Weaver's Week 2003-08-02

Weaver's Week Index

2nd August 2003

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

This week: final thoughts on BBIV, the last first round match on GRAND SLAM, and some of the other items making the news recently.


The opening titles are short and to the point, featuring people with targets on their heads being knocked down like ducks in a shooting gallery. Jo Brand is our host, while the audience is all drawn from one town or city.

Four celebrity brains are already on stage, each with a specialist subject. Some of these celebs are relatively famous, Gyles Brandereth on Shakespeare, or Jeremy Beadle on London murders; others require knowledge of other BBC networks, such as James King who speaks to Radio 1 on motion pictures.

Each celeb starts with four lives. In the first round, the celeb is asked one question on their home subject. An incorrect answer costs them shame, embarrassment, and one life.

In the second round, two questions on each specialist subject emerge. A member of the audience nominates which celeb will face which question, so most of the questions will go to non specialists. A correct answer wins applause, an incorrect answer docks one life if the panellist answered the question on his own, or two if he conferred with the co-panellists. Incorrect answers go to the studio audience for a vote, and if the audience gets the correct answer, the celeb loses another life.

A celeb who loses all four lives has to leave the show at once. They walk through the middle of the audience and out of the game.

After eight questions, any remaining panellists play the finale. They combine forces to answer ten questions, pitched by the audience, on all four specialist subject(s) in 90 seconds. The lives, so important in the opening two rounds, are completely discarded for the finale. Fifteen To One exhibited a similar discontinuity in its opening two series, but broke finals board ties by preferring contestants with "the most correct answers and lives remaining" in the earlier rounds.

The choice of guests, presenter, and mix of boos and cheers bring to mind BBC Radio Five, the short-lived young people's speech station of the early 90s. ROOM 101 and THEY THINK IT'S ALL OVER both originated there, and Smartass falls most neatly into that conversation-with-a-bit-of-game genre.

The pacing is certainly appropriate for radio: after the introductions and such, we're left with twelve questions in around twenty minutes, with plenty of time for discourse, rambling, and general verbal entertainment. The quickfire finale draws a sharp contrast to the rest of the show.

Another comparison with Radio Five's gameshows: there is no prize budget, because there are no prizes. The celebrity smartiepants don't win a prize, even if they beat the audience; neither does the audience win anything other than the honour of beating four semi-famous names at once.

This column isn't hugely convinced by this television game, primarily because it feels like something radio would do far better. It's an interesting little diversion, perhaps could do without the bad atmosphere that sometimes arises, but it's never going to work as a full-time replacement for THE SIMPSONS when they vacate the 1800 slot next year. Indeed, the show might fit better at 2100 Monday nights, bridging the gap between Highbrow Quiz Hour (Mastermind, University Challenge) and the weekly comedy strand.


Wrapping up the loose ends: Steph left at 8:50, securing 200,000 of 2.8 million votes. By the time Scott placed third twenty minutes later, he had 787,000 of 3.1 million votes (including those for Steph.) Lines closed for good at 10:10, Ray took 1.4 million, Cameron 1.9 million, giving a grand total for this year's final of 4.3 million. That's slightly more than half of the 2002 finale's total, and similar to the votes cast for 2001's winner Brian. Voting figures are down by around half, and don't even manage to beat the total for local elections held in May.

An average of 6.6 million, and peak of 7.4 million, saw the show. That's down two million on the peak of last year's final, and the average is lower than the 6.9 million who saw Cameron and the others enter the house nine weeks earlier. The weekday average is 4.8 million, ahead of the first two years, but slightly down on last year.

Only eleven of this year's housemates appeared on Big Brother Breakfast this week. Cameron signed for ITV's Glam TV, while Fed was told to "@!#% off" after using a string of profanities and bad language early in the morning. That no complaints have reached the ITC suggests that the viewing figure really is a single digit.

Writing in the Observer recently, Caspar Llewellyn Smith reminds us how almost all of the 49 main show contestants have been "astonishingly down to earth, very often dull and, above all, normal."

