Weaver's Week 2003-01-11

Weaver's Week Index

11th January 2003

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

This week, the telly critics called a new show "the worst thing on television, ever, ever, ever." They were wrong.

WITHOUT PREJUDICE? (12 Yard for C4, about 9pm Saturday)

A panel is challenged to award £50,000 to one person; can they judge Without Prejudice?

There are five on the panel, and five potential recipients.

In the first round, each of the recipients give their name, age, and location via filmed inserts. Based only on this information, the panel must decide which of the recipients is not going to get the top prize. It's as brutal as the opening round of JUDGEMENTAL, and the panel are basing their decisions on as little information.

Four remain for the second phase, where three of six filmed inserts are shown for each remaining recipient. The recipients can talk about their backgrounds, their work, their opinions on some controversial subjects. After these inserts, the panel deems another recipient unworthy of the cash, and commercials air.

The remaining inserts are shown in the third phase, including a potential killer - a tempting situation and a hidden video camera to show scruples, or lack thereof. Again, after these inserts play, there's a little more discussion, another recipient loses out, and more ads.

We're now down to two recipients, who meet the panel in turn, and answer their questions. The panel is not allowed to ask what the recipients would do with the money, and it's unclear what would happen if the recipients volunteered this information. The panel votes, the winner is determined, and the money awarded.

A panel of five ensures that, aside from the first round, no tie cannot be broken. At the end of the show, there are brief pieces to camera by all five recipients. These work, because it's the only chance those not awarded the money get to respond to the panel, however indirectly.

Without Prejudice works on many levels. At its most basic, there are strategies for recipients who want to win the money. Should the recipients disguise their true feelings and play to a liberal consensus, or will the panel welcome an honest, open approach? Would this work if the panel if full of reactionaries?

Ultimately, this is not a show about awarding 50 grand. This is a show about the decision making process. The recipients are not the focus of the show; they are the mechanic through which a fascinating investigation into psychological pressure and decision making takes place.

Will the members of the panel be able to approach the task without relying on basic stereotypes and crude assumptions? If not, how quickly will they want or be able to shed them in the face of contradictory evidence? And how will the members of the panel react with each other? Will they attempt to bring round the others to their way of thinking, or will they allow one outlying opinion to continue almost unchallenged, given that one person may just be able to change the result?

In all of this, Liza Tarbuck moderates the discussion. She doesn't lead it, she just ensures that it stays within the defined boundaries, and is the only one to talk directly to the recipients before the fourth phase. Her role is understated but crucial.

What happens to the panel? Ah, that could be the Achilles' Heel of the show. After sitting in judgement on their fellow man, they just walk away. In television land, this denies the viewer closure.

Some reviewers suggest this practice supports the more contentious comments, or praises biased reactions. This is true only if we assume the viewer to be passively watching the show, accepting what is on the screen, and not critically assessing the judges in just the way they critically assessed the potential recipients.

The critics have roundly slammed this show. Apparently, those who sit in judgement of others' works don't like seeing other people sit in judgement of others' lives. Either that, or they've completely missed the point, and thought the £50 grand was the focus of the show. It's not. Without Prejudice is a process show; the money is only there to concentrate discussion.

The Panel sits in judgement on The Recipients, seeing if they can judge on the evidence in front of them. The Viewing Public sits in judgement on The Panel, seeing if they can judge on the evidence on the screen. Then the Viewing Public looks at itself, spots that it's not working without prejudice, and goes off and has another think. This is the prize, getting the Great Viewing Public to think about how they view other people and hence themselves.

The audience has no way of responding to the judges, and an interactive version would make for an entertaining diversion towards the end of the year.

It's far too early to be talking about Best New Show of 2003, but Without Prejudice has set the standard for everyone else to aim at. This was water-cooler television at Weaver's workplace, the first game show to achieve that status since Celeb Bickering.


Before we start, a word about the new Countdown set, which looks like a purple deckchair crossed with one of Richard's more ungainly jackets. The word is: yuck. It looks fine at a distance, but atrocious whenever anyone's in close up, and seems to have been bought at a very cheap price. There are lots of panning shots of the contestants, as if the cameraman is worried his equipment will suffer damage if he doesn't move it about a bit. Though Carol occasionally wanders across to Dictionary Dell, the opportunity to follow the French lead and move to computer-generated letters and numbers has been missed. There is digital manipulation to put the boards on a flat coloured background.

