Weaver's Week 2014-09-28

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Remember Stephen Nolan? He's still making radio in Northern Ireland, and this week had a discussion about innuendo on The Great British Bake Off. "Oh, innuendo has always been part of our culture," said one commentator. "But it's a show about baking," argued a prude who only represented himself. The piece suffered from the BBC's typical false equivalence: ten million people are watching this programme, and the arguments of one critic are being given a platform far beyond their popularity. Actual equivalence would give the Junior Anti-Smut League about 0.3 seconds on Radio Ulster.

"I never watch the show," noted Stephen Nolan. Stevie, mate, you don't know what you're missing. Watch an episode. And try not to panic.

Mr. Nolan might, of course, be watching another show on Wednesday nights...

Celebrity Squares

Celebrity Squares

A co-production of September Films and Group M Entertainment for ITV, shown on ITV+1 from 10 September

Last December, we looked at the history of Celebrity Squares in the UK. Two series have been broadcast, both hosted by Bob Monkhouse. One in the 1970s had voiceovers by Kenny Everett. One in the 1990s was a super-slick show, hosted by Monkhouse at his most unctious. We also looked at a pilot episode from 2003, where the emphasis was on smut. That never made it to a full series. Should have added more dough, and a few squirrels.

A pilot in 2013 has led to a full series, and it's going out at the moment on Wednesday nights, straight after Bake Off. (Apparently, it's also airing at 8pm, but no-one's watching that.) Warwick Davis attempts to fill the prior host's shoes. He's not Bob Monkhouse, we're not going to get a new Monkhouse, and we'll stop the comparisons right here.

Celebrity Squares Warwick Davis on set.

The basic rules haven't changed. Contestant picks a square, Warwick asks a question. Celebrity in that square gives an answer. Contestant chooses to agree or disagree with the celeb's answer. Get it right, win that square and £50. Get it wrong, and the square goes to the opponent (but no money is won).

The little rules haven't changed. The players are always Miss O and Mr X. There's still a mini-prize in one of the rounds. The celebs still crack jokes and make a fool of themselves.

And that's why ITV has commissioned Celebrity Squares. Celebrities being funny. Some of them will be familiar to the ITV audience – this week had three Loose Women and Antony Cotton, familiar from other ITV shows. There's Denise Lewis and Freddie Flintoff, familiar faces to bring in the sports-entertainment viewers. It also had Hal Cruttenden, a good comedian who hasn't done much on television. ITV might well think – a-ha! We can put Hal on here, see if he gets good reviews, and perhaps do some more work with him.

Celebrity Squares Catherine Tyldesley FTW.

Tim Vine is a regular on the show, he's familiar to the ITV audience. Joe Wilkinson is another regular, he's not familiar to the ITV audience but is achingly familiar to the Channel 4 audience. Might this be an effort to introduce Joe to a mass audience? It's certainly what they're trying with Keith Lemon, a man whose list of prime-time flops (Sing If You Can, LemonAid, Through the Keyhole) is longer than his list of success (Celebrity Juice, and that might have gone off).

So, lots of celebrities, some of them famous, some of them riding the wave to success. And some conversation. And some jokes. And, somewhere buried in the mix, a quiz. While the show is fresh, the jokes are fun and we're entertained. We stop being entertained after about twenty minutes.

Back in the day, this wasn't a problem. The show was just over 20 minutes long, and by the time we stopped being entertained, the game was wrapping up. Now, it's a full hour, and the schtick gets a bit much. By the new Square Essentials round, the conversation is forced, and we're losing the will to watch. "Square Essentials" tries to introduce the celebs a bit more by telling facts about them. Or fibs about them. The celeb gives the statement, Warwick says whether they're true or false.

Celebrity Squares The set goes on a very long way.

And there's still another segment before the end game. It stretches on into infinity, a vast aching void. Contestants and celebs had a good time, the audience might well have had a good time, but the sheer bulk of the programme means that this column does not have a good time. By the time the programme reaches the endgame – name nine things in a category to win £20,000 – our mind has wandered off. Will the headline on Leigh Francis's obituary be, "He built a lempire"? Will any of these people be signed up for Celebrity Big Brother? Will scarlet?

