Weaver's Week 2002-11-02

Weaver's Week Index

2nd November 2002

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


Two decades ago this afternoon, occasional UKGameshows.com correspondent Paul Coia welcomed the viewing nation to the brightest, newest, freshest channel on the television. In the years since, we've laughed and cried, turned the colour down, turned the volume up, whooped, hollered, cheered, and watched far more Channel 4 than is good for us. Here's a brief resume of some of the game shows that have delighted, annoyed, informed, and entertained us over the past twenty years. There's only one place to start...

1982 Countdown

The channel was barely three minutes old, and already Richard Whiteley is cracking bad puns. "As one countdown ends, another begins." Oh, how we laughed. This wisecrack launched the programme that would become Channel 4's signature show. Richard Whiteley, Carol Vorderman, a literate celebrity (initially Ted Moult, latterly Gyles Brandereth, Kenneth Williams, Nigel Rees or Martin Jarvis), a fact-checker from the Oxford University Press (Della Thompson, Richard Sampson, and Dame Susie Dent), and Carol Vorderman. Initially, there were two other co-hostesses whose only job was to put the letters and numbers on the board, but they fell by the wayside. A fixture at 4:30 for many years, the show's unchanging formula received an unexpected shake-up in 2001 with a hasty extension to 45 minutes. It's not been the same since. A celebrity version in 98, and a presence on THE CHANNEL 4 DAILY from 89 to 91, also form part of the record.

Host Richard Whiteley said this week that he would continue until he wasn't able to make good shows any more. Countdown is commissioned until the end of 2004.

1983 Treasure Hunt

It took some years for Countdown to be the obvious Channel 4 show. For many years, this role was filled by Treasure Hunt. A bizarre opening season saw host Kenneth Kendall lead two hapless contestants and skyrunner Anneka Rice round a course plotted by Ann Meo. Adjudicator Annette Lynton joined for season two, but it wasn't until Wincey Willis filled that role in 1985 that the Hunt finally clicked and became compulsive viewing. Anneka left the show before the 1989 series, and while Annabel Croft was a fine replacement, she wasn't Annie. A revival with Dermot Murnaghan and Suzi Perry as Anneka and Kenneth will come to BBC2 soon; the originals are back on Challenge? this week.

1984 Television Scrabble / Jeopardy!

It seems like it's been there forever, but Countdown has only been a round-the-year fixture since summer 1996. In the early years, the gaps were filled by an American format, and a version of Scrabble in which celebrities tried to make the best of a bad set of letters. Alan Coren hosted. It wasn't that earth-shattering, but it was slightly better than Toby Anstis's version on Challenge?

1985 Where in the World?

I only know this one through the link on UKGameshows.com. Ray Alan asked John Carter (of the opposition's HOLIDAY programme) and John Julius Norwich (of ROUND BRITAIN QUIZ) to identify pictures, food and national costumes. It gets better than this. It has to.

1986 The Sports Quiz with Steve Davis

We don't remember this these days, but Channel 4 didn't get national coverage until 1989. As a result of this, ITV didn't let its protégé share in its rights to that quintessential 80s television game, snooker. All C4 got was a sports quiz, hosted by champion of just about everything, Steve Davis. Five contestants faced general knowledge sports questions. Three were quizzed on their specialist subject. Two went into a head-to-head, picking one question from each of sixteen categories. Winners went through to the series final.

1987 Network 7

Worn out by this edge-of-the-seat excitement, C4's executives commissioned a cutting edge youth programme. Network 7 redefined the rules of television. Luminaries such as Sebastian Scott, Charlie Parsons, Magenta De Vine, Jonathan Ross and Danny Baker cut their teeth, or honed their craft, on this show. Janet Street Porter edited the two-hour live transmission, which quickly became a by-word for shaky camerawork, information showing on captions at the bottom of the screen, and being the epitome of cool.

One of the ideas that came out of this television hothouse went on to great things. Strand some people on a desert island, and film them for a week or two. Though they didn't know it, Simon O'Brien (Damon from BROOKSIDE), Pete Gillet (former convict), a stockbroker whose name is lost in history, and Annabel Croft (former tennis player, still to have her weeks of fame on Treasure Hunt and INTERCEPTOR) became the first contestants on the show we now know as SURVIVOR.

1988 Fifteen To One

Over its early years, C4 tried a lot of shows in the months Countdown was off air. (Yes, there were times when Carol wasn't on your screen. Not since summer 96, though.) None of these ideas quite worked. None, that is, until John M Lewis approached William G. Stewart with a little idea he'd had. After a little tweaking, and a reduction from twenty contestants, we got the show we know today. Get one of the first two; three wrong answers and you're out; last three standing go to the final. Top fifteen winners come back at the end of the series for a little something Bill knocked up in his youth. Celebrity and schools editions followed, to slightly less acclaim. Now over 2000 episodes old, Fifteen To One is commissioned until the end of 2003.

1989 Don't Quote Me / Remote Control

Remote Control was the MTV game show, remade for British audiences, and hosted by Anthony H. Wilson, then owner of Factory records. Now a reporter for television in the north west, he hosts TOPRANKO! on C5.

