Weaver's Week 2005-12-11

Weaver's Week Index

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


Question or number? - 11 December 2005

Best wishes to Nick Clarke, host of Round Britain Quiz and other Radio 4 programmes. He was diagnosed with cancer this week, and we look forward to his return next summer.

The Junior Eurovision Song Contest

(RTBF / VRT for EBU, presented on ITV2, 26 November)

Sometime around 1994, Senior Eurovision found its place in our hearts, as a set of rituals. The hosts will flirt shamelessly, at least one performance will be all vision and no song, Latvia will send something cracking, and Terry Wogan's cries of "the voting's all political" will increase in direct proportion to the number of countries placed above the UK.

This year's was only the third running of Junior Eurovision, and it doesn't yet know its place in the world. Is it, as the Belgian entry suggested, an excuse for a zillion kiddies to dress up in matching day-glo outfits, and scare the jeebies out of viewers who thought - actually, a zillion kiddies in matching day-glo outfits would scare the jeebies out of anyone. Is it, as Denmark would have us believe, an excuse to go "la-la-la" in time and tune, a concept that clearly rules them out of ever appearing on X-Factor. Or is it, as the Maltese entry suggested, a shrunken-down version of the senior contest?

Apparently not. Though Malta sent an accomplished young television presenter, and dressed her backing dancers up in a manner reminiscent of the BBC1 Interval Dancers (or the White Stripes, for our international readers), the island nation still finished stone last. Evidently Junior Eurovision is not a junior version of Senior Eurovision.

Could it be an excuse for Belgian television to show off its technical prowess? Sadly not. The stage was a refreshing change from the video-floor efforts of the last three Senior contests - it was an O-shape, somewhat thicker on one side than another, with a line going through the middle, and a hundred or so children standing in the middle of the O. On the thick side, a simple video wall, and a back-projection screen. It's a simple concept, and one that worked well.

Technical hitches had been in evidence from the start - UK host Michael Underwood's show opener was transmitted without sound, and there was an obvious tape wobble during one of the performances. Then, just as the scoring was getting going, the computer went "phut" and displayed a black screen with no useful information on it. The hosts tried - and failed - to fill for a very long two minutes while the machine re-booted. This would never have happened with a manual scoreboard.

Each and every contestant was given a dozen points just for turning up. The first five votes from each country were thrown onto the scoreboard without having the national spokesyoungster announce them, but they were still read out in English - et en francais - by the hosts. Cyprus had had to withdraw from the contest, but still gave their points. Guess who got the dozen. Go on.

Matt Smith set a superb standard in the commentary box last year, but Michael Underwood was just about better. He knew when to stop talking, and never passed an opinion on any other country's entry. His praise for the UK's entry was perhaps a little overdone, but then Joni Fuller did deserve better than 14th place out of 16.

The contest was won by the Belarus entry, which had a gimmick of a synthesiser on a giant spring. Spain came second, just a few points adrift, and other gimmicks included a lad messing about with a football, some kids riding bicycles on stage, brightly-coloured sprites turning cartwheels, and those frightening Belgian imps.

It's worth noting that Belarus and Spain performed last and last-but-one. This column held out high hopes for Croatia, who sent the sister of 2003 winner Dino, and who sung a similarly happy song. But Croatia went fifth, and finished half-way down the board. Four of the top five performed late in the show; four of the bottom five performed very early. Is there a case for bringing back the reverse reprise? Very possibly.

Perhaps the defining image of this year's contest was the Norwegian entry, Sommer og skoolfrei (Summer and free of schoolwork). There were kids playing ring-a-roses, kids doing handstands, and someone singing one of those really irritating tunes, the sort that lodge themselves deep into a part of the brain that doesn't normally hold tunes, but can't forget this one. It could easily have been Celebrate, the Swiss entry from last year, and voted the Worst Eurovision Song of All Time, Ever by the combined televoters. It could so easily have come out of Senior Eurovision circa 1980, and that's where Junior Eurovision seems to be at the moment - faintly embarrassing, though with potential to become very cool in the future.


