Weaver's Week 2010-01-10

The Week of the Year 2009 | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

Voting is now open for the UK Gameshows Poll of the Year 2009. What was your favourite show of the year just ended? What do you wish had never been made? And, be brutal, what did you enjoy watching? The poll remains open for another week. It's your vote, use it or don't bleat about the result.

Heads or Tails


Heads or Tails

Eyeworks for Channel 5, 20 – 30 December 2009

Most years, the Christmas period isn't a time for new game shows. There might be celebrity editions of favourite programmes, there might be some filler shows that didn't work elsewhere in the year, and there might be some filler editions of celebrity shows that should never have been commissioned in the first place. Ever the contrarian, this year Channel Five has made a new show, stripped it daily across the festive season, and said, "Cor, what a brilliant show we've got here."

The principle of Heads or Tails is simple. The contestant will pick one of twenty coins. Behind sixteen of the coins are amounts of money ranging from £100 to £100,000; the other four contain lives. The contestant must then predict whether a coin, to be tossed by Justin Lee Collins, will land on heads or tails. Should the contestant predict incorrectly, the prize is revealed, and lost from further play. If the contestant's prediction is correct, the prize behind the coin is revealed, and if it's a life, the contestant gets to keep it.

However, if they've revealed an amount of money, they've not won it yet; the contestant must elect to bring over a coin and add it to their prize fund. A further correct call of heads or tails is required for this to happen. An incorrect call here leaves the money in play, and does not eliminate it from the game. It does cost the contestant a flip, as they only have a total of 12 to reveal prizes and transfer them to their fund. Anything left exposed on the board after these flips is lost. The show always referred to the process of determining heads or tails as a "flip".

Heads or Tails The set shows flipped coins landing on the right, where they turned into chairs.

So, that's twelve tosses, a simplification and an endgame (both of which we'll get to in due course), and no doubt a bit of banter. It's a one-hour slot, so are we going to get two games per show a la The Colour of Money? Three games in two shows, the old Masterteam trick? Er, no, each hour-long show involves just one contestant. That's a heck of a lot of banter and waffle and (let's be honest) filling.

The contestants have been chosen, not for their uncanny ability to predict tosses of a coin, but because they've got an interesting story to tell in the vast expanses of filling. Getting married might do the trick, buying a new flat for Mumsey can also get someone on stage. This sort of lather is, apparently, supposed to endear the contestant to the audience, give them a reason to root for the player. It's meant to turn a completely anonymous game of chance into a slightly less anonymous game of chance.

Just in case the sob story wasn't enough to convince the viewer, the contestants' friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, and milkman are invited on stage. All of them are asked to give some advice to the contestant, usually along the lines of "You should pick heads because my semi-skimmed says so." No-one suggests watching host Justin Lee Collins' wrist action as he tosses, to see if there's a pattern of heads following heads beyond what theory might suggest.

Heads or Tails Anneka Rice turned up on one edition, for reasons we couldn't be bothered to understand.

After they've spoken with the contestant, the friends and family move elsewhere on the stage, where they sit on Magically Appearing Chairs. Where once there was not a chair, now there is a chair. Remarkable, that. Some shows were graced by the presence of television luminaries and other famous people, such as Anneka Rice. Others weren't. All were graced by an interesting set, with an arch reaching across the playing area, decorated by circles of various sizes and angles, perhaps intending to look like a coin being tossed across the studio.

Each toss was displayed in extreme close-up on the giant video wall behind the contestant. meaning that the country is now very familiar with the back of Justin Lee Collins' hands. The video wall also displays pointless statistics of the previous predictions (and whether they were right or wrong), and the values yet to be found under the coins. Perhaps the most memorable – and certainly the most repeated – image is of Justin and the contestant standing under a giant light shaft after each toss.

Heads or Tails Do they share, or do they stand under a shaft of light?

We mentioned earlier that there was a simplification late in the show. As seems to be the way, this made the game somewhat more complex. With three flips left, the contestant reached a Crossroads. It's actually more of a trivia, but then we know our Latin. The contestant can opt to play on, treading the same road for the remaining three flips. Or they can see where the remaining lives are on the board, but this will cost them a flip. Or they can opt to automatically add any more money they find to their prize fund; again, this costs them a flip. The naive strategy appears to be to go for the automatic addition if the contestant has at least one life, to reveal the lives if they do not have one already, but to play on if there's a large amount of money in play, giving the best chance of bringing it across.

