Weaver's Week 2001-08-28

Weaver's Week Index

28th August 2001

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

This week...

- The Charmless show

- University Challenge

- The Weakest Link: one year on

- Plus why it's all change at Action Time

- Other highlights of the week ahead.

THE CHARM OFFENSIVE - PART II (ITV, Saturday 11 / Sunday 19)

Could this show be any worse than the opener? Probably not.

Ulrika Jonsson reminds us of the contestants. This is very useful, as I've completely forgotten who they are, and what they want to do. We see one person's appearance on Millionaire, blowing a £2000 question. Another on a daytime talk show, putting her hand up to faking an orgasm (though the O- word is discreetly missing.)

Then a parade of family members, and a few viewers. Ulrika reads out messages from the ITV web site, and challenges one about a trust fund for school fees. "£20,000 over 17 years will make £100,000," claims the Swede. What she doesn't say is that assumes 10% Compound growth, an ambitious but not unrealistic target. I got the impression that the contestant referred to full secondary school and university fees, not just the latter.

Big Brother and Survivor could afford to employ a psychologist to comment on the contestants. Charm Offensive doesn't have this budget, but can stretch to a crapologist, who tries (and fails) to analyse the contestants based on their signature.

A few more talking heads on video, then down to the all-important voting. Done on a premium line number, naturally. Do I care enough to vote? No. Have I completely forgotten about last week's show? Naturally. Do I stand by my call for this to be a one-hour show, and if they can't get the libel lawyers to approve they shouldn't be bothering? Most definitely.


BIRMINGHAM went down as the first losers of the Paxman era, going down to Aberdeen in the 95 opener. They did come back as a high-scoring loser, ousting Lampeter in the second round and tying New Oxford in the quarters, only to lose the tie-break. Success since has been elusive, losing heavily to Selwyn Cambridge in the 96 first round, and being slaughtered by Durham last year. Full disclosure: Birmingham is my own college.

This is the first appearance by CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD since the revival.

"Do you know nothing?" asks Paxo after neither team recognised which superhero shouted "Shazam." [1] CCO, who thinks Jane Austen was living in 1897, clearly doesn't. Birmingham, with two PhD students and two engineers, clearly doesn't, as they trail 65-(-5) shortly after the first pictures. Birmingham stages a mini revival shortly after, but it's Christ Church all the way, and I'm mentally tuning out by the half. A lot of questions about New York this week, for some reason. And a lot about sport, all answered by CCO captain Ben Fasham.

There's no change later in the show. CCO wins, 235-100. Notable is Liam Herringshaw, the only Birmingham player to answer three starters, but the team goes 0/9 on his bonuses. Birmingham now has the rather unfortunate statistic of one win from six appearances.

[1] Captain Marvel.


With the first shows in the new series airing this week, it feels appropriate to review how far this show has come in its first year. I'm looking only at the original, 9-person, Daytime Weakest Link.

First thing to note is that the game is a lot more free-flowing. The early episodes had a staccato quality, grinding slowly through the quizzing and steaming ahead during the voting and ritual abuse. The absurd ritual of having contestants step up to the centre podium went very quickly, thank goodness, and with cosmetic changes and Anne Robinson's increased confidence, the game began to move more steadily.

Anne has grown in her role. She still isn't as clearly intellectual as Jeremy Paxman, say - this week, there was a discussion of Pavlov's experiments on conditioned reflex. I get the feeling that Paxman would have had a knowledge of this experiment, and discussed it with the contestants. Robinson didn't, and I felt it was from a lack of knowledge.

But what our host lacks in book learning, she makes up in ritualised abuse of the contestants. "Which village is missing its idiot?" "Who is cooking on very low gas?" "Who has totally outstayed their welcome?" "Who doesn't write any new lines for me?" have all become minor catchphrases. Well, apart from the last one. Add to that the instantly recognisable sting, and the catchphrase that turned into a cliché within three months, and there are plenty of known quantities in the show.

If there's a criticism that can still be made, it's that Anne still seems to stall too much. There are clear pauses between a contestant giving an answer and the host confirming it, and signs that she's mocking the contestants by saying something like "No, Claire, it's beans" rather than "No, beans." For an untimed game, such as Millionaire, this is fine; for a timed game, it's patently unfair.

The 9-strong daily show is played without an audience. Some of Anne's quips seem to be lost without some people tittering in the background, but the game as a whole is stronger for the cloistered atmosphere. British contestants are still far less likely to answer Anne back than their American counterparts, but how much of that is national character?

Lest we forget, it took COUNTDOWN some years to become a fixture of Channel 4's schedule, and only now are major changes to the show afoot. TWL already seems a permanent fixture on the afternoon schedules, and I can see it running as long as Anne's schedule and the popularity will allow.


Stephen Leahy has left Action Time. Leahy, who has created more than 20 game shows, and produced many others, leaves to create another independent production company, Splash. Joining him there will be Action Time stalwart, Trish Kinane. The move comes at the end of a golden handcuffs period after Action Time was acquired by Carlton Communications.

Leahy's first major co-creation was Granada's ground-breaking Krypton Factor in 1977. Since then, the company has created or adapted shows from the good (Chain Letters), the indifferent (Body Heat, Raise The Roof) and the simply dire (Do The Right Thing. You know, that one with Terry Wogan that wasn't Blankety Blank.) Shows such as Catchphrase, Wipeout, and The Mole will still be made by Action Time; the company will also sell Splash productions and formats overseas.


Another Prime-Time Celeb Weakest Link on Saturday night (it was Comedians last Saturday), but Anne is now up against the new series of Cilla's Happy Family Plan (or MOMENT OF TRUTH, as the listings team call it.)

We've a Weakest Link rerun and no Countdown on Monday, but it's full steam ahead with four new episodes each from Tuesday. No University Challenge Monday; The People Versus returns Tuesday. Countdown host Richard Whiteley appears on BBC1's summer filler CELEBRITY SLEEPOVER, staying with three ladies from Sidcup. A dance class is involved, which should make for cringe-inducing viewing.

The Heat Is On shifts to Wednesday, and Friday is a mess. For no adequately explained reason, there's a Prime-Time Weakest Link at 7pm on BBC1. Quite what this involves will be explained next week.

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