Weaver's Week 2010-08-15

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Day 64, 2.31pm. JJ shows himself to be a reality TV fan by announcing his love for The Mole and Jailbreak.

2.32 pm. Weaver decides where the Week can throw its weight for the Big Brother final.

Odd One In


Odd One In

Zeppotron for ITV, Saturday evenings from 17 July

When we last saw Bradley Walsh, he was asking complex and difficult questions of quiz legend Shaun Wallace. Tonight, he's asking one question of Peter Andre. Why!

If there's one good thing about this show, it's that they don't waste time on long chit-chattery introductions. "The home team are Jason Mountford and Peter Andre, the away team are in search of an easy fee, and one of our studio audience can win £5000". Within 90 seconds of the opening titles starting, the first group of people are coming through the studio doors.

The basic conceit of Odd One In is that a handful of people are up on stage. Most of them share a certain trait, but one of them does not. All the teams have to do is guess – through conversation, deduction, and interrogation – which person is the odd one out. And, in the convoluted logic of ITV's prime time quality shows, the one who is the odd one out will be declared the odd one in. The two panels – and fifty members of the audience – vote for their correct answer, and the correct answer is then disclosed to the participants.

Odd One In The panel sits bottom-left, the attractions appear through the doors at the top and right.

And, er, that's about it. Rinse and repeat for about half an hour, and if we're lucky some of the people appearing will be performers and able to give us a brief demonstration of their routine. Anything to ease the tedium of this show.

Why do we find ourselves bored by this programme? There's simply nothing to it. It is even more insubstantial than a damp paper bag, it's one procession of people after another with very little to distinguish them. The opening episode, for instance, had people with beards (whose is fake?), a roller skating champion (who is her performance partner?), a bunch of gliding people (which actually flies?), a convent of nuns (who is real?), and men who claimed to have married a pineapple (or was it a watermelon?).

As if the panel knew our weakness, there are many puns on the programme – the fruit-loving men were invited to "marry a lovely pear". We laughed so hard and long that we found ourselves remembering Chris Maslanka's maxim: all puns are bad.

Ultimately, Odd One In is so mind-numbingly tedious because we get absolutely no intellectual stimulation from it. The show doesn't tax us, it doesn't offer anything to enhance our life. It's so vapid and lightweight that Simon Cowell and Piers Moron appear to be the intellectual equivalents of Neil Oliver and Miranda Krestovnikoff.

Inevitably, this remarkable show has to draw to a conclusion. Well, we assume it does, as the tape we recorded this on does actually have an end. After only about fifty million rounds of this a winner is declared. One of the teams has won, and the losers are allowed to leave the studio, so long as they're the away team. Meanwhile, one of the studio audience is deemed to be the best at this guessing lark, having got more correct answers in the shortest time, and is invited to come up on stage.

Odd One In Bradley reacts after the producer suggested making this a six-hour show.

At this point, the show's star guest appears: one of the Cash Bundles from The Million Pound Drop Live! Keeping with our commitment to talk to the most important players in game show land, we've got a quick interview!

WW: Cash Bundle, you seem a little thinner than when we last met. What's happened?
CB: It's all that going up and coming down, it made me feel quite ill. And I'm not sure that security guard didn't take a piece of me.
WW: Sorry to hear that, you've certainly turned a nasty shade of brown.
CB: Yes, and I think people will only give me 5000 smackers now.
WW: So, the big question, who's better to work with, Davina or Bradley?
CB: I've been privileged to work with them both. Bradley is a tremendously funny bloke, a bit wasted on that show, and – gosh – that Davina can work a live crowd like nobody else.

Cash Bundle, thank you, and don't spend yourself all at once!

As we said, one of the studio audience is asked to find the odd one out from a final lineup. If they're right, they get to keep Cash Bundle, to adopt him and take him home and dress him up in a nice bow-tie and give him a seat at the dinner table. Fail, and Cash Bundle goes back into Bradley Walsh's pocket, where he might be suffocated by lint. And that would be unfortunate.

