Weaver's Week 2005-05-01

Weaver's Week Index


They came, they had a go - 1 May 2005

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

"That's the problem with live television - you can't cut things out."

University Challenge

  • Corpus Christi Oxford bt Balliol Oxford
  • University College London v Manchester

We'll have to go some tonight to beat the tension and drama of the other semi-final, but both of these sides have been consistently brilliant in their three previous outings.

The second starter is looking for the answer, "If you've got it, flaunt it." Manchester has by far the better buzzer technique, and races to 50 points before UCL have done anything more than sit there. However, UCL gets something before the first picture round, Name That Picture Loosely Connected To Vivienne Westwood.

Another question gives some Googlewhacks - lifted from a website, rather than ones they've researched. No-one is getting bonuses this week - an average of just one question from each of the first seven sets is correct. UCL pulls to within five points, but then Manchester moves away again, not least thanks to their Latin scholars who will have read about Cogidubnus. There's also an in-joke about Bambi's mother. The audio round is Name That Composer And Their City of Death, and scoring is still slow.

Good starter of the week:

Q: What word of four letters is used verbally to mean clear the ground, rummage, or search for information in books; as a noun it can denote a small headless screw, a colloquial term for food, or the larvae...

Wesson's correct answer brings UCL onto level terms, and it really is game on. The second picture round is Name That Anchor, and the stress is already creeping into Thumper's delivery, though Manchester are still taking their sweet time.

Manchester is five ahead at this point, but get the next two starters and increase their lead to 45. UCL aren't beaten, and both sides are now answering with some haste. "Brendan Behan" allows UCL to pull to within five, and Thumper goes so quickly that he's tripping over himself. "Caret" gives UCL the lead with barely two minutes to play, and they've got a long and complex question about books in foreign languages. Not particularly sporting for the closing moments. Manchester get the next starter, but fall just short. Thumper starts the next question, but he's beaten by the gong. UCL has pulled off a surprise win by the narrowest of margins.

UCL 35 40 50 65 [190]
MAN 50 60 20 55 [185]

As expected, this turned into the Manchester Nick Mills (93.4) -v- UCL Ivan Polancec (88.3) contest. Neither side hit their usual high standard of bonus conversions, UCL made 15/36 bonuses, Manchester 16/33, and there was one mis-signal apiece.

Manchester bows out, but has set some records. Fast buzzing was their speciality, fully 61% of starters across their games went Manchester's way. The side did well on bonuses, answering 60% correctly. And once again we must doff our hat to Nick Mills - over four games, he's buzzed and bonussed for 507.6 points, more than all the members of any of the defeated quarter-final teams managed.

Sets of semi-finals like this make us wonder if the UC format might be tweaked slightly, so that we had a round-robin of matches between the last four sides, and aired in such a way that the last match would be decisive. Manchester against Corpus Christi is a match we'll never see, and that's a shame.

We will see Corpus Christi take on UCL, in this year's final, on 9 May.

Come And Have A Go

(Tailor Made / Chatterbox for BBC1, 1945 Saturday)

Second time round for this particular interactive quiz, and very little remains from the original edition. In no particular order, the changes are:

  • We have a new host. Out goes the debonair and smooth Nicky Campbell, and in comes the unlikely pairing of Julian Clary and Emily Maitlis. Mr Clary is perhaps best known for an unfortunate incident on live television, and his game show career included the late-night revival of Mr and Mrs. Both episodes thereof. Ms Maitlis is a calm and sensible newsreader, evidently trying to become the new Dermot Murnaghan by appearing on an entertainment format.
  • Say goodbye to pre-registering for the game. Viewers using digital satellite or digital terrestrial television (but not digital cable) can press the red button at the start of the show, and take part. Or one can participate on-line, or by using a programmed applet on a high-tech mobile telephone, or by sending an SMS message after each question. The cash comes from the BBC's general entertainment budget, and is similar to the prizes regularly dished out on the Lottery Corp's weekly show.
  • Ah yes, the Lottery Corp. Have A Go is no longer a stand-alone programme, but has been folded into the weekly drawing of numbers to make a few people richer. These numbers factor into the game, but more of that anon.
  • Studio teams of four have been replaced by teams of two. There's no attempt at a live outside broadcast, probably a good move given the patchy performance on last year's shows. Mr Clary promises us that ten of the best-performing teams will qualify to play in the studio next week.
  • And the title of the show has been shortened somewhat. Last year, it was the slightly unwieldy Come And Have A Go If You Think You're Smart Enough. The show's title no longer suggests it is smarter than the average viewer.

How prophetic an alteration was that, for the opening episode was compelling television in a way that could only be improved by careful and judicious use of the test card and some music. Right from the start, things were not looking good, as Mr Clary entered the stage dressed in a lurid shade of green. As a rule, this column doesn't criticise people's dress sense; as a rule, this column doesn't see people who are trying to dress up as leprechauns but can't be bothered to put in the little details.

