Weaver's Week 2010-07-04

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A bundle of short reviews for your delectation this week, drawn from the more obscure cable and satellite channels. Later, Anthea Turner is dropped from a very great height, and we have an interview with a proper game show god. But first, perhaps the most obscure show we've reviewed since Accumulate!

The Umpire Strikes Back


The Umpire Strikes Back

Bite Yer Legs for ESPN Classic, 10 March – 26 May

This review is mainly based on the episode aired on 24 March.

The Umpire Strikes Back is hosted by Mark "Chappers" Chapman. He rose to fame in the middle of the last decade after working with "Comedy" Dave Vitty on Radio 1; the pair had a well-regarded sports and entertainment show on Saturday mornings. Since the partnership came to its natural conclusion, Chapman has returned to his sports roots, providing commentary for Match of the Day and being the youth-friendly face of sports television.

The format of this particular show should be familiar: it's two regular players (comedian Kevin Day and sportswriter Des Clarke) and two guests. On the episode we saw, the guests were sprinter Iwan Thomas and football referee Graham Poll. Guest and regular, plus host? This is Have I Got News for You all over again, isn't it.

Before proceedings begin, Chappers reminds us of the fundamental rule: it's his show, his rules. He'll be awarding points in a completely arbitrary manner. If you want a show that rewards speed of knowledge in a strictly meritocratic manner, look away now. This isn't the decathlon, with conversion tables of points. No, this is the clever dick-athlon, with points awarded on a whim. So far, so Dancing on Ice.

Round one is the Heroes and Villains round: the teams are shown three pieces of archive sports footage, and asked to identify them, and what the connection is between them. Why archive sports footage? This is ESPN Classic, a channel that has built its reputation around showing very old sporting events in a not-live fashion. Just this week, they're showing Formula One from 1978, boxing with Frank Bruno, and tennis from Billie Jean King. Next week, recorded coverage of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. That's the one between the Saxons and the Vikings.

But we digress. Round one, heroes and villains. Round two sees Chappers dish out a number, and ask what its importance was in a sporting context. For instance, 49 could be the number of British tennis players in the national top fifty with a zero ranking. It could be the number of goals scored for England by Gary Lineker. It could be the number of crisps in the packets advertised by Gary Lineker. All answers are welcome, all joke answers are rewarded, and the first person to give the right answer ends the round.

Image:Umpire Strikes Back day chapman clarke.gif The regulars: Kevin Day, Dave Chapman, Des Clarke

Round three is the missing words round, taking as its guest publication the internet writings of someone in the world of sport. In this particular episode, the interweb text was borrowed from the website of referee and panelist Graham Poll, thus challenging him to fill in the blank in a witty and amusing (or accurate) manner. Unlike certain other programmes called QI, there are no klaxons when someone gives an obvious answer, but we can be sure that Chappers won't be awarding many points. His show, his rules, as we're reminded just before the commercial break.

And so it goes on, with other rounds being played to round out the programme. After the break comes Made Up or Laid Up, in which the teams are told about an injury befalling a sportsman. Is it true, or was it made up by the production team? And the show ends with The Big Ask, a quickfire buzzer round.

There are running jokes – Kevin Day is constantly teased about his beloved The Crystal Palace, Graham Poll was ribbed about that time he awarded a player three yellow cards in a match, rather than sending him off after the traditional two, and there's some funny business with faces of famous people on the buzzers.

The aim is to provide a steady stream of potentially funny one-liners and jokes, in the expectation that something funny will turn up more often than not. Accordingly, the show moves at a quick clip, and it's not afraid to give up on a round if it's not delivering the comedy goods. How much of this stems from skilful editing, we're not sure.

This column doesn't follow the minutiae of sport too closely, and only saw a couple of episodes, so some of the more obscure jokes went over our head. It's a testament to the programme's nature that we could recognise these as jokes we weren't getting, and the speed meant that there was always something funny just around the corner.

The final score, as we say, is arbitrary. There is a victory condition, someone can win and someone can lose, so it just about crosses the bar as a game show, but the outcome is clearly less important than the journey from start to finish. It makes for an enjoyable, if undemanding, half hour.

Scream If You Know the Answer

Scream If You Know the Answer

Lion TV for UKTV Watch, 2-30 May

This review is mostly based on an episode transmitted on 16 May.

We join Duncan James from Blue at a theme park near London.

Actually, that very nearly sums up the entire show in a sentence. The venue for proceedings is somewhere selected as much because it's handy for the production staff, being about twenty miles from where most of them live. It's somewhere that will get some entirely non-gratuitous and editorially-justified plugs in the show. And it's somewhere that will attract the detritus of the showbiz world, people who will do anything just to get themselves on a moderately obscure cable channel for half-an-hour. The glitz and glamour of their own show on BBC1 is miles away, even a stint in Dictionary Corner is beyond them. These are people for whom Celebrity Big Brother would be an aspiration, and who would turn up for the opening of an envelope.

