Weaver's Week 2006-12-17

Weaver's Week Index

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


Dying off

"According to modern thinking, it deserved the prize because it was for charity."

Extinct: The Quiz

Endemol for ITV, 5pm weekdays

Now, what were we saying just last week?

"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)."

And so it came to pass that ITV saw this idea, and thought, "Hmm. We could do something like that. Only, instead of endangered buildings, let's go for some cute and cuddly endangered animals. People like animals, they'll send us lots of money, and we can look good by donating it all to charity."

All of which explains why viewers to last week's The X Factor saw the gap between performances filled by a lot of chatter about creatures facing extinction. They weren't referring to the McDougal Sisters, or Anno Dine, but to elephants and gorillas and polar bears.

For no adequately explored reason, there's a game show involved. Actually, there's a very good reason, to attract people who aren't interested in wildlife documentaries, but might be mildly amused by competition, particularly if it's in the 5pm competition slot.

It's not unreasonable to say that game shows done for charity have been amongst the worst made in recent years. Sports Relief Gets Subbed was poor, and the Children In Need Of Assistance spin-off Keep Your Hair On was so bad that we simply could not renew it. Extinct is better than either of these, though that's not saying much.

It's a reasonably simple format: Zoe Ball is our host, it's the first time this column has seen her on screen for quite some time, and we rather welcome her presence. Teams of four (two adults, two children, some form of relationship between them) join her, each representing one of the animals featured in the main campaign.

Rounds in the programme included "Whose baby", in which the teams were shown pictures of young animals, and invited to work out the species. There's "Safe, Endangered, Extinct", which asked nothing more than if the animal is - oh, work it out for yourself. There's an observation round, with the questions are asked some minutes after the film. In this round, and in the demonstrate-an-animal round, the questions concentrated on the minute detail, not asking about the bigger theme. It is very difficult to write a single-answer question on a discussion topic, but it would be nice to try.

And there's a round called "Who dung it?" Yes, that's a round involving the identification of various samples of excreta. Readers will, no doubt, find this fertile ground for their jokes.

The end-of-show play-off is between the two lowest-scoring teams in each show. There are head-to-head questions between members of each team, all on the buzzers; a correct answer will save that player, an incorrect answer will save their opponent. First team to save all four members survives. It's the same basic idea as the Sports Relief Gets Subbed final, only executed with a lot more pizazz, and with a finite length.

There's also a viewer competition to win an exotic holiday, by visiting the website. It's most rare to find a valuable prize being given away without a premium rate telephone number attached, and we thoroughly welcome this trend.

Though Extinct isn't the greatest show of the year, it is no worse than the rubbish that ITV usually puts out at this time of day. And it is just about watchable, a fact that will do more for the cause than any fuzzy notions of "it's charity, so it's above criticism."

University Challenge

Repechage 1: Bristol v Manchester

Bristol lost the season opener to Aberystwyth by ten points; defending champions Manchester fell to Merton Oxford by 95. That was round one: this is the repechage.

Matches at this phase of the contest are usually hard-fought, and this week's starts strongly, as Adrian Saunders for Bristol gets the first starter half-way through. David Arronovich will no doubt be pleased to see his old side, Manchester, get off the mark by remembering the year of Britain's first Labour government. We're not entirely convinced that "pun" is a three-word phrase. Manchester gets the first visual round, on Canadian provinces and territories, and leads 60-40.

Sorry, did Thumper just ask a question about the Church of Four Square? At least their hymns would only last for one minute, and be fantastically groovy. Bristol takes the lead on the next set of questions, only for Manchester to pull level on their next starter, on the UK's first same-sex marriage - just about one year before the transmission date. The audio round is on Musical Honours, popular singers who have received OBEs and MBEs and Earldoms. Manchester's lead is 100-75.

"You're going to get some stick about that," says Thumper about this bonus:

Q: Which Prime Minister's Foreign Secretaries included Lord Carrington and Francis Pym?
A: Pitt the Elder? (Laughter) We don't really know. [1]

Still, Bristol has been answering starters to get bonuses, and re-takes the lead on questions about tailors. Manchester takes the lead after working out the word containing five vowels in reverse order, pertaining to India. [2] The second visual round is on tapestries, and is met with a deafening silence. Manchester's lead is 130-110.

