Weaver's Week 2008-11-09

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Questions Pour Un Champion / Going For Gold

Fremantle Media pour France 3 (18h05) et TV5 (15h29) / Fremantle Media for Channel 5, 12.45 and 14.50 weekdays

In the beginning, there was Henry Kelly, a stack of questions, and a bunch of people from around Europe trying to answer his questions. We took a look at Going for Gold in 2005, and don't have much to add to our opinions then.

An aspiring producer from France 3 saw Going for Gold, thought, "Ah! C'est un jeu formidable! Je ne sais quois par l'animateur, naturellement" and bought the show for French viewers. And got a new host, the curly-haired Julian Lepers. M. Lepers has remained with the programme since its inception, proof if proof were needed that a Lepers cannot change its spots (©Nick Gates 2003).

That first edition went out on 7 November 1988, and France 3 has been celebrating with a series of heats leading up to a prime-time special, which we saw last night. Back in Blighty, Going for Gold fizzled out in the mid-90s after greedy capitalist scumbags decided that they could make a quick buck by Balkanising the continent, and letting any attempt at cultural harmony go hang. Not that the format's been away: Channel 5 had a revival in 2000 under the name One to Win, and now the original name is back on daytime television.

Readers will recall the insane complexity of the Going For Gold series format. It began with a qualification round. From Monday to Wednesday, the first four contestants to give a correct answer qualified, an incorrect buzz disqualified the contestant from the remainder of the question. On Thursday, the rules slightly changed. One point for each correct answer, first person to two points goes through. Everyone else goes home.

Just to confuse matters further, some series (certainly autumn 1992, possibly some later series) ran to a different schedule, with five days per week, and the four daily winners qualifying for a Friday final.

Questions Pour un Champion doesn't bother with this sort of nonsense, because it's been running non-stop for twenty years. If you pitch up to the studio, you're playing. Eventually. Nor does the new version of Going For Gold, hosted by the silken voice of John Suchet. It does, however, begin with an insanely simple call-and-lose question, inviting viewers to spend a quid (or more) on calling the 0898 number and possibly getting to hear the silken voice of John Suchet talking to them. And winning £500, but that's not the prize.

Image:Square john suchet.jpg

1) The first round proper

Originally, this began with a general knowledge questions for one point, then the person answering the last question correctly was told the category, and could select 1, 2, or 3 points. Six points were required to progress.

On Questions Pour un Champion, this round is called "Neuf Points Gagnants". While all four players remain in the quiz, questions cycle 1-2-3 points; they split between 2 and 3 when three are left, and every question is worth 3 points when only two remain. As the name suggests, 9 points are required to win.

The new Going For Gold melds the two formats in an almost seamless manner. Nine points are required to win, but the contestants are allowed to choose the level of difficulty, between one and three points. As traditional, the one point questions are clearly easier than the three-pointers.

Just to annoy, this first round is split after a little time by the answer to the first viewer's question, a commercial break, and Mr. Suchet setting the next viewer's quiz. John reads the viewer competition two or three times, and from the tone of his voice, it's as if he can't quite believe the banality of the question he's asking. As if his words weren't enough, there's also a bullet-point list displayed on the screen. If viewers can't get this, they could always turn over to something brainless on Channel 5. Oh.

After the break, the round reaches its conclusion, and we move to the next round...

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2) Four in a row

In Henry Kelly's era, the first person to qualify from the First Round Proper got the opportunity to pick from four categories, where the objective was to get four in a row. A tie break was only played where the bottom player wasn't clear, first to two.

On the French version, the name is different – Quatre à la Suite – but everything else is exactly as in the English-language version.

There's not actually much that anyone can do with this round; though the graphics are different, the gameplay is exactly the same on Channel 5's show. Of course, it's interrupted by a commercial break, and is followed by Mr. Suchet answering the second call-and-lose challenge. There's another ad break immediately afterwards, and he sets yet another phone-in element before getting to...

3) Head to Head

In the beginning, the first choice to play-or-pass went to the winner of Four in a Row (or the player who won the First Round Proper if that was a tie). If one player trailed, then they got the choice under the guise of playing catch-up. A cryptic clue was displayed on screen for viewers at home, and the first to nine won.

