Weaver's Week 2018-01-28

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Last week, we were able to hang a sociological discussion on the thinnest of hooks. There's no such depth to our lead review this time.


And They're Off For Sport Relief

And They're Off For Sport Relief

STV for BBC1, from 6 January

Ore Oduba gets around a bit. He presents, he dances, he presents, he dances, he dances some more, and he does a bit of presenting. This time, the Newsround host turns his skills to sports highlights.

And They're Off For Sport Relief It's the rarely-seen Ore Oduba!

Five celebrities take part in a series of races; the last to complete the race will be eliminated from the competition. The races tend to the physical and spectacular: each week begins with a race through some mud pits, there's a splash into water, and a death slide near the end of the show.

Dave Lamb (from Come Dine with Me and Gory Games) provides a sardonic commentary on proceedings. Dave has established his style, laughing *with* the contestants, appreciating their efforts while exposing their shortcomings. Fits this show like a glove.

And They're Off For Sport Relief Oh, that's quite the mess.

But where does Ore Oduba fit into this? Many miles away, in the studio in Glasgow, Ore is joined by five members of the public. One of them could win an experience to remember.

In each round, Ore shows up to five pictures, and asks what links these pictures. It's a whole lot easier than Only Connect, these pictures are generally from the world of showbiz and popular culture.

And They're Off For Sport Relief What comedian links these pictures?

First person to buzz in with the correct answer picks one of the celebs, and sits out the rest of the round. Next person to answer picks from the remaining celebs, and so on until the last celeb is assigned to the last studio player.

Then the action cuts from the studio to the muddy field in Essex. We'll see celebrities drag themselves through the mud, we'll hear Dave Lamb snark at them. The editing is sensitive, there's careful use of slow-motion and squeezing time, to heighten drama. Whichever celebrity is last to finish the course is out – for now. Whichever studio player picked that celebrity is also out.

And They're Off For Sport Relief Doughnut Tuesday is marked on a Saturday.

And so we play on, four celebrities, four studio players, and just four pictures. The second race is to cross a pond via inflatable doughnuts. The third race is a skills test, balancing something without spilling or dropping it.

Back in the studio, the final two players have a best-of-three match to select their player. It's more substantial than "who can bang their buzzer to answer a simple question", though not by much. The final two celebs go up a wall, slide down into a pond, and swim to a pontoon.

All the celebrities come back for the finalist's race: the studio winner gets their prize if they can predict who won this race. The studio winner will be asked four questions, each with four answers. Get the question right, and they can pick someone in the race; get all four, and surely victory is assured.

And They're Off For Sport Relief And they're off!

The race itself is the longest of all: down a death slide, a swim to shore, up a bank and over a log, then crawl along a net through a watery ditch, and up to the finish. The studio contestant picks up their prize, and everyone goes home happy.

On Their Marks, or Off Their Rockers?

We found the show to be almost there, but slightly lacking. In part, it's a lack of variety – only one of the filmed races changes each week, and it's always the same races in the same order.

The simple lack of content is a greater problem: between the quiz and the races, there's perhaps 20 minutes of actual action. The show includes two films to promote Sport Relief, but still felt a bit light. Demonstrations by Darryll Neita only add a moment to the show.

And They're Off For Sport Relief For this game, they've borrowed an idea from The Crystal Maze

We can understand why they've filmed all the shows at the same course, set up the camera positions once and leave them there. We completely understand why they've used Nuclear Races in Brentwood, it's close to London and looks good on the telly.

We understand why they've used a mixture of people – sports people rub shoulders with singers and actors and comedians. They're demonstrating Sport Relief's message, it matters more to do something, to push yourself a little bit. You don't need to run a mile in three minutes, just running a mile is achievement in itself.

The problem: this mixture of abilities makes the show predictable. Even without seeing the contestants, we can say "sports person will beat singer, outdoors presenter will beat comedian". For the studio players, it's often clear who will lose, or who will be in difficulties. The final game boils down to "get two of these questions right and you'll win a nice day out".

We'd sooner have had groups of similar people: five sportsfolk, five pop stars, five comedians. It's less predictable, puts some excitement into the races, gives us a reason to sit through the Sport Relief adverts. (And it could have led to an ultimate champion on the big night.)

And They're Off For Sport Relief Michael Vaughan goes down like a falling wicket.

This column makes no allowances for charity shows: we'll call them as we find them. And They're Off could be a little better, but it's a very agreeable light entertainment.

Countdown Update

There's been a particularly snarky snark-piece in the Daily Snark (Now 25% Less Paper for Twice the Money!). It claims that Countdown has, in some ill-defined manner, stopped being fun.

"Oh, they never replaced Richard Whiteley." Of course they didn't, no-one could replace Twice Nightly. He was unique, one of a kind, irreplaceable. Everyone would have understood if they'd stopped the show after his death.

But having decided to continue Countdown, they've employed many competent hosts, who have each left for valid reasons. Des Lynam and Jeff Stelling couldn't make the logistics work, Des O'Connor was smooth but too expensive, and Nick Hewer is dryly functional. He doesn't make himself the star of the show, leaves that to the contestants.

Countdown Nick's entry into Host Holding a Question Card.

"They should never have let Carol Vorderman go." Pish and pish. Rachel Riley brings something her predecessor didn't: Rachel Riley makes the show fun. Not everyone can be as dry and hectoring as Miss Tandy, the fearsome battleaxe who guarded Primary 5 like a dragon guards its gold. And they now give plenty of time to Susie Dent, they've made the show educational as well as entertaining.

"The guests are rubbish." The booking policy has not changed: the guests are mainstream entertainers of the time. Some of them are brilliant, some are terrible. What we don't have nowadays is the same dozen faces on every series, they draw from a wider variety of guest.

