Weaver's Week 2003-05-03

Weaver's Week Index

3rd May 2003

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

Over the past month, this column has told you a lot about intrigue surrounding a show that threatens to give away a million pounds. There are more revelations to come, of that one can be certain. For this week, however, let's go for something completely different.


Way back in the closing days of the 20th century, an entertaining little teatime diversion took the UK by storm. Now, two and a half years later, nostalgia channel UK Gold is repeating those early editions of THE WEAKEST LINK, and it's a good excuse to have a compare and contrast.

Have the contestants become more stupid, have the questions become harder, are the banking tactics leaving the teams more exposed? Whatever the explanation, the average daily prize has fallen from around £2500 to around £1500 over the course of the run.

Anne's insult directory is as wide as it ever was, though some catchphrases: "Which village has lost its idiot?" "Whose game is over?" have fallen into cliché. There seems less imploring along the lines of "you can't afford to carry dead wood," and perhaps a little too much alliteration at the expense of variety.

None of us realised it at the time, but the direction on the early days of THE WEAKEST LINK was superb. Perhaps to make up for the lack of flash elsewhere on the show, there were some stunning camera pullbacks and swooparounds. (Is that the technical term for it? Who cares. It looks great.) The lighting played some cute colours, and it looked as though the show was shot in a dark corner of a barn somewhere. Nowadays, we don't seem to have that camerawork, maybe we've become accustomed to the lights, and the set doesn't disappear in the middle distance - perversely, that makes it less claustrophobic to these eyes. Originally, there were no lights round the names.

It's not all changes for the worse. Anne Robinson has grown into her role as Bitchmaster In Training, and has graduated to a fully-fledged Quizmaster. Not that she's perfect in the job, but she doesn't need her batteries recharging before the finale, and can now put down the contestants during the round, not just at the intermissions.

The "step forward" format of the finale? Best we forget. Best we forget. The original closing line has a certain factual basis lacking from its more famous replacement: "You've been watching THE WEAKEST LINK. Goodbye."

In 2001, Anne Robinson went to Hollywood to front NBC's primetime version of the show, by now subtly renamed WEAKEST LINK. The primetime show didn't survive into the 2002 season, but did make a successful move into syndication. The new host is a little different from Annie.

George Gray is a gentleman. He's a comedian, and he doesn't have that strange British-trying-to-speak-American accent that Anne employed. His CV includes time spent hosting JUNKYARD WARS (their version of SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE.) He's witty, erudite, and at home with the format.

Six contestants appear on the syndicated edition, with a potential prize of $100,000. The chain of values is exceptionally severe: 250-500-1000-1500-2500-25,000. Yes, five correct answers nets $2,500; six nets $25,000. Chains of six are worth ten times as much as chains of five. Start by playing a 1:45 round, then reduce by 15 seconds until the round of three is just one minute long. Conclude by playing a best-of-three penalty shootout, and the show is wrapped in a 30 minute slot.

The remarkable chain can lead to some unusual scoring patterns. In one show I saw during my sojourn in the US, the amounts banked were: $2500, $0, $0, $0, for a top prize of $2,500. The players' cause wasn't helped by one contestant who thought that Canadians celebrate Christmas on December 26, nor by their inability to bank $4,500 at the final question of each round. After tax, and converting at the current exchange rate, that's a grand non-total of slightly less than £1000.

Even the worst teams in the UK tend to do better than that.


CELEBRITY ALCATRAZ (working title) puts celebrities behind bars. The new Action Time format hopes to use the infamous prison in San Francisco Bay, but will need to gain permission from the tourist attraction now on the site.

Action Time says it's an "extreme reality show in which stars are sent to live under harsh prison conditions in the grimmest, toughest jail on earth. There are real cells, with real bars, with real rules and real wardens. The only way the celebrities get out is if viewers vote to release them."

Early contenders for incarceration include Mr Jeffy Archer, Mr Jonathan Aitken, Mr Dale Winton, and anyone else with a criminal record. Wonder if that means Antan Dec will be starring, not hosting, the show?


This year's BIG BROTHER will be - a rerun of 2001's second season. Out goes the divide, there's no entry for the Head Of Household, back comes The Weekly Task. All that's changed from two years ago is the cast, the location, the addition of a Nominations Uncut show on E4 each Tuesday night, and an Individual Reward Challenge on Saturday night. BBLB moves to "teatime" (read: 1800) on C4, with an E4 repeat later.

C4's press release trumpets a "totally redesigned" house, which can only be a good thing after last year's disaster. They're also going big on "a new chair in the diary room," hoping we've forgotten that each year has seen at least one (and last year two) chair designs. The channel also waffled on about "stepping up security", and accidentally confirmed that intruders did enter the garden last year, something this column has wondered about since the incident took place in the second week of the run.

Weaver's Week will be bringing coverage of BBIV from May 24. Unlike Channel 4, this year's coverage will be different.

Also due back this year: FAME ACADEMY. After the successful celebrity edition in March, the search for a star will return in the autumn. This column has four tips: follow the Belgian show, not your own; make the show uplifting and happy; get new hosts; and get Tom Robinson or Suggs from Madness or Brinsley Forde from Aswad or someone who can sing to run the learning process. To reduce that to a Dykean soundbite: here we are, entertain us.