Is the prospect of seeing a genuine minor star (and Peter Andre) enough to make us watch the show every week? No, we've got better things to do, like paint some walls.

Odd One In

Magic Numbers

Celador for ITV, Saturday evenings

It's ever so tempting for this column to go back into its paper diaries, pull out some notes on Talking Telephone Numbers (1994-8), and republish those with just the odd amendment here and there. But that would be entirely unfair on our readers, and on the producers, who have come up with a completely novel and never-before-seen show on national television.

Magic Numbers begins with host Phillip Schofield... gah! Not TTN!

Magic Numbers begins with host Stephen Mulhern coming onto the set. It's a very brightly-coloured set, almost enough hues to paint Joseph's dreamcoat or re-launch The Colour of Money. Most of the design is made up of parts of numbers – there's a zero with the bottom stuck into some steps, the curved piece of a 5, and so on. In fact, the whole thing is so over-the-top that we briefly find ourselves wondering if we've wandered into the Numbers Workshop by mistake, and that we shouldn't look in that corner because we'll find Gyles Brandreth telling an unfunny joke.

Magic Numbers The bright and number-iffic set.

After some opening banter, Stephen is joined by the week's co-host, another ITV regular. The opening week had Holly Willoughby filling this vital role to perfection. Later weeks had less useful and less glamorous assistants – Amanda Holden reprised her role from The Door, Paddy McGuinness failed to be sufficiently glamorous, Emma Bunton arrived to promote her only slightly less-successful show on Channel 5, and Kym Marsh was there last night. (Which, given the lead times this review requires, we've not seen.)

The basic idea of Talking... er, Magic Numbers is to generate six random numbers between 0 and 9. To do this, there will be all sorts of crazy and hopefully entertaining stunts. There might, for instance, be a game asking the glamorous assistant to hear nine pieces of information while watching some performers from Simon Cowell's Got Squillions, and counting the number she can recall. There's usually a filmed insert, and the guest celeb will usually be mildly embarrassed by at least one of the stunts. One of the games will involve members of the audience, whether in the studio or at home, and whoever wins that particular challenge gets a prize for themselves.

Acutely observant readers may notice that many of the games are of the "how many of X will happen?", thus making it somewhat unlikely that 0 or 9 will be generated. Is this unfair? We don't think it is, and it's all to do with the coding used for telephone numbers. For about two-thirds of the country, the telephone number is of the form 01xyz abcdef. For technical reasons, the digit in position "a" will never be 0, 1, or 9. To have a game where these are very unlikely results will actually increase the chances of viewers matching the sequence. A similar consideration holds for about 10% of the country, where numbers changed during the 1990s, and residential numbers will tend to be from the existing stock, prepended by one or more other digits.

And there are more reasons. Telecom operators tend not to issue numbers ending "00" or "000", as these can be sold to commercial groups for lots and lots of money. And it's very rare for the sequence "999" to be issued anywhere in the number, as this would make it easier to inadvertently call the emergency services. For these reasons, we find it perfectly acceptable to have some games where 0 and 9 are unlikely to arise, so long as there are three or four where they will.

Magic Numbers 9! Is that numberwang?

Just to confuse people further, Stephen always refers to "the last six numbers of your number." What?! The last six numbers of your number are, presumably, the one it is now, the one it was before the great telephone reorganisation of 2000, the one it was before phOneday, the one it was before the introduction of STD, the one when every village had its own exchange, and the one people had to quote to the operator in 1936. Glad to see that ITV is doing something aimed at older viewers.

No, Stephen is referring to the last six digits of people's phone numbers. They could have called the show Magic Digits, but it didn't have the same ring to it. Ring? Phone number? Geddit? Oh, all puns are bad. Fair point.

How can people register for the prize? They need to call – either on a premium-rate number given on air, or on a regular landline given on the show's website. The magic of caller identification does the rest. Unlike Talking Telephone Numbers, and unlike that other phone-in game Winning Lines, it's only necessary for two of the six digits to match, not all of them. This increases the proportion of winning numbers from About None to Most Of Them.