Scream If You Know the Answer The calibre of guest is second-to-none.

The minor celebrities are joined on this episode by a man who thinks he's a Viking, and by a man who freely admits to playing the rules for his advantage. With their nonentity partners, these members of the public will travel on some of the theme park's more adventurous rides, going up and down faster than the emotions of a lovesick puppy, and going round and round more often than a spinning round thing.

The opening challenge is to go through the alphabet, taking it in turns to shout out things that fall into a particular category. A simple task, made only slightly more difficult by the fact that the pair are in the front carriage of a particularly violent rollercoaster, which will turn them upside down six times in three-quarters of a minute. One point for each correct answer here.

Challenge two, in the show we saw, was for the desperate celebrity to be told something to draw, and for them to hold it up for their co-player to guess. A simple task, made only slightly more difficult by the fact that the pair are on opposite sides of a whirling dervish, which will spin them up and down and side to side and round and round. Two points per sketch solved.

After the break, and the inevitable plug for the website, is challenge three. The players have nothing to do here, it's all down to the desperate celebs, who go on a rollercoaster with host Mr. James. He asks some very simple questions, and the first person to call out the correct answer wins three points for their player. A simple task, this time made only slightly more difficult by the fact that the host is unable to read out any questions while he's going at any speed, so once the coaster begins to fall, that's pretty much the end of the game.

Scream If You Know the Answer Duncan James will find the questions on the card.

Round four involves a large drop. The player and their desperate celeb are winched up to the top of a very tall tower, and must take it in turns to give answers that fall into a particular category. A simple task, made only slightly more difficult by the fact that they're playing it from twenty stories due up, and with no visible means of support. Five points per correct response, but a single incorrect answer, or a prolonged pause before answering, will reunite the desperate celeb with their earthbound career in slightly less than two seconds.

The team with the more points goes on to take the final, in which player and celeb separately ride the same rollercoaster. They have the duration of the ride to name items in a particular category. The items common to both lists are rewarded at £500 each.

Is there anything specially exciting about this show? We're having difficulty finding much to write home about. Seeing as how The Cube made us queasy, we tended to look away now while the rollercoastery bits went out. The host is suitably anodyne as not to dominate proceedings, and the desperate celebrities almost managed to conceal their desperation from the viewers.

Two things stood out as A Bit Good. First, the scoring system. There are plenty of points in the game, and the rewards are stacked so that later rounds can be worth more than earlier ones – the effective maxima rise from 10 to 30 as the show progresses. Most teams won't do quite that well, and it's perfectly possible for a team to blob on the final round and still win, thanks to their success in earlier challenges. All of this theory probably goes over the head of the average UKTV viewer, who will be tuning in for light entertainment, not contingent probability theory.

Not going over anyone's head is the voiceover man. Colin Murray is one of the best broadcasters around, quick-witted and genuinely funny and able to deliver a scripted joke as though it's the most natural thing in the world. This ability serves him well on Scream..., as the script (decent, but not outstanding) is brought to life by his talents. It's slightly sarcastic, perhaps has a few too many puns, it's cheeky without being nasty to anyone.

When the only thing dividing your show from "meh" and "we'll watch that again" is the voiceover, it's not doing well. Scream If You Know the Answer is another of those shows that is done well, produced perfectly professionally, but isn't something we'd particularly choose to watch. It's an enjoyable half-hour, and that's not bad for slightly-obscure cable television.

Theology Today

The article you're about to read is a spoof. No deities were spoken to during the making of this article, and no offence is meant to any deity, religious person, or other theist. If you think you'll be offended by this sort of thing, please skip to the This Week and Next section, where we're bigging up a good bloke.

"We're still together, by the grace of god," said one of the contestants to his friends on Big Brother this week. (Can you tell it's been quiet in game show land lately? No? Trust us, you'll spot it. Sooner rather than later.) This set us pondering, which deity would spend their days interfering into the world of reality game shows? The god concerned would have to be more than a little vain; meddling on Big Brother is a way of addressing a congregation of about three million each week. That's more than some gods get in their whole lifetime!

Anyway, our first thought was that as Dave, the contestant concerned, had a relationship with an existing god, then maybe that particular divine being was interceding on his behalf. We chanted a prayer to Dave's god, and waited for a response. Instead of an instant response, we got the answerangel. "Your prayer is currently in a queue and will be answered in due course and in mysterious ways. Your devotion is very important to us. Please hold." That'll teach us to ask for divine guidance during the peak period.

Big Brother Needing divine help to stay on telly.

