Weaver's Week 2003-11-01


Iain Weaver turns 30 today. So that he can celebrate, and not have to write a proper column this week, here are his thirty favourite game shows of the last thirty years, in reverse alphabetical order.

Liza Tarbuck hosted show with a twist. Weaver reckons this is a pure psychology show, where the real contestant is the viewer, challenged to pit their opinions against those of the panel, and the prize money is completely incidental. Best moment: "I think we've been preached at... and that's fine."

The only Lottery Corp tie in to be much cop. Simon Mayo (and latterly Phillip Schofield, though he's doesn't quite cut the mustard) take their time over two rounds and heighten the tension for The Best Endgame In The History of Broadcasting, Ever. The Wonderwall is three minutes and 45 seconds of pure tension. Best moment: anyone who completes the Wonderwall in the last few seconds.

WIPEOUT (BBC1 1994-2002)
Paul Daniels made a name for himself with entertainingly quirky formats. Here, a number of possible answers are on a board, along with some incorrect answers. Pick the correct answers to win money, pick a wrong answer and your cash total is wiped out. Hence the name. Tense, intelligent, and with that wonderful play along at home feature. Best moment: the man who swept the board on one esoteric category, and thoroughly earned his £660.

Watching the Challenge reruns last Christmas, it was amazing how much this show changed, and how much it stayed the same. Two contestants stake some or all of their points on a question, and are rewarded with extra points based on the odds. A multiple choice quiz with a funky twist, depending as much on bravado as knowledge. Jimmy Tarbuck was the adequate host, Geoffrey Wheeler the voice of the questions, and host for the last series. Catchphrase: "We have a difference of opinion."

This was event television, once. Chris Tarrant dragged the nation along with him on a manic chase to give away One Million Pounds, Cheque. It took him two years and over 100 shows to get shot of the dosh, and it's all been downhill since. Weaver honed his critical skills writing exclusively about this show. Best moment: Chris telling one contestant, "You do not want to lose this one!" She didn't.

This was also event television, every day of the week. Simply by adopting a nasty, larger than life persona, Anne Robinson made this show her own. She glowered at the weak, sneered at the intelligent, and tried to intimidate all comers. Then she moved away from Watchdog and tried to rip off Jeremy Paxman's style. If only she could do her homework - Anne's inability to pronounce "Jean Alesi" and her unfamiliarity with Pavlov's dogs have become running jokes in this column. After three years, the contestants are fighting back: "an even more minor celebrity than you, Anne," and "What do you do to serve the public?" "I'm a TV presenter." "That doesn't count." Most prophetic moment: a politics student is asked "Who is the leader of the Conservative party?" Twelve painful seconds later, he passes. Eighteen months later, so does the rest of the party.

WANTED (C4 1996-7)
Now here's an idea. A game show that runs around the clock, and quite literally runs around the country. If the teams could do a specified silly thing each day, and not be filmed by a team of highly-trained taxi drivers and future SURVIVOR contestants, they stood to win money. These people really could turn up on your doorstep, though they never did. Live. Unedited. Interactive. Real. Anything could happen, and generally did. The first show to really advocate internet participation, with webcams and message boards. Woefully overdue a descendant based on GPS caching. Best moment: Paul Denchfield's eyebrows.

Ah, Sunday lunchtimes: the smell of over-roast beef, the sound of a carving knife being wielded to cut the custard, and the intelligent musings of Bamber Gascoigne and whichever eight students had visited Granada Towers this week. The ultimate student quiz quietly died as ITV struggled to divest its heritage, but the BBC picked up the format some years later. Jeremy Paxman tends to annoy, and the standard of questions really has become woeful in recent years. Catchphrase: "That's just rubbish," directed at the question setters.

TREASURE HUNT (C4 1983-9, BBC2 2002-3)
Looking back over the first series on Challenge, it's amazing how anyone ever recommissioned it. There really were multiple treasures, a course of undefined length, and a show that felt like it had been cobbled together on paper. Chatsworth tightened up spectacularly in later years, and in its heyday Treasure Hunt had something for all the family. Anneka Rice left the show, and it never really recovered. A revival on the BBC this year tried hard, but didn't pick up the viewers. A shame, really. Best moment: Anneka Rice's unseemly charge through the streets of Bath in a police car, sirens blaring and lights flashing.

3-2-1 (ITV 1977-88)
Started with a three-round quiz, with comedy elements from Chris Emmett and others, then there was some sort of game, and five variety acts, each leaving a confusing clue. If you got bored of the tortuous riddles, there was always the variety element. This cut both ways. In later years, the variety took over at the expense of entertainment, and the axe was almost a merciful relief. A post-ironic C5 revival is probably overdue. Catchphrase:

"You've rejected... Dusty Bin!"

