Weaver's Week 2005-08-21

Weaver's Week Index

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


The Annual Big Brother Review - 21 August 2005

"I mean, it wasn't bad, it was a fair try" - Robert Robinson.

Big Brother 6

Coming at the end of the article, the confirmation of who has won Big Brother according to the press coverage of the show, as monitored by those kind hamsters at Celebdaq Towers.

But we really have to write something about the series as a whole. "Chasing ratings" clearly springs to mind. Gone is the spirit of adventure that characterised the first few years of the show, replaced by a desire to bring in the audience no matter what. Gone, also, is any attempt to underpin the entire series with a planned running theme. From "unity through adversity" through "voyage of discovery" and "evil is as evil does", there's always been an attempt at a coherent message binding each night together. This year, there's been no such theme, just a series of random events, connected only by the participants.

The ratings have suffered badly this year. ITV's Celebrity Love Island overcame tabloid resistance to become a successful spoiler tactic during the opening week's of this year's Big Brother. The London bombings demanded that the public divert attention, but they never returned to this series. As a result, average ratings were around 4.4 million viewers, the lowest figure since Big Brother became a seven-night-a-week franchise in 2002.

We noted some weeks ago that key plot twists were being flagged up through the tabloid press. Surely it would be to the show's advantage to keep more of the details to themselves, maintaining the element of surprise for the viewers. The viewers can only take so much chortling along the lines of "What the house-mates don't know is that instead of really being evicted, the viewers have been voting for someone to be covered in liquid chocolate and return as a statue." Too many pre-planned plot twists and it becomes absolutely clear, even to the most dense viewer, who runs this show. Hint: not the viewers.

Perhaps Endemol has reached the bottom of the contestant pool, or run out of creative ideas, and cannot find anyone capable of making or appearing in really good television. Amongst this year's participants, it's difficult to see how anyone will transform their fleeting celebrity into a more permanent fame. Inevitably, at least one of the contestants will appear in lewd magazines, if not indecent ones. Perhaps Derek, who had already achieved a toe-hold on the ladder, will be the only one we remember ten years hence, but this would not be for his exploits in Big Brother.

Big Brother is no longer water-cooler television. It's slipped into the background, become wallpaper television to promote other Channel 4 programmes. Much of the problem is surely that the show has degenerated into a bunch of twentysomethings yelling at each other. As we found on Simply the Best, a show that pumps up the volume is attempting to distract from some other shortfall. The length of the run must also be a factor - this year's series ran for a yawn-inducing twelve weeks, making the two-month opening series look like a sprint in comparison.

It's notable that the annual Rush To Defend Big Brother (this year, host Davina McCall in an interview with the rusty old Radio Times) has again missed the boat. Last year, you'll recall that Peter Bazelgette, head of Endemol, attacked the critics for being old prudes. This year, Ms McCall says that the critics were "pseudo-intellectuals who never watched it." By the same token, we could have a pop at people (television presenters, say) who don't even bother to watch 150-minute documentaries about the flightpath of the Kampuchean moth in their original Laotian, and call them "pseudo-imbeciles"? Ms McCall has missed the central point - you can't force people to watch something they don't want to, and it's best all round to let people find their own version of fun, rather than ramming it down their throats.

Our host rather weakens her argument with the spurious claim, "they picked a broad cross-section of normal people." So, everyone in the UK is under 40? That's desperately bad news for Countdown, that is.

Channel 4 has commissioned another two years of Big Brother, and a celebrity edition for next year. There will, no doubt, be changes for next year. This column will reflect upon those changes at an appropriate moment.

The final column inches are in, the editors have spoken, and here are the results. Most of those shown as remaining in the house have suffered this week, after a mass sell-off of their Celebdaq stock.

17 (nc) Mary 9.1
16 (nc) Lesley 10.0
15 (nc) Doctor 10.5
14 (nc) Kinga11.9
13 (nc) Roberto12.8
12 (-1) Eugene 13.1
11 (-1) Vanessa 13.9
10 (+2) Sam 14.5
9 (-3) Derek 17.5
8 (nc) Science 17.6
7 (+2) Orlaith 17.7
6 (-2) Kemal 18.2
5 (nc) Maxwell 18.5
4 (+3) Saskia18.6
3 (nc) Craig 20.5
2 (-1) Anthony21.8
1 (+1) Makosi 22.6

Yes, Anthony lost half his value last week, a slump that's cost him the win. For comparison, a 20-fold increase would have turned the original £100 investment into a million quid.


We have completely lost the thread of this series. It's been going since February, fell off for other shows during May and June, and again last week. We think this is the sixteenth heat of the series, but it could be the nineteenth, or something else.

Neil Crockford is talking on the Novels of Raymond Queenau. We know very little about this author before the round begins, and very little about him during the two minutes of questioning. During earlier incarnations, the questions gave a bit of an introduction to the subject. It's details all the way, and Mr Crockford scores 16 (0).

Kevin Finnan offers Ireland during World War II. This is another superlative display, with another final score of 16 (0).

Indrani Herriaratchi has been studying the Life and Works of Marie Curie. It's a subject crammed full of tricky names, and there are fewer questions here than either gentleman saw. 9 (1) is her final score.

