Weaver's Week 2010-03-07

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It's a bit like Channel 4, only not


Michael Winner's Dining Stars / May the Best House Win

Dining Stars: 12 Yard / Hat Trick / Michael Winner Productions for ITV (but not STV), 26 February – 19 March

Best House: Shiver for ITV, 22-26 February

May the Best House Win Twee, chintzy, derivative. And that's just the titles.

Not for the first time, our guns have been spiked by Harry Hill, whose TV Burp managed to make both shows look like a complete hotbed of loons and nonsense, and complete rip-offs of Come Dine with Me, only not. Still, it's a review of this or a review of Staraoke, and we don't intend to inflict that on anyone. Ever.

We'll begin with May the Best House Win, which went out in that oh-so-competitive 2pm slot in the last week of February. For this show, the producers have found four people who believe they own a moderately interesting home. They're encouraged to describe it, and to let their other competitors come round, and give them a guided tour.

How can people make their houses seem interesting? "This is a house, this is its door. The property is well-appointed with four windows – one round, one square, one arched, and that's all the windows there are." No wonder we found ourselves confused at a young age. Anyway, we watched the show in Brighton, where the first house was in that traditional Sussex mock-Californian style, complete with a hot tub in the back garden. These contestants don't have a main room, but a "living space".

With all the contestants in this particular episode being female, it's almost a surprise to see that they arrive to the strains of "Here come the girls". Hur hur. Do you see what they did there? They showed female contestants walking on to... oh, we did this two months ago. And so it goes on – the contestants are left to their own devices to tour the house, and are asked to mark the style and decor, the comfort and general homeliness of the pad, the hospitality, and how much they enjoyed it.

May the Best House Win The voiceover man's no Isla St Clair.

The voiceover man tells us that "nothing is off-limits", so there's inspection of the facilities, rifling through the underwear draw, and a general air of destruction. Of course, it'll all be recorded on film, and might be shown on national television to an audience of a few people who got confused on the way to the curling.

After ten minutes of this, we're losing the will to live, and it's time for the marking. The panel gives a brief comment, and a mark out of ten. The scores are displayed on the house's front door, allowing the voiceover to go on about scores on the doors. D'ya see what they did there? Took a catchphrase from Larry Grayson's Generation Game, and by the magic of television, turned it into reality. Anyway, this all repeats four times, and someone turns out to be a winner, and there's a call-and-lose competition from an observation question from the show. It's just Come Dine With Me without the snarky commentary, really.

Dining Stars A 2D cartoon of reality. And that's just the titles.

Fast forward to Friday evening (or Saturday morning, seeing as how we were far more interested in watching Skiiers in the Mist from Vancouver) and the looming presence of Michael Winner. According to the voiceover, his name strikes fear into the heart of chef and waiter alike. Could this be because the man's ego knows no boundaries, that he believes that he can single-handedly improve the standards of eating out? Mr. Winner started writing a restaurant column for The Sunday Times in July 1993, and the first paragraph of his first column tells a lot about the man:

"Excuse me!" I shouted downstairs to the receptionist. "There are two people in the lounge here with a drink. Can you tell me what year they arrived?"

Sarcastic, ill-mannered, obsessive, a huge sense of entitlement, believes the world revolves around him. What's to like about this boor? Why should we pay any attention to him? Unlike the shows we've recently reviewed, he sees chandeliers as something that should be everywhere, not something set designers use to make atmosphere. Mr. Winner may hold his opinion, but we baulk when he tries to impose his will on everyone else.

Dining Stars Mr. Winner, showing his best side.

In the sample show we watched (26 February), Mr. Winner took himself off to The North, as in places the other side of Camden. Being the superior sort of snoot, Mr. Winner won't take the train, he won't even drive — sorry, be driven — on the motorways. No, he wants to be flown everywhere by private helicopter. This is the best excuse in ages for a revival of Interceptor.

Anyway, Mr. Winner then finds that he's arrived in The North about eight hours too early, and snoots around the town. Why is he there? Is it to insult the local fish and chippery, serving entirely adequate fish and chips since the invention of the potato? Is it to ask all the locals if they know Jane Q. Randomwoman? No, he's actually there to publicise himself by taking dinner at the house of Jane Q. Randomwoman. Before the meal, he calls up Mrs. Randomwoman, criticises her choice of food, casts aspertions on her ability to do anything, and reduces her to tears. All before the first commercial break.

