Weaver's Week 2008-06-08

Weaver's Week Index

Olufemi Smith with some of his record winnings

In Germany last week, Olufemi Smith, a marketing and sales manager from Munich, beat Stefan Raab on his Schlagen Den Raab show, winning a rollover jackpot of two and a half million euro. It's the largest ever single win in game show history.


It's Not What You Know

ITV Productions for Challenge, 9pm weeknights

Before the review proper, we should note that Challenge had a slightly new look this week. The yellow fireworks have been replaced by a more stylised logo in white. And with the channel's name larger, naturally. The graphic, displayed during all shows is now large enough to obscure important details in programmes, such as the score on Bullseye. (The controller will wish to have a quiet word with the graphics department, who say it's on cable channel 135. Er, no, it's 152.)

Now, on with the show. Fifteen questions, a huge amount of money, and no answers. At all. On this show, it's not what you (the contestants) know, it's how well you think you know what other people know. Or, to be exact, how well you think you know what other people don't know.

With commercials, the show lasts an hour, though it could be chopped down slightly and fit easily into a BBC half-hour slot. It's played by two people, who know each other through friendship or kinship. At the start of the show, the couple get to pick one of three games, based on one of the celebrities playing and their specialist subject. The celebs are all famous in the UK, and are decently well-known people – we've the likes of Michael Buerk, Garry Bushell, and Sarah Cawood. In fact, Miss Cawood seems to appear on every other episode.

Each celebrity has nominated a subject as their specialist topic. They'll face three questions on that specialist subject, and must answer without prompts. They'll also be given the same questions as four other specialists, and four possible options.

Were there contestants involved? Why, yes. Reduced to the most simple terms, their role is to guess whether the questions were answered correctly by the specialists (who, lest we forget, had no options to choose from) or by the other panellists. The contestants have knowledge of the questions and answers, and know a few other things: someone got each question wrong, someone got each question right, and the expert gave an incorrect answer on at least four occasions.

Now, what works here, and what doesn't? The tests were administered on a laptop computer some time before recording, and there's an obvious flaw in the show here: we don't get to see the celebrities struggling and making fools of themselves. Video clips of the specialists answering their questions would have been a worthwhile investment.

The sounds on the programme are confined to a small repertoire of beeps, buzzes, and stings, which sound like they've been composed on a 1980-era synthesiser. After the fiftieth time we've heard the two-tone "wrong answer" sting in one show, we're beginning to lose the will to live. So are the studio audience, whose role is confined to clapping in the right places and laughing at the host's jokes.

We also mentioned there was a lot of money available. A correct answer is worth £1000, but if the couple gamble on the specialist giving the wrong answer and are correct, they're rewarded for future questions in a process known as "going up a level", and painting the set in a different colour. £5000, £10,000, £15,000, and a potential £25,000 per question if they're bold and lucky. More conservative players, who don't risk the specialist failing on their own subject, might be stuck playing for £10,000 per question.

Image:Square Chris Tarrant.jpg

Incorrect answers, sadly, cost the pair any money they've earned so far. We don't like the Revised Wipeout Scoring System on any other show than Wipeout (which we'll be reviewing next week). The alternative, perhaps, is to allow the team to bank such money as they've made so far and descend a level. As it is, the team will drop down the money tree if they give two incorrect answers in a row. To prevent this from happening, the team is allowed one pass, though they're not allowed to play it on the final question.

Why not? Well, in a vain attempt to manufacture some tension from a format that is desperately repetitive, there is an attempt to persuade the contestants not to play the final question. If, for the sake of argument, they go into the final question with £40,000 – and that's a typical figure – Chris Tarrant will offer them some money not to play the question. The amount offered varies between 10% and 50% of the potential prize, with the higher percentages offered to the less successful contestants. Of course, if the pair play the final question and get it wrong, they'll be leaving with the grand non-total of nothing. Sadly, even this novel gambit fails to raise the pulse rate, for we've been dulled into a sense of extreme tedium by the relentless barrage of musical stings.

Is there anything to salvage from It's Not What You Know? Actually, the basic format – of predicting the knowledge of five people with their own areas of expertise – is sound. Will the pop music fan know about Live Aid, an eighties news event? Would the arts critic know about it? The execution leaves a lot to be desired, and one of the elements – probably the complex stuff about going up and down levels – could safely be ditched.