The next starter sees the sides draw level, and Tim Hawken's correct answer to the next starter ensures that everyone has one starter to his name - the third week that's happened. Manchester passes its last score with a set of bonuses on SI units, then an awful lot of bonuses go begging before David Elliott gets the Russian award for foreign chess players. That's like the Australian award for "Best overseas cricketer".

Manchester's lead is up to 45 with two and a half minutes to play, and the champs get the next starter, before running down the clock a little. Bristol will remember the nominal acronym behind art-pop gurus the KLF, but Manchester gets the set of bonuses on Coloured Revolutions in Former Soviet Republics. That brings the game to a close, Manchester wins, 200-145.

Adam Clark's four starters led for Manchester, the side made 17/36 bonuses with one missignal. For Bristol, Adrian Saunders also made four starters; the side had 14/24 bonuses and one missignal. Both individual top scorers had 62 points, Manchester's speed to the buzzer was the difference in a close game.

Next match: Reading v Pembroke Oxford

[1] Margaret Thatcher.
[2] Subcontinental.

This Week And Next

The BBC has announced its programmes for the spring season, from January to May. Two quiz highlights are worthy of mention.

The People's Quiz (Fever Media) - Open auditions will reduce applicants to a single quiz show champion, winning a six-figure prize. In a unique twist, questions will be published in advance of the auditions, allowing everyone in the UK to test their general knowledge and polish their quiz show skills.

Unbelievable (Endemol) - A comedy panel show, based on unbelievable truths and believable lies, testing the participants' ability to talk funny, convincing nonsense. Angus Deayton hosts a game of incredible facts and embarrassing stories about themselves. Some of them are true - all of them are unbelievable. David Mitchell as a regular team captain.

Simon Cowell has been drumming up media interest in his tedious-as-anything The X Factor format, which came to a merciful end last night. For next year, he wants to stage fifteen (count 'em!) contests in countries across Europe, then bring the winners together on one show, uniting the entire continent for an unforgettable night of bickering and back-slapping. Said Cowell's spokespig, "It would be like the Eurovision Song Contest - but with good singers." Not based on last night's winner, who makes Jemini seem like the most tuneful performers in the country.

In an episode of Brain of Britain, if every competitor answers their own questions correctly in a round, each will score six points. We very nearly had the perfect start this week, when the first three contestants got their Fives In A Row, and the fourth gave three correct answers before erring. That bonus mark went to Pat Gibson, a software developer; he quietly built his small lead through the remainder of the show, and won by a comfortable margin. The name will be familiar to long-term readers, as Mr. Gibson took the top prize on Millionaire two years ago, and was crowned Mastermind champion in 2005. He will next appear in the Brain of Britain grand final, to air at 12.04 on Christmas Day.

Ratings for the week to 3 December are out, and no surprise to find the final of I'm A Celeb topping the ratings, with 10.05 million tuning in. X Factor (9.3m) beat Come Dancing (8.85m), and a Celeb Aftermath show (6.65m) beat In It to Win It (6.55m) and Family Fortunes (6.45m) HIGNFY pulled in a respectable 5.25m viewers, opposite the Celeb final, and Question of Sport had 4.6m.

More world domination for Deal or No Deal, 3.8m on Wednesday the best. Weakest Link is becoming more popular all of a sudden, 3.2m marks the fourth week running that Anne has pulled three million viewers. Dancing On Two had 2.95m, UC 2.55m, Ready Steady Cook 2.15m, QI - also suffering from Celeb fever - 2.1m, and Buzzcocks 2.05m. The debut episode of Secret Millionaire had 2.25m, and Channel 5's coverage of World's Strongest Man took 0.95m.

Unusually, that's enough to beat all digital channels. Extended Celebrity coverage on ITV2 had 750,000 tuning in, and extended X-Factor coverage took 605,000 the following night. Sky Onc's Cirque de Celebrité (sic) was seen by 530,000 people, ahead of 460,000 viewing QI on BBC4. Deal or No Deal on More 4 (best: 265,000 on Sunday) was beaten each weeknight by Raven on CBBC (best: 255,000 on Wednesday). Living notches up a rare appearance here, 185,000 saw Cat Deeley on So You Think You Can Dance. Challenge's best: 90,000 for Tuesday's Take It or Leave It.

Next week's highlights include the 1000th edition of The Weakest Link (BBC2, 5.15 Monday), the Countdown grand final (C4, 3.30 Friday), and a prime-time edition of Come Dine with Me (C4, 8pm Friday). The Strictly Come Dancing final is next Saturday, a day that will also be graced by the next edition of this column.

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