Weaver's Week 2006-11-12

Weaver's Week Index

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



We will mention, but not comment further, on Gordon Brown's comment that he wants Britain to become like The X Factor.


Fox for Channel 4, 9pm Friday

What can we do with a disused nuclear bunker somewhere beneath a major city? We could turn it into the latest boutique hotel, themed around the cold war. Or we could use it to bury things that we really don't want coming to the surface in the foreseeable future, such as some rather radioactive nuclear waste, or tapes of Robert Kilroy-Silk's famous programme Shafted. Or, indeed, we could bury Robert Kilroy-Silk down there.

Instead, Fox Productions has turned the bunker into living quarters for nine people, and stuck them in there until they can decide who deserves a huge cash prize, or they all go so stark staring bonkers that spending days in the company of Robert Kilroy-Silk comes as a merciful release.

Coming up in this review: how Unanimous works, what's wrong with it, and what's right with it. That's still to come.

Nine people are locked in a bunker deep underground. In the opening programme, they are introduced, to the audience and to themselves. The players are the usual mix of people, designed and engineered for sparks to fly. The rules of the game are explained to the players - they will vote each day for someone to win the prize, and this vote must be unanimous. Well, almost unanimous - as on The Weakest Link, voting for oneself is strictly verboten, so it must be an 8:1 vote. Not unanimous. And, like the Papal conclaves, they'll keep voting until someone has the necessary supermajority. Unlike elections in the Vatican, there's no white smoke when a result is declared, and no one popping up on the balcony saying "Salve, musfautori!"

The voting mechanism is perhaps the best thing about the programme - each player has their own personalised silver voting ball, containing the names of all their opponents. Each player opens the ball, rotates the dial so that it shows their vote, then places it down a chute. The host - Alex Sykes - reads out the votes, plays it for as much tension as is humanely possible, and then quite a bit more. "Dullard, you only need six more votes" is a line that Bob Monkhouse delivered at a far greater speed, and with more meaning.

Stay with us. Coming up in this review: what's wrong with Unanimous, and what they've done right.

Nine people are locked in a bunker and most vote unanimously for one of them to win a huge cash prize. If they managed to secure the 8:1 vote at the first time of asking, it would be a minor miracle, and would leave a hole the size of Robert Kilroy-Silk's ego in the Channel 4 schedule. So, after each unsuccessful vote, one of the group is removed - the mechanism on the first programme was to reveal three secrets, the group judges which is worst, and the person holding that secret cannot win; in the second, it's a second ballot to remove someone. They can't leave the bunker, their vote is still needed, but they cannot win. They must also wear a rather boring t-shirt. Indeed, our fashion correspondent notes that all but one of the contestants on programme two wore tops of black or white. This is surely not a coincidence.

There's also a secret spying on each other mechanism, in which one of the contestants is sent to an isolation room, where they can listen in while the others discuss them. It's quite obvious that the producers are steering the conversation towards the topic of the money, otherwise they'll never get anything done.

There are many technical flaws to Unanimous. It falls into the same trap as Beauty and the Geek, by not employing a proper voice-over professional, but asking the contestants to participate and narrate. The same voices over and over is dull. It's also confusing, because it's not always obvious what is part of the game, and what is part of the exposition. Though the set design is impressive, and it can't have been cheap to build living quarters beneath the ground, it doesn't really catch the imagination. Then again, perhaps it's not meant to.

Ahead. Coming up: the two major flaws in Unanimous, and where we see the show going from here.

Nine people, bunker, huge cash prize, 8:1. The first major flaw in Unanimous is the use of "coming up" previews before each of the three commercial breaks, and recaps afterwards. The presence of commercials is forgivable, but to lose as long again with what's coming, and what you've already seen, really drags. It's almost as if the show consistently runs short of material, and the producers have to fill desperately. And it's an open goal for sarcastic reviewers to shoot at.

The second major flaw: who cares? Even after watching the show for two weeks, we cannot be bothered to care about the result, nor even the participants. Neither, it seems, can the viewing public - the opening episode of Unanimous failed to register on Channel 4's weekly top 30, and we understand that it attracted fewer than one million viewers. Later episodes of the show will be shunted an hour earlier, a clear admission of defeat from C4.

