Weaver's Week 2014-07-13

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"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."

More on that story — now!

Only Connect

The Series 9 final, 7 July 2014

So it's come to this. Six years, nine series, the end of OC on 4. "A feeling of exhaustion and satisfaction," but we reckon it was more of the former than the latter this time around. The blue finalists are the Europhiles: Douglas Thomson, Khuram Rashid, and Mark Seager. Playing purple are the Relatives: Hamish Galloway, Nick Latham, and Davina Galloway. Alert readers will note that these teams have already met, the Europhiles won the match when they met in the opening round.

The Relatives won the toss and elected to take the walls, so the Europhiles start Connections. What links Monaco, Stoccarda, Colonia, and Berlino? No, it's not that they're Spanish names for residents of cities. No, it's not that they were Roman provinces. They're Italian names for German cities, beginning with München. Will the scorers be troubled by the Relatives' opener? "Chinese civil servant" pops up as the third clue, that gives Mandarin, goes with the Moroccan seaport of Tangiers, and it turns out they've all given their name to a citrus fruit. 2-0 to the Relatives.

Pictures for the Europhiles, and it's something or someone going into something else. Not times of the day, not beginning with the first three letters. Remove the word "and" from the first picture to get the second, so veranda becomes Vera. Ooh, nasty. Titles of sorts in the next question, and it's nothing more complex than the English civil war – an opera, a book, a painting, and the position of Witchfinder General. Still 2-0.

Music for the Europhiles: Gregorian plainsong, what the team reckons is Billie Holiday, the Commodores' "Nightshift", and "American pie". Victoria's generous to give a bonus to the Relatives, it is songs about other people: specifically, tributes to other musicians. And it was Joni Mitchell at clue two. For the Relatives, it's "the beast", "the monk", "the prose", "the passion". Nothing in Only Connect is by chance, and the lack of capitals is a giveaway clue. It's the things that Margaret dreams of connecting in "Howard's End", the passage we noted earlier. 3-0 to the Relatives.

Along with the show, we're discussing some of the matters arising. There has been some criticism that the questions are "unfair", in some way. David Clark (finalist with the Radio Listeners a few years ago) suggested that last week's semi-final questions were impossible from two clues. Even if someone had pointed a gun at out head and allowed two guesses after two clues, we might have got two of the connections and two of the sequences. This week, we might have got the fruits and at least one of the sequences.

Back to the game, and Sequences. Examples for this set: Hanunó'o, English, Japanese, and the Europhiles guess at Basque. The Relatives try Kiwi. Any right-to-left language would do: Hanunó'o is written bottom-to-top, English left-to-right, Japanese top-to-bottom. Arabic is the model answer. The Relatives get: ms, m, ℓ, and the next quantum number is n. "Not entirely sure what the sequence is," says the host. Thanks for the elucidation. 3-0.

Booth and Guiteau and Czolgoz, and the Europhiles spot it's Oswald, because it's assassins of US presidents. Nothing more difficult than that. Pictures for the Europhiles: a valley and Au, someone on a flying horse, someone from the 1980s, and they're guessing at Der Rosenkavelier. No. It's Götterdämerung, being the final part of the Ring Cycle. The other clues were Valkyrie and Sigfried. 3-3.

Capitals of countries arranged alphabetically goes for three, the Europhiles might have had five but played safer. For the Relatives, 4th: play slowly; 3rd: Trellick Tower architect; 2nd: something bestowed. It's largo, Goldfinger, grant, so the first was Dr No. It's 6-3 to the Europhiles.

Only Connect (2) An early lead for Douglas, Mark, and Khuram.

Writing on Bothers' Bar recently, we noted that the ratings for Only Connect seemed to be slipping. Ratings body BARB tells us how many people see each show, and we can look up figures for last year. The 2014 spring series started four weeks earlier than the 2013 spring series, so it's possible to run two tests. How did each episode in 2014 compare with the corresponding episode in 2013, and how did the 2014 episodes compare with those going out in the same week of 2013.

(To explain, the 26 May 2014 episode was number 7 in the series. We can compare it against the 24 June 2013 episode, number 7 in its series. We can also compare against the 27 May 2013 episode, which went out in the same broadcast week, and was also a bank holiday.)

The comparisons show there's nothing in it – the week-by-week comparison is 4-4 with one week unknown, the episode-to-episode comparison is 5-5 with two draws and one unknown. Even without any data for last week's episode, we can conclude that there was no significant change in the ratings. We were wrong. Ratings are broadly unchanged.

Bring on the Walls. For the Relatives, it's a slightly gimmicky wall of four letter words. All of them suitable for broadcast before the watershed. The first group they find are the same four letters anagrammed. There's a set of plurals of Greek letters, which they get with moments to spare. The last two groups are box ____, and American golfers. Six points!

The Europhiles have a slightly gimmicky wall of four letter words. Lots of anagrams in this set, "stop" has about six valid rearrangements. There are skin blemishes, ____ card, and supporting structures. No cards for this team, and none of the groups are found in the 150 seconds allowed. Three points!

Viewing figures may have been stable, but scoring within the game seems to have fallen. Michael Wallace of the Board Gamers has crunched the numbers.

Last year's champion notes that series 9 has fewer points per game than any other series, and the difference appears to be statistically significant. In particular, the walls have been much more difficult this year, just four were solved for ten points when we'd expect about nine – that's another significant difference.

