Weaver's Week 2003-04-05

Weaver's Week Index

5th April 2003

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

Very Difficult Questions of the week:

- THE MURDER GAME: is it any cop?

- On the television show THE WEAKEST LINK, which two letter word begins most questions?

- In UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE, which London college won the title?

NICKED! (Week Five)

This week, the biggest game show court case of the century (so far) has heard from:

The jury. First coughs from amongst the decisive dozen stopped Tecwen Whittock's barrister during his summing up. Then they gave up for the day after only a few hours of deliberations. One juror was eliminated from the panel for reasons we don't need to go into, and by the time they finished for the weekend, a verdict was still to be delivered.

As and when there's a verdict, UKGameshows.com will have a mini-site covering the trial.


The Final: Cranfield -v- Birkbeck

Both sides made their way quietly through the rounds, neither was an obvious contender going into the last eight. Birkbeck took out Emannuel Cambridge, Clare Cambridge, the UCL, and Sheffield, and grew in confidence with every step. Cranfield took Brasenose Oxford and Durham on tiebreakers, Manchester by a nose, and Leeds by a decent margin. Whichever side wins will deserve their title.

"Wordsworth?!" exclaims Thumper in the first set of bonuses. He's not referring to the dog in JAMIE AND THE MAGIC TORCH, but to an assertion that the poet was a contemporary of Charles I.

It's slow and steady through the first sets of questions, Cranfield emerging with a slight lead, but not yet anywhere near enough to feel safe. Back and forth the lead goes, Cranfield goes 3/3 on women and champagne, but no one lets Thumper finish his question about perfect numbers. Maybe Birkbeck has taken note of the huge number of points they've lost on missignals - the perfect number question, just before the music round, is their first error.

The music round is a complete blighter, being two pieces of classical music played at the same time. Please, bring back Colin Sell at the piano. Please, bring back Britain's Eurovision entry - no, hang on, two discordant classical pieces mixed together is an improvement. Everyone has answered at least one starter correctly by this point.

Starter of the week: Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Dimitri Mendeleev and Alfred Nobel are all adjacent to one another, all of them following California...

Walsh, Birkbeck: In the periodic table.

Birkbeck occasionally takes the lead, only for Cranfield to take it back again. There's very little to choose between them, the 30 points at the music round being as large as it gets.

Then Birkbeck makes a decided move, getting three starters in a row, and without any warning, the gong sounds! That took us by surprise. That late run has given Birkbeck the trophy, presented by Benjamin Zephaniah.

The box score:

Walsh 41 Hallard 31 Gillham 42 Gallivan 66

BBK 35 50 45 50 [180] 15/35 bonuses, 1 missignal

CRA 50 65 25 15 [155] 15/24 bonuses, 0 missignals

Brennan 30 Arbuthnot 55 Marden 38 Corley 32

The final scores for Best Buzzer:

3rd: Gallivan, 300

2nd: Gillham, 308

1st: Marden, 312

Birkbeck's overall strike rate is a strong 61.2%; Cranfield makes a spectacular 66.8%. I've not compiled this statistic for previous years, but any side that can pick up two of every three points available is doing very well indeed.

The final itself was a bit of a dour affair, with both sides clearly feeling nervous on a big occasion. This hasn't been a classic tournament, and I have to put the blame for that squarely at the question setters. Too many second round matches relied on cliché, absurdly obscure questions, and starters that swerved more than a slalom skier.

For my money, the best match of the tournament was Cranfield's improbable draw with Durham in the quarters, with Jesus Oxford defeating the UCL, and Warwick's annihilation of Wadham Oxford also standing out.

Next week, UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE, THE PROFESSIONALS starts. This is summer filler, and it won't receive regular attention in this column.

THE MURDER GAME (Fox World and BBC for BBC1, 2100-ish Saturday)

There's been a rather grisly murder, and ten people want to find out who has done it. They've passed a week's training course in basic investigative procedures, and must now put their knowledge and skills to the test.

If there's one thing that annoys this column more than anything, it's the growing tendency to cut corners when preparing pseudo-real game shows. The good news: THE MURDER GAME is meticulous in its attention to detail, with one exception we'll come to in a moment. The Chief of Police is Bob Taylor, a real (former) Chief of Police. Mr Taylor boasts of a 100% success rate, including the Yorkshire Ripper, a case that has entered the annals of detective history for all the wrong reasons. The forensic evidence is handled in a realistic manner, and it wouldn't surprise me to find that a bungled job will result in the loss of some crucial evidence at some point in the game. Even the acting - albeit somewhat hammy - could pass for realistic. Someone has to live their life like they're in a soap opera; no one we know does, but *someone* must!

Each week, a lead investigator is appointed, and they divide the other investigators into teams - this week, three teams of three; next week, presumably, two threes and a two. Over the course of two days, each team will face two challenges - this week, one team had to inform relatives of the death, and gain information regarding someone's movements.

