Weaver's Week 2007-02-11

Weaver's Week Index

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


Sought High and Low

The Search

Princess Productions / Ten Ton for C4, 9pm Sundays

Does anyone remember The Race? No, not the stars-and-cars nonsense from last autumn, but the 2001 show where Keith Duffy used his voice-over talent to its limit while eight young people travelled the world in search of action, adventure, and a potential £50,000 prize. Filmed in the long-forgotten months before half the world got paranoid about security, it looked as though we could never again see a show where people went around the world in this way.

And so it has come to pass. In 2006, people had to go round the world in search of enlightenment, the solutions to puzzles, and a potential £50,000 prize. All transport was laid on for the ten contestants in The Search, a travelling knowledge road show that actually had the whiff of self-improvement for the viewer.

Each show contains three puzzles, a brief review of the historical significance of what the teams are seeing, and a few rather unnecessary bits. Not falling into the latter category is Jamie Theakston, the show's host, co-producer, and inventor. He is one of the greater talents of our time, and it does rather annoy to see him confined to minority programmes like this while people like Kate Thornton clog up the big gigs. The other lead brain on this show is Sebastian Scott, who has been responsible for more decent programmes than we've had hot dinners. Well, more decent programmes than we've had cooked breakfasts, as The Big Breakfast and Light Lunch are amongst the meal-related hits, Jailbreak amongst the less successful shows.

Where were we? Italy, probably, with ten interesting travel companions. There's your stereotypical city girl, your stereotypical sharpshot lawyer, your stereotypical ditzy artist, your stereotypical country vicar. Er, yes. Therein lies The Search's first selling point, the mix of contestants. This show doesn't go in for the "all human life is under 30" fallacy that bedevilled ITV's Race. Instead, we have a mix of people - a vicar in his sixties, a single mother turned mature student, a young art critic. Six contestants in their twenties, though, and only one between 29 and 51, means we can't give full marks for age diversity.

Each show contains three major puzzles, in turn split into three minor puzzles. The contestants need to solve the minor puzzles in sequence to crack the major puzzle. For the first five episodes, the players were put into two teams, usually referred to as "boys" and "girls". Some of us wouldn't dare to refer to people in their sixties as "boys". Slightly slapped wrists also, as very few of the puzzles can be played at home, and for giving away the solution to the viewer before the contestants solve the puzzle. Some commentators suggest that this is a fatal flaw, but the contrary view - that it enables the casual viewer to keep up with the contestants, and not wonder how on earth they got from 5, 8, and 13, to 5589 - has merit.

In between the major puzzles, Jamie talks to a resident archaeologist, or historian, or antiquarian, about some of the history / archaeology / antiquary that the contestants have seen. He also slips a few nuggets of information into the commentary. The contestants provide the bulk of the commentary in a retrospective, both as pieces to camera and in voice-over, and they're not averse to showing off their knowledge.

There are, sadly, some elements that serve little purpose. We're not fans of the "coming up" teaser, or of the "the game so far" recaps after the commercial breaks. Nor do we particularly see the need for an elimination in this game - though the Poisoned Chalice is an elegant device, and one that fits the game well, we can't help but feel that some sort of points-based system with regular mixing of teams would have provided a far more fulfilling series.

So, what do we have? A show with aspirations to be as globe-trotting as The Race, but not quite making it. A show with aspirations to be as back-stabbing as Survivor, but not quite making it. A show with aspirations to be at least as educational as Treasure Hunt, but - again - not quite making it. A show with aspirations to be as slick and glossy as a Sunday colour supplement, and achieving its aim by being something people flick through then discard.

For all its faults, buried within The Search is a perfectly serviceable game show format. We like the idea of taking people to five continents, letting them show off their knowledge, quietly educating the Great British Public that there is more to life than house prices and bird 'flu. We're not averse to the idea of team-mates becoming rivals, or of a mad dash for the final prize.

What we really, really don't like is a channel that will allow us to begin the article like this:

Princess Productions / Ten Ton for C4, 9pm Sunday (7 January)

Princess Productions / Ten Ton for C4, 8pm Sundays (14 and 21 January)

Princess Productions / Ten Ton for C4, 5pm Saturday (3 February)

Princess Productions / Ten Ton for C4, 5.30pm Saturdays (10 and 17 February)

The killer blow was not the re-scheduling to Saturday; that occurred after Channel 4 had decided it wasn't going to broadcast a second series. If C4 won't take it, the format could yet be tweaked for the BBC. No, the killer blow took place when Channel 4 made a late change for the second episode, after the Radio Times and other listings magazines had gone to press. The Search would move an hour earlier, and Big Brother - at the time, struggling desperately for viewers because nothing was happening - would appear in its place. Anyone tuning in at the appointed hour would be met with something far, far less intellectually stimulating.

Readers will be able to find the body of The Search in a central London graveyard. It's the one with its heart pierced by a kebab skewer.

Junior Mastermind

Heat 5

It turns out that there's no place for the highest-scoring runner-up, only the five winners will compete in next week's final.

Joshua from Cheshire will discuss the History and Traditions of Jewish Festivals. We're not going to make the obvious joke concerning the command "pass" and the word "over". The round is very staccato, never quite getting on a roll. 13 (3) is a challenging score.

Eleanor from Leicester takes Penguins. That's as in the birds, not the chocolate biscuits. We never knew these birds made it as far north as the Galapagos - wouldn't they stick to the wrapper. 14 (2) is her score.

Jack Henry from Oxford has "The Edge Chronicles", a set of books about severed toes, slimetoads, and other such lovely stuff. After a strong start, he finishes on 9 (4).

Andre from Preston is taking Bob Marley, and he's come in what would appear to be a Jamaica football shirt. Here is a young man who knows his subject inside-out, and probably back-to-front as well. The final score is a deeply impressive 17 (2).

