Weaver's Week 2021-01-17

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"It's our favourite game show in the world!"

The Wheel


The Wheel

Hungry McBear Productions for BBC1, from 28 November

It feels like Michael McIntyre has been part of the mainstream telly furniture forever. That's because Michael McIntyre has been part of the mainstream telly furniture forever. He did his first Got Talent Variety Performance in 2006, stood in during Jonathan Ross's 2008 suspension for dodgy phone calls, and he's barely been off the telly since. McIntyre's comedy is sharp observation, physical moves, and delivered at an incessant ceaseless pace to keep the audience going.

The Wheel Michael McIntyre, host of The Wheel.

The Wheel is the first time he's hosted a game show, though. In any usual year, McIntyre would bring us a comedy programme, with special guest performers, recorded live in front of a huge crowd in a London theatre, all of them laughing their socks off. 2020 being 2020, that's not possible.

So Michael McIntyre, light entertainment's biggest solo star, turns up at Bovington Hangar. It's played host to Dancing on Ice and that CBBC show with drones. Now, it's got a hugemungous rotating wheel that actually spins round.{1} And by "hugemungous", we mean something like twenty metres across.

The Wheel Seriously, this is huge enough to hold all of McIntyre's massive amounts.

Seven celebrities are sat around the edge of the wheel, on large and comfortable seats. Each of them has nominated a category on which they're an expert. Beneath the wheel are three contestants. One of them appears from below in a cloud of dry ice.

The Wheel Joining us tonight...

Michael explains the main points of the format. Pick a category, and hope that the wheel lands on that category's expert. But there's a handicap: the player's also got to pick someone else to "shut down" – if the wheel lands on that "shut down" player, our contestant is thrown off the wheel and returned to the contestant pool downstairs.

The wheel spins. Jaunty music plays – it's a complete earworm, once heard never forgotten however much we'd like to forget it. Another success for Paul Farrer, master of music that gets into your head and barricades the door behind it.

The Wheel While the wheel spins, 20 seconds of complete joy.

Eventually, the wheel comes to rest. Let's assume it's not landed on a "shut down" celebrity, and the game continues. Our contestant and celebrity see a question, and four possible answers. These aren't particularly easy questions, they require a modicum of knowledge; but neither are they as tough as Mastermind. The contestant and celebrity have a debate about the answer.

Our contestant locks in an answer. Michael might discuss the question further, perhaps with the contestant, perhaps with the featured celebrity, perhaps with another celebrity.

The Wheel Rev Richard Coles gives his opinion on hot priests.

Got the right answer? £3000 in the prize fund. Got the right answer with the help of the subject specialist? A full £10,000 in the prize fund. Got the wrong answer? Hard lines, sink back down to the contestant pool with you.

And then the process repeats. Our player picks another category, picks someone to "shut down" in that category, and so on. After six minutes, we've got the basic gist of the game. There's another 40 minutes until we get to the final, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the show.

The Wheel Pick a category, and let's spin the wheel.

Michael McIntyre's The Wheel is a Michael McIntyre format, and both he and the ginormous wheel are the stars of the show. He larks about with his celebrity friends, he shouts a lot. McIntyre is a naturally loud person, he never developed an indoor voice, and he fills this huge aircraft hangar with sound.

He tells jokes, makes observations about what's happening on the show. A contestant might not be wearing socks, or he'll repeat something someone said in a mocking voice. "In the history... of touchscreens... no-one has ever approached it... with a knuckle."{2}

The Wheel Tony Blackburn has the time of his life.

McIntyre can be an over-bearing presence, he dominates proceedings. He's the ringmaster and the showman, his posh accent leads him to sound like he's being sarcastic about everything.

There are a few wrinkles in the format. All of the celebrities play each question on their keypad, for reasons we'll find out later. If a celebrity gives the wrong answer in their specialist category, there is hell to pay. Well, there's the shame of getting it wrong on network television, and they're "shut down" for the next question. Our player has to navigate around two "shut down" players, not just the one.

The Wheel Extra rules, extra faff.

