Weaver's Week 2007-04-08

Weaver's Week Index

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


We Blame Julia Bradbury

University Challenge

Semi-final: Manchester v Durham

The final will include at least one previous winner from the Paxman era. Durham were champions in 2000, while Manchester is looking to defend the title it won last year. It's worth noting that Durham came through the repechage when it won the crown, just as this year's Manchester side did. We also note (because Thumper won't) that this is the third year in a row that the Manchester side has made the last four.

He does note that Manchester's Tim Hawken got the first six starters in the quarter-final, so there's a little tension as we take the first starter for ten:

Q: "Snow", "The Black Book", and "My Name is Red" are among the works by which Turkish author, winner of the Nobel prize...
Durham, Dafyd Jones: Orhan Pamuk.

Well, there we go. Popes and the Mexican emperor Maximillian are good for Durham; long-distance railways prove more fertile than division algebra and Shakespearian sonnets for Manchester. Some very traditional subjects in the opening round, and Durham's lead going into the visual round is the Manchester missignal, 40-35.

Nobel laureates for literature are the subjects of those pictures, not that they trouble the scoreboard. People called Diaz and random prose are the unlikely subjects of bonus questions, including the first known example of Thumper knowingly spouting utter gibberish. The standard of play this week is high, and here's a good example:

Q: What two-word term refers to the religious belief originating among the peoples of Melanesia in the late 19th century...
Durham, Caroline Walker: Cargo cult.

Manchester get questions on obscure colours, many so obscure that they probably don't know they're colours themselves. The audio round is on Beethoven piano sonatas, and Manchester has stretched 115-60 ahead by buzzing a lot, though letting many bonuses slip.

Is that Thumper showing off his knowledge of a subject? Well, yes, "Neither is an aperitif" does count as such. Durham picks up five from a set on Italian wines, purely by replying "Tuscany" until it's correct. Durham does better on 19th century prime ministers, but a visual round on classical architecture evades everyone. Manchester's lead is up to 145-75, and that's looking almost unstoppable.

There are very few questions on popular culture this week; no one picks up a starter asking about characters in foreign equivalents of The Office. It's been a very quiet game this week, none of the fireworks that marked previous rounds, but Manchester has ground out a relentless, almost remorseless win. Durham deserved to poke their score into three figures, but it's not going to happen - the gong goes during their bonuses on aquatic mammals, and Manchester has carved out a win by 240-90.

The usual eight starters for Manchester's hot buzzer Tim Hawken, he helped secure 105 points as the side answered 20 of 45 bonus questions correctly; there were two missignals. Durham was again led by captain Caroline Walker, three correct starters and 42 points. Her side made 7 of 16 bonus questions with one missignal.

Next match: Oxford v Cambridge. A change of channel and start time for the next round, which will come from Granada's massive studio somewhere in Southern England. That's at 4.30pm Saturday.

Next quiz: UCL v Warwick, normal time on Monday. That's except for viewers in Northern Ireland, who will have to hang on until 7pm Wednesday.


CBBC, 5-30 March

Goodness, Christmas seems to come earlier each year. It only seems like two or three minutes since we last packed the tree away, and turned off the fairy lights. Er, that's because it is. Just to confuse those of us who associate the show with dark nights, mince pies, and all the trappings of the festive season, the BBC commissioned two series of Raven last year.

Since series five finished late in 2006, Raven has hardly been off the air. With so many proper tournaments, plus the Island spin-off (the format's own Scrappy-Doo), CBBC has the luxury of its own home-grown syndicated show. And it has been airing the shows just about every single day since. Will that lead to Raven overkill amongst the audience?

Overkill might be too strong a word, but it's certain that there's something missing. Where's the sense of occasion? This is CBBC's standout production, the show to ensures the channel can never be accused of being undemanding and insipid. We saw no promotion for this series, and the scheduling opposite Blue Peter hardly helped viewers to see two of the best shows made by the children's department.

But what of the show itself? Readers should know what to expect by now: youngsters challenging themselves and each other in a highly ritualised system of combat, with the best contender only revealed in the final moments.

There were just four new challenges in this series, and Spiders' Wood - planks over a treacherous terrain - was familiar from the year before last. Ring Rack was an interesting take on the familiar tug o'war concept, where the competitors moved themselves backwards to pull a lever forwards and hook rings. We have a vague half-recollection of something similar on Jeux Sans Frontieres in our callow youth, but this was many years ago, when James MacKenzie might have played the character of Fledgling.

Slightly more familiar was Deadman's Vault, getting a ball from the top of a contraption to the bottom by careful use of metal rods. Replace the word "ball" with "crystal", and the genesis of this particular challenge is apparent. It's even further back in game show history for the last game, in which warriors come down a rope slide, grabbing rings as they go. This particular challenge has a clear nod towards The Krypton Factor, a show that made it almost mandatory for every assault course to end with a rope slide.

The week's final challenge still needs work, it feels wrong for the outcome of the entire tournament to be primarily determined by who is the fastest to ascend a slope against a torrent of mucky water. However, this happened primarily because there was absolutely nothing to choose between the last competitors. The quality of competition in this tournament was high - games that we thought would be impossible turned out to be very possible, contestants pushed themselves beyond their limits, and were carrying around bank vaults-worth of gold on their standards. For the first time in three years, we found ourselves cheering for some contestants, and wondering if it was quite the done thing to cheer for the demons so that our favourites might progress further. More importantly, we were tremendously impressed with some of the feats of balance, dexterity, and raw courage exhibited by the contestants.

