Weaver's Week 2007-09-23

Weaver's Week Index


Who are ya?

When we reviewed Donny Osmond's other show, The Pyramid Show With Donny Osmond, back in May, we said he was "cheerful and upbeat to the point of being quite tiring; we found the show to both have too much host and be that bit too long."


BBC2, 5.15 weekdays, 27 August – 21 September

Twelve people are on a stage. Each of them fits into one, and precisely one, of twelve descriptions. If the contestant can match all twelve people to their twelve descriptions within twelve guesses, they win the top prize. That, in a nutshell is the show billed as "Identity".

Our problems begin with the way our host, the non-titular Donny Osmond, pronounces the show's name as "Idennidy". That grates, and when he's doing it once a minute during the game, it's going to progress from slightly irritating to very annoying indeed.

Like other recent daytime shows – Win My Wage, For the Rest of Your Life, Deal or No Deal – each contestant gets a complete show to themselves. No games are carried forward from one episode to the next. It's a narrative choice that allows the viewer to get to know the contestant, but also to pick and choose the episodes they do see, for if they miss one episode, it has no effect on the others.

The game mechanic works something like this. Contestant looks at the twelve "strangers" on display, and at the twelve "identities" listed. They have a chat to the host. "Ah, I think number 7 could be the page 3 model, because she's the only female under 50 there." Donny asks, "Are you sure," and does his best to put the contestant off. Once the contestant has persuaded the host that they really do know what they're doing, they get to press a Big Red Button.

Pressing this Big Red Button locks in their answer, and causes Donny to ask the contestant how sure they are about this, to which the answer is invariably, "I'm sure I'm sure, I wouldn't have said I was sure otherwise, would I?" Then comes a big pause. We're talking a pause so long you could drive a truck through it. Backwards. At a snail's pace.

Only after all this rigmarole does the host ask the contestant, "Stranger 7, are you the page 3 model?" Then there's an even longer pause while the stranger tries to remember the line written for them. It's a pause that drags on and on and on. It wouldn't surprise us to find that, during one of these lengthy pauses, a species of mayfly mutates, has many generations of offspring, only to die off after the entire progeny smashes into a lorry, reversing, while driven by a snail. During the intermission, the stranger fails to remember the line written for them, and one of the stage hands sticks up a cue-card with it on. "It sticks out a mile, doesn't it? Yes, contestant, I am your page 3 model." One down, eleven to go.

As one might expect, a correct answer will advance the contestant up the money ladder. An incorrect answer takes them down one place, which seems rather harsh, and means that the typical game finishes with a prize of about £1000. Even the worst teams on The Weakest Link, taken off for this show, will win more. An incorrect match between stranger and identity means both remain in play; a correct match allows the stranger to vanish from the set, and the identity to come off the board. There is a problem with the visual presentation – each entry on the board has a computer-generated shine slowly going around it, but the animation skips part of the circuit. That's just sloppy practice, makes the show look even cheaper than it is, and we're sure that a second series will spend the two minutes to fix it.

During the game, Donny introduces various assistances: the contestant can confer with a few friends and family, they can ask three of the people to say something about themselves, their first wrong answer will not move them down the money ladder, one that narrows a particular identity to three strangers, and they can ask a panel of three psychological experts. One of them is David Wilson, who resigned from the retained panel on Big Brother after the explosion of violence in 2004. The panel don't know the answers, but can provide useful thoughts.

Overall, though, we're left with a feeling that Idennidy is a 30-minute show stretched out into a 45-minute slot. This seems to be a recurring theme in late daytime – Eggheads had a painful (and mercifully brief) experiment with long slots, Deal or No Deal often felt over-long, and neither Countdown nor Ready Steady Cook deserved to be stretched beyond half an hour. Chop out the gratuitous delays, perhaps sort out the money tree, and there is hope for this show.

Image:Countdown susie clock square.jpg

Countdown Update

The gold standard of daytime television continues. When we last looked, Mikey Lear was in the champion's chair. He eventually made seven wins, but was defeated in his last game. Martin May achieved four wins, and looked to be set for a much longer run until he lost a 77-73 squeaker to Steve Baines, one of the greatest matches of the series. Mr. Baines also had seven wins, but lost 93-86 to Grant Woods when going for his octochamp's honour.

Mr. Woods lasted just one game, losing to the talented Jeffrey Hansford. Mr. Hansford attracted a lot of comment amongst the Countdown viewers, and we understand that he featured in some of the national press – though we've not seen this coverage. Anyway, Mr. Hansford did complete his octochamp run, only the third player to do so this year. Barney Barnes inherited the vacant chair, only to be uprooted after one win by Gay Black. She had two wins, as did Natalie Underwood, as did the very promising Sam Butcher. He was undone by Dave Von Guyer, who has five wins so far.

