Weaver's Week 2020-09-20

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We're celebrating thirty years of Winning Streak, Ireland's long-running and hugely influential lottery programme. Every week, five people just like you turn up, and all of them win a lot of money.

Our story has reached 2001, and a crossroads in the show. Mike Murphy, the high-falutin' host, has had to step down for medical reasons. At the same time, they've decided to re-launch the show, make it longer and give away even more money. The result was a surprise.

Over 35% of cards have three stars, allowing entry to the studio draw.


Winning Streak

RTÉ in association with The National Lottery for RTÉ1, from 21 September 1990

Winning Streak relaunched in 2001, and summed up its changes in the opening moments. The titles showed real people, not coloured computer graphics! There was a tune full of wonder and mystery and gentle positive chords, replacing the all-too-strident march! The studio had light and it had shade, spotlights that turned on and off! After ten years as the gaudiest programme on television, Winning Streak looked and sounded as subtle as Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

The only unsubtle thing about Winning Streak was its new host. Derek Mooney is a talented, witty, sharp presenter. He's also a superlative actor, here playing the role of a village eedjit. It's the perfect device for the show, Derek is able to sound natural when he's talking with the players, asking them about their life and plans for their winnings. Such a contrast to the last bloke! They still begin the show by going down the line, a brief conversation with each player, and it's a full ten minutes before we're into the game proper.

Derek, what comes after nine?

The new show brought in some computer graphics, animating into various landmarks and features around Ireland. It brought in a CGI mascot, "Streak", a spindly collection of wires and one large, blinking eye. And – goodness – the "Treasure Ireland" round has some tactics! Locations with a choice of five and seven locations, further randomising the prizes. Contestants have two tools to use – "Lo", remove the lowest option on the board; and "No", reject their first choice for something else.

Now, the round offers cash and holidays and cars, as it ever did. It also offers a number of "bonus wheels", which come into play later. The CGI graphics are adequate, we can recognise the places they feature. While it's certainly not a photorealistic animation, the Streak character fits well with Lendac's cartoonish animations. They've spend almost 20 minutes on this opening round, time spent talking about the prizes and learning only a little more about the players.

These CGI animations were impressive in 2001.

After the break, it's the celebrity guest. Their job is to pull out one winner from the tombola, and to pick one diamond out from the 12 on the table. Between £2000 and £10,000 for the home winner, very nice. And then we draw out next week's players. They've chosen to put both elements for home players together, in a way they surely wouldn't nowadays.

While Winning Streak has reduced the chat at the beginning, it's now ten minutes longer on air. What's been added? A whole new round! "Cash 'em or Keep 'em" deals with the "bonus wheels" players accumulated earlier in the game. Everyone got one just for turning up, and could find others during the Treasure Ireland round.

Some of the games are familiar – The Diamond Dilemma was with us last year, as was The Compass. The Balldron is new. This year, each game costs "bonus wheels" to play, and gives a different range of prizes. Diamond Dilemma costs one wheel, assures between £2000 and £10,000, with Derek waving a cheque for £5000.

The later games.

The Balldron swirls seven pool balls around a bowl, with a recessed hole in the middle. The ball in the middle of the recess when all have come to rest is the winner. The balls are marked between 6 and 15, and earn that many thousand quid, and it costs two wheels to play. The Compass needs three wheels: it's a simple spin the pointer game, for at least £10,000 and up to £25,000.

How much has the shot direction improved on Winning Streak? They can do an arty pullback shot, revealing each game as Derek talks about it. Simple when we see it, but it's ever so slightly pretentious – would have been out of place under Mike Murphy last season.

They kept these graphics until 2008.

Players don't have to play any of these games, they can keep the wheel for an advantage in "Win and Spin" later. And if you've only got one bonus wheel, like most players, the only option is "Diamond Dilemma". Even there, you might work out that if two high diamonds have gone, you might take the fixed £5000.

After everyone's played this round, we look at the scores so far. Most players are going to have between £10,000 and £20,000 in cash, a couple will have holidays, and there's probably a car somewhere.

"Win and Spin" has changed ever so slightly. Players still have to find three winning spaces out of six. This time, if you've come into the round with a "bonus wheel", you can add that in as an extra winning space – while the others have to find the only three winning spaces, you'd look for any three out of four winning spots. But is that worth an extra £5000 cash?

