Weaver's Week 2004-01-24

Weaver's Week Index

24 January 2004

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


"This programme contains grimacing, gurning, and unnecessary facial expressions" - BBC3 announcer.

HERCULES (Radar for BBC3, 2001 every day)

Way back in Greek mythology, Hercules was a bit of a hero. The son of Jupiter and Alcmena, he was not looked on favourably by Jupiter's regular wife. Hera sent some snakes to strangle the youngster, but he defeated them with his bare hands. After a night of madness, in which he killed his wife and children, Hercules paged the Oracle at Delphi, who told him to serve King Eurystheus of Tiryns for a dozen years. During that time, the king tried to get rid of Herc, setting him twelve seemingly impossible tasks. "We do not intend to rid ourselves of Hercules," said Eurystheus's Crime Minister, "we are piloting our Community Service project, by which criminals might gain redemption by their own hard work." After completing his time in Tiryns, Hercules remarried, was killed by a poisonous potion, and became a genuine minor deity.

Many thousands of years later, the Hercules myth remains potent. There have been televised dramas loosely (very loosely) based around the original myths, and a cartoon that has nothing at all to do with the Greek tales. Now a game show takes some note of the legends, but twists them to its own ends.

The concept is simple. Take twelve extreme endurance athletes - a fell runner, a biathlete, an extreme gymnast, and others. Take them to the Devon coast, and give them really, really difficult things to do. Make those really difficult things out of wood and metal, without using anything modern, and make these tasks have some vague connection to Greek mythology. Time how long everyone takes to complete the tasks. If everyone completes their task, then the slowest aggregate time leaves the show. Do something a bit clever towards the end of the run, otherwise we'll have no one left for the last show.

In concept, HERCULES is - as it probably should be - an extreme form of GLADIATORS. The events don't need a "Don't try this at home" warning because no one is going to be so stupid as to try and run on a giant hamster wheel. In execution, though, it's not quite all there.

The first problem: who are these people? Because of the nature of the events, Hercules isn't going to get the sort of household names that were tempted for SUPERSTARS. Instead, we see people who are very famous in their own sports, but those pursuits struggle to get attention in the very small print Sport In Brief sections. Hercules does its best to introduce all the contestants as the days pass, but we can't help feeling that we don't know much about the early leavers.

The next problem: how to get them from one event to the next? Hercules' answer is simple: bring the events to them. Have all the contestants live in a camp, with their support teams, and just construct the next event in the fields around the camp. This also gives the producers some footage of what goes on outside the formal events, adding to a slight sense that this is Extreme Survivor. The use of faux-Roman costume, graphics based on a marble sculpture, and a very old-fashioned on-screen typeface all add to the sense that this is Event Television.

The format of the show means that it's natural to concentrate on those facing elimination from the event. This makes for good television, as we don't have to worry too much about places in the middle of the pack, and concentrate on two or three people. However, when fifteen minutes separates last from last-but- one, and last-but-two is only three minutes clear, tension is heightened by looking at all three people. For the voice off to say the day before that the race for elimination is between the last two rather diminishes the chance of an upset. Similarly, it's not always clear how the time gap translates into performance in today's event.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Hercules was the way that one day's events dominated the entire competition. The opening day's event, Hang Tough, had a spread of hours between first and last. All other events tended to have a spread of perhaps 90 minutes, and the big gaps on the first day were still in evidence a week later when the format changed. Was this by design, or was it an unfortunate over-estimation of the competitors' strengths? And was the change of format part-way through the contest a reaction to that problem?

The voice off is that of Paul Darrow, who rose to fame in the late 70s through seminal sci-fi drama BLAKE'S SEVEN. He has a very clear voice, he carefully enunciates every syllable, he speaks with dignity and care, and tends to be rather soporific. There's nothing wrong with Mr Darrow's work, but the lack of variety tends to bore this viewer, and make the show drag a little. We would probably have benefited from a second commentator, perhaps to give statistics and other background information. Radio shows know not to use the same voice for more than about twenty minutes without a break, perhaps the television voice off industry would benefit from that advice.

