Weaver's Week 2021-09-12

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A brief look at some of the new hosts on well-loved game shows. We leave it as an exercise for the interested reader to find a game show with seven hosts, or three hosts.

Contents

Countdown

Countdown

The sixth regular host of Countdown is Anne Robinson. She took over the helm at the end of June, so has had a couple of months to learn the ropes. In Countdown time, this is nothing: Richard Whiteley took about five years before he got to grips with the rules, and it was much longer before he fully relaxed into the role.

Since Richard's untimely death in 2005, we've had a succession of hosts. Des Lynam didn't quite gel, a little too laid-back even for the afternoon crowd. Des O'Connor was the least cool pick they could possibly make, but he proved to be efficient and allowed everyone else to be the star of the show. Jeff Stelling was brisk and boisterous, a rare host with get-up-and-go, while Nick Hewer said a lot in very few words.

All of the previous hosts were experienced television stars, just like Anne Robinson. But Anne is the first to come in with another game show as her calling card. Des Lynam, Jeff Stelling? Sport. Des O? Showbiz. Nick, Richard? Business and journalism, if you knew them. Anne? The Weakest Link.

The Weakest Link Anne in black.

The elephant in the room is the psychological torture Anne Robinson inflicted on the viewing public. Every evening from 2000 until 2012, Anne would be nasty on television, she'd encourage viewers to think the contestants were pitiable little nonentities who knew nothing and deserved less and ought to be grateful for the scraps from her table. We're assured that this is just a character she played, and the real Anne is nothing like that. A decade off air should help to remove any lingering memories of that acting job.

It would do, except that Anne's mannerisms are too familiar. When talking to the contestants, Anne has a habit of asking abrupt questions, almost without waiting for them to answer. Too often, she'll ask questions that require a "yes" or "no" answer; that's bad interview technique, it imposes her view of the question and doesn't allow the contestant to explore any nuance. We fear that she's about to berate them for only finding a six from OMETHINGS.

Countdown Steph McGovern has a four: R-A-N-E. It's a bad spell of rain.

Other changes have been made to the Countdown show. The button on Anne's desk to start the clock has been removed, she wasn't tall enough to reach it and they've taken the opportunity to start the clock from the gallery. There are many new guests in Dictionary Corner – the suggestion is that Anne has been asked for people who she might like to work with. Some have worked, some haven't, and we're sure the producers have taken notes. It's always necessary to try new faces, otherwise we'd have Gyles Brandreth every day forever.

Susie Dent was unable to appear for a few recording sessions, and her absence left a hole where the Origin of Words slot would go. To fill the time, Anne had some extended chats with the contestants. Even when Susie returned, some of the extra chat stayed in. We find this works well, it helps to break up the game, and we don't always need the introductions at the start of the show.

Countdown Anne (centre) with Rachel Riley and Susie Dent.

That said, we do need a brief recap of who the players are – Anne's often omitted to give all the relevant information about the champ (this is Bob Robertson, he's a farmer from Farmsworth, and won his fifth game yesterday. A close game, Bob...) Anne might have been in the studio, most of the viewers might have seen Bob, but not all of us did.

Countdown is always evolving. It's never going to set the world alight, it's going to attract 400,000 viewers every afternoon come hell or high water. The little things we've seen are little, Anne has been an adequate host so far. Looking back on Nick Hewer after two months, we had similar thoughts, and he turned out alright in the end. Hope Anne does as well.

Mastermind

Regular host number five for the English-language Mastermind {1}. Magnus Magnusson is the name everyone remembers; he was succeeded by Radio 4's Peter Snow, the Discovery channel's Clive Anderson, and by John Humphrys on BBC2. Clive Myrie replaces Humpo on the English-language quiz.

Mastermind

For the first time in ages, we have a host who treats this serious academic quiz as a serious academic quiz. Clive brings a note of awe about the contender's achievement, he lets us remember that just to appear on Mastermind is very hard work. The contenders always research their chosen subject to the best of their ability, and can only hope they'll get questions to show them at their very best. It's a serious investment in time and energy, and Clive is but the humble inquisitor. The contenders are the stars of the show.

Mastermind had its own little reinvention in 2019, outsourced to Hindsight and Hat Trick, and made in Belfast. A fresher approach to the general knowledge questions, a wider spectrum of "general knowledge" is considered. For this series, the only change is the host. There's still two minutes on specialist questions, two-and-a-half on general knowledge. And we still think that's the wrong emphasis, but we understand why they've made that call – general knowledge questions are so much cheaper than specialist ones. Perhaps budget constraints explain why the specialist questions are so very long.

Mastermind Clive faces a contestant in the stark set.

