Weaver's Week 2003-11-22

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Weaver's Week Index

22 November 2003

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


Quickly, which five would you put in your fantasy quiz team?

Eggheads (12 Yard for BBC1, 1230 weekdays)

This column would have, in alphabetical order, Kevin Ashman, Daphne Fowler, Gavin Fuller, Anthony Martin, and Michael Penrice. Four Fifteen-to-One champions, two Mastermind winners (three if we count the Discovery version), and more other prizes than one can shake a stick at.

In preparing Eggheads, 12 Yard seems to have adopted a simple rule: anyone who appeared on this summer's Grand Slam need not apply, either as Head or Challenger. So, no space on this show for Mr Fuller or Mr Penrice. Their replacements are Chris Hughes, a Londoner with a Lancashire accent who won Mastermind twenty years ago, and Judith Keppell, who has done very little since winning Millionaire three years ago.

Mr Martin hasn't been selected as an egghead, but CJ de Mooey has (probable misspelling, and apologies.) CJ made his name by winning the Weakest Link Sore Losers, won 100% and brightened up one episode of Without Prejudice? with acerbic comments. "I try not to like people, it makes Christmas much more affordable." This column did try to like Eggheads, but failed dismally.

Five champions and five challengers face each other across the studio. The challengers have a category thrown at them, and they get to pick which one of their number will play in that category, and which egghead they'll play against. The challenger also decides who will face the first question. The two chosen players are then removed from the studio, and appear on screens behind their team-mates. This means there's a cut when the player leaves, and when the player returns, giving the whole production a disjointed feel already.

So to the meat of the quiz, the questions. On their own merit, the questions aren't too hard. "Who partnered Steve Redgrave at the 1988 Olympics?" Many people would plump for Matthew Pinsent, with whom Mr Redgrave won three gold medals. But there's more to this question. "Was it Matthew Pinsent, Andy Holmes, or Johnny Searle?" Yes, these questions are multiple choice, for both challenger and egghead.

So, just to summarise (and host Dermot Murnaghan does that a lot on Eggheads) we've got some of Britain's finest quizzing brains answering multiple choice questions on the likes of "Where is La Scala opera house" or "How much is a pint of milk these days." The mind boggles at the sheer inanity of it all. These rounds are best of three, if there's a tie, we move into sudden death questions without multiple choice options. The defeated player rejoins their team, but can take no further part in the game. This is a dramatic opportunity lost: as they're out of the studio already, defeated players need not rejoin their colleagues, making the score a little more obvious and reducing the number of recaps Dermot needs to do.

So, we've got one round of questions, removing one person from the game. Repeat this for four subjects. Once a player has won a round, they cannot play again. This is another dramatic opportunity lost, as it would surely make for exciting television to see (say) Kevin Ashman pit his wits against an entire team, and perhaps beat them all.

If you've not fallen asleep after four rounds of this, well done. You've reached the final, along with six of the original ten players. The four defeated contestants leave the studio, and appear on those gigantic screens behind their team-mates. And then we play ... the same round yet again! Only this time it's on general knowledge, and this time the players can confer, assuming they've got someone with whom to confer. Once again, it's best of three, with tie breakers if needed.

And, er, that's it. A winning team of challengers will go home with £1000, plus £1000 for each day the Eggheads were previously undefeated, so the jackpot by the end of the series could be a useful £25,000.

Observant readers will have noticed the credit for David Young's 12 Yard Productions. Less observant readers will have noticed that we've got teams of five, we've got most but not all questions with a multiple choice element, we've got teams diminishing by one for each person losing a round, and we've got an alternating question format like the good old penalty shootout.

Teams of five have been seen on every David Young format ever except Dirty Money, which had six for timing reasons, and Jet Set, which has six to increase the association with The Lottery Corp. There were five in Friends Like These, Here Comes the Sun, Without Prejudice?, Rent Free, Double Cross, In It to Win It, and probably a few more this column can't remember. Multiple choice questions appear in all of those formats with a quiz element bar Dirty Money, and In It has some open questions. Friends and In It and Here Comes and Rent Free all have diminishing teams during the event.

