Weaver's Week 2003-08-23

Weaver's Week Index

23rd August 2003

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

Coming up: more European pedantry, more weddings, and more people in black chairs. But first, answer this: what does an arctophile collect?


Q: Why does this column persist in calling this show Star Academy when the BBC bills it as Fame Academy?

A: This column has seen the Belgian version, seen how this show should be done, and hopes the BBC will stop being so arrogant and do it properly.

Q: What's gone wrong this time?

A: The voting-in structure was convoluted, and didn't work as television. On the first Saturday, seven people sing. The top three in the public vote are in, and they choose one from the next two in the public vote.

Q: Other than it'll make a short series, what's wrong with that?

A: It's not over yet. The next Wednesday, six sing, top two are in, and all six in the competition proper vote for the next person. Repeat on the following Saturday and Wednesday.

Q: Doesn't that mean the first three people have voted on four entrants, and the last person in has voted on exactly none?

A: Exactly.

Q: What about the judges?

A: Regular readers will know how much this column likes Richard Park and Carrie Grant. Joining the panel is David Grant, Carrie's husband, and a soul singer of decent repute. Also on there is Robin Gibb, formerly of the Bee Gees, and they're legends in their own time. Dogsby remains one of the most insufferably rubbish choices possible for the role, not only arrogant but arrogantly and persistently wrong. Betcha still insists on moulding everyone into the only singing formula she knows. The other two can offer genuine insights into the workings of stardom. They've recorded hit records; Dogsby and Betcha haven't.

Q: What links do the judges have to the sponsoring corporation?

A: After running Capital Radio into the ground, Dogsby is in business with Universal, and the winner will sign to Polydor, a Universal subsidiary. The Bee Gees were also signed to Polydor records, Robin Gibb will receive songwriting royalties from the Bee Gees tribute special tonight, the album, and any back catalogue increase from the publicity. When David Grant was a recording act in the 80s, he was signed to labels now owned by Universal. Betcha appears to be a freelancer.

Q: Any animosity amongst the judges?

A: Not amongst the judges, but Dogsby has been roundly booed every time he's made any negative comment. He finally snapped on Wednesday's live broadcast, and tried to tick off host Patrick Kielty. Mr Kielty gave as good as he got, and Dogsby came out of the exchange looking more ruffled and less composed than ever.

Q: Are they still using the same, dark studio as last year?

A: No, the performances come from the atrium of Witanhurst Manor, done up in a reasonably glitzy way. The manor's staircase, landing, and other parts of the room house the small crowd, family, and friends; the judges are on the stairs. As a set, it's better than last year's dark and dismal disaster, but is hopelessly cramped. At some point, they're going to outgrow the restrictive confines of Witanhurst and have to go to a proper theatre setting. If they don't, it'll indicate that the show's ambitions have plummeted down to nothing.

Q: So, these people are in the house. How long do they have before the first person leaves?

A: Sixty hours.

Q: Two and a half days?

A: Actually, slightly less. Some of these people have been stewing on the sidelines for a week and a half, and they're thrown straight into an all-up karaoke session.

Q: But what about the public service remit?

A: Good question. These people are meant to be educated about their craft, hence the ACADEMY part of the programme name. The BBC can't get around that commitment. They changed the name, but kept in the "A" word. More fools them.

Q: How much training can be done in sixty hours?

A: By our reckoning, almost none. One singing lesson, a few group exercise routines, that's the door, please don't insult Claudia Winkleman on your way out. Actually, please do insult Claudia Winkleman on your way out, her show is a carbon copy of Dermot O'Leary's BBLB, only without Derm's self-deprecating wit, and hence even more insufferable.

Q: Good grief. How can the "teachers" get an idea of who is performing well, in all senses of the word?

A: They can't. Instead, each exit show has all the competitors sing someone else's song. The lowest three in the public vote go to "teachers"; they save one (and if it's a tie, Dogsby's vote counts double because he is always wrong,) the students save another, and the remaining person leaves.

Q: All the competitors sing someone else's song? Isn't that what they do on POP IDLE?

A: Ssssh! That would imply that Star Academy's format has been banged out of shape purely so that the BBC can make a lame attempt to grab ITV's ratings.

Q: Good point. And then?

A: They do it all again four days later. Every Saturday and every Wednesday.

Q: Wouldn't this bring the contest to a close in mid-September?

A: If they kept it up, it would. However, last Wednesday's exit looks to be the last midweek removal. Why the BBC doesn't bang SA2 on a Tuesday night, and compete directly against ITV's football coverage, remains a mystery.

