Weaver's Week 2016-02-28

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This week's edition is brought to you by the words "It's" "A" "Song" and "Contest".

A Song for Europe


Eurovision You Decide

BBC Events for BBC Music, shown on BBC4, 26 February

Last weekend, the people in Ukraine voted to send a song with a meaning. "1944" is about the forced exodus of Tartars from Crimea to Central Asia. The song runs close to the "no politics" rule without crossing it (see also: "Face the shadow" from ARMTV last year). It's a song contest, about the songs.

So let's ask a really daft question. Will any of the BBC's proposed entries have a deep or profound meaning? Do any of them expand the mind, or ask existential questions? Do the songs push boundaries? (SPOILER! No.)

The BBC annoyed us on Monday. They went into great detail about the performers, while neglecting to tell us anything about the song. The clue's in the name: it's a song contest.

A Song for Europe As a great British songwriter once said, "who are the sensational six?"

We need to know which songs are upbeat, slow, unusual, and which are forgettable twaddle.
  • "You're not alone", written by Justin J Benson, Schwartz and S Kanes, performed by Joe and Jake.
  • "Shine a little light", written by Ash Howes, Cass Lowe, Leona Lewis, Richard Stannard, performed by Bianca.
  • "When you go", written by Tomas Twyman, performed by Dulcima and Tom.
  • "A better man", written by Andrew Fromm, Helienne Lindvall and Peter Kvint, performed by Matthew James
  • "Until tomorrow", written by Duck Blackwell, Jack McManus, Joshua Wilkinson, Roy Stride, performed by Darline.
  • "Miracle", written and performed by Karl William Lund.

We don't need to know that Joe and Jake met on BBC The Voice of Holland of UK last year. We don't need to know that Bianca was in a failed girl group, or that Darline supported The Shires.

We do need to know which songs are upbeat, which a slow number, which are unusual, and which is the middle-of-the-road forgettable twaddle. The words "written by Richard Stannard" help more than "performed by one of Bad Boys Inc". We're not voting on CVs, we're voting on the here and now. Three minutes, not a lifetime achievement. It ain't a performer contest, it's a song contest.

And one where they plan to fake the voting. SMRTV are hopping mad, the good people of San Marino will have some completely made-up "results" attributed to them. SMRTV haven't been consulted about this, and they have muttered about leaving the contest after this year. The BBC, it appears, have approved this change in the rules. Don't people get unpicked for less?

The warm-up act happened in Germany. Unser Song für Deutschland finished in chaos last year, when the performer of the winning song decided that he didn't want to take part. NDR sent the runner-up, and the song failed to trouble the scoreboard. This year? NDR's vote went swimmingly, and the winner will take part.

A Song for Europe A Mel for Europe

And so to the Kentish Town Forum. The first time the BBC has deigned to let the public have a say in its song since 2008, the first time there's an outside broadcast since 1978. Mel Giedroyc hosts, and introduces the performing acts. Oi. It's a contest for songs, not performers.

We're introduced to "Mans Zermelow and his winning song, 'Heroes'". Oi! It's a song contest. After the performance, Mel asks, "What advice can you give to viewers at home when they vote for their acts." Oi! It's a song contest. We vote for songs! Not acts!

Mel introduces the panel. Fame Academy alumna Carrie Grant. Radio 2 host Katrina Leskanich. Choreographer Jay Revell, responsible for the disaster of Electro Velvet's staging.

Before each song, there's a postcard telling us about the performers. No! No! Song first. Viewers around the world will come into this completely cold. No interview, no mini-CV, just the song.

"When you go" is song one. Oh, grief. Cod-folk, yes. Squeaky and breathy vocals, no. Anthemic bit in the middle, yes. The staging is static: close up of the woman vocalist, close up of the man and one of the backing banjoists, but half of the song has them in the shadows or matchsticks on the stage.

