Weaver's Week 2003-03-01

Weaver's Week Index

1st March 2003

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

This week, the colour drained from Christine Hamilton's face in a matter of moments. Had someone asked her to discuss quantum mechanics with Uri Geller again? Or have her moderate Nell McAndrew speak for a minute? No, it was far, far worse than that.

HOUSE SITTERS (Shine Limited for Sky1, 1230 weekdays)

Stop me if you've heard this before. Young British people go around the world with a camera crew in tow, raise merry hell for seven days, get run out of town, then repeat the loutish experience somewhere else. You have? Good. Now forget all that and read on.

At first glance, HOUSE SITTERS looks to be carved from the same sangria-and-vomit cocktail as the rest of Sky1's schedule. We have the pole dancer from Cardiff; the gabby Cockney lass who wants to be mistaken for Jade Goody; the stroppy Scotswoman who just has to be first out; and a couple of identikit Lads, all mouth and no trousers. The five haven't met before, and will spend anything up to a month in each others company. Hope they get along well. We have an excitable voiceover from someone who spins disks on Radio 1, and a logo in shades of orange and the shape of the sun. So far, so typical.

There's nothing much to write home about in the format. Instead of being put up in hotels, being asked to rough it, or blagging a free stay, the Fab Five are put up in someone's house. It just happens to have exactly enough bedrooms to accommodate them. Funny, that. The house owners' relatives "just happen" to drop by, and the group "decides" to go out clubbing and lounging on the beach. These days, we're all cynical enough to know the rules of television grammar by heart, and we know when the producers have "suggested" that the contestants do something.

These outings help to fill up the show, and provide plenty of shots of youthful people living a hedonistic lifestyle. Might draw in a few viewers who think the whole show is about such things, which in turn will please the advertisers. These outings have nothing at all to do with the competition.

Each day, the group is set a task. The best performer on each day is rewarded with five points, the worst performer with a single, solitary point. Anyone who fails to complete the daily task scores a big fat Norwegian nul points. The two lowest scores after four days compete in the head-to-head final, with the loser flying straight home. The remaining contestants fly on to the next week.

And this is where House Sitters rises above the usual mindless Sky1 fare. While the rest of the schedule concentrates on resorts in Iberia, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, this group have flown out to Croatia. Is Split going to be the new Ibiza? Perhaps; for now, it's still a relatively obscure destination, not all that popular with British tourists. No one has ever thought to film a British Hedonocumentary in Croatia before. It may not be long before someone does.

The daily tasks involve a lot of cultural sophistication. At first glance, they all fall into the trap of "Tourist Makes An Ass Of Themself On National Television":

Monday - Do some shopping, speaking nothing but Croatian.

Tuesday - Perform a Croat folk song after an hour's intensive tuition.
Wednesday - Paint a picture in 90 minutes.
Thursday - Cook something from the local cuisine.
Friday - A scavenger hunt around the house to find information about the residents.

In summary, the contestants are being tested on their ability to communicate in a strange language; their ear for music; their skills on Watercolour Challenge; their cooking and ability to wangle space in the kitchen;

To summarise the summary, it's all about their artistic and cultural skills. Cooperating with the other contestants is a relative red herring, only directly affecting one of the week's tasks, but it doesn't seem that the five picked up on this during their first week.

Is this an arts game show on Sky1? Shhh, don't say that, you'll frighten the viewers. Some of the tasks would not have been out of place on ITV2's globe-trotting show THE RACE, and the combination of game and hedonism suggests a fit with Channel 5. I note that Dawn Airey left C5 for Sky1 last year, and idly wonder if she brought this format with her.

The reason it's on Sky1 is unimportant. I welcome shows that push cultural boundaries, especially ones that show real culture beyond the bars.


Newspaper editor Michael Eboda began an article in last Sunday's Observer thus:

"There's a great programme on the telly on Sunday nights. It is called Without Prejudice? and it starts at 9pm. On it a panel of judges decides which of six contestants they should award a prize of £50,000 to.

"All the contestants have to do to win is be themselves. And therein lies their problem, because they are each then evaluated on their looks, personal life, history and most importantly the prejudices of those who sit in judgment of them.

"They are voted out one by one. The winner is the last one left and tends to be the person whose lifestyle is most like the majority of those on the panel."

While this column is not entirely convinced by the conclusion, we have to concede that there's more than a germ of truth in this comment.

We also note that this is the first time anyone in the print media has called WITHOUT PREJUDICE, which came to the end of its run last weekend, "a great programme".


