Weaver's Week 2007-07-29

Weaver's Week Index

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


Challenge, lyrical

Bring it back? Or down the dumper?

Sing It Back: Lyric Champion 2007

LWT in association with Guerin, 7-21 July

It's summer, and time for ITV to wheel out their low-budget schedule fillers. Some of them (Body Heat, for instance) are quite enjoyable. Some of them (The Big Call, we're looking at you) drop into the memory hole almost before the screen has gone dark from the last programme – or, as ITV so often calls it these days, the first programme. And some of them are cursed from the beginning because they bear the ironic title Simply the Best on a channel that doesn't do irony any more.

So, what's to make of the rather unsnappily-named Sing It Back: Lyric Champion 2007? The concept is simple. Over three weeks, 36 contestants pre-selected for their knowledge of popular songs will be reduced until a single champion emerges. That person will be crowned the Lyric Champion of 2007, and win a trophy in the shape of a note.

We have to class this as an entertainment, rather than a high-concept quiz. It's light, frothy, and not particularly expensive. The last consideration rather rules out using the services of genuine pop stars and top-quality presenters such as Antan Dec. Instead, this format was made for people who claim some vague association with popular music, but don't really know much about it. We would have nominated Sam and Mark, runners-up on Pop Idle 2, but they've carved out their career on the BBC, and are doing rather well for themselves.

Instead, step forward Jay Kay and Or Joel, the interchangeable duo who are to 2007 as Bruno Brookes was to 1992 – the DJs on Radio 1 at four in the morning, who somehow managed to land the singles chart show. They have some talent in putting the right CD in the CD player, the ability to mildly annoy a lot of people by saying a very few words, and designs on low-budget but entertaining shows.

Just as Bruno Brookes's spell on Beat the Teacher was overshadowed by that giant noughts-and-crosses board, so Jay Kay and Or Joel are not the real stars of this contest. That'll be Paul Gambaccini, the man who knows more about pop music than anyone else on the planet. He was the adjudicator, with the onerous task of distinguishing between someone singing "I've" and "I'll" while they're trying and failing to hit the E above middle C. When he tried to be the new Anne Robinson, it grated; when he relaxed a little, he added his usual passion to the show.

There were four rounds to each week's contest. Each required the contestants to sing (not speak) the required lyrics. They didn't need to be note-perfect, but they had to be word-perfect. In the opening round, The Great Gambo gave clues to a particular song. These clues were usually, but not always, sufficient to identify the tune. One of the twelve contestants would buzz in, be played part of the clued tune, and have to perform the next line. A correct answer granted progression to the next round; an incorrect one wallied them from answering the next question. And just the next question – this lack of penalty was little deterrent, as the tunes were generally obvious enough to make a speculative buzz the right thing to do from the start. While the contestant delivered a rather pointless piece to camera about why they buzzed, the producers put up the usual mini-biography. It's the only place it could go without sounding utterly out of place.

After six people had given correct answers in the opening round – the remaining six are out of the contest, most without performing once – we moved to round 2. Here, a particular tune was played from the beginning, stopping in turn for each contestant, and they needed to pick up the next line. Top four scorers after this moved on to round three. Here, perhaps more than anywhere, was the format's weakness – it relied on modern-day standards, songs that are lyrically undemanding, or have been played on Local FM so often that they've burned their way into the consciousness of thirtysomething housewives. A few contestants said that they'd revised by listening to their independent radio station, surely a smart thing to do.

Round three was a return to questions on the buzzers, with Gambo giving clues to a song, and the contestants having to sing the first line. This is an order of magnitude more difficult than singing the most well-known line, and speculative buzzes tended to be less profitable. First two to give two correct opening lines progressed to the final.

The difficulty increased tremendously for the weekly final, in which the contestants needed to sing the line before the one they had been given. Enter, at this point, Jay Kay and Or Joel's best attempt at a catchphrase: "They're only succeeding when they know what's preceding." It'll do. The final round was very difficult, and the best-of-five penalty shoot-out was – for once – a fair format. The winner of each show was rewarded with an overseas trip to a musical centre.

The final pitched the three weekly winners in a round of Sing The Chorus, where they were invited to – well, sing the chorus. Again, well-known songs, but they had to be word perfect. It's a challenge no easier, but not a great deal more difficult, than the weekly final. Certainly a valid format to complete the final in 20 minutes.

