Weaver's Week 2006-12-10

Weaver's Week Index

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


Learning the hard way

We would liked to have included a full review of last Saturday's Junior Eurovision contest from Bucharest. No UK broadcaster saw fit to show it, and we can't really review two hours of nothingness (though we have tried.) Russia's entry, Spring Jazz, performed by Masha and Nastya Tolmachyov, was the winner; defending champions Belarus placed second, and Sweden came third.

The Secret Millionaires

Diverse for Channel 4, 9pm Wednesday

It's almost four years since we first saw Without Prejudice?, and thought, "This is simply brilliant." Five strangers must give a life-changing sum of money to one individual; they'll learn all about them, but won't know how they'll spend the money. It was so good, we gave it the poisoned chalice of Best New Show Of The Year; it was so good, Channel 4 actually renewed it, and showed the entire run, and that's never happened before or since.

In Secret Millionaires, the company that gave us the sociological experiment Wife Swap has put together a show that takes a multi-zillionaire, puts them in a poor community, and asks if they can find somewhere to splash their cash in a way that will change lives. Oh, and there's a television crew following the rich person around, and hoping to make a programme that they can sell oodles of advertising around.

Inevitably, there's a culture shock when someone accustomed to a life of wealth and plenty is plunged into the grim reality of living from day to day with next to nothing. For Ben Way, the rich man in the opening programme, this made for a stark contrast - at one point, he described Hackney as "another country". It's not; indeed, it's barely half-a-dozen miles from offices in the centre of London. There was none of this nonsense in the second programme, where John Elliott had a proper cover story (making a programme about life on benefits, which is technically true) and went out and got his hands dirty.

There's a deeper point here, one that's subtly made throughout the programme. Every time Ben reminded us that he runs a lot of successful businesses, he implicitly equated "success" with "making an awful lot of money". He was meeting people who were working for months, years at a stretch without taking one penny in salary, only doing the good work because they knew they were doing good work, and because they had kind hearts. John hates debt, and reckons that anyone can find work if they wanted to; his views changed during his week in Liverpool, especially when he saw how easy it was to be seduced into debt to spend on tat.

The basic sell of the programme, the one that pricked up our ears, is that there's some element of competition around. Rich man immerses himself in a poor community, and picks out one or more competing good causes. It's not quite like that, but it comes close to that nightmare vision. Not as close as the BBC's annual Restoration series, financed by a call-and-preserve phone-in (at premium rates, natch).

Is Secret Millionaires likely to encourage people to see what they can do in their own community? We rather hope it does, but we fear that its ambivalent nature sends out the message that dedication alone will not change the world, it requires a good load of money. Some will say that this is a modern twist on classic tales like A Christmas Carol; others will call it patronising and insulting. There is merit in both arguments, and Secret Millionaires doesn't explicitly pick a side. Such ambivalence is for the best, as a programme dictating emotions is always less rewarding than one that allows the situation to develop.

And there, with a quick snark at those who suggest that life-changing amounts of money don't even begin until the GDP of a small Latin American country, we expected to leave the review. Until we saw Sunday's episode of Deal or No Deal, in which Ingerlise won £15,000, but had the show's top prize of a quarter-million in her box. Unwittingly, we'd stumbled across the greatest weakness of this phenomenally successful programme - its host. As he always does, Noel Edmonds tried to dictate the viewer's emotions, even when the player was in floods of tears. His manipulation is unwelcome at the best of times; on episodes like last Sunday's, it's positively objectionable.

Part of Deal's problem, of course, is that even after the worst possible ending, Noel has to act happy and perky for the viewer phone-in competition; ditch that excuse to fleece the poor and the programme could finish on a much more natural basis. Far more often, we find that a pregnant pause is being filled by a constant stream of drivel from the host. Noel is adequate at filling the host's role on good days; he simply cannot cope with a moment when silence is the best.

Who could? Davina McCall is a people person, and known to Endemol, but we can't see her taking on the role. Glenn Hugill did very well in the emotion-filled moments of The Mole (this column's inaugural Show of the Year) - is he on the wrong side of the camera? Those of us who stuck with Without Prejudice? will remember the episode where a man who did a lot of work for charity announced his plans to take £50,000, and blow it on some jewellery. Host Liza Tarbuck didn't need to say a word; the panel did it for her.