The meal takes place, Mr. Winner excuses himself to talk into a little tape recorder. Actually, no he doesn't, Mr. Winner abruptly gets up and leaves the table to talk into a little tape recorder. After that, we do it all again somewhere else in The North. Then there's the denouement, in which Mr. Winner has booked out a converted cinema to give his thoughts, critique the experience, and eventually award his Stars o' Pompousness.

Dining Stars The stars of the show, quite literally.

So, what's wrong with this show? Ultimately, it's Michael Winner. We're meant to think of him as an abrasive but well-meaning critic, in the line of Simon Cowell or Jeremy Paxman. But we know that Mr. Cowell knows a lot about music, Mr. Paxman knows a lot about perseverence, asking questions until he gets a sensible answer. All we know about Mr. Winner is that he has a reputation, built on a few obscure films some decades ago, and some entirely tedious insurance commercials. What are his qualifications for this role? Other than eating out a lot, why should anyone listen to his bloviated opinions?

He wants to think he's an expert in dining, but all that we get is Michael Winner's expertise in being Michael Winner, and specifically in being Michael Winner shouting at people. If that's what ITV wants its viewers want to see, that's their choice. The remarkable thing is that they may be right: this is cheap television, it's car-crash television, and people who aren't put off by the prospect of Michael Winner will stick around for the whole hour. Yet again, ITV's freak show is in full effect, presenting a selfish loudmouth for the public to gawp at.

It would help if Mr. Winner hadn't given away one of his oh-so-precious trophies for an adequate meal served by the mother of two children with disabilities. That's so incredibly patronising that we're actually left speechless by his sheer nerve and inconsistency. It's as if he wanted a feelgood ending to the show, but his action completely undermines the plot of the previous hour. He's after excellence in dining, he's tired of Britain's diners held hostage, but he's not above crassly obvious populist gestures.

Ultimately, both of these shows depend on the innate snobbery of their contributors. Best House asks its competitors to judge each other's houses based on their own personal taste, and give marks out of ten on how close the owner's ideas conform to their own. Michael Winner is giving tawdry awards on how well he can cajole, persuade, and flat-out bully people into obeying him.

Neither show is as entertaining as Come Dine With Me – there's more room for things to go wrong at a dinner party than when people come round to your house. And neither show has an entertaining voice-over – Guy Porrit's work on Best House shows promise, Fay Ripley's contribution to Dining Stars is thin, though probably the best aspect of the show.

May the Best House Win Harry Hill nails the show.

University Challenge

Final Quarter-Final 1: Manchester v Edinburgh

Tie-breaks decided the last match for both these sides: Edinburgh beat Jesus Oxford a week ago, Manchester lost to St John's Oxford a month back. It's win or bust for both sides, the winners will progress to the semi-final and the losers will be out.

Edinburgh get off to the worst possible opening, picking up a missignal on both of the first two starters. Manchester capitalise with bonuses on Lords' cricket ground and on formal titles in plays written by Young Billy Shakespeare. Manchester make a bit of a goof themselves, confusing the character Don Quixote with the author, Cervantes. It allows Edinburgh to get back on the mark. The visual bonuses are on amendments to the constitution of the United States, and Manchester's lead has been pegged back from seventy points to a mere 60-40.

A trip to Covent Garden gives Manchester a set of bonuses on the end of novels, and if you don't want to be spoiled, look away now. Roman officials pop up in their next set of bonuses, and there's a long discussion on whether the Statesman or Spectator represented the plebians. Neither: 'twas the Tribune. Easy when you know the answer, fiendishly difficult when you don't. By one of those unfortunate coincidences, Tribune magazine's former editor Michael Foot died this week aged 96.

Poetry on death gives Edinburgh a set of bonuses that are as easy as A-B-C-D-E: in particular, words containing these letters exactly once. Edinburgh go on to prove their knowledge of plastics, and that cuts the deficit to just ten points. Time for the audio round, where Manchester get arias from Mozart operas and extend their lead to 110-85. It brings us to Buzz of the Week:

Q: Its members including the holy Roman emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, which German royal dynasty of the 12th and 13th century...
Manchester, Whyman: Hohenstaufen.