Second Quarter Final: Warwick -v- Sheffield

Warwick removed Wadham and Southampton from the contest by embarrassingly large margins. Sheffield was very lucky to oust Homerton and Merton by an aggregate margin of slightly less than one whisker.

Sheffield goes 0/3 on a set of bonuses about the nicknames of Labour politicians. This tells us something about today's students. They do know that a sentence described as "abcdarian" contains all the letters of the alphabet; quite why the word perfectly good word "pangram" has fallen out of use is left unasked. [I think that's wrong. Anything "abecedarian" is in alphabetical order. So for instance, the only whole number that's abecedarian is FORTY, but it's not a pangram. - Ed]

We're not off to the most flying of starts this week: from the first seven starters, only three are answered correctly. Sheffield has slightly the better of the next period, but neither side is anywhere near to breaking into anything approaching their best. It wouldn't be too far off the mark to say they're both a bit rubbish.

Hidden Argond of the week: the first music bonus - Grieg's Norwegian Dance - was the theme to the 1981 second series of THE ADVENTURE GAME, featuring Lesley Judd as The Mole. To pre-empt your letter, the theme for the remaining three series was Duo in G, composed by Ferdinando Carulli, and not "Dance of the Red Salamanders" by Rognad.

Best starter of the week:

The Kara, Laptev, Chukchi, East Siberian, Beaufort, and Barent are all seas in which ocean? 
Warwick, Teale: Arctic.

This is good, but not good enough to win Your Starter For Ten (Pounds). Entries have now closed, and there will be a recap of that contest here next week.

Back to the contest, and it's a bit like pulling teeth. Warwick is a long way off the resounding form they showed in the opening rounds, and this Sheffield side relies more on luck than judgement. Still, the steelmen have a 30 point lead with three minutes to play, a starter each and it's as good as over. But then Warwick gets two starters, an almost impossible set of bonuses, and the clock just runs down. Sheffield has somehow sneaked home, 180-175. They don't deserve to win this one, either.

Please don't pretend that this was good television. Five starters were completely dropped on air, the teams combined to answer just 51/101 questions. It was dull, it was tedious, and it just wasn't entertaining. 145 points available on literature, 115 on other art, and just 40 on maths and physics.

The statpack:

Teale 31 Dawson 34 Lay 46 Skinner 64

WAR 35 50 50 40 [175] 13/36 bonuses, 2 missignals.
SHF 35 50 45 50 [180] 14/36 bonuses, 2 missignals.
Grimshaw 51 Tait 58 Paddon 50 Harborne 21

Warwick's strongest suit has been History, where they've made 110/150. Sheffield leads on biology and chemistry, making 165/200. For Sheffield, Serena Harborne has not answered a single starter question correctly in the first three rounds. Sheffield's aggregate margin of victory across three matches is 20.

My money's on a Durham -v- Worcester Oxford semi, with the winner sweeping the final - most likely against Birkbeck - by an embarrassingly large margin.

The draw:

Birkbeck defeated the LSE
Sheffield defeated Warwick
Cranfield -v- Durham
Worcester Oxford -v- Leeds


Launch of the coming week is BOYS AND GIRLS, the new idea from Chris Evans. Vernon Kaye hosts, the show is live on C4 at 2100 Saturday, or as-live on S4C at 2255.

An early contender for Hype of the Year: the campaign for BOYS AND GIRLS. Posters for the show have been slammed as "offensive", "degrading", "inappropriate for children", and "another example of the pornographisation of our public spaces." The last, by Evening Substandard columnist Tim Lott, has itself been criticised as "another example of writers turning a noun into a verb simply by putting "-isation" on the end."

One (unnamed) TV exec has gone on the record as saying "this is what television has been waiting for." Quite how one can go on the record without giving a name still confuses us. C4's Tim Gardnam says B&G will provide "a sense of occasion and personality [...] alternative to the mass entertainment on the other channels."

They want it to be big. They need it to be big. After a hype campaign that can only be compared with SURVIVOR I, anything less than headline television is going to be a failure.

We wish them well. Almost obligatory review here next week.

How to embarrass Christine Hamilton in thirty seconds: Offer the (perfectly acceptable six) WANKER on Countdown. Do not mention Mr Bell.

Also this week, the return of FRIENDS LIKE THESE at 1745 tonight, A SONG FOR EUROPE at 1635 Sunday - BBC1 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, BBC2 in Scotland. Reruns of FAMILY FORTUNES on daytime ITV (why?) and COMIC RELIEF DOES FAME ACADEMY from Friday. Our money's on Red Nose Day IX coming out on top.

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