Weaver's Week 2011-10-30

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"I think reality TV and cruelty TV are over now" – Noel Edmonds, October 2005.

Twenty-two sealed boxes. One eye-scorching shirt. Two players. And no questions. Except one: is Deal or No Deal still going?

File:Square dond live.jpg


Deal or No Deal Live

Endemol Television West for C4, 10-23 October 2011

This review is based on the show of 12 October.

"Apparently so", is the answer. It's six years since Channel 4's daytimes were illuminated by the first bright shirt from Noel Edmonds' underground bunker. Since then, a couple of dozen people have come away with six-figure prizes, a similar number have been given prizes of just a few pence. Three prime ministers have held office, three Countdown hosts have come and gone, and the phenomenal viewing figures of the early days have melted away.

Perhaps the success of live shows like The Million Pound Drop have persuaded the producers to have a run of live programmes. Perhaps it's Noel's traditional strong point – he's most famous for Swap Shop and Noel's House Party, shows where anything could happen, and quite frequently did. Perhaps it's more prosaic, a desire to remind people that, yes, Deal is still there, quietly ticking in the corner of Channel 4's schedules. This column watched the first six months avidly, the next six months with diminishing amounts of enthusiasm, and we don't think we've seen a show at all since late 2006.

Deal or No Deal Come play with me.

In the intervening five years, there have been social changes. The biggest, of course, is that the economic bubble has ended. This column isn't the place to rehearse arguments about exactly what caused the western economy to overheat, about speculation and asset management and the toxic content of loans. We shall speak not of haircuts and derivatives and preferred bond-holders. And The Troika, they of whom we shall not speak, hovering over proceedings like the bogeyman, like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse after they've been downsized by An Bord Snip.

The concept of "The Banker" gambling in 2005 may have been strange. Now, everyone knows about casino banking, how otherwise-respectable people will play with money that isn't theirs, hoping that it will grow by sheer luck, and that some of it will rub off on them, on their career, and in their bank account. The Banker plays every game, and usually comes out ahead.

For the live programmes, Noel Edmonds has been around the country, choosing people he wishes to portray as "worthy". On the show before the one we saw, an OAP from the West Midlands. Today, it's Chris, a project manager and volunteer lifeboatman from Bridlington. We see footage of Noel getting into the lifeboat, and being stuck in a sealed part of the vessel. Then he emerges from out of nowhere, like a fifth-rate Jeremy Beadle, just without the wickedly inventive set-up.

Deal or No Deal Wishing I was lucky...

Back in the studio, Chris's wife is one of the people charged with opening a box. So are some former contestants – Suzanne, who won £250,000, is here. So is Joe, possibly the first centenarian to appear on a British game show. The oldest person in the room, though he's a whippersnapper compared to some of Noel's jokes.

After the first commercial break, it's on with the game. The first box is £35,000. Noel makes some cracks about Chris's job, this isn't a project he's managed very well. The contender invites an ex-player called Marcus to open his box. Marcus is camp, and the first thing in Noel's head is to say "Hello, sailor". Mildly homophobic abuse, and we still haven't heard from the second player in the game.

And so it goes on, for almost half-an-hour nothing much happens. Chris removes one of the larger boxes in most rounds, keeping the top two in play. We often cross to the RNLI boathouse in Bridlington, where the crew are watching, along with Chris's children. The Banker makes decent offers, The Banker makes offers consistent with his established practice of not letting anyone out with fewer than 8 boxes remaining. And all the while, Noel is reminding the player that time is not his friend, if he hasn't dealt when the clock strikes zero the credits will roll and he will leave with nothing.

Deal or No Deal £20,000, half a house brick, and a milk bottle.

Eventually, we reach a crunch moment. The 8-box offer. Chris has the two top prizes of £250,000 and £100,000 still in play, then he has £10,000 and £1000 and four smaller amounts. The Banker offers £20,000. It's a life-changing amount of money. We know it's a life-changing amount of money, because Liza Tarbuck described it as such on Without Prejudice? a few years ago. We know it's a life-changing amount of money because Chris said it was a few minutes ago.

Chris's wife has suggested that he should not gamble. The Banker has made a safe offer, one that Chris could accept and improve his life. But this isn't what Noel wants. Former players have their agenda. Suzanne says that if Chris wants to win big, he has to take a risk. So far, he's not had to take a risk. But who said Chris wanted to win big, when he could also lose big? His final two boxes could still be £1 and 10p, that's as likely as keeping the top two to the end.

