Weaver's Week 2005-08-14

Weaver's Week Index

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


Ride and win - 14 August 2005

We seem to be reviewing new ITV programmes at a rate of knots. Why stop when we're behind - this week's is the ninth (count 'em!) review since Easter, and the only way to mark ITV's 50th birthday next month will be to give over at least one Week to celebrating some great game shows from the nation's first commercial station.

Cash Cab

(Lion TV for ITV)

One part of ITV's daytime schedule is a regular game show slot. It's been filled by the somewhat lessish Perseverance, the rather limited Watching the Detectives, cookery shows like Chef -v- Britain. Unusually, there's a really good programme in the mix.

The concept of Cash Cab is very, very simple. Some people are going to get in a cab somewhere in a city in Britain. They will head towards their destination. While they're making their journey, they'll be asked some questions. Assuming they do well enough at their questions, they'll be rewarded with lots and lots of money. But if they get too many questions wrong, they'll be turfed out of the cab and will have to walk the rest of the way.

Of course, the cab doesn't just pick up anyone from off the street - the contestants are pre-screened, and we reckon they agree both start and finish points with the producer, so that there's no driving along motorways or other roads barred to pedestrians.

In practice, the trip is usually of between 2 and 2.5 miles. This allows five questions worth £10 each, five worth £50, a number of questions worth £100, and maybe one or two £500 questions. Three incorrect answers en route will bring the journey to a grinding halt. The contestants can ask someone outside of the cab - a passer-by, or someone on a mobile phone - for help, but it looks like they can only do so once.

It's a promising format, but the star of the show is our host, adjudicator, and driver John Moody. He doesn't ask the questions - that's the job of a pre-recorded voice John cues - but he does everything else. Witty banter with the contestants, explaining the rules, encouraging them, counting out the money for a successful trip, and all with the charm of a genuinely likeable real taxi cab driver.

The contestants face jeopardy on multiple levels. John will press them for an answer, counting down seconds so that they can't "declare" their game closed. They may run out of lives before their trip is over, or they may run out of trip before they've had a good number of questions. The questions are at just the right level - the opening questions are markedly easier than the others, which are difficult but not abstruse.

Is Cash Cab the best new format of the year? On the evidence we've seen so far, and looking at the insipid list of shows from 2005, quite possibly. A clue to the quality might come from the name Glenn Hugill credited as a co-producer - he was the host and co-producer of 2001's Best New Show, THE MOLE.


(CBBC, 0830 weekdays)

Readers who only watch terrestrial channels, and who do not want to know what's contained in this series, will wish to look away now.

The third series of CBBC's successful adventure challenge show first aired in the closing weeks of last year. This column declined to review it at the time, because we know from experience that the first week will make no sense until we see it again. The repeat chance came this week.

Teamwork is very much the watchword of this year's series. There have been a few games where fledgling warriors faced challenges in combination, but collaboration has come to the forefront this year. Three of the eight new games are played in teams of three, and with the spider's cave and riddle bridge games coming back for pairs, almost half of a warrior's success can be determined by their actions with others. None of the teams are fixed, they're created for each game on criteria we generally don't know.

The team games are:

  • Millstone Tower, in which three warriors per team must move three large millstones through some slalom gates, on which dragon's eggs are placed. If the team knocks an egg off, it shatters, releasing a foul odour, and incurring a time penalty, appearing to be frozen in place for some seconds. First team to put the millstones on the base and pull a cord will vanquish a demon and gain a ring; the other team will lose a life. This game is remarkable for the seamless way it pieces together two separate pieces of film.
  • Water Demon, in which a demon is asleep in a rowing boat in the middle of the lake, close by a rock containing three gold rings. As soon as someone removes the rings, the demon will pursue after them. One warrior goes out in a coracle on the lake, two companions remain on the shore. Their objective is to pull and paddle back to shore before the demon can lay hands on the player in the coracle.
  • Troll Trap, where we find that a troll has left some gold rings in a cage. One of the warriors will go into the cage to retrieve the rings. However, these rings are well guarded; should anything touch the floor, the door will lock. The warrior in the cage must therefore move about on a pole that their team-mates poke in through the sides. The door will also close a short time after the rings are removed, putting an extra time pressure for the way out. This particular game could have come directly from the Fort Boyard playbook.