Hidden in these major challenges are some minor pitfalls, relating to something they should have learned in training. The news had to be broken, but there was no need for a child to be in the room when that happened. And the following day, when re-interviewing the deceased's father, he forgot about something. Spotting these details determines whether the team passes their tasks - if they pass them both, they're exempt from the vote.

This brings up the major problem with the format. In the real world, the police work together, and don't allow themselves to be sidetracked by taunts from someone pretending to be the culprit. Professional detectives don't allow their personal feelings to come to the surface so much that they would vote someone off the case. This device feels like it's roughly tacked on, and spoils an otherwise overwhelming sense that this is a genuine Reality Show. If we must lose someone each week, perhaps a quiz - based on the facts the teams should have learned from each other - amongst those detectives from failing teams would be less unrealistic. Lowest score goes home. Hmm. Sounds familiar.

Anyway, the person with the most votes from the detectives goes out, as does another person nominated by that week's lead investigator. One of them doesn't come back, the other has an hour to find a clue. Viewers to the BBC3 follow-up programme are shown that clue, as are visitors to the BBCi website. Those who only watch the BBC1 show have to wait until the next show to find out the hint.

There's a very dark feel to the show at times, and I can see why it couldn't go out during family viewing time. DOCTOR WHO regularly ran into complaints over its use of quasi-realistic monsters, and this sort of show could give young children all sorts of nightmares. Nowhere is this gothic feel more evident than in the final game. The BLAIR WITCH style pictures and jerky motion can leave some viewers reaching for their sick bags, either through motion sickness, or through the way this sequence is a triumph of style over substance.

There's something in this format for everyone. The armchair detective will be happy with the BBC1 show, spinning a gripping yarn. The fan of people cooped up in an enclosed space and given artificial things to do might gravitate towards the BBC3 show, which focuses on the relationships within the team while still telling what Big Bob has revealed.

The Murder Game should be a pedant's paradise, and in that spirit I offer two slight inconsistencies. From a reward poster in the opening titles, the murder took place in November. A scene in the church that day, timed at 1735, is played out with light streaming through all windows. At that time of year, it gets dark over an hour earlier. There's also a discrepancy regarding when the detectives ate their meal that night - BBCi says they were munching spaghetti bolognese at 1903, the television programme says 2103. Pass me the Pedant's Anorak, and remember that I'm only spotting these things because I'm watching very closely...

Minor quibbles aside, this is a thoroughly good show, realistic, albeit with one element that's clearly bolted on. A review of the archives shows that it took me a few weeks to really get into THE MOLE, and THE MURDER GAME is showing every sign of being as compelling as C5's show.

A word to schedule watchers: eight weeks of this, then straight into the Eurovision Song Contest. We get our Saturday nights back on May 31.


One of those gripping editions of MILLIONAIRE last week, with Isabel Morgan and her son James using all three lifelines by £8000, then somehow taking The Monkey for £250,000.

According to the April Fool's SWEETEST LINK, in which Anne Robinson was charming in pink, and Jon Briggs sounded like he was introducing an edition of the Poddington Peas, the most common starting word for questions is "In". The contestants were completely thrown by the lovely host. It would, I suspect, be refreshing to hear a little more praise come from the host on a regular basis.

It's always good to see bits of UKGameshows.com reviews come to life. In our review, we posit the host of THE NICEST LINK saying "well team, in that round you banked £50, well done!" Compare and contrast with the pink-jacketed host of THE SWEETEST LINK saying "Those were rotten questions, and you've only won £50."

It's even better to hear "In an internet poll in 2002, who was cruelly voted the fifth greatest game show host of all time?" Could she be referring to our internet poll by any chance? Within moments, Anne proves she's unable to pronounce the word "antipodean" correctly. *This*, my friends, is the reason we only voted her the fifth best game show host of all time.

It's back to Australia on May 5 for MINOR CELEBRITY TORTURE AND BICKERING 2, set in a jungle treehouse. Those being tipped to take part include Daniella Westbrook (in the Tara Palmer-Tompkinson role) and Edwina Currie (not sure if she's meant to be Christine Hamilton or Uri Geller. Or both.) Tony Blackburn will file reports into THIS MORNING.

A weekend press report suggested that the BIG BROTHER 4 contestants will be joined by a pig. Readers with decent memories can insert their own punch line here.

Last year's BIG BROTHER winner, Kate Lawler, will become the new co-host of C4's breakfast programme RI:SE later this month. The show has attracted average viewing figures of 200,000; barely 1/50th of the audience that saw her famously drunken victory celebration last July.

There may be some surprises in the next two weeks, and not just on the second series of TREASURE HUNT (BBC2, 1800 from April 14.)

Weaver's Week will be back on April 26. Nick Gates will be your host for the next two weeks while Iain is on holiday.

To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day (usually Saturday), receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers sign up to our Yahoo! Group.

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