M. Lepers plays Face-à-face: the first player to qualify gets the choice on the first question, it then alternates. In the dim and distant past, the game was first to 9, it's now first to 12 on the daily game, to 15 or 21 on the specials (of which more anon).

The new UK version has one major difference from all its predecessors: it is a totally live programme. As such, it's never going to be entirely clear how long the game will last, so there has to be some give-and-take to get the show out on time. That give-and-take comes in the final round, which is played to a moment in time, not a set number of points. Some days, 15 will win; other times, 21 will lose. We find the questions to be significantly easier than in previous incarnations, as if they were intended to be answered for three or four points. If we might offer a suggestion to Mr. Suchet, it's always been "The Big Four Zone".

When time expires, our host talks to someone else on the phone, and sets yet another phone-in challenge.

4) What happens next

In Henry Kelly's era, the daily winners returned in the First Round Proper for the weekly final. Weekly winners (and some runners-up in later series) returned in the semi-finals, from where four daily winners go straight to the Grand Final Week. That's played as a normal week, with daily winners going to the final day's FRP.

On Questions Pour un Champion, the rules seem to change with the wind. We believe the current situation is as follows: Daily winners can take a cash prize (500€ for one victory, 1000€ for two, then a further 1000€ per win). Anyone winning five games gets 4000€ plus the jackpot, which starts at 10 000€ and rises by 300€ per day.

The best champions go into prime-time Masters specials, held four times a year. These lead to an annual Champion des Champions match, and a quadrennial Haute Champion game. (OK, we've made those titles up, but the concept is accurate.)

There are also prime-time celebrity editions, editions for schools and colleges, family games, and anything else that they care to use to fill up an evening's programming. As best we can tell, it's only these extra-ordinary games that are part of TV5's Saturday night line-up.

On Channel 5, there's no danger of a prime-time game. Instead, the daily winner is given £1000, and invited to come back tomorrow if they want to. They're also asked to stick around and play against a phone-in winner. This is a subtle variant on the traditional Head to Head round: rather than being a continuous stream of prose, the clues have a definitive end, and contestants have a short time after the end of the clue to answer. Winner of this round takes £500, and this coda airs just over an hour after the main game completes. It also includes yet another call-and-lose quiz.

What works on the new Channel 5 version? We like the graphics, which are all made out of stacks of coins turning gold to mark the score. It's clear, which is the main criterion for successful graphics. We're not that enamoured with the set – it's got even more shiny metallic gold than the Golden Balls set, and we're finding it overpowering. The original Hans Zimmer theme has been retained, which is A Good Thing, but it's been re-recorded using some weedier-voiced session singers, and they use a loop of the end of the chorus while plugging the incessant phone-in quizzes, when there's already a perfectly acceptable loop for talking over.

What doesn't work? Sadly, the phone-in element adds nothing to the game. Without it, the main show would complete in the traditional 23 minutes or so; with all these calls to lose, it's dragged out to nearly an hour. The Extra show at 3pm has one grave flaw: the contestant at home has been randomly selected, the player in the studio has already proven their knowledge through three rounds. It's not a fair fight, and in the episodes we've watched, turned very one-sided.

While our nostalgic part says it's good to see Going for Gold back, we'd far sooner it were a test of European unity, of the whole continent ganging up and saying "That Henry Kelly, what is he going on about?"

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Countdown Update

When we last wrote about Countdown, we were bemoaning the lack of octochamps, those people who win eight games before letting someone else have a go. We hadn't had one since Jonathan Coles in early June. But, like buses, we wait three months for an octochamp than three come along at once. Junaid Mubeen completed his eight wins, scoring 790 points. In the very next game, Kai Laddiman started on his run to eight wins, aggregating 756. John McCarthy took over the vacant chair, but he was ousted after just one game by Charlie Reams. His eight wins gave him 820 points.

We've had a brief return to short-run champions since – Scott Jones won one match, Lynn Owens won two, Dan O'Hara one, and Andy Crompton two. His match against Martin Bishop on Tuesday was one of the best we've ever seen – the players were split by precisely one on the opening numbers game, and remained that close until the conundrum. Mr. Bishop took the win, and has won the three games since.

