Weaver's Week 2008-10-26

Last week | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

"I'm sometimes afraid that I only know the answers because they're written on the paper in front of me"


Britain's Got The Pop Factor and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice

Channel 4, 8pm, Sunday 12 October

Opinions are divided about the morality of Peter Kay's latest project. Some people reckon that it's the sharpest television satire since the heyday of Broken News. Others found it to be little more than a two-hour commercial for Peter Kay's latest record. We'll put our opinion upfront: this was an acutely-observed spoof, but one that flew so close to its target that satire and its target merged into one.

The basic plot, such as it is, is that we're watching the grand final of talent show Britain's Got The Pop Factor. The winner of this show will be fast-tracked into the next big casting show, Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice, to star alongside Tucker Jenkins and other people we might have heard of, once, but we've slept since. What is Kay's target here? We reckon it's a subtle dig at the way that these celebrity shows are eating themselves, though we reckon that Channel 5's Back to Reality made the same point in 2004, and without intending to.

We're down to the final three candidates: R Wayne, 2 Up 2 Down, and Geraldine. Each of them has a terrible sob-story to tell: Geraldine's a post-op transsexual, 2 Up 2 Down includes a couple of singers in wheelchairs, and R Wayne was re-admitted to the contest after being rejected, going home, telling his granny, and seeing her die. Kay's target here is surely The X Factor, where it seems that any talent in the contestants is a distant second to their "story", the lines they can spin to tug the viewer's heartstrings.

It's not enough to be a good singer, competitors have to be able to make the viewer blub. So it proved on Pop Factor, where all three acts performed medleys of songs that had some relevance to their narrative. R Wayne (by far the best singer on the night) sang tributes to his granny, 2 Up 2 Down about moving, and Geraldine about being a woman. It's crass, it's exploitative, and it did leave a bit of a sour taste in our mouths. However, it's no more crass than Star Academy putting out a two-hour promotion for the back catalogue of The Bee Gees solely to benefit one of its contracted staff. And it's no more crass than The X Factor putting out a four-hour promotion for Michael Jackson's back catalogue, and supporting his wholly inaccurate claim to be the king of pop. Reg "Reg" Snipton has a better claim.

The presenter straddled the line separating satire from homage. Cat Deeley was a good choice for the anodyne and inoffensive host. She dropped clangers in every interview, suggesting that the performers in wheelchairs "would walk it", going on about "Ireland's answer to Enya", and reading out her script just before the results. Announcing the result with the maximum of fuss is par for the course, but saying, "the winner, in no particular order," is one of the lines of the night. True, Deeley was less vapid than Kate Thornton or Patrick Kielty, but then truth is stranger than fiction.

The pap panel was three-quarters of the original Pop Idle line-up. Pete Waterman was handed the inanities, "You've got the best voice I've heard in twenty years! Since Stephen 'Tea Towel' Duffy!" Nikki Chapman got the Voice of Sanity role, pointing out that both of the finalists gave entirely mediocre performances. Doctor "Neil" Fox (he's still not a real Neil, you know) was full of nonsense, non sequiturs, and generally annoyed the hell out of us. Mercifully, he only had a brief amount of screen time. The closest comparison is with, er, themselves on Pop Idle in 2002.

There was great attention to detail throughout the programme. Viewers were invited to call an 0808 number – that's freephone, but only a heartbeat away from the familiar 0898. Or they could press the purple button on their remote control, if they had a remote control with a purple button. Just before the final two sang, there was a behind-the-presenter's-back scene of R Wayne CD covers being binned. The next series was billed as being "at this time next week, except in Tyne Tees and Border", two regions that haven't existed since Charles Allen turned the ITV consortium into ITV plc. Even the closing credits weren't immune, they were presented in the ITV house style of blue vertical bars... unfortunately, it's a house style that was changed a few months ago.


The audition sequence was almost a dead ringer for the interminable process seen on The X Factor, including the "boot camps" held at exotic places like St Tropez caravan park. The trips back home were incredible, suggesting that the whole country was watching. Cat suggested that there were fifty million billion zillion jillion pillion quillion votes cast, the sort of number we only hear about when talking bank bailouts. There were cameos from real stars. Rick Astley was singing "Ruddy big pig", Ricky Kaiser Chief the "Manamanah" song, Lionel Blair tried and failed to teach the finalists to dance, and Paul McCartney played the new Girls Aloud single. Or was it the theme to Blankety Blank? They're so similar.

