Weaver's Week 2002-09-21

Weaver's Week Index

21st September 2002

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

In the week when we concentrate on the heart's output, this also happened:

- One literate team

- Channel of choice

- Vote for Me


First round, match 3: University College London -v- Jesus Oxford

UCL makes its fourth consecutive series, which is no mean feat. The side was unlucky to lost to Christ Church Oxford in the quarters of 2000, and fell to Manchester the next year. The side cruised past Cardiff and Trinity Cambridge last year, only to come a cropper against Christ's Cambridge in a low-scoring quarter.

Though Jesus Cambridge has appeared in three series, this is Jesus Oxford's first time in the revival. The college provided the winners in 1986, and they came 5th in the recent Reunited season.

In spite of some poor bonus technique - when in doubt, don't pass, guess - Jesus took the early lead. UCL came bouncing back with 3/4 on marsupials, leading them to an overall lead before the music round. Jesus gets three bonuses on chemical reactions, leaving their resident doctor of 17th century literature rather out of it.

William Hague's fourteen pints a day brings the sides level, until UCL goes 2/4 on unusual instruments by sound. Very difficult. UCL goes 4/4 on news magazine mastheads depleted of all but one letter. How come they all use red?

Jesus picks up the other questions, and carves out a 35 point lead. That counts for nothing, especially when Jesus makes an error. Jesus goes 1/3 on last year's general election, UCL the next starter, but then time expires. Jesus has eked out a win, 175-165.

Gratuitously Long Starter Of The Week: Which familiar two word term is applicable to various periods of geological record but is used most often in reference to the earlier part of the Pleistocene epoch, and was followed by the extinction... Jonathan Lewis, Jesus: Ice Age

Thumper Doesn't Know Science Of The Week: The vector product of two vectors is sometimes called a cross product because of the way it's written. By analogy... Lewis: Dot Product Thumper: Goodness, yes.

This Show Tests Knowledge, Not Prediction Of The Week: Mick the Marmalizer, Nigel Ponsonby-Smallpiece and Dicky Mint are prominent members of the Diddymen, created by Ken Dodd as jam butty miners working in which district of Liverpool? Howard Towner, UCL: Knotty Ash

Aging Correspondent Indicator Of The Week: UCL doesn't know the first punk release ("New Rose" by the Damned.)

UCL took 17/25 bonuses, with two missignals. Last week, UMIST also scored 165, making 16/30 bonuses with three missignals. I think it's clear that UCL should rank higher if the sides need to be split. Jesus made 21/33 with four missignals.

Joint top scorers: Arthur Lovell for UCL and Rosamund Spinnler for Jesus, both with 57. I note that UCL faced literature questions worth 65 points, and got the lot.

Next: Liverpool -v- Worcester, Oxford


(Early Saturday evenings, Thames for ITV)

Deep in the bowels of ITV's Network Centre, you can find a locked room containing one hundred woollen monkeys. Each woollen monkey is chained to a woollen typewriter, and they're kept there, bashing at the keys with their little woollen paws, churning out all sorts of stuff and nonsense. Most of their creations make no sense at all, and are unfit for human consumption. That work is the script for CROSSROADS, or the "challenges" for WULDJA CODGA. Some other woollen monkey creations are actually quite plausible, but wilt in the hot light of a studio. One such example is the tinkering to the format of PYCR.

For those who have never seen the show before, contestants take hold of the game by correctly predicting how many people in a small survey said that they had (or had not) done something slightly saucy. They then try to predict whether the next card in a pre-dealt sequence will be higher or lower than its predecessor; the winner of two of three rounds qualifies for the broadly similar end game. Audience chants of "higher," "lower," "ooh," "aah," and "oh" occur with amazing regularity.

As has been the case for about twenty years, the "contestants" are couples, usually pretty young things. This forms some sort of existential counterpoint with the host, who presented his game shows before most of the contestants were thought of. There's some interplay between the eponymous Bruce Forsyth and his studio hosts, the "dolly dealers" of myth and legend. They are clearly picked for their ability to hold conversation about Proust and the reification of the European political system, and not for any other assets.

So, what changes have the woollen monkeys come up with? First is the Bit Of A Wasted Journey Draw. We meet four couples; each is invited to draw a card from thirteen on the table. Two will go on to play the game proper; the other two will go home. They've done nothing but draw a card off the table, making their trip a bit of a waste, really.

Another change affects the psychological gameplay. Each game in the opening round now pays £1000 to the winning couple. In addition to providing qualification to the final, there's now a significant incentive to win a game. A previous incarnation paid a few hundred pounds for winning a game. This extra prize changes the psychological aspects, making play more cautious.

In the finale, the top prize has turned into a Very Large Payout Indeed. Previously, the top prize was a car, available to anyone who could increase their original stake 16 times from a potential 38.4 times. Now, the top prize is cash. Lots of it. A potential 136-fold increase, giving a theoretical maximum payout of £136,000. In practice, we'll see a few 20-fold increases. Players must risk a minimum £100 per turn, and must stake at least half their pot on the final card. This forces a dramatic finish, even when it's not in the contestants' interests. Any more complex formula would be too difficult to explain within the context of a very simple show.

In summary, the tinkering remains at the margins. PYCR remains low-intellect entertainment, something that Forsyth does exceptionally well.