While the callers are registering – and the lines open as soon as two digits have been identified – Stephen Mulhern entertains us with some magic tricks and comedy. There's also a performance by the week's musical guests – and that's "musical" in the loosest, The Jls-encompassing, sense.

Magic Numbers Holly Willoughby prepares to put some money in a case.

So far, we have a traditional variety show – a bit of silliness, some minor squirming for the embarrassed co-host, a sideshow giving a spot prize, a conjurer who really does look like a young Phillip Schofield, and the amazing singers. The last ten minutes are something entirely different.

We've already mentioned two shows that generated telephone numbers from random events. Both of those were the lead-up to a quiz of greater or lesser complexity – Talking Telephone Numbers asked three moderately easy questions to find its champion, and Winning Lines had two further elimination rounds before it got to the really good bit. Magic Numbers has a quiz – Stephen asks five questions to the winner on the phone, and larger prizes are on offer for each correct answer. Each correct answer put a prize in one of five otherwise empty cases – two small prizes are always in play, as are the three X symbols from Britain's Got Talent. Yes, we tried to get an interview with these stars, but they confused us with autograph hunters, and signed their name on photographs of themselves. Love you too, guys.

But the cash prize isn't won yet. No, the contestant must open a case for each question they got right. No correct answers, no money. One right answer, one case to open, and four of them will be blank and three will have an X in them. Each case containing money will have that amount added to the total; an empty case won't affect the total at all; and the red X will eat up all the money in the prize pool so far, and the contestant will have to start again from nothing.

Magic Numbers ITV: home of casual sexism since 1955.

In order to play this bit, the cases have to be brought out on stage for the guest host to open them. This column believes the march of the cases is by far the worst part of the show, as it's done by models in stupidly high heels and unbelievable wigs, who have clearly only been booked because they fit a particular look. It's casual sexism of the worst kind, and we thought ITV was better than that. We're far less concerned by the end game, which has (roughly) a one-in-three chance of finishing with nothing given away. Even appreciating the mathematics behind the finale doesn't stop us from thinking, when the red X appears from the final case, "You've just lost..." whatever it was the contestant was playing for. And we've just lost an hour of our life.

In retrospect, that's a little unfair. Magic Numbers isn't a bad show, it's an old-fashioned variety programme with diverting little challenges, and if we don't like one particular item there'll be something else along in a few minutes. (Except for that appearance by The Jls, it lasted ten million years even though we fast-forwarded through it.) It's a slight mystery why so few people are watching it, until we see what's on the other side. Tonight's the Night with John Barrowman, a show so mind-numbingly simple and cheesy that it makes Totally Saturday look inventive.

University Challenge

Round 1, Heat 6: Newnham Cambridge v Southampton

Two sides that joined us last year are back this time: Newnham trounced Sussex and were unlucky to lose to St Andrews, while Southampton fell the following week to Imperial London.

What shall we begin with? Vowel of the week: do now, not tomorrow! It's "O", and it's picked up by Southampton. It was founded with money from a local wine merchant, and now boasts five campuses. Brian Eno and Jon Sopel are amongst the former students, though none of this week's side have precisely eight letters in their name. They've sent an all-male team.

After this, very little happens – at one point the overall accuracy is running at 3/11. Eventually, Newnham get this week's reference to Little Billy Shakespeare, "A Winter's Tale". Founded in 1871, the college is one of very few still to admit women only. The architecture is known for long corridors, so that the students didn't get so wet. Sylvia Plath, AS Byatt, and UC alumna Miriam Margolyes have walked the corridors.

The visual round follows, capital cities in the Balkan peninsula. No-one knows where Belgrade is even though it's marked on the map, and the scores are tied at 25-25. Subsequent bonuses are on symbiotic association and fires in London, but they don't help to raise the conversion rates for either side. The audio round comes up quickly, it's a piece from "Peter and the Wolf", in which instruments represent animals. Thumper tries to say that all clarinets sound like cats, and the scores have crept up to 80-25.

