Weaver's Week 2003-09-27

Weaver's Week Index

27th September 2003

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

This week, the master of Fort Boyard popped into Albert Square to set the inhabitants some ordeals to tax their intellect and explore their worst fears.

JUDGEMENTAL (Tiger Aspect / Mast Media for BBC1, 1230 weekdays)

A year ago last week, this column reviewed the first series of Judgemental. Hosted by Sophie Raworth, this was a surprisingly complex and demanding game for all players. This year, Ms Raworth has settled into BBC1's Six O'clock News, and hasn't been able to host the second series. Nick Knowles is the new host.

The opening sequence has changed from last year. Its green-grey colour scheme, matching the set's silver circles and illuminated podia, has become even more of a WEAKEST LINK clone. But last year's Workforce - referred to only by their occupation - has become this year's The Four. This is a fundamental change. Last year, three out of six contestants on each day's show went away from the studio as nameless people. This year, everyone has a name, there's no anonymity. One of the unique selling points has gone.

Each member of The Four is introduced by name, age, and location, no job title. Host Nick Knowles also tells four facts, one about each person, but doesn't associate the fact to the person. The Players - the three on the other side of the studio - have to nominate one of The Four to answer three general knowledge questions correctly. The Player can answer questions in the remainder of one minute to rack up points for him or herself.

As last year, the Players can only draw on their stereotypes of age, appearance, gender, eye colour... Last year, this round had the Players guessing how long it would take each member of the Workforce to answer four questions correctly. This round, the Players are looking for someone intelligent, but can only score if they also know answers. This year's format feels far less satisfactory, as there's almost no tactical play possible. The lowest score after all three Players have had their minute has been least accurate, and leaves the game. Tie breakers may be required.

During the first round, the Players are invited to praise their chosen contestant, and run down the others. This tends to be mean-spirited and lacks any charm or subtlety. After the first round, the facts are attached to The Four, and Nick engages them in a brief chat about themselves and their interests, and reveals their jobs.

In the second round, six specific categories are presented. The two remaining Players pick a category in turn. First time round, the Player picks their own opponent; second time, their opponent picks one of The Four to answer questions. The Player scores one point for each question they get correct during 45 seconds of questions; each of The Four is graded on the number of questions they block from being answered. Each Player picks two categories; members of the Workforce can be chosen more than once. The higher score at the end progresses, tie breaks may again be needed.

Strategies: For the Player, it's obviously good to pick a category you know something about. Less obviously, second time around, it might be best to pick a category that seems to fall between the interests of the various members of The Four. Unlike last year, it's possible for one of The Four not to answer a single question up to this point, if they're never selected by the Players.

The day's winner is then invited to sweep the board. They must answer 10 questions, on the buzzer, against The Four, in 90 seconds. Four against one, three against another, then two, then one. The prize starts at £250, and doubles with each person completed. The winner can stop after completing a person, but if time expires, they fall back to the previous level. The winner is entitled to pick the order in which they play The Four.

It's still to The Four's advantage to be picked early - the first person to play will certainly face four questions, and probably a lot more; the second person will probably play, but the last in line almost certainly won't. If the opponent doesn't play, they can't block, and can't rack up their grade.

The most successful member of The Four returns on the next day's show as a Player. Quite how the "statistics" are worked out is still a mystery, but correct answers seem to score very highly, anything else rates around zero. Fairness would demand that incorrect interruptions would be a significant negative, as it denies the Player time, but this isn't happening. Time in the opening round may be factored in, or used to break ties - in two of the three episodes seen for this review, there was no doubt about the strongest member of The Four; in the third, two players were roughly level on the later rounds, but one had done poorly in the first, and he lost out..

Nick Knowles has a strange accent, a mix of Estuary English and Australian. Perhaps GRAND SLAM's Nick Rowe has upped the ante, because Nick Knowles' question delivery is slow and ponderous by comparison. He also lacks the subtle wit of Sophie Raworth, who was able to insult someone without it stinging. Mr Knowles' criticism is hurtful, and that of some Players is nothing short of vicious. Even if this were a new format, we might be looking for someone better.

Though it's not specified at the start of the show, the questions are still things one learned at around 11-15, quite reasonable for a daytime quiz. There's still no canned crowd, but the defeated members of The Four get to talk all over the closing credits, perhaps too much of an homage to Weakest Link.

Last year, Judgemental carefully and subtly distanced itself from Anne Robinson's corner of BBC2. This year, much of that distance has been lost, and with it has gone some of the format's charm. Primetime no longer beckons, and that's sad.



Tim Wilson is telling us about English Romantic literature, 1789-1830. He starts strongly, but then begins to stutter. Ten points and three passes.

Chris Jones offers the Songs and Film Music of Randy Newman. He starts with two passes, and the questions seem to be concentrated towards the early and recent part of his career - did Mr Newman do nothing between 1974 and 1994? Chris has five passes and twelve points - he's crammed in a lot of questions there.

