Weaver's Week 2021-02-21

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File:Square Lightning.jpg

Channel 4 announced a new host for Countdown. They teased this week's jobs news with an anagram: SRIBNAONENON. Who, we wondered, was Bonnie Sannor? Did she change her name to Langford?


Nice One Productions and Fizz (a Banijay company) for BBC2, 25 January – 26 February

Six players are about to compete for a £3,000 cash prize, but to stay in the game, they must do whatever it takes to avoid that roaming light. This is Lightning.


This is how to begin a programme. Set out the premise in a few short sentences. Then give us a title sequence, with some proper music. If you can't summarise your show in a few sentences, it's too complicated. If you can't afford a title sequence, or opening titles, what else have you skimped on? Lightning has dodged both of these perils.

Welcome to the electrifying quiz where six players will have their quick thinking, general knowledge and fast reactions all put to the test.
The game is simple. If you're out of the light, you'll be all right. The players are competing against each other all week. The only way they can escape is if they make it to the final.

Sometimes, we have a struggle to comprehend all of the rules, or even just the basics of the format. The Wheel was a complicated show, made to look easy by a master showman. From the previews, we think we'll have a similar problem when Bank Balance arrives on BBC1 next week. But Lightning? Easy to understand. We don't have to think about the rules, we can concentrate on the game and the questions.

Lightning The set: a blue-green, with a very bright white light.

In round one, all these players have to do is answer one question correctly and then they can nominate a rival to pass the light onto. This round is two minutes, whoever is caught in the light when their time runs out will be eliminated. You'll be able to see the time ticking away, but this lot will have no idea when lightning is about to strike.

At heart, Lightning is very simple. It's a quiz version of "Pass the bomb", except that rather than shout out words beginning with a particular letter, you're answering questions posed by Zoe Lyons. A mixture of highbrow and lowbrow, accessible and obscure, easy and hard. Anything can turn up, and most things do.

Lightning The contestant on the left is in the light, and in danger of elimination.

Round one is the simplest possible version. Get a question right, nominate someone else. It's Fifteen-to-One against the clock, with a timer visible only to those of us watching at home. Two minutes of this, with music gently humming in the background. Not too long to think, Zoe will say "Need an answer..." and give the answer if needed.

And then the music builds up to a crescendo, and crackle! someone's been struck by the titular lightning. A thunderclap plays, and their podium turns red – a stark contrast to the ice-blue for everyone else. Zoe has a quick chat with the eliminated player, and looks forward to seeing them again tomorrow.

Lightning Lightning has struck, so it is goodbye.

That was round one. Now for a more difficult example.

In round two, no doubt, sparks will fly. Players now have to answer two questions correctly before they can nominate a rival to put in the light. This round is two and a half minutes and, once again, the players won't know how long is left on the clock. But whoever is in the light when the time runs out will be a goner.

Lightning One out of the two required answers, so far.

Two correct answers are now required. They don't have to be consecutive – you can get one, pass on loads, get another, and that's fine. But they do have to come from the same player, there's no conferring, everyone plays for themself.

Zoe Lyons is our host. The one good thing to come out of ITV's Survivor series from twenty years ago, Zoe has carved out a niche as a stand-up comedian, and often pops up on funny panel shows. Just this month, she was doing Lightning, and Richard Osman's House of Games (3), and The Unbelievable Truth on Radio 4, and all in the same hour.

Lightning Zoe Lyons wins the Game Show Suit award.

But Lightning isn't a comedy quiz. There's nothing funny about it. The show plays to Zoe's strength as a people person, as a psychology graduate, as someone who knows what makes people tick. She's able to explore someone's personality, in thin slices over a few days.

Zoe is also an expert at reading the show's script off an autocue and seamlessly picking up with her own observations.

In round three, we're making it even harder for our four remaining players. This time I'll give them a maximum of three clues to the identity of a person, a place or a thing. The quicker they can answer, the quicker they can pass on that dreaded light. But if they are wrong, I'll give them another clue. This round is two and a half minutes and only you at home will know when lightning is about to strike.

Lightning isn't the first game show we've called "Trivia Pass the Bomb". Back in the frozen wastes of early 2013, Rory Bremner had a quiz on Channel 4, Face the Clock. That quiz was too complex for its own good: there was a poor attempt at making questions of increasing value like on The Weakest Link, rounds were anything from 30 seconds to 2½ minutes, and the whole thing came across as too convoluted for its own good. Why would anyone watch this when we could be watching the much more fun Tipping Point on ITV?

Weaver's Week 2013-01-20#Face the Clock Face the Clock had a brown-orange set. That was the smallest of its problems.