Five new solo games are played during the week. Though if one looks carefully, there are but four distinct tasks:

  • Enchanted Stream and Goldrush are, effectively, the same game. The warriors are to build a bridge over a river, or to allow gold to flow down into a crucible and forge a ring. In each case, the fundamental task is to lay out five pieces in the correct order, and the right way round, to complete the path. Both are race games; Stream is played amongst two warriors, Goldrush amongst three. A very satisfactory visual effect in Goldrush ensures that the pieces of the puzzle give off little sparks when they first touch the playing floor. Stream's conceit - the waters becoming enchanted and fetid - is slightly less convincing.
  • Balance Beam, which looks like it's been on It's a Knockout before now. Two contestants sit astride a beam, and try to knock each other off. It's played as a tournament game, a chance to peg back the leaders.
  • Rune Rock, where the warriors are challenged to complete a three-dimensional jigsaw displaying a particular pattern. The game itself is a little too close to the totem part of Blasted Mountain for comfort, and we have a suspicion that one of the jigsaws is easier than the other. Faster of two to complete the challenge wins.
  • Serpent's Eye is an archery challenge. Each warrior has three arrows to hit the target at all to avoid losing a life. Hit the serpent's eye in the middle to win a gold ring. This is a slightly unsatisfactory challenge, as at least one contestant had previously taken archery lessons, and had a clear advantage when playing.

To fit all these new challenges in, some have gone from the quest. There's no more Fire Demon, which has to be good news, the CGI effect just wasn't convincing. The Eyeless Demons have left, and the Dragon's Blood challenge is no more. Ring Climb also appears to have gone. Many of the more atmospheric games from season two have come back, including Dark Path, the catapult game Burning Battlements, and the communication challenge of the Thrall Demons, though this is now only played once.

There is no change to the scoring system - seven lives, seven rings, and so on. As in season two, there are more scoring opportunities in some weeks than others, it's a clear attempt to ensure that no one needs to leave the tournament through losing all seven lives.

After being defeated twice last year, the Surely Impossible Way Of The Warrior has been made even tougher, with additional hazards to test even the finalists. The first half has been radically re-modelled, with a rope swing, a hidden trap, and a carwash to add to the rock drier and balance section. Fewer changes in the second half, but there's an additional challenge at the end, involving fearsome-looking metal jaws.

Astute watchers of the opening title sequence may be able to discern two subtle spoilers for the later episodes of the show. A spoiler involving the third finalist was included in the CBBC channel's promotional clip for this series, but that advertisement is no longer played.

Has anything of substance changed on Raven? No; the Leap of Faith and High Walk are still there, Raven himself is still as polite and honourable as ever, and James Mackenzie has perfected the art of putting "Goodness, that was a contemptible performance, you know you could have done better" into just one look. The series remains as compelling as ever it was, and benefits from the ad-hoc team games. This column still contends that Raven is the Knightmare of its generation, and is amongst the best game shows on television.

Big Brother 6

The latest Celebdaq scores for the seventeen BB contestants are given as the number of times the contestant has doubled their original investment, after re-investing dividends.

17 (-1) Mary 9.1
16 (-1) Lesley 10.0
15 (-1) Doctor 10.5
14 (+3) Kinga11.4
13 (-1) Roberto12.7
12 (-1) Sam 13.5
11 (+2) Eugene 13.6
10 (nc) Vanessa 13.7
9 (nc) Orlaith 16.8
8 (-2) Science 17.8
7 (nc) Saskia18.1
6 (+2) Derek 18.1
5 (nc) Maxwell 18.3
4 (nc) Kemal 18.6
3 (nc) Craig 21.8
2 (-1) Makosi 22.3
1 (+1) Anthony22.7

Not only do we have a new leader, not only do we have someone new on the bottom - a former leader, no less - but we have a new person in thirteenth place! Science's fall continues, Eugene's rise also - if things were to continue at this rate, he'd be winning by December. But the game won't continue at this rate, or at any other rate. Only one week remains until we can crown the Celebdaq Winner of Big Brother. Is there no beginning to the excitement?

This Week And Next

We hear that Brainteaser will get a television channel of its own from next week. In a complex deal, Channel 5 has bought part of obscure satellite channel Yooplay, and has in turn sold rights to the self-funding programme. Four hours of the programme will air each afternoon, in addition to the live broadcast on 5. According to Jonathan Lewis, C5's head of commercial development, "Brainteaser has proved to be a real interactive success story and so the logical next step was always to extend this winning format on to other platforms,"

We should also note that RTL has completed its takeover of Channel 5. The corporation, best known for its successful German channels and Radio Luxembourg, has also been linked with the Flextech division of Telewest, owners of the Challenge channel. Telewest wants to merge with NTL to create a single cable company in the UK, and divest itself of its programme-making division. The prospect of FTN becoming a subsidiary of Channel 5 on the popular Freeview system is intriguing.

Cash Cab returns to ITV at 1.30 weekdays, followed by Perseverance at 3pm. There's a celebration of A Question of Sport at 7pm Wednesday, that's apart from viewers in Scotland, who will see David Dickinson and a football match.

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