(BBC1, 12.30 weekdays)

In the summer, Carol Vorderman presented Sky Television's one new game show of the year, Sudoku Live. Last month, Colin Murray hosted UKTV's creation Street Cred Sudoku. Neither game offered any particular insight into how to solve the number place puzzle. Can Eamonn Holmes' new vehicle do any better?

It very well might. Three teams of three compete in the game. Round one is played on a 4x4 grid, which contains a reasonably easy sudoku puzzle. A square is indicated, and the teams must work out which number goes in it, then press the corresponding number on their podium. The first team to give the correct answer wins a point, and control of the board. They'll then face two general knowledge questions, a correct answer will earn them the opportunity to place a number in the indicated square on the board. This process repeats until there are too few squares remaining on the grid to complete a further round. There's no timer on the question-and-numbers element, this is the opening round and we don't want the game to peak too soon.

Round two is the show's one nod towards the inevitable nastiness. Another 4x4 sudoku is conjured up, and there's another race to the answer. The team giving the correct number picks up two points, and then gets the chance to eliminate a player from another team - if the quick-numbered team answers a question correctly, their opponent is gone. Get the answer wrong, and the other team gets to remove someone in revenge. This process repeats until one team has been completely eliminated, which will take a maximum of six moves. The eliminated team is now out of the contest; any other eliminated players return to the fray. People don't walk off the set, there's a simple cut, covered by an animated sting. Very poor.

Round three sees the game increase to a 6x6 grid, and a nominated member from each of the two teams plays Speed Sudoku. This is very much modelled on Grand Slam (or a round on Eamonn's previous daytime quiz Playing for Time), each player starts with one minute on their clock, and they give an answer to the indicated squares alternately. Two points for a correct answer, an incorrect answer gains no points and play passes to the opponent on another square. The clocks run down while each player is thinking, and once one player has run out of time, the other has a chance to use the remainder of their time to score points. In a close game, this can be crucial. The winning team after this round gets to play for cash.

What's happened to the questions? They'll turn up in the final round, where each member of the winning team plays solo. One minute to answer questions; each answer allows them to place one number on a 6x6 grid, each correctly-placed number wins the team £25. There's a £50 bonus for completing each row, column, or region, and a £150 bonus for finishing off the grid inside three minutes - that requires 18 numbers to be placed. The three teams that place the most numbers on the finals board over the nine heats will come back for next Friday's grand final. Currently in the lead is a team including Brain of Britain finalist Mark Labbett, who is popping up in this column with some regularity.

Eamonn Holmes is not the most exciting of hosts, it's fair to say. While he doesn't add much to proceedings, he doesn't attempt to make himself the star of the show, which is a refreshing change. The game itself is well thought-through, though the elimination mechanism means the second round too often becomes a battle involving the top two teams, marginalising the third.

Perhaps the unique selling point is that Sudo-Q gives a step-by-step demonstration of how to solve a sudoku, something that neither Ms Vorderman nor Mr Murray's programme did. It also uses smaller puzzles than the 9x9 standard, proving that big puzzles aren't always beautiful.

It's barely thirteen months since the sudoku puzzle was introduced to the UK. Surely it must reach the peak of its popularity soon, with spin-off puzzles (Killer, Wordoku) and similar games (Kaikuro) occupying an increasingly large area of every bookseller's shelf. Could this daytime game show be the zenith of the game's popularity, an admission that the only way is down? We shall see next year.

University Challenge

First round, match twelve: Churchill College Cambridge v York

York were last amongst us last year, falling to Lancaster and Univ Oxford. In three tournaments, they've never won, but have twice made the repechage - and lost both times. Churchill Cambridge's one appearance came four years ago, holding St Andrews to 40 before falling to St Hugh's Oxford. Both sides are well-rounded, though neither contains a foreign language specialist.

