Weaver's Week 2014-10-26

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"We're not happy with dragons."

Sport Showdown

Sam and Mark's Sport Showdown

Autumn always brings a big idea from CBBC. This year, it's Sam and Mark's latest show, based on sports. One of the studios in Salford looks like a running track, complete with lane markings around the outside. The players run on through little tunnels, gaps in stands beneath their cheering fans.

Sport Showdown Making a grand entrance.

The players? Two teams of four, the reds and the blues. Each side has two children and two adults, all the players are related through blood or friendship. One by one, the players run through the tunnel, onto the track. There's a triple freeze-frame effect, while Conor McNamara gives some facts about the player. It's a pacy and warming start.

And then we're straight into the opening race, some sort of running event but with handicaps. For instance, the players might have to run around the course while encased in plastic bubbles. Or play football while encased in plastic bubbles. Have the CBBC prop designers found a consignment of little plastic bubbles and are going to use them? Who cares: it looks ace, and it's obviously great fun to play. Conor's commentary enhances the event. Ten points for the winners.

Sport Showdown Bubble or drop?

Before game two, there's an "advantage board". Parents tuning into this show might remember Wipeout with Paul Daniels, where some correct answers mixed in with some wrong ones. Same idea here: nine answers, six of them are right, three of them are wrong. "Which of these are real sporting trophies?", that sort of thing. Five points for each correct answer, and getting all three guesses right will give a reward in the next game.

Yes, it's good to combine education with action. Our problem is that this segment is ponderous. We see the teams conferring, and then they give their answers. And then there's a Pause For Very Minor Tension before we hear whether the answer is right or not. The quiz is long, it's slow, it's a good idea done in a tedious way. The energy they generated with the loud introduction and the rumbustuous opening game is leeching away with every passing second.

In the episodes we've seen, the next action round is an archery game. If the quiz was boring, this is actually bad television. The studio lights fade, so that the four targets stand out. The separate circles in their lurid colours are clear to see.

Sport Showdown Katniss never had this trouble.

The arrows they're shooting are difficult to see. They're dark arrows on a dark background. Dark arrows moving at great speed across a dark background. What are we looking for? Is that it? Or is it a speck of dust moving past the screen? We found it almost impossible to see what was going on in this game. A lick of luminous paint on the arrow shaft would let us follow the flight.

There are other problems with this element. There's an arbitrary time constraint – fifteen seconds to shoot each arrow. Time passes with a bleep every second. We hope this is added in post-production, because it gets very annoying very quickly. And the scoring is deliberately confusing. They could add up to 20 points to the team's overall score for each arrow. Instead, they add up points for this game, and the winners get 10 points on their show score.

So, having been bored by the quiz, and frustrated by a poor middle game, what's next? Another quiz round. Marvellous. Sport is about action and movement. For almost half the programme – during these quiz rounds, and the archery section – contenders do not have to move their feet *at all*.

The pace picks up during Switch Shot – it's a game of basketball, shooting on a treadmill. Three players take part, someone must run against the treadmill, so the round often ends with little scoring and lots of falling over. Good to see the slapstick element on a Friday.

Sport Showdown The player runs to fire a basket.

Points have been awarded through the game, and this gets converted to a lead in the Final Showdown. Ten points result in a one second head start. The exchange rate on Gladiators was five times this amount, but the Final Showdown on Gladiators took five times as long.

On Sports Showdown, the finale is a relay race. One player (the tallest parent) climbs a telegraph pole, grabs a baton from the top, then abseils down to pass it on to one of the children. That child goes through tunnels with balls – they've a choice of three, but two are dead ends. After guessing which is the right tunnel, the child passes the baton to the other adult, who adds a sharp point and uses this to pop balloons in a plastic cylinder. When all the balloons have gone, the adult can grab the final baton, pass it to the captain, and they'll go over hurdles to finish.

It's quicker to watch than to read an explanation.

Sport Showdown Getting through the tunnel.

Again, the show doesn't tell its story as well as it might. There's never a good shot of the children in the tunnels, one end is blocked by balls and we can't see the other end through the child's body. The course curves around, like back-to-back letter Ds, so we can't see both players pop their balloons in the same shot – they have to cut between them.

The events on Sports Showdown are doubtless great to play. We're sure that it's a wonderful show to watch in the studio. But the energy levels take a dive in the middle of the show, and never recover. Worse, this amateur column is able to spot many ways to improve the show's shot direction. We'd love to see it done a little better, because this format could go places.

