Weaver's Week 2008-02-17

Weaver's Week Index

Isn't it ironic?


Celebrity Ding Dong

Open Mike for Channel 4, 10.05 Friday

The central conceit of Ding Dong is that celebrities live their lives, ordinary people live theirs, and ne'er the twain shall meet. As premises go, it's a cheap stereotype, one that would even a class of eight-year-olds would quickly conclude was more fallacy than fact. It's not as though the claim needs much testing, but test it we should.

To put this flimsy theory to the test, host Alan Carr has invited along five of the best celebrities money can buy. Unfortunately, all five had more pressing engagements, such as watching paint dry, leaving us with a slightly different group of people: five of the best celebrities a very small amount of money can buy. The show depends on most of the panellists being celebrities whose names are reasonably well-known: even at this end of the audience, where we prefer Le Soir to The Star, we could construct a brief biography of the first ten invitees.

Facing them are five friends from somewhere in the UK. They're linked by nothing more than that. And not being famous. Some of them will be the butt of Alan Carr's one-liners; some of them will just stand around for 40 minutes doing not very much. We'll get to know precisely none of them, a deliberate decision. The production meeting must have gone along the lines of "The viewer will know the celebs, won't know or identify with the plebs, we may as well not bother doing anything with them. Trebles all round?"

What actually happens on the show is of precious little consequence. There's a guessing game, along the lines of which has more carrots: the ring department at Argos or the winter mansion of Bugs Bunny? Actually, it's only a question along those lines: the fee to film at Mr. Bunny's residence was far too high for this show. There's a couple of guessing games, where someone gives unsubtle clues to the identity of someone who may or may not be large in the business they call show. There are freakshow elements, such as the woman who comes on for no reason other than to prove that her arm is larger than Victoria Posh Spice Beckham-Addams's waist. And there are tributes to other game shows: a version of Small Talk was only slightly worse than the original. Play Your Carbs Right, a game based on the cooking time of microwave meals, was so utterly demented as to actually be entertaining.

By now, it's clear that the producers don't actually believe their own hype. Rather than demonstrating differences between celebs and civilians, they're pointing out the similarities between the two groups of people. It's a message that Channel 4 is happy selling, but we can't exactly see the likes of Janet Teeth-Porter and That Bloke With a Hedgehog On His Head running a magazine about the activities of nobodies who know they're nobodies.

Host Alan Carr is not to be confused with the similarly-named Jimmy. Carr (A) has a somewhat camp style, similar to Larry Grayson's, but swapping out Grayson's vulnerability for a front of offensiveness he's picked up from Carr (J). It's clear that Carr (A) has some modicum of talent: a significantly lesser host would have played this format as though the founding premise was being taken seriously, while a merely competent host would not have cared whether people thought he was being serious or not. The inclusion of a straightforward comedy skit half-way through shows the producers know their format is weak.

When it comes to the final analysis, Ding Dong is a show that could only go out as part of the Friday comedy block, and only at a time when a good proportion of the audience can be expected to have had something to loosen their minds. It's got no pretence to be improving television, it's aiming to be entertainment from first to last. In that aim, the show has more elements that miss than hit, but there's always the prospect of something new coming up within five minutes. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Carr does with stronger material.

Countdown Update

The new series is already six-and-a-half weeks old, there are two octochamps, and a third may well be crowned on Tuesday. Jason Cullen was the carry-over champion from last year, but the break did him no favours, as he lost his first match back; his four wins amassed 421 points. Gayle Smith (291 pts) and Grant Wilson (258 pts) both had two wins, and their match on 4 January was one of the best we've seen all year. Michael MacDonald-Cooper is a Scrabble expert, and he was the first octochamp, amassing 780 points. As one might expect from his background, he's brilliant on the letters, but less good on the numbers. His best score was 126, assisted by three nine-letter words in one show.

