Weaver's Week 2006-11-05

Weaver's Week Index

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


Charlie Five

"He can have a big truck like mine when he pulls in audiences like mine." Noel Edmonds talking about Les Dennis.

In the Grid

Endemol West for Channel 5, 6.32 weeknights

While the perpetually magnanimous and self-effacing Noel Edmonds has been sunning himself in the Seychelles, Les Dennis has been in the next studio, hosting his first game show in some years. Indeed, it's almost his first television work of the century - a few episodes of Family Fortunes trickled out in the opening months, he did Celebrity Big Brother in 2002, and had a small part in Extras last year, but that's been it.

So, what happens in In The Grid? Almost what happens in the other studio at Endemol West - a guessing game with some bells and whistles. After a convoluted introduction, involving one of nine players being picked to challenge the returning champ, the game proper fills almost twenty of the 24 minutes. "The grid" (consistently referred to as "The Grid" in subtitles) is a 4x4 arrangement of squares, which in turn are split into five categories. There are point prizes, percentage increases, percentage decreases, direct transfers, and a wipeout square. Apart from the wipeout, which returns a score to 0, there seems to be at least two squares in each category, and usually five point prizes. In the programme, the points are referred to as "pounds", but this is a debatable matter.

Each contestant is spotted 1000 points to start the game, and - between them - the contestants must turn over 15 squares. There's an obvious strategic element at play, as each contestant is issued with two Reveals, which will allow them - but not their opponent - to see the category of a square. The Reveal does not display the magnitude of the square, merely its category. Furthermore, a running total of the remaining squares is available to both contestants, allowing them to see what the approximate odds of a good square (point prize, percentage increase, maybe a transfer) against a bad one (percentage decreases, wipeout). There are some interesting strategic possibilities here, though the pace of the game doesn't allow much time for discussion.

The colours are, perhaps, a little difficult to remember, but the reveal of each one is accompanied by the host shouting, "A purple! Oh, that's a steal - how much have you stolen from your opponent?" More annoying is the way the count of squares remaining fades in and out; just leave it up the whole time, would you? And how come the squares are called things like Ehtwo and Beeone, instead of Alpha-2 and Bravo-1. Does no one remember Finders Keepers?

Towards the end of the game, Les explains what might happen, or what needs to happen for a contestant to win (or take the lead). Yes, he's prompted down his earpiece; yes, this helps the viewer to appreciate the stakes, and get a gut feeling for probability. If Mandy needs a 6% transfer to win the game, and there are two transfers in play, she's surely won. If there's one transfer and one percentage raise, maybe not.

After the fifteen squares have been turned over, one player will have more points than the other. They'll then play the "megagrid", with cash prizes ranging from roughly £2000 to £15,000 for completing between one and five guesses at a board initially containing 20 hits and five misses. This should be the centrepiece of the game; as it is, it feels far more like a guessing game than the main part. Oh, there's also a legalised telephone lottery, giving one home player between £500 and £3000, but only if they spend money on a phone call or SMS, or free entry over the web.

Other ideas have been missed. A fascinating tactical idea in the main game would be for each player to have a Pass, allowing them to pass their turn (and, to avoid a stalemate, forcing the opponent to play). We're also mildly disappointed that - though the points are called "pounds", the scores are not worked out to the nearest "penny", but always rounded up to the nearest integer. In the end game, it would be possible to introduce a similar mechanic to the main game, with the contestant not knowing how many squares there were in each category, and being able to stop after (say) one square, but then being committed to revealing the next two, then the next three.

The burning question: is this show qualitatively better than the one next door? Tricky. On the downside, we don't get to know the contestants well, but then they don't really do that in the red box land any more. But the main part of the game has some control for the players, and we're not so much at the whim of the producers who advance their agenda and extract revenge when it suits.

The star of In The Grid is, clearly, the grid, in its spirit of moderate benevolence. It's not clear who or what is the star of the show in the next room - for all the host's protestations, it's certainly not the contestant. Could be Noel, could be the Banker, could be the top prize of £250,000. It's probably the telephone, the channel between the main arena and the deus ex telegraphia.

Ultimately, it comes down to the hosts. Les Dennis doesn't have the raw magnetism of Noel Edmonds, but nor does he have the persistent air of fakery that's dogged the man in the caravan large enough for his ego. And his show, at 24 minutes, is just the right length - it's not dragged out over three-quarters of an hour.

Make no mistake, In The Grid isn't the greatest show we'll see this year. It's certainly not as good as the last Channel 5 suppertime quiz, 19 Keys. It is a competent and credible show, and this column has found it surprisingly moreish. Go on, get the man a bigger truck.


This week, the remarkably busy John "Smallhead" Humphrys has been in search of the greatest journalistic scoop ever, an interview with world religion's famous deity. God was unable to talk with Mr Humphrys, pleading pressure of work in being as ubiquitous as David Mitchell, and has delegated the task to various faith leaders. None of this has any bearing on tonight's show.

Final Eliminator 5

"You can almost feel the tension," says the continuity announcer. If you say so, we're quite nonplussed at the twenty-ninth of 31 shows.

Janet Carr will tonight discuss the Life and Reign of Elizabeth I. You know, Queenie, and the woman who set up court with her parrot, Hatfield. Enough old comedy, the contender scores 9 (4).

David Parker offers the Life and Music of Stevie Wonder, most famous for the first answer, "I just called to say I love you", staying on the line for six months and doing more for BT profits than anyone. It's a swift round, and 14 (2) is an embarrassment more than we got.