"I like that. I like the fact that the contestants on Big Brother are not racist and they're not - for the most part - terribly sexist. In the first series, Anna the lesbian nun was the runner-up, while the second was won by camp-as-you-like Brian. This series has seen the absurd Federico, who claimed that all women in Newcastle 'are slags'. But then his fellow housemates put him up for nomination, and the public voted him out the house."

"This is where the postwar consumerist society was leading all along - to a world where people are happy, not much fussed by traditional politics, and really rather sweet."

"Big Brother is like a soap opera, or a piece of drama, but has pulled off the trick of dispensing with a script: this is how people really speak, how they really act. The walls have been torn down. It's where the entire realist movement in twentieth-century art was leading."

Which leads this column to wonder if we need 36 hours of fictional soaps on the five terrestrial channels every single week, when we have a real soap being played out at Elstree? More tellingly, is the juxtaposition between BBLB and C4's remaining daily soap Hollyoaks deliberate? One is glossy trash, the other hyper-real.


In an effort to determine which BBIV contestant would be the winner, this column opened an account with Celebdaq, and bought 300 shares in each contestant, plus host Davina McCall as a scientific control. The expenditure on each contestant was around £733. By reinvesting the dividends into the same share, one can determine which contestant consistently received the most column inches, and could be deemed the winner. The closing values, to four significant figures, after dividends paid out on Friday morning were, in ascending order:

13) Lisa, £0. Never listed.

12) Jon, £2350 (grew 3.2 times). Jon was removed from Celebdaq after just two weeks. He was in fifth place at that time.

11) Gos, £3230 (grew 4.41 times). Gos peaked at £4101 in the penultimate week of competition.

10) Justine, £8070 (grew 11 times). Justine was delisted after three weeks, she was third at the time.

9) Sissy, £11,590 (grew 15.8 times). Delisted after four weeks, from fourth place.

8) Steph, £13,960 (grew 19 times). Grew as fast in the last fortnight as in the prior seven weeks.

7) Scott, £17,890 (grew 24 times). Stone last with three weeks to go, but doubled in value in the final week as papers realised he was still in there.

6) Ray, £23,190 (grew 31 times). A slow but steady grower, hampered by a nil dividend (along with Scott) in week five.

5) Anouska, £30,500 (grew 41.5 times). Delisted after just two weeks. No one topped her until week five. A first week dividend of £15.32 (450% of her share value) was the highest in the contest.

4) Federico, £37,600 (grew 51 times). Peaked just shy of £31,000, fell back down, but picked up a huge dividend this week.

3) Cameron, £70,620 (grew 96 times). Strongly ahead of the other three finalists from as early as week 2, and has doubled his value in each of the last three weeks.

2) Tania, £91,880 (grew 125 times). The first player to surpass Anouska in value. Even though she lost 20% on the market in the last week, another large dividend helped her past Cam.

1) Nush, £243,700 (grew 332 times). Overtook Tania in the week after leaving the house, and Anouska was the only player to score two consecutive yields of 80%.

And the control? Davina staggered to finish at £1008.78, showing a net gain of 33%.


The US Defence Department issued a press release on Monday saying that it would launch a celebrity stock market spinoff. Terrordaq, as it wasn't dubbed by the press, would offer shares in assassinations, political unrest, and bombings. The idea was initially laughed out of court, then after realising the Defence team was serious, roundly condemned as sick and twisted. It would have led to messages such as "President Thingi of Banana Republic has been killed by an exploding sheep. Congratulations. You've now won $5000."

Britain's Celebdaq is so large, and the press so diverse, that no one person outside the newspaper industry could possibly rig the market. Terrordaq, by definition, could and would be swung by the actions of a very few people. On the other hand, Terrordaq was a promising idea to enhance and help target intelligence gathering, and do so in an entertaining manner. There were a bunch of puns about pterodactyls, but they've all died out now.


Michael Penrice -v- Michelle Hogan

Michael Penrice is the best champion FIFTEEN TO ONE never had. Seven grand final appearances, more top of the finals board trophies than is polite to mention, and the defending MASTERMIND champion, albeit under commercial rules.

Michelle Hogan has won a dozen shows, including the round the world trip on WINNING LINES, 100%, One to Win, Catchphrase, Wheel of Fortune, Pass the Buck, and Fifteen to One.