The final game is a simple double-or-quits round. The amount in the prize fund (which can range from £100 to £199,000) will be doubled if the contestant can correctly call heads or tails to the next flip. If they get it wrong, they will leave with nothing. However, and it's a big however, if the contestant has a life, the prize fund will be halved rather than wiped out entirely. The show's top prize is a round million, so if (for instance) the contestant has piled up £62,000, they could go to 124 grand, 248 thousand, 496 biggies, £992,000, and then face a final flip for, er, £8000. More usually, they'll have left the show long ago. For our sins, we watched a few endings and the general pressure from friends and family on the Magically Appearing Chairs was to take the money and run. We saw no-one risk losing as much as £50,000.

Many contestants said, "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity", which it is, not least because we can't honestly see the programme come back in this format. It's winning and losing money on the toss of a coin, long derided as the most simple method of resolving a dispute, one so simple that even the Match of the Day pundits understand it.

Heads or Tails This coin said heads. Other results are available.

Heck, those game show boffins Mitchell and Webb came up with a show of similar inanity and an identical title. We spent half of the episode wondering if this was actually a serious game, or if it was a spectacular piece of irony, taking the mick out of shows like Deal or No Deal and The Colour of Money. Eventually we concluded that they were being serious, which was a slight disappointment.

This show dragged on, spinning out about fifteen minutes' actual game across a full hour of screen time, and slathering it in so many layers of nonsense as to make the dish entirely unpalatable. We would make a few suggestions for a prospective second series, but we'd sooner think up smart new challenges for the third series of The Mole. Which isn't coming back, lest anyone get the wrong end of the stick...

University Challenge

Preliminary quarter-final 1: St John's Oxford v Girton Cambridge

Well, we've put it off as long as we could, there's no evading the new structure any longer. For this series, it's necessary for sides to win two matches in order to make the semi-finals. We begin with four matches, involving each of the sides once. The four winners will then play each other, in two Qualification matches, with the winners going to the semi-finals. The four losers from the original matches will also play, in two Elimination matches, from which the losers will take no further part. The winners of the Elimination matches will then play the losers of the Qualification matches for the final two spots in the semi-finals. The semi-finals and final are single-elimination matches. And if you can understand that, Thumper reckons you're over-qualified to appear on the show, and we reckon Only Connect follows in 26 minutes. Hmm. You'll need to get on with it, sir, time and tide and teacups wait for no man.

St John's Oxford have impressed us. A lot. They beat a very promising Durham side in the first round, and a high-scoring Loughborough side on 16 November. They're the top-scorers from the first two rounds. Girton skated past Nottingham in the first round, and squeezed past St George's London by just ten points on 2 November. Thumper reminds us that this side knows teachers of Defence Against Dark Arts.

Girton get off with the first starter, proving they also know their experiments to help get rid of scurvy. St John's are back with the next question, on the length of the cricket pitch, and we note the English beat the Australian to the buzzer. Both sides get starters that we don't properly understand, never mind answer, but questions about string theory making a pair of trousers gets no-one anywhere: wouldn't money fall out of the holes in the pockets? St John's get the first visual round – pictures on the back of five pound notes other than those produced by the Bank of England – and the lead, 55-25.

The next starter asks for the value of "Quiz" in Scrabble®, where the Q is on a triple-letter score, and no other letter has bonus value, and no other words are formed. The answer is 42, and Slartibartfast made a note to call off the glaciers. Knowledge of the history of Carthage helps St John's move further ahead, as does knowledge of obscure Russian revolutionaries. The audio round is after the writer of the "Peter Gunn" theme. Do people not know the work of Henry Mancini any more? They're missing out. St John's leads 120-25.

There are more instrumentals in the audio bonus, with confusion between the Eagles and the Shadows, and no-one knows Fleetwood Mac. They'd rather know Jack. Already, every member of St John's has a starter, and Thumper is encouraging Girton by saying there's plenty of time. There's never plenty of time, as both sides drop one starter, and St John's get the next starter, causing Thumper to talk of love at first sight. A missignal from St John's is about as good as it gets for the Cambridge side until the second visual round – Impressionist paintings – where they trail 170-40.

Five minutes until another former St John's student takes over, and we rather know the result. This year's squad aren't taking their foot off the pedal, Girton are angling for a moderately adequate score, and are helped by knowledge of the Gold Coasts of Africa and Australia. But St John's are perfect on national flags and EU accession states, and run out winning by 280-55. David Townsend was best on the buzzer for St John's, with six starters; the side had 27/42 bonuses with one missignal. Becca Cawley was the only member of the Girton side to answer two starters correctly, they made 3/12 bonuses. The overall accuracy rate was 49/79.