How to improve this format? Start by taking away the multiple choice element, speed the game up. Make each player answer questions (preferably the same questions, a la Win Beadle's Money) at speed for 45 seconds, higher score wins, tie break if needed. Losing contestants don't come back until the end of the show, and contestants can play more than one round. Final is 60 seconds each, answers through a nominated captain, or the person nearest Dermot. That's ten minutes of actual quiz, probably about right for a 27 minute format.

In summary, then, Eggheads is a bit of an opportunity wasted. It's not the most tedious game show on national television now - so long as HERE COMES THE SUN and WRIGHT AROUND THE WORLD remain on air, Eggheads is safe - but it's not going to get recommissioned without further work.

19 Keys (Objective for Channel Five, 1930 weekdays)

Some money is in a box. On top of the box are nineteen keys, one of these keys will open the box, the remaining eighteen are even less use than a Radio Times discussion of ITV's drama schedules. Find the right key and win what could be a very large amount of money indeed.

The amount of money varies with time. At the start of the game, it's £0, but rises by £500 per minute. After fifteen minutes, there's £7,500 in the pot, and Objective boss Andrew O'Connor is getting a bit antsy, so he starts siphoning out the money. He removes £2,500 per minute, so just three minutes later, there's nothing left.

Richard Bacon is our host, he's going to hate this column for calling him the new Nicholas Parsons, but it's true! Very good at reading from the cards, excellent at going off on slight tangents and bringing out the humour in the game, and a little bit shambolic, but it's an endearing kind of muddle. Four contestants stand at the corners of a transparent cube, cut off from cheers and shouts and coughs from the supporters, and there are some funky lighting patterns on the floor to enliven the game. The theme music is a blast from the 70s, but the in-game tunes are worth watching out for.

The first round is your standard fingers on buzzers affair. A correct answer eliminates one key from contention, an incorrect answer relights one key. This round will finish after exactly two minutes, even if someone's in mid-answer.

The second round sees Richard Bacon move to another side of the cube, take 45 seconds to explain the rules, and start with a standard finger on buzzer question. After hearing the next question, the person who got the starter correct can either answer themselves, or throw it to another player, hoping to relight one of their keys. One key is removed for each correct answer, one key returned for each incorrect answer. This second round finishes at 5 and a half minutes, that's a little under three minutes of play.

In the celebrity week, the players lose and gain their keys in the same order, so if the first key removed is number 8 on someone's panel, then all other players will lose number 8 first. If key 12 is relit following an incorrect answer, then the next correct answer will eliminate key 12 again. This didn't happen with contestants playing for themselves the following week, each player had a different list of keys, ending at the correct key, but taking a different order earlier in the sequence. There are occasional panning shots of the panels, so while the direct shots of the panels might be added later, they are accurate representations.

There's one slight spanner in the works: whenever a contestant has eliminated seven keys for the first time, they get to relight two keys elsewhere in the game. This can be two keys on one person's panel, or one key for two people.

The third round is a solo effort, each player has 30 seconds to face rapid-fire questions, with Richard moving around the cube again, and taking almost 90 seconds to explain the rules. They get to select the level of difficulty, one, two, or three keys, with that many keys removed or returned on a correct or incorrect response. The question in play at the end of 30 seconds is left hanging, with no keys won or lost. One day someone will play tactics here - if you don't know the answer, and there isn't time for another question, just stall and come out a little ahead. This round finishes with about 11 minutes on the clock, and £5000 or so in the bank.

The final round can see some major swings, and not just from the host moving about once more, and taking 45 seconds to explain what's happening. The first question is worth one key, then the person answering correctly can select the difficulty for another question on the buzzer. The question after that is for one key, and so on.

At any time in the game, a player can hit the Big Red Button, select a key, and if it's the right one, stop the clocks. In spite of Richard Bacon's exhortations, no one with a brain is going to do that before someone is reasonably sure of the answer. However, once someone does know the answer, it can become all hands to the pumps with other players trying to beat them to the punch. Often, this doesn't work, but sometimes it does, and those are the moments when the audience looks in the basement for its jaws. Choosing an incorrect key eliminates that key from the game, and eliminates the player who chose it as well. If no one wins in the game, the money for the next game is doubled. The clock doesn't stop while the key is inserted, so speed is of the essence.

