Weaver's Week 2015-08-02

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"A selection of dates, all with the same young lady, where the gentlemen are wearing earpieces and taking instructions from the contestants. It's remote-control dating for the twenty-first century! We expect a full series on E4." — 11 November 2012.

Hive Minds

Hive Minds

Green Inc and Saltbeef for BBC4, from 14 July

Only Connect reigned supreme on BBC4 for seven years. Except it didn't – the first series in 2008 attracted about 250,000 viewers. Many more than the commissioner hoped, but The OC didn't properly click until the third or fourth series in 2010. The questions got a little looser, Victoria Coren became more comfortable with the format. It began to work as an entertainment for those who couldn't solve the tough quiz.

As we know, The OC completed its transfer to BBC2 last summer. It left BBC4 with a hole for a quiz – small budget, tough for the players, and fun for people wanting to be wowed by the folk on screen.

Fiona Bruce hosts the programme. She introduces the teams – neither team nor player gets their name shown on screen – and explains what the show is about by a demonstration. Here are the teams' names, in a hive of hexagons. The letters touch each other continuously, and never use the same letter twice. Nor does the path jump from letter to letter.

Straight away, we're into the opening round. Because only one round has a name on screen, we're giving informal names to the others. So, round one, Disappearing Vowels (And Consonants). The team gets a clue, and a hive of 37 letters. Two seconds later, the letters start to disappear – at the rate of one every half-second. As the letters diminish, so do the points. Answer straight away for 5 points, falling away every four seconds to nothing after 20 seconds.

Hive Minds Keep reading for the answer.

To answer the question, the team buzzes in, says their answer, and indicates the first letter (and only the first letter) of their answer. Fiona will then say if they're right or wrong, and show the answer in the hive. There are often false trails – a question asking after a central African capital might have "K-I-G-A", but no L to continue the capital of Rwanda.

Two questions per team, they can go across for a bonus, and then we see a more difficult example. On these hives, the questions need two answers. Again, two seconds' grace before the letters start to disappear. This time, the teams need to buzz in and give both answers – Burundi and Bujumbura – and show which are the start letters.

While we've made up these example questions, they would be in place on the broadcast. The answers are plain when we see them, and the way the answer becomes more clear should help viewers to play along.

The second half of the round requires more effort from the teams. We might see "SOUTH" spelled out and wonder if it's South Sudan, or Lesotho, and what the capitals of these nations are {1}. We think it's a bit of a swizz that this section doesn't get a higher reward than the first half – would it hurt to have the points go from 6 to 2?

Hive Minds "Aquarius" was in the earlier hive, but it's not got four legs.

Graphics are provided by the Liquid company, solid and unadorned letters in coloured hexels. We're not convinced they work well at mobile phone size, but how many people are going to try to watch this show on their phone? Just us. Banks and Wag provide the show's music, a string collection that does owe a debt to Only Connect.

Whichever team is in the lead after this opening round has an advantage in round two, the Group Hive. The leading team gets first pick of the five categories. Fiona reads out the question, after which the team has ten seconds to brainstorm – shout out answers that might come up. So when the question was ABBA singles, we heard "Fernando", we heard "Chiquitita", we heard "Voulez-vous". But we didn't hear the flip side "Angel eyes", the answer in the hive.

Hive Minds A perfect round: three answers and two passes left.

Playing in turn, the team has 45 seconds to find the three right answers in the hive. Only one player has control at any time, and the team has a total of two passes through their round. Whoever goes third only has one opportunity to give an answer. A single wrong answer will end the team's turn. With one point for each correct answer, the possible scores are 0-1-2-5 – there's no account of passes left unused.

So far, so anodyne. We have a highbrow quiz that disguises its answers in a gimmick. Hiding answers in gimmicks tends not to be successful. There was the Wonderwall on Winning Lines, which was brilliant television, and scored by superlative music – and was four minutes at the end of an unexceptional 40-minute programme. "Tie the Leader" on Chain Letters, where Jeremy or Andrew would read a clue and Wordsworth would say which letter to change, or to add or remove a letter. Again, one round in a longer quiz.