All contestants won the maximum 8 qualifiers (6 for winter 01) unless otherwise noted. Series are noted by the time of year the final is played - summer in June, winter in December, autumn 01 in September of that year.

Michael Calder (winner, spring 00) -v- Loz Sands (QF, winter 01)

Michael gets off to the almost perfect start, winning with SQUIRTED in round one. Loz levels the score in round three with OUTRAGES, and claims a moderate numbers game to move 10 ahead. Loz's next winner is the very appropriate VISCOUNT, a name Richard used for those who won six qualifiers in winter 01. Such as, Loz. She moves five further ahead after choosing an impossible numbers game, taking a 23 point lead into the final period. Loz's COARSED isn't allowed, and Michael wins with the naturalised MENAGE, and the gap is ten. Loz takes the advantage on a nearly impossible numbers game, and extends her lead to 17. The conundrum is therefore irrelevant, SEEDPROPS bears down on nothing. Loz wins, 77-60, and inflicts Michael's first defeat.

David Williams (SF, winter 00) -v- Chris Wills (winner, summer 02)

Level pegging through the first period, both contestants taking a maximum 39 points thanks to a decently easy numbers game. Round six throws up a very flexible set of letters: GMNSAEIRT generates three distinct nine letter words in common usage - STREAMING and MASTERING are the two offered today, EMIGRANTS has clearly moved out of the studio. Perfection ends in round eight, when both contestants are beaten by Jarvis, and the deadlock ends one round later when Chris's GUNSMITH is a winner. David pulls back with unexpected winner UNTOLD in the third period, and gets a tricky numbers game spot on. NELLYRATE turns into ten for Chris, and his comeback will be remembered for a long time, 113-111.

Rupert Stokoe (SF, summer 02) -v- Grace Page (2nd, winter 02)

Grace makes the CAGIEST start, only to see Rupert come straight back with TEMPORAL, and then take a very difficult numbers game for an 11 point lead after the first period. Rupert offers the illogical but still valid EQUATORS at the start of the second, and then benefits when Grace spots an non-existent P to extend his lead by another seven. She pulls back by six when Rupert declares a nonword, but 20 points with three to go is not promising. She does get TURTLEDEC, but the scoreboard still favours Rupert, 90-80.

John Rawnsley (7, won autumn 01) -v- Kevin McMahon (QF, summer 01)

Kevin picks up MISTIER for a seven point lead, but John pulls back with CLOWNS at the start of the second period. John opts not to offer PRESTIGED, a good move on his behalf, but PREDIGEST may have been a winner in that round. Kevin picks three from the top and takes 7 points, making his lead eight at the second break. The eight points remain until the conundrum. Kevin buzzes on FUNFURDLE, but he's wrong. Unruffled, John spots it to win 99-97.

Ben Wilson (won winter 01) -v- Geraldine Hylands (7, 2nd, winter 00)

Ben kicks off with the winner SLOUCHED, but Geraldine comes straight back with PRONGED. Ben shows his youth with the acceptable MOSHING, and an average numbers game gives him an eleven point lead out of the first quarter - Geraldine missed the answer by about two seconds. A bad declaration gives Geraldine a six-point return at the start of the second, Ben's lead after this period is five. He pulls ahead with the utterly obscure GODETIAS, and thanks to an easy numbers round, Ben's win is secure. PALEBRUTE turns into an honest ten for Geraldine. Ben's win is 94-91.


Second Round, Match 3: UCL -v- Emmanuel Cambridge

Slightly strangely, the draw has pitted the two repechage winners against each other. UCL lost to Jesus Oxford, then beat UMIST; Emmanuel lost to Birkbeck then overpowered York.

Emmanuel gets the lucky break of a biology bonus round with two medics on the team, but UCL has a slight lead going into the first picture round. They get that, and then race ahead. They get lucky when wonderbuzzer Howard Turner offers "Lascaux Caves" when Thumper's after cave paintings, but their lead is already into three figures. With the lead stretching towards 200 shortly after the music round, there's going to be no catching UCL.

Or is there? Cooper unravels A-level trig formulae, and the gap briefly drops to 100, but that's as good as it gets. UCL pulls away again late in the game, winning 330-125.

Hidden Student Indicator: The teams have difficulty identifying a picture of Emelyn Hughes, but no trouble defining Trekkies.

