Weaver's Week 2015-12-13

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Why did the chicken cross the stage?

Wild Things More on this later.

Humble Pie


Humble Pie

Fizz for UKTV, shown on Watch, 16 October to 4 December

One of UKTV's best ideas is to give a brief outline of the show before the titles roll. Don't like it, move on up the EPG, find something else to watch. So we find that Humble Pie features four amateur cooks, whittled down to one winner. The judge will be Marco Pierre White, a famous chef. The players can choose to eliminate themselves for a consolation prize.

After the titles, we introduce the players, and they meet Mr. Pierre White. They didn't know who was coming down the stairs. We did, and the producers have thrown away a dramatic reveal.

With a quick explanation from Melanie Sykes, we're away. The opening challenge is a starter, using a set of ingredients that have been provided. They've also been given an outline recipe, without times or weights. It's enough to make this a bit like the technical challenge from The Great British Bake Off.

Humble Pie Who is baking the best humble pie?

But the rest of the show is anything but Bake Off. We all know that Bake Off has a signature feeling of niceness and lovely. Players never miss the opportunity to help each other and do the right thing. Humble Pie is all about finding a loser, someone who isn't going to win this round. Not so much musical chairs as musical custard pies.

Even while they're cooking, the players can try and out-psych each other. "What's a food mixer?" asks one player. Others big themselves up, shouting "Finished!" a couple of minutes before time.

Each player takes their dish up to a judging table, in a room off the kitchen. They taste each other's dishes, and discuss amongst themselves. At the same time, Marco Pierre White gives his opinion, he waggles his knife in quite a dangerous manner, and declares a loser.

Humble Pie Marco uses the Knife of Modesty to divine a winner.

"You all failed the challenge. Only one of you is leaving, for shame." Doesn't mince words, this chap. Having heard the brief feedback from MPW, and sampled each others' food, the players have 20 seconds to male a decision. The lights go down, and then go back up.

Beneath the table is a button for each player. Should they press the button, they will leave the competition right now, and take £100 for their trouble. But if no-one presses, the cook that Marco declared the worst will leave with nothing. Be humble, take a small reward, or risk it for a much greater one.

Humble Pie Close: it's a humble quiche.

The competition progresses to the main course, with three players. They've been given a particular main they must use (beef, chicken, lamb...) but can season and flavour it in whatever way they see fit. Chicken could turn into a curry, beef could be a Wellington, lamb might be for the chop. Unlike the previous round, the players were told about this round, and have had the chance to practice.

Again, the contestants try to deceive each other, distract other players, mislead about how you're doing it wrong and I'm doing it right. They sample each other's food. "The rice is dull, the curry is bland" they say. "Nice bit of meat, and well cooked," says Marco.

And Marco's word is law. Once more, he declares a loser, and gives his feedback to the trio. Whatever he does say to the players, he doesn't give clues to which is the loser. There's £200 for the player electing to leave the game at this point – but if no-one does, the anointed loser leaves with nothing.

Humble Pie Not really: that's a showy beef dish.

The final is dessert versus dessert. Consider this the signature pudding, one the players have had plenty of time to rehearse at home. And in the studio, there's a chance for players to mess with each others' heads. Is it possible to mix chocolate with lime? Whose pudding is less sweet and more sour? Why are we channelling The Weakest Link, a show that invented this idea of host insulting the players?

The players aren't allowed to touch each others' food, but they can try and get in each others' heads. Host Mel Sykes does her best to edge them on – the producers need about eight minutes of footage from the cooking, condensed from 90 minutes of actual cookery. There's a little on how to make the dishes, and a lot on what they're talking about. Don't watch Humble Pie for tips on how to bake a better cake, do watch it for tips on one-downsmanship.

Once more, Marco gives judgement, once again the players say their lies to each other. Once again, the 20 second countdown, and a cash-out option of £500. But with £2500 for the winner, will anyone bail out at the final hurdle? They'd need to certain that they were going to lose, so the only tension is (sometimes) which pudding Marco preferred. And that's all he's judging: the £2500 is for the best pud. Earlier rounds are qualification to cook that pud.

