Weaver's Week 2007-11-25

Weaver's Week Index


Les Pretend

According to some listings sources, the following show has been aired as Chris Tarrant's Great Pretender. We believe they are pulling our leg.

The Great Pretender

RDF for ITV, 5pm weekdays

Image:Square RDF.jpg

Oh yes I'm the great pretender (ooh ooh) Pretending I'm doing well (ooh ooh)

Shall we get the obvious joke out of the way early? RDF Media, game show predicated on fakery and lies. If Spitting Image were still going they'd have the royal family playing this game with the Queen flouncing out only for the host to welcome her.

The real game goes like this. Six people are welcomed to the studio. They sit behind a desk, and each has a small screen displaying their name. Over the course of the next 35 minutes of screen time, host Chris Tarrant will slouch in his chair, sit forward in his chair, become very animated, recline, and chat with each contestant.

He'll also ask some questions. The contestants will answer them. Whether they're right or wrong, no-one will be told. The answers flash up on the screen, with a little animated graphic. Each correct answer is worth £50 to a communal kitty.

I play the game but to my real shame, you've left me to dream all alone

After three rounds of questions, and again after seven, there's an opportunity to vote someone out of the game. Unlike a certain other programme just starting on BBC2, the objective is not necessarily to vote off the person who is costing the team money. It could be to eject the strongest link, someone they players can't tell much about, or someone who the players are having difficulty working with. Removing a player reduces the number of questions, and doubles the reward for each question. A simple plurality of votes suffices to remove a player, but if two or more players are tied, no-one leaves, and the prize per question remains at the lower level.

Oh yes I'm the great pretender, adrift in a world of my own

At the end of the game, the player who has given the most correct answers throughout the game stands to win the team's combined pot. If two players have left the game, the prize is generally somewhere between £2500 and £3000; if no-one's left, it'll barely trickle over £1500.

However, the prize is not yet won. One by one, the remaining contestants will discuss their game with Chris, and find out if they are the day's winner. If they are, their objective becomes to cast suspicion to someone else. The other players must unanimously vote for the day's winner in order to steal their money and split it between themselves. If one person gets it wrong, the champion takes home the entire pot.

My need is such I pretend too much. I'm lonely but no one can tell

Four presentation aspects deserve a mention. The programme has been filmed using a field-removed technique, apparently intended to make us believe it's been shot on film. It hasn't, and we find the show to be quite tiring to watch. There's also a cutesy graphic that plays every time an answer is given. It's a fine effect when used to display the voting results, but when we're seeing it two or three times a minute, and in the ugly field-removed video, it does begin to wear a little.

On the upside, the voting mechanic is entertaining. Rather than writing the name of the person they'd like to vote off on a wipe-clean disk, as happens on the other side, the contestants insert a large plastic chip into the top of their screen, then push a button to reveal their vote. It's possible that pushing the button activates a mechanical mechanism, and the hole in the plastic reflects the light from a mirror. More likely that it triggers a computer-generated display, activated by the precise position of the hole. Either way, an elegant method of voting. We also like the show's music, tinkly and light-hearted for much of the show, but gracefully descending into more dark tones for the points where that's needed.

Too real is this feeling of make believe, too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal

Does this show work? It's certainly better than most of the guff pumped out in ITV's 5pm slot, though we're far from convinced that the show's basic conceit is actually much cop. A contestant who knows the answers in advance has been tried on The Enemy Within and Dirty Rotten Cheater, and found to be too difficult for daytime. Seeing people give implausible answers to questions has us reaching for the Dumb Britain book, but many of these daft answers are done on purpose.

Usually, the producers manage to get a passable hour's entertainment out of the game, though when no-one's voted off in one of the initial rounds, we found the game to lose a lot of sparkle. It's easier for the winner to persuade one person in five to change their vote, and the others aren't playing for much more than a couple of hundred quid each.

I'm wearing my heart like a crown. Pretending that you're still around

Ultimately, the game succeeds precisely because of its host. Chris Tarrant is able to take a half-baked format and make it something that's almost worth watching.

There is something not quite right about this show, and we can't put our finger on it. The game becomes played for piddlingly small amounts of money if no-one goes early, and that casts a shadow over the rest of the show, like a team on Treasure Hunt taking five minutes to send Annie in the right direction on the first clue. And the pace of the game is slow: if it were much slower, we'd expect Chris to have a coal fire to his side, and spend the ad breaks toasting marshmellows.

