Weaver's Week 2006-10-08

Weaver's Week Index

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


Desperately Seeking Talent

"I cannot believe how many of my mates managed to miss 7 weeks of Love Island on tv but managed to catch the 30 seconds in which I appeared on Ant and Dec's Saturday night" - the arrow of everyone's eye, Fearne Cotton.

Big Brother's Close Shave

Another week, another shed-load of criticism for Big Brother's ticket giveaway. The Advertising Standards Authority (yep, them again) have lambasted co-sponsors Nestlé for omitting important information from packaging for the giveaway, including the point that contestants needed to be at least 18.

The long-awaited (at least by this column) report into claims of telephone shenanigans was published on Thursday. ICSTIS ruled that Channel 4's agents had misled viewers regarding its controversial "vote somebody back in for the prize" stunt during this year's interminable run. Though the producers had not intended to mislead viewers, the volume of complaints - no fewer than 2,635 - indicated that that had been the effect. ICSTIS decided that complainants would not be refunded their money, a decision based purely on the fact that the winner of the vote-back-in had not themselves won.

This is a narrow escape for Channel 4, who have only had to foot the £50,000 bill for the inquiry. The channel could easily have stood to lose a substantial chunk of its investments - this column posited a figure of £1 million, Het Grauniad suggested three times as much. We can reasonably conclude that there won't be a vote-back-in sprung on the viewers again, though it may be unexpected to the contestants.

The Slammer

CBBC, also BBC1, 4.58 Friday

Remember Dick and Dom? All of, ooh, about eight months ago, Messrs McCourt and Wood, along with their comedy companions, were the best thing to have happened to Saturday mornings since the invention of Saturday. Then the dynamic duo finished their Bungalow series, and vanished into the ether.

The comedy companions - Ian Kirkby, Dave Chapman, Lee Barnett, and Melvin Odoom - have not vanished into the ether at all. No, they've all gone to prison. Indeed, a lot of former stars have gone to prison for crimes against entertainment, and they can earn an early release, but only if the assembled crowd reckons their performance is the best.

As back stories go, this isn't the strongest we've ever seen, but it's simple enough to be explained in the first thirty seconds of a 27-minute show. And it allows Ian Kirkby to almost reprise his award-winning performance - DC Harry Batt has turned into a Mr Burgess, a hard-nosed prison guard. Lee Barnett (Bungalow's Prize Idiot) plays Jeremy Gimbert, a more sympathetic figure. Chapman (as Peter Nokio) and his ventriloquist's puppet, and Odoom (still playing himself) are banged up for reasons we really don't need to discuss here.

The show begins with a five-minute comedy sketch involving Nokio and Odoom either doing something to win their place in the forthcoming freedom show, or helping another prisoner prepare their act. In lesser hands, this comedy schtick would come across as a bit of pointless filler; here, it's both entertaining and a good warm-up for the main event.

Ted Robbins plays the prison governor, and introduces the four acts who compete for their freedom. Each does a short variety act - in the opening episodes, there were acrobats, contortionists, ventriloquists, dancers, but no singers. There are musicians - a man who made an orchestra out of car horns, and another who claimed to make music by farting, but no singers. After each performance, the guards discuss how good (or bad) the act was with members of the audience.

Only after all four acts have performed is there any attempt at judging - the Clap-o-meter is wheeled out, and the audience's applause is unscientifically measured and converted into a number. Highest score on the clap-o-meter wins, and gains their freedom during the closing titles.

If we're being honest, this show owes a lot to the classic Friday evening variety format, Crackerjack. Remove the Double or Drop element, and take away the pop singers that appeared towards the end of the run, and we're left with a combination of comedy sketches and variety acts. By restricting each performance to three minutes or so, it's not really possible for the audience at home to get bored - there's always something else coming along.

Ultimately, though, the atmosphere generated by the regular cast helps to overcome the occasional duff act. Kirkby's character, in particular, is not afraid to call a poor act when he sees it, and the anticipation of this mauling will help to keep viewers watching.

The Slammer is a great little show, and a fine example of how to put a talent contest on television.

The All Star Talent Show

Brighter Pictures (an Endemol company) for Channel 5, 8.30 Fridays

This review is based on the programme broadcast on 22 September.