SURVIVOR (C4 1988; ITV 2001-2)
The pilot episode, made for Network Seven, saw four minor celebrities (including Annabel Croft) stuck on a desert island for two weeks. Thirteen years later, and after taking the world by storm, Sebastian Scott's series came home. The first series gave away One Million Pounds, Cash, was promoted to high heaven, had a boring and confusing opening episode, and - in spite of some very entertaining voting patterns around the camp - didn't garner the critical success ITV had hoped for. The second series smacked of contractual obligation, got shoved out in a mobile time slot after the football, and was left to die. Best moment: The islands merge in Panama, during a tropical rainstorm, and leave their old allegiances in the mud.

John Leslie guides some yuppie couples around a spaceship, looking for abandoned junk. The games were so-so, the acting stilted and wooden, but the effects were spectacular. The first game show to be presented in Surround Sound, and with a neo-classical soundtrack to match.

Nicholas Parsons asks some questions. And asks some more. And asks some more. Tries to sell off the family silver for very little, asks more questions, and lets the winner spend their earnings in his showroom of goods available at 10% of MRP. A cut above other shows of the era because Nick didn't blather on with the contestants until the first commercial break, and was as endearing then as he remains to this day. Revivals without Mr Parsons just aren't the same.

QD (C4 1991)
To fill a week when there was nothing to show at half six, C4 staged a high-budget game show, in which six contestants went through four challenges a day, culminating in a half hour live broadcast each evening. Newsreader Lisa Aziz and former-Goodie-turned-stern-show-host Tim Brooke Taylor did the presenting honours. Qd [quinque dies, Latin fans] looked like the sort of event television to run for years. Its progeny include the stripped early days of MILLIONAIRE, and the people learning to do new things of this year's THE GAMES. "We'll be back with a new series soon," said Tim on the Friday. We're still waiting.

Leslie Crowther invites four people to descend to the stage, and play games based on the price of consumer goods. There's very little chitter-chatter, plenty of action, and different games each week. A show based on conspicuous consumption has always attracted its share of moral critics, and not without reason, but these 80s shows broke ground for the Game Show As Spectacle. Intermittent revivals with other hosts haven't had the same magic. Catchphrase: "Tell me and show me."

THE MOLE (C5 2001)
Take ten people. Leave them somewhere exotic and give them silly things to do. Reward them with cash when they do those silly things. Take them out of the game at intervals. Last one standing wins. But there's a twist. One of the ten people has been briefed about the games, and briefed on how to sabotage them. Two classic whodunnits. And when you've worked out whodunnit, there's still the howdidtheydoit to keep interest right through to the end. Axed well before its ask by date. Best moment: The time in the first series when Sara shot Zi in the back, costing the group £10,000, but gaining her a pass to the next show. Suddenly, this show has become deadly serious.

LOST! (C4 2001)
An oddity of its time, Lost stranded nine people in the middle of nowhere, with very little money, and asked them to get home. Preferably without punching a Russian woman in the gob, or falling asleep on an African train, or getting arrested by police on the edge of Europe. The chances of another series appear remote, thanks to the changed security situation across the planet. Best moment: after crossing the entire North American continent, the teams report to LA, to find something to help them: One US dollar.

A comedy game show played in reverse: the object being to get rid of expensive prizes, and do that by getting the answer wrong. Reproduced the famed Answering The Question Before round every week, and held together by the inimitable Chris Tarrant. Catchphrase: "But we don't want to give you that!"

An institution in quizzing circles, Krypton lasted for a decade and a half without spectacular changes. The series continually tweaked its format, changing the mental agility round, adding in time on a flight simulator, but never discarding The Assault Course or Those Strange Blocky Things In The Intelligence Round. Always staying a little ahead of the game, Krypton finally came a cropper with the last series, with some ill- defined and visually confusing Stupor Round. A shoo-in for the gap left by the Simpsons. Catchphrase: that electric buzzing noise from the buzzers in the chair's arms.

Television to remember, eight episodes featuring yuppie couples being chased around the countryside by the original Man In Black. High- tech laser pointing devices (they work a bit like the remote control on your television, as host Annabel Croft (yes, her again) reminded us every week) and liberal use of every mode of transport ever invented added to the slightly surreal atmosphere. The critics hated it, ITV got into a panic that this wasn't Public Service Broadcasting and would count against them when franchises were re-awarded two years later and canned the show. Cheers, Maggie. Highlight: The Tractor moment.

On the surface, this was another game show taking five young Brits around the world, and filming them as they got horridly drunk. Their survival in the game relied on learning about the local culture, the arts and crafts and songs, and not about downing more booze than their competitors. A refreshing challenge from a channel more closely associated with hedonism. Best moment: The blazing row in Hong Kong.

From all over Europe, people are drawn to Henry Kelly's lair - first at Elstree, then in Manchester. The devilish quiz master asks them questions, and there is no escape until one wins a daily show. Prizes started out well - a trip to the Seoul Olympics - but by the final year had degenerated into a trip to New York. Catchphrases: "Play or pass" "Through to the first round proper" "You're playing catch up." Best moment: Erik The Mad coming through to win the second series, pull out a picture of Norway's King Harold, and dedicate the victory. Revived on C5 as ONE TO WIN in 2000, and continuing as QUESTIONS POUR UN CHAMPION on TV5.

