Weaver's Week 2003-03-08

Weaver's Week Index

8th March 2003

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

This week, we saw the biggest game show launch in a couple of years. It's not the headline story.

NICKED! (Southwark Crown Court, 1000 weekdays)

The trial of Major Charles Ingram, his wife Diane, and college lecturer Tecwen Whittock, was scheduled to begin on Monday. The three are charged with conspiracy to defraud Celador out of £1,000,000 by cheating on WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? On Monday, the trial was adjourned until Wednesday.

Wednesday's opening day heard how nineteen coughs were made "into the mike" from Contestant's Row, and how someone had tried to cover the word "no" with a splutter. We also heard how someone kept popping in and out of the studio, clutching a mobile phone.

Thursday's action centred on a plot involving four vibrating pagers, apparently discarded late in the day. On Friday, the jury was discharged following an illness; a new panel was sworn in and the trial restarted.

A full report on this case will appear on ukgameshows.com when the trial ends.

BOYS AND GIRLS (UMTV for C4, 2104 Saturday)

A few strange things in this show, and we reckon that one of the Game Show Deities is involved. It's too powerful for Perry Vale, the minor deity behind EDEN on C4 last year. On the other hand, the tricks don't bear the hallmark of the Overdeity Of Television.

My money's on the Monkeyvision Monkey doing something useful with his life and hosting this show. Why he had to go under the pseudonym of "Vernon Kaye" is not explored. Orla O'Rourke is the co-host. She's loud, like the set. It's like something from the mid 70s - silhouette pictures of a stereotypical male and a stereotypical female form on lightly coloured backgrounds, everything else tends to white.

The show starts with a minigame: BABE OR MINGER. Four contestants are pulled out of the audience. The other sex has voted on how attractive they judge their opposition; those who came in the top half are deemed "babes"; the remainder are deemed "mingers." (For foreign readers, or Telegraph readers, this term is pronounced with a hard g.) The contestant simply has to guess whether they were deemed "babe" or "minger." A correct answer will earn a holiday somewhere or other, the sort of place where Hedonomentuaries are made. (See last week's column.)

This minigame encourages shallow thinking, judging by appearances, and has the potential to embarrass the contestant who judges themself more attractive than they thought. No one judged themself less attractive than the median, a fact that tells us something about the people who apply for this show.

There's a fascinating comparison with the show now finished, WITHOUT PREJUDICE? Liza Tarbuck's show forced a snap judgement, and over the course of the series, that speed denied funding for a PhD student, and someone who would have given the money to charity. Here, people are asked to judge themselves, and don't make as good a job as some of the panels did in hours.

Back on the telly, Monkey introduces the winner of last week's show. This clearly indicates that Monkey has perfected the art of travel between parallel universes, as in the universe this column inhabits, there was no show on Feb 22. The viewers are shown the purchases made by last week's winner, her favourites and the items the production team reckons are the most pointless purchases. The viewers are invited to judge if the previous week's winner is a "Winner", and deserves to keep the purchases; or a "Waster," and should hand back all but one of them. Cue premium rate phone line, cue premium rate phone income. The budget for each episode is half a million quid, with the studio winner spending up to a fifth of that. Every penny counts.

There's another minigame: PARENTS ON PARADE. Who has an embarrassing parent? Who will be embarrassed by father stripping? And if the contestant doesn't find this shocking, it at least provides a few minutes of cheap entertainment. Or, in this case, a few hours of increasingly boring filler.

Actually, there are no prizes, just sheepish contestants and adults who should be old enough to know better. No prizes, no game, we have the perfect excuse to move right on.

Monkey's also learned to play with our perceptions. Apparently, we're going to be entertained by Dannniiiiii Minogue, the first time that's happened ever. Is there no end to this animal's talents?!

Last week's champ got voted a "winner." We know nothing about her, this means naff all to the viewer, so let's move on again.

THE MAIN GAME, PART ONE. Introduce captains for the teams: Jeremy Edwards and Jade Goody. Edwards is an actor, Goody was a loser on BIG BROTHER 3. Hmm. Talk about corporate synergy and a placement from Charlotte Street, anyone?

