Weaver's Week 2003-02-01

Weaver's Week Index

1st February 2003

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

This week, Loyd Grossman decided that he had had enough of going THROUGH THE KEYHOLE. I don't blame him; it must be a difficult job squashing yourself down to a half inch tall.

DOUBLE CROSS (12 Yard for C5, 1903 weeknights)

Here's a novel idea for a game show. Let's start with disjointed and misleading snippets from The Show You're About To Have Seen.

The rest of the show is cliché central. Five contestants. Boring voiceover man saying the blatantly obvious. Minimalist set - all white strip lights. The five introduce themselves - name, age, location, occupation, and something that they want the others to know.

Then out comes the high spot of the show, The Gizmo. The Gizmo has three states: off, showing a blue light, and showing a red light. The contestant chooses which coloured state The Gizmo will enter when they switch it on, and then the contestants will enter the room coloured the same as their The Gizmo.

In other words, the players pick one of two rooms - red or blue. Instantly, the show breaks into two groups, discussing tactics for the vote and which rooms to enter throughout the game. There will be a majority, and a 3-2 majority will be able to stick together up to the finale. Quick discussion, split into red and blue again. Will the contestants vow to stick together in the same room? Will they follow that plan? Will anyone's The Gizmo fail to work? Does anyone actually care?

Then, before the vote, some discussion from the psychologist and adman. The contestants come in, vote, explain their vote, and have a decent grilling from the analysts. Repeat, rinse, repeat, and four become three. A contestant informs us that the tiebreak rule is another discussion involving all contestants, then a revote.

The final round, and there's some more discussion, and some more voting. Anyone who receives a single vote against them in this round will leave with nothing. We can't have a split pot - no one is going to vote for themselves, so we'll either have a 2-1-0 split, with one person winning the pot; or a 1-1-1 split, with no winner at the end of the day, and the £5000 rolled over to the next show.

Just for a change, the final vote is privately cast before the panel, then publicly told to the loser, but that means we get to see the results years before the contestants. And over the closing credits, the regular post-march interview.

The television grammar - contestants walking from one room to another - suggests that we've got four rooms on the set, but all of them are lit in exactly the same way apart from the colour. Red room? It's the blue room, only coloured red. Voting room? It's the white room, only with some odd greeny-turquoise hue. It's amazing what cheap lighting can do.

The panellists take the confessional role of Big Brother, with the attendant question - sometimes explicit, sometimes unspoken - of whether the contestants are telling the truth or otherwise. And the graphic of the contestant, their name, and the number of votes, is a dead ringer for the 1970's Robinsonfest ASK THE FAMILY. That's Robert Robinson, not Anne.

So, what do we have here? Effectively, it's C4's hit series WITHOUT PREJUDICE? without the filmed inserts, without the contestants, and relying entirely on the panel interviewing each other. It does have The Gizmo, and the occasional no-score draw, but it doesn't have the gripping intensity of Liza's series.

The discussions in the coloured rooms are each limited to about 90 seconds of screen time, too short to establish a meaningful narrative, too long to act as filler. Similarly, the adjudicators' role isn't clear - are they interrogator, vote-taker, conscience, or what? Perhaps running for the full 30 minutes (as the BBC would) might help to improve the flow of the game.

In summary, this is not a bad show. Not earth shattering, not exactly breaking new ground, but enough to be acceptable early prime-time filler. C5's 1902 slot has fallen into something of a rut, with Chris Moyles hosting the same show every day for three months, and now Double Cross being the same game every day. There are only a finite number of variations within that game, and three weeks may well exhaust them all.

[1] And the production company? Three lead reviews this year, and all three have been 12 Yard Productions productions. More than anything, that is the hidden game show indicator of the week.

Was it a smart move to run DOUBLE CROSS now, inviting same-week comparisons with WP? No, it wasn't. This is a cheap regurgitation of the same format. It would have fitted into a slot before Christmas, or sometime after Easter when WP has finished. Now is the wrong time.


Second Round, Match 6: Cranfield -v- Manchester.

Cranfield had a winning draw against Brasenose; Manchester overwhelmed Middlesex without breaking out of second gear.

We never thought we'd see Mozart, Coloumb, and the Beanie Babies in such close proximity. Welcome to University Challenge, where any question is a good question, so long as it's long and rambling but invites a one-word answer.

Level pegging going into the picture round, though Manchester slowly, oh so slowly, draws ahead. A bit of maths that Thumper *does* appear to know: Euler's law, F+V=E+2 for all solid figures, not just the dodecahedron.

We're back to level going into the music round, light music being somewhat more conventional than last week's effort. There does seem to be a lot of conferring by the Cranfield team during passed-over starters. Cranfield very briefly holds the lead, then it's swinging around right through to the wire.

Good guess:

In Punch in the 1970s, which African dictator...
Simon Arbuthnot, Cranfield: Idi Amin

Cranfield's in depth knowledge of Indonesian politics helps them to pull away, but they're not doing very well on the bonuses. That said, neither are Manchester. In spite of a spirited comeback, Manchester leave it just too late, and Cranfield runs out the winners, 190-175. Amazingly, this is the first time a Cranfield side has won in normal time since the revival began.

The teams combine for a maximum 70 points on geography questions. Arbuthnot's 68 leads the way, with Paul Cassidy heading the Manchester squad on 58. Cranfield made 19/30 bonuses with one missignal, Manchester 17/30 with two missignals.

Next: Leeds -v- Nottingham


A Demi Grauniad listed some "reality" shows scheduled for later this year. These look like they might fall under the game shows umbrella.

