Weaver's Week 2005-09-18

Weaver's Week Index

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


Driving Up That Hill - 18 September 2005

Good luck to Nick Hall, 12th in Star Academy II, and due to play on the same bill as Bryan Adams in Coventry on the 23rd.

Britain's Worst Celebrity Driver Live!

(Mentorn for Channel 5, 2000 Sunday / Tuesday / Thursday)

The concept is simple. Six celebs are filmed being rubbish drivers, and challenged to drive from John O'Groats to Land's End. As they go, they'll be set tasks, and the public will vote on who should leave the show, because their driving is good.

Well, that's the theory. In practice, we've heard of Brian Blessed (accompanied by his daughter) and of course we know of John Noakes and Peter Purves, even if we're just a little too young to remember them as the Matt and Gethin of a previous Blue Peter era. Somewhere in a dim, dark recess of our mind, we remember Suzanne Shaw's group Heraset, the ITV house band in 2001-2; she's accompanied by her brother. JK and Joel are disk jokeys on Radio 1, though the phrase "Which is which?" is not going to be used about this duo as often as of, say, Antan Dec. Erik Estrada, Antonia Okonma, this column doesn't actually know from Eve and Adam.

"I hold you up, and drive you all night"

Anyway, the presenters are motoring expert Quentin Wilson, and Jenni Falconer of Drop The Celebrity fame. They spend the first episode introducing clips of the contestants on the road, and being examined by someone who appears to be a competent driver. Some of them are too fast, some are slow and doddery, and some are just painful in ways that don't quite come across on camera. If it's still sunny at the top end of Scotland at nine o'clock in mid-September, then this show was live.

"You don't have to ask me"

Indeed, the only aspect of the show that is clearly live would be the result of the public vote. What, you didn't realise there would be a public vote? Of course there's a public vote. Why else would Channel 5 give over seven hours of prime-time programming and employ some of the most obscure C-listers they could find, if it wasn't an attempt to earn money by staging a public vote. Premium rate vote lines are absolutely mandatory these days, and Channel 5's just doing what everyone else does - get the viewer to pay for the show, under the illusion that they're helping to write it.

"I know how you like it"

If one looks really closely, there's the germ of a passable game lurking behind the rather pointless voting. Take six people who aren't the world's greatest navigators, and ask them to find their way from A to B. To make matters a little more difficult, don't give them any maps, and say that they can't use the most obvious direct route. Remove the emphasis on laughing at how badly these people were driving, and the game comes down to getting from one place to another without using certain junctions, and without a map. It's a bit like the main game in Wanted, and could be just as entertaining if handled well.

"your fingers are trembling, your heart is heavy"

In addition to the navigation test, there are practical experiments, tricky enough to shred the nerves of those who consider themselves above-average drivers. For instance, parking a car in a parking spot, by going into it backwards, and while driving up a steep hill made slippery by water. Without hitting the car on either side. Or, as JK and/or Joel did, making the engine give out in a puff of smoke.

Worst Driver suffers from a significant flaw: the audience is encouraged to laugh at the contestants, rather than with them. Quentin Wilson's commentary tends to come across as a little sneering, as if he's an expert in the field. Which he may be, but simply claiming to know a lot about good driving counts for little when five people in six reckon they're above average.

"see the daylight, that's right"

Indeed, that attitude - that everyone else is a worse driver than you - is pervasive right across society. Nothing on this programme is going to address that mindset. Laughing at poor drivers will only give a sense of superiority to those people who need to think about their roadcraft.

This column would far sooner see Britain's Best Driver, celebrity or otherwise, challenging people to improve their driving skills, to learn new tricks, and perhaps to make sensible driving sexy for a change. But no, that wouldn't give the opportunity to laugh at other people, or attract as many phone votes so that Channel 5 can make its money back.

Bad driving. It's not just hip, it's profitable.

Moron Celebrities

Back in 2001, Piers Morgan was editing a national daily newspaper. He made a big thing - almost four years ago to the week - that his organ would stop printing anything about minor celebs. No more would he talk about people who were famous purely for being famous, give space for puff pieces about those promoting their wares without actually having any news. The campaign collapsed around its own weight of pomposity after a few months, and by the time Mr Morgan was forced to resign last year, his paper had pointless celebrities on almost every page.

By 2005, Piers Morgan is presenting a weekly political chat show that no-one watches (a new series started last night, and even though they'd dragged on Dr Fox to prop up the ratings, we missed it, so no change there), and is still on a crusade against minor celebs. And he's only gone and commissioned a scientific opinion poll to back up his findings, confirming that these people are famous only for being very friendly with footballers or television presenters, or being a bodyguard for created pop stars. As opposed to being a created pop star, or pretending to be someone else.