Thumper, shut up, you've over-run terribly and we're off to the next show.

Next match (PQF2): St Andrews v Manchester
Then (PQF3): Imperial v Edinburgh
Finally (PQF4): Emmanuel Cambridge v Jesus Oxford

Only Connect

Heat 1: Archers Admirers v Music Lovers

The host may wish to point and laugh at the failings of the teams – if any failings are to be found – but this column thinks they're all good sports for applying, and will only be chortling with them. The Archers Admirers are three civil servants who all enjoy the daily Radio 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary; the Music Lovers are three performers and singers from Leeds.

The Music Lovers go first, and begin with the picture question – Joey, Jack and Jill, Mrs. Thatcher and someone else, and a building at Petra. It's Blue Peter pets; the "someone else" is Jim, and Maggie and Jim were the tortoises from 1979 to 1982. The next set are for the Archers, and they're all friends of Robin of Kensington. The Music Lovers have a waffly answer about crosses, which is accepted – hybrids is the word on the card.

Postcodes are clearly the link for the next question, but it's not rugby grounds, it's not banks, it's parliaments and assemblies. Will the music lovers get the music question? Er, no, they're given things like an AC battery and a long stand. Ho ho ho. Archers have the music, but no idea, and yield a point on songs performed by married couples. After all that, the Music Lovers lead by 5-2.

Round two, what's next? Or, to be exact, what's fourth? "Adorable" is the first clue, and are the Music Lovers going to go for five? They know it's "A you're adorable", but they offer "Delightful" on three points. It's wrong, darlings. Archers have officers of the Order of the British Empire, and get three points from selecting "Knight". Music's next clue looks like another music clue, but it's actually about the location of letters on a QWERTY keyboard, a good three points.

Only Connect (2) Playing in blue: the Archers Admirers.

Music Lovers get the right answer to their next question, albeit for the wrong reasons; it's still worth two points. Archers get a bonus on the picture clue, from ranks in the police. The last connection is prime ministers, but it's not Earl Grey, not Spencer Percival, but the longest-serving chaps in the job. After all that, the scores are level, at 8-8.

Into the connecting wall, and the Archers Admirers start off considering comics with their wall. Things that can be tied, things that can be cut? More comics are tried, and they eventually form a group. The side are still thinking about things that can be cut, and get it with 30 seconds to go. Lunar landing modules suddenly spring to mind, and the grid is solved! The last group is celebrity nicknames, and from the jaws of defeat, that is a perfect grid. Ten points!

Magazines is the first thought of the Music Lovers, but after Private Eye and Punch, they see nowhere to go. Horse colours come in quickly, and communications satellites are the next to go. Is the third connection boxing? No, it's cricket, and one of the team has solved the last link by saying, "I've never read Onion magazine!" Another perfect grid. Ten points!

It's 18-18 going into the final round, the mssng vls rnd. French phrases used in English are first up, and that's very profitable for the Archers, winning 4-0, not least because deja vu appears twice. Original constituents of the FT30 is another 4-0 win for the Archers. Active volcanoes sees the Music Lovers get off the mark, winning the set 3-1. They've a long way to make up, and banned books goes to the Archers 3-1. National flowers ends in a 2-2 draw. Fictional lands goes to the Archers again, 3-0. Goodness, that was almost as one-sided as last time. The Archers Admirers have won, and won by the stonking margin of 35-24.

For those who note such things, just four questions were dropped all show, a 47/51 accuracy rate. If the host only laughs at the team's failings, she'll be sour-faced all week.

Only Connect (2) Playing in purple: the Music Lovers.

Next match: Polymaths v Strategists


Heat 13

Beryl Maddison will begin the second half of the contest. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) was the son of an engineer, and made many architectural breakthroughs. He designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Tamar Bridge, most of the Great Western Railway, steamships the Great Western, Great Eastern, and Great Britain. The contender gets questions that seemed to concentrate on the railway, and ends on 11 (2).

Mark Sutton is up next. The Islands of Micronesia are to be found in the western Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines and north of Melanesia. They include the Caroline, Kiribati, Mariana, and Marshall groups. The total land area of these islands is smaller than Luxembourg. Perhaps the most famous exports were from Nauru (phosphates), though the overall government does well from its internet domain, .fm. The host is a bit generous to start another question after the buzzer's begun, and the contender stuttered a little at the beginning, ending on 7 (2).