Into the first round. Michael Penrice adopts his usual arms folded stance, Michelle Hogan has her hands in front. Michael Penrice stumbles over his first question, confusing hurling with curling. It goes right to the wire; Michelle Hogan has 1.65 seconds left, Michael Penrice could use a switch but doesn't. He still manages to win the round, but takes just two seconds with him. James is impressed with Michelle Hogan's knowledge.

Ten seconds is a very short time when you're working out sums, as Michelle Hogan discovers at the start of the numbers round. She switches an easy time question, while Michael Penrice figures that if contestants can interrupt, they can also pass during the question, causing Nick Rowe to read the answer and move right on. Michael Penrice wins the round by just 5 seconds.

Before the game, Michelle Hogan declared contemporary knowledge her strong point. She's not helped by two sports questions in a row, then two politics questions. That, and a switch-switch-pass routine, knocks the wind out of Michelle Hogan's sails, and Michael Penrice wins by 27 seconds. Still not sure how "which city's STD code is 0151" requires contemporary knowledge by any reasonable definition.

When asked "how many consonants are in chiropractor," Michael Penrice counts out on his finger. He then says "Nostramo" instead of "Nostromo," adopts a face like thunder, loses his footing, and has just about lost the words round. He concedes 30 seconds.

Michael Penrice has a four second advantage in the final round, but he will face the first question. He does have two switches in hand, Michelle Hogan has used all of hers. She's faced with another ten second sum as her first question, and that completely blows her confidence out of the water. There can only be one winner after that, and Michael Penrice wins by 47 seconds.

The draw for the next round:

[1] Melanie Beaumont -v- Gavin Fuller [8]

[2] Said Khan -v- Michael Penrice [7]

[3] Olav Bjortomt -v- Clive Spate [6]

[4] Dee Voce -v- Graham Nash [5]

According to the C4 website, the winners of Gavin and Michael's match will meet in one semi, with Clive and Graham able to meet in the other.

Next week: Olav Bjortomt takes on Clive Spate.


Vault Watch

This week: yet another black top for Melanie Sykes. Has she spent the wardrobe budget on autocue lessons, and did she keep the receipt?

No one knows the capital of Latvia: were none of them watching the Eurovision Song Contest in May? Or did the folk who wanted to vote for Tatu misdial and get through to this show?

In the second round, it takes two minutes to fourteen people to give one correct answer. Then there's a passage like this:

Broker: "Deal for £300." 
Contestant: "£500." 
B: "Deal for £500. Black."

Once again, no one wins the jackpot, so it rolls over again, and now stands at a cool half a million quid. Tax free.


In the fourth heat:

David Thompson offers the classic Mastermind subject, The Works of William Shakespeare. He puts up a cracking job, scoring 15 points and one pass. Ian Pickering takes The Beatles 1962-70. He scores 14 points and one pass. Alex Roberts has the History and Genealogy of European Royalty since 1700. That's a huge subject, too huge for one person, and he has 8 points and four passes. Geoffrey Thomas takes the History of Lancashire County Cricket Club. 15 points and no passes puts him into a narrow lead.

Alex Roberts advances his score to 20 points and six passes. Ian Pickering has a good crack, scoring 27 points and three passes. David Thompson is from the US, and falls over on some British questions. He only scores 22 points and five passes. Geoffrey Thomas needs to do well. He does well. 29 points and no passes, a strong contender in the semi finals.


The first seven of thirteen are into Star Academy, but they could all be on their way out very soon. According to a Sunday tabloid, Camden Council hasn't given permission for Witanhurst Manor to be used as a studio. The entire show might yet have to move to alternative accommodation. This column understands that a property in the Elstree area has recently become available, is perfect for 24/7 filming, will sleep 13 at a pinch, but requires major renovation work to be used as a music academy.

Charges against John Leslie have been dropped, giving confirmation that the former SCAVENGERS presenter is completely innocent of all charges against him. Mr Leslie left Southwark Crown Court on Thursday without a stain on his character.

Next week sees the welcome return of Radio 4's PUZZLE PANEL, with David Singmaster, Don Manley, and Caroline Taggart joining Chris Maslanka in the studio. 1330 Wednesday on the wireless and internet.

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