This column set out a draft job spec for the Mastermind host in February. Knowledge was the first factor: the host needed gravitas and authority, to sound as though he knew what he was talking about. By his hushed reverence, by his respect for the players, Clive Myrie meets that criterion – not by his own knowledge, but by a tacit acknowledgement that he doesn't know everything, and will defer to those who do. It's basic courtesy, another of the things we wanted to see.

Where Clive really succeeds is his skill in asking the questions. His tempo is even, never too quick, never too slow. It's a beat faster than his immediate predecessor, and noticeably quicker than Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge. Difficult Russian names in the first heat proved no problem.

And, of course, Clive represents quizzing as it is today. It's a more open culture, full of people with coloured hair and neopronouns and – yes – coloured skin. If we had to have a stuffy current newsreader, Clive Myrie is the best available.

Mastermind has no problem with "pop culture" topics, as Ian Wang showed when he won heat two. Pop culture has long been the subject of serious academic study, and rigorous research. And, in the case of Beyoncé, are part of a career lasting longer than Mozart's.

We were a bit lukewarm on Anne Robinson: she shows signs of brilliance, but it's not quite there yet. Over on Mastermind, Clive Myrie has hit the ground running, even before the end of the first episode, we forgot Clive was the new lad.

{1} Yes, Betsan Powys continues on Mastermind Cymru over on S4C, but most viewers don't see her.

(A) Question of Sport

It's regular host number four for the long-running sports quiz. David Vine hosted for most of the 70s, David Coleman for the 80s and much of the 90s, before giving way to Sue Barker for a quarter of a century. All good things must come to an end, and the longest-serving host of any panel show has left the building.

A Question of Sport

Paddy McGuinness is the new host for (A) Question of Sport. Unlike his predecessors, Paddy has no background as a sports presenter, still less as a sports player. What he does bring is name recognition, we know what we're going to get from a Paddy McGuinness show. And he's a sports fan, which makes him the equal of the viewers at home.

There are new captains, Sam Quek from hockey, and Ugo Monye from rugby union. They're each joined by two sports stars – the selection seems to be any four from: an Olympic medallist in an obscure sport, a footballer, someone young, someone famous, and someone else. Last Friday, for instance had Chris Hoy (famous), Aimee Fuller (young), Kevin Campbell (footballer), Adam Jones (rugby and someone else). The "someone else" exemption allows some unusual bookings – Eddie Hearn and Anton Du Beke appear in the next few weeks.

A Question of Sport The set is big and monochromatic, dominated by a giant letter. Bit like the Mastermind set.

The quiz has gently evolved over the years. Signature round "What Happened Next?" has been rendered impossible because all of the goofs and gaffes are on the internet. The Mystery Guest round has gone, it must have been the most expensive round in the show. The one-minute drill and "Home or Away" have bitten the dust, purely because they don't fit with the current format. The producers might want to bring "Home or Away" back, it rewards the fan of snowboarding who watches the one episode per year when they've got a snowboarder on.

The picture board has survived, just about. Rather than allow Emlyn Hughes to confer with his team for three hours, they make this the one-minute drill. Eleven pictures, one minute to identify each person. A tight time limit. Could this be because the producers are charged for every second some pictures are on screen? (A) Question of Sport has had the budget restrictions across television, and this feels like another little cut, almost invisible to most viewers. A more visible cut: the "A" at the start of the title has been put on furlough.

A Question of Sport As seen on I Love My Country, House of Games, 5 Gold Rings, and many many more.

After that opener, almost anything can happen. In the first two episodes, we've the stand on the map round from Pressure Pad, we've had a filmed report of the captains learning how to trampoline. There's been a tough round on Olympic history, there's been a montage of clips filmed during the rain with questions to follow.

Though the one-minute drill and "Home or Away" have been removed, some elements remain. A question on the guests' home sport, with captains throwing a curling stone on a house to score points. And the list question at the end of the one-minute drill has returned, it's now an excuse for Paddy to ignore the team thinking and chat with the guests on the other team: David Coleman did that during "Home or Away". David Coleman never did "What sport are that crowd watching, just from the cheers?"

And A Question of Sport now finishes with a quickfire buzzer round. For our money, this is a stronger finish than the picture board – much more unpredictable, greater variety.

A Question of Sport New captains Sam Quek (sitting) and Ugo Monye with a trampolining coach and Paddy McGuinness.

For this column, Paddy McGuinness has always been at his best when he reigns himself in a little. A Question of Sport makes this easier, by inviting two sparring partners with big personalities, and some other sparky performers for them all to gel with. Paddy's role is to facilitate the fun, and that's exactly what he did on the opening two episodes.