Rachel Allenby (1 win, 144 pts) took the champion's chair, with Marjorie Hillman's run cut shorter than it might (3 wins, 309 pts) by running into another quality contestant. David O'Donnell was the second octochamp, and he's frighteningly good, aggregating 878 points, including six scores of 110 or more. In the Des-era, only Conor Travers and Craig Beevers had more points in their octochamp games.

Teapots were also awarded to Ian Lamb (2 wins, 260 pts) and Nichola Sullings (1 win, 140 pts), before Tim Reypert took the champion's chair. He's had six wins so far, with two centuries. It could be that the luck of the draw will determine whether he is ahead or behind Mr. MacDonald-Cooper in the finals; either way, it looks as though the winner will have to beat Mr. O'Donnell, unless he is David O'Donnell.


Second Round 1/6

"You join us at the semi-final stage of television's most testing quiz," says the host. Trust us, it's testing to come up with some novel way of recapping this show every week.

Jane Ann Liston will help us out, she's talking about British butterflies. The questions come thick and fast, and the correct answers are almost as numerous as butterflies on a summer's day. 12 (0).

William Barrett discusses the Life and Work of Franz Kafka, a man who wrote a 45-page letter, then decided not to send it. As one does. You'll know Kafka from such works as Metamorphosis (yes, it's made-up), The Trial, and The Rules to Mornington Crescent. Just two minutes means we can't finish the latter, and end on 14 (1).

Derek Moody takes the Edge of Darkness television series. This show – a sci-fi / political / ecological thriller from 1985 – includes footage of an agent watching Come Dancing. Nnnnn, good game, good game. What are the scores on the doors? 16 (0).

Alan Frith has Red Clydeside 1914-39. This is not another butterfly, but the growth and decline of a communist movement that advanced the inevitable revolution by such obscure methods as being elected to parliament, rather than sitting on the roof of the Big Brother house. Passing is such a bourgeois concept that it's not clear whether the contender offered an answer to the last question or not. We'll say not, and reckon he ends on 13 (0).

For the first time in donkey's years, Smallhead raises the prospect of a five-question playoff – and promptly chats to the first contender, confirming we won't see one tonight. Jane Ann Liston points out that the mountain butterflies are threatened by increasing temperatures, because they'll try to rise up the mountain, and eventually run out of summit. Her final answer is unrepeatable in polite company – oh, sorry, it's that well-known shipping forecast area Rockall. 24 (2).

Mr. Frith talks about the time the tanks moved in to break up a peaceful demonstration in George Square, where even the council said the police over-reacted. The army used English soldiers, fearing that the Scots would join in the imminent communist plot to seize the means of governance, or something. The did-he-or-didn't-he pass doesn't matter, ending on 23 (4).

Mr. Barrett sees "Kafkaesque" as an "individual floating in a sea of bureaucracy", which is as good a definition as we could come up with. Not remembering Ken Clarke is unfortunate: remembering Johnny Morris is the least we'd expect. He may mix up the Japanese Emperor and Buddha, but 25 (2) takes the lead.

Mr. Moody needs ten to win, and reminds us that Edge of Darkness was shown three times in little more than a month. This was back in 1985, and people complain about the number of repeats now. He only needs ten to win, but takes a very long time to get rolling. Then he really gets rolling, passing the winning post on the final question. 26 (0) does just fine.

University Challenge

Fourth Quarter-Final: Sheffield v Exeter

Sheffield got here by beating UCL and Edinburgh in easy matches; Exeter has Jesus Cambridge and SOAS as notches on their desk. Rules are the same as ever, and – as Kafka reminded us – there's a penalty for transversing the river while in Nid, except when working escalators are wild, and then only west of Richmond.

