Weaver's Week 2023-09-10

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"Everything – apart from those wrong answers – has been correct." Vernon Kay is the toppermost quiz show host on the radio.

But what of this year's newcomer?

The Finish Line


The Finish Line

Potato in partnership with Nice One for BBC1 from 21 August

The Finish Line Here he is now! Roman Kemp! Wow!

One could argue that Roman Kemp's name opened doors for him. The son of Martin Kemp and Shirlie Holliman (eighties pop stars from Spandau Ballet and Pepsi And Shirlie) got a tryout slot on Capital Radio in 2014. Through a mixture of ability and Capital's inability to keep its best presenters, Roman rose through the ranks and has presented the breakfast show since 2017; this London programme has been nationalised since spring 2019.

This column met Roman in 2017, when he was the utterly obvious choice to narrate ITV2's Bromans show. He proved capable of delivering a bad pun without wincing, a major achievement on that programme. Since then, he's done I'm a Celeb, played at Soccer Aid, and hosts ITV's Weekend Best chatshow with his father.

The Finish Line Sarah Greene, still everyone's sassy big cousin.

Roman is joined by Sarah Greene, who is literally old enough to be his mother. Sarah had a stellar 1980s, going from The Swish of the Curtain to Blue Peter and then Going Live with Lord Gordon T Gopher and others. Sarah chose to step back from the limelight in the mid-1990s, and has picked her projects carefully afterwards. If we have done our research properly, this is Sarah's first full series engagement since Going Live ended thirty years ago.

Five players take part in the game, and we get to meet them as they play the qualifier round. In turn, the players will be shown pictures, and asked to identify what's in the shot. A subject's given to help focus the mind. The player needs to get five right as quickly as possible, because the fastest player will start the first race in pole position.

The Finish Line That's showbusiness!

The images are quite broad in nature – name that TV presenter! Name that bridge! Name that Roman numeral! Name that fruit! Name that ancient city! And the ultra-specialised Name that vehicle warning light! (Don't expect a series.) Five right to stop the clock, but if you don't get five in a minute they'll stop the round anyway.

All of this serves to introduce the contestants, get them in some sort of order, and establish the running for the main game. Roman's already teased us with five moving podia, creeping across the studio like some sort of chariot race powered by snails.

The Finish Line And it's go! go! go!

Why does the order matter? Our players will be asked questions down the line, starting with the fastest to get five answers. A right answer will start your podium moving; but if you are wrong or can't answer in time, your podium stops. While the other players are answering, you keep moving – and so do they. Last player to cross the finish line is out, and it takes about a minute of movement to get from start to finish.

And that's why the order is important. You're in lane three, you have to wait for two contestants to get their questions, and the smart alec in lane 1 will be going all the while. With perfect play, if everyone gets their questions right, the player in lane 5 will be out.

The Finish Line And they're all grinding to a halt like so many Logan Sergeants.

But the questions on The Finish Line are difficult, we'll never get a perfect round across all five players. The first set of questions are fairly easy, because the show looks so much better when people are moving; later rounds can be a bit more difficult, because processions don't make for good tv.

So, having established our finishing order in round 1, that'll be the order for round 2, right? Wrong. At least, not in the BBC 45-minute show. If The Finish Line were a BBC half-hour programme, it very probably would be.

Instead, we have another qualifier. This one's a word puzzle: we're given a category, the length of a word or short phrase, and the first and last letters. Fill in the blanks. Again, five right to stop the clock, fastest player goes first in the next race. And there is a next race, eventually. Questions seem a little more difficult here.

The Finish Line And will you look at that slick overtake move! Gliding past as if the other one had stopped, which it quite literally had done!

And then another qualifier? Another qualifier. We'll see a category, and three possible pairs of answers. Only one of the pairs is correct: identify the real answers and ignore the fake ones. Some of these answers are little works of art. Some of these questions are little works of art: going from royal siblings to Haribo to an eighties pop duo. After this, we have another race, with some slightly harder questions again.

Two remain for the head-to-head, and almost inevitably, it's a chess clock. Give a right answer, your podium starts moving, your opponent's stops. Get it wrong, and your podium stops, and theirs starts. All questions are on the buzzer, and if neither player buzzes in, both podia stop. First to the finish line wins. It's basically a first to nine shootout, but with the presentation much more appealing.

The Finish Line The player behind has buzzed in and starts moving.

The Finish Line offers a £5000 prize every day, but rarely gives it away. The finalist starts ahead of a danger line, and must stay ahead of it until they reach the finish line. After the first question, the danger line will move forward relentlessly; the contestant's podium moves forward at the same speed, no faster and no slower. Get caught, and our player leaves with nothing. It's an all-or-nothing prize, no consolation, no chance to get a bigger headstart for a smaller prize.

So that's the program, start to finish. This column reckons it's good but not – yet – great.

The Finish Line The star of the show, with Roman Kemp.

The hosts are very much on the positive side. Sarah Greene we know and love, and Roman Kemp is a revelation – far better on television than the radio format allows him to be. Both are warm, there's clearly a lot of laughter on the set. Roman and Sarah's characters are complex and defy easy pigeon-holing: the best we've got is "weird cousin and his doting but eccentric aunt who only see each other about twice a year".

Questions. Questions. Lots of questions. In publicity interviews, it was suggested that The Finish Line asks more questions than any other show. If only there was a metric we could use to work out if this was 100% correct.

The Finish Line Just one of many questions on this episode.

