Weaver's Week 2001-01-16

Weaver's Week Index

16th January 2001

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.


The BBC reports that Auntie has sold (The) Weakest Link to five overseas countries; France, India, Belgium, 7 in Australia and NBC in the US. Two pilots are being shot in London around this time, to test out various format tweaks and hosts. One will be hosted by Richard Hatch, the winner of "Survivor" in the US last summer. The other taped Thursday using ex-pat US people in London and was hosted by Anne Robinson.

NBC's press release (trumpeting Hatch rather than Robinson) contained more errors per square inch than usual:

Ubiquitous CBS "Survivor" winner Richard Hatch will host a pilot episode of an NBC reality show...

It's not a reality show

...called "The Weakest Link," based on a British relationship show...

it's not a relationship show. It's a quiz show, with added psychological warfare between the contestants.

"Link" is the only show to have ever beaten ITV's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in the ratings, claimed NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa.

Sassa is obviously ignorant of... Coronation Street, EastEnders, Heartbeat (every episode); Emmerdale, Inspector Morse (regularly); European Football, the News, The Bill, Big Brother (and about 25 others have done at least once). The only time WWTBAM and (T)WL went head- to-head, Millionaire won by a fair margin.

Sassa's claim is like saying that Monday Night Football is the most- viewed show in the US. It's big, but not as big as it once was.

One exec compared the host's role to that of a dominatrix, though the host won't actually be one.

Depends on exactly who gets the gig, I suppose.

Even The Paper Of Record bungled its research:

In England, both a daily version of "The Weakest Link" and a weekly prime-time version on Sunday night have become enormous hits.

It was *Tuesday* nights, dammit. Sunday nights on BBC ONE are completely devoid of quiz show content. Or entertainment, come to think of it.


Technical notes for the new series of UK Millionaire: There's no sponsor, after NTL declined to renew their contract. Millionaire is airing without a sponsor for the first time, following The Sun (series 1-3) and Jacobs' Biscuits (4-5). Chris now gives out details of the rules at the top of the show, rather than at the end; this allows ITV's Active Credits, squashed to the right of the screen and on static - not rolling - captions, to air. There's no trailer, just Chris burbling on, but it does give the same look as many of ITV's other programmes.


Nick Bateman wasn't a plant on Big Brother, though he could easily have been mistaken for one. The idea, though, had already been turned into a hit series over in Belgium. One of these people isn't playing by the rules. One of these people is sabotaging your best efforts to win money. You don't get to vote them off. Deal.

The opening spiel, by presenter Glen Huggett, (formerly of Coronation Street) sounds a little like Annie's on (The) Weakest Link. The players have never met, and they have to work as a team, to put money into the back. But, round by round, the team will be reduced as they lose the player furthest from The Mole. Glenn's role is to act as chaperone, explain the games, brief and de-brief the teams, and host - compare with Richard O'Brien on "The Crystal Maze." He carries it off by being polite, slightly friendly, but at a distance from the contestants. He's a lot warmer than Anne Robinson, but not as warm as Bruce or Les.

[Blatantly obvious thought for a second series: team Glen with Nick Bateman. Based on "Trust Me", this is a gig that would suit Nick to the ground, and the show could use a second presenter, in a good cop / bad cop way.]

The show has a slightly edgy feel, like early episodes of The Crystal Maze. It was clear from the start that Crystal Maze was merely fun. This, apparently, is more serious. It's played for real money, though most of the fun is still going to be from the taking part.

Contestants file a video diary after each day, from the comfort of their hotel room. An idea straight from the Big Brother Big Book.

Some of the games are as exciting as the hunt phase of "Wanted"; others are a simple race against time, in the same vein as "Treasure Hunt," while others have the potential to be as dull as anything. Thankfully, there's very little filler on the show, only the video diaries spoil the flow of the game.

At the end of the show, each contestant answers a questionnaire about the mole; the person giving fewest correct answers is eliminated from the game. The climax is played in a rather pointless manner, entering each person's name into a computer in turn until the person eliminated is revealed. "Tense" music fails to create any actual tension.

Overall, though, this is well-made, reasonably paced, and certain to become a cult hit. There's a fair chance it will cross over to the mainstream, and give Channel 5 its first must-see series.

Graphics centre around the show's logo, green fingerprint on black background. The show's soundtrack is keyboard-driven, a sort of light techno feel. Vaguely reminiscent of the Big Brother soundtrack.

Based on "De Mol", licensed by TTI Tango. No producer / director credits. An Action Time production for Channel 5.

So, who are these people?