The first answer on this week's show is "tie"; of five gentleman contestants, none is wearing a neck adornment. A question on alcohol prompts Thumper to ask, "Is that from experience or calculation?" This sequence drew laughter from the audience:

Q: The colloquial use of what adjective has been defined by one commentator as "a state of being that engenders envy in those who do not possess it..."
Oliver Watkins, Churchill: Bling?
Thumper: N... [breaks out in giggles].

Honours are just about even going into the first visual round, on Cults of Personality; York comes away 50-30 ahead. Churchill's English specialist didn't do too well on The Merchant of Venice (should have been watching BBC1 recently), but gets a starter about the novel. A programme airing on 5 December is, perhaps, a week too early to talk about Christmas carols, but it's more appropriate than throwing them in the mix in mid-September. Another set of bonuses talks about an Australian state, which must surely have reminded some viewers "Crikey, we're missing the Celeb Torture final." (Mrs Thatcher won.)

Though York has been doing well on the buzzers, they're not doing so well on the bonuses. Churchill go perfectly on the audio round about reality pop stars, and trail 80-70. They take the lead with the next set of bonuses, and pull away from there. A question about Sedna (the 10th planet of 2004) probably wouldn't be asked now, because Xena (the 10th planet of 2005) is just confusing the matter. Thumper is pushing the speed limit at 30 points per minute, and by the second visual round (on military decorations), Churchill's lead is 130-115.

The next starter pushes Churchill past 130, and they're certain of a repechage place should they lose. One from the department of "ask a silly question"

Q: In the animal kingdom, the phylum porifera are so named because they bear structures similar to which feature in human males:
David Hopkins, York: [looks embarrassedly to the right] Penises?
Thumper: Um, no.

As with Edinburgh a few weeks ago, York need just one more starter to make the repechage hunt. Again, York just can't get the one break they need, in spite of a run of four starters dropped by both sides. The final score sees Churchill win, 170-120.

Two will return in the repechage:
1) St Hugh's Oxford 190
2) St John's Oxford, Durham 130

4) Exeter 125

This column reckons St John's has the tie-breaker here, based on a superior bonus record (10/27 against 10/30) and fewer missignals (2 against 3).

Daniel Nazarian was the leading buzzer for Churchill, scoring 85 points; David Hopkins had a captain's innings for York, with 50. Churchill made 15/33 bonuses and five (count em!) missignals; York's failure came in the bonuses, where they went 7/27; the one missignal also kept them off the board.

Next: London Business v Trinity Oxford

This Week And Next

In response to an email, the Hertfordshire v Lucy Cavendish match on University Challenge pulled in 2.8 million viewers. It was BBC2's third most popular programme that week, behind only Rome and Link. The three episodes since have been hit by BBC1's habit of scheduling Shakespeare plays opposite, the episode on 21 November fell to 2.5m. That's behind Eggheads (2.6m on Tuesday), Come Dancing (2.7m on Tuesday), QI (2.8m), and Link (3.4m on Wednesday.) Dragons' Den and Ready Steady Cook both made more than 2.3m. Come Dancing was BBC1's second-biggest programme, taking 9.4m, with Jet Set restricted to 7.9m. 5.8m saw the TV Presenters edition of Link, just ahead of 5.4m for Boris Johnson's turn on HIGNFY.

ITV ruled the roost, with Celeb getting its best ratings on Monday - 10.2m. X-Factor made 8.5m and Millionaire 6.8m. Channel 4 has a hit on its hand - Deal or No Deal has been renewed for another nine months, and Friday the 25th - the show's 23rd episode - saw it break 3m viewers. The Scrapheap semifinal attracted 2.8m, and Countdown managed 2.2m on Friday.

Cable ratings, and the first episode of the new Raven series pulled in 247,000 viewers, more than anything else on the CBBC channel. No other episode saw more than 200,000 viewers, though. Junior Eurovision didn't make ITV2's top ten, 442,000 was required.

Next week: Space Cadets continues, and the main ITV channel abandons entertaining night-time programming in favour of the Call And Lose nonsense.

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