Weaver's Week 2016-10-16

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"If you have an itch, it helps to scratch it." We're in a cranky and cantankerous mood.

My Kitchen Rules


My Kitchen Rules

7Wonder for Channel 4, from 3 October

Viewers in Australia fall for cookery shows. Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules dominate primetime for months on end, an hour every night for three months. The finals are amongst the most-viewed entertainment shows of the year. {1}

Over here, we can see both of these Aussie imports. Masterchef Australia goes out on UKTV's flagship pay channel W, My Kitchen Rules airs on KYTV's niche pay-channel Living. Both get very respectable audiences, 200-250,000 viewers is as good as it gets for lifestyle programmes on subscription telly.

Some years ago, Living tried to bring My Kitchen Rules to viewers in these islands. This year, Channel 4 has bought the format and put its own spin on the show.

My Kitchen Rules All the cooks on parade.

The idea is simple. Have a restaurant in your own living room. Or your own conservatory, or a space you've borrowed for the evening. Best restaurant wins. The contest is judged almost exclusively on food quality, and the nosh is expected to be "restaurant standard". Champions of the series get £10,000.

And the right to say "My kitchen rules", which feels like the start of a longer sentence. "My kitchen rules are always wash your hands before cooking." "My kitchen rule's the same length as all other 30cm rules." Or do they mean "My kitchen rules over all others in a contest organised by 7Wonder for Channel 4."

The execution is complex and convoluted. The competition is divided into "regions", and we've been following the "North" region. Yorkshire and surrounding dominions, like Manchester. Each week, four couples take on the My Kitchen Rules challenge. They host a dinner party for the other couples, and for judges Michael Caines and Prue Leith.

My Kitchen Rules Contenders pay tribute to Prue Leith and Michael Caines.

Who? Michael Caines is a chef, and he's been approved by a well-known tyre company. Prue Leith markets herself as a domestic goddess. Both are famous for their cookery, and are harsh taskmasters. They'll give points in the final segment, when points mean progress.

We can tell from the start that My Kitchen Rules is an imported show. We see footage from across the series, including some from a stately home they've hired, and some shots of competitions in the studio. At this stage, we don't know how the whole series hangs together.

We do know that the credit sequence introduces Caines and Leith. Not two minutes later, they're introduced again, in case we were dozing off the first time. Now, 5pm is a busy hour. Viewers are arriving, channels get zapped, and we reckon a few people might decide whether to turn off The Chase after seeing Bradley introduce the team. But how many people will zap from ITV to C4 halfway through the first cashbuilder round? At least wait to see if it's your favourite Chaser!

Or is this a holdover from the Australian model. Do they have a long introduction, then a commercial break, and then have to reset for the start of the show proper? If they do, we'd hope someone told them that this isn't necessary on Channel 4. It's not necessary, and it's distracting, and they really don't want to do it. It's a minor irritation, it's like putting on a warm jumper only to find that it itches a bit.

My Kitchen Rules They couldn't just be "Simon and Linda". Is that because Australians..?

Anyway, Caines and Leith get their introductions, both of them. We also meet the teams. They're given cutesy team names; Bill and Ben aren't going to be "Bill and Ben" on screen, they're going to be "Plumb Cater". We'll have to have a photo or a voiceover to explain that "Plumb Cater" are, in fact, Ben and his wife Bill. It's a conceit, another itch in the warm hug of a show.

One of the teams is going to do the cooking, and they're given seven hours to prepare. Three of those hours will be spent shopping, gathering everything off a shopping list. The shopping expedition allows the team to explain what they'll be cooking, and for the judges to tell us what they'll be looking for.

Michael Caines' explanation rings false. Not that he's misleading us, but that he sounds like he's reading from a script and he doesn't care that we know it. Almost as if they shoot this "preview" after the event, to help us make sense of the edit. Itchy.

My Kitchen Rules One of the contestants puts her shopping into branded bags.

My Kitchen Rules misses no chance to get its branding in shot. Chefs have to wear the show's aprons while cooking, and their shopping goes into "MKR" fabric bags. It's another little thing that we find irksome. It's another little tickle from this warm jumper.

