Weaver's Week 2009-06-07

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Readers are warned that this week's review contains photographs of really, incredibly, utterly rubbish singers.



Disney Channel, 6pm Fridays, 15 May - 5 June

Readers with long memories and a desire to see truly bad television will recall last summer's summer filler Who Dares Sings!. It was competitive karaoke, apparently judged by an automated machine. And, er, it was so completely rubbish that we really did think it should have won Worst In Show at the UKGS Awards.

Clever producers will see this show and, rather than cover their eyes and hide behind the sofa, see that there's room for improvement. The formula for the presenters hasn't changed: someone who is well-known for singing (Duncan James from Blue takes the place of Denise Van Outen), and someone who is a vastly experienced television presenter (Konnie Huq was hosting shows when Ben Shephard was still at school.)

The first big change is in the choice of contestants. Who Dares Sings just plucked people out of the audience at random, and hoped that they'd be mildly competent at some very old songs. For this show, there's actually been some planning: two teams of five (two youngsters aged about ten, an older brother or sister, and two parents) have come together in a carefully planned series of challenges. Planning? Coherence? This isn't your regular ITV show!

Your hosts: a telly professional and a great singer.

ITV's Sound Analysis Machine has been silenced, and replaced by three judges. Nicki Chapman is a legend in the annals of singing shows, Jason Gardiner has made a name for himself as a choreographer and dance instructor. Brad Kavanagh, we must confess, was someone we hadn't heard of until seeing this show.

Just as happened on Who Dares Sings, the programme opens with a mass audience singalong. Mercifully, it's brief and to the point, so we're spared the dubious vocals of at least one of the hosts... for the moment. A brief chat with the judges, a longer introduction to the families features all of them waving madly like they're on We are the Champions.

Round one, All For One, has each member of each team performing a couple of lines from one song. The first lines in each verse are taken by the hosts, and that Konnie really does have a remarkably good singing voice. The rest of the lyric is sung by the team members, and the judges will pick the best from each team for the finale.

The judges give their opinions, always positive.

After the break, the remaining members of each team take part in Cyrus Says, a round in which quondam pop star Billy Ray Cyrus appears on the video screen, shouting out instructions for ludicrous dance moves. Apparently, some of these instructions were completely made up, and the teams and the audience like to shout "Silly Billy" at him, as though he were a finance minister who couldn't organise his own expenses. This round is entirely played for fun, all they get is some praise from the judges.

Then there's a brief snipped from backstage, where the two finalists have been receiving some training from the resident vocal coach. The two contenders each take a whole verse and chorus from a song before joining together for the finale. The rest of the teams join them on stage, the judges pass their comments, and the audience votes on which they believe was the better team. The winners progress to the final; the losers go home with a karaoke system and other goodies. There's an upbeat singalong to end the half-hour show. The final episode featured the teams performing their own choreographed routines.

So, what have we got? A coherent structure that doesn't repeat itself, no needless gamble, some judges of known quality, and hosts who can both sing. OK, the budget is clearly minimal - the set looks cosy and homely, rather than the ludicrous expanses of other singing contests - but that's no reason to knock the show. It's all far more thought-through than ITV's show.

Aaargh! It's 'im again!

And there's a huge elephant in the room. All of the songs are taken from the Hannah Montana series and its spin-off television and cinematic movies. Hannah Montana is a tremendous success, it's captured the imagination of ten-year-old girls across the nation, across the English-speaking world. The attraction completely passes over this column's head, but then we're not a ten-year-old girl.

Readers might expect us to be annoyed that the programme is yet another cog in the money-making machine. We're not annoyed in the slightest: the show doesn't pretend to be anything other than a part of the Disney Corp.'s empire. Royalties from the songs go from one bit of Disney to another, even the prize is a trip to one of Disney's holiday parks.

No, what really bugs us is the fact that the show's star, Miley Cyrus, is the daughter of Billy Ray. We remember his hit single, and by goodness it was a hit single with a capital S. So far, the world has avoided any thought of an "Achey Breaky Heart" rehabilitation, not least because the songs his daughter sings are so much better. They may be formulaic, but they're the right sort of formulaic.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the young viewers might be that Miss Cyrus didn't appear in the programme at all. The title star didn't put in an appearance, and that does feel like an opportunity missed by the usually astute Disney corporate machine.