Humble Pie An ostentatious strawberry pud. [headdesk]

What do we make of Humble Pie? It's the antithesis of Bake Off, fiercely competitive. But it never crosses the line into actual nastiness – the players engage in a war of words, but they all act with a certain honour. Attacks are on the food, not on the players or their character. They know it's only a game, they'll shake hands (or hug) straight after the round is over.

The closest comparison we have is with Poker Face, a game of quiz bluff from about ten years ago. We viewers knew the scores, the players didn't, and most of the show was those players trying to psych each other out.

The show's art is basic but functional. Cooking is done in a converted shed, and the players leave by closing the door behind them with a satisfactory bang. Trystan Gravelle provides the narration, he mostly explains the format in the opening rounds and gives some commentary during the cookery. The judging tends to look after itself.

We have a little more to say about Humble Pie, but it also applies to the next show we're reviewing...

Money Pit

Money Pit

Liberty Bell for UKTV, shown on Dave, 30 October to 18 December

Jason Manford is the name on the front gate, but he's not the star of the show. Dominic Frisby, the financial adviser and business journalist, joins him in the studio, but again he's not the star of the show.

Money Pit is a bit like Dragons' Den, in that it has inventors seeking money from rich people. Here, it's a lot of small investments from many rich people. To entice investment, the business folk will offer a stake in their business, or other perks. Unlike Dragons' Den, the commitment from rich people can go down as well as up.

Before the recording, about 50 rich people put money into an escrow account. The average contribution is £2000, some regulars might have put in 20 grand over the series. These "backers" are able to vote with their money to one or more of the projects. The "backers" stand around in a cramped circle, looking down on a small floor. This is the pits. And we mean it literally: this floor is The Pit.

The first entrepreneur comes onto the floor of The Pit, and give a two-minute presentation about their business. We get to see this with little editing. Then Jason gets some quick reactions, and there are questions from the backers, standing around the floor of the pit.

Around, and above – the backers are looking down on the pitch, the supplicants must raise their eyes. Every teenage goth has done the picture, looking up so that they look vulnerable and show off their eye make-up.

Following the pitch, and the discussion with the backers, there's a "Trading Session". Brokers in smart shirts and braces move on to the floor of the pit to take orders from the backers. They can back with all their pledged money, or some of it, or they can decline to contribute at all.

Money pit Two strawberry cones and a cola, please.

In the second round of trading, people can move out of business 1 and put it in business 2. They can also put money into business 1, but only if there's room for it.

Once business 3 has met its target, no-one can jump in unless someone else leaves first. Meet the target in the middle of a trading round? Investment closes at once, that's why the brokers use tablet devices to process orders.

We noted earlier that neither Jason nor Dominic starred in the show. Most of the story is told by the narration – Jason is the visible face, but he's little more than a lubricant to keep the show moving along. Dominic is the Richard Osman of the show, smart in at least two senses of the word.

Nor is it the music by Kevin Kerrigan, a neo-classical score. Not even the set, a gladiatorial arena, just small enough to look claustrophobic from the bottom, just large enough to be functional.

No, the star is Elizabeth Carling's narration, sharp and to the point, and just the right sort of pompous to set the mood. At times, we wonder if she's being fed lines, "the backers prefer shares to rewards" may be observation from experience, or it may be a myth the producers want to maintain.

Money pit Dominic and Jason josh about VAT relief.

And so the programme continues. As the show continues, there's some schmoozing between the backers out in the pit: Billy wants to persuade Alice to join him in business 4. We're not sure why, what they're doing or trying to prove. Is it that businesses only get funded if they reach their full target? Yes: this rule does get mentioned in the sample episode we saw, but it wasn't rammed home so we would remember it.

Our conclusions: it's not enough to have a decent idea, one must also have a modest target – or a powerful and influential backer.