My Kitchen Rules also goes big on its timings. If we're to believe the clock on screen, the other diners will arrive at a precisely choreographed time. They'll be shown into a decorated space, because My Kitchen Rules isn't just about the food, it's about the ambience as well. We've already seen the cooks spend a few minutes decorating the room with lights and throws.

And then it's on with the food, and on with the countdowns. The team have 30 minutes to serve up their starter, then an hour to serve the main, and another 30 minutes to give out the sweet. Miss any of these deadlines and the judges promise to deduct points.

My Kitchen Rules Cooking in a way consistent with the brand.

Throughout the show, tension music arrives to make the pressure obvious. Cymbal swishes arrive with every graphic, sometimes they dominate the soundtrack. It's not subtle, it's another little irritation, it's another hair pulled the wrong way.

Part one was taken up with the prep. We see the starter served in part two, the main in part three, and the dessert in part four. Each part begins with some cooking, then there's some serving to be done.

A little ritual accompanies the dishes. All eight guests (six competitors and two judges) get their food at the same time. Caines and Leith sample their food. Then they deliver a critique on the dish. Only after this – and it must take a few minutes – do the other competitors get to eat what's in front of them. Hope it hasn't gone cold / melted in the time.

My Kitchen Rules They shoot the food to look delicious. Mushrooms with an interesting filling.

Caines thanks the chefs, and excuses them with the magic phrase "You must be eager to get back to the kitchen." Then we start again on another cycle of cooking.

Throughout the show, the other guests are giving their comments. Some are filmed live at the table. Others might be pick-ups, comments that were made and re-staged for the camera. Many come from a voice-off booth, decorated to look like that day's dining room.

The cooks give a running commentary of what they're doing. At times, explaining how they're making the dish, and what sets it apart from other similar concoctions. At times, they'll shout across the kitchen, Bill asks Ben to do the thing he's already doing. This isn't to help Ben, but to help attract the viewer's attention in case they might be wandering.

And so the show continues, until the dessert is finished and there's a pile of crockery in the sink. Who's doing the dishes? A question we never get to find out, because this isn't ITV's celebrity show.

At this point, the visiting teams retire to the garden (or another quiet space) to discuss points. Each of the other contestants will give a mark out of 10 to their hosts, based on the food and ambience of the evening. Michael Caines and Prue Leith will then give their own marks for each course, again out of 10. So Caines, and Leith, and the other contestants all award up to 30 points.

My Kitchen Rules The contestants prepare to hear today's marks.

"Restaurant standard" is one of those nebulous terms. Do they mean Hector Blumineck's ultra-swanky digestiferie, or the seats by Big Mike's Pie Stall? It quickly becomes clear that the judges expect faffy food, and will judge to those standards.

This week, most marks have fallen into a range between 5 and 8 points. It looks like 6 points is your "average" mark, nothing wrong with the dish, nothing outstanding. Little touches that surprised the judges add points. Where they have something clear to critique, they'll nick marks off.

Caines marks hard, if there's something wrong he'll pounce on it. Leith is a little softer, she marks as much from the heart as the head and the stomach. The contestants give each other 6 or 7, there's been little to choose.

The result? After three days, the lowest team had 59 points. The top team had 61 points. Either these teams were all of a similar standard, or the scoring system doesn't help to discriminate between best and worst. Again, little flaws, this jumper is becoming quite irritating.

Narration comes from Mark Benton of The Edge. {2} His script is wonderfully delivered, but is of woeful quality. Tuesday's team made a couple of small but basic errors, and were picked up for their omissions. By the recap at the start of Wednesday, the day had become "a disaster".

No it hadn't. This is sensationalist tabloid nonsense. If the meal had failed, we would have noticed it. The judges would have noticed it. They would have given far fewer points. The script is not just calling the contestants incompetent, it's calling the judges incompetent. And if you're going to undermine your basic premise in the show opener, if you're going to gaslight us about what we saw yesterday, why should we bother watching?

Back in Australia, My Kitchen Rules is sometimes critiqued for being more about the fighting and bitching than about the cookery skills. In our sample week, we haven't seen any back-stabbing, the people of Yorkshire are better than that. Our "meddling producer" spider-sense has been tingling from time to time, but nothing we can quite put our finger on.