Q: So, we've got the ludicrously short gap between entry and exit. What about the highlight shows?

A: What about the highlight shows?

Q: Are they any good?

A: Don't think you quite understand me. There are no highlight shows. No, that's not strictly accurate. There's five minutes on BBC1 each afternoon, five minutes on BBC2 each morning, both in children's programming. There's 30 minutes each afternoon on the CBBC channel, and around two hours on BBC3 each night. Digital satellite viewers get to see live feeds from the house; these are yet to appear on at least one digital cable system.

Q: But for analogue viewers, or those who prefer to watch BBC1 of an evening?

A: The performance shows, and that's your lot.

Q: Any famous guests yet?

A: No. Two of the contestants went to a film premiere, including one of the two who have been kept in to ensure press coverage and Celebdaq dividends.

Q: Weren't the famous guests a decent draw to attract in the casual viewer?

A: Yes, they were, and the lack of good guests not only stops casual viewers, but makes the regular teachers the only teachers. There's no way for the likes of Lionel Richie, Shania Twain, or Axelle Red to show Dogsby and Betcha's limitations.

Q: Any idea who will win?

A: As Gareth Gates showed elsewhere, winning the public vote doesn't guarantee winning the battle. Though if there's any justice, Alex Parks will win the popular vote.

Q: Any word on potential Singers for Europe?

Alex and Peter Brame combine the voice of Jessica Garlick, the hair of Julia Orisitlena, the vibrancy of Antique, the quirkiness of Reynars Kaupers, the crowd-pleasing noises of Surpriz, and the emotional closeness of Chiara.

Q: Didn't all those people finish third?

A: That's still over twenty places and a hundred points better than this year.

Q: Where does this leave Pop Idle?

A: In far greater danger than ITV could have expected. The BBC show has lucked out, and found somewhere between one and four genuine stars. Don't expect Pop Idle to enjoy much of a media profile until the beginning of October, when SA finishes and Antan Dec have the floor to themselves. Even then, the Grate British Public might be jaded at the thought of another vote for a star show when we've already got some new ones.

Q: So we've got a diet of bad karaoke, performed twice a week, and judged by people who don't know what's going on behind the scenes. Is that going to create a star?

A: No, but it might create someone fleetingly famous. Hence the name.


First, a correction to last week's column. Both "dissent" and "descent" have five consonants, please don't send any further emails to point this out. The underlying point, that asking contestants about words with common homophones can cause errors, was lost under my cockup.

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

[7] Michael Penrice bt Said Khan [2]

[6] Clive Spate bt Olav Bjortomt [3]

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

This week, Melanie Beaumont takes on Gavin Fuller.

The general knowledge starts evenly balanced, though after one error each, Gavin Fuller has a two and a half second lead. A couple of errors is all it'll take to lose the round, Melanie Beaumont makes those errors, and Gavin Fuller wins by 10 seconds.

Numbers, according to James, will be a Gavin Fuller win. Melanie Beaumont takes a long time to think about 35x31, then passes on the question. Last week, Michael Penrice very quickly passed on similar questions. Gavin Fuller has the run of the questions, not that he faced that many, and wins by 33.5 seconds.

This week's keyword is "night." It generates this answer, even sillier than some of the bizarre answers on The Vault:

Q: In which sport might you employ a nightwatchman? 
Gavin Fuller: Chess. Er... [together]: Cricket! 

Melanie Beaumont has a lead of about one question at this stage, then blows it here:

Q: Bonfire Night celebrates Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up which monarch? 
Melanie Beaumont: Houses, erm, James 6. 
Q: James 1. 

Stumbling into the wrong answer makes the oldest rant in the book, about regnal numbers in Scotland, rather superfluous. The lead is now half a question, about two seconds, and if everyone gets their questions right, it's going to boil down to who has the longer questions. Or who has to repeat themselves because they answered part way through a question. Melanie Beaumont has to do that, and loses around a second. Her clock expires first, with Gavin Fuller having just 1.1 seconds left. That's almost exactly the length of time lost by wibbling in the control room. The disadvantage increases, because the loser of the previous round has to answer the first question in the next, so Gavin Fuller will take at least four more seconds advantage.

"Contemporary" Knowledge is also very tight. This week's Quibblesome Question:

Q: Who was elected president of the European Union in June 2003? 
A: Silvio Berlusconi. 