And so the show continues, five pitches, five rounds of trading. We hear from the business owners, we hear from the wealthy.

In fact, we only hear from the wealthy, and the want-to-be-wealthy.

Money Pit takes every effort not to show that the backers come from the 1%. We never see a wide shot of the backers, only very tight shots of the person speaking or the reaction shot. A small number of people milling around in a confined space will look more crowded.

Money Pit A rare shot of the pit.

The producers don't make it easy to work out who is prepared to invest what. We have to divide the figure at the start of the show (low six figures) by our estimate of the backers to arrive at a large amount of money. £2000 is around one month's wage for most of Dave's viewers. None of this is deception, we're confident that everything is above board and done properly. But it does feel like we're being a tad misled, that the backers are dealing in pocket change and money they can afford to lose.

Money Pit is political in other ways. It encourages entrepreneurs and small businesses, a moderately uncontroversial position. It promotes capitalism, in a less aggressive way than Dragons' Den and The Apprentice.

Money Pit tells us that little people, banding together, can make big things happen. A plan to turn butterbeans into chocolate biscuits might not get public approval. But a farmer can get £1000 to improve his milking parlour, a new approach to bike lights can get £10,000. Welcome to the Big Society. Welcome to the co-operatives. Welcome to the aspiration nation.

Humble Pie Will UKTV set the world on fire?

In short, we have a programme that appeals to yuppies, and is using an entertainment format to discuss topical matters. We'd expect to see this pointy entertainment on Channel 4, because that's meant to be where edgy and difficult shows go to get made.

And that set us thinking. Humble Pie, if all we knew was the synopsis, we'd say it was going out on Channel 4. But no, it's stuck away behind the pay-tv wall.

Yes, UKTV is doing something right. Both of this week's shows have a little room for improvement, but both are quality formats, and they're made well. Had they come out last year, we'd be considering them for the end-of-year polls. As it is, they'll struggle against the 41 other new shows we've reviewed during 2015, and a dozen others we haven't had space to cover.

This Week and Next

Wild Things

The Eurovision Television and Radio Contest announced its winners this week. Taking home the TV Game Show Rose d'Or – it's Wild Things! The one where a giant mole and a giant duck beat up a giant stag while attempting to smash rotten fruit to the ground.

The Radio Game Show Rose d'Or went to The 3rd Degree. "Two points if the don can correctly answer the question about the subject they teach, and one well-earned bonus point if the don is wrong and the student is right. If the student errs, their question will be offered to their tutor, but only for bragging rights, no points are scored."

Other winners: TV Comedy went to Psychobitches (Tiger Aspect for Artsworld), TV Sitcom to Catastrophe (Avalon for Channel 4), TV Arts to Our Gay Wedding The Musical (Wingspan for Channel 4), TV Reality to Street Jungle (Media Ranch for Canal D of Canada), TV Entertainment to The Graham Norton Show (So Television for BBC1).

Radio Comedy went to Newsjack (Radio 4 Extra), Radio Entertainment Event to NPO Radio 2 Top 2000 (from the Netherlands), Radio Talk Show to The Infinite Monkey Cage (Radio 4), and Radio Music Show to John Grant's Songs from a Dark Place (6 Music).

Congrats to Patrick Monahan, named this week as Britain's hardest-working comedian. By the end of the year, he'll have played 127 shows in the UK alone. The reigning Show Me the Funny champion beat out Milton Jones, Gary Delaney, Stewart Francis, and Television's Katherine Ryan.

Pointless Top-quality British entertainments are seen around the world.

Eyebrows were raised in Australia's parliament, when Nick Xenophon said that ABC television's latest import was "silly". The populist left-wing senator said, "The ABC can’t be fulfilling its charter obligations by airing a program as pointless as Pointless – it is one of those ABC decisions that just leaving people scratching their heads."

