Weaver's Week 2009-01-11

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Voting for the UK Gameshows Poll of the Year 2008 continues all week, with two lucky punters winning a crisp ten pound note courtesy of our sponsors Bother's Bar. Details are on the website.


The Krypton Factor

Granada for ITV, 7.34 Thursdays

Channel 4 has a very simple rule regarding revivals of old formats: they don't do them. Even if the show was the best thing since sliced bread, once the programme has reached the end of its commissioned run, they won't bring it back.

It's something we bore in mind when watching ITV on New Year's Day. Never mind fifteen years since the last series, it feels like this channel's running fifteen years behind schedule. It's actually only four minutes, and we'll start with a look at the set. Horizontal green lines right across the screen, through which we can just about make out four amorphous dark shapes. They may be our contestants, but they could just be a sign that our television or our eyes has decided to rebel against this hideous design.

Ooooooh, nasty.

Mercy is already on the way: Ben Shephard comes into shot, and welcomes us to "Britain's toughest quiz on TV", and that we'll find "The Krypton Factor champion". The phrases he's looking for are, "Television's toughest quiz" and "The United Kingdom Superperson of Nineteen Ninety Nineteen." We get to see the contenders, in a slightly revised colour order (red, green, blue, yellow) – we're sure it was red, green, yellow, blue originally. Contenders aren't asked to wear a top matching their colour, though we're yet to see one wearing someone else's colour.

Almost straight away, we're into round one, mental agility. It's 40 seconds of sequencing and ordering, one point per correct answer. But, oh dear, Dr. Gimmick has been waving his fairy-like wand over the programme, and most of the results are here. Rather than being taken in a chair, or standing on the spot, the questions are played in The Kube. (It's The Krypton Factor, the logo is a K, the cube has a K.) Rather than have the host ask the questions, they're provided by a disembodied voice (and an uncredited voice, at least in the first episodes). For no adequately explored reason, the contestants are wired to a heart-rate monitor. Anyone would think they're trying to distract people from playing along at home. And, goodness, those sirens to announce the start of the round are hideously loud: are they trying to make the contestants a little thicker by deafening them before the questions?

The mental agility questions themselves are perhaps slightly more difficult than in Krypton's golden phase, the heats from the late 80s. They're of a similar standard to those used on Brainbox Challenge last year. (It was last year, wasn't it?) Just to distract the viewer further, before each contender begins their round, a short video clip is played in, with gems like "completed reading half-marathon", which had everyone terribly confused until we worked out that this is a task to consume thirteen books and one short story in the shortest time. The buzzes to announce incorrect answers are hideously loud, there are screen-wipes before and after each contestant, and we found this opening to be thoroughly annoying.

The host is still in shot as the leaderboard is shown.

The scoring system remains the same, 10 for winning a round, 6 for second, then 4 and 2. Ties are possible in the first two rounds, but are only broken for first place. It's bad luck that this affected the result in the opening show.

Round two is the observation round. Gone are the comedy skits starring Andrew O'Connor or Steve Coogan, or even the rock video featuring Courtney Love. Instead, we're going back to basics, with a clip from a television programme or film. There's one question assigned to each contestant, then four more on the buzzers. The only item missing from the early-80s series is the identity parade, nine people who could be one of the characters from the clip, but only one is correct. During this round, we get to see the scores display behind the contenders, complete with holes in the visuals so they only work from far away. The buzzers shoot out a beam of light in the contender's colour, and this is by far the best visual effect. The green bars, still hideous.

The round contestants lose sleep over.

Round three is Intelligence, in which the contenders are asked to complete a logic challenge. There are very few ways to jazz this up from the original series, and the producers are right not to try. We're not convinced that a buzzer is needed to validate the result, nor for Ben to tell the contender they're right, but if this were a new show, we wouldn't be criticising either idea. We would be criticising a slip in Ben's patter from the opening show, in which the line "the contestants must re-train their brains" slipped in. That is alarmingly close to the sponsor's message, but we can put it down as an innocent mistake.

Round four is the Iconic Physical Ability round, which is edited highlights of a woodland assault course. Only two contenders are able to take this course at any time, which leads to very strange and confusing editing. If we're being particularly harsh, we'd compare it to the most pretentious horror movies, but that's far too grouchy. There are helmet-cams, there are after-the-fact comments from the contestants, and there's no clear way for the viewer to follow the various arrangements of hurdles, wooden platforms, and bits of mud. Yes, the iconic death slide is still there, no assault course is complete without one, but there's absolutely no tension in the round.

