Weaver's Week 2011-10-23

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Coming up: did Magna Carta die in vain? Does anyone read E M Forster? Who recorded the theme to Rainbow? After whom was Countdown's CECIL named? And why are they running for cover in Baku?


High Stakes

ITV, Tuesdays since 11 October

High Stakes

"The players have been kept away from me," says Jeremy Kyle in the introduction to his new game show. We're not surprised, though the cause-and-effect might have been reversed there. Surely it's, "I've been kept away from the players, because otherwise they might find out something to upstage me."

Why would anyone want to do that? Kyle is an untested game show host, this is his first appearance behind the questions. But it's not his first appearance on national television. Far from it: he's been hosting a mid-morning programme on ITV for almost ten years now. Here, he gazes upon the poor, the dispossessed, the weak and the feckless and the unlucky, and pours scorn upon them from a great height.

We can make comparisons against other giants of talkfest television. Oprah's path was of gentle improvement and gradual empowerment, of book clubs and bake sales and other ideas she'd pilfered from Blue Peter. The Loose Women will talk about anything and everything, and generally do. But Jeremy Kyle? He's bothered by the dregs of society, he's the sort who would only join in a fight when it's clear who's going to win.

High Stakes Jeremy Kyle: a sight for 9.25am.

Of course, we don't know whether the character played on television is the real person behind the mask, but we seem to lack evidence of a clear division between the two. So let's be generous and write the review as though "Jeremy Kyle" the talk-show host and now game show presenter is a character, an exaggeration and caricature, as fictional as Alan Partridge.

So, yes, the players have been kept away from him, safe and secure in their underground bunker. The contenders even have some friends and family to help them while away the hours. And then they're going to meet him. But first they're going to meet the star of the show, The Amazing High Stakes Falling Floor. It rises! It falls! It's got a video plasma layer in it like they've had at the Eurovision Song Contest for the past ten years or so!

High Stakes This player is on round two.

And it's got some numbers on it. These form the excuse for a game. Each row of seven numbers will have some wrong answers on it. Just the one wrong answer each time. The contestant's job is to stand on a number they believe is not the wrong answer, and hope that they're right. As in, they're right that it's wrong, because if they're wrong that it's wrong so it's right, then they're wrong, and one wrong answer means they're right out. Right?

Can we interest you in "Competitive Filling In Your Tax Return"? It's far simpler.

Alright, we'll give you a worked example. Pick a number, 22 to 28 inclusive. If you picked 24, you just lost, because it was the wrong answer. Any other number was a right answer, because it wasn't the wrong answer. Wrong answers see the player sink slowly into the floor, in a manner that reminds us of the tortuously slow descents in 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow [sic] last year.

In order to avoid this turning into a primetime version of Trev and Simon's It's a Shame!, the contender is allowed to ask for a clue as to the wrong answer. It's in the form of "Avoid: the date in January of Burns Night". It's one of the numbers 22-28, but not 24 because that's already gone, so there are five correct and one wrong answers. And the answer to the clue is the number to avoid: any other answer will do for now.

High Stakes Bring on the haggis!

Now, we started off the review by noting that Jeremy Kyle has been kept apart from the contestants. He's also been kept away from the questions, because part of the High Stakes format is that the host is allowed to help. This isn't as much of a novelty as ITV is making out. They assume their audience doesn't listen to Round Britain Quiz, where the chair giving subtle (and sometimes broad) hints is an integral part of the game. Let's be fair, ITV is probably right to make that assumption.

Jeremy Kyle can help, if he's able to. Whether he can or he can't, he'll attempt to ingratiate himself with the players, putting on an imitation of their accent, making unfunny jokes related to something the contestant has said, and possibly – possibly! – saying something useful relating to the question in hand. "It would be funny if Burns Night were a month after Christmas." We had more subtle hints while watching Impossible? last week.

The game divides unnaturally into rounds. In the first round, there is one choice to make, and a prize of £1000 if the contender can avoid the trap. In the second round, two choices, and £2500 on the line. Round three, three choices, and so on. And the prizes go up quickly: £10,000 to £25,000 to £100,000 and a potential top prize of £500,000.

High Stakes The state of play at the end of round one.

However, there's a limitation. The player is allowed ten clues through their whole game. They can stop at the end of a round, but once they start the next one, they're committed to playing it to the end. The consolation prize: the amount they won in the last-but-one completed round, so an error on the £25,000 round will slash the money to £2500.