Rulers of Egypt are the subject of the ensuing bonuses, ending with Cleopatra. Do the teams know their Commonwealth states, specifically those lying north of the Tropic of Cancer? Well, Alan Kimmitt of Edinburgh offers Gibraltar, which is far enough north, but isn't a state. It's a UK overseas territory and not actually a country. If the Commonwealth's own documentation can't be held as definitive, we don't know what can.

The second visual round is on multiplication of chemical compounds, and Manchester lead by 130-110. Manchester are given a lot of leeway to give answers after buzzing, and there's another tight decision on a pair of anagrams – Edinburgh offer "parental" when the question asked for "paternal". It did ask for a word "pertaining to a father or mother", and we've not been able to find a feminine use of "paternal".

"Oh, come on, we can't be here all night," says Thumper, entirely bored as the team fail to work out the tedious equations for the visual round. "Shall we come back to you after Newsnight?" Don't give up the day job... well, the night job. Four minutes to play and Manchester's lead is down to 15, only to rise again with Mary Queen of Scots, and knowledge of regular dodecagons. We'll take Lateral Thinker of the Week:

Q: Light travels 186,282 miles per second in a vacuum. How many miles does sound travel per second in the same conditions?

Best. Question. Ever. Or at least of the week. Famous Pollys help Manchester advance, though there's no mention of Hatfield. Does anyone remember baseball at the Olympics? Edinburgh don't, but they do remember that Lisbon and Nicosia are miles apart, and that cuts the gap to just five points. Then this happens:

Q: in astronomy, the abbreviation TNO, encompassing bodies such as Pluto, Sedna and Eris, stands for what?
Edinburgh, Andrew Matheson: [gong!]

Trans-Neptunian Objects was the answer he didn't manage to get out. Manchester have sneaked a win, by the skin of their collective teeth, 170-165.

Manchester were lucky. Jacob Whitfield got five starters, but the side made just 15/30 bonuses and there was a missignal. Edinburgh's two missignals told against them, but they were right in 19/24 bonuses. Hugh Brechin had four starters, Mr. Matheson would have joined him had he given the right answer in time. Reliable reports indicate that he was asked what answer he would have given, and did not give the right answer. This exchange was not included in the broadcast programme, a decision we find slightly baffling.

We need a week off. There's no match next week, the BBC2 controllers think that live coverage of lambing season is far more important.

Next: (15 March, FQF2) Girton Cambridge v Imperial London
Then: (SF1) St John's Oxford v Winner FQF2
Followed by: (SF2) Emmanuel Cambridge v Winner FQF1
After: (F) Winner SF1 v Winner SF2

This article was amended on 8 March to include information about Mr. Matheson's final answer.

Only Connect

Quarter-Final 1: Archers Admirers v Exeter Alumni

"A quiz so tricky you can be very pleased with yourself if you get as many as zero points", promises the host. The Exeter Alumni say they owed their success to a little lucky guesswork; the Archers Admirers are worried that the walls had them wondering for a minute, like rabbits in the headlights.

Exeter won the toss and elected to receive, and their first group has us wondering if we've turned into the American version of Only Connect, where they expect money for getting right answers. It's a bonus for the Archers, who get the visual round – Alistair Darling's tie, the Queen's hat, black 31, and a scene from the Superbowl. Card games? There's a card game called Alistair Darling's tie? There will be by the time we've finished, and apparently it's possible to bet on the colour of these events. Exeter, Exeter, they have people with unimaginative names (and, yes, that's where the rock band Duran Duran got their name.) Two points.

Only Connect (2) Knowing why UK=L, the Archers Admirers.

Archers get the audio set, and reckon that it's all to do with seven – Beethoven's seventh, "Heigh-ho" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and by getting three points, we were cheated of the chance to hear Miley Cyrus on The Fourth Programme. That would have made us laugh, made us cry. The next set moves from Castor and Pollux to Orville the Duck, prompting suggestions that a) they're all green and b) none of them could fly, but they wish they could. Ahum. The final set is books, that much we know, but they're not prequels as the Archers offer, but re-tellings from a different character's point of view. A bonus for Exeter, but the Archers lead 4-3.