(1731 weekdays, Carlton for ITV)

Turning to the other idea from the Woollen Monkey Mill, a daytime version of the show known in the States as Family Feud. For more years than it's polite to remember, FF has been a prime time show, hosted by leading comedian Les Dennis, with voiceover by Stephen Rhodes. Now the presenters have been changed, leaving a slightly different show.

Andy Collins takes the host role. He's toured a one man show as "Game For A Giggle," and has been the warm-up man for such luminaries as Cilla Black, Chris Tarrant, Antan Dec, and Robot Wars. He's appeared on Sky's Gamesworld Live, and hosted the BBC's Techno Games last spring. Andy was the man outside on Virgin Radio's unforgettable Tosser's Challenge last year, where he would invite a listener to win a stupendous prize by, er, tossing a coin. His other game show was the Cheggers Plays Pop / Fun House / Run The Risk knock-off PUMP IT UP.

The game itself is just about unchanged: ask 100 people to name something, top six (or so) answers on the board. Double points from the fourth round, first to 300 wins, so it would be very rare to go to a sixth round. The final round is still two goes at five questions. 200 points aggregated pays £1000; throw in the top answer to each question and that becomes £3000. We don't get banter with all the members of the competing teams, which actually helps the game to flow a little more quickly.

Collins sounds a bit like Paul Ross, though without the smarm. He has a line in cheeky banter that can annoy a lot of people, but strikes me as a bit of an acquired taste. There's a running joke in the endgame about finding something in his garden shed, which requires more effort than Dennis' "If it's on the board, I'll pay you myself" line.

There's a new voiceover, too. Roger Tilling is best known in these parts as Voice, Unseen on UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE, and is the lead announcer on cabsat channel Granada+, home of interminable repeats of Bullseye circa 1989.

This remake has come in for something of a hammering on the UKGameshows mailing list. I think this is partly because we've all come to know Les Dennis' presenting style, and game show fans don't like change for change's sake. Andy Collins is an acquired taste, but I think his entry, and the transition to daytime, has brought a breath of fresh air to something of a tired format.

Chalk this up as a success for the monkeys.


The ITC has delivered its report into BB complaints. Tim's racist alleged joke has been passed, as it "delivered an insight into the contestant," aired well past midnight, and would have been unreasonable censorship. Use of the f-word on Alison's C4 eviction show was slammed, as little children would have been watching, though an immediate apology from Earth Mother Davina helped.

After nearly a year, the government has given the OK for BBC CHOICE to rebrand itself BBC3. The conditions of the change are very strict:

The service must deliver a mixed schedule of programmes embracing drama, entertainment, news, current affairs, education, music, the arts, science and including coverage of international issues. Independent companies must make at least 25% of broadcast hours, and the Beeb expects to spend 25% of the channel budget there. At least 90% of the output must be European productions for first showing in the UK, with 80% specifically commissioned for the channel and new to television. The government will review the situation after two years.

The practical upshot is that we can't look to BBC3 for a revival of old game show formats. Any game shows that do come to air will be new and experimental. Some of them will be very good. Some of them will be decent ideas. Hopefully, none of them will be as bad as Arthur Stumpey's dogs.

Elsewhere in Auntie's Sock Drawer, there could yet be something different on Saturday nights. Jana Bennett, the corp's new director of television, wants new and original thinking for a night dominated for the past ten years by the lottery and a hospital drama. This could lead to new slots for such luminaries as DOG EAT DOG, FRIENDS LIKE THESE, and THE WAITING GAME.

The BBC's remake of TREASURE HUNT confirms two things: that Dermot Murgnahan is the new Kenneth Kendall in more ways than we expected; and that Suzi Perry wants us to see even more of her bum. Reports that Tanya from WANTED season 1 will act as adjudicator were completely made up at press time.

C4 denied reports that FIFTEEN TO ONE will be axed, confirming that Bill has signed to present the show for another two years. The channel's former controller, Michael Grade, will host a new quiz show, BEAT THE NATION. No details of the format have been released, but the title suggests a cross between THE PEOPLE VERSUS and NUMBER ONE.

Wire reports overnight suggest that the next US president could be chosen by a constructed reality show. AMERICAN CANDIDATE is a blatant ripoff of (AMERICAN) POP IDLE, but will choose a People's Candidate to go for election to rule the free world for four years beginning 2005. The FX network has already sprouted some guff about "re-engaging democracy" and "returning power to the people," while skirting around the charge that the series would amount to a multi-billion dollar advertising fund for the People's Candidate. There are a million opportunities for satire here, readers can pick their own.


Here's a thought for BBC1: cut out everything between finding the winner of DOG EAT DOG (1805) and the Wonderwall section of WINNING LINES (1930). No need for THE CHAIR (1840), the only show guaranteed more boring than a drill, just have Top Dog face the greatest endgame on television for £500 per answer.

If you're missing D-LIST CELEBRITY MINOR TORTURE AND BICKERING, there's a reunion episode on ITV at 2015. What have the contestants been doing since we last saw them, almost two weeks ago? Hint: read the celeb gossip mags.

This week's SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE (C4, 1700 Su) is twofold: first, construct a hovercraft, then load it with a huge bomb and aim it at the person who decided that E4, 1700 Su was a great place to put repeats of ... SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE.

There may, potentially, be a few game show links in LIVE WITH CHRIS MOYLES (C5, 1902 weekdays.)

The last in the series of LIAR moves to 2200 Mo. This week, we seek the spy. It's Tanya.

Vintage HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU on BBC2 1600 all week. Unless they cancel it for more people with rackets.

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