The result of the game, therefore, is completely unpredictable, and a wild gamble at 13:40 can result in a huge payoff. It's not a foregone conclusion from miles out, like so many David Young formats. It's not a foregone conclusion from ten seconds out. Even the size of the prize is not a foregone conclusion.

The obvious tactic is to blitz through the questions, and know the key as soon as possible. But if it's before the 15 minute maximum, there's a danger that someone else will catch you up, or beat you on a lucky guess; if it's later, someone else is likely to have a go as soon as you're certain, and that will cost 20 seconds and £800 - or the win.

There are two clocks on screen during the game, one showing the time, one showing the money. The time clock allows us to see how long is left in each of the early rounds, as the show revolves around a series of fixed points. It has a trailing 0 to mark hundredths of a second in order to look symmetrical. The money clock is obviously useful.

Technically, this is a gem of a quiz. The questions and scoring opportunities are of the level that someone should be certain of the winning key at around 16 minutes, assuming everyone plays sensibly and no one is way ahead of the others. But 16 minutes costs a third of the top prize... If it were 18 Keys, or there were slightly more scoring opportunities, we'd have a top prize winner most nights. 20 Keys, or fewer chances to eliminate keys, and it's always going to be a huge gamble, resulting in huge rollover jackpots. It's obvious that the developers have sweated long and hard to get this show just right, and their effort shows. Even Richard Bacon's speeches and explanations are timed down to a few seconds.

The outcome is in doubt until the last possible moment, and there are some potential catchphrases in the game. "One two or three?" in the later rounds could perhaps become "Select...", but we'll keep "Play or pass." Wonder if Richard will ever refer to anyone "Playing Catch Up," seeing as how he didn't when Henry Kelly was on a celeb edition.

Overall, this is the breakthrough quiz Channel 5 has been looking for. All they've got to do is not strip the show throughout their schedules for the next ten months so that we get bored silly, perhaps find a better slot than 1930 where it's up against Coronation Street and Eastenders every night, and we're all going to be happy.

University Challenge

The UK Game Shows mailing list received a message last week, asking for answers to future editions of University Challenge. Always happy to oblige, here's half a dozen answers you might find useful: Josef Stalin, 1729, Wigan, Edith, One, and Cameron Stout. Good luck!

Opening round, match 10: Wolfson Cambridge -v- Sussex

Wolfson's team is entirely mature students; Sussex prompts Thumper to go off on yet another rant about how no side has won three times. Change the record, man, this is more tedious than Eggheads.

"What year in the twentieth century saw the first regular colour television transmission in the UK..." Jonathan Watson of Wolfson says "1969," only for Thumper to stop and say "What a remarkable thing to know." In the subsequent bonus set, about Cold War political doctrines, Sussex guesses "Frank Sinatra singing My Way," and is amazed to be correct.

Sussex gets off to a strong start, but then falls behind in the second quarter. Wolfson manages to confuse the voice of Robert Plant with Janis Jopin. There have been rather a lot of questions about sixties culture this week, including some geek-pleasing questions about ITV idents.

Sussex is wrong about a question concerning Manchester College Oxford, one they would have known had they paid anal attention to Thumper's openings on this show. No one gets one particular starter thanks to conferring: honourable, but not worth showing the audience banging their jewellery together.

It's yet another low-scoring week, and Sussex stages a great come-from-behind to draw level with 30 seconds left, get one bonus on astronomical measures, and win the game 140-135. The Sussex team is far, far better than this performance suggests, but needs to be a bit more aggressive on the buzzers.

Rob Crampton top scored for Wolfson with 55.1, his team made 9/27 bonuses. Sussex's best buzzer was Jonathan Watson with 52.9, the winners had 13/23 bonuses with one missignal. It's the year's sixth aggregate beneath 300, and seventh winning score under 200.

At this rate, we'll be seeing Wolfson again: 175 St John's Oxford 160 Hull 150 St Hugh's Oxford 135 Wolfson Cambridge


NEW NICKED winner Charles Ingram received his prize yesterday, a two year conditional discharge. Five words spring to mind: This Man Has Suffered Enough.

It's the Music Industry Weakest Link at 1805 tonight, featuring more Radio 2 and 6 Music types than is good for us.

Tomorrow's got the Scrapheap Challenge Grand Finale, for which we say "Tanks."

Next week's Week is scheduled to be distracted and caught on camera.

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