What's next? What's fourth, and Exeter are confused. We're confused. Exeter don't offer an answer, but the Archers have it, groups of defendants in court cases for a bonus. Their own question is clearly national holidays in the USA, but they're not sure if it's Thanksgiving or Veterans, but the one they celebrate after Labour is Columbus. The Canadians, of course, celebrate Thanksgiving in October, but they don't have an Independence day in July. The next question is the Crucible variant of Mornington Crescent, converting the tube lines into snooker balls. Best. Question. Ever.

That was a bonus for the Archers, and they pick up two more on the spinal column. Exeter have the picture set, and reckon it's got something to do with James Bond, but time runs out before they can offer anything. Archers have the reason – D-Day landing beaches – but the wrong answer. The final question is clearly numbers spelled out on a telephone keypad, and the second clue shows it's in descending order, so 663 is worth three points, and the Archers have stormed ahead to an 11-3 lead.

To the walls, where life's a riot for the Archers Admirers – rather than spending one forever staring at the board, they start with sorts of riots, and then pick up ends of cricket grounds. Before we know where they are, they've solved the entire grid – we were still confused by the Victoria line stations. Ealing Studios titles and clusters of stars are the other connections. Ten points!

Only Connect (2) On their marks, the Exeter Alumni.

Exeter get a set of cricket commentators in approximately no time at all, and then wonder if there will be discussion of the Boat Race. Then they get the actual connection – "on your ___" There's time to consider and think – well over a minute, but just the three attempts to solve the grid. They're not able to find either of the missing links, loan words from Irish and a set where the last letter moves to the front to form a new word – dangle, supper, gelatin, height. Archers lead by 21-7.

So, into Mssn Gvwls, beginning with shrubs. There's no-one called Holly on either side, but the Archers win that 3-0. Famous photographers goes 2-1 to the Archers, and we're depressed that neither side knew Diane Arbus. It's the only one we know. Parts of a sailing ship is 2-0 for the Archers, and mnemonics includes a taxing clue for "I before E..." – it's 3-1 to the Archers. Only two instrumental tracks that were UK number one singles are revealed, they go to the Archers, who have a storming win, 33-9.

Two links for your delectation. Andrew Bull of the Archers team has written an exposition of his first two matches, and it's been published by Life After Mastermind. And if you want to try your hand at the Connecting Wall, hither to the BBC's website, where you can do just that. Already, people all over the world have done this, and are asking, "what's a gimlet?"

Next match: Brasenose Postgrads v Hitchhikers


Heat 20

Brian Southgate kicks us off tonight with the Life and Career of Sir Alex Ferguson. Born in 1942, Ferguson was a journeyman footballer, playing for half-a-dozen Scottish clubs as a striker. He's become better known as a manager, including East Stirlingshire Nil, Aberdeen, the Scotland national side, and (since 1986) Manchester United. The round hears about Squeaky Bum Time, and the Giggs wondergoal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay. Cor, remember semi-final replays! This contender does, and lots more besides: 14 (1).

Following that is Mark Francis, taking 17th-century English history. The Seventeenth Century (1601-1700) featured kings taking over from Scotland and Holland, the rise and fall of religious zealots, a charismatic leader from Huntingdon, a civil war, a gunpowder plot, and the invention of banking, forks and gravity. "I wouldn't want to have been there", says the contender in his piece to camera. He has the misfortune to confuse the battle sites of Sedgefield and Sedgemoor, and ends with a cruel but necessary act – the beheading of Charles I. 10 (0).

Laura Morris will discuss Star Trek Voyager (1995-2001), a programme about a crew trying to get back to Earth after being dumped a very large distance away, for reasons that are never adequately explained. The series was unusual in the Star Trek oeuvre, as it wasn't about exploring the galaxy, the ship could land on planets, and the captain wasn't a gruff bloke. There are Star Trek conventions? People dress up as their favourite Vulcan at them? Well, it's there or John Redwood's house. All of this might actually disguise the fact that the questions make no sense to us, but we can't avoid the pass spiral towards the end of the show, ending on 9 (6).

Last up: Philip Evison, with the Life and Worlds of Edward Elgar (1857-1934). Elgar was a musician and composer from Worcestershire, and a man who took very little formal instruction. He's best known for the Enigma variations, Pomp and Circumstance marches, and the arrangement for Jerusalem. Elgar has become an integral part of the English psyche, as can be recognised from the use of his music in an advert for bread, an advert for cereal, and sung by the England cricket fans. We rather missed this contender's appearance, thanks to someone at the door (no, we don't want cleaning products, though if you don't leave we'll need to use some), so 7 (3) for the specialist round and 14 (5) for the final score.