How to do better? Get a course where all four contenders can race alongside each other: intercutting between one race and the other just confuses. Or bring back handicaps based on age as well as sex, with the first person across the line winning. The woodland adventure course could be as familiar as the course in Lancashire, but not at this rate. It may be good to play, but it's hideously bad to watch. See RAVEN's The Last Stand for a much better example.

The contender in yellow has buzzed in.

Round five is general knowledge, introduced (as are all the others) by The Krypton Factor logo changing shape. 70 seconds of rapid-fire questions, two points for a correct answer, one point away for an incorrect response, and the answer to one question forms part of the challenge for the next. Well, we say rapid-fire, but some of the questions are so long we find ourselves wondering if we've tuned in to Just a Minute by mistake, and there's at least one swerve that University Challenge would sneer at. Rather than showing the contestants in a line going up the screen, they're shot from the front; lets them use the coloured lights, lets them use the laser-display boards, but less thoroughly cool. Just to ruin the tension, ITV's Network Centre inserted a promotion for the next show during the question-and-answer session. It's not subtle, it's not clever, and it's certainly not going to persuade us to watch it.

The first couple of episodes seemed a little rushed; we expect that this will become less of a problem as Ben Shephard's explanations become briefer. We thought the original was much longer, but there's only one minute in it – 23 minutes, including an ad-break, compared with the original's 24. Even so, some parts of the show seemed to drag – from the start of the show to the end of the mental agility round was almost seven-and-a-half minutes, yet with only three minutes of actual play, and with a voice-over that is so slow as to drain all the tension from the round. We're seriously unimpressed with the gratuitously loud noises throughout (what's wrong with the original decorous time's up beep). We're not a fan of helmet-cams under any circumstances, particularly when they're used to replace shots of people falling over – the regular camera people should have caught that, and that's what should have been used in the edit. The set gave us a bad first impression, though it may just grow on us.

Ben Shephard's performance was satisfactorily understated, getting on with the game and generally not obstructing the contenders. Apart from the two clunkers in his opening lines, he's respecting many of the show's traditions, including the way he gives the leader as "with a Krypton factor of 22, the television presenter from Nether Wallop, Jim Smith." "Activate the Kube" is not going to go down as a tremendous catchphrase, though.

If this were a new show, we'd be saying that we should give it a full run (10 programmes) before drawing any firm conclusions. Maybe this is the merit in Channel 4's policy, it's impossible to give a revival a fair hearing. Reviewers are hopelessly tainted by memories of the original run, and can't ignore their half-memories. And for a show that has hewn so closely to the vintage classic, that may not be a good thing.

Still got The Krypton Factor? We're unsure

University Challenge

Second round, match 7: Sheffield v Exeter

The last of the seven second-round matches features Exeter, who won a good game against Pembroke Oxford, and Sheffield, who soundly defeated New Murray Edwards Hall Cambridge four weeks later. We note that Sheffield and Exeter met in the quarter-finals last year, Sheffield winning by a comfortable margin.

Word of the week is "bear", and it goes to Exeter's top buzzer Katy Limmer – she made nine of the side's twelve correct starters in their heat. Sheffield get an incomprehensible question linking top-level domain codes to elements in the Bible, then Thumper reads out some headlines from the spoof news channel 602, or "The Onion" as the answer puts it. Exeter's reward is bonuses on nuclear physics. The first visual round is Know Your Russian, in which the teams are challenged to resolve Cyrillic names into Russian composers. Easier than it might sound. Exeter has the lead, 60-35.

It feels like a fragile lead, but Sheffield's knowledge of the 60s is imperfect, proving that they weren't there. They're all far too young to remember it. Sheffield duly takes the lead with the next starter, and remember things that always end with an exclamation mark, like Wham! Their reward: this week's homophones, such as pare and pear. Sounds like Thumper finds this sort of question a struggle. Exeter's Richard Stearn mistakenly believes that Scolari managed the 2006 football World Cup winners, and throws his head back through the next question until Thumper advises him to wake up. The audio round is on music from James Horner's soundtracks, and Sheffield has established a lead, 105-80.