Noel wants to keep the game alive. He brings up a picture of Chris's children, and employs some unsubtle emotional blackmail. "Don't do it, Daddy", says Noel in a squeaky voice. "Don't destroy our futures live on national television." It's blatant emotional manipulation, trying to cut through the contestant's thought processes. It surprises us that no-one comes out of the stalls and starts arguing with the host, this is cynical and not the sort of thing we find entertaining. And even though Noel keeps on reminding him that the show is live, and the clock is ticking, he stalls proceedings, trying to drag them out as long as he can.

Deal or No Deal Suffer little children.

Eventually, Chris has made up his mind. He accepts The Banker's offer of £20,000. In the prove-out, the quarter-million top prize is the last to fall, and the £100,000 remains in play. So does 10p. With three minutes on the clock, The Banker makes Chris a further offer. If he wants, he can unseal the £20,000 deal, and take whatever's in his box. There may, or may not, be an offer of a swap.

We've already heard that Chris's wife doesn't want him to gamble. "Will he listen to his wife, or to his gambling side?" muses Noel, clearly of the opinion that the manly thing to do would be to take the offer, and that not doing so is a bit sissy. We reckon we saw some disgust in Noel's eyes when Chris decided to reject the offer, and distinct schadenfreude when he opened up the player's box to reveal £100,000. On no other show could someone leave the studio with £20,000 and believe they've lost. On no other programme is a life-changing amount of money presented as a defeat.

"I guarantee that you'll be back tomorrow," promises Noel. What, for more low-level homophobia, gynophobia, bad jokes, worse shirts, and financial recklessness of the sort unseen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers? No, sir, we won't be back, not tomorrow. Probably not ever.

University Challenge

Second round, match 1: Leeds v Clare Cambridge

Welcome to the second round, where the questions get a little harder, and the contestants a lot more familiar. Leeds beat Goldsmiths' London on 19 September, 220-115 slightly flattered them; Clare Cambridge eked past Worcester Oxford by 190-180 on 18 July. As PurpleSuze says: "University Challenge... bring it on :D"

What's tonight's theme? Hard, the answer to the definition question that always seems to open proceedings. The Orkneys and descriptions of monarchs allow Clare to tick over the score, no-one knows the origins of "infantry", Leeds get going with accelleration due to gravity, causing Thumper to snigger in a quite unsettling fashion. Melancholy_Mort tells the world, "Ooh I just answered a question on University Challenge (what I was channel surfing!). I feel quite intelligent now......... :)"

Sorry, should we be ending each paragraph with an emoticon? "The next bonuses are on writer's private lives." [spewsome] The first visual round is the chemical formulae for the Mohs scale of hardness, but this is too hard for the teams. Clare lead by 50-30. The next starter would like to be on Only Connect when it grows up, being a simple list of elements in reverse periodic table order. "Benedictarnold!" is the shout from Clare, they're rewarded with questions about political siblings, such as Spawn of Rees-Mogg. [devilhorns]

QuantumPirate has a true story for us: "When I was on University Challenge I got told off by the director for jiggling about and making my chair squeak." Clare have run away with things, knowing that fluxions and mus were all invented for calculus, and are equally comfortable with musical films of the 1950s. The audio is from operas of 1911, Leeds says "Barson" when he hears "Bartok", and the scores are at 140-30. BeckyForrest_ shows off a little, "I love getting the questions right before they do on university challenge :D"

Writers called "Kingsley" keeps the Clare bandwagon rolling, but Rhodrijava is not happy: "University Challenge at 8.30!? Clashes with Only Connect! Poor BBC, poor." But only for viewers in Wales, and that's because Celebrity Antiques Road Trip is an hour long, and it's late because Nigel Slater's Simple Cooking went out at 7pm on BBC2 rather than 7.30 on BBC1, and in turn that's because the current affairs programme X-Ray gets priority. In effect, the BBC is prioritising public service broadcasting over recreational quizzing. We're not going to criticise too hard. [ourheadhurts]