The top six runners-up:

  • John Cooper 29 (3)
  • Ian Scott Massie 26 (2)
  • Les Morrell 26 (3)
  • Colin Wilson 25 (0)
  • Peter Cowan 25 (2)
  • William de Ath 25 (4)

Laura Morris advances her score with knowledge of the Millennium Dome, Kew Gardens, and the career of Kevin Keegan. 17 (9) isn't going to be a winning score.

Mark Francis returns with knowledge of the plot of On the Town, confuses Bucks Fizz with ABBA, how Louis Theroux owes some of his career to Michael Moore, and can't wait for John Humphrys to finish to say "Crozier!" 23 (1) is a good score, it won't get him onto the repechage board.

Brian Southgate needs ten to win, and remembers the political activism of Joanna Lumley, and the Tasmanian Devil with his first answers. A pass early on means that this contender will need all ten, but he never quite looks in danger of missing them. Not knowing the difference between flotsam and jetsam could prove costly, as might missing the international dialling code for Canada. "Every cloud has a silver lining" takes him past the winning line, the very last question is answered after the buzzer. It doesn't get closer than that: 24 (3) is our winner.

This Week And Next

The nominees have been announced for the Royal Television Society's Programme Awards. The Best Daytime and Early Peak programme nominees include Coach Trip and Come Dine with Me. Entertainment pitches Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor up against Charlie Brooker's Newswipe; one of these shows is really not like the others. Antan Dec are up for Entertainment Performance, against Harry Hill. There's only one way to sort this out. Dating in the Dark goes up for the Multi-Channel Programme Award, though we're cheering on Micro Men. Winners will be announced on 16 March.

Following adverse judgements by the broadcasting regulator, Irish television station TV3 has closed its late-night call-and-lose programmes with immediate effect. It's almost as if these shows have a sadiM touch, turning gold to base metal wherever they are.

Ratings for the week to 21 February, when Dancing on Ice had 8.4m viewers, In It to Win It a year's best 6.9m, and Let's Dance for Comic Relief for Sport Relief 6.45m. Beneath that, A Question of Sport proved marginally more popular than Weakest Link Eastenders on BBC1, both just over 4.5m. Popstar to Operastar bowed out with 4.35m, and Take Me Out turned off its lights with 5.4m viewers. University Challenge topped BBC2's ratings tree with 3.2m, Deal (2.4m) was C4's top game show, 8 Out of 10 Cats (2.15m) burst The Bubble (1.9m), and Coach Trip returned with 2.05m.

We noted last year that the record for Most Popular Multi-Channel Programme Ever was under threat, and posited that The Xtra Factor might beat it. That didn't happen, I'm a Celebrity stole its thunder and Xtra never quite recovered its place. There's a new record to tilt at: BBC3's coverage of Eastenders Live The Aftermath ratched up 4.537 million viewers on Friday night, and 2 million of those stuck around for Weakest Link Eastenders. It's by far the biggest digital-tier game show of the week, both Come Dine With Me and Pop Idle Us finished around 800,000 viewers. The completely unadvertised Only Connect (275,000) beat the heavily-trailed Mad Men (270,000), and 59,000 people saw Challenge's Strike it Rich. Was there really nothing better on?

Pointless returns this week (BBC2, 4.30 weekdays). ITV has the cryptically-titled Country House Cooking Contest (4pm weekdays), and BBC1 spends Friday looking for this year's Eurovision entry. We hear that "Reach for the Sky" is an anthem combining elements of Scottish folk music, a singalong chorus, key change, a capella clapalong (whatever that is), and a bagpipe solo. Not entirely convinced... More antiques shopping in Antiques Road Trip (BBC2, 6.30 weekdays), and sports silliness on The Umpire Strikes Back (ESPN Classic, 10.30 Wednesday). It's the series finals for The Krypton Factor (ITV, 7.30 Tuesday), Raven (CBBC, 4pm Thursday), and Jump Nation (BBC2, 8.30am Saturday), and the winner's named for Dancing on Wheels (BBC3, 9pm Thursday).

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