The top eight so far:

  1. James Hurrell, 8 wins, 838 pts
  2. Jeffrey Hansford, 8 wins 818 pts
  3. David Edwards 8 wins, 737 pts
  4. Steve Baines, 7 wins, 758 pts
  5. Mikey Lear, 7 wins, 680 pts
  6. Dave Von Guyer, 5 wins, still playing.
  7. Martin May, 4 wins, 465 pts
  8. Mike Priestley, 3 wins, 314 pts


Heat 11

We have nothing interesting to say about the ongoing spat between Humphrys, Paxman, and whose empire should get more money from the license fee. Not that that's stopped us for the past month. Instead, we will note the Zoetrope ident before this show. We have to fill this space somehow.

Matthew Williamson has turned up in a suit that can only be described as lilac, and will discuss Round the Horne. It was a radio sketch comedy in the 1960s, led by the titular Kenneth Horne, and has been repeated occasionally on BBC7. It was a great comedy, and a pretty good round, 12 (0).

Bob Porteous has brought his remarkable moustache, and will tell us all about has the Life and Work of William Thomson, Lord Kelvin. He was the inventor of temperature, and wrote for the Encyclopaedia Britannica on subjects he knew about, an idea that other encyclopaediae would do well to emulate. The round ends on 8 (3).

Derek Baxter is wearing the monochrome version of Dennis the Menace's jumper after Bea's scribbled on it, and takes the History of Tamela Motown, 1959-80. It's another subject that's wider than it looks, and the contender finishes on 3 (2).

Jerry Asquith has the Life and Career of Aleksandr Alekhine. He was a chess player in the early part of the 20th century, who once finished a game with four queens on the board. Four passes here, and 10 correct answers.

Mr. Baxter discusses how Motown started with just a few hundred dollars in borrowed capital. He finishes on 12 (4). Mr. Porteous is prompted to tell the nation what Lord Kelvin brought to the world: the Atlantic telegraph, for starters. He fails to identify that it was Ronald Reagan who was upstaged on screen by a monkey, or the abbreviation behind the SI units. 13 (8) is his final score.

Mr. Asquith agrees with Garry Kasparov, that Mr. Alekhine was one of the greatest players ever. He misses the country once ruled by Canaan Banana, and ends on 14 (11).

Which means Mr. Williamson requires three to win. He wasn't born when The Navy Lark came off air, but saw the film at the theatres. We also note that his suit is almost the same shade of lilac as Mr. Humphrys's hair. His final score: 19 (1).

University Challenge

First round, 11/14: Jesus Cambridge v Exeter

Exeter, we're given to understand, has appointed as its president Floella Benjamin; famous alumni include Will Young and The Banker, who you might recall from his nigh-forgotten programme Deal or No Deal. Jesus was another 15th century establishment, but 600 years of history can't stop them from opening the show with a missignal. Exeter gets the first three sets of bonuses, including an Unexpected Hidden Transmission Indicator of the week, on international debt, but picks up just one of the nine questions. The first visual round is Name That Central American Country, after which every Exeter player has correctly answered at least one starter, that's more than the opposition combined, and their lead is 70-(-5). We'll take Iconic Question of the Week:

Q: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "across" is used as an adjective only in what context?
(A pause)
Amanda Lindsay, Exeter: Crosswords!

Jesus finally picks up a starter on Grove, the musician, which briefly cuts the gap to 70 points. After their second starter, Jesus has correctly answered 5 bonuses from 6 questions: Exeter has 6/21. Jesus is correctly able to identify the "m" in E=mc2, which is more than ITV ever managed to do. The audio round is on winners of the NARAS "Oscar" for best song, after which Exeter's lead is 125-60.

Tuesday Morning Quibbles, and our inbox was full to overflowing this week. "Jeremy Paxman rejected a correct answer from the Jesus College veterinary student. This player correctly identified the answer to the food toxin question as 'Staphylococcus', but Paxman called him incorrect and then proceeded to give a laboured pronounciation of Staphylococcus as the correct answer! What hope for the empiricists on the teams?"

Let's play back the tape, or whatever people do with these new-fangled digital video files, and see what actually happened.

Q: TSS or Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare but serious infection caused by the aureus group of which bacteria, a genus that also causes food poisoning and pneumonia?
James Crilly, Jesus: Streptococcus.

Sorry, reader, it was clearly the -PT- bug, not the -PHYL- one.

After letting Jesus run up the score a little in the second stanza, Exeter forces the pace again in the later stage, but they still don't get many of the bonus questions correct – their bonus conversion rate is still 10/33. The second visual round is on portraits of writers, and Exeter's lead is at 160-90. It's not as dead a rubber as it seems: if Jesus can hit their buzzers a little better, they'll be in the hunt.

Q: Ballarat in Australia in the 1850s...
James Crilly, Jesus: Gold rush.