There are eight books in "The Edge Chronicles" series, and John "Smallhead" Humphrys says that it's the drawings that clinched the series' popularity. Jack Henry is in the Magdalen College choir, and starts his school day at 6.40 in the morning. His final score is 14 (10).

Joshua is politely ribbed for making Smallhead pronounce all those difficult Hebrew words. He has enough difficulty with the English ones, does our host. Again, his general knowledge round never picks up a head of steam, and finishes on 20 (6).

Smallhead goes on a long and loopy ramble about the general fascination for penguins; Eleanor is able to give answers far crisper than those offered by the host, or some of his other recent victims. And her conversation is far better; the quizzing finished on 28 (3).

Andre requires twelve to be assured of victory, and discusses his musical hero. Though it's not quite as good as his original round - few general knowledge rounds can be - Andre gets the job done, finishing on 30 (7).

University Challenge

Round 2: Corpus Christi Oxford v Edinburgh

It's worth noting that we're fully one month ahead of the transmission schedule from the last series. Corpus Christi Oxford relegated Reading to the repechage, Edinburgh put out the Birmingham side.

Are there still people who don't know where Parc Asterix is? Edinburgh has to face a set of questions on Clive James, a fate worse than death. Corpus Christi wait until the fifth starter to buzz, and promptly gets it wrong. Reaction of the week, then:

Q: A penniless research student goes to the races with a female companion, who gives him £10 from which to bet. He puts it all on Starter For Ten, which wins its race at odds of 7 to 1. He now wagers all his money on Answer Me Now, which proceeds to win the next race at odds of 13 to 8. How much money does he now have to buy a pair of shoes for his companion?
(fast as lightning) Edinburgh, Chris Linskaill: £210.

The wild applause is deserved. The first visual round is on people who have received multiple nominations for NARAS awards without ever winning, and Edinburgh's lead is a remarkable 65-(-5). Tony Blair hadn't heard of them in 2004, but Edinburgh knows all about "food miles" in this contest. And they know about conditional and causative clauses, which may impress Thumper, and should certainly impress the language buff Smallhead. Edinburgh briefly opens up a 100-point lead before the audio round, which is a decent feat. That audio round is on singers of spiritual songs, and Edinburgh's lead is 125-30.

After spirituals, it's a bit of a comedown for the lyrics of Waterloo Sunset. Not that it fazes the Edinburgh side. Is there anything they know little about? The plot of The Ring Cycle, that's their one gap; we recommend spending eight minutes watching What's Opera, Doc? Spear and magic helmet optional. We'll go off and build an extension on the scoreboard, as Edinburgh has this one in the bag, and there's still ten minutes in the game. The second visual round is on fractional distillation and its equipment, and Edinburgh's lead is up to 195-30.

Slightly surprised that no-one guessed on a question asking about a BMI over 30. With three minutes to go, Corpus Christi has just 45 points, and we're nervously thumbing through our Worst Scores table. Edinburgh's guesses count, bearing out William G's favourite saying. The gong interrupts a long and rather boring round of questions on novelists on drugs. Edinburgh has a huge win, 245-45.

Six starters for Chris Linskaill of Edinburgh, and 84 points; the team made 20/43 bonuses and one missignal. Both Mr. Linskaill and Tommy Herbert got more starters individually that the Oxford side in total. Sebastian Page got two, but also two missignals; Paul Taylor got the other two, and his 26 leads the way. CCO's bonus conversion rate is 3/12 with two missignals.

To set the Corpus Christi achievement (or lack-of-achievement, if you will) in context, here are the dozen teams to have scored fifty or fewer in the BBC revival. All matches were first round unless specified.

  • 50 St Edmund's Cambridge (QF, 2003-4)
  • 45 Corpus Christi Oxford (2R, 2006-7)
  • 45 St Hilda's Oxford (2R, 2005-6)
  • 40 Robinson Cambridge (2006-7)
  • 40 Queen's Belfast (repechage, 2004-5)
  • 40 St Andrews (2004-5)
  • 40 Keele (2R, 2001-2)
  • 40 St Andrews (2001-2)
  • 40 Oxford Brookes (2R, 1997-8)
  • 40 Birkbeck (1996-7)
  • 35 Bradford (2004-5)
  • 35 New Hall Cambridge (1997-8)

Next match: Royal Holloway v Wadham Oxford

This Week And Next

Ratings for the week to 28 January saw Dancing on Ice (8.8m on Saturday night) top the lists, ahead of Sunday's Celeb Big Brother final (6m). One Against One Hundred (5.45m) beat The Con Test (5.1m), which still beat A Question of Sport (4.95m). Deal or No Deal (3.95m) beat Fortune Million Pound Sellout (3.65m). The new 8pm slot is fitting University Challenge well, it's made the second audience of 3 million (this week, 3.15m) in three weeks. Link (3.1m) also did well, and Masterchef Goes Large (2.85m) isn't a slouch either. Mock the Week scored 1.9m, and Old News 1.85m.

Normal service is resumed on the digital channels, E4's comedy-drama Skins holds off Big Brother's Big Mouth by 1.54m to 1.23m. Pop Idle US hits a new series high of 750,000, and QI on G2 has a record audience of the still-young year, 215,000. It's almost catching up More4's Deal repeats, 250,000 this week. Challenge's most-viewed show was Sunday night's Fear Factor, 80,000 there.

Next week sees the return of Supermarket Sweep (ITV, 5.30 weekdays), at least until Michael Greed finds out that it never took in twenty zillion viewers. Julian Fellowes's language rants return in a second series of Never Mind the Full Stops (BBC4, 8.30 Tuesday); two days later, comedian Marcus "Falafel!" Brigstocke goes behind the scenes at the World Scrabble championships.

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