Weaver's Week 2004-08-21

Weaver's Week Index

21 August 2004

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land. ' Games Without Front Ears - Weaver's Week

Are there some games on or something?

HOUSE OF GAMES (Zigzag for Challenge, 1700 weekdays)

We're not entirely sure that this is as much a game show as an entertainment, but it's this year's Challenge production, and it helps pad out what would otherwise be a very thin column, so we're not arguing too much.

The show is set in a "typical" family house. It's so typical that it looks remarkably like the house from Channel 5's BACK TO REALITY show from this spring. Mike McClean hosts the show, he has the looks of Harry Enfield's creation Smashie (or was it Nicey?), and he has the cheese factor and the cliches of Alan Partridge. He's joined for commentary by Sid Waddell, formerly of the darts and at least one episode of one of the lottery shows. Lucy Arrowsmith, a fitness instructor, is also involved.

The events are loosely based on genuine sporting events, but with a slight and subtle twist. Actually, that's not quite correct. The twist is large and not at all subtle. All the games are played using household equipment.

For instance, rather than having a weightlift using weights, the weightlifting event is played using a broom-handle and plates. The swimming takes place in the garden pool, while the cycling uses children's bicycles in the garden. Plant pots are putted, rather than heavy metal balls, while the ski-jump takes place on the stair banister. The final event is the obstacle course relay, where the usual metal baton is replaced by a rolling pin. And so it goes.

Comparisons with Channel 4's THE GAMES are spurious. Both shows are based on sporting activity, and both shows are presented in a far-too-serious manner, but that's where the comparison ends. People do actual training for The Games, while House of Games... er... Perhaps comparisons with the BBC's SUPERSTARS are less out of place. Both shows are presented as real sport, and presented as though they're more important than life or death, but neither is particularly serious. House Of Games, though, does realise that it's all a bit of fun.

Perhaps the closest comparison is with Channel 5's INTERNATIONAL KING OF SPORTS. That show also took the standard sporting events, but presented them with a twist. Then, the twist was the unusual nature of events - the hopping hurdles, or the standing high jump, using regular equipment. Now, the events are usual, but the apparatus has changed. By one of those quirks of scheduling, IKOS returns next Tuesday.

At thirty minutes, the show is short enough to be self-contained, and doesn't drag anything like as badly as SIMPLY THE BEST. There's some chat with the contestants, where IKOS had spurious statistics and impressive-but-meaningless claims. Each show features four different games from a selection of about ten, meaning that there isn't too much repetition between the episodes; even so, watching five in a row on a Saturday morning is more than any sane viewer could stand.

In the final analysis, House of Games is light, fluffy entertainment, it doesn't take itself at all seriously, and every show ends with a very good sight-joke during the closing credits.


Politics is this week's panel-beater. Again. The first First Minister of Scotland stumped thirteen people, as did the current Prime Minister of New Zealand. Donald Dewar and Helen Clarke were the answers, and she's got to be the most successful Big Brother contestant ever.

From the Daft Answers file

Q: The Lanchid Bridge crosses the Danube in which country?
A: Czechoslovakia

We were half expecting someone to offer Bohemia before the correct answer of Hungary. Surely we've seen the Alexander the Great question before.

Q: What name is given to the elaborate tombs in which the Egyptians placed
their dead?
A: Tombs.
A: Tombs.
A: Caskets.

Sarcophagi was the answer this lot were never going to get, but do please listen to the previous speaker!

Jess, the only female competitor amongst the five - and the best of them - is the one to make the final, but she gets tripped up on the apes in Gibraltar, then by the Speaker of the Commons. It's politics again! Barbary apes and - though she got "Martin," Gabby wanted his full name, Michael Martin.

The home caller is a gentleman called Ray, from Guernsey. He gets stuck on the first unseen question, the locker at the bottom of the ocean. Forty seconds is a very long time to fill.

Owing to poor viewing figures for the following programme, the seventeenth and final episode of The Vault (scheduled for 30 August) has been pulled. Next week's edition is therefore the season finale.


All out brawling in a California court, where NBC and Fox have been arguing about some boxing. GE-owned NBC has spent millions of dollars employing Dreamworks television and Mark Burnett to film THE CONTENDER, a show that's a bit like Survivor, only with boxers. The Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox spent slightly fewer millions buying up THE NEXT GREAT CHAMP from Endemol and Lock and Key, a show that's a bit like Survivor, only with boxers.

NBC attacked, claiming that Fox should be stopped from using "film of any boxing match that wasn't legally promoted... It would be terribly damaging to the sport, to our show, and to all the participants if anyone were to profit from or gain an unfair advantage by breaking the law." Mark Burnett, the famous producer of SURVIVOR, said that his show had followed every rule and regulation mandated by the state, and added "They left us no choice but to file legal action. Their show has flouted the law by not having licensed promoters stage the fights." Fox counter-attacked with the punchy "We believe these claims are without merit."

There was no result in the court room, they'll come back for a proper fight early next month.