The target is to entertain viewers who don't want to watch The Great British Bake Off, and to introduce new comedians to ITV. The channel's scheme is predicated on this programme being a credible alternative to Bake Off. Both shows have a comedy with a certain level of smut, and the smooth format of Bake Off is so different from the choppy waters on Celeb Squares. Yes, some restrict their choices to BBC1 – ITV – off, they're the ones likely to be at home with the cake show.

For ITV to develop new talent, they have to introduce the performers in a helpful slot, one where their existing fans will catch them, and that can draw in new viewers. The middle of primetime isn't an obvious proving ground; the middle of primetime where only ITV loyalists and people who don't want cake might be a suitable slot. Hal Cruttenden can now say he's been on an hour of primetime ITV, and he was rather good. ITV's loyal viewers will remember this – oh, the camp guy from that big box game. The channel controllers will know that people didn't switch him off, and might book him some more.

We understand why ITV has made the programme. We don't understand why it's so slow. Nor why the catchphrase appears to be, "You're wrong to agree."

Celebrity Squares Chris Tarrant gave more before the first break.

This Week and Next

What? Stephen Nolan has his own show on Wednesday nights? It goes out after the News at Ten at 10.40 on BBC1 Northern Ireland? Frost our hair and stick a cherry on top.

And so to University Challenge, where another set of defending champions try to defend their title. Both of these sides appeared in the documentary we saw over the summer. Trinity Cambridge, champions last year, are represented by Matthew Willetts, Claire Hall, Hugh Bennett, Aled Walker. St Andrews have brought their gowns, worn this year by Lewis Fairfax, Will Kew, Jamie Perriam, James Adams.

Slapped wrists to the editors for not including all the major league sports sides who play in Washington DC. They got the Washington Mystics (basketball), the others are the Spirit (football), the Wolves (ice hockey), and the Montréal Expos (baseball). Thumper grouses at Henry Blofeld, saying he's "always going on about something". All of this helps to cover up the fact that it was a tremendously slow-scoring game. The scores were locked at Trinity 50, St Andrews 45 for about three minutes, while the teams dropped four starters in a row.

St Andrews took the lead for a moment, but Trinity pulled back by the second picture round. St Andrews kept pulling back, Trinity kept pulling ahead. And all the while, starters were answered incorrectly, bonuses were answered incorrectly, and Trinity ended up winning by 150-100. "Never really got going", said Thumper about St Andrews. Could say the same about this week's show.

In other Paxman news, he's signed up to present Channel 4's coverage of the 2015 Westminster general election. We're surprised at this news, we expected Davina McCall to host The Million Policy Drop.

"Victoria, be kind to us," pleads the continuity announcer before Only Connect. Qi Elves (Anne Miller, Andrew Hunter Murray, James Harkin) are all fans of Chinese mythology and pointed ears. What, they're actually researchers on the original BBC4 to BBC2 show QI? Oh. They're up against the Bibliophiles (Richard Clay, Vince Milner, Mike Hart).

Neither side scores on the music question, people called Al. Neither side scores on the autobiography of sportsmen. Qi Elves score one on things linked by 13. Bibliophiles score with the names of the logos of English political parties and their colours. Elves respond with Martin Freeman's co-stars, but two for the Bibliophiles on peacock pictures. 4-2 to the Bibliophiles.

Given 1990 Johnson and 1997 Booth, the Qi Elves spend thirty seconds asking themselves, "what was Sam Cameron's maiden name?" Sheffield goes for a bonus. Our question of the week is some board games: neither of the sides is familiar with the sequence in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey where they try to beat Death at pastimes.

Only Connect (2) Yes, this really is.

And then comes the picture question, a pixellated picture which comes out as the familiar Only Connect logo. "Worst! Question! Ever!" says much of the OC fandom. "Might be OK in a third-place play-off," say some. {1} "Makes US metropolitan bankruptcies look great," say others. {2} Yang to the yin of the previous question.