More importantly, does it start to turn Winning Streak into a game of skill? Winning Streak has to be almost entirely a game of chance, otherwise there might be eyebrows raised against the National Lottery. It was no surprise that the "bonus wheels" were abolished by Christmas, replaced by bonus cash spaces in the end game.

Unlike previous years, there are no free spaces, every choice comes out of "The Bubble", fate's little plastic globe. And if you don't win the round, every wheel you do find is worth £2000, an extra piece of lottery largesse.

We're not convinced by the graphics in this round, the "space is still available to choose" symbol is very similar to the "space was wrong" cross. But it's the only weak element in a much improved show, it was fun to watch and Derek Mooney brought out the best in the contestants. His sign-off reflected the National Lottery's message, and his own personality. "We've given away £146,500, all this for a £1.50 scratch card. Byeeeeee!"

Ride the tiger!

Knowing that the future lies in strong currencies and shared risk, and because their finance minister was able to put general social improvement ahead of his own ambition, Ireland joined the European single currency at the start of 2002. We rejoin the show in September 2006, the night before the football final.

The necessary relaunch is now five years in the past, and they've been able to brighten up the set – now with twinkling little stars on a bright red background. They've also done away with David Kelly's lush strings, preferring a "bouncy" and "fun" keyboard tune to go with a "bouncy" and "fun" animation. No disrespect to new composer Ray Harman, it's just not our preference.

A spindly contraption and Streak.

Derek Mooney is still the host, and he still reminds us of what happened on last week's show. It's a great way to reinforce the show's narrative: you cannot afford to miss a single episode. Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal painted tales of victory and defeat. Derek here has a far more limited palette, he can deal only in shades of victory, yet he still conveys the excitement of last week's edition.

Let's meet the players. Or, to be precise, let's meet the first player. A couple of minutes, and then the winning starts. Pick one of these gold bars: three hide cash, one's got a car, and one opens the "gold mine", which we'll play after meeting all the contestants. Each player picks their bar after their chat with Derek, and if the stars align he can greet the last player with "Rosemary, hello, you've won a brand new car."

A lovely studio set, with stars above the players.

It's 2006, and Legalised Telephone Lotteries are still a hugely popular feature. Remember, 0898-gate won't hit until next year, and that's just because them eedjits across the water don't care a feck. "Home Spin" is the LTL on Winning Streak. The phone caller asks one of the studio players to spin a small wheel for them, and wins however much is shown. €7000 for a single text? Nice stuff. Probably makes a mint for RTÉ, too.

Next it's Treasure Ireland, the game has barely changed from five years ago. They're still using the same cartoon graphics as way back then. By 2006, it's played on a big touchscreen monitor (though whether it's responding to everyone's touches or being controlled from backstage is another question). The game has been made a little more simple to follow, rather than "pick a number", it's "pick one of the lucky objects". The "Lo" lifeline has been quietly dropped, they're not dealing with a few hundred euro any more. The "No" option has changed to "Bank" or "Bin" on the last two locations.

By now, the CGI animations worked only because they were cartoons.

One of the contestants this week is the strong silent type, barely says a word all show long. Derek is able to keep up the energy, tells us what we need to hear, at times conducting a conversation with himself. Contestants on shows like Deal or No Deal are screened to make exciting television, or at least be able to hold a conversation. Serial killers, mass fraudsters, people who bought "Dustin the Turkey: Poultry in Motion", no criminal record will keep you off the show. Winning Streak accepts anyone who can put a scratchcard in an envelope.

After the break, it's "Next Week's Players", now with a graphic to display the players' name and location as soon as they're picked. Derek has problems saying one contender's surname "Baczigal" – at this early date, even RTÉ's best hosts weren't familiar with Polish names pronounced "Bash-ee-gal". Derek also picks out a player for the Big Christmas Show later in the year, where they'll be giving away a cool million euro.

Take two mobile phones into the studio?

A CGI mobile phone joins Derek on the screen, as they play the phone game for scratchcard winners. Behind three digits is a car, behind the others is cash. Whoever reveals the last car wins it. Everyone's guaranteed €1000 for making the show; it's possible to get on air and not make any picks. Derek's a little hazy of the rules, but they're all on the website and the ticket.

Some time ago, one of the players went into the Gold Mine, a round they'd played on and off since 1990. Pick two of the seven mounds, as each holds cash. Then keep picking mounds, there's cash behind them, until you find the one with no money and just bars. That ends the game, potentially €30,000 later. Derek made a lot out of this section, but it's over in a flash.