And yet, and yet, The Great Pretender is decent enough viewing. It's got to be the host, that's the only explanation.


Diverse for Channel 4, 5.40 Saturday

Some significant changes for the new series of Codex; indeed, we would go so far as to say that it's an entirely new game, the greatest revamp since The People Versus. Rather than slowly eliminating one team of five people, we now have two teams of three, competing through the entire programme. Each of the five rounds is still based on an artefact from the British Museum, but there's no longer a code to crack at the end of the game. This is disappointing, and it's not really truth in programme titles.

Anyway, round 1 is five questions about one of the exhibits, multiple choice, nice and easy to start. Round 2 is about a completely different object – the idea of themed programmes has been discarded, as it didn't fit so well with the concept of a general history quiz. Instead, there's a series of buzzer questions to the teams, with bonus questions (based on one of the team observing details of the exhibit) awarded when a team gets two correct. It's good to see the baton round from ITV's final years of University Challenge making a comeback.

Round 3 is the prepared passage round, where the teams have spent an hour boning up from set texts about the thing they'll see. There's another gimmick: each team must nominate the member of the opposing team they'd like to answer the next question, and hopefully get it wrong. Round 4 owes a lot to Talkabout, as someone is shown an object, and must say what they see for one minute, with points awarded when they mention any of eight keywords.

So far, points have been awarded for correct answers. In round 5, these points trickle away, at one point per second, until the team can give five correct answers to the various questions put forward. Or until the time runs out.

This column was very much in the minority in liking the opening series, and many of the aspects that we liked – the heavy use of laser display boards, the careful mix of knowledge and observation, and the subtle wit in the questions – have been lost. In its place is a history quiz with real objects, instantly putting it far above par, and we particularly like the way the teams' scores are almost permanently on the screen during the question rounds. Still think it would be a good idea to go out on the road from time to time, of course.


Heat 18

Iain MacFarlaine will take the Life and Career of Charles James Fox. This is the politician of the late eighteenth century, and not to be confused with the more recent UK entry to Eurovision. Not that the older Mr. Fox was unaware of overseas territories, as he was the first person to be called Foreign Secretary. He finishes on 15 (0).

John Paul Campion has the History of the Gaelic Athletic Association. This organisation governs such sports as hurling and Irish football, and they make remarkably entertaining viewing even for those who know nothing about the sport. No mention of John 3 (7), not when the contender's scoring 13 (0).

Terry Alexander will discuss Real Ale Breweries of Britain. It's a subject long on intricate detail, but most of the questions filled in the blanks in: Brewery X was founded in place Y in year N by person Z. The contender scores 12 (2)

Geoffrey Snape takes the Life and Works of Marcel Proust. Well, that's rather ruined this week's perfectly entertaining if completely incomprehensible in-joke. After a nervy start, the contender pulls away towards the end: 12 (3) is his final score.

Mr. Alexander says that he's done research, and will do more later. Ten new breweries open each week, we're told. The general knowledge round is not the best, confusing Duran Duran (five blokes from Birmingham) with Bananarama (three foxy chicks from London), and the contender finishes on 18 (6).

Mr. Snape confirms that people start Proust books, but no-one finishes them. Some readers have suggested that this column enjoys its run-on sentences, but even we draw the line at a 1300-word monster. He does know the moving part of a clepsydra, proving that no viewing of Fort Boyard is ever wasted, and finishes on 19 (8).

Dr. Campion talks about his work as a trainee surgeon. He does mumble a bit in his answers, but they are right answers. 22 (1) sets the bar.

Mr. MacFarlaine confirms that Mr. Fox was not the favourite politician of George III, and spent most of his career on the Supply benches. Slapped wrists to the question-writers, as Dead Ringers began on radio back in 2000. Not that it stopped the contender, who went like a rocket through the questions, finishing on a very respectable 30 (0).

University Challenge

Second Round, Match 2: York v St Andrews

York downed St George's medical college in an unconvincing first-round win; St Andrews took a more obvious win over Birmingham. "Too tiresome to recite the rules," says Thumper, so, after a two-week break, we'll remind you of the rules. Teams get points for correct answers, might lose them for incorrect ones, most points when the gong goes wins. We begin with the Cricket Martin memorial question:

Q: What is the more common name for the class of arthropods also known as hexapoda, whose bodies consist of a head, a thorax of three segments, which usually bears one or two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs, and an abdomen usually of 11 segments?