Countdown Update

When we left Countdown, back in mid-September, Farhan Ahmed was in the champions' chair. He finished with three wins, losing to Paul Worsley. He won six games, and was a little unlucky when he lost to Michael McDowell. Paul looks set to follow his son Jack (summer 2012 champion) into Finals Week.

Michael won four games, but crumbled in his fifth, losing to Paul Talmey. He lost to Ellen Baker (2 wins), then Vicki Landriau and Gary Mehaffy won one game each. Vicki's total of 189 points is greater than a couple of the two-win champions earlier in the series.

Dan McColm is greater still. He won all eight games, had seven scores over 110, and a total of 942 points. How good is this player? In his last 60 rounds, he missed the maximum in just eight. Jonny Rye won two, but was beaten in a cracking game by George Ford. George has two wins so far.

We understand that Finals Week begins on 16 December, and stretches to a final on Christmas Eve. The three octochamps look certain to make the final stages.

Dan McColm8 wins942 pts
Tricia Pay8857
Mark Davies8844
David Stanford7624
Paul Worsley6647
James Wall4397
Michael McDowell4397
Farhan Ahmed3374

Tied on wins and points, James Wall ranks ahead of Michael McDowell because of conundrums solved, 3-2.

This Week and Next

Last week, Pointless Celebrities had its annual BBC radio cross-promotion. It gave Richard Osman a chance to play with his soundboard. This week, it contained some authentic radio jingles, resung for Pointless purposes. Dirty Feed, a site that's forgotten more about jingles than we'll ever know, has a montage of the Pointless jingles in context, and compares to the originals.

We've seen the winner of University Challenge. We must have done, as this is the 14th and final heat of University Challenge. Magdalen Oxford are the team everyone wants to beat. Not because of their formidable record on the show, but because the students tend to be exceptionally annoying. Harry Gillow, Chris Savory, Hugh Binnie, Cameron J Quinn hope to prove themselves exceptional. Pembroke Cambridge have brought the biggest mascot in history, and are represented by Tom McGee, Theodore Hill, James Hutt, Mark Hammond.

Magdalen moved to a 50-0 lead, but Pembroke pull back, and took the lead with the Federated States of Micronesia. Magdalen restored their advantage during the music set, cross-promoting John Peel. Pembroke pulled level, Magdalen went ahead. Pembroke took a small lead, Magdalen took it back. Ding, dong. See, saw. The scores are only going one way, up.

Then Pembroke incurs a York-style fine. Thumper had finished the question, Pembroke buzzed in sharply to avoid a penalty, and they're dinged for it. And again, a few minutes later. Thumper finished, Pembroke buzzed, got it wrong, and lost five. A very careful analysis of the programme as broadcast shows that both decisions were just about correct. Pembroke buzzed in on the last syllable of the last word of a ludicrously long question. This is correct on a point of pedantry, but the producers have stuck to the letter of the rule rather than applying its spirit.

The error is the producers'. As a spectacle, the game is ruined. Pembroke are cowed by these incorrect penalties, and appear to stop trying. The host rubs it in at the end, saying "Pembroke, you were much stronger than the 110 points." That's because they jolly well *were* better. Magdalen were credited with 220 points, and qualify with no particular effort on their part.

And this just about sums up the problem we have with University Challenge at the moment. It's not entertaining. The questions are too long, the same teams win all the time, the host plays a character that just winds us up. We have no stake in the result, we don't care who wins (so long as it's not Magdalen Oxford or Manchester). We have a week to consider how – and if – we chronicle this mess.

Only Connect (2) Victoria looks down on our favourite question of the week.

Ommmmmm. And calm. Hello, Only Connect. Hello Will Day, James Keeling, and Joanna Murray, who are the Nørdiphiles. Pronounced "Nordiphiles". Hello Jonathan Wilson, Robert Winder, and Daniel Norcross, who are the Nightwatchmen. Daniel took part in the pilot episodes, when Only Connect had three teams of two. Three teams? That'll never work!

An increase in participants got the Nightwatchmen three points, but they had to be pushed for "double". Not Name That Tune, is it. They fumble their way to a bonus on works set in Cornwall, and two for characters wearing an eyepatch. Yes, including Danger Mouse.

Just when the Nordis look out of it, they pick up three points. On the music question, too! Streets is the link. "Why are these clues in different fonts?" It's typefaces and their creators, two good points for the Nightwatchmen. Pictures proper for the Nordis are all pikes, and scores another three. Nightwatchmen lead, 8-6.