The last song was also so close to reality as to be almost unfunny. "The winners song" – co-written by Peter Kay and Gary Barlow – was perhaps the highlight of the night. The surface is a typical piece of maudlin mush, along the lines of "That's my goal", "A moment like this", and whatever it was they used on The X Factor last year. It's a song deliberately designed to tug on the heartstrings, just like the backstory. Never mind the performance quality, feel the emotion. A second listen to the lyrics showed that it was packed full of cliché, stating in plain text the "life will never be the same again" ethos behind all these songs. "I started with nothing, now I have something... make it last for more than one night", and so on, and so forth. It's even more cheesy than a flood of whey in a stinky cheese cave in Emmenthal.

The ultimate manifestation of the joke is that the winner's performance of "The winner's song" was released as a single and download on Monday. It entered at number two in the hit parade, outselling the second single by Wotsisface Smith, the winner of The X Factor last year. Swingorilliant! She's going to have a career to rival that of Steve Brookstein, we're sure of that.

We reckon that Peter Kay's main target was the emotional manipulation at the heart of these shows, and the way they're dominating the schedule of ITV (and, to a lesser extent, the other channels). He didn't particularly attack the shows, and his efforts at satire sometimes fell short of the mark, because, ackcherlowli, truth is odder than fiction.

University Challenge

Repechage match 2: King's Cambridge v Surrey

King's Cambridge lost an absolute stormer of a game in the first round, going down 190-180 to the Edinburgh side in late September. We have to go back to July for Surrey's match, losing 185-170 to Warwick in a match we remember for the rumbles of thunder going on outside. We have a substitution: Aaron Borg comes in for Tina Christodoulou in Surrey's second seat. Both are biochemists.

Idea of the week opens the show, and this week, the idea is pay as you earn. Great. Remind us that it's tax season, why don't you. (Doesn't tax season run from 1 March to 28 February?) King's are full of beans, securing full marks on a set of bonuses about these pulses. Thumper is saved from a long and tortuous explanation of the galvanometer, but thoroughly loses us when he starts to play chess on the periodic table. Push the pawn on the far right, it'll get the krypton factor. There's a nod to that giant amongst comics Desperate Dan. The first visual round is Name That Butterfly, and King's has a useful lead, 65-25.

Don't count Surrey out of this game yet, if they can have a little more luck on the bonuses, they could close the gap in no time. The wordplay of the week is on palindromes, and two definitions are sufficient for Surrey to get the lot, and take the lead. One of the answers to a later starter is "Yo, Blair" – isn't that what Miss Humphrey would shout to annoy Miss Van Der Woodsen? King's are able to identify Noam Chomsky from the title of one of his (recent, famous) books, it's still impressive. The audio round is on versions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", and Surrey take a slim lead, 100-90.

The lead doesn't last long; within three questions, King's has moved back ahead. Thumper's being quite harsh in his "come on"s tonight. Everyone on King's has a starter, but the side doesn't seem to be converting its bonuses with great aplomb. Maybe we were spoiled by that remarkable performance of St John's last week; maybe their cross-city rivals are dillying when they should be getting on with it. Hidden Transmission Indicator of the Week is on the Cesarewitch stakes, run at Newmarket last week-end. The second visual round is on paintings of fairy-tales, and King's lead has decreased to 140-130.

Good guess (or inspired deduction) links "arrows" with "toxins" via the ancient Greek practice of smearing arrows in poison; hence "toxopholy". Surrey have the greatest difficulty in recalling which ancient lady might be on horseback on a statue in Coventry city centre; do they really not know Lady Godiva when they see her? King's get the next starter to take the lead, and the next one to begin to make life difficult for the opposition. A perfect set on escape velocities puts King's 45 ahead with two minutes to play, and when they get the next starter, it's game over. Thumper tries to hurry the game along, but there's no real point. King's Cambridge has a good win, 225-150.

Thomas Hooper was the best buzzer for King's, securing six starters; the side made 18/42 bonuses with one missignal. Surrey's captain Martyn Bignold was best on his side's buzzers, making five correct starters. His side made 14/27 bonuses with two missignals.

Next match: 10 November, after Autumnwatch.


Episode 8

Another week, another set of subjects. Pab Roberts is first up this week, taking James Clerk Maxwell. The subject was a scientist of the mid-19th century, famed for inventing magnetism and discovering light, or something along those lines. It's a very good round, ending on 14 (1).

Sophie Hollender will tell us about The Mitford Sisters. Readers will recall these daughters of privilege from the depiction on The Fourth Programme last year. Well, viewers who saw this programme will remember them; we didn't, and we're very impressed by the score of 16 (2).

Bart Smith has a somewhat larger topic, the Spanish Civil War. We've often said that really large subjects give the question-setters too much latitude, and it shows in the opening questions of this round. The contender benefits from a question started marginally before the buzzer, and recovers well to end on 13 (0).

Mel Kinsey discusses the Life and Times of Ty Cobb. In the hidden transmission indicator of the week, this round airs in the same week as The World's series of baseball. The benefits of a small topic should be clear, as Mr. Kinsey finishes on 16 (1).