Ultimately, A Question of Sport has long been an entertainment programme that happens to be about sport, and contains some sporting elements. It's had decent viewing figures – average earlier in the year was about 2.85 million, peak of 3.25 million, a very decent performance opposite Coronation Street. The programme can't be repeated – clips of sports are too expensive to license in perpetuity – so has to pick up all its viewers on transmission. And, as a light entertainment about sport, it's perfectly fine. We might not love Paddy McGuinness, but we respect his ability. We know he will keep the show in very competent hands.

In other news

Sarah Harding, 1981-2021.

The death of Sarah Harding from Girls Aloud. The group was constructed for ITV's 2002 series Popstars: The Rivals, where they handily beat the opposition. Over a ten year career, Girls Aloud were a hit machine, starting with "Sound of the underground", through "Life got cold", "Love machine", "Biology", and many many more. Sarah's contribution was boundless energy to the group and their live performances; her voice is perhaps best heard on the group's 2008 hit "The promise".

But there was more to Sarah Harding. She'd been rejected from Fame Academy, a lucky escape for David Sneddon. After Girls Aloud finished in 2009, Sarah did a little acting, but found her home on reality shows. She won Celebrity Big Brother, learned gymnastics on Tumble, took ill on The Jump, made a dish out of a pig's ear on Celebrity Masterchef. Whatever we thought of her abilities, we had to admire the way Sarah threw herself into everything she did without fear. Claimed by breast cancer, Sarah Harding was 39.

Coming soon to this intermission Mike Richards has been resigned from Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Richards left the Sony shows – massive in North America, barely known here – after we were reminded about racist and sexist comments he'd made in the past. The temporary replacement is Michael Davies, cited by Buzzerblog as a safe pair of hands. Wonder if they're going to make a massive offer to Richard Osman? And would he be interested?

Rick Edwards A man who knows where his towel is.

Morning, all. A new host for Radio 5 breakfast. Rick Edwards (!mpossible, The Mole 2024) is to co-host the news-and-sport breakfast show on the BBC's demotic speech network. He'll replace Nicky Campbell (Wheel of Fortune) in November. Previous hosts of the show include Fi Glover (A Room with a Clue), Danny Baker (Pets Win Prizes) and Jon Briggs (voice of The Weakest Link).

Turn That Frown Upside Down A new commission from SBS: Celebrity Letters & Numbers. Hosted by comedian Michael Hing, it's a version of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown played by Australians. The first in a 24-episode order begins on 2 October; no word yet on where it'll air over here.

Imagine That! The line-up is in for the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. No fewer than 19 broadcasters will take part in the 19th edition, to be held on 19 December in Paris. While nobody's making their debut, we welcome returns from AMPTV (representing Armenia), BNT (Bulgaria), Í┬Źctimai (Azerbaijan), MKRTV (North Macedonia), RAI (Italy), RTP (Portugal), RTSH (Albania), and TG4 (Ireland). For the first time ever, there's no entry from BTRC, which is no longer a member of the EBU.

Turning to the senior competition, we see that pre-recorded backing vocals will again be permitted. Very sensible; if you're going to go for the gospel feel, or a choir of a million, you need pre-recorded vocals.

The rest of Quizzy Monday continued. Only Connect (2) completed its first round matches, as the Data Wizards beat the Godyn Family. Question of the night was the picture sequence, spelling out the letters of "keyboard" on a QWERTY keyboard. The second-chance round began with the Scrubs beating the Gamemakers by 30-25, in a very high-scoring programme. And if you can explain the "ASAP" question to Victoria, please write in assoonaspossible.

University Challenge saw defeat for Manchester The Team Everyone Wants to Beat, beaten by Exeter 130-80. The contest featured yet more soccer, winners of the FIFA Women's Footballer of the Year award. This week, Edinburgh were all over Peterhouse Cambridge, steamrollering to a 270-80 victory; it's one of the strongest all-round performances we've seen in years.

Not everything went Edinburgh University's way: the football team had an entertaining 4-4 draw against the University of Stirling in the Lowland League last weekend. The return fixture is scheduled for New Year's Day next year.

We had a lot of new thrills last night, and not all of them involved a tennis net. Beat the Chasers (ITV) features all six of 'em, and Saturday Night Line Up (ITV) has Paul O'Grady being silly. These shows continue next Saturday, when Pointless Celebrities features ex-Strictly Come Dancing contestants, The Hit List features ex-Strictly Come Dancing contestants, and Strictly Come Dancing features current Strictly Come Dancing contestants.

But first, don't forget to miss a new run of Family Fortunes (ITV, tonight). Take a Hike comes to BBC2 (weeknights), and it's finals week on Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1, Wed-Fri).

Pictures: Yorkshire TV, BBC, Expectation Entertainment / Can Can Productions, Hat Trick / Hindsight, Remarkable (a Banijay company)

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