Starter of the week:

Having cohabited with a teddy bear and a flaxen-haired rag doll in a picnic basket
since 1950... 
David Conway, UCL: Andy Pandy.

Howard Towner leads for UCL, making 115; David Conway's 112 is only a whisker behind. Best for Emmanuel was Sandy Douglas's 44. UCL: 33/50 bonuses and one missignal; Emmanuel 13/21 and two missignals. The teams only faced five physics and maths questions, but got them all: UCL went 8/8 on history, 13/16 on literature and 12/16 on visual arts.

Next week: Durham -v- Jesus Oxford


Something that hasn't happened since 1995 took place this week, when BLIND DATE was very nearly interesting. Cilla Black, who has presented the dating game show since it first came to Britain in 1985, has announced that this series will be the last. ITV has already made mutterings about coming up with something more modern for Saturday nights. The 3-2-1 revival campaign starts here!

Now, which of these press releases from Wednesday made my heart sink further:

1) The BBC seeks minor celebrities to take part in CELEBRITY FAME ACADEMY. Yes, if you're a minor celebrity who needs some tips on how to get and keep a public profile, this is the show for you. Already lined up: Gary Barlow, Debbie Gibson, Paul Clarke.

2) 12 Yard seeks contestants to take part in the second series of IN IT TO WIN IT. Yes, if you want to be bored witless by Lovely Dale Winton, and possibly win a minuscule fraction of his appearance fee, this is your big chance.

Reports in A Demi Grauniad suggested that the BBC would begin a STAR ACADEMY knock-off for sportspeople, cunningly entitled SPORT ACADEMY. Instant problems: 1) Trainees would have to be 16, and most gymnastics careers are over by then. 2) How does one compare a footballer with a cricketer with a croquet player with a speed skater? 3) Apparently, the STAR ACADEMY format is owned by Spanish company Endemol. I knew the Spanish owned the Netherlands back in the 1500s, but surely news of their independence has reached Farringdon by now...

Also this week: couples to win a very big house in the country, secret keepers, people acting on their first impressions, and help for someone buying houses in France. Full details on the website, and tell 'em we sent you.

Quote of the week: "I can assure you, Anne, we didn't sleep" - Edwina Currie.

Sleb spot: YTV's THE BIG STORY, a regional discussion programme airing at 2330 Wednesdays. Studio audience, presenters stood in front of them, very much like Nicky Campbell's CENTRAL WEEKEND shows of the early 90s. Game show host: Adele Roberts, who somehow managed to lose to Jade in Big Brother last year.

FLOG IT on Primetime! Paul Martin, an art dealer from Wiltshire, will bring his antiques selling game to Saturday evenings on BBC2. The show features the public selling their tat at auction. A vase went for thousands, books regularly go for tens of pounds, but there were no takers for a format involving sixteen people stabbing each other on the back on a desert island.

Speaking of which, we expect a court ruling Monday. CBS has taken ABC to court, claiming the Mouse's scheduled CELEBRITY BICKERING AND MINOR TORTURE is too close to the Eye's proposed CELEBRITY SURVIVOR. A judge will hear arguments and issue a ruling; with ABC's transmission scheduled for February sweeps, time is of the essence.


New series:

FRIENDS LIKE THESE series seven (or whatever we're up to) at 1750. HERE COMES THE SUN is the latest attempt at a Claire Sweeney career revival, 1845; both on BBC1.

Over on ITV, the second run of ANT AND DEC'S SATURDAY NIGHT TAKEAWAY at 1900. There is no Blind Date.

There's a Radio Faces WEAKEST LINK at 2005 Wednesday.

Wednesday sees the launch of "ftn cracking entertainment" on all digital platforms. The game show block is a double bill of DEFECTORS at 0450.

Old series:

THE ADVENTURE GAME Saturday is another chance to see the Jan 1 episode starring Ian "Hullo!" McCaskill, Fiona "Who?" Kennedy and someone who was briefly famous faff about for years doing nothing. Sunday sees Heinz "Egg Race" Wolff and Ruth "Ho de ho" Madoc do far better. I've not seen the episode for seventeen years, but they must do better.

The UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE repeat on BBC4 isn't a narrative repeat from BBC2 Monday, nor this year's series from the knockout phase, but the 2001-02 series from the start. Next week: LSE -v- Bristol in a match I described as "low-key."

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