It's going to be one of those weeks, isn't it. Newnham are getting starters, but not a huge number of bonuses, and Southampton aren't even reaching their buzzers. Until they're asked a question about this week's magic number. It's a six. There's another question about the G20 group of large economies, and then one about an obscure chemical that no-one knows. We almost think that no-one knows Harold Pinter, but someone eventually dredges the answer up. Have we missed the second visual round? No, it's coming right up, and it's prison photographs of musicians. Newnham's lead is at 115-65.

Even the guesses count, and a suggestion that the All Ordinaries is the stock index in Australia gives Newnham a slightly larger lead, and runs time off the clock. Indeed, just three-and-a-half minutes to run, so Southampton need to run the show from here on. They pick up the definition of "planets", and famous people and places who share their names with US presidents. "Four-twenties-ten-nine"? That's another magic number, 99. Southampton suggest that the region just to the south of Alsace is ... the Seychelles. We wish! Three starters for Southampton and they've got a scent of the lead, but still can't get their bonuses. With time running short, the whole contest therefore comes down to this starter:

Q: Which chemical element has, as its symbol, the single letter that is worth 5 points in Scrabble (R)?
Newnham, Lucy Andrews: K, it's, er, potassium.

A tremendous pause in there, and Thumper would have been within his rights to say she'd taken too long. But it is the right answer, and just about given within three seconds of Mr. Tilling giving her name. By such fine lines are games decided. The gong goes during the bonuses, and Newnham have eked out a win by 135-115.

Let's be honest, there are classic contests, there are good contests, and there are contests where neither side is ever quite able to get out of second gear. Lucy Andrews was best on the buzzer, picking up five starters for Newnham, but none of those led to a correct bonus question. John Martin had six starters for Southampton, but his team mates got two between them. Newnham's bonus rate was 7/29, Southampton's 7/24, and the overall accuracy 32/79. If there's one bright side, every member of the Newnham side answered at least one starter correctly.

Next week: Christ's College Cambridge v Liverpool

This Week And Next

We regret to report the death of Jack Parnell, ATV's resident musical director. Amongst his game show works was the original theme to Family Fortunes.

A little in-joke on yesterday's edition of Scene Stealers, where one of the people in the final challenge was none other than Quincy from Election. Is there no end to this man's talents?

We note that Mark Berry, the quondam member of The Happy Mondays and winner of Celebrity Big Brother 2005, has been convicted of beating up his girlfriend. He'll be sentenced on 25 August. These are two good reasons for him not to participate in the Ultimate BB Championship, beginning the previous day.

This week, the housemates have mostly been re-living our childhood, what with games of Space Invaders, I Spy, and dressing up like Dobbin from Rentaghost. Jo left to spend more time pursuing Madonna, and the remaining contestants voted Josie through to the Friday final, this year to be held on a Tuesday. Four will leave by this time next week.

Ratings for the week to 1 August, and it's clearly summer. Celebrity Masterchef topped the pile, 4.6m seeing the fry-ups. Tonight's The Night appealed to 3.85m, and 3.05m saw Big Brother, not only because Ben left but they hoped to see Ratings Bear eat John and Edward Grimes. Well, that's why we watched. Dragons' Den moved to Mondays and had 3m viewers, ahead of Odd One In's 2.85m.

Come Dine With Me continues to conquer the digital tier with 740,000 seeing the repeat, QI hits new heights of 570,000 on Dave, where Mock the Week has 485,000. Fferm Ffactor bowed out with 60,000 seeing Teifi Jenkins win the prize.

Cookery fans are well-catered for this week: Celebrity Masterchef comes to an end (BBC1, from Wed) and The Great British Bake Off (BBC2, 8pm Tuesday) has Mel and Sue seeking a great baker. Two long shows begin: The X Factor reviews its last search for the Christmas number 2 (ITV2, all week; ITV from Saturday), and Mastermind starts looking for its next champ (BBC2, 8pm Friday).

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