Only Connect (2) Hamish, Davina, and Nick have it all to play for.

So, going into Missing Vowels, it's 9-9. "They have switched on Blackpool Illuminations" is the caption. "People who have..." says the host, not that this confuses the teams, the Europhiles leap ahead 3-1. Mothers and daughters goes their way, 2-0. Abbreviated to consecutive letters of the alphabet? Two to the Europhiles? That doesn't fit!

The trophy, that will fit on their mantelpiece, having won by 16-10. Victoria warns that they're setting sail for distant lands, hoping to plunder the gold and spread diseases amongst the Twos.

So, it's clear that viewers and competitors reckon there's been a change. What's caused this change? We reckon that the difficulty of the questions – always a wobbly concept – went badly off kilter when we reached phase 3, sides that had won their opening matches. These games were more difficult than we expected, and each phase thereafter was a touch harder. Some of the answers were met with a resounding "meh, who cares" from the audience.

And, as we've seen tonight, a slight "meh" from the host. What *is* a quantum number? As best we understand it, the quantum numbers are a set of co-ordinates to locate a particular electron as it goes round inside an atom. The teams were asked to find "n", the distance between the electron and the nucleus. This is a bit dry and technical, a diagram might help, some explanation certainly would.

Of course, it's possible that the contestants might have been a little less adept at the Only Connect challenges. Particularly challenges in the style offered by the new question editor. We're not saying that the old editor's style was right, or the new editor's style is better. We are saying that there is a visible difference, and the change seems to have caught viewers and contestants by surprise.

For our money, Only Connect is at its best when most questions are answered correctly by someone – we'd like to see scores on the bulk of Connections and Sequences. If they can't be right, we'd like the teams to be entertaining in their wrongness. And if the teams can't be right or entertaining, let the questions be interesting, or give rise to some entertaining debate. All too often, we found this series fell flat, the questions bamboozled the players, and they couldn't entertain us.

We hope that this is an aberration, and that Only Connect will be entertaining television for the BBC2 viewer.

This Week and Next

Rhod Gilbert will be the new permanent host of Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Rhod is a Welsh comedian, he's done a lot of stand-up and more than a few panel shows. Buzzcocks has had a series of guest hosts since 2008, when Simon Amstell left to spend more time being funny. That's the problem with Buzzcocks, the idea works better than the implementation.

The X Factor is going to have another go at involving the public: viewers will be a "fifth judge", bring through a "wild card" into the live shows, and have their voices added to Simon, Sharon, Louis, and Peter the Duck. There will still be a deadlock, especially when Louis has two acts in the sing-off. We're sure they've promised something like this before, but don't watch enough X Fac to say for sure.

File:Square Peter Jones (3).jpg

Duncan Bannatyne is out of Dragons' Den. The gym owner put out a press release, which got almost no attention. Our pictures department confused him with Peter Jones (3).

The BBC proposes to make programmes for other broadcasters, not just itself. At the moment, ITV is able to make University Challenge and sell it to the BBC, but the Beeb hasn't allowed itself to sell any programmes in the opposite direction. Proposals by Tony "Hall" Hall, the current Director General, would change that. Also, the BBC's reserved quota of 50% of television made in-house by the BBC will be removed. The corp will still commission 25% of shows from small indies (a category that doesn't include ITV Studios, Endemol, or BSkyShine Productions.)

We're pleased to hear the Life After Mastermind podcast. Dave Clark (2008 champion in the black chair) asks quiz questions, gives his views on recent shows, and tells some tales. Dave's speciality is quizzing, and the bulk of the time is a play-at-home pub quiz. Two episodes are up already.

BARB ratings in the week to 29 June.

  1. World Cup 2014 Post-Match Brazil vs Chile was the most popular show, 9.05m tuned in for the BBC's new Saturday night show. It's good, but it's no Epic Win. The programme scheduled for 7.40, A Question of Sport Super Saturday, finally went out at 8.30 with 4m watching. Top game show honours went to Celebrity Masterchef, 4.6m.
  2. ITV's topper was World Cup 2014 Costa Rica v England, which had 4.7m. It's an experimental replacement for Tipping Point, a team of players use their close observation skills to determine how much grass grows in two hours. Most entertaining game was All Star Mr and Mrs (3.4m).
  3. 1.6m for 8/10/Cats/Countdown, 1.55m for Mock the Week and Big Brother, 1.15m for Fifteen to One.
  4. Only Connect pulled 765,000 for its semi-final, ahead of Hell's Kitchen on ITV2 (445,000).
  5. ITV's repeats of The Chase With Celebrities filled a hole on ITV4, 290,000 saw the edition. And it wasn't even their best!

A quiet week ahead: Harry Hill on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (R4, 6.30 Monday) and Danny from McFly on Mr and Mrs (ITV, 8pm Wednesday) seem to be the highlights. Big Brother promises "Armageddon week" (C5, 10pm weeknights). Next Saturday includes Helen Skelton on A Question of Sport Super Saturday (BBC1, 7pm) and more embargoed guests on Tipping Point Lucky Stars (ITV, 7.30). Has Lorraine Kelly been on this yet?

Photo credits: Parasol Productions, BBC Manchester.

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