Weaver's Week 2005-01-30

Weaver's Week Index


30 January 2005

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

An interesting development on Challenge this week - the Ed Tudor-Pole series of The Crystal Maze have fallen out of rotation. Are they trying to tell us something?

29 Minutes of Fame

(Angst for BBC1, 2130 Friday)

Is it really ten years since Shooting Stars was the talk of the town? Back in the day, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer brought their certified brand of lunacy to the television studio, and became very well known entertainers. They didn't graduate to BBC1 until the somewhat weaker Families at War five years ago, by which time the magic was leaving the partnership. Mr Reeves appeared on the most recent series of I'm A Celeb, so what has Mr Mortimer been doing?

Joining him in the studio are comedian Jo Brand and impressionist Alistair McGowan, and four other reasonably well-known people - the first episode included Stephen Fry. They play a series of short games, many of which wouldn't be out of place on radio staple I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. Naming the person from the (imitated) sound of their orgasm is surely a rip-off of Humph's, and a series of questions about the links between celebs is as home on ISIHAC as it is on another Friday night show, Have I Got News for You

Ah, HIGNFY. Home of the autocue-reading presenter, and of a scoring system that's become increasingly arbitrary as the years have worn on. The scores here are worked out by an unusual method - host Bob Mortimer adjudges one side or the other to have won the round. They're then given two celebs, and can take their pick of the pair, but only if they can get the answer to an either/or question correct; should they err, the choice will go to the other side. This is almost as incomprehensible on screen as it is in print. Just to confuse further, the accumulated celebs are being rated on an attribute, but that attribute's not known until the end of the show. As if to underline the completely arbitrary nature of the contest, the opening show used the IQ test score claimed for the celebs.

Most of the conversation revolves around the same 500 or so people who feature in Celebdaq and on the national news. There's no attempt to break new talent in the discussion, which is perfectly fair for a mainstream channel on a Friday night. Bob tried to recapture the zany spirit of Shooting Stars, but lines like "In my opinion, what was the best James Bond movie" tended to drag rather. Even worse, the studio audience was whipped into such a frenzy by the warm-up man that they sniggered and tittered at anything, whether it was funny or not. For the rest of us, "not" seemed to be the operative word.

The problem with the now-axed Scream! If You Want to Get Off was that it was a bit dull. It wasn't a bad show. 29 Minutes Of Fame, that's a bad show. Though it's recorded shortly before transmission, the jokes aren't particularly funny, especially when rammed down the viewer's throats without any thought to subtlety. The rounds are unimaginative, and - even though it's incidental to the banter - the scoring is a complete mess. Indeed, the scoring is so bad that the host has to spend half the show explaining it to the viewers and panel, which distracts from the flow of attempted jokes; if one tells enough semi-funny jokes, there's a good chance that some of them will be funny. The result is a show that sits on the schedule like congealed porridge, it might be tasty with some added seasoning and a little heat, but right now is almost unpalatably dull.

To make matters worse, the BBC could be using a perfectly good format in this slot. Step forward Totally Top Trumps, a show we marked last year as a possible for the HIGNFY slot. It encourages jokes about lots of different subjects, but the scoring system is clearly explained, and so doesn't require as much effort from the host. Even better, it's actually entertaining without a hyped-up crowd.


For those who didn't follow these updates last year, these round-ups use a metric called Par. It takes the second-longest word in common usage from each letters round, a flat four points for the conundrum, and - in a slight change from last series - the geometric average of the scores of this columnist, Carol Vorderman, and the better contestant in the numbers games. We estimate that this lowers Par scores by about one point per game.

The value of Par comes when comparing players whose scores are very close; as Par removes the effects of random letters, it can help pick the objectively better contestant overall. Last season's champion, Mark Tournoff, had only the third best score, but the best record to Par. Was this significant, or just lucky? Time will tell.

Fred Reynolds was the carry-over champion into the new series, and just when he looked set to become the first octochamp of 2005, he suffered one of the biggest turnarounds ever, surrendering a 21 point lead to lose by 25. He finished with 6 wins, 599 points, and is +74 to Par after averaging one mis-declaration per game. Fred becomes the first person to finish on six wins since Adam Laws in late 2003, and has a good chance of coming into Finals Week as a low seed.

On the winning end of that upswing was Toni Ryan, and she ran up some good wins before coming slightly unstuck on a crucial final numbers game that ultimately cost her the match. 4 wins, 427 points, +41 to Par were her final figures, and that's probably not enough to come back for Finals Week in June. Which is a shame, because Richard really liked her smile.