A bit like that. It has previously been suggested that the University Challenge question writers have a little competition based on whose questions appear most in this column.

Your bonuses are on interrogative adverbs and pronouns.
Q: What was the physical unit introduced in the late 18th century by James Watt?
Q: Where, in museum terms, is the great bed of Ware?
Q: Who laid out the 18th century gardens at the Bedfordshire mansion Luton Hoo?

Top side in the repechage will return:

  • Lancaster 185
  • Liverpool 165
  • Magdalen Oxford 160
  • Birmingham 145

Count three and score. Horsepower, the V&A, and Capability Brown bring Jesus within 50 points, though how they think rivers in Cumbria flow into the Severn is anyone's guess. Actually, we'll guess: Thumper was pressing for an answer, and it's the right initial letter. Exeter picks up the next starter, running down the clock a little. Jesus gets another starter, raising their score to 140, but cannot get the bonus to enter into a repechage place. Exeter picks up the next starter, winning them the game, and the next one. Jesus is done in by its inability to count the primes between 20 and 40. Exeter's winning score is 215-140.

For Exeter, Chris Parker answered seven starters correctly; the team finished on 13/43 bonuses. Jesus's best buzzer was James Crilly (four starters), the team made 15/24 bonuses, but three missignals mean they'll not be back.

Next match: Manchester v Newcastle

Image:Square Blue Peter.jpg

It's Purrlitical Correctness Gone Mad

OK, maybe not, but it was a bad week for former Blue Peter editor Richard Marson, demoted following the Whose Shoes contest, now sacked from his new job as CBBC's Head of Carpets for faking the results of an online poll. In January 2006, the programme had to find a name for a cat, and (so we were told) the most popular nomination was Socks. It wasn't, the most popular name was Cookie, but the Beeb's technical boffins suspected that there had been bloc voting in the last hours of the poll, and Mr. Marson decided to set the late votes aside. We're actually having great difficulty seeing the problem here: if there is an editorial misjudgement, it's using a web poll in the first place. If they're going to go that far, they'll have to retrospectively sack Biddy Baxter, for misleading the nation for fifteen years about Petra.

Mr. Marson's was joined in the new Scapegoats Department by Ric Blaxill, former Simon Mayo Breakfast Show, SM:TV, and Top of the Pops producer, who has left 6 Music after further faked winners there. BBC director general Mark Thompson denied that the BBC was making a meal out of the whole thing. No, it's making a nine-course banquet out of it. In fact, we asked UKGameshows Towers's resident cat to go and find the size of the story. He came back with a very small toffee, wrapped in yellow paper, just fitting into his paw.

Phone-in and web contests will return from November, just in time for the annual Children In Need Of Assistance appeal, following a "strengthening of editorial guidance and control".

This Week And Next

Last week's Saturday Night Takeaway featured Antan Dec in a spelling bee. Amongst those giving training were Gayathri, winner of the 2004 series of Hard Spell. The words were verified by Susie Dent, who would finish the week lecturing Des O'Connor about bondage. Rather than have Nina Hossain reprise her role as Scary Talking Head, the Takeaway pronouncer was Phillip Schofield. Far more cuddly.

Image:Square UKTV G2.jpg

Flextech announced that it would be re-naming one of its channels on 15 October. The channel, originally called UK Gold 2, has since been known as UKG2, UK G2 (spot the space!), UKTV G2, and will shortly be called Dave. It's a rubbish name, but not quite so rubbish as UKTV G2. The channel will join the DTTV Freeview service on that day, replacing UK Bright Ideas and the evening transmission of UK History.

Ratings for the week to 9 September saw a clean sweep for ITV – X Factor (8.8m), Takeaway (6.65m) and Hell's Kitchen (4.3m) were the top three, though a Weakest Link special (3.95m) beat Tuesday night Millionaire (3.75m). University Challenge (2.85m) led the minor channels, beating the Big Brother follow-up show (2.5m) and Deal (2.3m). Mock the Week had 2.1m, Eggheads 2m, Mastermind recovered to 1.8m, level with Come Dine With Me, and The Restaurant and Identity scored 1.6m.

On the digital tier, Sunday's X Factor repeat beat Saturday's Xtra Factor, 885,000 to 815,000. A repeat of QI on BBC4 had 335,000 tuning in, but Come Dine With Me is the week's big story, topping More4's chart with 305,000 viewers. QI also headed G2's list, 160,000 there. Challenge's top was Wednesday night Millionaire, 105,000.

Next week sees the return of Streetmate (ITV2, 8pm Thursday) and The News Quiz (Radio 4, 6.30 Friday). We're not sure what to make of Trapped (BBC1, 5pm Friday). Saturday sees the The X Factor boot camp stage (from 6.05), a Strictly Come Dancing preview (6pm), and the final of The World's Greatest Elvis (7pm).

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