Weaver's Week 2007-06-17

Weaver's Week Index

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


Going Wild

David Hatch died this week. Before becoming head of Radio 2, Radio 4, and eventually All BBC Radio, he was a radio producer, the guiding hand behind such gems as Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, and the wonderfully-named The Tennis Elbow Foot Game.

People's Quiz Wildcard

Fever Media for BBC2, 6pm weeknights

In the years to come, people are going to pose some questions about The People's Quiz. Why did The Lottery Corp. pull its sponsorship halfway through? What was the point of Kate Garraway? If this column can spell Bjortomt correctly, why does it always leave half the "B"s out of Labbett? And the two hundred thousand seven hundred pound question: why?

Even from this point in history, it's difficult to discern the reason behind this particular piece of television. The Saturday shows have been losing viewers faster than a speeding gnu, and with all the great quizzers loaded into the front of the series, the quality of play is palpably deteriorating as the Top Bench slowly fills. It feels as though a couple of the shows were spun out for as long as possible by interesting positioning of the qualifying questions.

As Jamie Theakston pointed out at great length in the early weeks of the show, there will be a daily programme selecting one finalist from outside the charmed 24, and it's to that daily show that our attention now turns.

The play is moderately simple. A multiple-choice question, with three possible answers, is posed to the nine contestants who made it through the auditions. One of the two who gave the correct response in the fastest time will progress to the next round. There, they'll face ninety seconds of rapid-fire questions. Correct answers retain control, an error will transfer play to the other person. Players have the option of switching to the other person; if they err, it's as though both have given incorrect answers in a row. Whoever has control after the minute and a half have elapsed is the winner. Repeat this process, typically five times in each half-hour show. Once defeated, and if their score is amongst the best in the series, the champion will take a place on Winner's Row; the five people on this bench will compete for the grand final place.

If there is a choice to be made - for if only one contestant gets the answer right, or there is no defending champion - the challenger is named by the people on Winner's Row. While the champ has few wins, it's to their advantage to pick the candidate who appears to pose a more difficult challenge; when the champ has many wins, it's to their advantage to run down the show and send the candidate less likely to win. In order to avoid the kind of mismatches we've seen on the Saturday show, champions are limited to ten wins before retiring. Ties are broken by the most correct answers in the centre circle.

With Jamie Theakston asking them, ninety seconds of rapid-fire questions translates into about 15 posers. Rather than consistently addressing the contestant by name, or saying "correct", Jamie uses four or five different ways of indicating an accurate answer. This isn't particularly good, and something they did better on Grand Slam. We also saw switches on Grand Slam, though contestants there had a limit to the number of switches they could use in one game, and were able to switch back. Neither of these things is true on People's Quiz Wildcard, and the absence of switch-backs is particularly welcome.

Somewhat less welcome is the game mechanic. It's Last Wrong Answer Loses again, a formulation we find particularly unwelcome. Grand Slam's pair of chess clocks is a possible approach, though this would be labour-intensive and possibly too expensive for the budget. Alternatively, a simple scoring system would be possible - if one point per question is too simple, think about one point for the first question, two for the second, three for the third, and so on up through the time.

Within this format, the quiz is fast and furious - in each half-hour programme, we'll hear at least 80 questions, slightly fewer than Fifteen-to-One, but on a par with University Challenge. The questions tend to be simpler than the UC students get, suggesting that the winner won't be allowed to display the quiz pedigree they need to win the series final. Each contestant is introduced by a brief video clip, giving their name, age, location, occupation, quiz pedigree, and a "wildcard fact", and all voiced by someone who sounds a bit like Magenta DeVine, but we're not sure because they're not credited. Other contributors suggest that this is a very poor idea; we're not entirely in agreement - the basic biography is part of the standard grammar of television, and there's no particular harm in giving some extra details. Particularly if it gives Jamie Theakston something to riff on, as he did with a very elegant burlesque dancer in the early shows. We remember that television is as much entertainment as competition, and Jamie is a master of raising a friendly smile with people.

Though it's clear that People's Quiz Wildcard is another show with a limited budget, enough has been spent on the show to make it look polished. Like the main programme, there's a decent enough quiz lurking under the surface, but there are enough niggling little flaws to leave everyone somewhat disappointed.


Two Four for Channel 5, 6.32 weekdays

Eight people are standing in an arc in front of some video screens. By each of them is a pillar. In turn, the eight will tell us their name, age, location, and an interesting little fact. So will the host, Colin Murray, a disk jockey from BBC Radio 1.

The missing fact from each player's little speech is their occupation. That's because guessing occupations and salaries is the key to this little entertainment. Before the show, the players have been advised of the jobs they all do, but not who does what. They're also told that the top annual wage is over a certain figure, usually around £30,000. But not who earns what. The viewers are also given this information, by a mixture of Colin's voiceover and a caption on the screen.

In the opening round, each person is asked one question. If they give a correct answer, they can demand, "Pay me Player". By doing so, they'll be credited with the daily earnings of that player. Not the full £30,000 of the title wage, but the daily equivalent, rarely more than £100. Contestants may take their own wage, if they believe they are amongst the highest earners, or just want to sow a little doubt.