Our sample episode was 43½ minutes long. We had 37 picture stumpers, then 21 questions in the first race. Then came 29 of the letter-bank puzzles, and 20 in the second race. There were 17 pairs to find, with 18 questions in the subsequent race. The head-to-head consumed 19 questions, and the final was won with 14 questions – 12 of them answered correctly, and probably room for just one more error.

Adding them up reveals 175 questions in the programme – of which about 80% were answered correctly. And 175 questions in 43½ minutes is 4.02 questions per minute – that's a sustained quizzing rate 96.5% as fast as our benchmark 100%. Original host episodes of Fifteen-to-One and The Weakest Link also went around the same pace as Channel 5's cheep-and-cheerful show, as does Mastermind.

Certainly The Finish Line has a lot of questions, and plenty are written with wit and a playful bite. The show's tone is enhanced by these little gems – many of them won't be appreciated by the viewers.

The Finish Line But this one was!

But on the negative, most of these questions are in the qualifiers. We only see the main races for about ten minutes in the entire show, and that feels a bit wrong. They've sold the show on the races, they're the core gimmick and rightly the centrepiece. But for long stretches of the programme, there's not much racing to be had. It's less about getting to the finish line, instead there's an awful lot of admin to get to the start line.

We're on the fence about the endgame. All or nothing for £5000, knowing that it'll be won about twice a week. Would we prefer a smaller jackpot given away to almost every winner? It's good to have winners, but the joy of beating a difficult final might be even better.

Our opinion of The Finish Line has gone up as we've watched more of it – from "what did we say about Take on the Twisters" to "yeah, interesting diversion" to "actually quite entertaining" and "Spandau Ballet reunion for the primetime pilot?". We'd welcome a celeb primetime version; at the moment, for this column, The Finish Line isn't compulsory viewing in the same way as Bridge of Lies or House of Games (3).

But nor would we be upset if The Finish Line moved into the 5.15 spot currently held by Pointless. When Alexander takes his column home for the last time, there will be a big gap to fill; this show might have the chops to do it.

The Finish Line A winner on the show; but is the show a winner?

In other news

ITV Television Awards were bandied about this week, at a boozy ceremony in London. Game shows and related folk winning were:

The awards are wholly voted by the public, through viewing figures, votes from ITV viewers and purchasers of The Sun, and online campaigns through social media and anti-social media. Consider these the "most popular" in their field.

BAFTA Cymru Awards have announced the shortlists. We're barracking for Gwrach y Rhibyn in Children's Programme, though the final decision will be made by the judges. We'll see if it wins on 15 October.

Hollyoaks to leave Channel 4, the long-running daily soap will now be shown on E4 and streamed through All4. This is going to leave a spot at 6.30 every weeknight – we hope for some entertainment programmes, in the style of Quizness and One and Four Zeros.

Quizzy Monday

The Masked Singer I am a hedgehog, not a bin.

"It's the modern version of 3-2-1 – a variety show with a bizarre guessing game." Lewis Jones has a point in his discussion of The Masked Singer.

Mastermind produced its first tie of the series. Sadie de Sousa was perfect on British county flags, did enough on general knowledge, and knew about the film The Woman in Black. She just beat Pete Rosser – left a couple hanging on Karl Marx, had an excellent GK round, but zagged with The Woman in White. Spare a thought for Katy Chambers, scored a dozen on The Royle Family but dropped just a bit too much on general knowledge and was one point off the tiebreak.

Bit of a video nasty on Only Connect, as the Video Nasties team beat the Solomons by 30-21. There was a FIVE POINT KLAXON! moment, when the Nasties were able to identify "Let's call the whole thing off" from the standard phonetic alphabet representation of "potato". Sections on a tax return, repetitious names, south American countries, and things found in a hotel room also featured. So did the music of One True Voice, the runners-up from Popstars The Rivals in 2002, and not heard on network television since 2003. Not even remembered by Jamie, Matt, Keith, Johnny, and Frobisher – and they were the band!

Punk rock and ancient Egypt for Open University on University Challenge, but it wasn't enough to beat Hertford Oxford – 230-155 the final score. Both teams played at an enormous speed, zapping through bonus sets almost as fast as the new host could ask them. Some spectacular buzzes from Omer Keskin of Hertford, some tremendous knowledge of North Macedonia and the God of War video games. Twice the host said "there's plenty of time Open", and there was even a question easy enough for College Bowl on NBC – which lord led the archaeologists who discovered Tutankhamun's tomb?

Quiz digest

  • Walter Tevis wrote "The Queen's Gambit", a book about chess, later adapted into a television series. He's not to be confused with Dick King-Smith, who wrote "The Queen's Nose", a gentle morality tale later adapted into a television series. Both books were published in 1983. (As not mentioned on Pointless)
  • Wally Wolodarski is a voice actor. He's not the star of Only Connect and Where's Wally; the red-and-white behatted gentleman has no surname, like Madonna and Cher.

Only Connect (2) Neither of these people are called Wolodarski.

The autumn schedule continues to drop down, like leaves from a tree. Tenable falls into place (ITV, weekdays), and Celebrity Race Across the World tries to get across Europe on a budget (BBC1, Wed). Puzzling reaches its final (C5, Thu), wonder if they'll mention how it was Lord Carnarvon who uncovered Tut's tomb. Strictly Come Dancing has its pre-recorded launch show (BBC1, Sat), and Alan Carr's Picture Slam (BBC1, Sat) tries to identify a board of images.

Pictures: Potato in partnership with Nice One, Bandicoot, Presentable / RDF

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