Bringing up the line to the United Deities, we asked other gods for their opinion. Spokes-seraphim told us that Freya was busy training her cats, Ram had a bow to fix, and Navitcu would like to discuss it, but he lives in a north-facing cave, and he just can't get satellite television so hadn't seen the show. He has offered to change the laws of physics, but a Scottish god expressed severe doubt about the plausibility of that plan. Eventually, we did manage to find a demigod willing and able to talk to us about Big Brother. Perry Fripp, according to Kington's Guide to the United Deities, is the Overlord of Minor Entertainments with special responsibility for reality competitions.

"That's a bit generous. I'm not an overlord, more of a mezzanine-level god," said Perry Fripp modestly. So, Perry, did you intervene in last week's televote to save Dave?

"No. Televotes are televotes, they are the human public's to determine. If I interfered in any way with the results, I know that OFGOD would be down on me like the proverbial load of bricks. Possibly before I did anything, seeing as how they're a collection of omnipotent beings. But don't go away thinking that I didn't intervene at all: there was one small aspect that was my doing, and I think it worked."

Oh, that one. Makes more sense now. That's one example, but is there a masterplan you're following for this series?

PF: "Yes and no. I haven't got the series planned out in the minutest detail, I won't say that at 12.55 on day 27 Ben will do something stupid. He'll do that of his own accord. It's the whole moving in mysterious ways thing. Much easier if I seem to lose focus from time to time. But I've got a short list of things I want to see achieved, and I'll make sure they happen."

WW: Such as?

PF: "Teaching the world that you can hide things in plain sight. When I move on Earth, I'm very much a stealth god, as subtle as David Buxton. Getting Mario to dress up as a mole with a sign around his neck saying 'I am the mole'? Even Tanya never tried that! It's so obvious it had to be a double bluff, but that set them wondering whether it might be a counter-double bluff. Genius, even though I say so myself."

WW: So, what's in the plan for the rest of the series?

PF: "Plenty. Quite a bit of it is in motion already of course, and at least one item on my list is a favour to another god. But I can't say who and I can't say which. I'll be guiding things, giving a little nudge here and there, but leaving plenty of space for the humans to do what they do.

Big Brother As approved by a mezzanine-level deity.

"I mean, did you see the puppet day last week? I wish I could take the credit for it but I can't. Completely a human invention, completely entertaining television. And it let people come out of themselves a bit, say things they wouldn't normally say. I'll be keeping people in at least as long as is necessary, and I won't mind if they stay in beyond that. The viewers might, and I wouldn't blame them for it."

WW: And who's in the masterplan to win?

PF: "Ricky."

WW: Who?

PF: "Ricky. I told you I was a bit hands-off, and didn't apply enough divine guidance to the selection procedure. He didn't get in, which is a bit of an oversight on my part."

WW: We'll agree with that, you've got to be in it to win it.

PF: "Not one of mine! I have nothing to do with that show!"

WW: Er, yes. Any final words to your puzzled public?

PF: "Lightness in you casts more shadow on the darkness in me."

Perry Fripp, many thanks.

This Week And Next

We snickered at the paper last week, so it's only fair to note Het Grauniad's piece on The Chase this week. Calling it "the perfect afternoon gameshow", Stuart Heritage was particularly kind in his praise for Mark Labbett, who is described as "a ready-made cult hero". We agree, and wonder if the Paraguay players prolonged their match on Tuesday purely so they didn't have to miss Young Mark beating up another set of quiz hopefuls.

We regret to report the death of John Baker, one of the famed ammunition-loaders on The Golden Shot. Mr. Baker would move the show's crossbows in line with the viewer's commands, and put the crossbows ready when the host addressed him: "Bernie, the bolt."

Quickly through the ratings for the week to 20 June, and note that we don't have data for BBC1 or BBC2. Big Brother had 3m people finding something less unwatchable than England—Algeria (see also: GBTV Wet Paint Drying), and Come Dine With Me was seen by 2.35m. Digital channels were led by Britain's Got Talent US (725,000), Come Dine With Me (555,000), and QI (420,000). Good result for School of Silence, 335,000 on CBBC; and for Watch's celebrity The Apprentice (165,000).

With the month of sport coming to a conclusion, game shows can take their rightful places again. University Challenge returns (BBC2, 8pm Monday) and is accompanied by Sandi Toksvig's quest for the Antiques Master (BBC2, 8.30 Monday). Daytimes are enlivened by Celebrity Pressure Cooker (ITV, 3pm) and Ben Fogle's Escape in Time (BBC2, 4.30). There's a new run of Britain's Next Top Model (Living, 9pm Monday), and 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow is a new Big Dumb Saturday Night Game (BBC1, 6.30 Saturday). Why dumb? Two words: game show.

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