Who's in last place? James the silent player: he's going to play "Prize Push". In the balldron are prizes from €5000 to €15,000 and two cars. Push the button and win €13,000, just like that. The house minimum for all players is €20,000, no-one will go away with less. In 2006, €20,000 is about nine month's average wages.

The ball picker, an artsy shot.

"Spin and Win" comes next, still using the same grey graphics as in 2001. No surprise that they've got rid of the "bonus wheels" element, it was a little hard to follow and no-one used it anyway. And then it's the Big Wheel for a potential €500,000 jackpot, and glitter all over the set, and we even get the studio hand firing the glitter cannon in shot.

Back to the future!

All bubbles burst, and Ireland's economic bubble burst harder and faster than most. There were three years of harsh austerity, massive job losses, and a collective crisis of confidence.

Just when the society needed stability, they messed around with Winning Streak. Another re-launch in 2008 saw Kathryn Thomas and Aidan Power host the show. Power was replaced by Marty Whelan after a year, and we join the show in the week before the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest.

Kathryn Thomas (left) with a player.

Let's meet the players, quickly along the line. And let's go out on the road, meet some of the people who get money from the lottery projects. Winning Streak is produced in association with the National Lottery, and while about 77% of the scratchcard income is returned in prizes, it does make a small contribution to the populace's welfare. Scratch off to get off, a slogan they'd never use.

Players get a film in their hometown! A single camera, filming their daily life, and doing something so that Marty's voiceover can make a lame pun. Kathryn talks with the contestants and plays the games. Marty is in the crowd, talking with the friends and family, at times he's the irritating old uncle who won't get off the stage.

Marty: still a miss with the ladies.

We have a new game. Cash cubes: begin by picking one of five colours. You know the top prize, and the house minimum is €10,000. Pick a number. Top prize? Marvellous, you've won it. Not the top prize? You can stash the cash, or choose another cube. Go higher, and you play on; go lower, and that's what you keep.

And there's a holiday behind one of the cubes, yours to keep if you find it. Yes, great-grandmother Kath, you too could go bungee jumping in New Zealand.

It's a long segment, almost half an hour to get through all the chat and all the game. The chat is broken up between the winning.

Who won the most in that round? That player's through to the Wheel Reveal. Subtext: they've won enough for the moment and don't need any more fortune otherwise they'll have to take a haircut from subordinated non-preferential bond-holders.

There's one point of difference from Golden Balls on the channels.

The remaining four play Cloud 9. The Bubble is back, the large plastic sphere now contains their coloured balls. Whoever comes out gets to pick one of nine silver balls, most of which contain cash.

The players are looking for three Fire Balls. The first Fire Ball is a good one, it's worth €5000 and a place in the Wheel Reveal round. The other two Fire Balls are bad balls, they'll take you out of the game with a parting shot of €10,000. The last player standing takes the final place in the Wheel Reveal, and a jackpot of €25,000. House minimum remains €20,000, now just under a year's wages.

Some things change. Some stay the same. It's the Tombola Containing Next Week's Players!

Out in the "real world", the Spree studios in Waterford, reporter Geri Maye is going to ask a woman how important volunteering is in Irish society. "Deena, how important is volunteering in Irish society." "It's very important, Geri, and it's all made so much easier by lottery money. Here's Janet Volunteer to explain more..."

Just spin the wheel, purlease.

Angela, a home player, has won the "Dream Maker" draw, and gets to spin a Little Wheel on location. Top prize of €100,000, our player tonight takes 30 grand. Like all the prizes on the show, that is a pleasant chunk of money. It's a new car, replace the clunky old banger with a Progressive Democrats sticker in the back window. It's a new heating system. Maybe it's the first family holiday in years. But it's not the unimaginable riches, because we've all seen that unimaginable riches are a pipe dream.

Back in the studio, it's the Wheel Reveal game. The Bubble selects a player, and they can pick any one of six numbers. To ensure everything is completely fair and above board, it's physically picking numbers, lifting them out of the desk. Three have wheels, three have cash amounts.

Clearer graphics than the old grey CGI.

What are the odds of that! John manages to get his numbers out five times in a row, at an improbability factor of two to the power of eight against. And he gives the wheel a good ol' spin, another €35,000 in his pot, the show's given away almost €270,000 tonight alone.

Simon Fine's electroclash music is of its time, raucous and with enough of a tune to be getting on with.

