Weaver's Week 2008-01-20

Weaver's Week Index


Stars In Their Eyes Academy

Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be...

The One and Only

Initial (one of Endemol's many shell companies) for BBC1, Saturday nights

We said last week that we'd be spending January looking at some old shows in reverse chronological order. This week's show is old, but perhaps not as old as we thought it was going to be.

The premise of The One And Only is simple. Twelve members of the public have managed to convince themselves and other people that they are, in fact, talented singers and performers. Not singers of their own material, but performers who look a bit like, and sound a bit like, someone far more famous. Well, they do when they're dolled up to look the part, and after you're looking at them on television. The consumption of a little alcohol won't do anything to harm the illusion.

If the programme were taking complete unknowns and transforming them into their idols, we'd say the show was a simple re-tread of Stars in Their Eyes, but there's much more to it than that.

Endemol has chosen twelve major stars, all of them known internationally. Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, Diana Ross, that kind of thing. In the first week's shows, we saw some the selection of each of the doppelgangers – three pretenders to each star had come through the various round(s) of auditions, and a posse of Superfans debated their choice. These Superfans are people who go around the world, seeing their idol (or their impressionists) on tour every night of the year. The sort of person who would be able to spot a problem with the lighting rig, they've seen the live show that often. The impressionist to most please the troika of Superfans progresses to the live shows: for the others, it's back to the pubs and clubs, their fifteen minutes of fame has well and truly expired. The first clue to The One And Only's limited ambition comes with the absence of celebrity superfans – we might expect Dale Winton to advocate and advise the Dusty Springfield impersonator, or Rob Brydon to come on board for the not-Tom Jones. (That's assuming that it's not Mr. Brydon performing.)

The live shows follow the tried, tested, and completely predictable formula. The host is the stereotypical trying-a-bit-too-hard-to-be-trendy camp young priest from Father Ted, who has disappeared behind the smoke-filled screens and emerged as the trying-a-bit-too-hard-to-be-trendy camp young television host Graham Norton. The expert commentary is provided by Davidandcarrie Grant, who went behind the smoke-filled screens and emerged as ... er, Davidandcarrie Grant.

The audience will know the voting structure at least as well as the back of their hand. Twelve contestants will sing and dance for our delectation. Each one of them has a premium-rate telephone number displayed on screen, which viewers who like them should call. Just to create confusion where none need exist, viewers are reminded that they shouldn't call during the performance, for lines are closed and they'll be wasting their money. Quite why the BBC prefers this arrangement is beyond us: opening the lines at the start of the show allows for impulse voting during the performance, and during the recap at the end. It worked for last year's Eurovision Dance Contest, why not for a transient piece of fluff like this?

Each performer will deliver one song from their chosen act's repertoire. All of the acts have enough familiar songs to last the seven-week run without repeating themselves too much, but it does seem that the contest will be influenced by which original act is the UK's favourite. The Diana Ross impressionist, for instance, would have to find something rather obscure at some point in the run, as she's only had a handful of UK hits. The Robbie Williams impersonator just has to listen to commercial radio for an hour to find his next song.

We'd like to see something a bit more challenging towards the end of the run: all the performers singing the same song, but in the style of their act. We make no claims to the originality of the idea – it's a straight rip-off of the interpretations of Stairway to Heaven done on Australian television a couple of decades ago – but it is a good test of the performer's quality. And it gives the producers an excuse to book the performer of the definitive version, Rolf Harris. Can't have too much Rolf on our telly.

Anyway, back at the show, there are performances, and honest but not unreasonabe appraisals from Davidandcarrie Grant. Haven't we seen them on every BBC singing programme for the past six years? Ah, why not, they're better than the alternative, carefully balancing the twin poles of constructive and honest criticism. There are occasional cuts to the audience, where supporters are wearing badges with the singer being impersonated in large type, and the wearer's relationship to the person on stage in smaller print. For instance,

Tara's mother

While the voting takes place, the BBC shows some filler programmes. We'll take the opportunity to look at the star prize: a busman's holiday. Mercifully, it's not the sort hosted by Sarah Kennedy, but the winner will spend three months performing at the Blackpool Pleasure Gardens. Makes us wonder, what's the second prize. Six months performing at the Blackpool Pleasure Gardens?

But wait, this is the show where nothing is quite as it seems. The Blackpool Pleasure Gardens has to go behind the smokey screen and emerges as ... Las Vegas, a mountain resort about 1200 miles south of Banff. Assuming the winner can convince the local immigration authorities that they're of high enough quality to get a work visa, they'll spend three months getting snowed in or baked to death. What's Blackpool like at this time of year?

