Weaver's Week 2005-12-18

Weaver's Week Index

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


Wealthwatch - 18 December 2005

If you appear in seat two of University Challenge, you'll be famous for at least 28 minutes.

The Golden Lot

(Lion TV for ITV, 1715 Sunday)

The aim of the game is simple: which of these six items is the most expensive?

ITV's resident gameshow goddess Carol Vorderman hosts the programme, and it comes from a set that looks like it's a museum, and sounds like it's in a museum, and even has a couple of guards who look like they should be working in a museum. It's actually done at a former church in Spitalfields, London. The opening title sequence is straight out of the 1950s, a simple camera movement bringing the caption on screen.

Assisting Carol is antiques expert Charles Bickford. He will briefly describes each item, giving more information as the show progresses, but not mentioning the price until later.

Three couples play the main game, and a random draw off-stage has determined the order in which they play. The first team will take their pick from all six antiques, the next from five, and the third team will pick from the four remaining items. Then the order reverses, so the last team picks again from the three remaining items, the middle team takes their preference from the last two, and the first team must take whatever's left. At this point, whichever team has landed themselves with the cheapest item is out of the contest. This also has an effect on the overall game, as the cheapest item cannot possibly be the most expensive, so only five possibilities remain.

In the second round, the two remaining couples start with the two items from round one. They must pick one, and only one, of their items to keep. Carol attempts to wind up the tension by forcing a quick decision, "I'll give you ten seconds starting now" and some clicky music plays. This sort of countdown is a little out of place. The more expensive item keeps that team in the game; the cheaper item clearly cannot be the most expensive.

The winning couple have four items left, and in order to win, they must pick which is the most expensive one. They can keep one they had in the first round, or the one the other team discarded, or the one that was left out of play by the first team. Only if they get this decision correct and pick the highest-priced antique (the Golden Lot of the title) do they win the game, and its cash value.

Apropos of a discussion on the UKGS mailing list, this show could meet the criteria to be a Monty Hall Problem, with one minor change: allow the team to swap between the lot they've kept and the one remaining. Effectively, the winning team would have picked one antique (door) out of four, and two others have been revealed to be losing. Would it always be in their better interest to switch to the other? Could Carol Vorderman cheekily introduce a simple Bayesian probability question to weekend television?

Perhaps the best part of the show is Paul Farrer's music, almost classical, and bearing repetition. Though not quite as often as it does get repeated through the show. The second-best bit is Charles Bickford, who is suave and debonair and knowledgeable. He brings a welcome charm to proceedings, and enlivens the show greatly.

Now, all this sounds like an entertaining little fifteen-minute filler, but how does it possibly stretch into a half-hour slot? If you know, call our spoof premium rate line on 0110 485 6242 (Calls charged at £200 per minute, mobile rates may vary, ask permission before calling.) Indeed, we have a call already. Hello caller, how are you going to spin out this show?

"Have a premium-rate phone in, so that people can guess which is the top prize, and think they're playing along at home."

That's an interesting idea, caller. It would stretch the game out, allowing Carol to give the phone number a lot. And it would give ITV an extra revenue stream, one that would probably pay for more than the cost of the prize. But wouldn't it break up the game terribly, making a game of perfect length last just too that little bit too long?


Oh. If you say so. Did you get permission from ITV before calling us? Hello, caller?

Millionaire Manor

(BBC, Saturday evenings)

Oh dear, we're going to have to kick off with a Loyd Grossman misquote. "Who lives in a house like this? The mock-Georgian house contains four bedrooms, and could comfortably sleep six people. There's a games room, a fully-stocked bar, a live-in chef, and a retained limousine driver at the occupants' beck and call. The house is set in five acres of countryside, perfect for those get away from it all walks.

"The entrance hall is a tribute to the owner's fetish for early-80s television - it has neon strip lights ripped out of the Top Of The Pops studio, and those quiz podia that only a fashion victim could love. So, David, whose house is this?"

Leaving that question hanging for a moment, let's think back to 2002, and the immensely successful programme RI:SE, the third most popular breakfast programme on Channel 4 that year, behind only The Big Breakfast and a picture of some wet paint drying. Some of the ill-fated programme's hosts have gone on to bigger and/or better things - Colin Murray and Edith Bowman are now established on Radio 1, Kirsty Gallagher did the ever-expanding Simply the Best, and Chris Rogers was last spotted reading the news on a train with one of those in-carriage television sets. The set wasn't working, and we're not sure that people on the 8.11 to Victoria appreciated someone reading bits out of the paper, but there you go.

