Weaver's Week 2001-07-03

Weaver's Week Index

3rd July 2001

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.

Coming back from a two-week trip to the US, where the wedding went off well, and (far more importantly) there are lots of game shows.

Let me start with a general observation. There are a *lot* of brand names and what might be product placement in the various quizzes. This is as true for US editions of The Weakest Link as for any other game show. Brand names were verboten for the longest time on UK quizzes, as it is a form of advertising; though rules have been loosened since, they are still rare.

So to the actual shows, starting with (THE) WEAKEST LINK [airs on NBC.] Five (count 'em!) commercial breaks in the show: after the round of 8, the round of 7; after the voting finishes - but before it's revealed - in the rounds of 5 and 3; and immediately before the head-to-head. This explains why the pace in the early rounds is so laboured, and some of the odd cuts during the voting.

MILLIONAIRE: [ABC] I caught a couple of repeated Championship editions, including John Carpenter's Return. It took me some time to spot all the differences: the Fastest Finger question features fades of the contestants, rather than a long shot pan. This I like. I'm not entirely sure about the way the lights coming out of the podium circulate during FFF and ATA. The podium remains in place during FFF. The contestant's friend is seated immediately behind their right shoulder, under a spotlight at all times. This allows for double reaction shots, but does remove some of the contestant-against-the-world nature of the show. Regis Philbin is a very good host, I grant him, but the US show does zip along at a very fast pace. Too fast, in my view; there isn't time for the tension that Chris Tarrant generates when the contestant isn't 100% Certain. Less tension, more commercials. I mention John Carpenter as he was the only contestant I saw who was really entertaining. His anecdotes and wit annoyed and delighted in equal measure; it could be huge fun to put him across the podium from Chris Tarrant. The two could spark off each other big time.

Both TWL and WWTBAM are shot as 4:3 productions, not 16:9 widescreen shows; NBC's logo remains at the bottom right through the show; ABC's is faded down when there's a question on screen.

CBS was heavily promoting the idea of BIG BROTHER during my visit, but without naming any of the contestants or going into details about how they've changed the format that Europe loves. I didn't see any SURVIVOR fall-out.

So much for the European imports, now for the formats they send to us.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT and JEOPARDY! are famous formats. You probably know exactly what happens, neither disappoints, neither offers anything more. TPIR is low-rent, high-fun stuff: if it wasn't for such high stakes, it could easily be comedy. J! has strong intellectual claims, mostly absent from other daytime shows. SUPERMARKET SWEEP has brand names everywhere and no Dale Winton. Dale's high camp makes that show, and a more straight host (in all senses of the word) loses something.

WIN BEN STEIN'S MONEY [Comedy Central] had a brief outing in the UK, as WIN JEREMY BEADLE'S MONEY (C5, 1999). Played as much for laughs as money, there's actually a very difficult quiz lurking behind the glossy exterior. Personally, I found the questions here slightly more taxing than Jeopardy, but that could be the example shows. I don't know Stein's history, but Beadle had an image of a joker that the show couldn't quite surpass.

A new format, 2 MINUTE DRILL [ESPN] is actually quite familiar. Two rounds of two minutes of rapid fire questions, one on specialist subjects, one on general sporting knowledge... owes a lot to MASTERMIND (BBC1, 1972-97). The first round is divided into four categories of four questions; a bonus point for getting all the questions in a category correct is borrowed directly from BRAIN OF BRITAIN (Radio 4, 1950s-date). Host Kenny Mayne has a very dry wit that went right over the heads of everyone I was watching with. Too many breaks and chit-chat with celebrity question-readers spoil the flow of the game somewhat, but it's a quality game.

HISTORY IQ [History] is a Jolly Good Show. Contestants are asked to spot the false statement from three, and correct it; or to put items in one of three categories. It's fast-moving, as polite as FIFTEEN TO ONE, and great fun. The endgame asks contestants to put items in order by a touch-screen monitor; this is great on paper, but doesn't make good television. This aside, History IQ is probably the format that could best come across to the UK.

YOU DON'T KNOW JACK [ABC] premiered during my stay. It's more comedy than game show; host Paul Reubens plays for laughs, with an endgame that confused me totally. The show, based on the mid-90s computer game, is actually a great comedy show, but doesn't quite cut the mustard as a quiz. It reminds me of a more manic version of Anthony H. Wilson's REMOTE CONTROL (C4, early 90s)

Before TWL airs, the little matter of FEAR FACTOR [NBC]. Six contestants are given silly and potentially frightening things to do, with $50,000 for the one that lasts the longest. The host, whose name I didn't catch, annoys me greatly, and I spent most of the episode willing someone to swing a punch at him. Or the contestants, who approach the pot with huge amounts of gravitas and no discernible level of fun. This is not good - game shows need light as well as dark; TWL may only be light at an ironic level, but it's there. FF is treated with such reverence that the fun is missing.

Fear Factor has been acquired by Sky 1 already, so I won't give too much away. The games seem like something out of FORT BOYARD - the French, rather than the British version - and I can see this format fitting in well on C5. The weekly prize of £20,000 after tax may be a little high for that channel, but this could be a cult hit.

Back in Blighty, I understand it's goodbye on SURVIVOR to Andy, James, and another million viewers. BIG BROTHER has ditched Narinder, and there's been an unexpectedly early exit for Bubble. Viewers reacting against someone in there only for the money?

Further analysis of both these shows, the daytime version of ITV's THE PEOPLE VERSUS, and 5's THE DESERT FORGES next week.

Back to Weaver's Week Index

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in