The star of the show is Chris Tarrant, proving once again that he is a great game show host. The show's format is poor, but it turns into a watchable – if undemanding – hour's viewing purely on the host's ability to conjure a silk purse from almost anything.

Big Brother 2006

Image:Big brother graffito.jpg

Dawn Blake's complaint against Channel 4 and Endemol over her treatment on Big Brother was finally concluded last week. Ms Blake was a participant in the 2006 series, and left the studio after a week. Her complaint was that footage had been unfairly edited to misrepresent her; that the reason broadcast for her removal was a fabrication by the producers; and that she was kept on the set against her will. We are drawing opinions from the statements summarised in the OFCOM broadcast report published on 27 May.

Any debate about misleading editing will tend to be subjective; upon reviewing the evidence (though not the tapes), we suspect that the main Big Brother programmes were fairly edited, though presenter Davina McCall made some regrettable remarks on Big Brother's Little Brother. We are unable to support OFCOM's wholly unsubstantiated claim that Big Brother's Big Mouth is humorous; no show containing Russell Brand can ever pass the bar of Funny, even if it had been knocked down to ground. Ms Blake also said that the fire doors were locked; Channel 4 flatly denied this, and OFCOM found in their favour as there was no evidence to support Ms Blake's assertion.

Ms Blake said that medication was withheld from her, and that air conditioning was altered, both in an attempt to cause psychological damage. Endemol and Channel 4 said that medication was not withheld, but administered via the diary room. Contestants were free to ask for the air conditioning to be altered. OFCOM accepted this as fact, and did not note that the producers have the final say, nor that other contestants have reported that they were targeted by the room temperature. OFCOM appeared not to consider if the cumulative effect of all the actions was designed to cause temporary or permanent psychological damage.

It is accepted that Ms Blake requested to leave the studio. It is also accepted that, subsequent to her request, Ms Blake was given a coded message from outside; on the latter grounds, the producers excluded her from competition. From reviewing the summary evidence submitted by both sides, our view is that the procedure regarding voluntary departures lacked rigour.

It would be best to assume that – unless subsequently rescinded – Ms Blake had withdrawn at the time she asked to leave, and was only remaining on set as a favour to the producers. It would be prudent to assume that a withdrawing contestant had also withdrawn their consent to be included on the broadcast show for events taking place after their withdrawal. This column's view is that Ms Blake had already withdrawn from the contest when she was given the message, and for the producers to use events that happened after her withdrawal as a pretext to force her hand is manifestly unfair.

On that ground, this column dissents from the recording OFCOM has recorded.

Countdown Update

Well, finals week has crept up on us, it begins this Thursday. The roll of champions since we last wrote has included Ross Watt (2 wins, 220 points), Carl Dundas (3 wins, 335), Barbara Cleggett (1 win, 134), and Lee Bailey (2 wins, 166). The only addition to the seeds is Jonathan Coles, who raced to a 74-6 lead after nine rounds on the show, won his first match with 124 points, but never quite hit the heights again. He became an Octochamp last Thursday, totalling 746 points.

The quarter-final draw:

Thursday: David O'Donnell (8 wins, 878) v Ben Hanks (6 wins, 580)

Mr. O'Donnell ruled the roost in late January, notching up six scores above 110. Mr. Hanks won his matches in late April, and is a solid player. It would be a surprise if he were to beat the outstanding Mr. O'Donnell.

Tuesday 16th: Jonathan Coles (8 wins, 746) v Barry Smith (7 wins, 648)

Mr. Smith won his matches in late February and early March. He suffered from having many words disallowed, a problem that Mr. Coles didn't have.

Monday 15th: Tim Reypert (8 wins, 773) v Richard Priest (6 wins, 697)

Mr. Reypert was another winner in February, and though he only had three centuries, that was primarily due to strong opposition. Mr. Priest won his games in late March, and both men will offer something valid in almost every round.

Friday: Michael MacDonald-Cooper (8 wins, 780) v Peter Davies (6 wins, 642)

Mr. MacDonald-Cooper had his wins at the very start of January, including one game where he offered three nine-letter words. Mr. Davies won his games in May, and turned in his strongest performances at the start of his run.