After the performance, the critical panel is critical. Carrie Grant says the performers were a bit middle-of-the-road, they could be darker or edgier or (we interpolate) less like Mumford and Sons. For this burst of honesty, Carrie is booed by the crowd. Seriously? Can't the Kentish Town crowd deal with a bit of honesty? Lying to yourself explains why the BBC has finished stock last so often.

A Song for Europe There's something in the song, didn't see it on the night.

"A better man" confirms that the BBC has forgotten the point of a song contest. It's a song contest. Songs. Not performers. This one's a bloke standing on the spot, gazing about and gyrating and trying to sing a little ditty to pass the time. It's as if he's trying to keep warm while waiting for the number 60 bus. "You inspire me, give me reason to believe," goes the lyric. It doth protest too much.

"Made a real connection, got his message across," says Jay. Rubbish. We got nothing out of that song, a dull performance and incompetent staging. Quite how they've managed to get the camera at precisely the wrong angle to look good against the backdrop, we'll never know.

A Song for Europe Matthew James is far away, and his chances are small.

"Until tomorrow" is song three, and this instantly feels better. Two young women on the stage, the camera cannot go anywhere other than them. Left is in shot, right is in shot, a pull in, a sweep out. The song is gentle and undemanding and ever-so-slightly cautiously optimistic. First performance so far that stands a chance of getting out of the semi-finals.

Carrie adds, "I'd like some sort of connection between you," making the very fair point that they were split by half the stage. Needed some backing dancer, but to avoid the obvious comparison with "Only teardrops". Katrina makes the point, "This is the sort of thing that Europeans vote for." {headdesk} The juries are important. Darline's song was distinctive jury catnip.

A Song for Europe Shame that they're hiding behind mike stands.

"Miracle" tries to be the new "A million voices", a singer at the head of a group of masses, an anthem to inspire the power of numbers. But the backing singers remain stock still until the final verse, and then they only walk downstage. We hoped this song would go places, but no. Straight into third gear and remained there.

"Most solid performance so far," says Carrie, which is true. A block of lead is also solid, but we wouldn't swim to shore with it. "Looked good on camera," perhaps. But Jay says that performer Karl drew us into his world: no he didn't. Might have looked excellent in the hall, but on screen that was a mess.

A Song for Europe Karl William Lund would have been OK. We can do better.

None of the songs have sounded terribly good. The backing tracks are too loud, overpowering the vocals.

"Shine a little light" is up next. Tedious start, some very nice harmonies in the chorus. The singer is wearing the Eurovision trope red cape, and actually moves about the stage. A bit. Now, there's promise here: if she can keep up the vocals while moving and dancing, it could actually look good. Strong vocal, midtempo song – about 100bpm – and there's a bit of potential there.

Jay and Carrie praise the vocals, shouting "douze points". No sort of bias there, not at all. Carrie says "this is the sort of song that can win". Doubt it. A strong midtempo number performed well tends to do well, but only wins in a weak year (2011, hello). Katrina's microphone has been wonky all night, and is now completely unintelligible.

A Song for Europe Definite promise in Bianca's song.

"You're not alone" gets the plum last slot, so viewers will remember it best when the active voting window opens. Two young men, one with a guitar. The camera follows them around but there are the obligatory shots of the drummer and they try to make up for a tedious song with disco lights.

Very soft rock. Heart FM called from 1994 and asked for this earnest number back. "A lot of young people voting for this," suggests Carrie, which is wrong. They closed BBC3 two weeks ago. "They've got great stage presence" editorialises Mel, from no factual basis at all. "We can't get that 'oh oh oh' out of our heads," says Katrina. Speak for yourself! We've forgotten it already.

A Song for Europe The BBC thought it more important to show off the stage than the song.

Right, the active voting window opened at 8.27 for twenty minutes.

This broadcast went out on general election day in Ireland, so we're going to offer our completed single transferable vote.