A few years ago, we wondered if BBC1's The Murder Game would run out of viewers before anyone solved the mystery. We really should ask the same question again, and seek a plurality of views, not unanimity.


The Grand Final

Congratulations to Emyr Rhys Jones, a policeman from Llangefni, Ynys Mon, who won Mastermind Cymru. His specialist subjects: The Simpsons, and The Eurovision Song Contest, 1956-1990. More from BBC Wales


Final Eliminator 6

John Humphrys says that this is television's toughest quiz. One Against One Hundred host Dermot O'Leary says that his is television's toughest quiz. You two, outside, now, settle your argument, and the winner can take on Gordon Burns.

Yes, it's the last Final Eliminator.

We begin with Steevan Glover (Stanley Kubrick), who is taking Boxing Heavyweight World Title Fights Since 1950. It's not a win by knockout, and 11 (0) is perhaps behind on the count.

Ray Eaton (British Track and Field Athletics) discusses the Life and Career of Andrew Jackson. The US president once had a Minister For English Relations; the contender has a score of 11 (0).

Lynne Ashcroft (Anne Boleyn) has been reading the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer. This round is not quite the same as the others, for the contender finishes on 11 (1).

Can our 24th and final heat winner make some headway? Alison Jenner (Nevil Shute) will take the Life and Work of Edward Jenner, the inventor of the smallpox vaccine. It's close - her final answer is "the officers of the Royal Navy and Army" when "Royal Navy" was the answer on the card - but her score is also 11 (0).

So, are we going to get the chat, or the play-off? The chat; Mr Glover has broken his leg, and suggests that Mr Mohammed Ali could beat anyone. Even the Chuckle Brothers from last year's Eurovision. 17 (0) is his final score.

Mr Eaton discusses how Andrew Jackson managed to abolish the national debt, and didn't believe in paper money, which explains why he's on the 20-dollar note. He remembers the host of Brass Eye, impressing this column, and thanks to shipping coals to Newcastle, finishes on 23 (1).

Mrs Ashcroft's novelist was a mystery writer, who adapted the plots from cases told by her lawyer husband. Her general knowledge round never really gets under way, and finishes on 17 (2).

Mrs Jenner - is she related to Edward Jenner? No, but people keep asking, "are you related?" John Prescott and Upper-Class Twit of the Year are just two of her answers. It's not quite enough, the final score is 20 (0).

University Challenge

First Round, match 11: Corpus Christi Oxford v Reading

You know the first round is coming to an end when we know how much is required to progress. 200 points tonight will put either side through, if only to the repechage. CCO were the champions two years ago; Reading are the most famous joke ever to appear on this show, as all students are said to be "reading" their subject.

Reading gets off to a bit of a joke start, picking up a missignal with the first buzz of the match. Thumper is giving Reading encouragement already, and we've not even reached the first visual round. That's on characters from Public Information Films, including the famous Tufty. We're not entirely sure that the volume of a pyramid is distinct from the volume of a cone, the latter being a special case of the former. Anyway, Reading is having a comeback, but is still 60-35 down.

Thumper gets bored reading a list of second world war abbreviations about intimacy - SWALK and NORWICH and BOBBINS and the like. Reading briefly brings the game back to within 10 points, but CCO gets a bit of latitude on a question relating to the croquet game in "Alice in Wonderland". The audio round is on Music from the Last Night of the Proms, prompting much discussion, and Corpus Christi Oxford has a lead of 125-50.

Goodness, are Reading still in the game? It's donkey's years since they got something, so they make good weather of their bonus, including the Countdown-tastic word SYZERGY. "Double-landlocked" is mentioned in connection with Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan, but not explained - both countries have no sea border, and neither does any country that they border. The second visual round is on planetary symbols, and neither side recognises the trident of Neptune. CCO has a 165-90 lead at this point.

