell us what's happening – and what's not happening. "Speed isn't always the way to win the race," they helpfully point out.

We'll see some of the local highlights – a house with a car sticking out of the wall. We'll hear from The Woman Who Lives At the Crossroads, and who asks difficult questions of passing treasure hunters. Success is rewarded with sweets; failure with a shot from her water pistols.

Hewlfa Drysor The Woman Who Lives At the Crossroads is a sharp-shot.

A later clue asks for a "fitting tribute to a local poet". Four brains put together will get this, right? You don't need to go round the other side of the mountain, honest. You don't need to keep the crew waiting in the middle of nowhere for you as night falls, trust us. You do need to find Silly Bili's bag, hidden somewhere on a coach full of children's bags.

Eventually, finally, all of the cars return to base. The first two teams to get back were treated to a slap-up meal of sausage 'n' chips from the pub; the last team was treated to sausage 'n' chips that's been in the oven for hours. The scores were rather glossed over: positive points for questions right and tasks completed, points away for a longer time on the road and a greater mileage. Best team wins £100 each.

Hewlfa Drysor Has anyone seen the other team?

We might compare this with another Treasure Hunt, made by Channel 4 in the 1980s. There are fewer helicopters, in fact there are none. We don't get quite so much scenery during the show, many of the scenic shots are added in later. We do get a wonderful sense of place, these tasks can only be done in this particular corner of Pembrokeshire. Shire horses and poets and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park all feature in the show.

What we do get is a tremendously fast pace. Channel 4's Treasure Hunt featured five clues in its hour. Hewlfa Drysor has about fifteen, so if this problem is boring you, there will be something along in a moment. There's no need for Kenneth and Wincey to vamp about which dignitary put up Queen Elizabeth for a night in 1584, not when we can see a cardboard cutout of Trystan Llyr in a phonebox. (He's a local celebrity: we did talk about the tremendous sense of place.) We do get the little history lessons – a potted history of Waldo, the local poet, and of shire horses.

Hewlfa Drysor On Dale's shopping list tonight...

The show is made with bags of spirit. While the miniature cameras in cars reminded us of BBC Scotland's Test Drive, there's something more to this programme. It's not so much Alaw Evans' incidental music throughout, though that helped. It's the tremendous fun we had watching the show. The whole atmosphere was of playful and joyful competition for the whole family, and we've not seen that since The Button.

And it's The Button that is our best comparison. Hewlfa Drysor is a celebration of teamwork, friends and families working together and having fun together. We might not be able to shout "Hello, households", but we can call "Croeso, cars!"

Take Off with Bradley and Holly

Take Off

Hungry Bear for BBC1, 24 December

Watch now (UK only, expires 25 January)

It's Christmas Eve, it's 8pm. The shops have shut, the preparations are being made, and everyone is where they are expected to be. All we need is a fireside entertainment, something to distract and amaze. Take Off was exactly that show.

Take Off Holly Willoughby and Bradley Walsh.

A weak narrative thread ran through Take Off: they wanted to fill 26 seats on a plane flying to Lapland{2}. To do this, they'll play a few silly games. The games were moderately familiar – re-pack your suitcase so it fits to an arbitrary target is similar to a segment on In for a Penny. Remember and reproduce a sequence of lights was given a fast-forward treatment, otherwise it would have been dull. A traditional buzzer quiz rounded out the show.

There was a pre-recorded segment, where Holly and Bradley hid in a family's house and set them tasks to win their prize. In a non-game segment, Holly visited a young man who wraps charity donations and makes them into a present. He earned his place on the plane.

Take Off Dressed as an elf, Bradley hides in a closet. You wouldn't catch Richard Osman doing this.

Star guest Jamie Cullum played along, quite literally, setting the plot of a familiar Christmas film to the tune of a familiar Christmas song. He was joined by the vocals of Bradley Walsh for the big finale, sending 26 people off for their party in Lapland.

Why did this show work? It had a narrative thread to tie all the elements together, but it knew when to let the theme drop. Contestants were called out of the audience by their names appearing on a departure board, like you might find at a large airport. Winners went up a flight of steps designed to look like those leading onto a plane, and sat in seats like on a plane.

Take Off Oh no, the grinch wants to steal your place on the plane!

The theming went no further than that. Each individual segment was an entertainment on its own terms; only the opening game – about repacking suitcases – had anything to do with airports or flying. Bradley Walsh and Holly Willoughby had a good connection, joshing with each other and the audience.

Take Off was a good-natured show, all about finding winners and having some fun, with a light public service message in the middle. There were many similarities to Ant and Dec's long-running Saturday Night Takeaway, not least the "place on the plane" motif they use to plug the series finale. Like Takeaway, we found Take Off to be a very high-octane format, far more rich than the usual diet.