It's all out brawling in the august pages of the Radio Times, too. The official organ of the BBC carries an interview with Des Lynam, the original host of THEY THINK IT'S ALL OVER. Mr Lynam, promoting his return to the beeb, says that he really hates BIG BROTHER, and would like to do something even nastier to Simon Cowell. "I'd like to punch him now! This minute! I would punch him. That's his game... he wants, almost wants, to be punched. "He's earning millions out of people wanting to punch him, but I'll be one of the first in the queue... I'd like to go and punch that geek."

Still on the topic of "hope they don't get too badly hurt," we have a tale of woe from down under. Dean from Melbourne appeared on THE PRICE IS RIGHT, spun the wheel, only to have the handle come swinging back at him and smashed him on the noggin. Our hero knocked himself to the ground, split his head, bled all over the set, and had to be carted off in an ambulance, where he had to have five stitches in the wound. "Larry said to give the wheel a big spin, and as I did the handle cracked me on the head. The wheel was heavy. It had concrete in it, I reckon. I was seeing stars for a while. They took me out back and tried to control the bleeding until the ambulance came. My wife finished playing for me."


This year's BRAIN OF BRITAIN is shaping up to be a head-to-head amongst two GRAND SLAM contestants. Gavin Fuller fell in the semis of the Nick Rowe-and- hangers-on quiz, to Michael Penrice, but won a very close heat of BOB last month. This week Olav Bjortomt (who fell to eventual champ Clive Spate in the quarters) had a more easy ride through his first round match. The two champions may clash in the semi-finals during October, but hopefully it'll be in the November 1 final.

Eurovision news: ITV has given up hosting rights to the Junior Eurovision contest, scheduled for the autumn. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the event will air live on ITV2, with a next-day repeat on the main ITV channel.

Elsewhere, there's an article critical of the process for the main UK Eurovision selection. Writing in The Stage, Dave Eager told how he tried to enter a song for the competition. Route one was the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers, which wasn't satisfactory: "Having paid the £70 entrance fee you assign all the rights of the song including the decision on who performs it to the academy but an entry does not guarantee consideration for Eurovision. Only if you enter the contemporary pop category do you have a possible chance to be considered by the BBC. If your song fits into the ballad or pop category it won't be considered." Route two is directly to the BBC, but the corporation is still scratching its heads about how to carry out the process, and will "place adverts in the trade press."

This column reckons that the current routes don't work, and we may as well go for broke. Commission one or two very good songwriters with a Eurovision pedigree (say, Alistair Griffin and Catherine Porter) who can tailor their work to a number of quality pop singers (so no more Pop Idle rejects, though we might let Paris Campbell-Edwards in), and submit those to the Grate British Public. The songs have to be of such high standards that the GBP can't pick a bad song because every tune is good. If the UK carries on at this rate, then we're most unlikely to be staging the concert again.


Back in June, we outlined a metric that might help judge Countdown contestants' performance within their games. The Par Score is the score that a good but not outstanding player would offer over a game. In an analogy with golf, we define anyone performing better than par as returning a minus score.

Amongst champions who have completed their qualifying games, the following seedings, game scores, and scores to par have been recorded:

1) Jack Welsby (8w, 831pts, -55) Jack's performance is clearly the best since Stewart Holden in the last series. Unlikely to be lower than second seed.
2) David Thirlwall (8w, 704pts, +61) Thanks to cricket and the last Finals Week, David took from June 8 until July 1 to complete his eight wins.
3) Malcolme Major (3w, 348pts, +15) It's a long gap from second to third, and there's a slim chance that Malcolme might make Finals Week.
4) Ian Laird (3w, 342pts, +35) Had Ian come across a nine-letter word in his four games, he would have taken the higher seeding. Them's the breaks.
5) John Stitcher (3w, 326pts, +13) A quality opponent, who had the ill-luck to come across Mr Welsby.
6) Angela Jones (2w, 214pts, +37) Looked set to go far, but came across Mr Major.

7) Margaret Winning (1w, 178pts, +24) Played superbly to beat Mr Laird, but lost the next match to Ian McLellan.
8) Khalid Mahmood (1w, 153pts, +28) Lucky to come just after Mr Welsby, unlucky to lose the second game after out-declaring Mr Matheson.

The other champions this series are Bob Matheson (1w, 152pts, +44) and Ian McLellan (1w, 145pts, +20). The current champion is Marcus Alderton (2w, 161pts, +33).

Though there are still 82 qualifying games, the top two seeds are surely certain to make Finals Week. The best four-game winner has made the finals in each of the last three series, but it's still a little too early to say if that pace will be repeated.

For those who care about such things, the average Par score in this season is just over 103; the average winner is declaring for 98.


The BBC's terrestrial game show coverage next week is limited to one old HIGNFY and two new episodes of HEAD JAM, all on BBC2. The best show the BBC makes all week, RAVEN, continues on CBBC, and James Mackenzie will be on the channel around the programme - he'll be taking calls after Thursday's episode, so do set your videos. As mentioned earlier, Tuesday sees the return of INTERNATIONAL KING OF SPORTS and the very last VAULT, and Challenge viewers will see Mike Pomfrey's Million Pound Question early this week. A Mrs Ingram from Wiltshire may also appear.

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