The second visual round is on artefacts discovered in the ground, and it's Leeds's first in forever. Clare wrapped up the game while we were checking the listings, leading as they do by 210-45. Amongst the microbloggers, there's a suggestion that the Oxbridge colleges should form a breakaway University Challenge Premier League, with the lure of easy money and even more difficult questions. DaveFootHere summarises the advantages: "spiralling wages, more overseas players, better standards, no more Monday 8pm fixtures". [raisedeyebrow]

Thumper's a little lenient to accept a starter after a very long delay, but Clare's lead is well over 200 now, and we're just marking time for Victoria. At the gong, Clare has won by320-65. They were right in 48/75 questions, Leeds got 9/36, overall accuracy was 57/87. @Random punter is Andmarsh: "Five correct answers on University Challenge. That's a new record (for me)." [doffshat]

Next match: Birmingham v Newcastle

Only Connect

Quarter-final 3: Edwards Family v Trade Unionists

"Bit easier, this quarter final, than the last couple of weeks". So claims DavidJBodycombe. We'll be the judge of that. Former United Kingdom Superperson and reigning Only Connect champion AaronBell80 offers a bet. "Reckon we might see the series winners from this QF? 13/8".

The Edwards Family include David Edwards, who warmed up for the show by taking part in Round Britain Quiz, where he and Myfanwy Alexander did enough to keep the title open for another week, beating the Midlands team by three points. The Trade Unionists ... well, they warmed up in their own way. Beer and sandwiches at Number Ten, assuming there's a decent pub called Number Ten in that area.

An impressive start from the Edwards, the sum of the first 18 prime numbers is 501, Brian Lara scored 501 not out, and they've collected three points. "Things you can cross" say the Trade Unionists of Christopher Columbus. How would one cross Columbus? With an army, probably. No, it's etymologies of South American countries, and a bonus for the Edwards.

They pick the audio rounds, and go for winners of the Academy Award for Best Song, and because they pick up two points, we're spared a rendition of "Over the rainbow". Do we win? The Unionists do, the derivations of imperial lengths from parts of the body. Or, in the case of the perch, of the left feet of 16 churchgoers. Three points there. Nelle_Macbeth also wins, "I got the music question right!!! That NEVER happens!"

If this show had gone out last week, the Hidden Transmission Indicator question might have been "Monty Python episodes", but it's not, so it's not. Working titles for television comedies, including "Owl Stretching Time" and "Dead Belgians Don't Count". That's a bonus for the Unionists, who score two on people called Horace. No mention for the famous downhill skiier, sadly. Nor, to the dismay of Gwilymjjames, "But do we get the Eye of Horace?" At the end of the round, both sides are Manchester City, 6-6.

Thoughtcat: "I wonder if Only Connect has a real string quartet off-screen playing those intense chords during the links?"

The Edwards quickly get that the first in round two is rooms on a Cluedo board, neither is able to deduce (or guess) that we're ending up in the study. Pictures of a heart and a brain leave us wondering how they're going to visualise wisdom, and didn't we do The Wizard of Oz last week, and again in round 1? Third picture is the liver, and the Unionists are right to pick Skin, even though their reason is askew.

Domitian has set the scene, but both sides are reckoning it's Roman emperors in some sort of order. After Nerva and Trajan came Hadrian, that well-known importer of foreign labour. Well do we remember the protests of AD CXXIII, "Camelodnomii jobs for Camelodnomii workers!" Neither side scores there, but the Unionists get two for some CRUD: it's a scheme in databases – create, read, update, delete. A bit like a newspaper that can be re-written, but more Big Brother in two weeks.

The Edwards gamble for three points, but it's not a binary question, the third clue of 131 would have specified it's palindromic prime numbers. No points again, but the Unionists have freedoms. Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms", to be precise, ending with freedom from fear, and to pick up two points.

That gives the Unionists a 12-6 lead as they play grid 110 on the website. Apparently, these walls weren't up in time to playalong live. But if you wait almost a week to post a review, the BBC model B might have updated itself. Beep. Victoria recommends playing the wall while listening to a Pear-pod. Other makes of musical player are available.

What's on the wall? Some types of cricket delivery come out very quickly, as do fictional dogs. At least, that's what we think they are, the team's mumbling badly. They reckon a group of curves is present, which indeed they are, but do the team have all the connections? The dogs are from soap operas, the curves were actually mathematical functions, but the last set are not oranges, but ports on the Med. Seven points!