Readers will also expect us to note that this is a UK production by the Disney corporation. For our tastes, there aren't enough British productions on Disney's channels. This is a decent enough show, fun while it lasts but completely forgettable a week later, and it is directly based on an American import. We must give Disney a chunk of praise for making a new show in this country, aimed at children here. The company is at least aware to charges of cultural imposition, and of the continuing row about programmes for youngsters.

Making shows in the UK for children. That'll be why Hannah-Oke isn't an ITV programme.

How do the hosts compare this to ITV shows?


Second round, programme five

Ian Bayley is taking Doctor Who in the 1970s. Readers probably won't be aware of this relatively obscure television show, in which Tom Baker runs round a sandpit in Surrey while a woman with far too short a skirt screeches loudly. The contender suffers from a question that goes on for most of the decade, but he gets everything right, a perfect 16 (0).

Mel Kinsey takes John F. Kennedy. Goodness, they are dredging up some arcane subjects tonight; Mr. Kennedy was active between the 1940 and 1960s, and was a politician in one of those many countries in the Western hemisphere where they go around shooting their leaders. He also suffers from a long question, and also finishes on a perfect 16 (0).

James Corcoran has the Life and Music of Billy Bragg. Ah, someone we have actually heard of, the folk singer from Essex who once wrote a song in praise of the A-13 between London and Southend, and made a rather famous video with Phill Jupitus. Again, the contender finds many of his questions somewhat more prolix than they might be, and he ends on 14 (1).

Hugh Brady has the Montalbano Novels of Andrea Camilleri, about which we surely don't need to write a brief introduction. We do? Oh. Detective novels, released in the last fifteen years, set in and around Italy by a native Italian author. His final score is 10 (1).

Mr. Brady's straight back: he qualified with the Life and Times of Edward Carson. Rather than discuss the subject, the host asks about Mr. Brady's job as a cancer research scientist. After being given a boneshaker like "When are we going to cure cancer?", it feels like the contender never quite hits his stride, and the round ends on 20 (3).

Mr. Corcoran took the Mod Movement in Britain, and Mr. Bragg is (at the very least) a semi-detached mod, a bit of a lefty and an English nationalist who doesn't want to thrust spears into immigrants. When's he playing Doncaster next? The contender is correct to guess which Top Gear presenter wrote a science book for children; did it inspire his recent television show? The round concludes on 23 (5).

Since we last met Dr. Bayley here, he's won Only Connect, and competed in the recently-finished series of Counterpoint. Given the length of time this series has been running, he might well have finished his bachelor's degree. He took Tchaikovsky last time, and spends his chat blinding the host with scientific concepts like entropy, big bang theory, and political matters like the end of empire. The host assures us Dr Who is great entertainment. The contender is a legend at general knowledge quizzes, and by his high standards, he's left a bit of headroom, confusing Van Halen with Van Morrison. The score: 28 (0).

Mr. Kinsey had Ty Cobb in the opening round. The contender says that Mr. Kennedy was right not to invade Cuba while in power, as that would have been nasty. Though Mr. Kinsey has a little headroom, it's not a huge amount, and that early pass could prove very costly. Correct answers pile up, but so do the errors, and it finally becomes clear that he's not going to finish on top: 25 (4) is his final score.

Countdown Update

There are many signs of summer arriving to Britain. Birds chirrup in the trees, the sweet smell of newly-mown grass wafts across the countryside, the sound of leather on willow signifying England's cricket team are losing to the Greenland second XI. And, up and down the land, people are asking, "is it Countdown finals week yet?" Indeed it is, and here's the roll-call of winners since late April.

Julie Russell (3 wins, 356 pts) looked to be a very good player, but she came up against Hamish Williamson (4 wins, 415), whose opening match included three nine-letter words. He never reached those dizzy heights again, and Bob Stevenson (134) and Chrissie Buckley (148) both won a game. Paul Casmir (2 wins, 251) was another strong player who ran into even better opposition in the form of Jimmy Gough. He made sure he did enough to reach the finals, and his performances suggest he was tired for his second filming day. It didn't stop him from winning against all eight opponents, and he retired with 782 pts.

Mabel Weston took the vacant champions' chair, and though her two-game total of 97 is lower than many winning scores, one can only beat the opponents one's up against. That maxim served James Doohan well, with one tie-break and more crucial conundrums as he racked up eight wins, and a total of 692 pts. Chris Kirby made two wins (271), but lost to Jacqueline Baker last Friday.