There's one reason to bring back Sing It Back: Lyric Champion 2007, at least for a celebrity edition at the end of the year. The format is ripe for self-parody. Witness host Jay Kay trying to remember the lyrics to "The Chicken Song", Or Joel puzzling over the first line from "Mr. Blobby", and invite Dr. Fox to sing the chorus to "The Birdie Song".

This was lightweight summer filler: some tension was perhaps appropriate, and the hyped it to a point, but not out of all reason. While the pieces-to-camera in the opening round serves some little purpose, those in later parts of the show were fairly blatant and rather unwelcome padding. Overall, though, this was an entertaining way to pass an hour of a Saturday night.


Heat 3/24

Rod Deaves has the Life and Career of Sir Chris Bonington. Mr. Bonington is a climber, and it quickly becomes evident that Mr. Deaves was expecting different questions from the ones he got. Even though he benefits from starting a question after the buzzer, Mr. Deaves finishes on 9 (5).

Dan Holloway takes the Hannibal Lector novels of Thomas Harris. This contender has a shock of brown hair, beard, and is wearing a purple shirt under a black jacket. He looks like he could be an extra from the Open University, and scores as though he could be – a final score of 15 (1) is not to be sneezed at.

Les Morrell discusses Kett's Rebellion of 1549. This was an uprising in Norwich during the reign of Edward VI, about whom we'll be hearing more next week. An obscure subject, and one on which the contender has done his homework. 14 (1) is a good score.

Katharine Morris will take the Life and Works of Tom Lehrer, a satirist and songwriter from California. Regrettably, the contender feels the first stirrings of panic during her round, and finishes on 9 (4).

Mr. Deaves has a slow start, but pulls away to finish on 18 (11). Miss Morris treats us to a brief extract from The Elements, which leaves the CEEFAX subtitlers for dead. Her round also finishes on 18 (11).

INFAX suggests that Mr. Morrell was part of the University of East Anglia team that made the second round of UC 2005, and reminds us that Norwich was the second city of the realm in 1549. His round is not perfect, but may be good enough; 29 (4) is a tough target.

Mr. Holloway, it appears, won an edition of The Weakest Link last October. His round here never looks like scaling the heights, finishing on 26 (4).

University Challenge

Heat 3: Leeds v Liverpool

Thumper goes to great pains to explain the rules this week; clearly, the Leeds team has taken the Trans-Pennine Express train to the studio. The sausage rolls were new when they set out, not hard enough to make into a scale model of Stonehenge. Liverpool has, we're told, sent four members of their symphony orchestra, and their mascot, a stuffed dog. No Famous Five references here, oh no.

The first two starters go to the captains, and the sides are level at 20-20. Leeds pull away after that, and following the first visual round – on Blue Peter presenters and their pets – Leeds have a 70-20 lead. It's one for the viewers and TV Cream – given that all the pets and presenters involved left the show before the contestants were out of nappies, it's a surprise that anyone would expect more than "John Noakes and Shep." We'll take High Culture Moment of the Week.

Q: What artefact has been described as "unfeasibly small", and "no longer able to take unnecessary strain without unravelling"? Purchased at a London charity shop, they were exhibited at the V&A Museum in 2006, having earlier appeared in the video for the song "Spinning..."
Stephanie Ling, Liverpool: Kylie Minogue's gold hot pants.

Liverpool takes the bonuses, and the next starter, ties the game at 70-all, and takes the lead on the next starter. It doesn't last for long – in spite of a missignal, Leeds takes the lead, then Liverpool moves ahead again. By the time we reach the audio round, David Bowie songs in Portugese, performed by Seu Jorge, Liverpool has a 110-90 advantage.

After their slow start, it appears that Liverpool has found their buzzers working properly. Or, to be exact, Stephanie Ling has. Only two of the first fourteen starters feature a buzz from anyone other than the captains. At the second visual round, on paintings of horses, Liverpool's lead has extended to 165-90. And, oh dear, the team has started to give each other high-fives.

