Weaver's Week 2006-11-26

Weaver's Week Index

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


That's Numberplace!

Last December, we began by offering best wishes to Nick Clarke, who had announced he was suffering from cancer. We regret to report that the host of Round Britain Quiz died on Thursday; he was 58. Our condolences go to his family and friends.


BBC2, 6pm weeknights

It's the second review in a year for Sudo-Q, the Eamonn Holmes vehicle for putting numbers in a grid. When we looked at it last year, we found a good germ of a game, though one that slightly lacked in the detailed implementation. A short run in the afternoons introduced a revised format, and it's recently been filling the slot left empty by Eggheads.

The first change: three teams of three have now become three teams of two. There are reasons behind this, which we'll come to in a moment. Eamonn still starts the show with a demonstration of how a Sudoku puzzle works, and (implicitly) why the ones they've provided are always solvable. He also starts the show with a little wisecrack - we were particularly impressed with a back-reference to BBC2's other recent prime time development, Numberwang. A host who can laugh at himself is an asset.

Round one, then, still played on a 4x4 grid. Teams race to fill in the indicated number - all three teams are displayed on screen in little boxes, and we can watch the borders change colour as the answers are entered. The fastest team to give a correct answer gets a point, and a question. Answer the question correctly, and they have a point, and an opportunity to put another number in the grid for a third point. Repeat until the board is full.

Round two marks the biggest departure from the original concept. Another 4x4 grid appears, and another fingers-on-numbers round to fill in a space. The fastest team is again asked a question, but if they get it right, they don't get to fill in a number. Instead, they must nominate a player from each of the other teams to race for that number. The slower player to give the correct answer, or the player who errs, is eliminated from the round, and disappears behind a very satisfactory shutter effect. It knocks spots off the animated sting from last year, and is far in advance of anything Eggheads has to offer.

The first team to lose both players is eliminated from the contest. If either of the remaining teams has been reduced to one player, they have an option to buy back their colleague; this will cost ten seconds in the next round. Eamonn slightly hypes up the BUY or BYE option, as if he's trying to make a catchphrase out of it.

Round three, Speed Sudoku, is played on a 6x6 grid, with one player from each side. Both players have 45 seconds, unless they bought back their team-mate. There's two points for a correct answer, one away for an error, and both players get to run down their clocks.

The final round is still three minutes on a 6x6 grid; answer a question, then attempt to give a correct number. There's now £50 per correct answer, the same for a row, column, or region; a complete grid gets a £200 bonus to take the total to £2000. Winners return on the next show, to potentially win £10,000.

There are a lot of tweaks since we last looked at Sudo-Q. Most of them are for the better; in particular, the second round is vastly improved. A couple of minor improvements are possible: we're not entirely sure that the buy-back offer is quite right here; it's very rare for a buy-back to be the correct option, and perhaps a five-second penalty would make it more appealing. Also, we rather liked the way each team's scores appeared on the big screen last year, it's a little easier to comprehend than scores on each podium.

These are little matters. The main point is that Sudo-Q has been teased into a great little show, and one where the bonhomie between host and contestants spills through the screen. We've particularly enjoyed this week's work, with Eamonn's show running adjacent to the BBC's other great little show, Raven; more of this at a later date.

University Challenge

First Round, Match 12: Warwick v Emmanuel Cambridge

For those who are keeping tabs, we're exactly two weeks ahead of last year's transmission pace, and (assuming nothing goes wrong) we'll get through the repechage before celebrity special season.

Warwick is situated in Coventry, and its motto should be Plurimi Tapem Rubem. But isn't. Emmanuel is, perhaps, the closest thing we have to a real-life Footlights College, boasting alumni including Rory McGrath, Graham Chapman, and Griff Rees-Jones. They're so good that, last year, they completely failed to turn up for their audition.

The extra twelve months' revision has helped the Cambridge side, as they get the first two starters; Warwick's first correct answer is greeted with a little punching of the air. Oh dear. The first picture round is Name That Apparently Desirable Handbag. Emmanuel's lead is 60-20, and Thumper is clearly relishing his chance to show the great depths of his knowledge about ladies' fashion.

So, almost a full second later, we move on. Warwick has recovered their poise, and takes the lead. We'll take Hidden Transmission Indicator of the Week

Q: Which tradition, inaugurated in Plymouth Colony in 1621, when men of the Wampanoag tribe sat down...
Harold Wyber, Warwick: Thanksgiving

In the bonuses, Warwick is asked which of the states has Montpelier as its capital. "North Dakota" is the not strictly accurate answer; they later suggest that Chamberlain was alive and publishing in 1975, and that the Bosphorus links the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean. Four missignals across the teams in this section of the show, and the audio round (songs associated with Division I football sides) sees Warwick stretch their lead to 105-45. Yes, Emmanuel has managed to rack up a deeply impressive negative score in that stanza.

Emmanuel does get the next set of bonuses, on the history of mathematics; their mathematician and historian combine to get just one correct, though neither answer was far out. Warwick gets a question about the founder of Newnham Cambridge. The second visual round is on Indian geography; there's a certain inevitability when the starter is answered by Prakash Patel for Warwick.140-75.

Much of the applause seems to be coming from two or three people in the audience. The game doesn't appear to be in any particular doubt, and Emmanuel needs a miracle to make the repechage. Warwick is given the benefit of a slight doubt about the largest Euro coin - the €2 is the largest in regular circulation, but there are €5 special editions, and there were proofs for a €2.50 coin, enough to confuse the Grate %European Nation% Public for all values of European Nation. The things this column learns by wandering around a stamp-and-coin exhibition while waiting for a cloudburst to stop...

