Weaver's Week 2004-05-01

Weaver's Week Index

1 May 2004

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

Four! - Weaver's Week

Now we are four.


Pat Gibson is not a household name. He is, however, rated by Quizzing.co.uk as their best player, and no-one's ever been able to say that if they weren't very good indeed.

And so it came to pass that, last Saturday night, ITV viewers finally saw Pat Gibson become the fifth person to leave Millionaire Towers with a cheque for one million pounds, and the fourth person in a position to cash that cheque.

Pat's performance was just about perfect - he went quickly through the opening questions, asked the audience on a question they could answer, and saved two lifelines for the last three questions. Indeed, such was Pat's depth of knowledge that he saved the last two lifelines for Question One Million, and used them both to make absolutely certain he knew the answer.

We look forward to seeing Pat on the next series of Eggheads. Er.

BLANK SCREEN (ITV, late night weekends)

Is there a televisual equivalent of the Advertising Standards Agency? If one turns on one's magic telly box to watch a show called "Blank Screen," one might reasonably expect to see nothing. Perhaps a small dot in the middle of the screen, or a dash at the top right corner, but not a gigantic spinning logo to remind us that we're watching nothing.

The game, such as it is, involves watching the screen, waiting for a question to come up. While we're waiting, a voice-off (Markus Birdman, says the credit) reminds us what to do. As if we hadn't guessed already. Entry is by SMS message alone, and players must send off the answer to the question by 5pm Sunday. This gives at least 12, and in some cases almost 36, hours to enter. Long enough for a dedicated player to tape the show and find the answer at their leisure.

How to improve this game: take a tip out of the makers of Banzai, and put on some amazingly cheesy backing music. Perhaps they can fit in a small picture of a young girl playing noughts and crosses with a clown, but maybe that's pushing our luck a bit too far.

WIN LOSE OR DRAW LATE (Scottish for ITV, 2335 We and Fr)

Way back in the early 90s, a televised version of Pictionary filled ITV's morning schedules for half an hour before Richard and Judy. There were some big stars involved - Danny Baker would often hot-foot over from the Radio 5 studios to host the show, while Shane Richie gave up Run The Risk for this, a bit of a trade down, we reckon, and what's happened to him since, eh? Bob Mills stamped his identity on the programme before it suffered an untimely cancellation for yet more episodes of Trisha. Or was it Vanessa? Who cares, it was a load of hot air and it was more boring than a large drill.

Six years later, ITV has finally recognised that they made a bit of a blunder and re-commissioned the show. We're giving you fair warning, that means Shafted will be back on your screens circa 2008. Be very worried!

But back to the show, and it's now hosted by Liza Tarbuck. Liza was a regular on the daytime show, and knows the rules as well as anyone. There's still one team of gentlemen, and one team of ladies. Unlike the daytime show, where four celebs would be on for a week, joined by a different member of the public each day, we now have two permanent celeb captains (Sue Perkins and Ed Hall) and an ever-revolving cast of other players. Because they're no longer playing for cash, the scores have been divided by ten, and there's no quick-draw finale, unless there is and we missed it through falling asleep.

That's the problem with Win Lose Or Draw, whether played early or late. It's great if you're playing along, and there's some tinkley music to accompany the answer on and off the screen. (It would be far greater if the tinkles were to coincide with the appearance and disappearance of the answer, but let's not be too picky. Actually, yes, let's be that picky.) If you're only casually watching, it can become a little bit tedious. Without the finale to speed up the pulse, the show tends to disappear into its own drawing board.

Messers Baker and Mills, in particular, were known for their inimitable hosting styles, and it would have been wrong for Ms Tarbuck to attempt to copy them. Instead, she hosts the show a little bit like she hosted Sky's revival of Blockbusters a few years ago - doing the job, remaining firmly in charge, but letting the programme develop at its own pace.

The late night slot allows for some more deliberately risqué items to be drawn (one rather obvious entry was the popular beat combo "Barenaked Ladies"), but these cheap laughs don't really make any impression on the format.

Overall, it's good to see the show back on television, and surely a version appropriate for the 5pm slot can't be too far behind,

TOTALLY TOP TRUMPS (Princess Productions for Challenge, 1800 and 2200 weeknights)

For those of you too young to remember it from first time round, or who haven't been given a pack as a stocking filler, or who don't have an intimate knowledge of British pop culture minutiae, Top Trumps is a fun and entertaining card game for between two and six players. The players are dealt a pack of themed cards, such as "Fighter Aircraft," each of which is rated in half a dozen categories. For instance, "Formula One Racers" might be rated by year first race, number of pole positions, number of wins, points scored, races run, number of finishes, interest factor. The player would look at their top card, list a statistic they thought they could win in, and the highest card in that category would win, and choose the next category. First player to take all the cards is the winner.