Over on BBC2, John Humphreys is the controversial choice to host the MASTERMIND revival. The news interviewer, best known for sending listeners to Radio 4's daily TOADY programme back to sleep, takes the job over the head of Peter Snow, who hosted a short-lived revival on Radio 4.


"Last night was a disaster," said the chief on THE MURDER GAME last week. You don't say. He decides that one suspect is innocent based solely on the fact that she appears to have been brutally murdered, without considering the possibility that it was suicide. That's ruling out the suspect far too soon in the investigation.

Some weeks ago, this column wondered what happens to evidence the investigators miss in the course of their inquiries. We now know that anything vital will be handed to them on a plate. Witness the way Trevor had to call back Tweedledumb and Tweedledim to impart information they should have picked up.

How come no one has thought to run a voice analysis on the tapes claiming to come from the killer. Or test the baby for DNA? And how come they consider emails sent from a laptop as sufficient evidence to clear, especially as the program used by that suspect times its emails by the internal system clock, and any twit can change that. Perhaps even the chief.

And what's with the floating start times? Billed as a 2235 start, last week's show didn't get under way until 2241. The BBC3 programme getting off to a prompt start at 2335, and ITV shows highlights of the football in the same slot. 2.5 million viewers is (if you'll excuse the pun) a criminally small number, and barely three times THE MOLE's devoted audience. It's clear that someone is working against the interests of TMG.

Who could it be? Could it be The Chief, the bumbling fool who now has six people dead on his watch? Could it be Rosemary, the BBC duty log operator? Could it be Lorraine, the mild-mannered channel controller? Could be!

(Subscribers to the UKGS mailing list are provided with a pet theory in a special "Subs' Club" section.)


Former Celeb BB contestant Vanessa Feltz has started an afternoon show on BBC Radio London. She joins former WIN LOSE OR DRAW host Danny Baker on the station.

As the second series of MINOR CELEBRITY TORTURE AND BICKERING began, Castaway TV withdrew its claim of format copying. The makers of SURVIVOR were defeated in a US court in February, prior to the US version airing.

On the show, Danniella Westbrook threatened to walk out, but didn't. John Fashanu did two nasty trials, Wayne Sleep went down a tunnel of rats with potato waffles tied to his head (don't ask, just don't ask,) Toyah talked to the flowers, and the show is yet to spring into life. A decent amount of torture, but far too little bickering. And who are these people?

Simon Fuller is £90 million.

John de Mol, creator of BIG BROTHER, has increased his stake in league-leading football side Manchester United to 3.5%, in anticipation of a potential takeover battle. Manchester United is notorious for employing people to speed down the wing, and speeding leads to speeding fines, and speeding fines lead to criminal records, and criminal records lead to time in prison, and time in prison leads to appearances in that format they're doing at Alcatraz.

Mr Robert Maxwell will not be starring in Prisoner Celebrity Block Z, because he's been dead for the past dozen years. He has, however, topped a poll to find the Biggest Cheat Of All Time. The man who swindled his company's pension funds out of millions of pounds beat off Senor Diego Maradona, a footballer from Argentina. Mr Charles Ingram, convicted game show cheat, came third; Mr Richard Dastardly, dog owner and driver, fourth; and Mr Nicholas Bateman, of Big Brother, seventh and last.

Dale Winton's IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME returned for a second series. The Red Zone now has a bar running round the couch, allowing Dale to lean on a hard lump of wood and look down contestants' shirts. A correspondent to the UKGS mailing list points out that there's absolutely no competition amongst the players, they just do their own thing and are rewarded accordingly. That still doesn't stop the show from being over matey and slow moving. According to promotion by Mr Winton, INIT TER WINNIT attracts the most viewers of any of Dale's lottery promotion shows. Mr Winton fails to mention that his other formats aired on Wednesday nights.

On this week's MILLIONAIRE, Steven Fitzsimons became the 600th solo contestant, and the fifth member of The Thirteen Club we've seen this year.

Next week: Annie and the Gopher wonder how well you've done at learning how to do IQ tests. TEST THE NATION 4: THE NATIONAL IQ TEST 2003 begins at 2000 Sunday on BBC1.

It appears that we have a new run of fantasy game show RAVEN on CBBC at 1730 weekdays. But we may not. The CBBC site and programming detail is unclear to the point of opacity.

CELEB TORTURE AND BICKERING continues at the following times: Sa 2015, Su 2100, Mo 2100, Tu 2100, We 2145 (The SURVIVOR slot - it may begin any time before 2208.) Th 2030, Fr 2100

Warm up act on Friday is Martin Bashir, taking a second bite at the Major Ingram cherry. The optimistically titled MILLIONAIRE - THE FINAL ANSWER airs 2030 on ITV.

US readers can see extracts from the previous doc, A MAJOR FRAUD at 9 (8c) Thursday on ABC. Mr and Mrs Ingram and Mr Whittock will also be talking to Diane Sawyer, an extreme tabloid journalist, during the two hour show. Portions of the interview may - or may not - be shown on ITV.

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