Mr. Smith agrees that the western culture has tended to romanticise a particularly bloody war – half-a-million were killed, and the use of air power foreshadowed the pattern of World War II. He gets the question about The Two Ronnies, and Smallhead fluffs the name of Fluff Freeman's theme song – it was "At the *sound* of the swinging cymbal". The contender ends on 23 (2).

Mr. Roberts is a performance poet, and the host wonders what's the link. Both contender and subject hail from Edinburgh, which we thought would have been obvious. When asked about the opera song adapted for a television commercial, he gives the name of the product, not the song. That said, Mr. Roberts clearly enjoyed his time, and that 18 (5) makes the smile even sweeter.

Miss Hollender tells us how the Mitfords had such divergent views that many didn't talk to each other – one married Oswald Mosley with Herr Hitler in attendance, another was a card-carrying communist, a third was a socialite. It's a slow-scoring round, ending on 22 (4).

So, Mr. Kinsey needs just eight to win. It seems that Mr. Humphrys is a fan of Babe Ruth, the popular baseball player; Mr. Cobb didn't do much to make himself popular. The round ends on 28 (3), a clear win.

This Week And Next

The BBC has confirmed the rumours that have been going around for some time. Andrew Lloyd Webber will be involved in the search for the BBC's entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009. The format will be some sort of talent search / casting show, to air in the new year. It's not immediately clear if Mr. Lloyd Webber has already written the winner's song, and will be seeking someone to perform it, or if he'll work with the winners to produce the record. We think this is going to be interesting, though probably less successful than sending Mika with his new single.

The BBC has announced plans to move many of its shows out of London. Comedy discussion programme Question Time will have its nominal base in Glasgow, while Crimewatch will move to Cardiff, and the Chelsea Flower Show to Birmingham. The Weakest Link will also move to Glasgow, ensuring that most of the contestants will be naming West Coast Trains as the weakest link.

Image:Square Dusty Bin.jpg

We've not seen an announcement on official Yorkshire Television notepaper (complete with a line drawing of Dusty Bin at the bottom corner), so we still don't have confirmation of who will host Countdown. We were, however, intrigued by a report that Jeff Stelling was to return to popular television in the host's chair. Mr. Stelling rose to fame with the World Sport segments of The Channel Four Daily, but has been confined to increasingly obscure channels since the show ended in 1992. He's currently broadcasting on West London's SKY channel.

A report in the Daily Tabloid last week said that Mr. Stelling would be the new host of Countdown, and posed the question of whether he would be able to continue presenting the Saturday afternoon results show. Apparently, SKY's viewer likes the way he gives all the match results from the entirely obscure Middlesex CFL Premier, usually ending with the catchphrase, "And they'll be dancing on the streets of Indian Gymkhana tonight."

We were curious to note the publication that had let slip this news, for the Daily Tabloid and SKY are both owned by Mr. Rupert Murdoch. Could it be that his organ was using the good name of Countdown in a blatant effort to lift the profile of someone who hasn't been on mainstream television for almost twenty years? Er, very probably, especially when the same organ reported just two days later that Mr. Stelling was not going to Countdown after all.

BARB viewing figures for the week to 12 October are out, and show The X Factor benefitted from being on after the England match, securing a year's-best 11.1m viewers. Strictly Come Dancing was on opposite the football, securing 7.8m. Family Fortunes had 6.7m, also its best for the year, and Channel 4 recorded its biggest audience of the year, 6.25m for the final of Britain's Got the Pop Factor. Who Dares Wins and Millionaire both had 4.5m.

University Challenge was the most-seen show on BBC2, 2.95m puts it ahead of the much-hyped Heroes. Someone will remind us why a picture of the blonde cheerleader graces the cover of the Rusty Old Radio Times, and a glossy photograph of the more-popular Jeremy Paxman doesn't. Friday's QI repeat had 2.65m viewers, just ahead of The Restaurant. Strictly Come Dancing It Takes Two reaches a new peak of 2.4m

The usual line-up on the digital tier: 1.14m for Xtra Factor, 595,000 for Come Dine With Me, 590,000 for QI, 585,000 for The X Factor Narrative Repeat, and Mock the Week also beat half-a-million.

Coming up this week, the return of Celebrity Scissorhands (BBC3, 9pm tonight), School for Cooks (ITV, 4pm tomorrow), and Golden Balls (ITV, 5pm tomorrow). E4 has Dead Set, a drama set in the Big Brother house (10pm weeknights), while Dave brings us Argumental (9.40 Monday). TV5 is building up to the twentieth anniversary of Questions Pour Un Champion with a special competition – heats continue at 3.30 weekdays, and the ultimate championship airs at 8pm next Saturday.

To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day, receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers sign up to our Yahoo! Group.

Last week | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in