To add to the entertainment, each card contains a brief description of its contents; the card from the "Political Pundits" pack for Peter Snow says

"Revived the swingometer, flaps his hands about, sings very low." In recent years, the format has been revived, and there are specialist packs for pop culture phenomena such as "Buffy" and "The Simpsons," and old classics such as "The Beano."

But what has all this got to do with anything, other than padding out what would otherwise be an unusually thin column? Challenge TV, in its latest attempt to find a winning but cheap game show, has commissioned a television series loosely based on the card game. The emphasis is more on the cheap than the winning, but not by much.

There are four rounds to the show. In the opening segment, our teams are given four things and a category, and simply have to name the top trump. Which of these Premier League teams has scored the most goals? Which has the most fans in London? Round two is almost completely unrelated, featuring as it does lists of items, and the panel being invited to buzz in and name the category they're all from.

Round three follows the commercial break (and inevitable teaser for the audience). In this round, some people are invited into the studio to perform a brief stunt, and the teams have to write down who they think will win the challenge. In the final round, the host gives an item and a number, with the teams having to work out how they relate. So, for instance, if "Manchester United" and "Nil" appear together, Danny Baker will be very pleased.

Danny Baker, however, is not the calibre of celebrity that Challenge can afford just yet. The host is Andy Goldstein, and the regular captains are Rob Deering and Dan Clark. All three gentlemen look familiar from somewhere, but we can't quite place our finger on it. The appearance of Bob Llewellyn (Rotten Roger's sniggering sidekick from Scrapheap Challenge) was about as high profile as the series has made.

No expense has been spent on the scores, which are ably chalked up by TV quiz regular and resident boffin Jack Waley-Cohen on his blackboard. Curiously, the buzzers used in round two are replaced by "entertaining" musical instruments in the final round. They're not entertaining, nor are they particularly musical.

A serious, geeky show would be wrong on so many levels - Top Trumps has always been a fun game, originally depending as much on the luck of the draw as the skill of the players. A show played straight, perhaps without an audience, would be great. A comedy show along the lines of They Think it's All Over would be about right, too. However, this television treatment doesn't quite fit the bill of comedy - there's too much fluff, too much filler, and not enough laughs. When the show is funny - for instance, when Mr Waley-Cohen is explaining how the rappers should have concentrated on their rhymes and not on their rapping - it is thoroughly entertaining. Sadly, these bright spots are a little too few and far between.

In summary: this a very promising format that doesn't quite know whether to be pure entertainment or comedy, and falls between the two stools. It's worth tightening up and renewing.


Strange scenes on Saturday's "Have A Go." First, we see a clip of some allegedly-popular singer (a Rob Williams, apparently) to introduce a question about the annual rich list, on which the chanter, er, does not appear. Then a question about the M6 Toll Road, which has (according to this lot) been built on pulped romance novels. Curiously, a BBC In The Midlands report later in the week said that it had been constructed out of garden gnomes. There's a query requiring knowledge of Sybil's ailments in Fawlty Towers, perhaps too esoteric for any but the closest observer of BBC comedies. Host Nicky Campbell takes so long reading out his answers that the ten seconds elapse before he reads out the last answer. He also gives the prize fund during the first quiz, proving that (this week, at least) the whole show is live. For the first time, the prize is also displayed on the whiz-bang electronic scoreboard thing that otherwise displays the show's overlong and intrusive name.

The BBC has published its plans for the rest of the year, and BBC1's schedule will include interactive shows "like 'Have A Go'." Beebologists can compare and contrast against the commitment for a second series of QI.

ITV has confirmed the return of THE VAULT for a run right through the summer from May 11. We're not sure how many episodes will fall to the great god football in June, but the series is scheduled for 17 (count 'em!) weeks. Mel "Mel In Black" Sykes will start the series in the chair, but we know she's pregnant, and this might allow "Earth Mother" Davina McCall to reprise her role later in the run. It's the first regularly-scheduled weeknight prime time game show since Millionaire went once-a-week in autumn 2002 (no, we can't count the irregular Russian Roulette), and the first since Britain's Brainiest at the start of that year.

Channel 4 has quietly let slip its plans for the rest of the summer. Some elements in game show punditry had been wondering if Big Brother 5: Pithy Description Here would be held over until July, so that it didn't go head-to- head with England's matches in the European football championships. That's not going to happen, and BB5: PDH will launch in the time-honoured slot of The Last Friday In May. That's May 28, and by one of those curious coincidences, is also the date C4 will air the final episode of hit sitcom Friends. In turn, this means that the grand final will fall on July 30, right at the start of the cricket test series against the West Indies.

Speaking of cricket, Henry Blofeld is on Countdown all week, please send cakes to the Kirkstall Road End, Leeds. The third series of Innit Ter Winnnit with Dale Winnitton kicks off at 1950 tonight, and we understand Roy Hattersley will not make Wednesday's repeat of HIGNFY, mainly because the show first aired eleven years ago. Call yourselves a topical news quiz?

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in