Skip forward three hours, and what has the combination of Channel 5 and Endemol got to bring to the party?

Host for the evening's entertainment are Andi Peters and Myleene Klass. One of these people was a member of a highly successful pop group for about two weeks in early 2001, before carving out a niche in the pop end of classical music. The other has been head of youth programmes for Channel 4, and head of music for ITV, but is still best known for being regularly upstaged by Ed The Duck.

In this particular show, six celebrities are invited to share their talents with the viewing three-quarters-of-a-million. Only, there's a catch. These celebrities are not doing the things that made them famous, but something entirely different. So, for instance, someone from Corporation Street won't be standing around like a brick wall, but will be twirling her baton and dancing around the room. Jilly Goolden won't be comparing bottles of wine to apples and pears, but will be tap-dancing. Roy Walker won't be asking us to say what he sees, but will be singing.

Also appearing are Julian Clary and a couple of judges. Mr Clary was last amongst us last year, when he hosted a moderately successful second series of Come and Have a Go If You Think You're Smart Enough, which probably didn't deserve to be axed in favour of a summer run of Jet Set. His companions on this episode were some lady who didn't really make any impression, and Christopher Biggins. Just take a look at the line-up - Messrs Peters, Clary, and Biggins. All they had to do was invite Dale Winton on and the show would be more camp than the world's largest row of tents.

After each act has performed, the judges deliver their verdict, one of the hosts appears before a Clap-O-Meter, and the other host declares the lines open for voting. The line for each contestant opens at the start of the show, which must surely give an advantage to the first performers. As is traditional, the show relies on a Mega Phone-In at Mega Phone-Rates.

So, does this show work? Well, almost. There's a surfeit of singers, many of them barely rising above pub karaoke, but that's got to be enough to get them into the last 50 on The X Factor. And there's something missing in the execution - while The Slammer's utterly implausible back story lends it a mildly credible raison d'etre, the All-Star Talent Show just feels thrown together for no reason other than to boost the performer's egos, and to feed more money to Endemol and Channel 5.

All that said, the programme is mindless entertainment for a Friday night, and there's not a huge amount wrong with that. It just could be done with a little more style, a touch more pizzazz, and for a notable reason.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Desmond?

It emerged last weekend that Des Lynam will step down from the Countdown chair at the end of the current series. The long treks to record the shows in Leeds are taking their toll on the star - who we're surprised to learn is already in his sixties - and rather than cause inconvenience by moving production to London, Mr Lynam preferred to curtail his career on the programme.

This is a great shame, for in the short time he's been with us, Des has settled into the presenter's chair in a way that we could scarcely have hoped. We said in November, after a couple of weeks hosting, that it would take us a little time to make an informed judgement; by the end of last year, he had become part of the Teatime Trio, one of three friends to welcome into our living rooms each afternoon. He even lent his name to a cracking pun, harking back to the show's French origins - Des Chiffres (Carol Vorderman) et Des Lettres (Susie Dent) et Des Lynam.

However, it's no use crying over spilt milk, Des has made his decision, and we must now look for another member of the Teatime Trio. Mercifully, many of the points we made in August last year still apply. Carol Vorderman and Susie Dent will continue their double-act on the left side of the screen. There will continue to be more contests between two gentlemen than between two ladies, and that there will still be more contests between two younger players (say, younger than 40) than two old people.

It is not necessary for the host to be male, but it would be an advantage. It is not necessary for the host to be of a different age from Carol or Susie, but it would be an advantage. It is, perhaps, necessary for the host to be able to commit to Countdown for a good run - there's no desperate need to emulate Richard's permanent residence in front of the camera, but Des's 14 months feels a year too short. Perhaps the greatest requirement is that the host is happy for production to continue in Leeds, a factor that is going to skew our recommendations for people from the north, even if they don't recognise the significance of "From The North".

Amongst people who have been regular successes in Dictionary Corner, Tom O'Connor looks to be the stand-out choice. He has a word quiz (Crosswits) in his history, and he is very much a people person. Perhaps a safe choice, but a decent bet. This column would argue against Richard Digance - he's great as an occasional guest, but all Digance all the time may be too much. A similar argument goes against Gyles Brandreth.