Gloria Barnard, 47, project administrator

Farnborough Paul Wallace-Sims, 35, teacher, Bognor Regis

Zi Khan, male, 32, restauranteur, Doncaster

Jules Woolston, female, 33, conference organiser, Bolton

Jennifer Waller, 37, medical rep, Darlington

John Church, company director, 53, London

Jo-anna Corlett, 34, artist, Isle of Man

David Buxton, 35, merchandising company, London

Sara Lee, 24, financial recruitment, Droitwich

Oliver Norman, 22, trainee lawyer, Glasgow

Challenge 1 is exactly the same as in the US. Jump tandem from a plane, to win £10,000. Six jump without problem, Gloria is very reluctant but goes eventually, clearing the way for the others on the plane to descend in time.

Challenge 2, also as seen in the US, is for David, Gloria, Jules, John and Jo-anna. They have to re-pack their own luggage, then re-pack the luggage of the other contestants. Leaving at least one item behind. The other five come along and have to try and identify one of the items left behind. Oliver, Zi and Paul all fail to identify a missed item, and fail to collect £5000.

Challenge 3 is new. One of the group (Zi) is woken at 4am, and driven for an hour around Jersey to a secret location. The remaining nine split into three teams of three - one team will go by air, another by sea, the third by road, with mobile phones for each group. None think to study the map, where Zi's location is marked - Mole Vercluet Bay. Silent "t" at the end... it's a faux French name.

The teams have 90 minutes to get to Zi's location - that a boat is involved clearly suggests it's somewhere on the coast, even to this team. John pauses en route to the airport to call a friend, who directs him to the north west of the island. The wrong way. At this stage, nothing is going right, and the team are looking to end up prize plonkers. Like a team that banks nothing on (T)WL. Or the laugh at the stupid mistaikes moments from The Crystal Maze.

Zi has a mobile phone that will take calls, but no-one calls for almost 45 minutes. Paul on the helicopter makes the first call, and gets Zi to describe where he is. Gloria, Jules, Jennifer in the jeep search for the key on Paul's tip. Jennifer misses it in the pocket behind the passenger seat. Sara and Oliver find it on their boat.

With 20 minutes left, Zi finds he has a foghorn, and uses it to attract the helicopter, which tells first the boat, then the car. The boat's in the vicinity, the car is four miles away. We don't see the key appear from the car, but they must have found it to rescue Zi with 3:34 left.

There's a flag on the play, though. In reaching the hide-out, Jennifer broke a one-way restriction, and costs the team £10,000. Host Glen, presumably speaking for the producers, states that Jennifer has broken the law.

[Counter-argument: the location shots strongly suggested that some or all of the complex where the action took place was private property. No *law* is broken by going the wrong way down a *private* one way street. At the very least, this should have been made more clear to the viewer; at worst, the producers have broken the letter of their rules to remain consistent to the spirit, and that's not good.]

According to the voiceovers, the voting goes like this: Gloria - nothing on film Paul - Oliver Zi - John, based on the misdirection Jules - Jennifer, ahead of Oliver, Gloria, Jo-anna Jennifer - Jules, she egged on the no entry John - nothing stated Jo-anna - Paul David - Paul Sara - David Oliver - Jules

Jules is the person eliminated.

Clues and anti-clues on The Mole Hunt follow:

Remember, we don't get to see everything, and there's no way of finding out what we don't see on screen by looking at the full footage (as there was on Big Brother.)

1) Not jumping would be a Too Obvious thing for the mole to do, so chalk a mark for Gloria as a genuine contestant.

2) Sara and Jennifer didn't name an item from their luggage, which suggests more that they're real contestants than not. Could be Oliver, who picked the very specific "black socks" as the omitted item; could be Jennifer, whose case was very difficult to open. Zi lost much of his underwear in the game, marking him out - that was a David and Gloria idea. I suspect it's one of the five who did the packing.

3) Well, that was (almost) a triumph of hope over planning. Breaking the one-way street thing is too obvious for the mole. Sara, Oliver, Paul, Jo were around the junction; Jules and Jennifer could have seen the sign. John's misdirection was also obvious. But why was the car so far away? Jersey isn't exactly big - about six miles across, three miles up. Four miles is half an island. Perhaps a further hint to Gloria.

My theory is that the mole will work in a subtle way, so I'm going to ignore John and Gloria's faux pases in their games. Jules' nomination of Jennifer strongly suggests that Jennifer is an honest player. Right now, I'd suspect Sara and Gloria the most, with Oliver, David and John under more suspicion than the rest. Having just named five of the remaining nine contestants, I really don't have much of a clue.

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