Weaver's Week 2006-04-02

Weaver's Week Index

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


Front Page News

What should be our front page lead this week? News of a war in Uganda; Spotty the dog gets measles; Diana Still Dead; or shall we just put up a big picture of a famous television personality and be done with it?

What Has She Done To Deserve This?

One of our minions came into Game Show Towers last week, clutching a copy of the respected but relatively unread Independent newspaper. "A war of words as Countdown fans turn on Vorderman", said the headline, next to a large picture of Des Lynam sitting in front of the famous clock.

"Fans of Channel 4's 'Countdown' are insisting that Carol Vorderman should stick to being an 'assistant'," wrote Ciar Byrne, the paper's media correspondent. In the article were not one, not two, but fully three people suggesting that they didn't like the puns that the Game Show Goddess uses to introduce the celebrities in dictionary corner. From such a small sample, we're apparently to conclude that every Countdown fan in the nation wants to see la Vord replaced.

Nonsense and piffle-paffle, as future guest celeb Boris Johnson would surely say. It's three people writing to a fan forum (the Yahoo C4Countdown group, we believe), and that's not going to be a revolutionary movement any more than a few grannies discussing the price of apples will alter the national orchard policy.

The change they're discussing has come about in the last few weeks; since he arrived, Des Lynam has taken slightly longer to introduce champion and challenger and Susie's Sidekick than Richard Whiteley did. Coupled with the banter between the host and Carol, this made the opening few minutes something of a one-man monologue. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but Des is not the star of the show. Let Carol introduce the celeb, inject a bit of pace to proceedings. And let her read out the groansome puns that the producers spent ages working out, but that tended to fall flat when Des did them. It's a win for everyone.

Now, this would all have been worthy of perhaps a footnote, if it had been the end of the story. But it wasn't. The next day's Daily Express, a populist publication that isn't actually popular, splashed the non-story over its front page. "Has TV Carol become a hate figure?" asked the organ. Press pundits have a rule of thumb; whenever the Express asks a question on the front page, respond in the negative. Inside the paper is a poor re-hash of the original article, with an added word of support from Gyles Brandreth (someone who is due a return, if only to say that he's done his week for the year.)

The Daily Telegraph, a better-selling broadsheet, also reported on the story, and intimated that Ms Vorderman has started to wear more glamorous clothes. Helpfully, the paper printed a picture of Ms Vorderman in more glamorous clothes. This problem never arose when Gyles was around to give fashion tips, so that's another reason to bring him back. And then send him and his jumpers on their way.

Seriously, though, this is evidence of one thing, and one thing only. A picture of Carol Vorderman on the front page, and a suggestion that she might not be as ubiquitous in the future, will sell more newspapers than any actual news.

Now, what of the game itself? Like life, Countdown goes in cycles. After the run of octochamps during January and February, there's been a faster turnover of champions during March. Kate May (4 wins, 402 pts at +59 to Par) looked like she could challenge for the quarters, but fell to Tony Foran (3 wins, 322 at +55). His conquerer, Brian Hart, lasted just one win (137 at +30) before losing to Ian Graham (5 wins, 547 at +31). One further win would have put him in the quarter-final shake-up, but Ian Alexander (4 wins, 442 at +16) proved too strong. His defeat at the hands of Sheila Henderson (1 win, 169 at +15) was a surprise. Paul Henry ensured Sheila wouldn't defend her title, but he fell early and defended some low-scoring matches (2 wins, 200 at +60). Keith Broadbent (3 wins, 373 at +28) looked like he might challenge for the quarter-finals, but lost a classic on Thursday by 101-95. Dan Webster proved to be a one-day winner (173 at -1) - he's only the fifth player this series to finish with a below-par score. Ella O'Donnell now has two games under her belt, including a cracking match yesterday.