Thumper immediately picks up the pace, almost as if he wants Leeds to have a good chance of returning for the repechage. If they want to do that, they'll have to start answering more bonus questions correctly. And perhaps have more than one person behind a working buzzer – captain Ashley Handley gets the first seven starters for the team. Eight, and during the bonuses, Leeds takes a five-point advantage.

Another starter for Leeds, putting them further ahead while winding down the clock. A missignal from Leeds isn't picked up by their opponents, and two more correct starters – including one on Nottinghamshire, answered by someone from Nottingham – gives the side a good win, 225-165.

Ashley Handley had nine starters and one missignal in the end; his Leeds side answered 21/32 bonuses correctly, eleven starters and two missignals in total. Stephanie Ling made seven of Liverpool's eleven starters; the side had 11/33 bonuses and no incorrect interruptions.

Next match: St Andrews v Birmingham

This Week And Next

A lot of nonsense has been spouted in the press about the BBC's cancellation of phone-in competitions, and here's a bit more. This is an over-reaction, akin to a schoolteacher keeping the whole class in at break time because someone talked all through the lesson. It's not an excuse to dismantle the BBC's funding structure, as the Murdoch press consistently and tediously advocate. It is a reason to evaluate the structure of the whole industry.

Most of the problems we've been discussing this year have been caused by independent production houses and companies. Eckoh Communications, Endemol, RDF Productions – all these private companies aim to make the biggest profit they can, rather than the best television programmes. These two aims shouldn't be in contradiction, but good television tends to be more expensive than cheap and rubbish shows. They may be cheap in the short-term, but they don't inspire long-term confidence. Better to plan for the long term, but that's anathema to people only interested in this year's profits.

Many commentators have said that independents don't share "the BBC ethos", but don't really explain what that ethos is. Honest reporting? Shows to educate, entertain, and explain? Chasing after ratings? Not giving credit where it is due. Don't think we've missed the slovenly way School's Out has its credits removed from the screen just so that BBC1 can promote programmes that we probably weren't going to watch before, but certainly won't watch now. We believe that the little things matter, for if the broadcaster is prepared to skimp on the little things, it will end up with their high-profile charity appeal finding that it's raising money through fraud.

Are the broadcasters becoming lazy, expecting their listeners to fill their shows for them under the guise of "interactivity"? Leafing through our recent reviews, we find that the shows we've praised – The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Countdown, University Challenge, The Search – have approximately zero interaction. No-one is asked to SMS into the YTV studios to solve a numbers game that beat Carol. We're not told to call an 0898 number to take ten tough questions from Thumper and possibly win a UC quill-holder. It may be that the best solution is more in-house commissions, and less "interactivity".

As suggested recently, OFCOM will write good practice in 0898 numbers into television licenses. It has also floated the idea of having the shows regulated as though they were commercials, but prefers to continue to have call-TV services and programmes regulated as editorial content under "tighter rules", which may or may not include permanent on-screen labels.

GMTV is seeking a new managing director: Paul Corley has fallen on his sword after that company's contribution to 0898-gate. If you think that you can run the morning programme on ITV, submit your application by calling this premium-rate number, and answering three very simple questions. All calls will be charged, whether you get through or not.

Hans Zimmer has announced that he doesn't want his soundtracks to be nominated for awards any more. Does that mean that we can't suggest his theme for Going for Gold is the best game show tune ever?

Viewing figures for the week to 15 July, and Big Brother takes top billing, with 6 million tuning in for the post-march interview. Dance X came second, 4.9m saw the auditions, and 8 Out of 10 Cats ended its series with 4m, a sneeze ahead of Millionaire. School's Out had 3.3m, but Sing It Back: Lyric Champion 2007 missed ITV's top thirty. Deal had 2.55m, beating Link's 1.65m, but falling behind the 2.6m who saw the return of University Challenge. Mock the Week had 2.05m, Old News 1.9m, Mastermind 1.75m, and Eggheads 1.45m.

America's Got Talent still led the digital tier, 630,000 tuning in, just 5000 ahead of BB Big Mouth. Little Brother had 475,000. The Game Show Panel has adjudicated on BBC3's Last Man Standing, and ruled it Game, so the 525,000 viewers count for our purposes. CBBC's most-seen show was Hider In The House (270,000), and Challenge's top was Sunday night Family Fortunes (110,000).

Next week's Week will open the covers of BBC4's The Book Quiz.

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