Lack of innovation

As one might expect, the most recent years are well represented on video archive sites. We'll shoot ahead to May 2012, when all the players did their cube game, and took part in the unusually complex "Dare to Share". Each player picks one of eight colours, representing various shades of risk. Three balls of that colour are released, only one comes down the spiral to the floor. The total amount in the balls is added up, and split equally between the five players. A lottery show segment where the players work together for each other? That's the caring, sharing, co-operative Ireland, where everyone's in this together.

The "Wheel Reveal" continued to change: now all five players were involved, just five tubes each, three wheels to find, and everyone gets a free move before the ball machine is fired up.

And if you can understand this, Only Connect is taking applications.

Kathryn left at Christmas 2011, replaced by Geri Maye, the field reporter. Sinead Kennedy took over from Geri from September 2014. Nicky Byrne's Million Euro Challenge was something new for autumn 2015, confining Winning Streak to the summer. But nobody wanted to watch Nicky Byrne, and Winning Streak was back in the new year 2016.

The next pick will match one of the prizes.

There were new games on the colour cubes: "Pick a Prize", open cubes until you find a pair of matching prizes. The suspiciously similar "Money Match", open cubes until you find a pair of matching amounts. "Trap door", cubes contain small amounts of money, and you open them until you find the trap door. "Patience", open doors containing €10,000 until you find the one containing "Patience"; both of these are re-skins of the old "Gold Mine". And "Cash Cubes", the higher-or-lower game as played previously.

There's an extra game for people who buy losing scratchcards: send in the stub from the side to enter another draw – infinitesimal odds, but someone's got to win. Our player has five balls – four contain cash, from €5000 to €10,000, and a car worth about €20,000. Pick three balls to eliminate, then hand a ball to each host. Which is the prize? Pick a host, and win what they hold.

Sinead Kennedy, guardienne of the number folders.

The co-operative game is "Hi-Lo Share". Pick a folder from the carousel, it's got all the numbers from 1 to 21. Is your number higher or lower than the prior number, and the first number is always 11, slap bang in the middle. Each right answer increases the shared prize fund, from a base €5000 to a potential €100,000 if all five players are right. That fund's split equally between all players.

Just when we thought the show was getting a bit long in the tooth, it got a welcome new look last autumn. New titles! A new set! Even some new theme music! It's been a bit too long, those cubes were beginning to spawn little cuboids of their own.

The studio, with a brand new car (right).

The show now begins with "Electric Dream": each player picks a coloured box containing an electric key fob. Which will open the lock on a car? That player wins the car. Only after this game do we talk in depth to any of the players – first the winner, then one of the defeated contestants.

The players who didn't win the car each take on a different game. "Roll for Riches" is the Balldron from twenty years ago. "Winfall" is a reskin of the "Trap Door" game they played last year: open doors to reveal cash or a holiday, until you see the losing word. "Play or Pay" has our player pick two cases from 12. One is opened, take the money – or reject it and open the other case, keeping what it holds. "Patience" has come back, exactly as when it was played in the cubes.

The cubes have evolved!

There's a draw for players at home, where someone's going to win a cruise. In a show from October 2019, hope they took the cash alternative. "It's someone from Limerick... find out who after the break." Marty Whelan remains the master of gentle suspense. And then it's "High Low Share", and "Wheel Reveal", and the big wheel.

The most recent series of Winning Streak was unexpectedly curtailed in March, recording a big cash giveaway in the studio was not essential travel, and nor was it held to be essential television by RTÉ. We're sure it will be back once things have settled down: there was enough grumping when they tried another show.

Winning Streak is one of Ireland's biggest television shows, the familiar format keeps itself refreshed. It's a chance for everyone to dream, it's a chance for everyone to see someone like yourself on the telly. Someone from your county, in your line of work, a bit like you. And it's familiar faces, Marty's been with the show since 2008, Sinead since 2014, and the two-shot of them staring at the ball machine might be the most familiar on television.

Winning Streak will surely return.

In other news...

What Happens Next? A new broom on A Question of Sport, as host Sue Barker will leave at the end of the current series. She'll have completed 24 series with the show, overseeing its transformation from tough sports quiz to general entertainment with a vaguely sports theme. Team captains Phil Tuffnell and Matt Dawson will also leave the programme. None of the stars say that they chose this to happen.

Though the dead-tree press has been full of fluff and speculation all week, nothing has been confirmed by programme makers BBC Studios, nor the client channel BBC1. Not that that's going to stop us.