In a world where even Blue Peter can't be trusted, it is reassuring to know that CBBC can still make programmes that ooze integrity and fair play from every shot. And when our greatest criticism is that we nearly missed the first episode through lack of publicity, that is no criticism at all.

I Blame the Spice Girls

Endemol (trading as Zeppotron) for Channel 5, 21.02, 30 March 2007

There are plenty of ways to mark Channel 5's birthday. They could have gone down the route of having clips and F-list celebrities dissecting the action, and we can be very thankful that this was a path avoided. They could have picked out ten of the most important shows and talked to the people involved. They could have had a website poll to determine the top ten, but we wouldn't have trusted that any further than we could throw it. No, the celebration that Channel 5 chose was to have Liza Tarbuck and six celebrities gather, watch some vintage clips, meet a few special guests, and have a loose approximation to a quiz go on around them.

The choice of guests was interesting. Trisha Goddard, now that she's defected from ITV, was a good move. Johnny Vegas is a reasonably well-known name, and Frankie Boyle from Mock the Week isn't unknown. Jason Manford, Michael McIntyre and Ben Miller were as anonymous afterwards as they were before. Maybe they couldn't get more obvious names, such as Kirsty Young, John Barnes, Alex Lovell, and Melinda Messenger.

In essence, this was a clip show with a few questions thrown in so that we might think it was a quiz. Each year had a two-minute montage of shows and news events, some chatter, and a few questions thrown in almost as an afterthought. The choice of clips was revealing. No 100%, presumably they couldn't afford the rights. No Fort Boyard, even though it was one of the channel's biggest hits. No Mole, no Jailbreak, two shows rather airbrushed out of history. We did get to see a sequence from Touch the Truck, and a clip from Greed. Yes, Greed did deserve a place in last week's reminiscences, but its absence shows just how ephemeral the production was. Inevitably, they mentioned Naked Jungle, but didn't show so much as a still from the show. Let us be thankful for small mercies. Most tellingly, no mention of Brainteaser. It's almost as though Endemol-Zeppotron is ashamed of the actions of Endemol-Cheetah.

Five of the contestants played for laughs; the only one to take the contest at all seriously was Ms. Goddard, and it's no surprise that her team ran out the winners by a large margin. The show itself was clearly a one-off, and was an entertaining if insubstantial way to spend an hour and a half. A bit like the rest of the channel, really.

This Week And Next

Shatha Hassoun has been declared the winner of Arab Star Academy. The Iraqi performer finished ahead of rivals from Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt.

ITV has commissioned a series of programmes based on filling in missing words from songs. Does no-one at the Network Centre remember Keynotes? Is this the not-awaited-at-all cross between Name That Tune and Family Fortunes? Will we be able to invoke Name That Tone? No? Good. Meanwhile, UK Gold has announced its latest commission, The Generation Game Now And Then, to be hosted by Bruce Forsyth.

In 0898gate news, ICSTIS has announced "tough" new rules, to come into effect on 1 May. Broadcasters must display the number of calls in the previous quarter-hour, updated every ten minutes. To get, as ITV said it does, 90,000 calls in a quarter hour, and taking approximately 11 of those to air, might demonstrate the impossibly long odds of winning anything to even the least numerate viewer. Presenters will have to remind viewers of the cost of calling every ten minutes, and all callers will be warned after spending £10 per day. These measures are better than nothing, but don't help to restore confidence in the broadcasters' inability to count the phone calls people make, or the propensity to make winners up from some old washing-liquid bottles and pieces of tin foil.

Over on the Contestant Calls page, we've got something for the new run of Codex, a chance to double your salary, and Fern Britton's primetime quiz show on 80s television. Double-or-quits on gratuitous mentions of Breakfast Time it is.

That's in the future. The recent past includes ratings for the week to 25 March, when the Dancing On Ice Skate-off was the most-seen game show, taking 8.8 million viewers. Question of Sport Uncensored had 5.8m, and TV Burp (5.7m) comes ahead of Millionaire (5.45m) and The People's Quiz Auditions (5.05m). Question of Sport's regular edition took 4.65m.

Deal or No Deal returned to the top of the minor channel list, 3.2m on Thursday, beating Link by just 50,000 viewers. UC had 2.95m, Eggheads 2.6m, The Underdog Show 2.45m, and Ready Steady Cook 1.8m.

On the digital tier, Pop Idle US recovered to 635,000, ahead of Dancing on Ice with 525,000. Deal on More4 had 235,000, but was beaten by a repeat of The Secret Millionaire - 255,000 there. QI on G2 pulled 210,000, Dragons' Den took 145,000, and Buzzcocks 130,000. Jungle Run on CITV had 145,000, but Raven failed to make the CBBC top ten. Challenge's most-watched was a Friday night Fear Factor, 85,000 tuning in.

Coming up next week, The Apprentice gets its own show on Radio 5, hosted by Richard Bacon (8pm Sunday) and the return of Have I Got News for You (BBC1, 9pm Friday).

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