Jon Keen has English Football League Grounds since 1945. He's asked questions about the stadiums of Liverpool, Southampton, Manchester United, and Aston Villa - on a point of pedantry, these sides haven't played in the Football League since 1992. Nor does he get the classic about Shrewsbury's man in a coracle, so eight points and two passes in a badly twisted set of questions.

Jacqueline Brockenhurst is telling us about the Harry Potter motion pictures. Of which there are two, compared with over 100 football league grounds, and more songs and pieces of literature than we can easily count. Something's not quite right here. Three passes and 13 points.

On general knowledge, Jon Keen advances, but only barely. He finishes on 17 points and four more passes.

Tim Wilson considers his answers carefully, and is almost always correct. He advances to 24 points with two more passes.

Chris Jones never really gets into his stride, passing on three and advancing his score to 23.

Jacqueline Brockenhurst has a plausible task, but her youth counts against her. She passes on seven, and has a total score of 15.

Tim Wilson's considered approach has seen him through a close game.

University Challenge

Round 1, match 2: Hull -v- Bangor

Things we learned in this week's relatively tedious show: Students do know about dogs on television shows, including Shep and K9. Crossword compilers don't die, they merely move to 6 Down. No one remembers who piloted Thunderbird One. [Scott] These students don't know the speed of light is a universal constant. It's dead level at 100 going into the music round, and Thumper is chewed up for asking a contestant her age. It took just two shows for Charles Clarke's comments about universities to make the show.

Debatable starter of the week: The clockmaker Karl Wilhelm Naundorff was among those who claimed to be Louis-Charles, who was otherwise believed to have died at the age of 10 at the Temple Prison in Paris in 1795, the son of which king? [Louis XVI]

Bangor only takes the final lead with a minute to play, and wins 180-160. Should be enough to bring Hull back in the repechage.

Stats: Hull 15/27 bonuses, one missignal; top scorer Helen Good made 56.8 points. Bangor 16/27, no missignals; top scorer Peter Alexander, 67.6.


Annoyed that he has to miss Question Time to get his daily fix of quizzing, Jonathan Shaw, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, has put forward a motion for debate in the Commons. The statement reads:

"That this House regrets Channel Four's decision to relegate the popular quiz programme Countdown from its 4.15pm week day slot to one at 3.15pm; notes that Countdown is 21 years old, had two million viewers prior to the change in time and has seen is viewing figures plummet to 800,000; further notes that Countdown is watched by the widest age group and assists children in letter and number recognition; believes that Channel Four has made a serious error in changing the programme time; and calls upon the company to return the programme to its traditional 4.15pm slot immediately."

Tuesday's game of Countdown saw a very rare event - a Dictionary Corner Error. The team had to adjudicate on the offering RIGHTEST. Producer Damian Eadie disallowed that word, preferring "most correct" as the superlative form. However, this ruling goes against two entries in the New Oxford Dictionary of English, as used on Countdown. First: one syllable adjectives (such as RIGHT) take -er and -est forms, unless specified otherwise, and there's no indication that this rule does not apply. Second: one of the adjective forms of RIGHT refers to political leaning, as in "By political leanings, John Redwood is the rightest MP ever to sit for Wokingham." Mr Eadie has since confirmed on the Gevincountdown Yahoo group that this was an error, and the defeated challenger will return in the new year.


On WINNING LINES, Phillip "Gopherman" Schofield told of the Lines Crusader. Apparently, he notes down the correct combination, calls people, and tells them to call the show. No one knows who he is, or from where he calls, and he's already placed two or three people on the main show.

Looks like GRAND SLAM will be the latest format to cross the pond, as Michael Davies has snapped up the format. Mr Davies, who exec-produced US MILLIONAIRE, will pitch the idea of an all-star format to all the cable and broadcast networks. This column floats the idea: could Grand Slam work as a daytime game with returning champions and perhaps an annual final? Remove Carol and James, and the introductions to allow for more commercials, and have a maximum 11 minutes of questioning, no round lasts more than two minutes, slot in ad breaks as appropriate. Would the US be able to find someone as clear, precise, and speedy as Nick Rowe? He made the game, more than the contestants.

Speaking of US MILLIONAIRE, the Game Show Network will air the original ABC telecasts from October. They'll also have an interactive game, giving winners a name check on air. GSN's Bob Boden said that even huge fans of the show won't remember all the answers. Huge fans of the show don't need to remember all the answers, Jeremy and Charlie and others posted them to usenet at the time. Not that this column advocates cheating in the famous for five seconds game any more than it advocates taping Countdown, playing it at 4:30, and zapping through the commercials. So not the rightest thing to do with one's life.

This week: A car in a backpack on Scrapheap Challenge, 1735 Sunday. Time Commanders is in Armenia, 2000 Thursday. And it's the penultimate week of Star Academy, and Dogsby does not have a vote. He does have a bark, and will no doubt be snapping at Patrick Kielty's heels once more.

"You illiterate fools! O-V-V-E-R-S does not spell others." Fort Boyard returns to Challenge next month.

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