Other rules may or may not appear in a particular show. If there's a clash between being "shut down" and "going gold" – if the celebrity for the last category gets their question wrong" – the "shut down" wins. On the final spin, players who haven't yet been spun in are marked silver, their answer would be worth £6000. And if all seven celebrities are spun and give a correct answer, there's an extra £5000 in the pot. There are so many additional tweaks that we wonder if Michael should take five cards and call "Introducing new rule!"

In theory, the prize pot could be as high as £75,000, it's a guaranteed minimum of £21,000, and usually ends up somewhere around £30,000. The actual prize could be twice as much. Or half as much. Or just this.

The Wheel Maura is the weakest link. But will the votes reflect the facts?

So far, the celebrity players have answered their questions on their keypads, in secret. They're ranked from best to worst. The Wheel is only interested in the best, the worst, and the average celebrity. The player in the middle chooses which player they're going to work with: the best player for half the prize pot, the worst player for double the prize pot, or the middle player for just the prize pot.

Four categories appear on the wheel, and one is selected at random. A question appears – four possible answers, 30 seconds to discuss. Not an easy question, by no means impossible.

The Wheel Where's Rapids Johnson when we need him?

Get the question right, and the money's won. Get it wrong, and that player's off the wheel and liable to be replaced.{3} The celebrity is now out of play, but the category remains. It is possible for there to be no winners on a particular episode.

"I'm so depressed! This show's supposed to raise the mood of the viewers! This is worse than Newsnight! This is so depressing! I'd rather watch a prime ministerial briefing! We never thought nobody would win!"

The Wheel What a personal disaster!

Either he's exaggerating for comedy effect, or McIntyre is talking cobblers. They'll have planned for every contingency on The Wheel: contestants who never get selected, one of the questions being disputed, the titular wheel spinning the wrong way and breaking down, a fly going straight into McIntyre's gullet while he's on one of his longer speeches.

More than any other show, The Wheel stands and falls on the strength of its host. If you like Michael McIntyre, this is a brilliant show: once you've got the basics, it's 45 minutes of Michael going through his observational comedy with celebrities. If you hate Michael McIntyre, you're not even going to bother watching.

The Wheel Like the player, we get that sinking feeling.

This column found The Wheel hard going, ultimately because we don't want to sit through a full hour of Michael McIntyre. Would our reaction be different if we already knew him? Very probably. As we said at the start, he's been around for fifteen years, doing this loud and fast observational comedy routine. That we've managed to avoid him is a failing on our part, and a failing that's come back to bite us now.


{1} The wheel on The Wheel only spins clockwise. We presume that it's like the Wheel of Fortune wheel, with a ratchet underneath to make sure it stops, and if you try to spin it widdershins it'll jam up.Back!

{2} Um, hello? Safest way to deal with supermarket checkouts this year. Finger-knuckle to say "no, some of us brought our own bags, yes, we're going to pay by card." Less chance of transferring nasty stuff from the screen to our freshly-bought grub.Back!

{3} In some episodes, Michael says that the defeated contestant in the final can't play again. In other episodes, he says it's possible to return. Penalty card, inconsistent rule.Back!

(Exit) Poll of the Year

This column believes in accountability: if we're going to vote for something, we want to justify it. Here's our vote in the UKGameshows / Bother's Bar Poll of the Year.

Hall of Fame

Crackerjack, Corner Shop Cook-Off, Rolling in It

In the category for best new shows, it's very easy to pick out eight or nine worthy votes. We found it much more difficult to rank the bottom six in order, and eventually decided that the fairest method was to vote for none of them. These three shows stood out above all others.

Rolling in It Load 'em up.

Crackerjack was far, far, far better than anyone dared expect. Eschewing the pop-n-gunge cul-de-sac of the final years, Sam and Mark's version lands itself squarely in the 1970s, with absurdist slapstick comedy to the fore. There's enough game to keep this site interested, and enough entertainment to keep everyone interested. Quite why BBC1 hasn't picked this show up is beyond us.

Corner Shop Cook-Off was the pick of the year's cookery formats. Unlike many others, it's a practical show, we can see what can be achieved on a very limited budget and with a strict time limit. Corner Shop Cook-Off had a great sense of place, if the corner shop is at the heart of the community, then show us something of the community. Clare Grogan's good-natured commentary was the icing on a delectable cake.

Rolling in It was devilishly simple, ramping up the tension through the game and not giving a clear win (or loss) until the last possible moment. Stephen Mulhern is in his element.