Back to the show, and the second broadcast begins in the time-honoured fashion: yet another call to vote, a group performance, lines close, and the interval act is a more famous tribute act – in the first programme, the famous ABBA-fakers Björn Again. After that, anything short of Rolf Harris would be a step down.

Then and only then do we get to hear the result. All but the bottom two in the public vote are safe, the last two will perform again and receive another critique from Davidandcarrie. And then, the show gives away its roots more surely than if we'd just pulled the format out of the ground for closer examination.

Asking them only to judge what they'd just seen, and nothing of the earlier performances, or what they think of them as people, the top performers in the public vote write down the person they'd like to keep in the show. We've seen this before.

We've seen this all before. Performances of other people's songs. Badges in that format. Davidandcarrie Grant. "The umpteenth person saved by the public vote is." Writing down who should come back next week. Let's take one last look behind the smoke... ah, it had to be you, didn't it.

This column has long argued that if the BBC wanted to do Fame Academy again, it should make it the centrepiece of the week's entertainment, or not bother. This version has backing dancers, and we suspect some backing singers are used, either on tape or in the studio.

But it's not being done properly. Atmosphere is almost completely absent: Graham Norton doesn't demonstrate the abilities to whip up the crowd into a frenzy, or into a state of excitement, or indeed to offer anything more than faint applause sweetened by the hard-working folk at the BBC's effects department and a tin of Canned Crowd. The scheduling doesn't help: each week's broadcast of Stars In Their Eyes Academy has to split into two disjoint episodes making way for the weekly commercial for The Lottery Corp., or risk impinging on the immovable feast that is Match of the Day. The BBC has so many fixed points and contractual obligations that it can't easily air a grand spectacle on Saturday nights, so it doesn't try.

The only spice, the only reason why we might tune into the finale, is the very real possibility that the viewers might vote to send over someone who the audience in Las Vegas has never heard of. Robbie Williams, for instance, has completely passed them by over there; none of his songs are known, and even the bloke himself would only get stopped at a red light. Sending the best Robbie Williams impressionist – and, from the first episode, that's entirely possible – would be like the Lasvegans sending us a tribute act to Hootie and the Blowfish.

Maybe a disaster of such proportions would ensure that the BBC gives up on this idea. And, to give them credit, they've not brought back Richard Park or Patrick Kielty, so we're already ahead. Overall, though, this is dispiritingly dull fare.

University Challenge

Trinity Hall Cambridge v Worcester Oxford

Two winners of Oxbridge first round matches meet in an all-Oxbridge second round match. Trinity Hall Cambridge overpowered St Cross Oxford on 6 August, Worcester Oxford just got the better of Pembroke Cambridge in a low-scoring match three weeks later. This match has the makings of a drubbing.

"Just get on with it" is Thumper's advice this week, and it's clear that the schedulers have taken note: this week's show started two minutes before the scheduled 8pm start, rather than the usual two minutes after. Quick recap of the rules: three definitions, one of them is correct, other two are wrong, select the right definition to win points, most points at the end of the show wins.

Amongst many topics in the opening stanza, Trinity Hall proves their deep knowledge of Soviet economics: plan five years ahead, and when in doubt, blame the British. The first visual round is on lakes in the African rift valley, another subject that Trinity Hall is rather good at. Their lead is already a rather imposing 85-(-5). We'll take a set of questions for Trinity Hall that sound like the rules to One Song to the Tune of Another.

Image:Countdown square current clock.jpg

Q: Your bonuses are on the codification of time. (Thumper glances ahead, inwardly groans, and ploughs on.)
If we use the 24-hour clock for the time, and the standard form DD/MM/YYYY, in other words, two digits for the day, two for the month, and four for the year, which was the only minute in the last two thousand years to be represented by twelve identical digits?
A: One. Er, Eleven 11, 11th of November, 1111.
Q: Yes, 11 minutes past 11 on the morning of the 11th of November, 1111. Using the same formats for the time and date, and writing them in that order, which was the first minute of the year 2000 to be represented by a palindromic set of digits?
A: (after much conferring) Two minutes past midnight, 1st of October.
Q: No, it's two minutes past midnight on the 10th of January, 2000. Again, using the same format for the date, in what way did 27th June, 1345, represent a "first" in the years Anno Domini?
A: (much thinking) It had eight different digits.
Q: Yes, the first date AD to consist of the first eight different digits.