Brian Roles came through to win that bruising encounter, and what's possibly the most error-strewn games in Countdown history. For record keeping purposes, this column marks down the contestant's declarations for each round, and over-scores with a cross if their word is disallowed. Tuesday of the week before last saw enough Xs to fill out a pools coupon, and - had the last numbers game been as impossible as the first two - could have had a winning score of just 51. Fred won with 60 points, and won two slightly more high scoring games before being defeated last Friday. His 5 wins aggregated 427 points - the same as Toni Ryan, though Fred will take the higher seeding - but +87 to Par is a higher than any octochamp last year.

Judith Young inflicted the defeat, and ran through the most recent week winning some close games with relatively low scores. Her game has risen through the week, culminating in the first century of the year on Friday's show. Judith has six wins, 584 points, and is +24 to par. Realistically, she needs to win on Monday to take the number one seeding.

University Challenge

Second Round, Match 2: Manchester -v- Newcastle

We're quietly hopeful that Thumper won't have to reach for the pile of questions that Mukka from The Shiny Show quietly slipped into his pile last week. In their first round matches, Newcastle survived a strong comeback to just beat Univ Oxford 155-150. Manchester, by comparison, never let up in pursuit of St Andrew's, and won by the rather convincing margin of 315-40. Thumper predicts "a glass of hemlock" for the losers. We know when you're re-using your favourite lines from the Election 97 show, sir.

Both teams begin as they left off: Manchester burst out of the traps as if they have a rocket firing on their backs; Newcastle just get the odd one here and there. The first picture round is Name That Cricket Stroke, after which Manchester's lead is 90-15, and we've already had nearly half as many points as in the whole of last week's show.

Thumper's talking gibberish, as usual - but this time it's intentional. Cross-driver, paper-driver, and the car's handle are all English-ish terms used in Japan. Manchester also picks up a set of bonuses on the definitions of SI base units - they won't have seen the Performing Arts special where all seven were listed. Newcastle pulls back a little before the audio round - Name That Military Film Score - but Manchester's lead is still 150-60.

Newcastle is putting up a decent fight, but it's clear that they've met their match here. In fairness, it appears that they're getting perhaps the more difficult bonuses - the phrase "your bonuses are on string" doesn't help - but that may be as much because the Manchester side is making it look easy. Very easy indeed. Newcastle's suggestion that a feature on Mars was "the canals" would have met with a snort of derision had Thumper ever known anything about science. However, Newcastle are buzzing more later in the game, and by the second picture round - Name That Guitarist - they're just within striking distance, trailing 180-115.

Within striking distance, but Newcastle will have to do some striking, and one missignal, then allowing Manchester to sweep a set, won't help. Neither does Thumper calling "Kant?" at Newcastle as though he had suffered a slight attack of vowel shifts. Manchester guessed at every bonus, and is helped when one of the answers really is Kant.

Manchester's win is inevitable, and 250-130 fairly represents the difference between the sides. Again, Manchester were led from the front by the one-man quizzing machine Nick Mills, he was responsible for 134.9 of the team's points as they made 25/38 bonuses and one missignal. The Manchester side got at least one of each complete bonus set correct - only Queen's Belfast have done that so far this series, and they faced exactly two sets of bonuses. Newcastle made 9/27 bonuses and the one missignal - George Clements' 74.3 was the best buzzing performance.

Next week: St Hilda's Oxford -v- Leicester.

This Week And Next

Rumours are that Channel 4 is in discussions with Neun Live to launch 4Games. The channel would involve lots of premium-rate phone-ins, and would be able to take carriage on the highly popular digital terrestrial television channels. We also hear that ITV is planning something similar to fill empty hours on its proposed fifth station, ITV4.

There seems to be something of a running contest at Eurovision to see who can clock up the worst performance of all time. For many years, the yardstick of Complete Eurosong Incompetence was the sole preserve of Norwegian Jahn Teigen, whose "Mil Etter Mil" became the first song not to trouble the juries under the current scoring system. Two years ago, British entrants Jemini laid down something even worse, when the grossly out-of-tune "Bye Bye Baby" was told to go away by twenty-five different national juries and televoters. Last year, Swiss combo Pierre And The All Stars managed an even more difficult task, failing to attract any interest from thirty-two national telejuries. This year, it'll be possible for thirty-nine nations to express their complete indifference, and who better to achieve this surely insurpassable feat than Mr Teigen. He's through to the Norwegian national final, and if an atypical lack-of-sense sends him through to Kiev, the big fat zero could be on the cards.

Next week's highlights include Tom O'Connor on Countdown, the Great British Memory Test on ITV, and the arrival of Anne Robinson and Bob Monkhouse to primetime Challenge.

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