  1. Until tomorrow
  2. Shine a little light
  3. Re-open nominations – nothing else will trouble the top 15
  4. When you go
  5. Just don't bother – nothing else would get out of the semi

While the voting happens, Scott Mills discusses the winners from 2009 to 2015. While the BBC found one and a half good tunes, these songs did a bit better. Scott talks as much about staging as performance. And then Katrina does her party piece, from when some of tonight's contestants were in nappies.

Another recap, then a tribute to Terry Wogan. After the voting ends, some highlights from Eurovision A Celebration last Easter, which will be new to 98% of the viewing public.

The winning song? "You're not alone". Oh crumbs. Middle of the road, bland, decrepit, dull drivel. And in the reprise, dangerously close to a Steps number, the last thing on my mind or some such. Twentieth if the BBC is very lucky.

A Song for Europe That drummer's bangin'!

"But it's a really good pop song," shouts Graham Norton the next day, showing just how far out of touch he is with the televoting audience. Can you seriously imagine someone slightly credible – Justin Beaver, Zara Larsson, even Jess Glynne – putting this dreck as their ringtone?

What's gone wrong? Nothing on the show encouraged people to vote for the song. Everything was about the performer. The captions didn't vote for "You're not alone", they voted for Topsy and Tim. A BBC audience returned the BBC's preferred acts, without regard to the performance or song.

If the BBC wanted to be sure of a decent song, it would have filled the final with decent songs. That would have been a two-song shootout. But they'd booked the venue for a night, and blocked out 90 minutes of transmission, and felt they had to fill it. Some of the filler won. That is all.

University Challenge

Quarter-Final 1: St John's Oxford v Peterhouse Cambridge

Alex Harries, Charlie Clegg, Angus Russell, and Dan Sowood represent Oxford's nearly college. Cambridge's leading side are Thomas Langley, Oscar Powell, Hannah Woods, Julian Sutcliffe.

The first starter is about "crowns", and we're confused by Peterhouse's mascot: a crown, which appears to be floating on thin air between Oscar Powell and Hannah Woods' desks. It is, in fact, resting on the plinths at the side. But from the front, it looks like it's just floating.

University Challenge The amazing floating crown trick.

St John's got that first starter, and all the bonuses. Peterhouse picked up the next three correct starters, and two bonuses. St John's briefly pulled level, only to lose five on a missignal. Peterhouse are surprised to score with the starter "declination", a preference for the shorter one on Saturday Night Takeaway.

The game picks up: full sets from both sides boost the scores, and Peterhouse prove their knowledge of the Baltic lands. St John's briefly take the lead, and Oscar Powell gesticulates wildly during Peterhouse's next set of bonuses. "That's by [sneeze]" says Paxman when he's naming an Italian artist. Nasty cold you've got there. After the visual round, the scores are level at 105-105.

150-all. Game on!

Neither side knows a Mendip, but Hannah Woods gives the answer "otter", leading to 2/3 on James Bridley Place. Oscar Powell recognises the tagline of The fly, a 1986 movie; Peterhouse get 3/3 on rodents. Just when they need a break, Charlie Clegg gets Blaxton, and St John's score 2/3 on past participles of European languages. "Epi-" words also fall to Charlie Clegg, and they get 3/3 on vector operators. 150-all.

Game on! In what could be a one-starter shootout, Hannah Woods pulls "warfarin" out of the bag, and the Cambridge side score 2/3 on the Eucharist. Julian Sutcliffe scores highs and lows of the Sahara for Peterhouse, and the side wins by 195-150.

Peterhouse go straight through to the semi-finals, St John's drop into the Last Chance round, where they'll play a side from the other half of the draw. We'll have another Quarter Final in two weeks.


Second round, show 3

A massive smile spreads on Gary Wright's face in his specialist round. Perhaps it's because he's answering on the comedy Men Behaving Badly, perhaps he's sniggering at the scenes in the question. Or perhaps he's happy from nailing a Perfect Round, 12 on the comedy.