Barry Ketchell will discuss the Life and Music of Johnnie Ray (1927-90) A native of Detroit, Ray was noted for emotional performances, his voice often sounded as though it would crack with the pressure. His shows proved too raunchy for post-war America, and Ray found greater success in the UK, where he's memorialised in the lyric of "Come on Eileen". The contender confuses the songwriter Winston Coleman with Churchill Coleman, and finishes on 9 (2).

Jesse Honey is our last contender, taking the London borough of Wandsworth. The borough covers Battersea, Clapham, Tooting, and Putney. It is best known for its high-rise tower blocks, the largest prison in the UK, forcing all its residents not to pay the poll tax, and being the home of top quiz Fifteen to One. The borough is local to our contender, and he faces a mixed bag of questions about its history, residents, and current schools. 14 (2) is his leading score.

Mark Sutton starts well on his round, but has the misfortune to fall into a pass spiral, and ends on 14 (8). Barry Ketchell gets a rich variety of questions, including Corporal Jones's van, and grafting of trees. He finishes on 14 (6).

The top six runners-up will come back in the semi-finals. The current holders:
  • John Cooper 29 (3)
  • Ian Scott Massie 26 (2)
  • Les Morrell 26 (3)
  • Colin Wilson 25 (0)
  • William de Ath 25 (4)
  • Frances Gregory 24 (2)

Beryl Maddison is able to talk about Adonis in her general knowledge round, and later graduates to Thora Hurd, though she confuses plum and figgy pudding. Her final score is 18 (4).

So Jesse Honey requires just five to win, and we presume that the plug for Slumdog Millionaire (on Channel 4 next week) is a coincidence. He guesses for many questions, rather than taking passes, perhaps knowing that there's time to spare. He reaches the target with over a minute to spare, and finishes with a very respectable score of 27 (3).

This Week And Next

The Krypton Factor also came back this week. Plus several for allowing the contestants to race along the assault course at the same time, without any of that rubbish intercutting from last year. Plus a bit for getting the chairman's script sorted out so that he's talking of "Television's toughest quiz" – he might have to duke it out with Miss Coren and Mr. Humphrys, but it's the claim he should be making. Plus some more for deducting points in Observation for incorrect answers, but minus a bit for penalising contestants who can't get their assigned question. Minus several for over-weighting the trivia quiz at the end – one point for a correct answer, not two, would make it impossible for a general knowledge whizz to come from miles behind. And minus loads for taking out the Intelligence round and replacing it with chitter-chatter. Still, it's a slight improvement on last year, and a darned sight better than ITV's dating show, which the Week will be reviewing in the next edition.

The final ratings for Strictly Come Dancing have emerged, and 11.3m people watched the show, making it the fourth most-seen show of 2009, well behind Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, and a sneeze behind Dancing on Ice. QI recorded its first 5m audience of 2009 on 17 December, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks took 3.7m for its episode the previous night, featuring Mr. Tennant of Casanova. On BBC3, Move Like Michael Jackson pulled 820,000 viewers.

In the week to 27 December, Strictly again ruled the roost, 7.55m saw the Christmas night extravaganza. QI had 6.15m viewers on Christmas Eve, and Total Wipeout's celebrity show had 5.8m tuning in. Family Fortunes picked up 6.15m, Come Dine With Me 3.65m, and University Challenge 3.35m. Heads or Tails peaked on Christmas Eve, 650,000 people tuned in.

Highlight of the coming week is the television premiere of Slumdog Millionaire, which gives Channel 4 an excuse to show the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (11.30 Wednesday, S4C on Monday 18th). Other new shows this week are What Do Kids Know? (Watch, 5pm Sunday), the imported True Beauty (Viva, from 10pm Monday), and Popstar to Operastar (ITV, 9pm Friday). Lots of other shows pick up from their winter break: Are You Smarter Than a 10 Year Old? (The Satellite Channel, 7pm Sunday), Countdown, Perfect Recall, and Come Dine with Me (C4 weekdays, from 3.25). There's a profile of Humphrey Lyttelton on Jazz Greats (Radio 4, 1.30 Tuesday), and ITV2 inflicts new series of Hell's Kitchen and Pop Idle. Imported series, naturally. Your Saturday talent-watch: So You Think You Can Dance (BBC1, 6.30 and 8.20); Mr and Mrs (ITV, 8.30).

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