The rich people on Secret Millionaires go into the show not knowing how, or indeed if, life works for the very poor. They come out of the show with this knowledge, and usually some very different views on life. The people they live with now have chances - none greater than the young man who John took on in his firm - and we hope and expect that both sides gain from the experience. If only other rich men would do the same.

University Challenge

First Round, Match 14: Somerville Oxford v Trinity Hall Cambridge

Last of the opening round matches, with 155 required to take a place in the repechage, at least. Somerville was women-only until 1994, Trinity Hall was runners-up last year, and must not be confused with The Famous New Hall 35.

Somerville gets the first couple of starters, and amazes us all with their knowledge of the history of nursery rhymes. Trinity Hall go from French philosophers to the deep and profound thoughts of Gary Numan, it's amazing how versatile the questions are. The first visual bonus is the one that fans of Jasper Fforde have been awaiting for many years - it's Name That Fruit! Somerville goes 2/4 on their fruits, which entitles them to a dodo. And an 80-20 lead.

There's a question about the US war of independence, which the Trinity player from California gets wrong, and is picked up by the Oxford side. Even though they have three Classics students, hardly a balanced side, Somerville is running away with this match, clocking up most of their repechage requirement before the audio round. It's Name That Waltz, the Skater's Waltz, and certainly not the Rite of Spring. Somerville leads 140-35 at this point, and the set of bonuses includes the Minute Waltz by Nicholas Parsons. Thumper's a bit kind to accept "Strauss" as the composer of Blue Danube, but it's not going to alter the result.

Somerville's next set of questions - on football derbies in Brazil - take them past the 155-point post, and Trinity Hall is still a hundred adrift. We have time for a moment of reflection:

Q: In geometry, what word describes a straight line joining any two points on a curve?
Tommy Wide, Somerville: Is it parabola, or have I got it horribly wrong?
Thumper: Yes, you have got it horribly wrong.
Jenny Skene, Trinity Hall: Chord

Miss Skene's answer means that all eight contestants have at least one starter correct - an achievement, as we remarked last week. The second visual round is on painters of portraits of the Queen, aka "Can you tell who it is yet?" We can tell who the winner is - Somerville now heads 195-75.

The Oxford side also has the chance to giggle along to the concept of silly songs by folk like Tom Lehrer. Four minutes, and Trinity Hall needs 65 points to make it back. Doesn't look like they'll make it, and after completely blowing a set of bonuses on the kings of Israel, they won't make it. But they're going out with a bang.

Q: Struthio camelus, meaning sparrow camel...
Vicki Hart, Trinity Hall: Ostrich.

The repechage board:

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

That's certainly Buzz Of The Week, and turns out to be the last substantive action of the show, Somerville wins comfortably, 235-115. Michael Levy was Somerville's captain, and he posted a captain's innings of 112, including 8 starters. Jenny Skene took three starters late on for Trinity Hall, her 43 led the team. Somerville made 19/42 bonuses, Trinity Hall 9/21.

So, which two sides will go through for the repechage? As we suspected, it's Reading and Manchester. Thumper's claim that the fastest scorers go through is incorrect - it's the better sides in terms of bonuses and starters that progress.

Next match - the first repechage: Bristol v Manchester

Countdown - The Finals

Just ten more Des of the days Lynam era to go, and that must mean it's time for the Countdown Recap. Steven Briers did, indeed, complete his octochamp run, making five centuries, 843 points, and recording -54 to Par, this column's rough-and-ready metric of quality against a decent opponent. The chair passed to Phil Mattams, and then to Bernie Corrigan, whose 113-41 win made it look like he could be a long-running champion. No, just the one day, before falling to Thomas Nixon, but Mr. Corrigan's total of 190 is the highest one-game winner's total of the last three series.

Mr. Nixon looked like he could be a contender, and he probably was; he ran up fell 78-71 after three wins (349 at +47). Chris McHenry did the deed, and he survived five crucial conundrums on his way to becoming an octochamp - though with just 633 points (at +70), his is the lowest total in the 45-minute era, and lower than both 7-game winners. Robin Brown, a finalist on Britain's Brainiest Kid in 2001, took the vacant chair, and won four games before losing on a crucial conundrum on Friday.