The bookies make Eamonn Holmes the favourite. If he landed the job, Eamonn would surely have to give up his job presenting the morning programme on Good Morning Isleworth, a obscure and little-viewed cable channel broadcasting in the Heathrow area. Phillip Schofield has also been mentioned quite a lot - his contract for This Morning is with ITV, and might be easier to break than one with an outside company. Gopherman would be great, he always is, but he would still be of a similar age to Carol and Susie.

Richard Whiteley came from the world of regional news. We don't get to see the regional news in the north, being in the Midlands, where Bob Warman and Nick Owen (formerly of TV-AM) rule the roost. The latter's namesake, Nicholas Owen (of ITN) has been a Dictionary Corner regular, and could well be a decent contender. Another possible from this well would be Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who made a decent job of Number One, still Endemol's best show on Channel 4 at that time of day. We've also thought about Peter Snow and Eddie Mair, but not for very long; Mair would have to give up his job on Radio 4, and Snow - well, he just feels wrong for Countdown in the same way that he feels right for Deal or No Deal.

Last year, we cheekily put forward Simon Groom for the host's job here, and still reckon he'd make a fantastic host. Other Blue Peter presenters could also fill the show - Peter Purves is of the right age to directly succeed Des to the host's chair, while Peter Duncan proved on The Games recently that he's lost none of the old magic. We were slightly surprised that the Matt Baker wing of TV Cream hasn't proposed Matt Baker to host Countdown - he is very much from the north, as is Simon Groom, and clearly has the ability to do anything. The only factor that might stop Matt is the commitment - he's got a long career in television ahead of him, and Countdown might come across as a bit of a backwater.

Having a woman host the show would be a bit strange, and it would take an exceptional talent to make the show work. Anne Diamond may be able to pull the trick off.

An online betting site has been offering good odds on some other candidates (so if you're reading from the US, look away now):

  • Noel Edmonds - who seems to have other things to do at this time of day.
  • Tim Rice - an interesting choice.
  • Angus Deayton - at least we know he's got nothing on his plate.
  • Paul Merton - declined an audition last year, can't see him taking it now.
  • Trevor McDonald - can't quite see this one coming off.
  • Des O'Connor, Terry Wogan - the sound you can hear is that of bookmakers scraping the barrel.

As before, we expect the eventual host to be someone we've not even considered, and wish the production team bags of luck in their search.

This Week And Next

No Mastermind, no University Challenge, no praise for Roly Keating this week.

BARB ratings from the week to 24 September, and we have to have a new leader, for Maria bowed out on top. X-Factor takes over at the top slot, pulling in a remarkable 9.15 million. Millionaire moved into second place, Ingram Wilcox's million-pound win secured 6.35 million. Noel Edmonds managed to win and lose on Saturday - his lottery show, Everyone's A Winner, pulled 5.35 million, beating Antan Dec by 150,000, but the evening's Deal slumped to just 2.05 million. Celeb Masterchef peaked on Tuesday with 4.15m, just ahead of Dragons' Den (3.9m), with the best Deal - Friday's episode - taking 3.5m.

Mastermind and UC finished tied at 2.7m, Link had 2.35m on Friday, Numberwang's prime-time edition had 2.3m, and Channel 4's last Come Dine With Me (at least for now) had 2.2m. 1.75m for Mock the Week and Tuesday's Eggheads, 1.7m for Old News. On Channel 5, 1.1m saw Interior Rivalry, and 750,000 for Trust Me I'm A Holiday Rep. No place for that week's All-Star Talent Show.

On the digital tier, 1.05 million gazed in awe at the inanity of ITV2's Xtra Factor, and 960,000 couldn't believe how bad the original was that they saw it a second time. 400,000 caught up with Antan Dec, too. 130,000 saw CBBC's Best of Friends, half the best score for Deal or No Deal on More 4.

Next week: Mastermind Cymru begins on S4C tonight, and we open the pages for anyone who can provide brief recaps of the show, for this column's cable company refuses to carry the Welsh-language channel. We've also the start of a new run of Have I Got News for You.

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