My Kitchen Rules While the cooks do their cooking, the guests have a dinner party.

"Unfortunately, you must now leave the kitchen," declaims Caines at every elimination. He doesn't mean it. "Regrettably," that would work. "I'm very sorry," that is also honest. There's nothing "unfortunate" about the eliminations; the teams have done well, but other teams have done better. In a test of skill, there is no room for fortune. In a test of precision, My Kitchen Rules is once again sloppy and itchy.

The Friday episode is different. The week's winners go straight through to the elite eight, where further tests await. The second and third-placed teams drop by Stoneleigh Abbey, where a guest judge brings a mystery ingredient. The week's winners get to watch the other teams at work, Caines and Leith wander around giving help and advice.

But now My Kitchen Rules has turned on us. Is is about who can run a great restaurant in their living room? If it is, make self-contained weeks, and expect to be mixed up against Come Dine with Me. Is it an elimination show? Excellent, local heats, perhaps two semi-finals, and a head-to-head finals week.

But no, up to half the series is skills tests on a neon set. The sort of constrained cookery we'd expect from Masterchef Goes Large. Some people like that sort of thing, we cannot abide it. Especially when it's so far removed from what we thought was the original idea.

And with this extra irritation, we shuck off the My Kitchen Rules jumper. There is a fine show in there, there's an excellent format begging to be shown. A lot of people could love it, and we can see how it could be big.

My Kitchen Rules Who wouldn't want to live a life like this?

But so many of the little production decisions are just slightly irritating, and the net result is to pile up the little problems and make the show too uncomfortable to watch. Especially at 5pm, when we could have the bonhomie of Pointless, or the rigour of The Chase.

We don't intend to stick around for the rest of the heats. We might revisit the programme for finals weeks at the start of November.


{1} Let's keep a sense of proportion about the ratings. The Australian shows My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef are popular, but less than half as popular as the big live sport events. Comparing series finals against a Roy Hodgson's Team match, it's about 5 million BARB viewers. We're talking the same ratio as BBC's Masterchef and The Apprentice. We're talking last year's X Factor, widely seen as a failure.

Channel 4's publicity material goes on about how My Kitchen Rules is the top series in Australia. Popular, yes, but they're blowing it a little out of proportion. It's nothing like the utter dominance we're seeing with Bake Off.Main article continues

{2} My Kitchen Rules was first announced at the start of January, with Steve Jones (Drop Zone) named as the host. A few weeks later, he was contracted to present Channel 4's coverage of motor racing, and we assume he couldn't commit to all the filming dates on these islands.Main article continues

This Week and Next

"It's a good outcome. I think we all move on now." Jay Hunt has given another interview, and once again she's channelled the unfounded optimism of Breadxiters. "This time, we've won, so shut up you loosers."

Viewers, we're assured, need Bake Off more than Channel 4 needs viewers. "Do I, in the end, think it's a good fit with Channel 4, that audiences will come and find it here? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt."

Yes, this column is being particularly obvious, because Jay Hunt comes across as sneering, and we find her words most troubling. She's triumphing about a controversial change, and appears to be ignoring the many difficulties in her path. Lest we forget, Channel 4 currently has rights to a tent, some cooking equipment, and Paul Hollywood. They won't get Nadiya Hussein, who has signed a contract to stay on the BBC.

Who said Eurovision Young Musicians was meretricious? Not Daniil Trifonov, the piano prodigy from Nizhny Novogrod came third in the 2010 competition. His new double album "Liszt/Transcendental" is a complete cycle of Liszt's concert etudes.

Short read MTV (Viacom) plugs its version of The Almost Impossible Gameshow (sic). If that's your sort of thing, we're sure you'll enjoy it. And we're sure that they'll bring it to 5star or Spike in due course, so anyone here can see people try to shake a Rugrat off their body.

We do take issue when MTV says the ITV2 show was "popular". This isn't true. It had fewer viewers than your average episode of My Kitchen Rules on Living. Or your average episode of Danger Mouse. And it was less fun than Penfold listing his 50 favourite pencils in order.

