Weaver's Week 2002-09-28

Weaver's Week Index


28th September 2002

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

In the week when there are plenty of monkeys but no sidekicks, this also happened:

  • Robinson, the Drama Queen
  • Years More Tarrant
  • I'm A Lawyer, Get Me In There!

University Challenge

First round, match 4: Liverpool -v- Worcester, Oxford

Liverpool took part in the lowest scoring match of the revival in 1994, beating Sheffield 150-100. The team fell to Robinson Cambridge in the next round. They came back in 97, only to lose to Newham Cambridge. This is Worcester's first appearance in the revival.

Three doctorate students on the Worcester team. They get off to the better start, but it's a slow start. Liverpool has the lead by the first picture round. In spite of getting questions on the derivatives of complex trig functions (this confuses Thumper more than the team), Worcester pulls it to five by the music round. The music sees Peter Henn play the air guitar for Liverpool, and gain a full house.

It remains tight throughout, with Worcester retaking the lead just before the second picture round. The Oxford side pulls away strongly in the final phase, with Liverpool completely frozen out after this point. Worcester wins, 265-130.

Unlucky guess of the week: Edgars are awarded in which field of literature. Worcester confers, mentioning Edgar Alan Poe. They guess...
Mark Trevakoski: Horror?
Thumper: No, mystery. You were right about Poe.

Who wants to be in... Which shipping forecast area was renamed Fitzroy in February 2002 in honour of Robert Fitzroy, the founder of the Met Office?
Liverpool, Oly Sykes: Finnisterre.

Deductible of the week: What phrase is the more common name for the medical specialism of oto-rhino-laryngology?
Liverpool, Henn: Ear, nose and throat.

Panel beater of the week: What mathematical constant is approximated by the number of balls on the table at the start of a game of snooker, divided by the number of deadly sins. [1]

James Murray is the big scorer, taking 94 for Worcester. Henn's 51 for Liverpool was a lower score than all four from the opposition. Liverpool made 13/21 bonuses and one missignal; Worcester 25/45 with two missignals. That's not such a huge bonus ratio for our winners. The teams combined to score a maximum 55 on questions about politics and religion.

With four games in the bag, we can bring out the Top 4 Losers Board:
180 York 165 Jesus Oxford; UMIST 130 Liverpool

Next week: Selwyn, Cambridge -v- Merton, Oxford

There may be a UC special over Christmas, pitting the Daily Tabloid against the Daily Muckrake.

Jungle Run

(? for CITV, 1605 Tuesday)

Back in the day, The Crystal Maze was a huge hit with children as well as young adults. Part of the reason was plain delight in seeing people fail to accomplish simple tasks, like the oh-so-difficult Walk Across A Plank game, or the nigh-on impossible Make A Cup Of Tea game. Each year, the children would get a chance to show the oldies how it was done, and often did embarrassingly well. Ten years on, another generation of children gets its chance to make fools of itself on network television, in the hunt for the Golden Monkey of the Jungle King.

The premise is simple. Chris Jarvis - perhaps best known for playing CBBC's Anorak in the mid 90s - leads a team of three to a sequence of games. If completed in time, each game will yield some stone monkeys, worth ten seconds in the endgame. The contestants don't get to choose their challenges, but they will play at least one skill, one mental, one physical, and one mystery game.

The games are built on a satisfyingly large scale. In one, the trio tries to channel water along half a dozen pipes, and it takes all three to hold them correctly in place. In another, they're rotating giant cubes to build a picture. In another game, someone has to crawl down a network of tunnels, looking for these stone monkeys. All the games are team games, sometimes only shouting directions, sometimes all three are leaping about trying to collect bags.

Two large colourful gorillas - Sid and Elvis - are also in on the act, and will make life more difficult for the contestants. They also help to conclude the games when time has expired - there's no locking in for youngsters, just running out of time.

Jarvis is quite a close match to the other Crystal Maze host, Ed Tudor-Pole, in his enquiry of "What went wrong?" when things didn't go to plan. He is more fulsome in his praise than Ed, and the structure of the game means that the contestants will come out of most games with something.

The finale calls for the contestants to solve four puzzles using the time they've collected en route. Each puzzle solved earns them some treasure, with a massive star prize waiting for them if they can manage to break all four puzzles. The endgame puzzles are, again, satisfyingly difficult, and call for team work.

The series only uses nine or ten main games, meaning that the same game is repeated most weeks. The endgame is always the same four puzzles. In that respect, it's not unlike Gladiators.

If the original Crystal Maze was Fort Boyard shorn of its nastier edges, then Jungle Run is the Maze compressed into a shorter slot. It's a very watchable little show.

Thanks to CITV's discreditable policy of not showing any production details at all, I'm unable to see if this show is any relation to Jacques Antoine's creations.

The Shiny Show

(Open Mind for CBeebies channel, 0830, 1230, 1630 daily; also on BBC2)

Of course, there are children for whom mini Mazes is a little too advanced. For the under fives, there's the option of CBBC's fun little quiz.

The cast is three strong puppet characters: Dogsby, an earnest brown pooch; Tigs, an excitable young tiger; and Mukka, a cheeky purple monkey. One of the three participants shows a series of short - two minute - film clips, then asks two observation questions of the other two. The viewer is invited to shout their answer at the screen. A correct answer entitles the player to a Shiny - something that shines. Between each round, there's an activity loosely based on the film insert, and a song finishes the show.

