Weaver's Week 2005-07-31

Weaver's Week Index

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


Poker nights - 31 July 2005

"Falafel!" - Marcus Brigstocke.

All Star Poker Challenge

(2330-ish each night, Presentable for ITV)

In the beginning, there was Late Night Poker, which ran for some years on Channel 4. It picked up a good audience for the time of night, and helped to establish poker as a suave and sophisticated game, shedding the seedy image it's endured since the days of the Wild West.

Over the years since the last Late Night Poker, the popularity of poker has mushroomed. Perhaps the largest cause for poker's growth has been the increasing popularity of poker games played via the internet, offering people the chance to get rich without leaving their house.

Television hasn't been slow on this craze; Challenge has aired some form of poker in the 10pm slot for some months, and Bravo, various Discovery networks, Channel 5, and Eurosport have all aired some poker tournaments this year.

Some people advance an argument that poker should be treated as a sport, rather than a game. This opens up a long-standing quarrel over whether activities involving great mental but little physical activity, such as chess, backgammon, go, or Mornington Crescent, are games or sports. This column does not wish to be drawn into such a debate, but does not wish to give a false impression by omitting it entirely. Nor will it be drawn into a debate about the "all-star" quality of a programme featuring two ITV soap actors, one ITV comedian, one snooker player, and one very fast rap performer.

Now, what happens in a game of poker? Some people deal out cards, some other people move about little bits of plastic, and give them to one person, at which point the whole process begins again, and repeats until someone has all the little bits of plastic, and they're deemed to be the winner. The rules are a little more complex than those of "Snap," but not much.

Vicki Butler-Henderson, our host for the series, attempts to explain what is happening in slightly more detail than this. Crucially for the newcomer to the game, her first explanation doesn't appear until about a third of the way through the programme, and it's not until the end of the episode that one can get a clear idea of what's going on. By this time, we're usually down to about two players, and the end is in sight. Other rules and terms ("the button", "the blinds") are left hanging, as if one automatically knows what they mean. They clearly mean something, but there's no attempt to explain their role or significance. Actually, there might have been further explanation on ITV's enhanced digital satellite service, but as this column doesn't get digital satellite, this is about as much use as a slap round the face with a wet blanket.

Victoria Coren and Mark Gregorich provide voice-off commentary, which is useful to explain the state-of-play at any time. Less useful is the "bong" that rings out, completely predictably, whenever play progresses past a certain point. One finance channel tolls a bell to mark particularly unexpected news, and it works there because it's so alien to the rest of the output. When the bell rings fifteen times an hour, it completely loses its effect.

Behind the mock-60s title screen, and the backdrop that looks like a shrunken version of ITN's News Theatre, lies camerawork that's scarcely changed since Late Night Poker first graced our screens almost ten years ago. The viewer is still party to all the information about the hand, thanks to under-the-table shots of the "secret" cards. Dramatic irony is lessened by the over-stylised on-screen graphics, which make it very difficult to tell the difference between a 10 and a Q of any suit - the symbols look almost identical. Forcing the viewer to concentrate on the minutiae of the graphics draws attention away from the betting.

Stripping a programme across a whole week seems to be ITV's way of putting out programmes it's not quite sure about - the tactic was used on the slightly dubious January political fest Vote for Me. This column has doubts about this poker programme as well, it seemed to lack a certain spark. The something that turns a technically good programme into appointment-to-record television was missing. This isn't a criticism of the producers, but of the format - poker is something that can make excellent viewing, but in small doses. Seven hours in one week is too much.

The Big Call Redux

The Big Call has made a number of changes since our review some weeks ago. The celebrities all set out to climb the mountainous set together, rather than individually, the recessed lights have been replaced by rather brighter displays, some of the questions are about the invited guests, and the home viewers aren't asked to specify which celeb they'd like to play with in the final round until they come on air.

Our attention has been concentrated on the end-game, and in particular the strategies that may not produce at least £20,000. Perhaps the easiest way would be to pre-pick 23 numbers, and submit 100,000 of the 100,947 combinations thus generated. This was the "high-risk" strategy adopted on the show in week five, and formed the basis of the week three strategy, coupled with a further 20,000 random tickets. If two or fewer of the 23 are drawn, the contestant wins the grand non-total of nothing - and there's a 39.5% chance of that happening. Only if four or more of the 23 numbers are drawn will the contestant come out ahead - and then they'd almost certainly win big. The probability of winning nothing drops below 5% when selections are made amongst 35 or more numbers, and below 1% when 40 numbers are pre-chosen.

The biggest loss occurred in week three, when it appears that the 100,000 pre-chosen tickets failed to produce a winner, thus ensuring that ITV managed to turn £120,000 into slightly over £1100 in the space of one evening. The same strategy matched four last week, giving a prize fund of almost £50,000. It was helped by a fantastic coincidence - none of the 947 unbought tickets matched three or four of the balls, something that's roughly as improbable as winning the jackpot. Twice. In a row.

Week two's strategy was to buy tickets from amongst two wheels of 21 numbers - each wheel contained 54,264 tickets, so just under one ticket in ten was lost. Week four's strategy was to buy all combinations of groups of 18 numbers - five such groups could be completely bought from amongst the £100,000 fund, and about 7000 further random tickets added to the fun. Both of these strategies were "medium risk," and gave about £20,000 returns.

The week six strategy was to vary one number in each ticket, at random. This leads to a slightly higher chance of winning nothing, as a 0-match ticket will knock out at least two on each side of it, compared with the strictly independent approach taken in the opening week. However, if there is a big match, there will be a lot of smaller prizes clustered around it. So it turned out for the call-in contestant from Watford, who won an (estimated) prize of £178,086. And on the final episode of the series, too.