Feels like we've aged ten years during that set. Anyway, Worcester gets their first starter of the night straight afterwards, and begins to stage something of a comeback. It's rather stymied when the side cannot remember the lead female in The Importance of Being Earnest. Lady Bracknell, so famous they named a town in Berkshire after her. This week's audio round is operatic duets, which neither side shows any interest in picking up, even when it's rammed down their ears, and Trinity Hall's lead is at 110-20.

Hidden Student Indicator of the Week: no-one listens to the shipping forecast enough to know that storm force is force 10. Trinity Hall shows their in-depth knowledge of the world's underground stations, but the second visual round – on Argentinean leaders since 1975 – is another panel-beater. Trinity Hall's lead is 145-35, and we'll take Confusion of the Week.

Q: Solar eclipses occur only at which quarter of the moon?
Worcester, Hector Guinness: Full. Er, no! Full moon. No! No moon!

Trinity Hall's David Wyatt knows that a goniometer is used to measure angles, a wonderfully esoteric piece of knowledge. Worcester, meanwhile, is beginning to run out of time to accumulate 50 points; suggestions that the Canadian explorer Hudson worked for the French doesn't help, but knowing the expansion of "ICU" into the World Conservation Union will put them over the mark. Trinity Hall has the most ridiculous suggestion of the week, that Mrs. Thatcher's flagship policy of selling off council houses was passed into law in 1885. The gong puts the knockers on a game that never looked in doubt, Trinity Hall's margin is 220-50.

So, is Trinity Hall going to provide a block in our dream of a Manchester – Trinity Oxford final? Difficult to say: Trinity Hall has twice done enough to win games against clearly inferior opposition, and is very good on the buzzers. They're poor on bonuses – a woeful 17/51 in the heat, a merely-average 20/39 tonight, with two missignals. Dennis Waller had eight starters; we give Hector Guinness the best buzzer honour for Worcester, as his two starters weren't accompanied by the side's one missignal. The bonus rate: 3/12.

We'll find out in the next match: Manchester v Trinity Hall Cambridge.

This Week And Next

We've got the first Moaning Minnies report of the year from OFCOM. The BBC has been criticised for failing to disclose that the prize in a competition for schools was only open to those in the Greater Manchester area. It's not been criticised for making that prize a visit from McFly. ITV has not been criticised for allowing Hell's Kitchen contestant Jim Davidson to refer to "shirt-lifters" and "poofs", as the broadcaster offered some editorial justification, and challenged the contributor's position.

Image:Square School's Out.jpg

DanceX has followed the lead of many other British shows, and moved to the lucrative North American market. Where it's described as "poorly conceived" and "all fluff, no substance." Can we sell them School's Out instead?

Ratings for the Yuletide period are out. Strictly Come Dancings special had 8.6m, and Who Dares Wins bowed out with a respectable 5.8m. ITV's competition, Number 1 Soap Fan, managed barely 3.45m, and was beaten by The Big Fat Quiz of the Year (3.6m). Deals best was 3.2m on Thursday.

For the first full week of the new year, The One and Only led the listings with 6.3m viewers, though we suspect a good proportion of those will have been Manchester United fans who left the television on after seeing their side win. Tuesday's Celebrity Mastermind (5.75m) beat Millionaire (5.6m), but the rest of ITV's Saturday night games lineup did well – All-Star Family Fortunes reached the end of the series with 5.45m and When Britain First Had Talent took 5.1m.

BB Celebrity Hijack launched on Channel 4 with 3.2m viewers, and on E4 with 1.01m, but ratings on the latter channel had halved by Sunday night. Link had 3.2m, and it'll be interesting to see if Anne Robinson can attract such numbers when she moves full-time to BBC1 in the spring. Deal had 3.05m, down from 4.33m at the start of last year, and Come Dine With Me 2.8m on Channel 4.

Over on More4, Come Dine With Me had a massive 910,000 viewers, one of the highest figures ever recorded by the channel. QI on Dave started the year with 550,000 viewers, and Challenge recorded 139,000 viewers for 8 Out of 10 Cats, a higher score than any show recorded last year. Channel 5 has also beaten its best game show figure for 2007, as the final of World's Strongest Man recorded 1.9m viewers, up 400,000 on last year.

Next week's highlight is almost certainly the return of the public to Popmaster (part of the Ken Bruce show, Radio 2 from 9.30am weekdays). Two new shows for viewers in Wales next week: Funny Business (BBC2 Wales, 10pm Monday) goes looking for someone funny; and Codi Canu (S4C, 8.15 Saturday) is a search for a choir to perform at the last Six Nations match in March.

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