Face the Clock had another problem: all of its rounds were the same. Rory asked a question, and there was an answer. The questions didn't get harder, and they didn't change style from round to round. Lightning has learned from this experience, and knows to change things up. One straightforward question. Two straightforward questions. Longer clues towards something.

The clues here are pitched very well. First clue is tricky, enough information to solve, but only if you know an obscure fact. Second clue has more information, and includes a disguised hint – but will the contestants spot it? The last clue is almost a giveaway.

Lightning Three clues that should lead to a pop star. Answer later.

By asking "Who am I?", Zoe invites comparisons with Going for Gold. The comparisons continue as we recall that losing contestants are with us for the whole week – the only way to escape is to reach the final. The prospect of spending all week with Zoe is enough to make some people blanche.

In this round, they will have to answer a question and complete a physical challenge before they can pass the light. They can have as many goes as they like, but the clock will always be ticking and that light is always looming. Only when they complete the physical challenge can they pass that dreaded light onto a rival.

Lightning Three remain for the round.

Not content with basic quizzing, Lightning has a physical challenge round. It's more entertaining than we dared hope. Not only must the contender answer a this-or-that question, but they've then got to do a small stunt at the front of the stage.

Bounce a ball into a container. Roll a ball along a plank into a hole. Use long tongs to pick up a ball and put it into cylinders. Move a hoop along a buzzwire. It's a skill the players can practice and learn and improve, even within the two-and-a-half minute round.

Lightning Today's challenge: ski jump.

We also love the questions in this round, cunning little this-or-that stumpers. Iconic quizzer Alex McMillan said he wrote with Twenty Questions Wrong in mind, the challenge where you're to pick from two answers on a theme. Other questions came from familiar names – Paddy Duffy and Freya McClements from Round Britain Quiz, Ray Oakes and David O'Dornan are regular setters on Mastermind. Like on the black-seat quiz, the questions are that bit fresher and help the show to have a voice.

Lightning Get a ball into the perspex cylinder.

Like Mastermind, Lightning also benefits from a coherent visual design. We've mentioned the ice-blue lighting in the studio, changing to a dazzling white spotlight when someone's being asked a question. The rest of the studio's lit in a darker shade of greeny-blue. It helps to pick out the bright green balls they use in this round's games. Because the playing surface is slightly tilted, the balls will naturally return to the starting position – even in television studios, gravity never takes a day off.

In round five, we have only two players remaining. They each have their own 60-second countdown clock. When they are asked a question, their clock starts ticking and to stop their clock and to pass on the light to their rival, they have to answer a question and then spell it correctly. Play will continue back and forth until one of them runs out of time.

There seems to be a rule of quizzing: whenever there are two players left in a timed event, the only way to split them is to use a chess-clock game. They did it on Grand Slam, it was the eliminator on Face the Clock, we saw it on Beat the Chasers. The traditional arrangement is preserved here, honouring Austin Healey and his Final Fuse.

Lightning Emerald is the correct answer.

Except, as it's Lightning, there's a twist. You've not only got to say the answer, you've got to spell it. And, once again, the writers have done well. They've picked words that are interesting to spell. Not difficult, in the unnervingly snide manner of House of Games; no, these are interesting clues, with common words, and ways to get the spelling wrong.

The early rounds of Lightning tend to the capricious. If you're nominated with no time to spare, that's tough luck. You'll be back tomorrow. You might be able to pick on the person who nominated you. We can see loose alliances form over the course of the show, or the week. Bill and Ben might conspire to nominate Rona every chance they can. But in the final round, the better quizzer will win out.

In front of Lesley are nine steps. Each one is marked with a sum of money starting at £200, building all the way up to a maximum of £3,000. For each correct answer, Lesley can take a step forward banking more money.
But there is a twist. The money is only won if she can make it back to the home step before time runs out. So the further Lesley goes, the harder it is for her to get back. And if she's caught in lightning, she will lose every penny.
She will decide how far she wants to go. This is the important bit, Lesley, you must tell me when you want to stop the clock, turn around and try and get home.

Lightning The path to unimaginable riches.

And so we reach the final. Pick a total, go for it, then bring it back home. One step at a time, and take no more than two minutes. The first step is for £200, then 300, 500, 750. Five steps brings up £1000, and a lot of people stop there. Or at £1250. Only a few press on to 1500, 2000, and the prize of £3000.

Eighteen questions – eighteen right answers – in two minutes. It's a tough ask. But it's doable. It is perfectly possible for someone to get eighteen questions right. While the questions might be a bit long, they can be interrupted. And they're written to encourage a guess, to invite the player to bark out a quick answer – more often than not, they'll be right.

