Weaver's Week 2016-06-05

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We consider the legacy of Reg Grundy this week, and there's some news from Noel Edmonds.


Reg Grundy

4 August 1923 – 6 May 2016

"Be local to be global."

Born in 1923, Grundy served as an army sergeant, then joined radio station 2SM in Sydney as a sports commentator. Around this time, he also worked at the David Jones department store, where he was a buyer in the ladies' sportswear department. His name became rhyming slang for underwear.

Reg Grundy.

He devised the Wheel of Fortune game show for 2CH in Sydney. The show was a success, and moved from radio to television within a year.

Now, we've not been able to find a full copy of this show, just clips from the Australian Screen archive. (And they don't permit us to show sample pictures for any reason.)

We can see that it's different from the American show of the same name. A returning champion picks a specialist category, and is asked six questions. These questions are quite difficult. A challenger picks their category, and is asked six questions.

Whoever has the most right answers gets to spin the titular Wheel of Fortune, numbered like a roulette wheel from 1 to 40. It's only the units that matter, the final numbers match against a prize board. All the prizes are worth about £50 (now about £800, A$2000). There was a beauty kit, childrens' play equipment, a sewing machine, and other consumer items. The winner plays again in the next game.

Each show has two challengers. The first is picked by the producers; the second emerges from the audience through a series of true-false questions. It's a simple format, easy to follow, and easy to sponsor – ten prizes means ten ways to say "Brought to you by ..."

Wheel of Fortune (Australia) ran for three years, 1959-62. Much later, his company would pick up local rights to Wheel of Fortune (America), which you do know. But more on this later.

The Reg Grundy Organisation was founded in 1960. For the rest of the decade, it concentrated on local versions of American game shows. Concentration and Tic Tac Dough were sold easily, I've Got a Secret and Blankety Blanks followed later on. The legend is that Reg Grundy had connections at Sydney Harbour, where the boats came in. He'd get a look at films of new formats, and could sell them to Australian television before the parcels had reached downtown.

Later, there were new formats. A successful working of Television Scrabble, and then paydirt with TemptationSale of the Century, as we know it here. Reg Grundy Productions developed Going for Gold, the unique pan-European quiz show. And he devised Hot Streak, a rare failure from Bruce Forsyth.

The organisation branched out into cheap drama – Sons and Daughters, The Young Doctors, Prisoner Cell Block H all ran for ages. The jewel in the crown was Neighbours, which showed another of Grundy's skills: he never took "no" as a final answer. Cancelled after six months by Channel 7, he picked up the programme and sold it as a going concern to Channel Ten. And, of course, he sold it to the BBC as cheap filler for their daytime schedule. Said "cheap filler" lasted decades and picked up ten million viewers. Some of them might even be convinced by the wooden acting and flimsy scenery.

From Sale of the Century, we can see how Grundy understood human emotions. Answer trivia questions to win money. You could spend some of that money on real prizes, but it will harm your chances of winning the overall game. And if you don't win the game, you can't win the really big prizes. The certainty of a small reward now, or the chance of a larger one later? A medium prize today, or the jackpot prize three days hence?

Grundy helped to develop the international format as we know it. It may have started in some of his game show adaptations: tweak the rules, helps the game, and helps to sell the show, and viewers love it. Going for Gold ran for eight years on Superchannel, and has notched up 28 years on domestic French television. There are variations, but it's recognisable as the same programme.

Daphne Fowler Going for Gold's star, with Henry Kelly.

He did the same for drama. Sons and Daughters has been sold to Croatia and Bulgaria: same characters, similar scripts, amended slightly for the local culture. It's a safe bet for television executives.

Grundy made television for the masses, not for the chattering classes. His target was a big audience: bring 'em in, keep 'em glued.

His job was made easier by Australian television in the 1960s, there was very little chance for the country to see itself on the screen. Most programmes came in as imports, Grundy built the television industry almost on his own. And he gave lead roles to women, at a time when almost all the big parts went to men.

But the critics argue back, Grundy always played it safe. His shows were unadventurous and timid. They weren't at the cutting edge, the games and the dramas never asked questions of the audience. "Join us next time on Temptation," we'll go through the same things over and again. You can predict what will happen on Prisoner Cell Block H: it's no Orange is the New Black.

We may be coming at this from a British perspective. Australia tends to be much more demotic than the UK. They build people up and cheer them; we Poms tend to build people up and knock them down. The establishment in Australia welcomed him, first an OBE then a knighthood. He was admired and respected at home, and that counts for a lot.