The quarter-final draw is now complete:

Thursday 14 December: 1) Steven Briers (8 wins, 843 at -54) - November.
8) Phil Watson (6 wins, 574 at +46) - June - July. Highest of 98, twice.

Friday 15: 2) Richard Brittain (8 wins, 820 at -15) - September. Four centuries, lowest score 94.
7) Andrew Blades (7 wins, 650 at +82) - September - October. Highest score 93, lost to Stu Horsey.

Monday 18: 3) Stu Horsey (8 wins, 732 at +68) - October. Three centuries, three in the 80s.
6) Joy Longworth (7 wins, 699 at +61) - July - August. One century, three in the 90s.

Tuesday 19: 4) Tony Warren (8 wins, 712 at +66) - May - June. Straddled the last Finals Week, won three games while suffering from pneumonia. Three centuries.
5) Chris McHenry (8 wins, 633 at +70) - November - December.

Thursday and Tuesday's winners will meet in the Wednesday semi-final, Friday and Monday in Thursday's match, and those two winners play for the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy on Friday 22.

For those who prefer a diagram, here's a diagram.

  Quarterfinals Semifinals Finals
  1  Steven Briers    
8  Phil Watson    
     Briers / Watson    
     Warren / McHenry    
4  Tony Warren  
  5  Chris McHenry    
       SF 1 winner  
     SF 2 winner  
  3  Stu Horsey    
6  Joy Longworth    
     Horsey / Longworth  
     Brittain / Blades    
2  Richard Brittain  
  7  Andrew Blades    

This Week And Next

Two-Way Traffic has bought the rights to Celador International, makers of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The deal is for £108 million, and includes Mr and Mrs.

The Independent reports how the BBC is making efforts to attract more female participants on Mastermind. A spokeschair is quoted as saying, "In the early 70s there were several female winners, but since the show came back we haven't had any. It mostly tends to be men who apply, which is a shame."

On the radio, four men competed in a terrific semi-final of Brain of Britain this week. After playing catch-up for much of the programme, Ian Bayley (another highly successful University Challenge contestant) finished with his second five-in-a-row of the show, and will come back for the Christmas Day final.

ICSTIS, the premium-rate telephone watchdog, is to launch a website warning of the huge cost of voting on television reality shows. Programmes like Big Brother and The X Factor rely on their few viewers voting early and often, and at premium rates. The website will ask youngsters to "use their brains" when considering this form of controlled interactivity.

In a fine example of joined-up governance, OFCOM will begin a study on the future of children's television programmes, but won't begin its work until after it's nodded through proposals to restrict food advertising.

Ratings for the week to 26 November, and though it was only the seventh most popular broadcast on ITV, Celebrity takes the gold medal this week, with 9.2m viewers on Monday. The margin of victory was a whisker, as Saturday's Strictly Come Dancing finished just 20,000 behind. X Factor had 8.7 watching the results; SCD lost almost two million for its results show. In It To Win It returned with 6.75m, HIGNFY took 6.45m, and finished ahead of Family Fortunes (6.15m). Question of Sport (4.85m) beat Millionaire (4.3m) by a long way.

Gordon Ramsey is the man to beat Noel Edmonds, at least in the ratings; Deal's 4m on Wednesday was only second on the channel. BBC2 saw five episodes of Link in its top 7, peaking on Wednesday with 3.05m. Dancing on Two had 2.6m, UC 2.55m, QI 2.5m, while Sudo-Q, the Sunday Dancing repeat, and Buzzcocks all had 1.95m. We're cheered to see Countdown record 1.9m and slip into the bottom of Channel 4's top 30.

ITV2's Xtra Factor recorded just 690,000, down on the million who turned over earlier in the series. Has the franchise run its course, or is that just wishful thinking on our part? Additional Celeb coverage scored 550,000, behind QI on BBC4 - 580,000 there. Deal holds down six places in More4's top eight, with 312,000 on Friday the best audience, even though it was a repeat of a repeat. The new series of Raven recorded 190,000. Challenge's top show was Take It or Leave It, 90,000 on Monday.

Next week's highlights include Extinct: The Quiz (5pm weekdays from Tuesday, 4pm Saturday), linking with ITV's week of programmes about endangered creatures. BBC7 has a week of Willie Rushton's finest moments on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (12.30 and 7.30 weekdays), and food fans will enjoy Great British Christmas Menu (BBC2, 6pm weekdays)

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