Not that the others are far behind – Andrew Diamond got his first ten questions right on Gerald Durrell, Roger Canwell scored ten on Neville Chamberlain, Sharon Montgomery also hit ten on the Inspector Barnaby novels. Only Andy Burrows has ground to make up, he made eight on the History of the Bundesliga, and stalls on the general knowledge round. Chess? Formula One racing? Ah, they're both Channel 4 sports. His final score: 17 (4 passes).

Sharon Montgomery posts 19 (1), then Andrew Diamond takes the bull by the horns. Answer quickly or pass: it pushes him up to 23 (6). Given that both semi-finals have been won on 21 points, that's a quality score.

Roger Canwell closes on 20 (1), it's swiftly apparent that he won't be returning to the final. Gary Wright closes out the show, needing eleven to win. A couple of passes early on put the tension levels up, but a string of answers propels him to 22 points. And an error. And a pass. Gary finishes on 22 (4).

Andrew Diamond takes a place in the final, his answer-or-pass strategy is effective.

There's no programme next week, world championship cycling takes precedence. The final therefore shifts to 1 April.

This Week and Next

BBC daytime have told us about their new shows. "Yes Chef!" (ITV Studios) is pro-am cooking, daily heats build to a Friday final. "The Code" (Gogglebox) requires a three-digit combination to open a moneybox. Right answers earn digits; a wrong answer eliminates a player and losing a team drops money into the moneybox.

There are also new series of antiques quiz For What It's Worth and nostalgia show The TV That Made Me.

Vwoosh! The noise of Caroline Flack and Olly Murs leaving This Week's Hot New Talent. The ITV sob-story programme lost Nick Grimshaw last week.

Canadians will no longer be allowed to play Jeopardy! south of the border. The change comes because the Yankees were annoyed that the Canadians kept winning. Er, er, we mean there are data protection rules in Canada. Yeah, blame everything on "data protection", the cop-out for rubbish administrators throughout the civilised world. No word yet on whether Ted Cruz will be still allowed to compete.

Further discussion into women hosts of comedy panel games. David Bodycombe reminds us of Holly Willoughby on Play to the Whistle last year. Some of us try to forget that, but very good point.

Brig Bother offered Mel and Sue's Casting Couch, which went out on ITV back in 1999. That's the archetype, that's clearly a comedy panel show hosted by women. And the earliest, unless you know better.

Lazy journalists who say that Insert Name Here was the first comedy panel game on a mainstream television channel to be hosted by a woman? You're so wrong. It wasn't even the first comedy panel game on a mainstream television channel to be hosted by Sue Perkins.

Sue Perkins First woman to host two mainstream television comedy panel games — unless you know better!

BARB ratings in the week to 14 February.

  1. Call the Midwife remains the most-seen show, 9.6m viewers. The Voice remains the top game show, on 7.1m.
  2. Win Your Wish List came second, with 4.2m viewers. The Ninja Warrior final had 3.7m viewers and 0 winners. The Chase (3m) beat Take Me Out (2.95m).
  3. University Challenge also had 2.95m, and The Jump 2.25m. Huge ratings for The Great Interior Design Challenge, 1.9m at 7pm on BBC2.
  4. Take Me Out The Gossip (ITV2, 810,000) beat A League of Their Own (The Satellite Channel, 750,000) and Catchphrase (ITV2, 545,000).
  5. Pocket Money Pitch began on CBBC with 220,000 viewers. Britain's Next Top Model continued on Lifetime with 225,000.

The longest-running song contest returns next Saturday, with Can i Gymru (S4C). ITV has new series of Big Star's Little Star (Wed) and Bear Grylls' Mission Survive (Thu). And if Jess Glynne does have a decent ringtone, she'll be on Saturday Night Takeaway.

Photo credits: BBC, Granada, 12 Yard / Black Dog.

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