Mr. Brig Bother asked if a quiz had ever had a gimmick that worked. The only example we've got is 4 Square, where the quiz – and the memory round – was an excuse to put coloured squares on a board, and make the titular squares of four. Even then, the show isn't remembered for its squares, but for the two minutes of maze round in each episode.

Hive Minds Fiona Bruce (left) and the Mendelians.

Fiona Bruce hosts the programme with a mixture of enthusiasm and naivety. We can believe that she's seen the questions, and has added some facts that she already knew. Even after three shows, we can see the discussion begin to loosen. She has confidence to banter about how 10% of the nation has a copy of ABBA Gold, but doesn't take that fact anywhere. "10% of the nation owns a copy of ABBA Gold. And 10% of CDs in charity shops are ABBA Gold."

Of all the people, we're reminded of Eddie Watts from That Puppet Game Show. You remember, Eddie, the innocent and earnest music presenter who tried just that little bit too hard.

Hive Minds Poker! Canasta! Hearts!

Things kick into gear for round three, the officially-named Superhive. One topic, 37 letters, there's just one way to pick out eight answers using each letter precisely once. And two minutes to find that unique solution. There are, of course, false leads and red herrings – on the "card games" grid we published last week, "poker" in the top right is a false friend, so is "canasta" top left.

There's one point for each answer found, a bonus two points for solving the hive. Here, players need to trace out the letters and confirm their answers – but can delete answers if they prove to be wrong.

This round will make or break the show. We can see the mechanism appear in the back pages of the Rusty Old Radio Times, or ripped off as the Horror Hex in the Daily Heil. This round is suitable for playing at home – we viewers can shout "No! Not canasta! Try Snap top middle, and Cheat top left", and see what's left. Stick this into a commuter newspaper and it just might make the series.

Another reason why Only Connect was a success: viewers could get involved. They were able to construct their own Connecting Walls, and host Victoria Coren curated some of the best. Why is this important? Three weeks ago, we said a cult show needed to let people interact, be creative, gain social capital, identify with the programme. Building a round helps to do this. There may yet be a fan movement to construct your own Superhive out of wax and honey, but we think the final round brings the greatest scope for fan involvement.

Hive Minds Here are the answers.

Round four, which we're calling Hive Alive because we missed one detail. In this round, a single hive remains for a set of questions, each of them with the answers hidden somewhere. Some answers may be for a different question (is Garibaldi the biscuit or the Italian?), some are red herrings. As in the first round, letters start to disappear. After six questions, the hive refreshes for more questions and answers. We thought it was five questions. These questions are on the buzzers, +1 for right, -1 for an error; if there's a tie, the round continues in a very natural way.

And that's it. Fiona thanks our teams, says they'll all be back (because they're using the 8-team 13-show double-elimination format pioneered by Only Connect) and lets us go. But not without one final question, shown over the end credits. It keeps us watching; more importantly, it keeps the BARB panellists watching for an extra minute. And that helps them to sustain the ratings over the entire broadcast, might add a few thousand to the viewing figure.

Sadly, Hive Minds needs every viewer it can get. The opening episode was seen by over half a million; by this week, the majority of viewers have switched off or forgotten it's on. We hope the show can improve over the summer, it will grow as Fiona Bruce eases into her role.

{1} Juba and Maseru are the capitals of South Sudan and Lesotho.

Hive Minds Can you find: a Christian festival, Jamaican prime minister, Carry On star, novelist, seaside town in Kent. Well done if you get these at home.

This Week and Next

We're sorry to report the death of Stuart Baggs. On Wednesday, the entrepreneur celebrated his birthday, happy to launch broadband over 4G on the Isle of Man. On Thursday, he was dead. Mr. Baggs began his career on The Apprentice in 2010, saying he was "The Brand", not a contestant. Stuart Baggs was 27.

E4 have sent us a nice purple velvet envelope, containing a simple card. "Remember Steve Jones?"

The host of such hits as Hair and 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic) will be making a new dating programme for E4. Young Free and Single Live will, as the name suggests, be a dating show. The gimmick: viewers can interact with the date, feed lines to the singletons and tell them where they went wrong. A novel idea, completely unlike anything seen on Jewish Mum of the Year in 2012.