DON'T QUOTE ME was - as the name suggests - a quotation quiz, loosely based on the format of Radio 4's long-running QUOTE UNQUOTE. C-list celebs tried to answer questions about quotations. Notable for the closing line: "We'll be back next year with a new series ... but don't quote me."

Notable also for the host: Geoffrey Perkins, who played up-and-coming DJ Mike Flex on RADIO ACTIVE for most of the 80s. Perkins is now Head of Comedy at the BBC. Mike Channel, his colleague on Radio Active, was taken off the 4am shift to be replaced by the speaking clock. Channel was played by Angus Deayton.

1990 The Crystal Maze

After Treasure Hunt ran its course, Chatsworth Television bought in another French idea. FORT BOYARD was still some years from our screens, but the concept of individual little games played by one team was a good one. Richard O'Brien was the host, and guided groups of six around his domain, trying to fill buckets with sand, or shoot a robot, or solve a murder. If the games paled into boredom, there was always the ongoing plot between Mumsey and Ralph, Reckless Rick's reckless harmonica playing, or the teams that were utterly incompetent. Richard left after four years, leaving Ed Tudor-Pole in charge. He was good, but he wasn't Richard. Only Richard would get so annoyed with the sheer stupidity of a contestant that he would go into the room, and show him exactly what he should have done. Nine years later, Anne Robinson would follow this fine example, by telling the contestants exactly what the viewers were shouting at their screens.

The series ended after six years, which was just about right. Chatsworth's intended follow-up, THE MAGIC CARNIVAL, never made it past the pilot stage. Repeats of Crystal Maze are on Challenge? every day.

1991 Qd

From perhaps the best-known show to the most obscure. In summer 1991, C4 had the rights to daily highlights of the Tour de France, and the cycling Tour of Britain. There was one week between these events, and all the highlights went out at 6:30 pm. The filler? Obviously, a high-budget game show, in which six contestants went through four challenges a day, culminating in a half hour live broadcast each evening. Hosted by newsreader Lisa Aziz and former-Goodie-turned-stern-show-host Tim Brooke-Taylor, Qd looked like the sort of event television to run for years. Its progeny include the stripped early days of MILLIONAIRE, and the same cast for weeks of FAME ACADEMY. "We'll be back with a new series soon," said Tim on the Friday. We're still waiting. After the cycling finished, there was a daily showbiz news show called "sixthirtysomething." It didn't feature Christopher Price.

1992 The Brain Game / Gamesmaster

Jonathan Dimbleby and a whole galaxy of celebs spend a bank holiday evening in Canary Wharf, competing in a general knowledge / problem solving quiz, and do it all for charity. Ten years later, Anne Robinson would test the nation again. Records do not show whether Annie was on a team, or how well they did.

In Gamesmaster, Dominik Diamond (smart Glaswegian) and Patrick Moore (bemonocled astronomer) challenged competitors (spotty youths) to win a magnificent prize (a joystick spray-painted gold) by completing computer games (usually Sonic The Hedgehog) on camera. Watch for Diamond's superb wit, and not for the year when he concentrated on his radio work and let Dexter Fletcher (Press Gang alumnus) take over.

1993 The World Chess Championships

Nigel Short took on Garry Kasparov at chess, and never quite recovered from losing three of the first four games. C4 and The Times hosted lashings of live coverage - two hours per matchday, plus weekend summaries. Carol Vorderman and Raymond "The Penguin" Keane hosted. This wasn't C4's first experience of covering chess - they had done a Speed Chess Challenge in 1987, but this was live stuff. The BBC's effort didn't have direct coverage from the auditorium, but it did have the triple whammy of Peter Snow, Francine Stock, and David Norwood. C4's coverage lasted no longer than Short's challenge, and the BBC got the rights for subsequent tournaments for a song.

1994 Sabotage

After the demise of the Channel 4 Daily, there was a half hour hole before schools' programming started. This was usually filled by imports of Bill Cosby hosting YOU BET YOUR LIFE. There were ten weeks when Maria McErlane hosted an all-woman quiz. It concentrated on fripparies such as fashion and cosmetics, without taking account of the channel's remit to advocate unfashionable ideas. Whether contestants putting their hands on their heads after getting a question wrong was in the original plan for the channel is not remembered. Thankfully, neither is this quiz.

1995 Think Tank / Backdate

C4's afternoon Quiz Seventy Five Minutes began in autumn 95, when Countdown and Fifteen To One were prepended by other shows. Think Tank saw Mickey Hutton ask categorised questions of teams, in an effort to score 100 points and fill the graphical tanks of water. In Backdate, Valerie Singleton quizzed people about history, in a direct competitor to the BBC's long-running TODAY'S THE DAY. Though the 'date featured more accurate historical questions, it didn't capture the imagination of anyone. C4 gave up and commissioned FTO and Countdown concurrently in autumn 96.