The repechage board:

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

Back at the game, the Emmanuel side is finishing with a good burst. Good, but too late; Warwick wins 195-115. Emmanuel has not disgraced itself at all - 10/23 bonuses and three missignals show a competent side, and Pete Inglesby's five starters (56 points) were crucial. For Warwick, 16/36 starters is good - Prakash Patel (63 points) and Rory Gill (57) both got four starters, the latter took the side's one missignal.

Next match: Linacre Oxford v UEA

Junk or No Junk

Last week, under clear pressure from the government in general, and media minister Tessa Jowell in particular, OFCOM put forward proposals to ban television adverts for "food high in fat, salt, or sugar", commonly known as junk food. The worst foodstuffs will be banned from advertising on television at all. Other junk food ads will be forced away from children's programming, and adult shows of particular appeal to those under 16. By OFCOM's own admission, this will make a significant hole in broadcaster's wallets. ITV is expected to lose 0.7% of its advertising revenue, with dedicated children's channels losing a sixth of their income.

In its proposals, OFCOM is going far beyond its original consultation, which applied only to commercials aimed at children under 9. According to OFCOM, there is a "modest" but "measurable" affect from television advertising to children's dietary preferences. If this is correct - and while we have not seen the research, we will take OFCOM's word for it - surely the best response would be to bar all advertising of junk food, across all media. To single out television is iniquitous, and smacks of doing something for the sake of doing something.

How does this affect the world of game shows? Jane Lightning, the chief executive of Channel 5, said, "This is a tough decision and we are disappointed it is even more draconian than the stringent measures that Ofcom originally proposed... These restrictions will deny us substantial revenue and make the economics of producing children's programmes a lot more difficult in the future. The long-term future of UK-produced children's programming outside the BBC is bleak." We've already lost Jungle Run to ITV's cost-cutting; how many other great shows will never be made?

Writing in The Times on Friday, OFCOM chief executive Ed Richards said, "We have to balance the need to make progress in dealing with childhood obesity against the need to sustain high-quality original British children’s programming." Yet Mr. Richards fails to offer evidence that there is a causal link between television advertising and obesity. Indeed, he states that "Other influences are much more important, and much harder to change"; it is very hard to square this against OFCOM's response. It is much clearer that the inevitable reduction in income will cause an already poor children's service to deteriorate further; indeed, one of OFCOM's approved mitigation strategies is to schedule even more imported shows. Is society comfortable with this trade-off? Does the government really want to strangle the British television industry once again? Must we throw yet more imported fluff at our kids?

This column reported on the matter in greater detail two months ago, and will not repeat the arguments here. We will, however, repeat one thought: this entire debate is being conducted by adults, for adults. Children do not have a voice here, yet they are the ones who will be affected. An excellent lesson in democracy for our youngsters, there.

This Week And Next

Not entirely unrelated is the latest instalment of the ITV In Crisis series. There were reports that RTL, which already owns Channel 5, was sniffing around the troubled broadcaster. The cable company NTL Virgin Media entered a formal bid, and was swiftly rebuffed by ITV's directors. Meanwhile, British Sky Broadcasting, a de facto subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News International, bought a 17.9% stake in ITV, at a price higher than NTL's bid; regulator OFCOM has invited ITV and BSB to say whether this represents a conflict of interest.

While all this was playing out, ITV has been filling its schedules with all sorts of high-fat, high-sugar nonsense; huge amounts of I'm A Celebrity and The Price is Right, and nothing that really requires a brain. Though the good news is that the channel has decided not to renew Celebrity Love Island, and will be bringing back PokerFace in the new year.

In more entertaining news, we should mention Tuesday's unexpected Raven / Blue Peter cross-over, not least for the line, "What is this unearthly thing you call 'double-sided sticky tape'?"

Friday's edition of Deal or No Deal was replaced by a repeat; it was removed following the death of a close relative of that day's contestant. On the same day, host Noel Edmonds said that he would never participate in a celebrity edition of the programme.

BARB ratings for the week to 12 November, and ITV has a hit! X Factor tops the weekly ratings, securing 9.85m for the performance show. Strictly Come Dancing took just 9.3m, but its results show beat the opposition by almost half a million, and it did beat two episodes of Eastenders. One Versus One Hundred had 6.35m in third, ahead of Friday's HIGNFY (6.15m) and Family Fortunes (5.95m). Question of Sport had 4.55m, and Millionaire's new tea-time slot netted 4m.

Deal or No Deal continues its domination of Channel 4, filling the top six places with its broadcasts; Friday's game took 4.15m. On BBC2, University Challenge had 3.1m, Link 3m, the part-networked Mastermind 2.9m. Dancing on Two had 2.7m, QI 2.65m, Buzzcocks 2.2m. We're pleased to see Sudo-Q tickle 1.95m, as did Ready Steady Cook. Channel 5's Make Me a Supermodel pulled in 800,000, an audience that Unanimous would kill for.

The digital channels included 900,000 for ITV2's Xtra Factor, and 730,000 for Hell's Kitchen. BBC4 scored 680,000 QI viewers, and 510,000 saw Cirque de Celebrité (sic) on Sky Onc. The tea-time repeats of Deal or No Deal occupy the top six places on More4's list, Sunday's repeat from December topping the lot with 220,000. Two entries for Living, as Jade's PA scores 210,000, and So You Think You Can Dance 160,000. Challenge's top show was the Friday night Old Millionaire.

The trouble with late November is that new programmes aren't risked, the broadcasters want old faithfuls for the peak advertising market. One of those old faithfuls is World's Strongest Man, back on Channel 5 at 8pm Friday. On Wednesday, Channel 4 will air The Secret Millionaires, in which someone rich visits a community, distributing cash.

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