In The Main Game, each team is asked three questions about the other side. For instance, "What do girls value more: their handbag or their makeup?" Only it's far more salacious than that. Answers through the captain, who moves about in the crowd, but can't conduct a proper random sample in twelve seconds on live national television. Team with the more correct answers wins. This really is very shallow, very vacuous, and almost entirely arbitrary. Cue commercial break.

THE MAIN GAME, PART TWO. Before the show, each team voted for their preferred team-mate to be the overall winner. That person from the winning team is pulled from the serried ranks of the audience, and sent backstage. Joining them is the player voted most attractive by the opposition in the poll earlier, and a player drawn out at random. Each of these three has 30 seconds to address the other side. The other side determines who wins. Surely the one voted the most attractive by the opposition will win, especially when she's dressed in a fishnet imported in Grimsby.

During the speeches, Monkey said that he frowns on begging and bribery. After the voting, but before announcing the winner, the three up for the win announce their pick for a partner, getting their hopes up. The winner (this week, yes, the fishnet from Grimsby) and their picked partner go off on the back of a golf buggy, driven by a Mr Chris Evans, proprietor of UMTV. Everyone else rushes the stage, credits roll, and fade to E4.

On Friday, we see the winner's week. The winner hasn't been able to talk to anyone they know, and gets told roughly what to spend their money on. Anything unspent is lost, and nothing can be resold for a year. Quite how UMTV will police this rule remains to be seen, especially if Player donates the item to someone else.

For my money, the opening show was rather dull. It could be because we weren't familiar with the winner, and the Friday show looks like it's going to add that additional buy-in. Perhaps E4 could have a short update on Tuesday or Wednesday. Go on, give us a bit of corporate synergy. You know you want to.

For the endgame, I'd suggest picking three players at random, rather than one, and having some form of playoff between those five to address the electorate.

There's another problem, and it looks more serious. Back in 1999, Chris Evans launched THE PRIORY, an entertainment and chat show hosted by Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston. It was an entertaining programme, but suffered from one major flaw: every show had the same features in the same place as the last one, only the guests changed. It ran out of steam after two seasons and less than a year.

At the same time, Evans' production company launched the Lottery Corp show RED ALERT, about which we remember precious little, other than never to watch that tripe again.

I have an ominous feeling we just watched that tripe again.

The public reaction was muted: 1.1m / 5% viewing figures are lower than usual in this slot, and ranking dead last amongst the five terrestrial networks. There are already complaints before the advertising watchdog relating to the poster campaign, using sample questions. Worst of all, the television critics have almost totally ignored the show, and those who haven't have given it stale reviews.

This column is reserving judgement, but doesn't have high hopes. Babe Or Minger is a direct ripoff of E4's YOUR FACE OR MINE; Parents On Parade is embarrassing for the sake of embarrassment; and the entire show is a tad too quick for its own good.

On the upside, none of these things is fatal, and a quiet rethink through the coming weeks might well see Boys And Girls come good. We only have to look at Antan Dec running the same edition of SLAP BANG in the ITV schedules in summer 2001, before letting it evolve into the mass entertainment TAKEAWAY.


Third Quarter Final: Cranfield -v- Durham

Who have these teams beaten? Cranfield beat Brasenose Oxford on a tiebreaker, and Manchester by a shave. Durham ousted Queens Cambridge and Jesus Oxford.

Cranfield gets off to a good start, suggesting Victoria acceded to the throne with the words "We are not amused." We were amused by Cranfield's next answer: after another overlong starter, one of their number reckons Elvis Presley sung "Puppy Love."

You wait weeks for a set of bonuses on sociology, then two turn up in consecutive weeks.

Just when Durham looks to be running away with it, they get a missignal, Cranfield picks up the starter, and the lead of 50 and rising has become one of 25 and falling. However, Durham is very fast on the buzzer, and we can forgive them forgetting the rounds of milkman Tommy Tripp. He wasn't a significant character in Camberwick Green.