It's 9-5 to the Bibliophiles. On the walls, they find some gifts in the 12 Days of Christmas, former Arsenal managers, and then a bit of trouble. The groups come out as aircraft and salespeople. Ten points! Qi Elves have sporting cups – golfing to be precise. There are middle names of Yankee presidents, and then they have 90 seconds to stop and think. Eight names, including some musical writers, and have they solved the wall too early? Children in The Simpsons is the final group, and the musical theatre writers turn into 100m runners. Seven!

19-12 to the Bibliophiles going into Mssng Vls, the gap closes with "Sayings without the 'and' in the middle", only to widen with "Sauces used in French cuisine". It featured the minimalist clue, "L". Bibliophiles win the match, 23-16.

{1} The third-place playoff was a clearing house for the most difficult questions in the known universe. It was discontinued following a cut in hard questions across the BBC. See also: John Humphrys' easy questions on The Toady Programme.

{2} In the last series, viewers said a question about municipal bankruptcies was "dull".

The internet perceives censorship as damage and routes around it. John Gilmore's observation is still true. After That Other Wiki decided how facts about Only Connect were unfit for human consumption, Corabal has taken the censored information and made it freely available for everyone interested. (For the record: this is a community effort we point to, please do not contact us with corrections.)

Who says that the BBC never pays attention to Pointless Views? The Sunday whinge-a-thon has heard from people unhappy that Gardener's World shuffled to 9.30 a few weeks ago. Not a problem this week; with golf taking up the later evening, the green-fingered show fits in at 8, and Mastermind leaps to 7.

Blankety Blank When a specialist subject, I was a blank.

Hazel Humphreys (Life and Career of Les Dawson) suffered rather when the host began chortling during the second question, and never recovered his composure. 11 (2) turned into a winning score of 28 (4), kicking herself after she suggested "Mah jongg" was a two-letter word – and taking a moment to get the next question right.

A handkerchief covered the other contenders. John Carrington (Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood) lost confidence from an error on his first question, reaching 8 (2). We've no doubt that one viewer in Ulster was grouching as Humpo discussed "The thong song"; John finished on 21 (3). Martin Roebuck (History of West Indies cricket) had a history that seems to end with the side's glory days of the 1980s. Slow going to make 10 (1). Slow and steady in his second round took Martin to 20 (4). Neil Madle (Life and Films of Howard Hawks) suffered from the host wittering on about the answers. Don't think it cost him a question. 10 (1) turned into a pass spiral, the contender advanced to 20 (4).

BARB ratings for the week to 14 September:

  1. The Great British Bake Off enters the exclusive Ten Million club, with 10.15m people seeing the non-elimination show. It actually joined two weeks earlier, when 10.25m saw the Bingate episode, but we didn't get those ratings in time. Counting sporting events as one programme, we reckon it's the 38th title to break eight figures this decade, and the 26th series {3}.
  2. The X Factor had 8.1m, The Chase With Celebrities and Through the Keyhole both 3.6m. Celebrity Squares returned to 3.15m viewers.
  3. 2.5m for Bake Off Extra Slice and for University Challenge, with 2.05m for Only Connect.
  4. Celebrity Big Brother finished with 2.4m, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown made 2m, and Million Pound Drop Live Not Live hit a series-high 970,000.
  5. Celebrity Juice returned, its 1.12m rating is "disappointing" say ratings professionals. 865,000 for Xtra Factor, and 496,000 for Bad Bridesmaid. We don't have figures for KYTV Europe UK.

{3} The 26 returnable series include such marginal cases as New Year's Eve Fireworks, BBC News, Comic Relief, and Children in Need. We include as two titles performance and results shows on X Factor, Strictly, and Britain's Got Talent.

BBC2's panel games return – Never Mind the Buzzcocks on Monday, QI on Friday. The Eggheads move back to 6pm, and they're joined late in the week by newcomer Lisa Thiel. Who? David Clark of Life After Mastermind has the interview.

Next Saturday's lineup has Pointless Celebrities at 5.30, Strictly Come Dancing at 6.20. Ken Bruce and David Haye are on The Chase on ITV at 7, The X Factor continues Judges' Holiday Caravans at 8, and Through the Keyhole at 9.20.

Photo credits: September Films / Group M, Parasol.

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