As ever, full reports will follow in two weeks.

This Week And Next

Our obituaries column regrets to report the death of Jonathan Routh, architect of many of the bizarre stunts on the UK version of Candid Microphone (Radio Luxembourg, 1960) and Candid Camera (ABC, 1960-67).

Quickly back to last week, when Jodie Prenger won the casting show I'd Do Anything. We reckon she was the best in the final three, though Rachel Tucker (eliminated in the penultimate week) and Sarah Lark (out in seventh place, nothing short of criminal) could match her note-for-note.

Over on ITV, Britain's Got Hype was won by fourteen-year-old break-dancer George Sampson. We didn't see this show as it went out, and ITV still hasn't bothered to give a catch-up service for cable viewers, but understand that his performance was A Bit Good. For large values of A Bit. We note that he performed to a Mint Royale track released on Sony BMG. We also note that the format's credited devisor Simon Scowell is employed by Sony BMG.

Sharon Osbourne has stepped down from the judging panel of ITV's other Scowell-based show, The Why Factor. Mrs. Osbourne intimated that she was either bored with the format or had exhausted herself with other commitments, or both. It leaves the show's other retained panellists – Mr. Scowell, Louis Walsh, and Denny Minogue – with an X each. The announcement's timing raised eyebrows, coming just one day after the start of Channel 4's Oh Brother, and designed to divert press coverage to the ITV show.

We really do pity those people who take the Sunday Telegraph expecting serious cultural criticism. BBC chat-show host Terry Wogan writes a piece for the paper, and came up with an entirely novel excuse for the UK's abject failure: is it cos Andy Abrahams is black? "East of the Danube, they won't be voting for a black singer any day soon," writes the old guffer. Which, of course, explains how Dave Benton, a black bloke from Aruba, only managed to win the whole thing in 2001. En route, he picked up 44 of a potential 60 points from countries on or east of the Danube, and a maximum 36 from the other former Eastern-bloc countries. Mr. Wogan's cries of racism surely explain how Boaz – of Syrian descent – put Israel – a country that can only depend on points from France – into the top ten this year. Maybe, just maybe, it's cos Andy Abrahams's song is bish. Still, never let the facts stand in the way of a populist bit of xenophobia.

Anyway, two more observations regarding Eurovision. We almost fell off our sofa while watching Eurosport's coverage of the tennis this week, for the soundtrack to the highlights of the day's play was Molitva. We said the world would be singing it for years to come... The other one is a sneaky little thought. There's a briefing for Eurovision commentators on the Friday before the show, covering such little matters as how to pronounce the singers and the songs. Neither Mr. Wogan nor Mr. Bruce ever attends this briefing. And we wonder: do the commentators from the rest of Europe decide amongst themselves who will win that year's contest, and the BBC commentators would be in the know if only they bothered to do some preparation?

Viewing figures for the week to 25 May are out. Britain's Got Talent was damaged, dipping to just 8.25m as people found something less boring to do with their lives, like going away on holiday, or watching the Eurovision Song Contest (7.15m). I'd Do Anything kept going on 6.4m, and soundly beat The Apprentice (5.75m). Indeed, Lee Mack on HIGNFY (5.55m) almost overhauled Margaret and Wotsisface. Come Dine With Me led the minor channels on 2.5m, just ahead of a QI repeat seen in England and Wales only (2.45m). The Apprentice You're Fired and HIGNFY Saturday both beat Deal or No Deal. On the digital channels, the Sunday repeat of Britain's Got Talent picked up 910,000 viewers, with the Pop Idle Us final seen by 670,000, and Come Dine With Me by 525,000. Jungle Run had its best figure of the year, 280,000

For those dodging the twin terrors of Overpaid Windbags On A Green Field and Overexposed Windbags On A Green Sofa, this week offers slim pickings. We're expecting the final of The Apprentice (BBC1 and BBC2, 9pm Wednesday), and of Great British Menu (BBC2, 6pm Friday). Challenge begins a series of Crosswords (12 noon weekdays), and next week's The Weakest Link special is with stars of Blue Peter (BBC1, 6.10 Saturday)

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