Laurence Inman takes Shakespeare's History Plays. It's far too large a subject - just answering questions on the Henry plays would be acceptable - and he finishes on 7 (2).

Mr Inman agrees that his subject was too large, and propounds the idea that Mr Shakespeare was from Birmingham, and not from Stratford. His general knowledge round starts well, but loses its thread part way through, finishing on 19 (3).

Mrs Herriaratchi is not only related to Mrs Bandranaike, the former prime minister of Ceylon, but entered game show history by looping-the-loop no fewer than three times on The People Versus. Her luck isn't in on this show, though, a final score of 19 (4).

Mr Crockford confirms that no-one reads Queenau in Britain. His general knowledge round is stuttering, and finishes on 26 (1).

We are running a little early this week, but not quite early enough to fit in a tie-breaker. It becomes a formality when Mr Finnan makes his second pass while still on 17 points. The round has a lot of passes, and ends on 22 (6).

Countdown Update

The press reported this week that a decision about a new presenter of Countdown will be made "shortly". This column would like to add its twopenn'orth at this stage.

We must assume that the regulars of Countdown will remain the same. Carol Vorderman will still look after the numbers, and put the letters up. Susie Dent will still act as the guardienne of the dictionaries, confirming which words are valid. We must also assume that there will continue to be more contests between two gentlemen than between two ladies, and that there will still be more contests between two (relative) youngsters than two old people.

On that basis, it's not strictly necessary to have a gentleman hosting the show. Countdown is successful enough to live with an all-female line-up occasionally. All of the suggestions here are people of a certain maturity - the world is not yet ready for Dick And Dom's Creamy Count Muck.

Richard Whiteley has moulded Countdown in a particular manner, and it would be necessary for the incoming presenter to honour some traditions. The game is bigger than the presenter, who needs to be able to take part when one can. Ease and banter with Carol, Susie, and the contestants is vital. Knowledge of the rules would be very useful, the ability to tot up the scores correctly would be advantageous, but the programme's survived without that quality. The ability to cope with a live (or as-live) television programme is a must.

As such, here are some thoughts on a few candidates.

  • Richard Digance was scheduled to take the presenter's seat in July. He may be too closely identified with Richard Whiteley's era to make the show his own. The production team has confidence in him, and that must count for a lot.
  • Ken Bruce has been mentioned on various fan fora. He's been an occasional Dictionary Corner celeb, and his daily radio show proves that he can communicate very well with people. He may not wish to give up a very good slot on Radio 2, and we don't recall any significant work on the television.
  • Phillip Schofield has also been bandied about a bit. He's tied to ITV's This Morning, which might not be a tremendous problem if the will were there. His work in the Broom Cupboard and Going Live is rightly the stuff of legend, and he's thoroughly easy to like. Having three regulars of about the same age might cause problems on screen.
  • To the best of our knowledge, no-one has suggested Simon Groom for the job. He held the live Blue Peter together during a rocky period around 1980, before it turned into the Si, Saz, and Pete show of legend, complete with double-entendres about a replica of Durham Cathedral's door-knocker. We know he could hold the show together, but as Simon's not appeared on national television in nearly twenty years, he simply may not want to.
  • We might wish to draw from the same well as Richard, regional news programmes. Bob Warman is an obvious candidate - he is held in very high esteem by viewers across ATVland, where he's presented the news almost since the invention of television. He could be a more avuncular figure than many of the other people in this list, and has experience hosting some game shows. He also spent a few years in the late 70s working alongside Richard Whiteley at Calendar.
  • Less preferable would be the man Bob replaced, Austin Mitchell. Like former MPs Gyles Brandreth and Clement Freud, there's too much of a danger that the host would overpower the show. Mr Brandereth recognises this, and has confirmed that he will not seek the job.
  • Lesley Garrett, Jennie Bond, and Esther Rantzen were all down to host some editions of Countdown during the summer. Ms Garrett would not be able to combine a permanent host's role with her regular singing career. Ms Rantzen would be an intriguing choice of host, she would surely be able to shed the baggage she brings from That's Life! Ms Bond would certainly be worth an audition, though this column has never particularly warmed to her appearances alongside Susie.

Whoever gets the role - and it's probably going to be someone not mentioned above - we wish them all the luck in the world.

This Week And Next

If you're one of the almost two people wondering what happened to Johnny Vaughan, we have the answer. He's gone to the States, where he's hosting My Kind of Town on obscure network ABC. The show's made by Monkey Productions, best known here for superior quiz Grand Slam, and flies a town of about 200 people to a major city, where there are all sorts of silly games. The show secured 7.1 million viewers, according to overnight ratings. Compare and contrast with Channel 4, which had 7.8 million people see the last person leave the Big Brother house last weekend, or 7.7 million view England and Australia's cricket match end in a draw on Monday.

Returning to the topic of boring and derivative television, the second series of ITV talent search (or Simon Cowell promotion) The X Factor began last night. Last year's winner, Steve Brookstein, has been dropped already. The early favourite to win (ok, the only person mentioned this morning) is Lemar From Fame Academy's Brother.

Not a classic week for new shows; when the most exciting novelty is Cameron Stout's Language Dialect Quiz (next Friday on BBC Radio Scotland), we know it's summer.

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