Weaver's Week 2003-11-29


There is some good, uplifting, news in this week's Week. It may be quite difficult to find.

(With credit to John Hooper writing in The Guardian, 20 November)

Randi Ingerman lives in Milan with her Italian companion and manager, Luca Bestetti. She's a moderately famous "soubrette" - a sort of slightly erotic model. On October 9, a friend invited Ms Ingerman into a jeweller's shop.

An actor working for a television programme, posing as a clairvoyant, began to recount her details of her life. According to this fraud, Ms Ingerman's husband was having an affair with another woman. Later, the model was then accused of stealing from the shop.

What she later described as her "torture" continued for two hours. Eventually, a television host came out, and said it was all a hoax. Ms Ingerman went berserk, smashing display cabinets in the shop to get at the concealed cameras. The jewellery shop is now reportedly suing the programme for EUR 100,000, as compensation for the damage it suffered.

The programme in question is Scherzi a Parte. It's a more glitzy version of Candid Camera, and airs on one of the three television channels owned by Mediaset, and ultimately by Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

The damage went beyond five minutes' rage. "I was pregnant," said Ingerman. "Immediately after the prank, I lost blood. Then I lost the child I was expecting."

Amongst others, the Italian Parents' Movement has called for the show to be taken off the air, and darkly warned that if Mediaset failed to take action it would try to persuade advertisers to cancel their commercials. "It is unacceptable to barter human life for audience ratings," said the movement's president, Maria Rita Munizzi.

Berlusconi's programme-makers didn't apologise to Ms Ingerman. Instead, they went on a charmless offensive. Like Beadle's About ten years ago, Scherzi a Parte consists of two elements - filmed sequences and then a studio recording during which the "jokes" are replayed to the "victims" so that their reactions can be filmed.

The producers of the programme said: "Having approved the editing, she then took part in the studio recording, appearing to join in the spirit of the programme before and after the showing of the filmed sequence. Not even between the recording of the programme and its transmission did she rescind her consent which had been implicitly given by her participation in the programme."

Ms Ingerman disagrees with this version of events, citing errors in how the footage was edited. She also asked for - and didn't get - a chance to put her side of the story. "They made me look like a mad woman without showing the torture that I was subjected to. I wanted them to take out the slaps I had given in my fury and to explain that it was all because of the intense stress," she said in an Italian newspaper.

"I took part in the recording without knowing exactly the content of the 'prank' and without knowing if the changes that I had asked for had been made. Above all, though, I did so because I was still pregnant then. My pregnancy ended the following day."

Regardless of why Ms Ingerman miscarried, it is clear that the "joke" played on her was a lot closer to studied mental cruelty than to entertainment. Bad enough for anyone to be accused of theft, let alone a public figure for whom prosecution would spell humiliation and ruin. Bad enough for anyone to be told that their partner was cheating, let alone a woman who has had a stable, 11- year relationship.

Ms Ingerman will pursue Mediaset in court. This is not an attempt to boost her career - taking on the corporation that runs all three of Italy's main commercial television channels and exerts a huge influence over made-for-TV movie production would tend to be commercial suicide.

DISTRACTION (Thames Talkback for C4, 2240 Friday)

Ruth Wrigley has produced many, many good shows. Big Brother 1-3, they were good. The Big Breakfast circa 1993, that was very good. Wanted 1, that wasn't simply good, that was ground-breaking television. In its way, Ms Wrigley's latest production is also ground-breaking.

Jimmy Carr is our host, so already the show is on the back foot. Mr Carr's previous credits include being the less entertaining host on the interesting YOUR FACE OR MINE, and being caught in the glare of the autocue while auditioning to be the new Angus Deayton. His style on this show is to make asides and little one-liners. His contract, it appears, calls these "witty and slightly vulgar." This column suggests the word "cruel" would be more appropriate, along with a choice selection of Anglo-Saxon epithets.

The studio is well decorated, and made to look like the library in a Georgian mansion. Two walls of the studio contain bookcases: one of these bookcases slides open to reveal a large square platform, on which the contestants glide into the studio. Mr Carr then introduces the contestants, states an embarrassing fact, and asks them to figure out to whom that fact applies. So far, so good: the slightly embarrassing fact is nothing much new, and the sliding platform and bookcases is a very good piece of visual television.

Mr Carr now asks some simple questions. The contestant with the fewest correct answers at the end of each round leaves, until only one remains, and that person has won the night's big prize.

However, there's a catch the size of London here. While the contestants are answering, they are distracted by physical pain. In one recent round, contestants didn't use buzzers, but put their fingers on mousetraps and waved them about to answer. In others, they were beaten up by bullies, and shot at by paintballers. If it's not physical torment, it's strange dietary habits - contestants have been encouraged to put maggots and sheep's testicles into their mouth.

This column has long argued that television does not shape society, but holds up a mirror to society. What does this tell us about contemporary society? That someone, somewhere, thinks that they can make a quick buck out of showing other people suffering. It's nothing new, Jeremy Beadle did the same thing for much of the 90s, Candid Camera proved amazingly popular thirty years ago, and people in Italy still enjoy this type of show. Real pain being inflicted on real people has been popular in Japan for many years. Whether this become popular in the UK remains to be seen.

Mr Carr attempts to make light of the situation by cracking his feeble jokes. They do help to keep the show moving, but the poor quality of too many of the gags - and his gratuitous use of bad language - helps to keep the show at a mediocre-to-rubbish level.