At the moment, the seeds are:

  1. Charlie Reams – 8 wins – 820 pts
  2. Junaid Mubeen – 8 wins – 790 pts
  3. Kai Laddiman – 8 wins – 756 pts
  4. Debbi Flack – 6 wins – 600 pts
  5. Neil MacKenzie – 5 wins – 409 pts
  6. Martin Bishop – 4 wins, so far
  7. Alex Horne – 3 wins – 342 pts
  8. Lee Simmonds – 3 wins – 339 pts

By our reckoning, the three octochamps and Debbi Flack are safe for the Finals Week in December.


Episode 10

Mick Schnackenberg is our first contender, telling us about the History of the Victoria Cross. An appropriate subject for the programme before Remembrance Day. The VC is Britain's highest military honour, awarded for the greatest feats of valour. The contender scores 13 (2).

Next is Mark Hannon, discussing the Life and Career of Bobby Fischer, the chess world champion in 1972 and one of the most quixotic talents ever to grace the sport. He played by Telex at an event in Cuba, personally at an event in Yugoslavia, and was eventually granted Icelandic citizenship. The contender's score is also remarkable, 13 (0).

Thomas Armer has been researching the Le Mans 24 Hour Race since 1923. It's a race from 4pm Saturday to 4pm Sunday, at the Le Mans circuit. Hence the name. The buzzer seems to be particularly loud tonight, and the contender reaches 13 (0).

Last up is Mark Samuelson, and he's got the Life of Thomas Cochrane. The subject was a naval commander during the Napoleonic Wars. He is described as one of the most colourful characters of the era, often having run-ins with the law, but never becoming unpopular with the public – indeed, they once paid his fines. 10 (3) is the final score.

Mr. Samuelson is quickly back into the chair, and agrees that fictional characters like Hornblower and Sharpe were based on Cochrane, though only the real man joined the navy at the age of 7. The contender doesn't know the official name for a series of 5000 bellringing changes; with the headcold we've got at the moment, we suggest it's a racket. The contender ends on 17 (6), and the real answer is "a peal".

Mr. Schnackenberg is invited to pick a favourite VC, and names Simon Jackson of the RAF, who climbed out of his plane at 22,000 feet, in the dark, at 200mph, to put out a fire on his plane, fell to earth, survived, and escaped from his prison camp. That's valour. The contender is defeated by the famous "yes!" scene from When Harry Met Sally, and ends on 19 (5).

Mr. Hannon is asked if Mr. Fischer was the best chess player of all time. It's between him and Mr. Kasparov, says the contender, and we entirely agree. And that it would have been nice if the two had played. He runs from Nick Hornby's membership of the Arsenal fan club to the success record of Alex Ferguson, and he gets some questions on subjects other than football, ending on 25 (2).

Mr. Armer has his work cut out, thirteen to assure a win. "It's been going quite a long time," says our host. It's not clear whether he's referring to the event as a whole, or just this year's event. Or this series; we're still less than halfway through the qualification process. The contender correctly answers a question about Raven; sorry, about the bird the raven. His round ends on 26 (0).

This Week And Next

Viewing figures for the week to 26 October put The X Factor on top with 10.35m viewers, but Strictly Come Dancing is hard on its heels, a season-best 9.95m saw the dance-off. Family Fortunes had 6.65m, HIGNFY 5.25m, and Who Dares Wins 5.1m. BBC2 had 2.95m seeing University Challenge, 2.85m for Dancing on Two and The Restaurant, and 2.6m for Dragons' Den: Outside the Den, a spin-off that's rather passed us by.

Xtra Factor continues to dominate the digital tier, 1.04m saw the post-match show at 11pm on the Saturday night. Hell's Kitchen had 715,000 viewers, but still trails Come Dine With Me's 760,000. Over on Challenge, the decision to buy Dermot's days on One Versus One Hundred is proving popular, 120,000 saw Friday night's edition, one of the channel's biggest audiences of the year.

Next week sees the return of House Guest (ITV, 2pm weekdays in most regions) and Bradley Walsh hosts Spin Star (ITV, 3.15 weekdays in most regions). BBC3 has The Last Millionaire (Wednesday, 9pm), and the highlight of Children In Need may be the Strictly Come Dancing hosts doing some dancing (Friday, after 8.30).

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