By tradition, the new captains need to be sports stars – either active or recently retired – and able to commit to record full series for a few years. Retired footballers Alex Scott and Jermaine Jenas have been mentioned, as has hockey star Sam Quek, swimmer Rebecca Adlington, and athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill. Cyclist Bradley Wiggins has already done Gods of the Game on Comedy Central. Nicola Adams the retired boxer is raising her profile, sometime footballer Peter Crouch does a lot of work for the Beeb, and Michael Vaughan is hanging around the cricket pavilion like a stale sandwich.

As for the host, Colin Murray from Fighting Talk would be a very solid choice, as would Isa Guha from the cricket. Greg James from Radio 1 is sharp and witty and knows his sport, while Mike Chapman did well on Radio 5's Emergency Filler earlier in the year. Lindsey Russell was astoundingly good when Blue Peter did their version, A Question of Sports Badge, a few years ago. We are aware how the phrase "Lindsey Russell was astoundingly good" is the new "How very wet this water is".

Epic Gameshow It could be you!

On the other side, we hear ITV have commissioned another series of Alan Carr's Epic Gameshow (sic). We hope for Epic High Stakes, Epic Qd - The Master Game, Epic Duel, Epic The Bank Job, and the format's inevitable climax, Epic Don't Scare the Hare.

If we understand some cryptic tweets correctly, S4C appear to have recommissioned Mastermind Cymru, with Betsan Powys still the interrogator. The Welsh-language show ran for a few series in the late aughts.

Rumours that the BBC are making more Blankety Blank. Hosts linked to the job include Bradley Walsh, Rylan Clark-Neal, The Fabulous Iain Stirling, the newly-available Sue Barker, and Hacker T Dog. Blankety Blank is best remembered as a vehicle for Terry Wogan's charm, and Les Dawson's grouch.

Constitutional law is not supposed to be interesting Some sharp intakes of breath, and more than a little tutting, as Jeopardy! mildly annoys a few people. In one Final Jeopardy round, the correct answer was "Berry Gordy", the Motown Records supremo. The contestant submitted "Barry Gordy". The house rule is that responses do not need to be correctly spelled, but must not add or subtract any sounds or syllables, and be "phonetically correct". We believe that there is no precise written formulation of these rules, so we have to rely on precedent and past performance.

Berry, Barry, are they the same thing? In the English spoken on this side of the pond, they're very different. Over in North America, they've tended to merge the vowels, in a process known as the "Mary – marry – merry merge", all three words share a pronunciation closest to our "merry". {1}

A number of fans intimated that the ruling was incorrect. The case lore appears to be: "if a misspelling could be pronounced the same as the correct spelling, accept it". Are the consonants correct and in the right order; are the vowels consistent with the answer in the contestant's dialect? Even over here, we would rule in the player's favour. The show did not, and could not point to a clear reason why not.

Such is the problem with unwritten constitutions: when there's dispute about the precise rules, people get very excited and make themselves look foolish. The decision did not affect the outcome of the game, nor alter anyone's positions in the show.

{1} This vowel shift explains a subtle pun in the recent Marbula One season: team "Primary" consisted of drivers "Prim" and "Merry". Except that it's the announcer's accent, and the second driver was "Mary". Took us six months to get that pun, any slower and we'd be rolling for Ferrari.

Not quite as fast as Lewis Hamarbleton.

Nominations are out for the TV Times Awards. Still a thing, apparently. Of interest in the game show world:

It's 100% televote, lines close on 6 October.

The rites of autumn are served, with the annual BBC One Man and His Dog (BBC1, Sun). Sunday also sees a new series of Family Fortunes (ITV), with Gino D'Acampo hosting. Monday gives us a new series of Only Connect (BBC2). Bake Off is back on Tuesday (C4), and look how Sandi's grown over the summer! Celebrity Karaoke Club also begins (ITV2, Wed).

Saturday sees a new series of The Hit List, and the start of The Search (2) with Little Mix (both BBC1). Strictly Come Dancing celebrates Blackpool, it's Ed Byrne and Jessie Cave on Pointless Celebrities, Toyah Willcox on Celebrity Catchphrase, and an Emmerdale Farm edition of The Chase Celebrity Special.

Photo credits: RTÉ / National Lottery, BBC Studios, Talkback (part of Fremantle), Jeopardy! Productions Inc, Jelle Bakker.

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