By the music round, Durham's lead is up to 70 points, and I can't see Cranfield taking the win. Especially if they don't listen properly...

Thumper: [potted biog of a Roman Emperor]
Durham: Tiberius
Thumper: Wrong, lose five points. [Biog continues] 
[fairly long pause]
Cranfield: Tiberius
Thumper: [obligatory snotty remark]

There's a sense of humour present this week, one I've not seen on UC in absolutely ages. Perhaps there are too many shows being recorded in one go, and this was the first back after the summer break. Or perhaps it's the almost total lack of science questions - maths and physics are collectively represented by exactly two astronomy questions.

Ninety-five is the gap at the second picture round, and there's no way Cranfield can come back, surely. Well, maybe not. Two starters, two sets of bonuses, and Cranfield's well back in the hunt. Durham confusing Peter and Jane with Janet and John appears to bring the gap to ten. But! The scorers missed five for Durham in the music round, credit that back, and Cranfield trails by fifteen. One starter, one bonus correct, it's level, time expires.

We have a tie, 165 all. A question on a Russian historical figure, Durham's Joby guesses, guesses wrongly, and the third upset of the quarter finals is complete.

Brennan 33 Arbuthnot 32 Marden 82 Corley 33
CRA 25 20 30 90 [165] 16/28 bonuses, no missignals
DUR 55 70 45 -5 [165]X 14/33 bonuses, 3 missignals in play
Henderson 45 Riley 29 Joby 36 Harris 55

The teams combined to score a maximum 35 on geography, and a maximum (errr...) 10 on maths and physics. Throughout the contest, these teams have missed just 10 points from a possible 150 on geography.

Cranfield has picked up exactly 2/3 of the points from bonuses and questions on which they have buzzed. That's the best strike rate of the series so far, fractionally ahead of UCL's 66.34%. Durham was asked more questions on pop culture (worth 175 points) than any other team - they took 110 of those marks.

Most telling stat of the week: in the eight categories to which I'm splitting questions, Cranfield is scoring above 50% across the board. Their weakest is physics and maths; even there, they are 6/11.

The draw:

Birkbeck defeated the LSE
Sheffield defeated Warwick
Cranfield defeated Durham

Worcester Oxford -v- Leeds

Pointless draw fact of the week: the winners all played in the second half of the second round. This points to a Leeds win next week.

My original tip for the match next week: Worcester Oxford. For the title, I now officially haven't a clue, though Cranfield is looking in good form.


Britain's entry to the Eurovision Song Contest has been announced. "Cry Baby", performed by Jemini, is a pleasant uptempo number, and improved markedly from the demo version played on the radio in January. I doubt it will win.

CELEBRITY FAME ACADEMY began last night, raising money for Comic Relief. This charity has the technical name of A Good Thing, so we'll vote to keep good performers in, or just to keep in people who we just can't stand. Remember, the longer they're in Dogsby's Kennel, the easier it is to avoid them. CFA is all over the BBC for One Week Only, and our money's on Will Mellor to win the whole shebang and relaunch his singing career.

Over on ITV, REBORN IN THE USA has run into trouble within 24 hours of the start, as The Obscure Former Singer With Then Jericho has quit the project citing "creative differences" with the producers. His replacement - Peter Cox of Go West - is well-known in the US, and there has already been undercover filming, breaching the agreement with the stars. Mutiny is in the offing. Will there be anyone left by the time the show takes to the air at 2135 tonight? Will this be the biggest flop since SHAFTED? You deride.

It's Cheltenham Festival week, so FIFTEEN TO ONE airs Monday and Friday only. Tuesday to Thursday's COUNTDOWN returns to the traditional 30 minute slot, airing at 1630, and does not air on S4C.

COMIC RELIEF UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE fills the gap on BBC2 while some joker talks about dull inanities. Clive Anderson versus Danny Baker, battle commences at 2200, and we might have silence by The Learning Zone at 0300.

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