It now becomes clear that someone in the formatting office hasn't done their homework. One clue in the opening round, two in the second, three and four. A player can easily win £25,000 without taking any gambles, and can only go home with £100,000 if they gamble five times. Taking one risk in each of five rounds, there's only a 46% chance of getting them all right, and a 26.5% chance of sinking into the floor with no prize.

Taking this strategy – and it has to be the strategy from the start – gives a mean win of about £1100 to unsuccessful contestants. It's a rags-or-riches gamble. To secure the half-million, contestants need to gamble twice at the start of each round, a 1-in-6 chance. Even allowing for the huge jackpot, the average prize is only going to be £80,000 or so.

High Stakes One error means the floor falls away until this is all that's left.

There are other niggles – the clues aren't always explained clearly, the music and catchphrases are uninspired – but our main problem is that there's very little tension in most games. Either the contender is on a path to get £25,000 and go home, or they're furiously gambling in the hope of a six-figure prize. There's no way to switch horses part-way through: once the contestant's picked a strategy, they can't change it. They're locked in, more firmly than their answers, and Jeremy's cries of "Raise the stakes, or cash in?" are futile. No-one will leave with a round's clues remaining.

How to improve the show? Give the player twelve clues. Make the strategic decision mean something, leaving at least two hints behind. And, on the other hand, allow the player to pass after receiving a clue. Do that too often and they might wish to gamble a bit: four decisions, three clues, is it worth it?

A show that promises more drama than it delivers, dangles huge amounts of money that can never be won, and is hosted by an oily, unctuous daytime chatshow presenter. ITV's never commissioned anything like this before, has it?

Or is our memory Shafted?

University Challenge

Repechage 2: St Andrews v Worcester Oxford

We've got a round of bread and jam, the kettle is ready for a pot of lemon and ginger tea in 28 minutes, and we have a microblogger to kick us off. Plexigon: "Time for a sore brain: University Challenge and Only Connect followed by Origins of Us (on BBC2) to let the brain cells warm down..." We'll be going for The Story of RBS on BBC1 Scotland, but the effect's the same.

For the second year in a row, St Andrews is in the top box for the second repechage match. This year, the team qualified after losing 195-165 to Merton Oxford on 22 August. Worcester Oxford lost to Clare Cambridge on 18 July, the score there 190-180.

Two parish notices. From laurenbum: "My mum said she'd give me £5 for every university challenge question I get right. I'm not holding my breath though." And from EHSUvpfas: "Fancy being in Edge Hill's team for next year? E-mail me by this Friday!" (Checks publication date of the column, being the Sunday afterwards.) (Throws that message in the bin.)

Nothing on screens for St Andrews, nothing on crown jewels for Worcester. This is turning into the Italian football league, where every game ends 0-0. Ah, here's how to score: get people to say the same thing in triplicate. Sculptures on beaches are good for Worcester, and they recognise a word cloud of the 2010 UK Coalition Agreement. They go on to recognise Magna Carta and the Communist Manifesto, and Worcester has established a lead of 55-35.

LucindaPierce has a modern-day problem. "I-players 'for you' section suggests I should watch both University challenge and Total Wipeout. They cancel each other out! What is this!?" Neither side is able to determine the sort of plant Thumper is describing: it's a P, please, Jeremy. Thomaspdixon is trying to boost the show's audience: "Gary Barlow, don't miss university challenge." We always had him down as a Countdown type of person, ourselves. And the fashion police are moving amongst us: dspmonkey tells someone, "A Math is Delicious T-shirt is being worn on UK BBC quiz show University Challenge!"

University Challenge Yum.

We've reached the audio round, songs from which other bands took their names, and Worcester's lead has been pegged back to 95-85. Does no-one recognise the Sisters of Mercy? What a merciful release. Worcester get back with a set of words that differ by the addition of a "t" in fourth position, such as "neuron" and "neutron". Jolly clever, that. Shared surnames, not such a good run for the side, but they win the eight-way race to the buzzer for "Sri Lanka". Katbrown82 has "Just realised I have a telly now so instead of not-quite-listening to dull Radio 4 programme I can watch University Challenge. WITH WINE!" We'll raise a teacup to that.

The second visual round is Name That Author, and Thumper is impressed that E M Forster has managed to keep a low profile. Worcester's lead is 155-80, the remaining pictures are on members of the Bloomsbury Group, and only about three-quarters of a million people will be watching a show taking its name from one of Forster's works. That's in six minutes, but not before Thumper has said "No! Very much no!" at the suggestion Lewis Carroll was in the Bloomsbury Group, and "No! No!" at the mention of Canada.