And he knew when to get out. The Reg Grundy Organisation was sold to Pearson Television in 1995. He had the privilege of picking his work, he made a particular success of Australian Idol. He retired to Bermuda, to pursue his hobby of wildlife photography. And it was in Bermuda that he died on 6 May, leaving his wife Joy Chambers after fifty years.

Deal or No Deal

Noel or No El

Last week was brightened by a cryptic statement from Noel Edmonds about his daytime show Deal or No Deal.

"There will be more Deals but in the tradition of my long TV career we will surprise you with something very different and something I’ve always wanted to do with this extraordinary format."

Speculation ran wild. What could Little Noely do that was different and in keeping with his previous career?

"Weekly primetime episodes, live, in the Million Pound Drop slot?"

"Twenty-two sealed boxes hidden in people's living rooms around the country, revealed in an NTV style?"

"Live from the top of the tallest structure in London, the Richard Osman."

"When you open your box, you get covered in gunge."

"Deal or No Deal has actually been an experiment in mass hypnosis, and Noel will be raising an army of the undead on Channel 4."

"Whoever opens the 1p is subjected to a five-minute rant from the host about all their problems. It's a feature called Penny For Your Shortcomings."

Deal or No Deal

"Product placement prizes replace cash."

"Weekly episodes in the show's natural home, at 3.25 in the morning?"

"Organising a competition to find the successor host. Mr. Steyn, Mr. Earnhardt, Dominic, Alan A, the late Baron Campbell-Savours, Mr. Winton..."

"The host wears a smart suit. Or a sober waistcoat. Or anything other than those terrible shirts so loud they look like technicolour vomit."

"No padding, no filler. No advice, no side games, no chats with The Banker, and absolutely no breaks. Ten minutes against the clock for each game."

"App-a-long Deal or No Deal. The player is bound to follow advice from the audience at home – and 100 of them will share the winnings."

This Week and Next

Tuesday was finals day on Fifteen-to-One. The one-hour slot does the quiz no favours, it has to go at a plodding pace, and we never feel the cut-and-thrust of the middle round.

Fifteen-to-One The finalists, and Sandi.

Gareth Kingston, Bob Haigh, and Will Howells contested the final, all the questions are on the buzzers. Will gave two wrong answers early doors – another would eliminate him entirely. Bob took an early lead, Will pegged him back. Bob led again, Will pulled back and took the lead. Bob led, Will pulled him back. All the while, Gareth remained in touch, one life down and a few questions off the pace. With fifteen to go, Gareth went on a roll, and came within a question of the lead. Then he took the lead.

With two questions to go, anyone could win. Bob got the first, so Will couldn't win. On the last ask, Will buzzed a nano-second faster than Bob, and gave the right answer. Bob would have won the game with the right answer. Will could have won if he'd got either question right at the start. After 40 questions, Gareth had won, and he showed astonishment all over his face.

The X Factor continues its strange dream. After a year's sabbatical, Louis Walsh is back on the show, replacing The Gary Barlow Memorial Fun Sponge. Cheryl has left the programme, so has Fernandez Versini. They'll be replaced by Nicole Scherzinger and Sharon Osborne.

So, basically, it's the dream running in reverse. We're back to the 2013 judging panel, except that Gary Barlow has been replaced by Knitted Simon Cowell. We expect Stereo Kicks will do better if they split into their eight constituent members.

BARB ratings in the week to 22 May.

  1. Britain's Got Talent slipped in the ratings: 8.05m saw the final auditions on ITV-SD, 2.1m on ITV-HD.
  2. BBC1's biggest game show was Have I Got News for You (4.85m). Bake Off Creme de la Creme reached its final, seen by 3.6m. That's 600,000 down on the opening episode. The Great British Sewing Bee started a new series, with 3.3m watching.
  3. The Chase records a solid 2.5m viewers. Channel 4 failed to put a game show into the channel top 30 for the fourth week running.
  4. Celebrity Juice had 1.28m viewers, and Britain's Got More Talent 780,000. Over on The Satellite Channel, 1.24m saw A League of Their Own Roadtrip.
  5. On Discovery Home and Health, 25,000 saw a teatime repeat of Masterchef Australia. On the timeshift channel DH&H+1 32,000 saw the episode repeated at lunchtime the next day.

Big Brother series 17 (C5 and TV3, from Tue) begins this week. Horrible Histories Gory Games Playalong (CBBC, weekdays) brings appalong fun to the ancient world.

Photo credits: Reg Grundy Productions, Endemol, Argonon / Remedy.

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