You can carbon date a series of Countdown from its dictionary dwellers. This series, there are smart people like Suzannah Lipscomb, interesting people like John Inverdale, familiar faces like Myleene Klass, and audience faves like Colin Murray.

Countdown Susie Dent with Colin Murray.

Thirty years ago, we had smart people like Nigel Rees, interesting people like Barbara Taylor Bradford, familiar faces like Richard Stilgoe, audience faves like Gyles Brandreth, and sex pests like Clement Freud. This column is in favour of not booking sex pests to the Countdown studio.

In the studio this year, returning champion Roger Springthorpe had a short visit, losing his first match to Jacob Coventry-Peters. Jacob won four before losing a tight match to Mary Bainbridge. Mary won four of her own, but lost to Chris Thorn. Chris has six wins so far, and a couple of strong games under his belt; from what we've seen, he could be a typical 3-6 seed, losing to an excellent player or putting up a big fight against another very good contender.

This Week and Next

Great news for The Crystal Maze fans, as Richard and the crew will be back for a new series. Only six episodes, plus six further episodes for Channel 4 celebrities. Given the calibre of celebrity guests, another six celeb teams might be pushing it a bit.

The death of Simon Shelton Barnes, known in these parts as The Dark Knight from Incredible Games. The Dark Knight knew just one word, "Move", as another group of children evaded his clutches. Later, Simon played another character with a limited vocabulary, Tinky Winky from Teletubbies.

Incredible Games David Walliams (top) with Over-Exposed Children's Television Character 1994.

Incredible Games alumnus (and Lift of the Year 1994) David Walliams was one of the winners at this week's Television Awards. He won the Television Judge award, for work on This Territory's Got Talent. The other game winners: I'm a Celebrity took Challenge Show, Strictly Come Dancing the Talent Show award. Ant and Dec retained the Presenter award, and Saturday Night Takeaway won Entertainment Show. This Morning won the Daytime category, defeating The Chase.

To Only Connect, where the Meeples and Inquisitors went at it. Inquisitors perhaps rode their luck with a guess at "Hitchcock films" for one connection, and dropped pictures relating to BASE jumping. Meeples had a 12-9 lead, mostly from working out words with silent letters. Both sides were perfect on their walls, and Missing Vowels would decide it. "Real people added to phrases", such as "A bird in the hand is worth two in the Kate Bush" proved the clincher: Inquisitors took all four in the set, and won the game by 27-24.

Kudos to digital radio station RTE Gold, who heard "four songs with 'mmm' in the title" and played the four songs with 'mmm' in the title. Almost one listener called up to spot the link, which says something.

University Challenge completed its Sudden Death Second Round, with Merton College Oxford overcoming Oxford Brookes by 255-175. Oxford Brookes – it's in the city, but not part of Oxford University – were very good, but ran up against an outstanding Merton team. Alex Peplow came in for nine starters, and it's almost impossible to lose with that quality buzzer work.

The final heat of Mastermind provided some very strong scores. Ken Morland won, he got a Perfect Round on Red Dwarf, and finished with 28 points. Neil Wright came second, he took the Roman emperor Tiberius, and finished with 26. Sarah Jane Bodell did well on Kentucky – it may be her home state – and 25 would get her onto the high-scoring losers' board. Andy Davies made 21, a very respectable showing in any other week.

The high-scoring losers? 26 has got Neil through as of right. 25 points and no passes puts Sarah Jane in a tie with Magda Biran for the final spot, and we think ties are resolved by a series of questions asked over the telephone. Spare a thought for Andrew Gregory, whose 25 (4 passes) has kept him on tenterhooks since November, and he's been squeezed out at the death.

Ken's was the sixth Perfect Round on a specialist subject from a semi-finalist, alongside Brian Chesney, Madeline Grant, Ben Holmes, Nicola Nuttall, and Christine Quigley. They can keep these players apart in the semi-finals, but will they? We'll find out from next week.

BARB ratings in the week to 14 January, including live, catchup, and +1 channels.

  1. Silent Witness is the top show (BBC1, Mon, 8.7m). Dancing on Ice the top game show (ITV, Sun, 6.95m).
  2. BBC The Voice of This Territory is close behind (ITV, Sat, 6.45m). Would I Lie to You (BBC1, Fri, 4.5m) and Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, Sat, 4.3m) trail close behind.
  3. An excellent start for Brightest Family (ITV, Wed, 4.3m), ahead of Anne Hegerty's other show The Chase (ITV, Mon, 4.2m). Big numbers for Channel 4's sort-of game shows Hunted (Thu, 2.85m) and SAS Who Dares Wins (Sun, 2.6m).
  4. New slots on BBC2 for University Challenge (2.35m) and Only Connect (2.25m). A rare networked Mastermind (Fri) scored 2.2m. Celebrity Big Brother managed 2.3m (C5, Thu), and The Big Fat Quiz of Everything 1.95m (C4, Fri).
  5. Celebrity Juice (ITV2, Thu, 555,000) tops the diginets, ahead of Coach Trip Road to Tenerife (E4, Mon, 525,000). Celebrity Big Brother is next (5star, Sat, 470,000), the episode was moved off Channel 5 for football.
  6. Three more commissions: well done to Spy School (ITV Breakfast Broadcasting 2 [as CITV], Sun, 165,000). The #BBpoll showed Bigg Boss finale hit its audience (Colors, Sun, 115,000), and a random repeat of Dinner Date was scrummy (ITVBe, Tue, 110,000).

Coming up this week: Last Commanders (CBBC, Tue) tries to save a spaceship from computer viruses. It's the final of Celebrity Big Brother (C5, Fri). And They're Off and Pointless Celebrities take a week off, replaced by live rugby from Paris. Allez les (bleus|verts)!

Photo credits: STV Productions.

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