That last one gave St Andrews another missignal, picked up by Worcester, and enough for us to write Game Over. "Simplify! Simplify!" St Andrews get a bit further with questions on people called Woodrow Wilson, Worcester respond with Treaties of Versailles. LauraCT1984 tells us, "It's fair to say I am much more successful at Question of Sport than I am at University Challenge!"

So are St Andrews, and their defeat – by 250-110 – ensures there's an English winner of the University Challenge 2012 series. All sixteen institutions in the second round are from that part of the world. 17/44 for St Andrews, with a pair of missignals; 36/69 for Worcester, and 53/89 overall accuracy. Random Punter o'the Week is Ladymufon: "Just beaten my cat at University Challenge!"

Next match: Into the Second Round Proper with Leeds v Clare Cambridge

Only Connect

Quarter-final 2: Rowers v Listeners

"The finest programme on British television!" "Strangely free from applause and laughter." Just two of the descriptions of this show cribbed from the internet, mentioned by the host, and now recorded for posterity by this column on the internet. Along with this from RussellsDust: "Love Only Connect a quiz show so high-brow it makes University Challenge look like Catchphrase." And our thanks to Rob Linham, reigning University Challenge The Professionals champion, who points out that Chris Harrison of the Rowers won the regular UC with Imperial College London back in 1996.

We begin with the audio round for the Listeners, they buzz in after two clues and suggest it's bands known by their initials. No, and the Listeners have a little longer to hear two more clues, and work out it's names of the form "X Y and Zee". Bonus point there. Whiffytidings asks, "Where were Rod, Jane and Freddy?" Good idea, but what song of theirs would be used? The "Rainbow" theme was by the original house band, Telltale.

Neither side knows anything about financial swindles, which is nice to know; the Rowers were perhaps thinking of the Prisoner's Dilemma. Pictures for the Listeners: a snowboarder, a tempest, a bat, and a bomber. "Dukes". The Duke bat? No, it's the Flying Fortress, a flying fox, the Flying Dutchman and a bloke known as the Flying Tomato. Obviously. No points there; some expensive brands for the Rowers, who buzz in at 40.01 seconds. Don't breathe a word, and they're not all founded in the same year; the link is they all have yellow labels.

With the scorers just going off to sleep, we hear of John Quincy Adams, Richard Nixon, and Dr Kellogg. Ah! Light goes off – it's Anthony Hopkins' roles, and two points for the Listeners. What links "Green Eggs and Ham" with "Are You Dave Gorman?" and "Round Ireland With a Fridge". Books by comedians? No! Terms that have only one internet hit? No! Things written as the result of a bet, that's the answer no-one's getting. "For sale: baby shoes, never worn" is a complete Hemingway short story. Pickwick notes, "Only Connect seems to have bypassed 'fiendishly difficult' and gone straight to 'almost impossible'." Quarter-finals, folks, and it's time to raise the bar even higher. The scores are like a Serie A game, the Listeners leading 2-1.

Round two: Magna Carta signed was 1215, Agincourt was 1415, so what happened in 1815? They're taking a long time to come up with one. "Waterloo" is worth three points. That's as in "battle of", not "ABBA song". Can the Rowers scale the heights? Mount McKinley of North America, the Vinson Massif, and they plump for Everest. No. Try Kilimanjaro: highest mountain on continents as ordered by longitude.

3rd: Corinthian. 2nd: Corinthian. Fourth is not Romans, because 1st is Ionic, and Ground is Doric, these are architectural styles of the Flavian Amphitheatre. A bonus for the Rowers, who pick the Wick o'Twisted Flax o'Doom, and its pictures. Which turn out to be internet browsers by market share, culminating in an Explorer in a hat, giving away two points. Daibhidc has "never actually watched Only Connect before. It's like RBQ only worse!" Ooh, no, RBQ expects people to know their French Revolutionary calendar in its entirety, with only vague English descriptions.

Millstone and Before millstone and Doglike, so the next is Catlike? Before doglike? Neither side has a clue, we have no clue. "Millstone" is "molar", so Cutter (incisor) is the meanings of human teeth. 740,000 people have been educated, and 10,000 dentists are smug. Another panel-beater: Home, Brain, Heart, Courage: it's things sought in "The Wizard of Oz". Even Celebrity Big Brother knew about that!