Eventually, after three rounds of doing hurtful things, someone emerges the winner, and is given a large prize - a brand new car, a large stash of money, or thereabouts. However, they then have to gamble the prize against five questions - for each question incorrectly answered, some of the prize is burned or otherwise damaged.

When Beadle was pulling his practical stunts, commentators had a running joke that someone, sometime, would punch the man's lights out. We never saw it happen, the researchers had done their homework, chosen exactly the point to stop the wind-ups, and sought clearance from their victim. This column is only slightly surprised that no contestant has been shown punching Mr Carr's f@~!in' lights out - such gratuitous physical violence is an alarmingly close fit to the format of Distraction, and would make an almost appropriate climax for the show.

Instead, the viewer is left with a sense of opportunities wasted. Producer Ruth Wrigley has done better. Programme maker Talkback, previously run by Griff Rhys- Jones and Mel Smith, but now sold to Fremantle Media and ultimately owned by Carlton, has done better. Channel 4 has done better. Jimmy Carr, yes, he's done better. Even the basic idea, asking people simple questions while distracting them, can be done better - as we saw in BBC1's THE CHAIR last year. That made for rather dull viewing, but it was clearly done in a relatively friendly manner.

This column reckons Distraction is even worse than that show where people can win a holiday home. Place In The Sun is brainless entertainment; Distraction is brainless, and it doesn't entertain.


Opening round, match 11: Reading -v- Gonville & Caius Cambridge

G&C won the Cambridge Intercollegiate quiz last year, Thumper doesn't make it clear whether it was this side. And, for the first time in millennia, he doesn't sprout on about how no side has won the contest thrice.

Reading hasn't learned the solution to any question about an ancient Babylonian city - say "er" and be correct, because the answer is "Ur."

In fairness, that's just about the only thing Reading doesn't know, as they're 45 points up at the first picture round, and it's beginning to look like as much of a walkover as tonight's 19 KEYS. However, one chameleon and one outbreak of Potter fandom later, it's a game again. Easy bonuses to G&C are like saying, "Let them eat cake."

The music round is how the title characters in operas meet their deaths. This column isn't sure which titular character passes away through tuberculosis. G&C's collection of four scientists is even less suited to bonuses on verse forms.

Reading picks up its hometown question - well, the question about the Magic Roundabout, to which the answer is Swindon, just down the road and the object of a significant football rivalry. Reading also picks up the "how closely have you been listening to Thumper drone on about Oxbridge colleges" starter, but no points from the "When in doubt about Canadian Arctic islands, say 'Baffin'" rule. The sides briefly draw level, but G&C has the lead for the rest of the time.

Reading creeps past Wolfson's score to make it onto the repechage board, and fully deserves to come back. Equally, G&C deserves to win this game, and the 210-140 scoreline is only slightly flattering. This was a good game, and it would be justice to see both sides again.

Rosemary Warner led the G&C charge, scoring 69.2 points as the side made 20/36 bonuses and two missignals. Reading's points came from Scott Tatchell's 62, the side had 12/24 bonuses and no missignals. This column claims 215 points, just over 60% of the teams' total.

Has Reading done enough? St John's has. 175 St John's Oxford | 160 Hull 150 St Hugh's Oxford 140 Reading


Those who tuned into Pop Idle two weeks ago were mildly entertained to find Antan Dec had suddenly turned into an overbearing man with a mid-Atlantic accent and a lady in a silver dress. Viewers were surprised to find the set had suddenly sprouted a crowd of 6,000 and some glass baubles overhead. When the show began with quality performances in a foreign language, the viewer's suspicions were confirmed: this wasn't Pop Idle, this was Junior Eurovision.

There are those who complain about Terry Wogan on the BBC, but ITV's hosting was poor-to-rubbish. Tara Palmer-Tompkinson and Mark Durden-Smith talked all over the hosts, gabbed through some of the songs, urged the viewers to vote tactically, and explained the SMS voting over songs in the recap. With no entry by any francophone country, the presentation ran entirely in English, or some vague approximation thereof from the UK commentators. ITV has yet to show anyone being awarded dix points. In spite of these glitches, and the show running over time following one country trying to award eleven points, a good night was had by all. Britain scored some points, which becomes the best result this year, Belarus made a strong debut, and the right Croat won. Britain hosts on November 20 next year, probably at the GMEX centre in Manchester. TPT and IDS are taking language lessons already.


The International Emmy awards were handed out this week, recognising the best television anywhere on the planet. 12 Yard's Without Prejudice? (C4 and Challenge) won the Popular Arts (Unscripted) category. This column is really, really pleased about that, and did say right at the start that there was some good and uplifting news.

19 KEYS introduced a new rule, almost on the hoof, this week. When one game reaches a premature conclusion, because someone wins after about 12 minutes, start a new game before the end of the show. Is this turning into the new BLOCKBUSTERS?

Buoyed with the critical success of 19 Keys, Channel Five quietly announced some of its programming ideas for 2004. Survivors from the likes of Big Brother and Pop Idle will compete in The Ultimate Reality Show, living together in a house for up to three weeks early next year, with interactive facilities available. Swag and International King of Sports are certain to return, but Swapheads won't, and there's no news of more Mole.

Not much new on the box this week, Raven moves to 0730 on BBC2 - the second series begins on CBBC next week, there's no 19 Keys on Thursday, and there are highlights of Who Wants To Govern California (At Least Until Next Year's Election) on BBC4 at 2130 Monday. That's straight after Mind Games.

And don't forget, you can watch the best popular unscripted show anywhere on the planet at 9pm tonight on Challenge. If the memory serves correctly, it's the lap dancer tonight. Spoiler! Oh.

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