First round, heat seventeen

Chris Gould is discussing the Labour Government 1974-79, the years of Wilson and Callaghan, Jenkins and Healey and Owen. He scores well, finishing on 11 (3).

Roger Morgan Grenville offers the Life and Works of Flanders and Swann. Any round for which the answer is "Oly-ma-kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi" (Tongan for "No," apparently) is not that well written - answers are meant to be short. He still scores a very respectable 14 (3).

Amanda Hill has the only subject that would have been accepted in the early Magnusson years, the Ecclesiastical Calendar. It's a sterling performance, steering her to a magnificent 16 (1).

Paul Steeples has the Manchester Music Scene 1976-91, and we're quite running out of superlatives. It's surely the first and last time some of these acts have appeared on mainstream television. After a wobbly start, Paul recovers to 13 (4). Can we have a repechage now, producers?

Mr Gould is the first window-cleaner on the show in John's reign. "Clean the inside first" is his advice. Another careful run sees him finish on 23 (7).

Mr Steeples may well go down in history as the man who made John Humphrys say "Bummed" on national television. Or the man who thinks that a breakfast cereal that's also slang for a stretch in prison is "Cheerios." He scores well, ending on 25 (7).

Mr Grenville got to discuss such well-known fare as "The Hippopotamus Song" and "The Gasman Cometh," but also the rather good Hilda Tablet plays. Sadly, he falls so deeply into pass hell that he doesn't even recognise the opening lines to "My Way." 19 (8) is not going to be a winning score.

Mrs Hill slightly laments the demise of the calendar, but it's the price of progress. And progress she will, securing a clear win on 29 (6).

Big Brother 6

Marco Sabba, a contestant on last year's programme, has won a high court apology - and damages - from Northern and Shell over false accusations in "Star" magazine last year. The publishers, owned by Richard Desmond of the Express and Star national papers, confirmed that the original story was false and damaging.

Here's the Celebdaq scores for the seventeen BB contestants. As an attempt to make the figures clearer, we're providing two sets of figures. In the first column, an investment of 100 Celebdaq pounds in one of these people when they were first listed, with dividends re-invested, would give the following return (accurate to three significant figures). In the second, the number of times this player has doubled their initial investment. The same information, presented in a different way.

Pos Chng Name Worth Doubles
17 (nc) Kinga 175 7.5
16 (nc) Mary 885 9.8
15 (nc) Lesley 1060 10.1
14 (-1) Doctor 1350 10.4
13 (+1) Eugene 2420 11.2
12 (nc) Roberto 7620 12.9
11 (-1) Sam 9240 13.2
10 (-1) Vanessa 18100 14.1
9 (+2) Orlaith 26000 14.7
8 (nc) Derek 57300 15.8
7 (-1) Saskia 246000 17.9
6 (+1) Kemal 311000 18.2
5 (-1) Maxwell 323000 18.3
4 (-2) Science 487000 18.9
3 (+2) Craig 522000 19.0
2 (+1) Anthony 723000 19.5
1 (nc) Makosi 997000 19.9

Makosi holds the lead for the second week, but this show isn't over until the last press column rolls, and we've quite lost track of when that will happen.

Countdown Watch

In the grand year-planner where we plan the columns months in advance, this week has a blue arrow, indicating it's a monthly Countdown recap. As you'll know, there have been no editions of Countdown this month.

Two pieces of news, though. Channel 4 has announced the creation of The Richard Whiteley Scholarship in memory of the much-loved Countdown host. It will be an annual award to an individual living in Yorkshire, who has the talent and the ability to make a career in television. The funding will provide full support for an approved education programme, agreed by the channel on an annual basis.

Channel 4's Chief Executive, Andy Duncan, commented, "We have created this scholarship as a lasting tribute, and I hope a fitting one, to Richard's memory. The scheme will provide practical support for emerging TV talent in Yorkshire, a region of which Richard was immensely proud and where, as we all know, he built his own TV career."

The first Richard Whiteley Scholarship to be offered is for a place, starting this October, on the highly successful ARTTS Skillcentre Production Operations Diploma, a 40-week-long intensive residential course in production skills, based in Yorkshire. The scholarship will cover the cost of the student's fees, equipment, and accommodation.

Carol Vorderman has indicated that Countdown will return with a new presenter, but they're not even going to think about who until after the summer break.

This Week And Next

"We must face up to the truth. We tried and failed." The comment this week of Robert Kilroy-Silk, who has stepped down as leader of a political grouping known as "The Veritas Party Leader Robert Kilroy-Silk" The ex-leader had previously been in another fringe political party, had "Falafel!" shouted at him across the Have I Got News for You studio, and been covered in farm slurry, but is perhaps best known for his all-too short-lived ITV comedy series Shafted.

Speaking of short-lived comedy series, Anne Robinson's topical news vehicle What's The Problem? will not be coming back for a second run, after securing fewer viewers than her regular The Weakest Link engagement.

The BBC is to have yet another shot at reviving The Generation Game, this time with Graham Norton at the helm. Lest we forget, the corp tried to put Paul O'Grady in front of the cameras last year, but gave up when the pilots turned out to be weak. The missing ingredient is obviously "celebrities," as that's what the Beeb will add to the mix, thus completely missing the point of the original.

Weakest Link at 6pm, Eggheads for three-quarters of an hour - it must be the week before the athletics championships. On ITV, Nicholas Owen is the latest newsreader-turned-gamekeeper, he's Watching the Detectives in the daytime. On Challenge, Glory Ball rolls into a half-hour slot.

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