Except he wasn't. No one was. Italy is nominated to hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months beginning July 2003, but the country as a whole performs that task, not any individual. Signor Berlusconi addressed the Italian and EU parliaments in July to outline the programme of the Italian presidency, but he himself is not the president. More: http://www.ueitalia2003.it/EN/Presidenza/

As ever, it's Melanie Beaumont on the receiving end of this duff question. Gavin Fuller gives the correct answer to the last question, it's acknowledged as correct, but time expires on the T of "correct." In a frame-by-frame analysis, Gavin Fuller finished giving the answer with 0.25 seconds on his clock, too little time to say "correct" and transfer play. Melanie Beaumont takes the round by 1.1 seconds, and gains some consolation for the previous round's error.

Words and letters should be Melanie Beaumont's round. When she can't solve an anagram of William Shakespeare, it might not be. Perhaps she could have switched on the Morse letter represented by four dots, so Gavin Fuller wins by six seconds. A good result for him.

The finale sees Gavin Fuller start with a 50 second advantage, and finish winning by 55.5 seconds.

Next week, this column will discuss the flaws in the Grand Slam format, and if it's possible to overcome them. Also, Graham Nash and Dee Voce play a game.


Ladies Screaming At Each Other

Arctophiles collect teddy bears. This arcane piece of knowledge netted studio contestant Mary Swain £700,000 on last Saturday's edition of THE VAULT. She immediately burst into a competitive screaming fit with black-clad host Mel Sykes, and they continued the screeching for the remaining minutes of the show.

The tension in the two minutes was palpable, far more so than when MILLIONAIRE contestants scoop that show's top prize. Partly because there's a clock on The Vault, but mostly because it's live, and there's no way of leaking the result in advance. Maybe the last segment of The Vault will be as fondly remembered as The Wonderwall, where Saturday's contestant turned a decent holiday into a good one in the last twenty seconds.

People Sitting In A Black Chair

Andrew Muller is talking about English castles. It's a broad subject, with long questions, and he scores 9 points with three passes. Darren Martin talks about British TV Comedy 1970-1990. He knows his subject, and scores a pass-free 15 points. Patricia Feeney is starring on the Fauna and Flora of Great Britain. Any comment would be cruel, as she scores four passes and two points. Stephen Peek is an expert on Fairport Convention. Again, a narrow subject does well, one pass and 12 points.

In the general knowledge round: Patricia Feeney does somewhat better, passing on another three and advancing to 11 points. Andrew Muller has four more passes, and a total of 16 points. Stephen Peek falls into pass hell, failing to answer seven questions, and also totalling 16 points. Darren Martin needs two to win. He has no passes and 30 points. That's a comfortable win.


In an interview at the Mind Sports Olympiad, Richard Whiteley has confirmed that COUNTDOWN won't be expanding to a full hour, and that there will be no 21st anniversary show pitting the voices of Channel 4 against each other, Paul Coia (first person to speak on C4) against Nick Rowe.

Ulrika Jonsson married Lance Gerrard-Wright in Sweden last weekend. The two met while filming MR RIGHT, a show where Mr Gerrard-Wright was supposed to date ladies who had applied to the show. He was never supposed to date the host. ITV is, at least, consistent, as Chris Tarrant wants to be a millionaire, Robert Kilroy-Silk got shafted, and John Leslie's career has been reduced to scavengers.

After that country's contestant was voted out of BIG BROTHER AFRICA, Malawi's government imposed a ban on the programme, claiming it corrupted the nation's youth. The Malawian courts have said, "no, this is simple sour grapes" and set aside the banning order.

Diana Karzon from Jordan outsang her Syrian rival Rowaida Attiyeh to win the pan-Arab SUPERSTAR competition. More than 4.8m votes were cast by phone, SMS, and internet across the Middle East as the Arab world caught the Pop Idle bug that has swept the world. Damascus saw its public squares crammed with fans watching on big screens, while Beirut was deserted as people stayed home to watch.

Noel Edmonds told the rusty old Radio Times that NOEL'S HOUSE PARTY was complete rubbish in its last years. Next week, the venerable listings magazine will determine that water is, in fact, wet.

Changes to the previously billed line-up on BBC1: Weakest Link Page 3 slots in at 1910. No Classic Millionaire this week, and no mention of the Millionaire text game, which appears to have been nobbled by people who realised that these were repeated shows, and some people keep tapes of every show they've done. There's only a 15 minute Celebdaq this week, thanks to BBC3's coverage of some obscure football match between Europe's best sides.

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