Ah, Livin' la vida Locust. They don't make 'em like that any more, and may we all give thanks. Insect, the answer. St Andrews have come in their red capes once more, and race to a 40-point lead, thanks to two missignals from the opposition. That's not much when York gets questions on wartime slogans, though the significance of 1729 (two cubes summed in two ways) and aleph-zero escapes them. The first picture bonus is US state flags, picked up by St Andrews' Kelsey Jackson Williams. From Oklahoma. 50-25 is their advantage.

Who would play a game called spharistike? Roger Federer, there's someone. A later starter clearly invokes Ozymandias, but everyone waits until it's clear that the question is heading that way, and won't take a detour towards some other answer. The teams are too clever for your trick questions now, setters, let's have some more straightforward ones. The audio round is on chanson and other francophone songs, and is clearly baiting Radio 1, including a clip from Je t'aime and something by Céline Dion. St Andrews' lead is up to 105-40.

A later question discusses a coin worth one third of a pound; as we call it these days, a dollar. Thumper is perhaps a little harsh to give St Andrews a missignal for an interruption in the final syllable of "Australia", but it's not likely to alter the result. We never knew the Frisbee was 50 this year. The second visual round is on seascapes, and the St Andrews lead is 135-70.

We're rather surprised that neither of York's English Lit students could decode a question about Hardy's Wessex. St Andrews has got the game in the bag, 95 ahead with 4.5 minutes to play, and York's confusion between conspiracies and porridge deserved a little more tittering than it got. But just a little: even the guesses count. York deserves to pass 100, and does so by talking about emulsification. Why do we not get a new series of X-Fire and ten zillion episodes of Hollyoaks? At the gong, the score is St Andrews 205, York 130, which – under the rules we outlined earlier – means St Andrews wins!

Kelsey Jackson-Williams was best on the buzzers for St Andrews, gaining four starters; the side made 19/36 bonuses with two missignals. York's best buzzer was James Quelch, three starters; the side had 12/23 bonuses and two missignals.

Next match: Birmingham v Magdalen Oxford

This Week And Next

Image:Square Big Game TV.jpg

OFCOM has concluded its investigation into Big Game Television. The station began broadcasting in 2005, was raided by police in May 2006, but the prosecution service found there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges. Evidence was returned in April 2007, allowing OFCOM to begin its investigations. However, the tapes required for OFCOM's investigation had been lost during the enquiry, and the witness statements taken by the police didn't constitute enough evidence on their own. OFCOM declined to pass judgement.

Austria has withdrawn from next year's Eurovision Song Contest Marathon, after scoring a dismal four points with this year's entry. "We're fed up with people not voting for our rubbish, even after we regularly send 24 points to the overall winner. It's just not fair." Qualification has already begun, with Iceland inviting everyone in the country to contribute a song, and will finish in a three-week festival in Belgrade next May.

The BBC has published a code of conduct for competitions and voting. It's fairly obvious stuff: it's all got to be above board, winners must be genuine and fairly chosen, prizes are described accurately, and the rules are clear. The code in full.

Ratings for the week to 11 November were headed by Strictly Come Dancing, a season's high of 9.65m seeing the performances. X Factor has 9.2m; both results shows had 8.6m. Family Fortunes was seen by 7.3m, HIGNFY by 5.75m. Dragons' Den heads BBC2's game show list, 3.55m tuning in. Dancing on 2 had 2.9m, just ahead of QI (2.85m), Eggheads and Link (both 2.7m). On Channel 4, Secret Millionaire (2.9m) just beat Deal or No Deal (2.8m)

QI continues to head on the digital tier, a season-best 740,000 saw the BBC4 episode. Hell's Kitchen USA on ITV2 took 560,000, but there was no space for any X-Factor coverage on that channel. BBC3 included Celebrity Scissorhands, 505,000. Come Dine With Me had 420,000 on More4, but Deal (220,000) was just beaten by UK Gold's Dancing With the Stars (230,000) and comprehensively stuffed by CBBC's Best of Friends (310,000). Challenge's top show was Thursday's Family Fortunes, and the 114,000 viewers is the year's best for that show.

It's a quiet week next week, the highlight seems to be the welcome return of Jungle Run to the CITV channel (5.30 weeknights).

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