The line-up for the finals week is still provisional, as Jacqueline Baker may win on Monday and Tuesday, lose on Wednesday, and overhaul Julie Russell for the final qualifying spot. We believe this to be unlikely.

QF1: Kirk Bevins (8 wins, 925) v Julie Russell (3 wins, 356)

Kirk's place in Countdown history is already assured: the highest eight-game total, and the only known perfect game in the 15-round era. Julie will have her work cut out.

QF2: Jimmy Gough (8 wins, 782) v Hamish Williamson (4 wins, 415)

We believe Jimmy will take the higher seeding because he has the higher single-game score, 116 compared to Cate Henderson's 113.

QF3: Cate Henderson (8 wins, 782) v James Doohan (8 wins, 692)

Though Cate looks set to face an octochamp in her quarterfinal, we find it difficult not to see Jimmy and Cate facing off in the second semi-final, and quite possibly providing the match of the tournament.

QF4: Shane Roberts (8 wins, 766) v Neil Zussman (8 wins, 758)

Neil was a very solid performer in the heats, rarely missing a good word. Shane came up with a number of good winners, and was a master of difficult numbers game.

This Week And Next

We regret to report the death of Noncho Vodenicharov, a contestant who died while filming the Bulgarian edition of Survivor.

Image:Square britains got talent.jpg

"Susan Boyle doesn't win talent final", shouted the newspapers last Sunday. That'll teach us to read such downmarket tabloids as the Calgary Herald, The Herald (Halifax, Nova Scotia), The Gazette (Montréal), The Star (Toronto), and The Washington Post. Indeed, only the Irish Examiner (Cork) avoided the result, preferring to put Pat Kenney's final Late Late Show on the cover. The televote was won by Diversity, an eleven-member urban dance troupe.

By Monday, the story had changed markedly: "'Exhausted' reality star rushed to clinic" said the Calgary Herald. "Susan Boyle treated for exhaustion" said the Edmonton Journal. Miss Boyle had been taken to hospital following Saturday's broadcast. Well-wishers had been flooding the hospital with messages of good luck. Even Gordon Brown took time to watch the show and ignore his faltering economy, career-threatening management crisis, and emergency measures required to restore The Birdsong Channel to the nation's airwaves. Dr. Brown said that he had spoken to Mr. Cowell and Mr. Morgan to enquire after Miss Boyle's prognosis.

Later in the week, Miss Boyle was released from hospital, after making a good recovery. Dr. Brown turned to more pressing matters, such as changing his underlings, including a new health minister, because the one he had was after his job. Dr. Brown has brought in an expert in hiring and firing (though mostly the latter), creating a life peerage for Alan Sugar, and inviting him to become the Enterprise Czar. It's a unique role, combining science-fiction spacecraft with traditional Russian discipline, and we await his visit to the mines.

Image:Square Alan Sugar.jpg

It also means that Mr. Sugar is now so closely identified with one particular party that it becomes almost impossible for the BBC to renew his contract on The Apprentice lest it be seen as a partisan programme. And would this be the same Dr Brown who said in 2007 that "Britain has fallen out of love with celebrity"? Just fact-checking.

Viewing figures for the week to 24 May, and Britain's Got Talent's semi-finals were most popular, 12.95m tuned in. The Apprentice finally topped its opening week, with 8.9m viewers; 4.45m saw the follow-up on BBC2. Have I Got News For You is having a good expenses crisis, 6.25m viewers want to laugh at duck houses, and 2.35m saw the BBC2 version. Channel 4 was slaughtered on Sunday night, as Come Dine With Me fell short of the top thirty; 370,000 people saw the programme on C4's timeshift channel.

BGT also topped the digital tier, 1.785m saw the after-show party on ITV2. The channel also had Pop Idleus, the result was seen by 845,000 who hadn't worked out that Mr. Cowell always wins. There were year's best figures for We Need Answers (150,000 on BBC4), Come Dine With Me (85,000 on Discovery Real Time), and Takeshi Extreme (50,000 on Bravo).

So, enjoy tonight's final of The Apprentice (BBC1, 9pm), the partisan hack won't be back until after the next election. Same time next year, then. It's BBC Cardiff Singer of the World week (BBC4 and Radio 3), there's a new series of Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1, 8pm Wednesday). Quote... Unquote clogs up the airwaves once more, and ITV has two obscure shows: Don't Call Me Stupid (10.30 Tuesday) and Who Wants to be a Millionaire (7.30 Saturday).

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