For the child, there's a lot happening here. We have the content of the film, which can expose the youngster to novel experiences. There's basic number recognition, with the players counting their Shinies, and displaying their score on one of those cardboard flipover scoreboard thingies that the grown-ups haven't used since they fell out of fashion circa 1985. There's interactivity, in the limited form that broadcast television allows. And there's a creative activity, enabling the exploration of such awkward concepts as surprise and reward, and something to re-create after the show.

Over time, more subtle lessons can be drawn. The concept of taking turns and fair play - each character will get their chance to lead the activities. There's also the much-maligned concept of an absolute right and an absolute wrong answer, the exact thing that the reactionary press accuses educators of not liking. On the other hand, it's not the winning that counts, it's the taking part. Paying attention to everything going on is quietly reinforced: most shows feature one of the contestants giving a foolish answer because they're not concentrating.

Half the battle in this sort of programming is to make the show something worth watching for the adult as well. Here, Shiny shows its mettle, with witty banter between the characters that goes right over the heads of the children, but lands squarely in the laps of the older viewer. There are also no commercials (this is the BBC) and no commercial influences.

For all ages, there are recurring items. The players have lucky objects, which often pop up in the activity sections. There are catchphrases, "Give yourself a Shiny" and "Zap!" the most common, and a recurring thing on the wall that does - well, that's a very good question.

Shiny is a show that, on first appearance, refuses to take itself at all seriously. Beneath the surface frivolity is a well-honed education show, dressed up in an attractive package.

Other News

It's been musical chairs amongst channel controllers this week. Dawn Airey was the controller of fast-rising Channel 5, and had been linked with the head honcho's job at struggling ITV. Always one for a difficult job, but not an impossible one, Airey has plumped for leading cabsat broadcaster Sky TV. She may have been enticed by reports of the corp's planned free-to-view Channel 6.

Blink and you'll miss it. Noel Edmonds' return to primetime television, that is. The Bearded Jumper, absent from the airwaves since his Noel's House Party closed its doors almost four years ago, popped up for almost three seconds on the BBC's coverage of a demonstration last weekend. (Thanks to the Guardian for spotting this: at Weaver Towers, we were watching Scrapheap Challenge.)

Maybe there is something in the BBC's Search For Something Else On Saturday. Last week's lineup included a miserable 3 million for Dog Eat Dog, and a woeful 4 million for The Chair. That's very nearly two viewers per penny of the hosts' fees. Perhaps their dramatisation of Anne Robinson's book "Memoirs Of An Unfit Mother]" (£3.99 from all good remaindered book stores) will help to boost flagging ratings.

Chris Tarrant has been plugging his new book, all about the history of Millionaire. He told The Guardian: "We hated half hours. They were very unsatisfactory for us to make and for people to watch. Of course we worried about saturation, and also physical bloody exhaustion. I was knackered. We did a 100-odd shows last year, and we never wanted to do that many... It's a brilliant format and the problems it's had have purely been about overexposure and greed. I understand revenue hasn't been great but there was a point when people were going, 'No more, no more!'"

Tarrant unexpectedly re-signed this week for London's Capital Radio, and will directly take on Terry Wogan in the breakfast slot. Former Wheel of Fortune host Nicky Campbell will also be in the crowded breakfast market, fronting BBC Radio 5's news-and-sport programme. His replacement on mid-mornings will be Fi Glover, who once hosted A Room with a Clue on cabsat channel UK Style. The station is looking for someone with an even more remote connection to quality game shows to take her late night slot.

Castaway Productions, makers of Survivor, launched legal action against Granada and the team behind I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! for blatant infringement of copyright. Granada denied any such naughtiness, and said it was "regrettable" that Castaway had launched the action.

"We made clear to ... Castaway that we don't consider our program in any way infringes their rights in Survivor," said a spokesmonkey. "We have received strong legal advice supporting that position and will, if necessary, vigorously defend any proceedings."

Castaway Productions said "contrary to widespread belief," the celebrity version wasn't made with its consent. "Survivor took many years to develop, a process costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Castaway regards the protection of its intellectual property rights most seriously."

Potential commentators are reminded that the chilling NICKED! rules also apply here.

Stephen Leahy, the executive once known as "TV's Mister Game Show" to editors at the Guardian, has forged a new venture with the company behind Robot Wars. The former managing director of Action Time, responsible for such hits as Chain Letters and The Mole, has signed a deal with The Television Corporation, the parent company of Mentorn TV.

The deal gives The Television Corporation the right to produce and distribute all formats created by Leahy's new company Ludus, except in Australia. No, we don't know why "the world except Australia" either, but there must be some devilishly good reason.

Next Week

MILLIONAIRE has a celebrity edition, postponed from last week for no adequately explored reason. 2105 ITV Sa.

It's BARGAIN HUNT weekend on UK Style. All Dickinson, all weekend.

This week's SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE is a Golf Ball Gatling Gun, 1705 Su. The E4 repeat airs 1530. Thanks.

There's a BIG BREAK on BBC1 at 1930 We. Probably the remote as people turn over to the Test Card Channel.

As if we hadn't seen enough, C4 shows WHAT JADE DID NEXT at 2100 Th. We don't see this sort of treatment for the winner.

And BBC1 launches FAME ACADEMY at 2030 Friday. Review in two weeks.

[1] That mathematical constant? 22/7, so pi.

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