There's a very little room for the Edwards Family, grid 111 is theirs. Would Only Connect seriously give a little cameo to a group of Greek letters, after unceremoniously casting them aside for last year's series? There's a group of watches, there's a group of "Life of ___" things, but no mention of Brian, because that was so last week on BBC4. There might be a group of Arthurs, there might be some famous Johns. Might there be a group of stars, and would Osman feature in that? Radiation emissions is the third group, and – yes, that is Mat Osman's pointless brother on the wall. The last group is game show adjudicators – Susie Dent, John Virgo, and Wincey Willis complete the group.

Six points remains the difference, the Unionists lead 19-13. Bildungsroman novels are the first group, and in a moment we'll look up what these are. It ends up 1-1. Buildings by Sir Christopher Wren is a 3-1 win for the Edwards, and things added to the 2011 RPI include medium density fibreboard. Who knew? 1-0 to the Edwards there, chipping away at the lead. Nicknames for plants, the Unionists need a point, they get a point, the Edwards take the round 2-1.

But it's not enough, the Trade Unionists have snuck the win, 22-20. They'll be taking part in pole dancing at Mensa – Saturday afternoons at 4, apparently.

Only Connect (2) Wherever there's a challenge, they'll be there.

Some house notes: Bildungsroman works concern themselves with young people as they mature, particularly concentrating on the moral and social aspects of maturity. It's a coming-of-age novel, like David Copperfield and Jane Eyre. Was this easier than the last couple of shows? We'll say so. And DGrifgrof wonders, "What would happen to Only Connect if Jeremy Paxman and Victoria Coren swapped one Monday?" Dear Children in Need producers: here's an idea for your 2012 appeal.

Next match: Analysts v Technologists

This Week And Next

Nominations are up for the Children's BAFTA awards. Game shows up for the nod include The Slammer and Trapped in the Entertainment category, and Horrible Histories (we assume the main series) in both the Children's Choice and the Comedy categories. Video games are Kirby's Epic Yarn, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, Little Big Planet 2, and Pokemon Black and Pokemon White. Us neither.

Still with children's programmes, we were tickled to watch Tuesday's Blue Peter. Making meals for animals in the zoo is something the children will enjoy, because it involves animals, but the parents might not like, because it's been shown a squillion times before. Making meals for zoo animals while Dave Lamb commentates in the style of Come Dine with Me? Now that's entertainment.

Hello, ITV ratings for the week to 16 October. If we're to believe A Demi Grauniad, you're concealing a disasterous drop in ratings for hit ITV karaoke show The X Factor. Well, the results show for the second live performance week was seen by 10.85m, plus 1.25m on ITV-HD, and about 400,000 on ITV+1 where it's available. The comparable week last year had 13.4m seeing the show on ITV, and 900,000 on HD. It's a reduction, but only from 14m to 12.5m, and that's still a fifth of the entire population of the UK seeing the one broadcast. If that's a disaster...

Elsewhere, Strictly had 10.1m tuning in for its performances, HIGNFY had 4.5m for its return, and Family Fortunes 3.4m. University Challenge (3.05m) beat QI (2.9m) for BBC2's crown, Deal or No Deal Live was Channel 4's biggest show with 1.9m seeing the novelty, and Big Brother peaked on Friday with 1.7m viewers. Celebrity Juice reigned on the digital tier, with 2.1m tuning in to the Thursday show, a million for Xtra Factor and X Factor Us, and also for The Satellite Channel's A League of Their Own. QI claimed 225,000 on BBC-HD, 245,000 people saw Signed by Katie Price on UKTV Living, and S4C's Fferm Ffactor returned to 48,000 viewers.

The Cube makes its return this week (ITV, 7pm Sunday). Cookery fans have professional contest Best Dish – The Chefs (ITV, 5pm weekdays) and children's show Junior Bake Off (CBBC, 6.20 Mo-Th). There are new runs of Argumental (Dave, 10pm Thursday) and the long-awaited return of Mastermind (BBC2, 8pm Friday, not Wales). For all this yang there must be some yin, and it comes in a second run of Tool Academy (E4, 10pm Tuesday). Don't forget to miss it. Fireworks night on the performance shows next Saturday: Strictly 6.25 to 7.55, X Factor 8pm to 9.40.

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