The little details count. Mr Clary suggested that this was the first time anyone had tried to run an interactive quiz in this way, a claim easily disproved by last year's series. He was, we think, referring to the BBC's claim that it was the first time anyone had tried to run an interactive quiz without pre-registration. Even that's not accurate, as Millionaire had a short-lived applet during the ITV Digital days; it requested people to call and win.

There were fluffs and gaffes throughout the programme. Mr Clary intimated that "I gave and I goo," confused people who may (or may not) have been making their first trip to London, and generally looked down the wrong camera all night.

The game itself has changed, but only slightly. We start with ten couples, on backless sofas in "the Punter's Pit." Eight questions later, they're cut down to four high-scoring couples, who come in and stand at podia. Eight more questions reduce the field to two pairs. They now answer questions alternately, and an incorrect answer again resets the score to zero. Why does the scoring system change at this late stage? The "pass" mechanism from last year has also vanished.

These 24 questions all have four possible answers, and a 15-second time limit to respond. They're also the qualifying game for viewers at home. The questions themselves remain skewed towards pop-culture knowledge, with a few requiring knowledge of other BBC output. After Ms Maitlis reads each question and the options, Mr Clary makes a brief statement. Sometimes he's funny, sometimes he's annoying, and sometimes (as when he claims that Daleks have never climbed stairs) he's just plain wrong.

Indeed, Mr Clary's approach to the entire show feels wrong. His act is little more than a series of put-downs to members of the public, and doesn't exactly endear him to this viewer. There was a most uncomfortable moment late in the programme, when we found ourselves rooting for someone to come on and be sarcastic about the inanity of the proceedings. Could Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman have found his excuse to get into frivolous quizzes? Would Mr Mick Fleetwood and Ms Samantha Fox be available for a short summer run? Even worse, one of the questions showed a clip of Larry Grayson presenting The Generation Game from the best part of thirty years ago. If only Mr Clary could hope to make this sort of entertainment...

The final round dispenses with Ms Maitlis's services, it's now just Mr Clary asking the questions, and there are no multiple-choice options. Eight correct answers in a row will win the top prize of £50,000; if the pair can't get eight within two minutes, they'll score based on how many questions they had answered correctly before two minutes expired. An incorrect answer to the last question means they take £500, between one and seven correct answers means they collect the amount indicated by the main Lottery Corp. draw numbers sorted into ascending order.

Last year, our main criticism was that a sizable minority of the country couldn't enter the contest even if they wanted to. Technology takes time to work its way from novelty to ubiquity; while the introduction of SMS entry is a welcome acknowledgement of this problem, the cost of entry could be prohibitive for many people.

The basic format of the show remains broadly the same, and given that the prize fund jackpot is no longer possible, some sort of cash-chase game is inevitable. We still don't like the "incorrect answer wipes out everything" gimmick, primarily from a point of simply not being fair.

But this year's main problem seems to be that more rehearsal is required. On the opening show, Mr Clary gave a performance that may go down as one of the worst ever seen on prime-time television. He's not alone in suffering this fate; the first episode of Red Alert also suffered from being complete pants, and we can't mention disastrous Lottery Corp. formats without pointing to The Big Ticket. If Mr Clary can put in a strong performance - perhaps learning from Mr Grayson - he might yet be able to make a good fist of it.


First round, show 8

Gareth Ribbon is telling us about the Life and Work of Dylan Thomas. Nothing particularly easy about this round, and 7 (0) is a just reward,

Lance Haward has the entire Old Testament to study. He gets some astoundingly esoteric questions, including one about which Psalm contains the lyrics to Boney M's "Rivers of Babylon." Number 137. He finishes on 6 (3).

Robert Hemming talks about the Films of Clint Eastwood. We don't know about this subject, but Mr Hemming does, and he makes 12 (1).

David Berry has selected the Life and Work of Guilliame Appolinaire, a poet. The round contains a mention of M Leotard, the friend of Mr Whiteley; Mr Berry finishes on a sparkling 16 (0).

Mr Haward might have bitten off more than he can chew here, but he's a dab hand at general knowledge quizzes - he's the chap who took up an Open University course just to eyeball Thumper. Mr Haward tries hard, but finishes on 14 (6).

Mr Ribbon starts off strongly, but falls away towards the end. He finishes on 16 (4).

Mr Hemming goes carefully and steadily through his questions, finishing on 22 (3). It doesn't quite feel enough.

Mr Berry needs seven to win, starts strongly, but gets visibly weaker and less confident as the round progresses. He reaches the 23 points required to win with about 30 seconds left, but that - along with two passes - is where he finishes.

This Week And Next

The starter question left hanging from the UC review was "Grub."

No University Challenge final this week, for reasons we'll discuss in due course. We do have the final laps of The Apprentice and Hell's Kitchen, and some high-scoring teams on Ask the Family. New shows to Challenge include Supermarket Sweep, Going for Gold, and the imported version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?

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