There are approximately 33 games left before Finals Week. The top four competitors - Conor Travers, Matthew Shore, Paul Howe, and Keith Maynard - look safe to return. Matthew Bowden, the fifth octochamp this series, is almost certain to return. The other seeds are Christine Armstrong (7 wins), Daniel Peake (6), and Marie Hayden (5, 593 pts). A ten-person championship will include Ian Graham and Clive Johnson, with Kate May and Ian Alexander joining if the bracket expands to 12.


So, here we go again. The most prestigious solo television quiz bar none is back, and in the next 31 weeks, we'll be reviewing all of the contests. It's the same format as the past two years - 24 heats, 6 final eliminators, six in the final, only the winners at each stage will progress. The web version of this column links to an article about the subject.

Joseph Todd is a Royal Navy Petty Officer, and has taken US Submarines to 1960. It's a tense start, perhaps not a winning one, and he finishes on 10 (3).

Katie Holloway has been reading the Dragonriders of PERN series by Anne McCaffrey. It's another book about which this column knows nothing, but Ms Holloway does - 14 (2) is a strong score.

Nick Duffy will be quizzed on Blackadder. As one would expect from a classic comedy series, some entertaining questions. 11 (0) is also solid.

Paul Hopkin offers the Life and Works of Ivor Novello, and starts with a flourish, as if he means serious business. A pass on the second question visibly takes the wind out of his sails, but he fights back to finish on 13 (1).

It's almost written into the show's contract that the first of the series has to be exciting. Joseph Todd, almost inevitably, is invited to talk about his subject until he uses tonight's bonus word, "depth", which has the audience groaning. It's not written into this column's contract that we don't criticise the contestants, it just feels like the height of bad manners to do so; they are putting themselves forward for a national audience, with the possibility that they'll be made to look fools. Mr Todd finishes on 17 (8).

Nick Duffy almost shouts out the answers to his first couple of questions, and works his way up to an excited 22 (0). Excited contestants, this is what we like to see.

Paul Hopkin has a good go at his questions, but rather falls into pass hell, finishing on 21 (7).

Katie Holloway needs nine to win, but takes an awfully long time over some of her questions, and then goes and gets many of them wrong. She finishes on 20 (4).

So, the first programme has been tense right to the end, and with an unexpected result. Only thirty more to go.

University Challenge

Second Round, match 7: Manchester v St Hilda's Oxford

We're not saying that Manchester has waited too long for its second round match - they've every right to dine out on a comprehensive, 240-190 stuffing of St Hugh's Oxford. But when they last played on 19 September, Noel Edmonds was still best known for his stance on Cake. St Hilda's beat Durham four weeks later in a very good match. Another sub for St Hilda's, in the second seat. It slightly helps the balance of the team.

Not that either side gets off to a promising start - just five of the first 14 questions are answered correctly, and after the first visual round - on stock exchange interiors - Manchester has a 35-25 lead.

St Hilda's tries hard, but it's Manchester who get the answers right, including one that invites the teams to complete a palindrome. That doesn't work in print! Nor does the audio round - Puccini arias - by which time Manchester's lead is up to 90-25.

One of St Hilda's bonus rounds last time was on roulette; one of Manchester's bonuses asks for the sum of numbers on a roulette wheel. Whether it's by luck or judgement, Manchester opens up a 100-point lead during the third stanza, and we cannot see St Hilda's coming back to win this one. Especially when Manchester is able to pull out the name of obscure Russian geneticists. The second visual round is styles of drinks glasses, and Manchester's lead has reached 180-25.

St Hilda's could yet be the lowest-scoring side ever, which just feels completely wrong and unfair to them. The fate is, mercifully, avoided when the side gets a third starter with just two minutes to play. This starter question needs some explanation:

Q: If every batsman in a game of cricket is bowled first ball, which number batsman is not out?