Exeter gets the week's first set of bonuses, on drinking while reading Shakespeare. Sheffield wins the What Number Is Thumper Thinking Of, and gets -Esque of the Week (23 and Pinter). The sides also force Thumper to read out the entire mathematical equation for a "serpentine". He gets his own back by not accepting "acceleration due to gravity" for g, which he claims to be "acceleration due to freefall". Our opinion of whoever writes these science questions is plunging at a rate significantly faster than g, though this lapse is not going to prove critical at the end of the show. (SPOILER! Oh.) Sheffield's lead is 65-40, when this happens:

Q: Rock journalism is people who can't write...
Exeter, Amanda Lindsay: Frank Zappa

That'll be interruption of the week, though Aditya Balachander of Sheffield is almost as impressive with the very next starter. Now we know what that large tower (pictured) on the outskirts of Northampton is for: testing elevators, and not to topple over and land on the town hall. What books on fighting ships are there, other than Jane's? Exeter knows their astronomers, Sheffield knows their calendars. The audio round is on NARAS (Grammy) Lifetime Award winners, and seeing as how the ceremony was last night, that'll be the Hidden Transmission Indicator of the Week. Sheffield's lead has reached 155-75.

Phrases that the teams never want to hear: your bonuses are on knitwear and islands. Have we suddenly tuned in to Derby and Joan Challenge hosted by Jimmy Young? Of course old people will know different things from younger people, only a fool would expect otherwise. Sheffield's lead has moved above 100 points, and it's clear which side is going to win here. Especially when they come up with gems like this:

Q: In langue d'oc, the name of the language of medieval France south of the Loire, as distinct from the langue d'oil, spoken in the north, what is the meaning...?
Sheffield, Phil Smith: Yes.

And Mr. Smith will be cashing in his lottery ticket before retiring to his new home in the Caymans. The second visual round is on caricatures of composers, after which Sheffield's lead is 225-70. Three missignals have more than cancelled out Exeter's one starter.

The fight's gone out of both sides: Sheffield offer that well-known part of the periodic table "heavy metal", Exeter forget the word "ballot" even though they're in the presence of Thumper, and Sheffield suggest Milton Keynes is in Australia. If only! When in doubt, the side names their favourite member of the Simpsons as a poet, passes 300 points. Exeter wins the race to the buzzer for a starter on vodka, taking them past 100 points, and the Exeter side shows its clear ability in the last couple of minutes. The final score, at the end of a fine match, is a clear win for Sheffield, 305-155.

For Sheffield, six starters from Aditya Balachander and Paul McKay, the side made 27/51 bonuses. Chris Parker came through for Exeter, making five starters, though he was responsible for four of the side's five missignals. Exeter made 16/27 bonuses.

Next match: Manchester v Christ Church Oxford

This Week And Next

OFCOM criticised the Gold radio station for running a competition without explaining the rules. The intention was that listeners send an SMS during a certain song to win a prize, but this time restriction never got mentioned on air. Britain's Next Top Model has also been criticised, after getting its contestants to fawn over the sponsor's car.

Ratings for the week to 3 February show Dancing on Ice (9.3m) remains the UK's most-viewed television show. In It to Win It returned after a week off, and 7.8m is the year's best score. The One and Only continues to fall, now just 5.25m. University Challenge (3.35m) led the minority channels, just ahead of Masterchef's weekly final (3.25m). Deal had 2.9m. The ratings do throw up some odd bedfellows: Eggheads had 2.4m, its best figure of the year, and level with Celebrity Ding Dong.

We're unable to provide comprehensive coverage of all the digital channels, as More4 ratings are not available. Pop Idle US had 880,000, but the final of Big Brother Celeb Hijack (730,000) was beaten in head-to-head competition by QI on Dave (755,000). Dave's other shows, Mock the Week (575,000) and HIGNFY (475,000) also had their best figures of the year. Raven returned with 290,000, and we'll be reviewing the series next week. Five Life enters the game show market with a repeat of Britain's Strongest Man, seen by 115,000 people. Challenge's most popular show was Carr (J)'s Distraction, with 91,000 people unable to answer the most fundamental question: where's the remote?

Next week: a new game show on TV5, Pékin Express (Wednesday, 5.29) follows ten teams from Paris to the capital of China, a series that's going to be almost as long as Mastermind. It'll be quicker to walk!

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