Celebrity Love Island came in for a lot of criticism, as did The Farm, and everyone ever involved with Mr David Beckham (an association football player in Madrid). There was far less criticism of the people who made it possible for the current crop of vapid celebrity to come to the forefront, because Mr Morgan is not so daft as to launch a crusade against the tabloid press culture he helped to foster. No, he let Anne Robinson do the criticising. So no change there, either.

Though Robin Gibb was interviewed, there was no mention of his work on Star Academy, presumably because that show never found anyone completely without talent who has gone on to find fame. Amongst the contestants, that is. Abigail Titmuss (whose claim to fame is still completely nebulous) came in for a lot of criticism for her book, though it's hardly worse than the daily organ edited by Mr Morgan.

Martine McCutcheon, whose career benefited immensely from the media's obsession with soap operas, claimed "We want real celebrity back." Maybe we don't; maybe we want the mystery of celebrity back. The public wants to know all the gossip about people in the public eye, but is not part of the attraction that we don't know all things about them? Is the public not to be allowed its demi-gods, to at least pretend that these people are superior to us? By showing everything about themselves, by taking in the oxygen of publicity, these people are surrounding themselves in a bell jar, and cutting off the draught of mystique.

One highlight was showing one of the pointless wonders reading off a script. Badly. "Some television exec would say - ah, there's something there," suggested Mr Morgan. "They'd be a cretin," said top actor Michael Gambon. Least worst in the contest was Kate Lawler, who was given a slot as a stand-up comic. Curiously, the documentary omitted to give any reaction to her performance, so we must assume that she did well enough not to be bottled off stage, if not getting a standing ovation.

Our greatest highlight was the caption "Jade Goody - Professional Interviewee."


Valerie Chown is taking the Life and Work of the Composer Puccini. It's a decent enough round, but it's got too many passes to win this week. 8 (4) is the final score.

Alistair Littlewood has the Novels of Sebastian Faulks to interest us. From this round, we know that Mr Faulks is a writer, mostly of fiction set on the continent, but that's it. 8 (5) is the score here.

Christopher Warren has plumped for a portmanteau subject, European Nobility in the Eighteenth Century. The definition of "portmanteau subject" is one that's really rather large, perhaps one so big that it doesn't have a single corresponding Wikipedia entry. 3 (3) might yet keep him in contention.

Tom King is taking the television programme Dad's Army. No doubt if Mr King wins here, BBC2 will show the programme every week from here to eternity. Well, that's made the second half of the programme almost academic, and sorted out the schedules. 16 (0).

In the general knowledge round, Mr Warren takes his score to 11 (5), Mrs Chown to 15 (9). Rev Littlewood talks about people who want to be buried with their mobile phones. Not that it's happened to him, but he's heard it through the clerical grapevine. A clerical myth of our days? He finishes on 14 (6), which means that Mr King has won the game based only on his specialist subject.

This is good news for Mr King, who finishes on a respectable 24 (4), but it's been a terrible half-hour of television. This column's sometime catchphrase, "We watch these shows so you don't have to", has rarely seemed more apposite.

This Week And Next

Thanks to Melissa Ferrick for assistance this week.

The press has been touting the possibility of Des Lynam moving into the host's seat at Countdown. He could be a very good presenter indeed. 10 October seems to be the provisional date for the resumption of service, with Helen Mathieson set to resume in her third game.

ITV's 50 Greatest Programmes of the Last Couple of Years (Plus a Few Others Melvyn Bragg Insisted We Include Otherwise He'd Have Lectured At Us. For Three Hours. On a Saturday Night) survey finally took to the air last weekend. The game shows deemed memorable enough to mention were:

50 - Family Fortunes (and if we see the "Turkey" clip one more time, we'll throw one. Probably still frozen.)
48 - Opportunity Knocks
44 - Candid Camera

35 - Blind Date
22 - Stars in Their Eyes
16 - Millionaire (surprisingly low)
9 - Pop Idle (the second-highest programme no longer aired on any ITV channel, one place behind The Muppet Show)
6 - I'm a Celebrity
2 - Antan Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (surprisingly high, though considering their popularity...)

Coronation Street won, to the surprise of absolutely no-one.

Two years ago, we noted that Dale Winton had suffered a facial infection, and was bravely disguising it with an ill-fitting beard. It appears that the disease is catching, and it's currently residing on the lower chin of former HIGNFY host Angus Deayton. We wish him a speedy recovery.

One of the categories of people rated as Useless in Mr Moron's survey was Anyone On Big Brother. That'll explain how Derek Laud and Edwina Currie - perhaps the most well-known pair of people who weren't mentioned in John Major's autobiography - appeared on Millionaire last night. And, er, managed to leave with just a grand.

Next week's highlights include the new series of Scrapheap Challenge (Sunday), the return of University Challenge (Monday), and the second week of Art School (all week).

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