The ABC charter? The state broadcaster is required to provide "innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard across Australia". Is Pointless not innovative? Is it not comprehensive in its knowledge of the Central African Republic? Is is not of a high standard? Now, if ABC (Australia) were to buy up Neighbours, Mr. Xenophon would have a reason to complain, for that is not innovative or quality.

Quiz Update

St George's London played Peterhouse Cambridge on University Challenge. The London side are all medics, the Peterhouse side are all young. The game was over just before the music round, when Paxman told St George's that there was time for a comeback. They trailed by 115-20, and promptly heard a brief extract of "Je t'aime". They didn't love questions in the match, and Peterhouse won by 195-90.

This was the final competitive UC match of the year, next week's contest has been taken off for a show about Nigella Lawson's range of spoons. There will be a just-for-fun celebrity series involving celebrities, which begins on Sunday 20 December. The student series resumes on 4 January, with 15 more episodes before the winner is named.

Only Connect reached the quarter-final stage, with the winners' match in the bottom half of the draw. Neither the Scientists nor the String Section had lost in the earlier rounds; the losers tonight would be on the first train out of Cardiff. The first round saw the scoreboard tick over, two bonuses and two of the String Section's own questions earned a point, the Scientists didn't score.

Three of the sequences evaded both sides, the Scientists scored with the 11-times table in binary, the RE teacher in the String Section failed to identify St Paul's letters. 5-3 to the String going into the wall; 15-13 coming out, the String Section perhaps a little lucky to split birds of prey from economists.

Earlier in the series, both sides had shown promise on missing vowels. This time, String Section won it on Names with "Taylor" removed: they got three correct answers, the Scientists made two mistakes. With about enough time for three sets, a five-point gap is fatal. String Section won by 22-15, and Scientists leave on their first defeat.

Christmas is for other people: with Nigella leaving BBC2 to spend more time with her cutlery, Only Connect goes out at 8.30 on both 21 and 28 December. The final appears set for 18 January.

Mastermind saw a win for Tom Williams, taking Barbara Castle as his specialist subject. A score of 24 is respectable, 13 in the general knowledge round around average. Michael Teague, Nicola Ann Burton, and Kenny Alexander all made creditable efforts, finishing with 22, 20, and 18 points respectively.

One more edition of Mastermind next week, after which there's a break for celebrity editions on BBC1. The civilian series resumes on 8 January, with the semi-finals scheduled for mid-February.

BARB ratings in the week to 29 November.

  1. Another week, another win for Strictly Come Dancing – 11.55m saw the performances this time, 10.9m the results.
  2. I'm a Celebrity drew 7.6m to ITV, The Apprentice put 6.65m on BBC1. Then... what!?
  3. Pointless Celebrities, which has a budget of about one shoestring, was seen by 5.85m viewers. The X Factor, which has a budget almost as large as Simon Cowell's ego, was seen by 5.75m viewers. Clearly, the future of light entertainment is Nigel Mansell and Alexander Armstrong playing on a Scalextric track.
  4. Masterchef The Professionals took 3.55m viewers, with University Challenge on 3.15m, and a series-best 2.15m for Strictly Come Dancing It Takes Two. 910,000 for Come Dine with Me on C4.
  5. I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Now led on the digital channels, 760,000 saw Wednesday's broadcast.

The X Factor Would the last person to leave The X Factor please turn off the lights?

One Direction say their goodbyes on The X Factor (ITV, Sun); they're also naming a winner, like anyone cares. We've also The Dog Ate My Homework (CBBC, Wed), The Great British Bake Off Christmas Masterclass (BBC2, Thu), and all sorts of larks on Text Santa day (ITV, Fri), including special editions of all ITV daytime favourites. The Strictly Come Dancing final is next Saturday night.

Next week is our Christmas entertainment. Once and for all, we answer the question: what is television's toughest quiz? Eight claimants enter, only one can be tough enough.

Photo credits: Rose d'Or, Fresh One, Liberty Bell, Mad Monk / IWC, Initial (an Endemol company), TalkbackThames / SyCo

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