Hair Host of Hair when it was some good.

"It's Time! To Leave! The Stage!!!" Peter Dickson is to leave The X Factor, the show will have to have a new announcer when it returns later this month. We're reminded of a comment Michael Leggo made on a documentary about Saturday night television: when you're changing everything about the show – staff and format – it's run out of ideas.

A show that didn't change much – Blockbusters. Gold to gold in 60 seconds or less, two heads better than one, "I want U, Bob", eleven years went by in a flash. For Buzzerblog, Christian Carrion looked at the short-lived (20 months) version on NBC – complete with pick-a-box finale, shortcut round, and asks why the show is so popular in Dubai.

On University Challenge, Kent (Alexander Atmore, Emma Isworth, Caitlin Gilroy, Thomas Cheetham) made their first appearance since Bamber "Bambi" Gascoigne's reign. Thirty years of practice didn't help them to beat Newcastle (Alexander Kirkman, Nicholas Smith, Tony Richardson, Kate Bennett), the Geordies triumphed by 160-115. The match included Craig David and other music from Radio Room 101, and the new catchphrase "Answer promptly if you buzz in".

Spaghetti Westerners (Neil Macaskill, Paul Philpot, Andrew Frazer) played Mixologists (Chris Beer, Ewan MacAulay, Sam Swift) on Only Connect. "The most boring question ever!" said Victoria of one about motorway service station operators. We thought it was going to be the one about administrative divisions in France, putting question editors to sleep since the days of Gordon Brown. Or the discussion about which order to watch The Prisoner. Or whether the A1(M) counts as a motorway.

There was a quiz in there, the Spaghetti Westerners won it, 25-24. "We have to make six of these suckers a day. Go on, teams, off you go. Next lot coming in. Chop chop." said Victoria before bidding us goodbye. The teams were out of their seats before the credits had finished.

Only Connect (2) Only Connect: standing up for difficult viewing.

We're also going to give the results from Hive Minds, as a service to barkeeps and others who miss it.

  • Week 1: Lutrophiles (Ned, Oliver, Marianne) drew with Pascallywags (Rob, Andy, Dorian) 30-30. Pascallywags progressed to the winners' round on a tie-break. Landlocked countries in Europe proved the Lutrophiles' undoing, confusing Austria with Belarus. Neither team recognised the Sedgemoor service station, on the M5 southbound, south of Bristol. It's "unexceptional", according to Rank My Layby.
  • Week 2: Trivium (Alan, Amy, Will) beat Mendelians (Andrew, Cesta, Shreya) by 27-23. In this episode, we learned that Thursday is the wettest day of the week, and the German for "gold" is "gold".
  • Week 3: Goats (Mark, Stewart, Richard) lost to Araucarians (Helen, Simon, Simon) by 17-24. Here, we remembered when we got excited by people throwing rocks over the ice. More on that story later in the month.

BARB ratings in the week to 19 July.

  1. The Eastenders remains on top overall, with 7.45m viewers. Celebrity Masterchef retains its game show crown, with 5m seeing Friday's semi-final.
  2. Who Dares Wins finished with 3.4m viewers. Catchphrase was ITV's best, with 2.55m, just ahead of The Chase on 2.52m.
  3. No figures for BBC2, so we don't know if University Challenge or Only Connect beat Mr. Chips. We do know Catsdown had 1.55m on Channel 4, and Big Brother finished with a paltry 1.37m – it wasn't even Channel 5's biggest show of the week.
  4. A series-best 905,000 saw the Love Island final on Wednesday, a good result for ITV2. Hive Minds opened on BBC4 with 540,000.

ITV hopes to warm us with Freeze Out; BBC2 bites with Great British Menu (both weekdays). We're intrigued by The TV That Made Me (BBC1 weekdays). There's a new run of Keep It in the Family (3) on ITV next Saturday. Quiz fans are served by Mastermind and Fifteen-to-One The Celebrity Edition (BBC2 and C4, both Friday).

Oh, and The Great British Bake Off is back (BBC1, Wednesday).

Photo credits: Green Inc / Saltbeef.

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