The first ball is bowled at number 1; with number 2 left to watch in awe at the quality delivery from the other end. For the second delivery, number 1 is replaced by 3; in turn, he's replaced by numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7. Number 7 is dismissed, and number 8 comes out, but that's the end of the over, and number 2 will face the next ball, and be out to the next ball. Numbers 9, 10, and 11 fall in the next three balls, leaving batsman 8 stranded without having faced a delivery. A demonstration of this principle will be provided by the Australian side next winter. It says here.

Manchester turns the screw in the final minutes, and finishes with a convincing win, 255-45. It is a bit unfair on a spirited St Hilda's side, but they were a good way below the Manchester side. Gareth Aubrey was the top buzzer for Manchester, scoring 110 points. The side recorded 20/48 bonuses with one missignal. Eleanor Parker got 26 for St Hilda's, the side had 3/9 bonuses.

Next match: Hertfordshire v Lampeter.

This Week And Next

Sell! Sell! Celador! Paul Smith is to dispose of his successful television and radio business, which has made such hit shows as Winning Lines, It's Been A Bad Week, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. Bidding starts at £50 million quid.

The BAFTA award nominations are out, for the finest British television. Three categories have game show interest.

Entertainment performance

  • Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear, BBC2
  • Jack Dee, Jack Dee Live at the Apollo,BBC1
  • Noel Edmonds, Deal or No Deal, Channel 4
  • Jonathan Ross, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, BBC1


  • The Apprentice, Dan Adamson, Tanya Shaw, Peter Moore, Mark Burnett Productions/Talkback, BBC2 20.04.05
  • Dragons' Den, The Production Team, BBC2, 15.11.05
  • Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, The Production Team, Optomen Television, Channel 4 07.06.05
  • Top Gear, The Production Team, BBC2 04.12.05

Lew Grade award for entertainment programme

  • Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, The Production Team, Open Mike Productions, BBC1 01.07.05
  • Have I Got News for You, Richard Wilson, Nick Martin, Jo Bunting, Hat Trick Productions, BBC1 03.11.05
  • Strictly Come Dancing, Karen Smith, Richard Hopkins, Sam Donnelly, BBC Entertainment, BBC1 17.12.05
  • The X Factor, The Production Team, Talkback Thames in association with SYCO TV, ITV 20.08.05

The last category shows just how heavily the game show has inculcated its way into popular culture. The HIGNFY episode was Jeremy Clarkson, Andy Hamilton, Mark Steel - a slightly odd choice, especially with Boris around; SCD was the series final; X-Factor was the first in the series.

Noel Edmonds celebrated his nomination for a BAFTA by launching a libel writ against the Daily Mail. Ian Hislop's famed observations from Hamilton v Fayed might stand us in good stead once more.

Ratings-watch for the week to 19 March, and what's happened to Pop Idle Us? Pulling in a million at the start of the series, it's now down to just 580,000 viewers. That's less than twice as many as saw RTS Daytime Programme of the Year Deal or No Deal on More 4. But the magic is wearing off on C4 - Saturday's show lost a million viewers. Still, 4.2 million for the daytime edition beats 2 million for The Games and for 8 Out of 10 Cats.

Game shows occupied the top three spots on BBC2's chart, The Apprentice (4.1m), the Masterchef final (3.5m), and Link (3.3m). UC had 2.7m. The Saturday night tussle ended in Millionaire's favour, but only just - Chris's show had 5.7m, barely 100,000 ahead of Jet Set. Both were beaten by the Junior Stars in Their Eyes final - 6.0m is the highest game show audience of the week.

Highlights for the coming week include Classic Comeback, in which Les Dennis asks questions about archive television (UK Gold, 7pm Sun); Raven from the start (CBBC, 1pm and 6pm weekdays); Blue Peter's annual Test The Nation's Children (BBC1, 5pm Monday and Wednesday) - and it was good to see Peter Duncan giving tips on how to run the marathon to both Tina Heath and Zoe Salmon last week; and School's Out (BBC1, 7pm Wednesday) asks mildly famous people about basic education.

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