Take Off All 26 winners, off to Lapland.

Christmas is a time for bold emotions, and Take Off wore its heart on its sleeve. Many viewers will have drifted in and out – we might only watch for five or ten minutes, perhaps while peeling spuds or settling an excited child. We'd be entertained while we watch, but know we'd miss nothing of substance. That's why Take Off was perfect for Christmas Eve, it's a fresh selection box of good chocolates, rich and varied.

{2} Never mind how this would contribute to global heating, thus turning Lapland from ice and snow to a muddy mush.Back!

In other news...

Top Class (CBBC) had its annual celebrities match, most notable because Susan Calman answered questions in a "Test the Teacher" round. She's done very well! Richard Osman's Celebrity Re-Play 2018 returned, with Alan Carr taking over the host's chair, and questions about 2019. What was a gentle and amusing show became louder and lairier, as is Alan Carr's style. Thank goodness for Angellica Bell as the show's richardosman.

We enjoyed BBC1 Northen Ireland's profile of Roy Walker, a talent far wider than just Catchphrase. Less enamoured of Challenge's clip show Television's Best Gameshows. Not because it's another talking-heads-while-clips-play effort, not because the choice of clips was exactly what we would expect. No, our problem was that they'd sourced all of the clips off a well-known video sharing site, many of them sourced from the Challenge channel. We end up with Bullseye illustrated with Challenge's previous logos in the corner, and we know Challenge still owns the rights to Bullseye because they're always showing it.

"Sharon" hit the headlines, after a contestant on Celebrity Mastermind suggested that as the name of environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg. It's a valid answer – not correct – and it's always better to guess than pass on Mastermind. Only Connect had a bunch of specials, including a Championship of Champions match – Escapologists beat Verbivores by 23-19. Christmas University Challenge also took place, with victory for Leeds (Jonathan Clements, Henry Gee, Richard Coles, and Timothy Allen).

A horrible start to the year for Ireland's radio broadcasters. Marion Finucane died suddenly, she was a pioneer of women on RTÉ radio, invented the phone-in programme, and her late morning show demonstrated that people do listen to the wireless on the weekend. Stephen Clements also died suddenly, he'd only moved to BBC Radio Ulster in September after a number of years on independent radio.

Larry Gogan passed after a short illness, he was RTÉ's closest equivalent to John Peel, effortlessly remaining in touch with the youth culture in spite of his advancing years. Unlike Peely, Larry also got to commentate on the Eurovision Song Contest for radio and television. On the radio, he pioneered the "Just a Minute" quiz – in this one, players have one minute to get ten questions right, and often came up with some of the silliest answers known to humanity. For instance, "Sharon".

Voting season continues. The pilot episode on BBC1 last month was, frankly, rubbish – they gave away the result a few minutes into the broadcast, making the rest of the show completely redundant.

We hope for slightly more drama next week, when Brig Bother unveils the UKGameshows.com / Bother's Bar Poll of the Year results. Voting has now closed, and we wonder if there will be a movement away from Bradley Walsh towards Richard Osman. The breakout star is obviously Stephen Mulhern, but might Dara Ó Briain catch a late swing?

ITV's National Television Awards will happen at the end of the month, and the final shortlist of nominees is out. Game shows and related stars are up in these categories:

The award goes to the most popular entry in each category, it's not judged on any artistic merit. For that reason, there's no space for The X Factor in Most Popular Talent Show, because it's not one of the most popular talent shows. Very pleasing to see Rupaul's Drag Race and The Circle punch through to the top of their classes, these shows might not have so many viewers as others, but the viewers they do have are motivated and devoted.

An epic battle on House of Games (3) between Gary Delaney and Rose Matafeo, with Gary emerging the winner by just one point in the Friday final. Another epic battle is under way across the pond, Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time has pulled in 15 million viewers in overnight figures, the sort of ratings they only usually get for professional sportsball. In the first-to-three-wins match, it's Ken Jennings 2, James Holzhauer 1, Brad Rutter 0.

It's Sunday, it's 9 o'clock, it's the new series of Love Island! (ITV2). Laura Whitmore is live in Cape Town with some of the aspirant amourous. On Thursday, it's followed by Iain Stirling's Celebability, the celebrity show hosted by the Fabulous Voice of Love Island.

Slightly more highbrow, Round Britain Quiz is back (Radio 4, Monday), asking questions that don't make sense even when we've heard the answers. Don't Scream is good advice for RBQ listeners, also a new horror show on BBC3 from Thursday.

The week ends in this fashion: It's Friday, it's six o'clock, it's Crackerjack! (CBBC) Sam and Mark promise to make the weekend fun.

Photo credits: Spun Gold, Avanti, Hungry Bear.

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