Round two is on the buzzer, appears to be timed, but may be a fixed number of questions. A correct answer will allow the person to be paid a wage; an incorrect answer leaves them wallied them out of the next question. The buzzers are those pillars by each player, and way the contestants stand around - without a single podium in sight - looks a little odd. We'll let that slide. Whoever is quickest on the buzzer seems to win, as the questions are rarely difficult enough to cause trouble.

At the end of round two, Colin gives the score of the player in the lead, and names them. That player now has the opportunity to vote someone else out of the game. Not only is that player unable to win, but the remaining seven cannot be paid their wage. If the leader reckons that the person in second place is on a low wage, it's advantageous to remove them; if the leader believes their closest competitor is on one of the top wages, it may well pay them to remove someone else.

Round three is a repeat of round two. At the end, Colin again reveals the winner's score, and then the winner. That person is the only one who might come out of the game with anything more than their bus fare home. The winner gets to see the annual increments of all seven remaining players, and has to match the person to the pay packet. Obviously, they know their own salary, so they can't help but get one right. For each player they correctly unite with their wage slip, they win the amount of money they were paid for correct answers in the main game. Two correct answers, win twice the prize. Four correct answers, win four times the prize, and that's usually somewhere in the vicinity of £3000. The winner can stop at any time if they believe they've not made any more correct answers, for a single error means they will leave with nothing. The stake is large: if the winner can match all six of their opponents to their wages, they will win the highest wage in play. This is another reason not to eliminate the top earner at the end of the second round, for their wage then cannot become the top prize.

Overall, this is a strange show. It's not quite a buzzer quiz, as two correct answers taking a low reward can easily be beaten by a single answer with a high reward. Nor is it a game of identifying people to their jobs, a tack pursued by the venerable What's My Line?. But nor is it entirely a guessing game, as seen on ITV and Channel 4 lately. Perhaps the closest analogy is with Challenge's quiz-and-guessing game Take It or Leave It, particularly in the end game.

The main problem, though, is that it's rather difficult to play along at home. It's clear that the contestants have had a little time to sound each other out, and come up with some ideas on who might earn what. Dare we suggest that this programme might work better in a slightly longer format, with a little more opportunity for viewers to work out who is paid what.

Payday is certainly a decent enough format; it's not brilliant, but it's a diverting little entertainment. The lack of play-along factor means that it's unlikely we'll see it too much more; the only reason we won't see The People's Quiz again is because the parent programme has been a flop.

This Week And Next

The Ofcomwatch blog 1 notes that 30% of the British public say they've been offended by something on television, and only 3% of those people would ever complain to someone - be it OFCOM or the broadcaster. Quickly crunching the numbers gives somewhere around 450,000 people prone to complain at any show, ever. Now recall that Celebrity Big Brother received 45,000 complaints.

OFCOM has also announced that it will inquire into Channel 4's public service remit. The review won't change the fundamental character, but will investigate if the current mixture of populist programming can fund and drive viewers to more heavyweight fare. It will also have to consider Channel 4's place when everyone has at least thirty alternative channels in a few years, following the proposed cessation of analogue transmissions.

Channel 4 has paid £50,000 to Great Ormond Street Hospital. It's an interim payment of profits from the You Say We Pay element of Richard And Judy.

In ratings for the week to 3 June, Any Dream Will Do continued to lead the way, attracting 6.7m for the results show. The Apprentice (5.25m) and HIGNFY (5.05m) both beat ITV's profile of Simon Cowell (5m). In turn that beat Millionaire (4.2m) and Grease Is The Word (4.15m). Back on BBC1, The Great British Village Show had 4.1m, and trailed Monday's Celeb Masterchef (4.2m). The shockingly wet bank holiday helped Link (2.2m), People's Quiz Wildcard (1.95m), Let Me Entertain You (1.6m), and Eggheads (1.45m) pull in decent audiences, but BBC2's top show was QI (2.5m). Two Apprentice spin-offs were aired - Wednesday's You're Fired had 2.45m, while Sunday's Beyond the Boardroom had 1.6m.

Channel 4 had the second most-watched show this week, Wednesday's launch episode of Big Brother attracted 6.6m. The E4 spin-offs all did reasonable business - Big Mouth had 695,000 on Thursday, Live coverage after the Wednesday show was seen by 615,000, Thursday's Little Brother was of interest to 470,000 fans, and even Sunday's Diary Room Uncut managed 400,000. Deal or No Deal also profited from the wet weather, peaking with 2.5m on Monday - More4 repeats peaked on Thursday at 190,000. G2's repeats of HIGNFY secured a year's best on Tuesday, 135,000 tuning in. Data for Challenge has not been published.

Two performance competitions reach the finals tonight - Cardiff Singer of the World (5pm Radio 3, 5.30 BBC2), and Britain's Got Talent (ITV, 8pm and 10pm). Daytime show Let Me Entertain You reaches its final on Friday (BBC2, 6pm). Tomorrow, two new series begin - Round Britain Quiz is back for the first time in over two years (Radio 4, 1.30), and Golden Balls is yet another guessing game for ITV daytime (5pm in most regions). Later in the week, there's yet another greed-is-good show, Tycoon (ITV, 9pm Tuesday) and yet another series of Jet Set (BBC1, 8pm Wednesday). The People's Quiz Wildcard will be found on Thursday (BBC2 6pm, not Scotland) and the grand final will be on Saturday (BBC1, 6.15). And, just for good measure, it's also Finals Week on Countdown (C4 3.30 weekdays).

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