Corner Shop Cook-Off Tasty food from your local corner shop.

Hall of Shame

The Bridge, All Star Happy Hour, Best Parent?, Very Hard Questions

Four shows that probably shouldn't have been commissioned.

The Bridge: a scripted drama where the cast didn't know the script, but the producers did. It felt fake, and that's a cardinal sin.

All Star Happy Hour demonstrated the benefit of recording things a little in advance.

Best Parent? allowed the audience to reinforce its prejudices, and didn't challenge anything.

Very Hard Questions thought that the magic in Only Connect comes from the difficult material. No! It's the genial host, the matters arising, and the way the questions go absolutely everywhere. Honestly, where was the anecdote about Mary Berry? Unexpected catchphrases like "Is that a Protestant thing?" Or a raucous singing of "The holly and the ivy" in mid-January?

Golden Five

Pointless, Only Connect, House of Games (3), Crackerjack, The Crystal Maze

Crackerjack Splat-a-cow.

For the best shows currently in production, we don't need to look beyond with the game shows we have on series link even when they're off air. One of those is Runaround, the blast of spectacular television incompetence from 1981; we might review an episode if we're desperate. The others are CITV's Project Z, which was good but not brilliant; and S4C's Hewlfa Drysor, which isn't eligible for the 2020 poll.

Pointless and House of Games are lightweight teatime whimsey, and Only Connect remains the standard by which all other shows are measured.

The Crystal Maze Your leading maze master.

We're voting for The Crystal Maze because of Adam Conover's version on Nickelodeon. This column counts it as a "UK" show because of where it was filmed, who invented it, and who the behind-the-scenes cast were. Other commentators disagree, and we can add our vote behind the old shows dug out of a Channel 4 cupboard late in the year.

Not On Your Telly

Dan's Quiz, Royal Flush, Ash the Bash, I Got That One – a University Challenge podcast, The People's Top Game Shows

Five great entertainments not seen on broadcast television. We looked at Ash, Flush, and Dan in August, and The People's Top Game Shows in May.

We've not discussed I Got That One before, have we? Tom and Yvonne take a quick look at each week's edition of University Challenge, discuss where the teams went right, if there are any gaps in their knowledge, run through some stats, and applaud the best-dressed player of the week. It's all done in a most pleasant manner, and our hosts never forget that appearing on University Challenge is an achievement in itself.

Honourable mentions:

  • Schlag den Brig, a one-night-only special of tremendous quality.
  • Eurovision Again was a re-presentation of classic song contests, allowing us to reconsider the long history of our shared culture, and how it's changed between 1974 and 2018. But as everything had been seen on tv before, we don't reckon it's eligible.
  • What's On the Tapes, a Twitch channel with one man, a video player, and a stack of video tapes. The simple question: what is on the tapes? During the year, channel host Pete moved from random old tapes and gave us the highlights. It's all been on telly before, and it's all far more fun for that.
  • All Things Quiz, a newish video channel focussed on the more academic side of competitive quizzing.

Only Connect (2) Discussing this week's episode, in a familiar layout. Twisted Wick of Mitch Benn, please.

In other news

A crossover event as Lee Mack joins the roll of Only Connect question writers. Victoria Coren Mitchell gave the whole story on Would I Lie to You, and it's all perfectly scheduled to be in the same week. That would be an ecumenical matter.

Thanks to all who marked this column's 20th birthday last weekend. We hope this column has entertained, or given cause for thought, or set off nostalgia, or just made you want to throw things at us. Where do we go from here? Good question. We go further!

We've a new run (or skate, or whatever) for Dancing on Ice (VM1 and ITV, Sun), but pay for it with new Millionaire (ITV and VM1, Sun). Thursday sees The Chasers' Road Trip (ITV), and it looks like they'll have a right knees-up on Stephen Mulhern's Celebrity Catchphrase (ITV) next Saturday.

And it's The Poll of the Year Results Show (bothersbar.co.uk, Sun). Can any show stop Beat the Chasers from being the best? Only one man knows, and he'll spill all the beans in an online special.

Photo credits: Hungry McBear Productions, Over the Top Productions, Mentorn Scotland, BBC Childrens' Productions, All Things Quiz.

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