BLACK WATER (BBC, summer): Ten contestants will try to catch a 'killer' in their midst while avoiding being bumped off themselves. The winner gets a £25,000 prize. Sounds like our Murder In Small Town X.

HOUSESITTERS (Sky One): Five youngsters in a different location each week. The contestants get marked on set tasks and the worst performing housesitter is out.

SWAG (Channel 5): Members of the public are tempted into committing illegal acts. Luxury cars are left unlocked, windows are left open, and wallets dropped on streets. Winners may qualify for the full series of NICKED!

REBORN IN THE USA (ITV1): A group of Brit pop has-beens are put on a bus and tour America to win a new recording contract. Including That Bloke Out Of Spandau Ballet, and at least two Eurovision losers.

CELEB FAME ACADEMY (BBC): Celebrity version of the BBC "talent" show, in aid of Comic Relief.

SPORTS ACADEMY (BBC1): Young sporting hopefuls in a talent show-type format.

Also at least one run of CELEB TORTURE AND BICKERING, the fourth BIG BROTHER, and probably a second set of POP IDLE and FAME ACADEMY. All puns welcomed.


Another year, another Eurovision Song Contest format. Back in 1992, it really was simple. Twenty or so nations of Western Europe would gather in Ireland (or somewhere else, but usually Ireland) and perform their songs. Then we had the oh-so-fun ritual voting system, including Cyprus giving douze points to Greece, being unable to bring up the line to Madrid, and everyone else came back to Ireland the next year.

In the early 90s, down came the Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe came in to the EBU, and our newcomers wanted to chip in with some fabulous songs [fx: Edyta Gorniak performing "To Nie Ja".] And some not so fab ones [fx: Tanel Padar, Dave Benton and 2XL performing "Everybody".] But how would they get into the contest?

In 1993, the member countries of Eastern Europe competed in a pre-selection for three slots. Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Slovenia won places in the contest proper. The bottom six from that year's contest were excluded from the 94 edition - along with Italy, which withdrew claiming that the contest had no musical merit whatsoever, thus proving that they never quite got the point. Poland, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia, Romania, Estonia and Lithuania made debuts that year. For 95, the bottom seven from the previous year dropped out, and the five that wanted to return did come back - Luxembourg having decided in the interim that its well of good Eurovision songs had run dry.

In 1996, this system of straight relegation was replaced by a pre-qualification process. The 30 entries were whittled down to 23 by a non-televised vote. Germany was excluded from the competition for the first time, and wasn't best pleased. So the system changed again, to a five-year rolling average, with the proviso that no country could miss two years in a row, and automatic entry for major EBU contributors Germany, the UK, France, and Spain.

This worked tolerably well for some years, but had two major problems. One, it wasn't immediately obvious on the night who had qualified for the next competition. In fact, it took a team of accountants working long into the night to work out that the Netherlands had qualified, and Austria hadn't. And two, those countries that only competed in the odd-numbered years soon faced a far harder battle to qualify for the next contest than those entering in the even-numbered years. This was widely seen as not fair, and could have contributed to Latvia delaying her debut from 1999 until 2000.

So, just before the 2001 contest, we returned to the straight relegation system, with the top 15 guaranteed a place next year.

Now, it all changes again, and the Eurovision Song Contest becomes a two day event from 2004 onwards. Going straight to the Saturday night Grand Final will be the host broadcaster, the big four, and the top 10 from last year. Everyone else will go into the Qualifying Contest, held on the Friday night.

Therefore, all EBU members may now send an artist to the event. Broadcast of the qualifying round will be compulsory for those taking part in it, and optional for those already guaranteed a place on the Saturday night. Sounds like something BBC3 could show. Countries not qualifying for the final will be encouraged to broadcast the Grand Final, and take part in the televoting.

The EBU press release goes on to say "this change of format will be accompanied by other developments which, it is hoped, will add to the quality, professionalism, and branding of the Eurovision Song Contest as it approaches its 50th birthday."

Quite how this will work remains to be seen. Some suggest that all 40-odd entrants will give points from un to douze on Saturday night and much of Sunday morning; others that one or two Composite Juries of those excluded countries will give marks. Friday might be judged on the traditional 12-1 scale, or just by giving one point to ten deserving songs.

The audience to the world's biggest game show will see how it turns out. The chance of the two-night extravaganza coming to a venue in the UK is as near to zero as makes no odds, judging by the poor quality of this year's candidates. The chance of the Vatican putting in an entry in Classical Latin for 2004 are probably lower, though not by much.


Fiona Bruce will take over from Bob Holness as host of the BBC's CALL MY BLUFF. Former Today Programme editor Rod Liddle replaces Dane [Swede, actually - Ed] Sandi Toksvig as one team captain; The News Quiz's Alan Coren continues to helm the opposition. Any attempt to describe the format of Call My Bluff would have to be accompanied by two other descriptions; only one of those offered would be correct.

Highlights this week include News And Sport Weakest Link, featuring Alistair "King Of The Castle" Stewart. 1845 Sat BBC1. Anna from BB1 brings her unique style of documentary to BBC1 on the Heaven and Earth Show, 1000 Sun BBC1. This week's Countdown smart Alec is Richard Stilgoe. Vintage ISIHAC is from 1978, and Radio Active debuts - 1200, 1430, 1900 and 2030 on BBC7 this weekend. And a new series of Alan Coren's News Quiz, 1830 Friday on Radio 4.

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