Sequences are something to seat the Nightwatchmen, who think a chaise lange has to be larger than an Ottoman. Not quite: it's Italian numbers buried at the start of the word. First round? Ouch! Pictures yield two for the Nordis, it's not 1-2-6-8, it's 4-5-6-7 matches. Nasty, and lovely. Welcome to Only Connect.

Democratic presidents and their autobiographies is two for the Nightwatchmen. Only works if one's prepared to accept the theft of the 2000 election. (Ommmmmm.) Players who missed penalties for the England men's football side yields two for the Nordis, and the note for Victoria: "Ince, rhymes with mince." Three for the Nightwatchmen on Sacha Baron Cohen's characters, ending with Ali G. The Nordis have 3 elves, 7 dwarves, 9 mortal men, and they're looking for One Dark Lord: characters in the Lord of the Rings poem.

It's 13-11 to the Nightwatchmen going into the walls. "What's a hurley?" "Stick they use in hurling". Sporting implements are one group, there's speeds in music, British cities missing their final letter. The last group defeats them, it's Florida Keys, but Seven points! The Nightwatchmen get European papers in short order, then struggle. Eventually, they get things to hold, and parts of a shoe. They've been chasing femmes fatale through the board, and finally catch up in the final group. Ten points!

So 23-18 to the Nightwatchmen into Missing Vowels. Last lines of movies includes "The horror, the horror". That lead doesn't stay for long: the Nordis pull level thanks to a group of dragons (including Peter Jones (3)). It all comes down to some tricky flight instruments, the Nordis pull two answers in the closing seconds, and have won by 28-26.

Ludus I want an award to keep for evah!

Nominations are out for the BAFTA Childrens' awards. Ludus goes for the Interactive award, while Entertainment features Junior Bake Off, Fort Boyard Ultimate Challenge, and Swashbuckle. Sam and Mark are up for Presenter, as is Iain Stirling for The Dog Ate My Homework. Channel of the Year is between CBBC, Cbeebies, Cartoon Network, and Cyw, the S4C strand for young children.

Last week, the BBC released decades' worth of programme listings, culled from the pages of the Rusty Old Radio Times. This week, the UKGS pixies have been hard at work processing some of this information.

Remember On Cue, a snooker quiz on Radio 2 in the mid-1980s? Games People Play from a decade earlier? Archive music on The 78 Show? Promotions for BBC local radio on Support Your Local and Treble Chance? We've updated listings for Young Scientists of the Year, film quiz Ask a Cine Question.

And we've reached back into the archives for Whose Baby are You?, Jog Your Memory, Spot the Winner, and Radio Forfeits. There was sweetness from Agricultural Bee, Tongue Twister Bee, Humming Bee, and Radio Revels. And, always up-to-the-minute, we present What's Wrong with This?, a diversion and interlude from 1925.

BARB ratings in the week to 12 October

  1. 13.51 million. Thirteen and a half million people saw Nancy win The Great British Bake Off. It's the largest audience for any game show since 2010. BARB had a small method change at the end of 2010, so we can just about argue that this is the biggest game show audience in the current system.
  2. 9.75m for Strictly Come Dancing performances, and 9.05m for the results. Compare to 7.55m for X Factor results, and 6.75m for the marathon performance show.
  3. Have I Got News for You at 4.85m, Pointless Celebs 4.35m. Through the Keyhole made 2.85m after 10pm, The Chase With Celebs had 2.75m, level with University Challenge.
  4. Bake Off Extra Slice had 2.4m, level with The Chase in daytime. The Battle of the Twos finished with Celebrity Juice 1.45m, Never Mind the Buzzcocks 1.25m.
  5. 8 Out of 10 Cats and Alan Carr Does Deal or No Deal both had 1.2m. A League Of Their Own S8 made 625,000 viewers, and The Xtra Factor (580,000) barely beat Release the Hounds (570,000). Reggie and his dogs have been bitten by Channel 5's acquired Gotham series, we're unlikely to see them in this piece again.

ITV's new Sunday night game show is Keep It in the Family (3) (7pm Sun). They hope it's better than Prize Island. A new run of Coach Trip (C4, 5.30 weekdays), a new run of The Great Interior Design Challenge (BBC2, 7pm Tue, check local listings). Panel shows go head-to-head at 10pm Wednesday, with Sweat the Small Stuff (BBC3) up against Fonn Fonn Fonn (BBC Alba). Be very ware: Bonnie Langford is on Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, 5.40 Sat), Strictly at 6.30. On ITV, The Chase hits deuce at 7, X Fac at 8, and we're paying Paul on Jonathan Ross at 10.

Photo credits: CBBC, Parasol.

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