FIFTEEN TO ONE (C4 1988-2003)
The slightly menacing figure of William G Stewart asks difficult questions of fifteen people. Get one of two to survive the first round, then last three standing goes to the final, highest score wins, top fifteen winners come back at the end of the run to battle it out for something Bill put together in his youth. Repeat twice a year until channel bosses become skittish that they've created an institution and knock it down. Best moment: Daphne Hudson's score of 432 in 2000 - superior to Bill McKaig's 433 because it's imperfect.

Originally, European national broadcasters sent a song to some far-off country, and voted for the one they thought the worst. In the early 90s, the rules changed slightly, and they voted for the one they thought the most Irish. About 1998, the rules changed again, and almost every song is a bona fide classic. In some ways, it'll be a shame when the UK sends a credible entry, but that's not going to happen soon. Catchphrase: "Thanks for nothing, Ireland (or Malta, or Cyprus, or Monaco, or whoever just voted)."

One contestant has all the answers, and if the other contestants don't spot them, that mole will win all the money. Nigel Lythgoe came into his own as a darkly menacing character in front of the camera. A show that requires multiple viewings to figure out, so didn't stand a chance in the braindead daytime television slots. Catchphrase: "Are *you* the enemy within?"

Teams of six go round adventure zones, playing games, looking to win crystals that might entitle them to a rich reward at the end. But probably won't. When the in-game action got a bit tedious, Richard O'Brien would rhapsodise about Mumsey (Sandra Caron) or play his harmonica or tell the contestants to their faces that they were rubbish. Anne Robinson has nothing new. Ed Tudor-Pole ran the last two series, and though he was credible, he wasn't Richard O'Brien. Transcended into legend when Punt and Dennis ran the Making A Cup Of Tea game. Reports of a revival are richly deserved. Catchphrase: "If they're clever - or very, very lucky..."

COUNTDOWN (C4 1982-)
Richard Whiteley, Ted Moult, and a bevy of attractive women whose sole job is to pick cards from the right holes. And Carol Vorderman, who would in time oust all the other co-hosts. Countdown has, of course, become an institution, its format remaining unchanged until an ill- advised move to 45 minutes in 2001. Finally kicked out of its 4:30 slot this September, it looks like C4 really is going to shoot its last original format. Catchphrase: "Seven, Richard."

CATCHWORD (BBC2 1988-92)
Between announcing Countdown and devising The Enemy Within, Paul Coia paid the rent with the other teatime words and letters quiz. Bryan the computer would come up with three letters, to be included in a word, and some anagrams and synonyms, and we'd carry on in this manner for a full half hour. Winners of five shows took home a computer, but not Bryan. Catchphrase: "Pneumoultramicroscopicosilicovolcanioses."

BLOCKBUSTERS (ITV 1983-96) Bob Holness asks questions of sixth formers, but helps them out by giving the first letter of the answer. Thanks to his avuncular hosting, the polystyrene relief figures above the playing area, and the way it was on every day for six months of the year, Bob and Blockbusters became an institution. Everyone of a certain age has been on Blockbusters, including future star Jon Tickle. An adult version fronted by Michael Aspel died quickly; a more faithful revival with Liza Tarbuck wasn't renewed. Catchphrase: "I'll have a T please, Bob."

Twenty two episodes - only nineteen survive. Moira Stewart; an aspidistra (twice); a teapot. Gandor, Ganord, Angord, Dorgan, Ron Gad, Dogran. Multiply sides by colour. The Red Salamander, and it was practice that gave him the advantage. A ballad about a green football was your best offering. Best moment: Noel Edmonds plays the Vortex.


"Come On Up!" was the cry on Tuesday, when Rod Roddy, the announcer on the US PRICE IS RIGHT, passed on.

NEW NICKED! also concluded on Tuesday, and Charles Ingram was found guilty on two charges of deception over a house contents policy, the Direct Line policy he took out in 2001. Five charges, relating to a Norwich Union policy from 1997, were dismissed. Mr Ingram, who was also found guilty on NICKED! last March of conspiring to get Chris Tarrant to sign away a Huge Wodge Of Money, Cheque!, will be sentenced on November 21.

Happy birthday to Channel 4, which turns 21 tomorrow; and to Welsh counterpart S4C, 21 today.

Next week: More Time Commanders at 1845 Monday (except in Scotland, where it's 1800 Tuesday). The Mastermind Final at 2000, except in Northern Ireland, where it's not shown at all, and that's a disgrace. And Jimmy Carr introduces Distraction on Friday, where he tries to stop people from answering questions by annoying them. (C4 2240, S4C 0010)

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