It can eventually be noted that, in addition to being verbose and slow, the event commentary for each day's labour begins with the phrase "It can immediately be noticed." This is not a coincidence.

The music used on the show has been culled from various existing works, and as there's no credit for "Music," it's fair to assume that none has been specially written. One of producer Gary Monaghan's previous works, Banzai, also featured liberal doses of library music.

Over the course of the twelve days, we've seen some outstanding performances by all the participants. They've pushed themselves to the limit, and in some cases beyond the limit. While the television presentation has a few flaws, these are all of a relatively minor presentational nature, and shouldn't overshadow a quality effort.


List One: Hercules' tasks from Eurystheus

1) Bring the skin of the Lion of Nemea

2) Kill the Hydra of Argos
3) Bring alive the Hind of Cerynitis.
4) Bring alive the Boar of Erymanthis.
5) In one day, clean out the Stables of Augeas.
6) Chase away the Birds of Stymphalia.
7) Bring the Bull of Crete.

8) Bring the Mares of Diomedes of Thrace.
9) Bring the Girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
10) Bring the Oxen of Geryon.
11) Bring the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.
12) Bring Cerberus of Hades.

List Two: The tasks on HERCULES

1) The Hoops Of Odysseus. Or, hang around on the Hang Tough apparatus for 100 minutes.
2) The Wheel Of Ixion. Or, run an entire marathon uphill by turning an oversized hamster wheel 4000 times.

3) The Ladder Of Hades. Or, climb a couple of ladders and slide back down 700 times.
4) The Anchor Of The Argonauts. Or, raise an anchor 800 times.
5) The Rocks Of Deucalion. Or, chuck a rock 9000 metres. And bring it back.
6) The Oar Of Hercules. Or, row 70,000 metres.
7) The Chase Of Apollo. Or, wade 20,000 metres through a wet ditch.
8) The Chariots Of Helios. Or, pull a heavy chariot round a track 400 times.

9) The Wrath Of Poseidon. Or, drop water in your opponent's tank via a Heath- Robinson contraption.
10) The Torment Of Theseus. Or, hold your breath underwater for 150 minutes.
11) Ascent To Olympus. Or, build a stairway of 1200 concrete blocks.
12) The Twelfth Labour. Or, we have run out of ideas, so repeat bits of days 2, 3, and 5.

List Three: Twelve Impossible Game Show Tasks.

1) Visit all locations ever seen on Treasure Hunt.
2) Take one of Peter Simon's Physical Challenges.
3) Count how often Chris Tarrant uses each of his catchphrases.

4) Walk 433 miles from William G. Stewart's house to Bill McKaig's.
5) Be the new Interceptor.
6) Find a channel showing Robert Kilroy Shaft's "Silked."
7) Devise a good primetime game show for ITV.
8) Explain the rules to The Vault in under 50 words.
9) Speak a tongue twister faster and more accurately than Nick Rowe.

10) Understand the rules to Quizzlestick and Gridlock.
11) Complete the Surely Impossible Way Of The Warrior.
12) Sit through one episode of University Challenge without falling asleep or barracking the host.

List four: Twelve Minor Celebrities for Ich Bin Ein Star Holt Mich Hier Raus 3.

1) Mike Read. That bloke who didn't play Frankie Goes To The Bank that time.
2) Jordan. That bloke who drove an old red car.
3) Alex Best. That bloke who didn't win Big Brother 3. Oh, hang on, that was Alex Sibley, as seen in the Minor Celeb Spot on Beat The Nation.
4) Neil Ruddock. That bloke who scored a few goals once.