Rather annoyingly, CCO is so quick on the buzz that we don't get to hear Delia Smith's tips on how to cook an egg. With four minutes to go, Reading creeps up into triple figures, with the possibility of making the repechage still just available. They reach 125 before CCO takes possession. But Reading gets Roosevelt, and one bonus. Then the side scores another starter, the gong goes, and Sussex are out of the repechage. Corpus Christi Oxford has won, 220-150.

Here's the repechage board:

  • 195 Bristol
  • 160 Pembroke Cambridge
  • 150 Manchester
  • 150 Reading

Paul Taylor was the leading buzzer for Corpus Christi, six starters and 89 points. Reading was lead by Warren Read, four starters and 60. In a week when no set of bonuses was answered entirely correctly, and none was entirely wrong, Corpus Christi made 20/36 bonuses, Reading 13/24 with that opening missignal.

We must discuss the repechage. Manchester's 150 came from 15/27 bonuses with three missignals, making this a very tricky one to call. This column would just about put Manchester ahead, primarily because their match contained three more starters. On the other hand, Reading scored more steadily through the game, Manchester only making headway in the final quarter. It would be good to see both again.

Next match: 20 November: Warwick v Emmanuel Cambridge

Countdown Update

ITN reported on Tuesday that the successor to Des Lynam would be Des O'Connor, veteran host of Take Your Pick and more chat shows than one can shake a stick at. This has not been confirmed by YTV, and this column will reserve judgement until we've actually seen some episodes.

On the programme, Christine Rodley completed four wins (444 at +46 to Par). She made way to Maurice Brown, who also racked up four wins (356 at +111). David Lettington looked on the road to a big score, but fell after three wins (294 at +53) to Richard Woodward (one win, 170 at +4). His conquerer, Stephen Briers, has won the five matches since, including a high-scoring match on Friday, and - barring miracles - will take the number one seeding if he becomes the fourth Octochamp of the series next Tuesday.

Seedings so far:

  1. Richard Brittain - 8 - 820
  2. Stu Horsey - 8 - 732
  3. Tony Warren - 8 - 712
  4. Joy Longworth - 7 - 699
  5. Andrew Blades - 7 - 650
  6. Stephen Briers - 6* - 652*
  7. Phil Watson - 6 - 574
  8. Sheri Evans - 5 - 551

With approximately 23 more heats to play, the top four should be secure for Finals Week.

This Week And Next

Norman Baker, the Lib Dem MP for Lewes, raised the phenomenon of call-and-lose programmes in the Commons this week, calling them "crude money-raising scams". That's putting it mildly.

Ratings for the week to 29 October saw Strictly Come Dancing (7.9m) take the lead, clear of X Factor (7.5m). One Against One Hundred (6.6m) took third place, ahead of Millionaire (6.1m). HIGNFY (5.2m) and Question of Sport (4.65m) both beat out Family Fortunes (4.15m).

Deal or No Deal celebrated its first birthday by taking positions 1 to 7 on Channel 4's chart, 3.85m the peak figure, 3.25m the worst. Over on BBC2, UC had 2.9m, Link a best of 2.65, Mastermind 2.55m (excluding Scotland), Dancing On 2 and Eggheads both had 2.45m, 2.4m for Buzzcocks, 2.25m for QI, and 2.1m for HIGNFY repeats.

On the digital tier, ITV2's Xtra Factor took 800,000, and 575,000 for QI was just behind X Factor repeats. A vintage Deal had 265,000 on More 4, a full 100,000 ahead of the day-after repeats, a policy we're pleased to see they've dropped. 200,000 for Raven, 165,000 for QI on G2, and Take It or Leave It is Challenge's most-seen show, 75,000 tuning in for the best episode, and four picking up 50,000. For a show that almost always ends in disappointment, that's not bad.

Highlights for next week include Codex, where puzzle-solvers are given the run of the British Museum (C4, 6.40 Sunday). The grand final of Mastermind (BBC2, 8pm Monday [Tuesday in Scotland]), abuts the return of I'm A Famous Bug, Don't Eat Me! (ITV, 9pm Monday), which has to have some significance.

Readers may wish to note that the 19 November of the Week will be slightly delayed, and will not be published until the Monday evening. This column is off on a little hunt of its own...

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