It takes a surprisingly long time for anyone to remember "point of inflection", but Joe Weller gets the bonus about the laws of thermodynamics. Katy Limmer gets her fifth starter of the night, Exeter's remaining contestants have answered five fewer at this point, an oversight they put right straightaway. None of the Sheffield side know their Welsh geography, clearly all coming from parts of the country where children aren't taken to windswept, sodden beaches in Saundersfoot or Caernaerfon and told that's their annual holiday. It's a lovely place when the sun shines... The visual round is on the stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral, and Sheffield's lead is 140-120.

Exeter are behind, they've been behind for about half the game, but they're not out of it. Not at all. If they can string two starters together, get a few bonuses on the way, they'll be in the lead. And, just for once, Exeter gets the couple of starters, and the bonus about Big Joe at Birmingham University (see, paying attention to Thumper's introductions does pay off, occasionally) and draws level. But only for a few moments, as Exeter make a missignal and Sheffield picks up the starter. But then Sheffield makes a missignal, Exeter gets the starter, the gap is down to five, and Exeter finds the bonuses difficult.

Five points is the gap, and it all comes down to a starter, on prefixes of the word "circus". Both teams miss it. Thumper is breaking the speed limit, Voiceover Man is as excited as we've ever heard him, and this question will win the game.

Q: What term denotes both the ring of hot gases around a flame, and the zone between the crust and the core of the earth?
Exeter, Richard Stearn: Mantle

It's correct, it gives Exeter the lead, and just a couple of moments before the gong goes. Exeter has won, 175-170, and if our nerves can stand it, they'll be back in the quarter-finals.

Edward Pinney gave a captain's innings for Sheffield, five starters as the side made 16/30 starters with two missignals. Katy Limmer got a mere seven starters this time, the side was correct in 14/30 starters and only made the one missignal.

Next match: Manchester v LSE, and that's going to be a cracker.

This Week And Next

While we were away, there was a storm in a saucer about "crib sheets" for Celebrity Mastermind. Quite frankly, who cares if the producers have given the contestants some advice on where to concentrate their research. The aim of Celeb Mastermind is to produce an entertaining half-hour's television. There's very little upside for the contenders – their appearance fee goes to charity, and there's always the chance that they'll make such a mess of their performance that it'll follow them around like a bad smell. It's not even as though there's a huge prize – just the honour of winning the show, and a small glass trophy. This "scandal" has all the depth of a saucer.

Saver of a zillion goals for Leicester, Gordon Banks

Quickly returning to The Krypton Factor, and we had the misfortune to read Teletext's programme review. Their scribe can be forgiven for missing the real audience (they're never in shot). We can't forgive his confusion between original host Gordon Burns and football legend Gordon Banks. Useless fact of the year: The Krypton Factor was the first new game show we saw this year. It wasn't the first time we'd seen a copyright 2009 symbol, for some episodes of Get 100 in November and December had the © MMIX date.

We'll look at the viewing figures again when the first numbers for 2009 come out next week.

Highlights for the coming week:

Dancing on Ice (ITV and TV3, 7pm Sunday) is back for a fourth run. Donal MacIntyre will be first out, we reckon, and one of the soapstar minorstars will win. Peter Kay will be cheering for Todd Carty (Grange Hill's Tucker Jenkins) as Jesus H. Christ.

There are plenty of other talent shows for viewers in Ireland: TG4 is looking for Ireland's best country singer (Glor Tire, 8.10 Saturday) and competitive farming in Feirm Factor (9pm Thursday), and TV3 has international Superstars of Dance (9pm Friday). That last one is shown on six continents (Argentina, USA, Ireland, South Africa, China, India, Australia, and Russia) but is clearly too good for UK viewers.

More intelligent shows include the final of Mastermind Plant Cymru (S4C, 7.45 Sunday, and English-speaking viewers have subtitles on teletext 888). There's the last semi-final of Brain of Britain (Radio 4, 1.30 Monday) and what looks like a fascinating University Challenge quarter-final between Manchester and the LSE (BBC2, 8pm Monday (10pm Scotland)).

Channel 4's afternoon schedule falls into place: Come Dine with Me (5.30) begins with a celebrity week, Wogan's Perfect Recall (5pm) is back for another run, and Deal or No Deal (4.15) is billed as a new series. All eyes will be on Countdown (3.25), where the latest Championship of Champions begins, there's a new set (yes, they've finally got rid of the deckchairs), and something else that we still can't remember. Countdown gets the lead review next week.

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