Lightning Turn around and claim your cash.

We'll get a win more often than not. It's not a huge amount – most people stop around £1000 – and that's absolutely fine. The contestant has earned their money, through knowledge and luck, and they leave with Zoe's best wishes ringing in their ears.

Lightning isn't a perfect show. Not yet. Nor do we expect it to be perfect first time round. We might wonder why contestants are trapped in the same clothes all week, we might suggest the graphic of ticks in round two be on-screen throughout and not just in certain shots.

Lightning Our player wins £1250.

But it is sleek, simple to follow, varied throughout the programme, and more than a little entertaining. Zoe Lyons proves to be a natural host, better than we dared expect, and the programme's beginning to find its voice. We look forward to a second series.

In other news

Hallowe'en Costume from 2000 Turns Up On Daytime Telly Anne Robinson has been named as the new host of Countdown. Robinson's previous game show experience includes The Diamond Game, where they tried to find words in a selection of letters, and used numbers to answer problems. The host of Points of View and Watchdog later went on to co-present Test The Nation The National Nation Test. Anne has been in the Leeds studio before, a week in Dictionary Corner in 1987 alongside Della Thompson.

The Weakest Link Have we missed another job? Can't have been important.

Anne's an unexpected choice for the host's job. She ticks a lot of boxes: the audience know her, she's got a sharp and inquiring mind, done a lot of television. There's a sparkling wit beneath the surface (watch any of her Points of View episodes), and she's been generous to her co-workers (we remember how Anne engineered Alice Beer into the Watchdog limelight almost over the producers' heads). While we don't expect Anne to emulate Richard Whiteley's two score years and more, we hope and expect she can last as long as Jeff Stelling.

Letters from Mrs. Trellis This week, the North Wales correspondent has sent three letters: an R, a P, and an I for the middle. She marks the death of Iain Pattinson, for many years he wrote the chairman's script on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. His other writing credits include (deep breath) Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment, Spitting Image, Man O Man, Clive Anderson Talks Back, Angus Deayton's End of the Year Show, The Unbelievable Truth, It's Been a Bad Week, Radio 5's The Treatment, Week Ending, The News Quiz, and The News Huddlines.

I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue Iain Pattinson, 1953-2021. Which would be an unconventional slot for an episode of ISIHAC.

The axe is swinging Channel 4 have announced a competitive woodcraft show. Good with Wood, hosted by Mel Giedroyc, will test carving, chiselling, and plane creativity. There's an additional test for the producers Plimsoll Productions: can they file all applications from people with fascist tattoos in the bonfire?

Poor, unfortunate Kevin Something else from Channel 4: The Answer Trap. According to the press release, it's a list-based quiz format. Anita Rani will challenge the teams to place answers from a series of lists into their relevant categories. But there's a twist: some of the answers go into none of the categories – they're the titular Answer Traps.

These Answer Traps have been set by Bobby Seagull and Frank Paul, the professional quizzers have a little side-bet between themselves to see who can catch the most players in their traps. And, we hope, chortling over their success like a movie villain – or an evil witch with purple lips.

Trapped Did you not identify Taylor Swift from the clues? You have failed miserably.

There's a potential £10,000 jackpot for ultra-successful teams of two, who need to be living in a suitable bubble. The Answer Trap will be made by Objective Media Group Entertainment (an All3Media company, Ben Shepherd and Ed De Burgh are involved) in association with Motion Content Group (a subsidiary of advertising behemoth WPP). It'll go out in daytime.

An L of a round Unprecedented scenes on Wednesday's Pointless, as the teams managed to find four (FOUR!) pointless answers in one round. Asked for league football teams containing the letter "L", the responses "Alloa Athletic", "Brighton and Hove Albion", "AFC Wimbledon", and "Hamilton Academical Nil" each earned £250 for the jackpot. This column's answer was not pointless: "Accrington Stanley". Who are they? Someone knows! Exactly!

Later in the show, Alexander Armstrong read the Dutch, Czech, German, Samoan, and French translations of "please" and "thank you". Not so much "fluency with languages" as "ability to rehearse and read what's on the card in front of him", but more than some other hosts on BBC2.

Paul Merton is the first guest host for Just a Minute (R4, Mon). Later in the week, Gordon Ramsay tries to help us with our Bank Balance (BBC1, from Wed). There's a new series of Junior Masterchef Down Under (W, weeknights). The Game Adjudication Panel says Stand Up and Deliver (C4, Thu) qualifies as a competition. Rugby next Saturday, followed by more from The Wall (BBC1).

Photo credits: Nice One / Fizz (a Banijay company), Objective Productions Scotland, BBC Studios, BBC Childrens.

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