1996 Wanted

By which time, we were all agog for William G's Great New Idea. In Wanted, three pairs of people were sent around the country, armed with nothing more than a map, a mobile phone, a small daily cash allowance, and a video camera. If the teams could do a specified silly thing each day, and not be filmed by a team of highly-trained taxi drivers and future SURVIVOR contestants, they stood to win money. If, that is, they could pick a phone box that the tracker wouldn't find on the live show. It came that close to working, and the perils of live television meant that this was always an entertaining hour's viewing. This was the first show to really advocate internet participation, with webcams and message boards. A revival is due any year now; reruns on UK Horizons appear to have finished.

1997 Fluke

Before Tim Vine joined ITV's SKETCH SHOW, he did the impossible thing, and presented shows on Channel 4 and the (then new) Channel 5 at the very same time. Fluke was the ultimate anti-game-show; the winner, and the prizes, would be determined by pure chance. It took a talented comic to pull off this stunt, and Vine was the perfect host. Only one series, but the joke would have worn thin had it lasted any longer.

1998 Scrapheap Challenge

In which Robert Llewellyn challenges viewers to learn about science by watching teams of three build all sorts of weird and wonderful devices out of old parts found lying around a scrapheap. Wonder if they'll manage to make something useful out of Fame Academy? Silly question.

1999 Who Wants To Win A Million On Air?

Chris Evans had already had a smash hit with the seminal DON'T FORGET YOUR TOOTHBRUSH and THE BIG BREAKFAST. He went on to make a weekly entertainment show, TFI FRIDAY. One recurring feature of the autumn 99 run saw people take part in a quiz, and get a £5000 prize. They could gamble this for a million quid, to be awarded on Christmas Eve. With ITV promising a millionaire on MILLIONAIRE, the maverick presenter thought it would be a cunning wheeze to beat them to the punch. So it was that one lucky punter won the grand prize and television's first millionaire. Evans ended TFI after one more series, sold his radio station, and retired to Vegas with his wife, Ickle Billie Piper. He'll be back in the new year with BOYS AND GIRLS, of which more anon.

2000 Big Brother

How to make a star in a few easy steps. Take a house. Put in lots of cameras. Add a dozen or so tipsy houseguests. Stir liberally. Throw people out from time to time. Provide a voiceover in a sexy north east accent. You are Marcus Bentley, and a job as The Voice Of The People awaits. A celebrity version awaits this month.

2001 X-Fire / Lost!

X-Fire was a fantasy based around a paintball tournament, in which regular Joes got to shoot at specially trained operatives. Though it shouldn't have worked on paper, it did in production, thanks to presenter Ed Hall's singular refusal to take the show at all seriously. Five episodes were shown before the show got confused with real wars, and shelved until this summer.

Lost! had been filmed during 2000 and early 2001, and took people on a wild chase through five continents to get back to the UK. See Liverpudlians insult a woman in St Petersburg, then find inner peace on a never-ending train journey through the Sahara. Watch an old Etonian charm and smarm his way through Venezuela, then come unstuck through his own super-confidence in New York. See the knockout punch delivered, and a game show that visits Iran. It's going to be many years before the world is safe enough to allow a second series to be filmed. Repeats are on Discovery Home and Leisure.

2002 Banzai!

In 2001, C4 branched out into the secondary channels business, and launched E4. One of the best ideas there was a show that asked minor celebs and politicians to do utterly bizarre things, then got the viewer to bet on the result. Banzai! may not be educative, and it may not change the world - though it came close when a cop got suspicious of someone pointing a speed gun at the hearse during the Queen Mother's funeral. It does take a huge commercial risk, and it does entertain every minute. That is all we can ask of Channel 4.


All of which brings us to the present day, and it appears Channel 4 is doing nothing to mark its twentieth birthday. This is a shame. In this week's SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE, the teams have to build a motorbike that is entirely contained - including the rider - within one wheel. Jilly Goolden is the Smart Alec; William G settles down for five days; and that's Channel 4 for the week.

This is a Weaver's Week exclusive. In an attempt to boost the popularity of Fame Academy, the corporation will set the contestants different tasks each week. After the wizard challenge failed to prevent Classmaster from turning into Dogsby, it's turning into a real crisis at Witanhurst. Eight remain; one of them will be sent into a rocket on a special Guy Fawkes' edition of FLAME ACADEMY. All BBC channels, all week.

DOG EAT DOG 1735, CHAIR 1840, WINNING LINES 1930. Bruce's cards have been forced out by RECORD OF THE YEAR, in which Pop Idle judge Dr "Neil" Fox hosts comments from Brian "Big Brother 2" Dowling and Tony "Jungle King" Blackburn. MILLIONAIRE at 8.

It's BARGAIN HUNT LIVE week, 1130 BBC1. Playboy girls run against Annie on WEAKEST LINK USA on Mo.

ITV premieres RUSSIAN ROULETTE at 2100 Thursday. A host of celebs stand on trapdoors and drop out of the game, hoping to win squillions for charity. Interesting way to launch a format.

BATTLEDOME 2 returns to Bravo at 1310 Sa. Sky One has IT SHOULDN'T BE ON TV at 2300 Sa, featuring shows that shouldn't have been made. Followed by TEMPTATION ISLAND. Coincidence?

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