Long read Out-Law has a brief overview of the law around television formats, and why the BBC might get away with Mel and Sue and Mary and Nadiya's Travelling Cake Contest.

Very long read Jeremy Paxman has published his memoirs. "A Life In Questions" concentrates on his journalism, and particularly the many errors he's made while on air. He admires Frank Bough, and does not write much about the quiz show he hosts. The consensus from professional reviews appears to be: journalistic memoir, very little about the man.

Jeremy Paxman

Last of the new teams on University Challenge. The blokes of Glasgow (Robin Thomson, Alexander Shishov, Angus Lauder, Ethan Simpson) took on the University of East London (Christopher Ducklin, Kelly Travers, Jerusah Jardine, Rachel Evans). East London won by 150-135, helped by their knowledge of religion in Iran.

Last of the new teams on Only Connect. Scunthorpe Scholars (Paddy Stronach, Michael Wilson, Isabelle Heward) took on Beekeepers (Ian Wallace, Josh Spero, Mark Wallace). Beekepers won the match by 24-14.

Beekepers scored on most of their own questions, though rarely more than the minimum. Scholars let many questions go for bonuses, but kept themselves in the game thanks to a three-point spot of people turned into animals by Greek deities. The teams needed knowledge of Scrabble scores and Arsène Wenger's career for full points.

The difference was the walls: Beekeepers breezed through theirs with ease, Scholars got trapped with Gordon Ramsay restaurants. Beekeepers took Missing Vowels by 8-3 for a big win. It allows the Wrestlers to make the repêchage from heat B2, they scored 15 points, the Scholars miss by a single point.

Prime beat Variorum by 38-23 on Hive Minds. Half the difference came on the opening half-round, when Prime took a 10-3 lead. The other difference came in the final quickfire round. Good to see both teams solve their Superhives; bad that the middle 20 minutes were completely irrelevant.

And to Mastermind. In a low-scoring week, Mohan Mudigonda won this episode. His specialist subject was Kurt Cobain, about which we know a bit, and scored 7 on the specialist round. Mohan made 11, and won with a score of 23 (4).

None of the other contenders broke 20 points. Peter Young answered on Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and Simon Rule on Alfred Wainwright's Guide to the Lakeland Fells. We also knew a bit about Cathy Gibbons' specialist subject, the tv series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A rock-hard round, too many questions on villains of the week and throwaway lines; we tied the contender on 5 points.

We're going to throw an objection to one of the questions: asked which English county has its own bagpipes, Cathy said "Northumbria", John insisted on "Northumberland". The pipes appear to be "Northumbrian bagpipes", most often made in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The modern county of Northumberland excludes Newcastle, the ceremonial county of Northumbria includes it. This did not alter the result of the show, and it's the first dodgy question we've spotted in 14 episodes.

BARB ratings in the week to 2 October.

  1. Another week, another stupendous Bake Off audience – 13.15m this time.
  2. Strictly Come Dancing averaged 10.6m for its long performance show, and 8.95m for the results programme. The X Factor had 8.25m for its Judges' Houses show.
  3. Television's tribute to Terry Wogan pulled 4.35m viewers, and Pointless Celebrities 3.8m. Mr and Mrs on ITV had 2.95m. On BBC2, University Challenge 2.75m and Only Connect 2.4m.
  4. Some comedy shows have moved: Mock the Week 1.95m on Friday (excluding Wales), Catsdown 1.25m on Saturday. Strictly Come Dancing It Takes Two peaked with 1.55m, and new Eggheads didn't lift above 1.05m.
  5. Celebrity Juice had 1.21m on ITV2, A League of Their Own brought 610,000 to The Satellite Channel, and Go 8 Bit attracted 585,000 to Dave. Three multi-channel shows over half-a-million, all on different channels.

A special episode of The Crystal Maze (C4, Sun). Deal or No Deal (C4) and Rebound (ITV) offer some choice at 3pm. It's the final of Y Gemau Gwyllt (S4C, Mon). Friday brings us new QI (BBC2), and next Saturday has the return of Who Dares Wins (BBC1).

Photo credits: Seven Wonder, BBC

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