5) John Lydon. That bloke who was an anarchist, and an antichrist, and is now a bit of a sellout.
6) Jennie Bond. That woman who wants to be a minor royal.
7) Diane Modahl. That woman who was Jet. Oh, hang on, that was Diane Youdale.
8) Kerry McFadden. That woman who was in Atomic Kitten before they were famous. Oh, hang on, that was Heidi Sugababe. No, that *was* Ms McFadden.
9) Lord Brocket. That aristocrat from Chigley. Oh, hang on, that was Lord Belborough, and his butler was Brocket. No, *that* was Brackett.
10) Peter Andre. That bloke who was famously insulted live on national television.

11) Antan Dec. That bloke with two heads.
12) Mark Durden-Smith and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. That pair ruined Junior Eurovision, cocked up the Comedy Awards, and will get the So Bad It's Good award.

More lists some other time, perhaps.


Second Round, Match 3: Gonville & Caius Cambridge -v- Strathclyde

Both tonight's sides won in big-scoring games. Strathclyde beat St Hugh's Oxford 195-150 in the season opener, while G&C bested a strong Reading side 210- 140 at the end of November. In the repechage, Reading beat Hugh by a nose.

Some bright spark reckons it would be fair to ask Strathclyde about English monarchs called Edward. The response is pithy.

Q: Edward I, or the Hammer of the Scots, was the son of which monarch?
Strathclyde: "Some other nasty bastard"

This column has no objection to bonuses that rubbish the Daily Hell, but it does object to long quotations that drone on without any obvious question at the end of them before suddenly asking for "cricket." This column does rather object to questions asking sides to name the sequel from the original film's poster, mainly because this column does not do movies. After the pictures, Strathclyde is 75-25 ahead.

There's actually a good rhythm to this week's contest, the sides don't confer for long and take guesses rather than straight passes. This can lead to a few points on Bill's Maxim, and keeps the pressure on. The audio round is not too bad a mess, three pieces of classical music play in succession, and the teams name the composer and two of ... Those Tunes. It takes an eternity to play, and spoils the rhythm of the game. Strathclyde leads 100-90 after the audio round finally completes, fully three minutes and 56 seconds later. The complete playing time this week is 25 minutes and 4 seconds, so this exercise in tedium occupies almost a sixth of the show.

G&C impresses by defining the area around one's home, or surrounding a seaport, as the "Hinterland." Just two starters between the audio and the second picture, and the lead changes hand three times. The aggregate passes 250 during this round, G&C leads 140-120.

Thumper loses his cool after someone suggests Baudillerre wrote "Madame Bovary," claiming this to be "one of the biggest boo-boos we've had on this show for some time." Indeed, it's perhaps the biggest since the audio round this week.

G&C has a 50 point lead with two minutes to play, but Strathclyde goes hell-for- leather on its next set of bonuses. G&C gets the next starter, and has clinched the win, 195-140. This week's winners will go very far indeed, and has to be a strong contender for overall victory.

Lameen Souag led the Cambridge side to victory, with 84.8 points. The side made one missignal and 24/30 bonuses, swept the board four times, and correctly answered at least one from each set of bonuses. Ian McQuade was the best for Strathclyde, contributing 67.4 points as the side made 14/24 bonuses and two missignals. The only completely dropped bonuses: the ones on English monarchs that started the show. Questions weren't unusually easy this week, this column claims 200 points, 60% of the show aggregate; that 335 total is the sixth highest of the series. Had the audio round been a decent length, perhaps two minutes instead of four, the average could easily have been 360.

Another strong contender for overall victory next week, as the repechage final pits St John's Oxford -v- Reading


Updating a story from three weeks ago: the BBC will be MAKING YOUR MIND UP about which country won't be hosting Eurovision 2004 on February 28. Performers on the night will include a tone deaf parrot they found down Camden Market, Dermot O'Leary, Brendan from Pop Idle 2, and Terry Wogan himself.

Next week: a new Series of Minor Celebrity Torture And Bickering (aka Ich Bin Ein Star) mit uberpresenteren Antan Dec; Ali Griffin and Tony Wilson on Never Mind the Buzzcocks; the grand final of Beat the Cyborgs; et Julian Lepers cherchez pour le plus bon champignon.

Weaver's Week: in any language, it's nonsense.

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