Only Connect (2) Three men out of a boat.

The Rowers trail by 6-4, and they're playing Grid 105 on the website. What have we here? Some colonies, some camps, some types of egg cookery. The camps eventually come out, and the eggs are being awkward. What about things a cobbler might use. What is the significance of Fenwick-Symes? Have we a grid without a set of names? The eggs come out in the closing seconds, though it's simply ways of cookery. There's a set of Evelyn Waugh characters, including Last and Boot; and tools used by people handling things. Four points!

Grid 106 for the Listeners, who begin by looking for cemeteries. Are there really going to be stations on the London Underground? Yes, stations on the Northern line. Fashion chains also form a group, and they're down to three lives with plenty of time to spare. Very wisely, they use the extra time to find the missing links, but mistake Marlene Dietrich films for ones that have won Razzies. Cemeteries are the final link. Seven points!

Very nearly game over, the Listeners lead by 13-8, and very little time for the Missing Vowels. Geological processes goes to the Listeners by 2-1, and "They married royalty" goes 2-1 to the Rowers. Songs that don't perform their title ends 2-0 to the Rowers, and the final score is that the Listeners have it, 16-13.

Monkey_six asks: "If this is QF2, that would make episode 15 the final. What happens in the remaining 5 shows?" A Children in Need of Assistance special, a Third-Place Play Off, a Sport Relief programme, and two specials so special that even the contestants haven't been told what they are yet. And Karenquinn: "This might be my new favourite game show ever." Will there be a million viewers by Christmas?

Next match: Edwards Family v Trade Unionists

This Week And Next

We regret to report the death of Cecil Korer. He was a producer for the BBC, working on such light entertainment giants as Top of the Pops, Ask the Family, and It's a Knockout. Headhunted for the new Channel 4, he brought educational-entertainment programmes to the nation's screens: Treasure Hunt and Countdown are the two most memorable commissions. Korer started his own media company in the mid-1980s, devising and producing light-educational programmes, and was finishing his autobiography when he died in September.

Cecil Korer Cecil Korer (right) was in the audience of this week's Top of the Pops repeat.

Just when you thought it was safe to go to Azerbaijan... News from Ireland is that RTÉ might be adopting a variant of the "winner-stays-on" policy for their Eurovision entry. The Irish broadcaster is considering sending Jedward to Baku next year. This new policy, of sending the same competitors every year until they actually win the thing, is clearly inspired by 1980s European quiz Going for Gold, where the only way off the daily grind was victory in the final.

Ratings for the week to 9 October, with ITV still missing. Strictly went to the elimination stage with 10.25m viewers, The Great British Bake Off pulled 5.05m, and QI and University Challenge both had 3m. Channel 4's top was teatime Come Dine With Me (1.85m), and Big Brother peaked on Thursday with 1.75m. Both of those are behind The Great British Bake Off Cookbook, which had 2.32m flan fans.

Celebrity Juice attracted 1.875m viewers on Thursday, Xtra Factor on Sunday 1.365m, and X Factor Us 1.04m. There were 860,000 for Come Dine With Me, 760,000 for Only Connect. Mark's voluntary exit from the Big Brother studio brought 400,000 to Bit on the Side on 5*. Repeats of Four in a Bed on More4 are proving popular, 435,000 saw this week's, and Masterchef Australia on Watch crept up to 230,000.

Fans of David Edwards have two more installments of the great man's career on Monday: he and Myfanwy need to beat the Midlands to retain the Round Britain Quiz title (Radio 4, 1.30), and his family are in the quarter-finals of Only Connect (BBC4, 8.30). Fans of The Apprentice have a conflict on Monday: do they watch the Irish version (9pm, TV3), or do they jump to the UK's Young programme (9pm, BBC1). There's a new series of Shipwrecked this week: the main show (E4, 8pm Tuesday) is previewed by a history programme (C4, 12.15 Sun). Also: a new run of Chris Moyles' Quiz Night (C4, 10pm Sunday), Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is (BBC2, 5.15 weekdays), Celebrity Antiques Road Trip (BBC2, 7pm Mo-Th, check regionalia), and Four Weddings is a regular on Freeview (Pick TV, 6pm weekdays). Celebrity editions of The Chase begin next Saturday (ITV, 6pm), with Strictly Come Dancing at 6.30 and The X Factor at 8pm and just ten minutes of overlap.

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