Eliot Wilson takes the "Bernard Sansom" novels of Len Deighton. This is a series of spy novels set in Berlin, and 7 (4) probably won't be enough.

Katharine Drury is also taking fiction, the "Reginald Perrin" novels and television series. Even though the questions are exceptionally long, Smallhead is able to (just) remain coherent while talking at two million words a minute, allowing the contender to complete a Hall Of Fame score, 19 (0).

Mr Wilson fails to remember the name by which the Royal Mail was known earlier in the decade, and finishes on 15 (9). Mrs Carr gets a question about Semele's daughter, and finishes on 17 (7).

Mr Parker works his way through some tricky questions, finishing on 26 (3). Mrs Drury reminds us of the genius of the Reggie Perrin shows, and a repeat would be nice. She needs eight to win, and gets those, and some more. Her place in the final is assured, with a score of 34 (THIRTY-FOUR) (and 1 pass).

University Challenge

First Round, match 10: Edinburgh v Birmingham

Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, and Robin Cook came from Edinburgh; Birmingham alumni include TIME TEAM's Mick Aston, Philippa Forrester, and Lizo from Newsround. And this column; we're trying not to show bias.

Right, we're going to disown our degree, as any team that can confuse Richard Whiteley with Richard Madeley when given a clue of One Ferret needs to read more of this site. Edinburgh gets the other questions in the opening stanza, though they miss the huge clue of "a seasonal figure". It's got to be the North Pole's famous Fr. Christmas. The first visual round is on Miss Marple, and Edinburgh's lead is up to 85-10.

And there's no stopping Edinburgh, not until Birmingham gets a starter about RSS - we never get a definition other than the web. The side would have been run out of town if they didn't get the question about another Brummie, Tony Hancock. The audio round is on baroque music, prompting mutterings of "is it from an opera" when it's from a cigar commercial, and Edinburgh's lead has slightly increased to 130-40.

Here's a question where the list is almost not needed:

Q: Who comes next in this list of world cup winning captains? Fritz Walter, Hideraldo Bellini, Mauro Ramos de Oliveira...

Thumper has the chutzpah to read out a question about the Open University. How come they don't compete any more? The second visual round is on the routes of major roads, and sees Edinburgh confuse the A6 (Luton to Carlisle) with the M4 (London to Bristol). Birmingham gets the starter, and one of the bonuses is the A38, which passes right by the campus. Edinburgh's lead is 150-65.

Birmingham briefly threatens to come back in the repechage, but it's never quite on the cards. The final minutes run down without incident, though Thumper surely breaks the speed limit towards the end of the show, and Edinburgh takes its expected win, 195-120.

No change in the repechage:

  • 195 Bristol
  • 160 Pembroke Cambridge
  • 150 Manchester
  • 140 Sussex

Chris Linskaill was the best buzzer for Edinburgh, making nine starters - and two missignals - and responsible for 106 points. Rupert Millard was influential for Birmingham, six starters, two missignals, and 68 points. Edinburgh took 16/39 starters with three incorrect buzzes, Birmingham 10/24 with two missignals.

Next match: Corpus Christi Oxford v Reading

This Week And Next

Channel 5's director of programmes, Dan Chambers, is to leave the station. This may or may not have something to do with our lead review.

Red faces all round over the new Hard Spell video game. The box says, quite clearly, that it includes footage of TV's famous Eamon Holmes. It's not clear what regular host EAMONN Holmes thinks about it.

We reckon we can guess what Eamon(n) thinks about the fate of his new US television series, The Rich List, which has been cancelled after precisely one episode. From what we can tell, it was predicated on bidding for, and naming, items in a certain category. We're reminded of the final rounds in La Cible, or Pass The Buck, and wonder why this was put on in prime-time. Still, Eamonn can be happy - he's no less unsuccessful than Patrick Kielty, and a whole lot less irritating.

Winners at the national television awards, aired on ITV this week.

Not entirely sure about some of these nominations - Big Brother is more an excuse for conning people out of their money, Deal is arguably prime time, and X-Factor certainly isn't entertaining. GSM is the first new winner in the Quiz Programme category since 1998, when the winner was Have I Got News for You.

Ratings to 22 October. Antan Dec ends the series with 8.2m viewers, but Strictly Come Dancing (7.85m) takes a good lead over X-Factor (7.5m). One Against One Hundred pulled in 5.7m, ITV's Ladette to Lady 5.4m, Friday's HIGNFY 4.95m and Question of Sport 4.7m.

3.35m saw the top Deal, 2.9m the strongest Link. UC had 2.6m, Mock the Week 2.5m, Eggheads 2.4m, QI 2.3m. Mastermind also records 2.3m, but this was a part-networked transmission, Scotland's viewing figures are not included. A Dragons' Den highlights reel took 2.25m, Dancing on 2 had 2.05m, ahead of the Saturday programme highlights and a re-run of HIGNFY - 1.9m each.

For the digital channels, QI on BBC4 took 475,000 and 175,000 on G2, Best of Friends on CBBC 235,000, ITV2's Xtra Factor just 650,000, Jade's Pa on Living 195,000. Deal was knocked down to fifth place in More4's listing, just 145,000 - delaying by a day past Channel 4 seems to have killed the ratings.

Coming next week, Celebrity Scissorhands (BBC3, from tonight) is the latest charity event. The Race (Sky1, from tomorrow) brings motor racing to the West London cable channel, and it's the final of Mastermind Cymru (S4C, 8.25 tonight).

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