But what happened to the nominal host, Mark Durden-Smith? Well, he's been pottering about the outer depths of the ITV schedules for a couple of years, usually paired with Tara Palmer-Tompkinson. Now, he's popped up on the Beeb, and is trying to entertain the nation and give away a top prize.

Sadly, he's failing on just about every count there. The top prize on this show is the opportunity to come back in a week's time and do it all again. Mercifully, the Beeb picks up the tab for travel and accommodation, and puts people up in a small mansion they just found lying around. Indeed, that would be the house Mr Grossman described in his usual eloquent manner a moment ago, and the house where the quizzing takes place.

There is a quiz in there, honest. Four teams of six turn up, but only two will play. No-one is under 16, for that would be associating the lottery with young people, and that's a strict no-no. Basing a quiz about ostentatious consumption and being (to quote the great social observer Mr Daffy Duck) "rich! Rich! RICH!" is not only acceptable but de rigeur.

Round one is series of "True / False" questions, based on the premise that Person A is richer than Person B, according to one specific gazetteer of conspicuous wealth. The team scoring the fewest correct answers from this round must leave the contest. Round two is a stripped-down version of The Golden Lot. Miss Vorderman does not appear, nor does Mr Bickford, but three items of varying values do, and the remaining teams must decide which is the most expensive of the three. The worst performance loses. There's probably a tie-breaker in here, but we have yet to see it happen.

Round three, if you're still awake, consists of five multiple-choice questions; a correct answer ensures that team will answer the next question, an incorrect answer throws play to the other side. Answer the fifth question correctly, or the first correct answer thereafter, and the team has won. And must come back and do it all again next week.

Last week, this column said that Eamonn Holmes neither adds to, nor subtracts from, proceedings. Mark Durden-Smith, he's not chosen the greatest of formats. Hell's Kitchen Sloppy Leftovers, and I'm An ITV2 Celebrity are not exactly going to build Mr Durden-Smith's reputation as a mainstream presenter. In full fairness to him, this was a particularly thin format to begin with, Jet Set On A Budget simply won't work, and the final round in particular is long and meaningless. However, the host doesn't really interact with the contestants, and doesn't bring much energy or life to proceedings.

So, to answer Mr Grossman's question: the winners of a Lottery Corp tie-in show. Why they want to is an unanswered question.

University Challenge

First round, match thirteen: London Business v Trinity Oxford

Both institutions are making their debut in the revival. The London Business School concentrates on business studies for mature students - all four competitors are taking MBAs, and three are from London. The other is Edwin Famous, hoping to live up to his name. Trinity Oxford has an annual intake of 80, and includes two PPE students.

From the opening exchanges, it would be surprising if the repechage tie remained after tonight's programme. None of the first eight bonuses are answered correctly, and after the visual round (name that sports stick), Trinity has the lead, 45-25.

This match feels distinctly odd - games between teams that appear to have qualified because of their institutions rather than their quizzing prowess have become mercifully rare this year. Such poor matches were common a couple of years ago, and the feeling of "this isn't 2003 any more, isn't it?" intensifies with this exchange:

Q: Both NASA and the European Space Agency believed they had detected signs of life on Mars when each independently discovered signs in the Martian atmosphere of which gas...
Jonathan Hall, LBS: Carbon dioxide.
Q: ...which gas, a waste product of living organisms on Earth?
Katie Lee, Trinity Oxford: Carbon dioxide
Thumper: He's just said that! Listen!

The mood darkens further. Thumper is impossibly and unreasonably harsh to disallow "tangent" as an answer for "tangent of x". Mercifully, Trinity has a decent lead, but we'll be deeply unhappy if they lose by five.

The audio round is on the themes from Australian soap operas that finished production years ago, but are still clogging up late-night Channel 5, and/or become running jokes in Creamguide. Trinity's lead is 70-60 at this point.

Long pauses while conferring about simple bonuses were a mark of the Magdalen 04 side, and of this London Business school. Thumper cites a particular commercial music encyclopaedia twice, which must be pushing the boundaries of the BBC's sponsorship rules. The second visual round, on the paintings of Millet, sees the scores grippingly tied at 100-100. We might yet tickle the repechage.

Indeed, LBS move up to 135, enough to bring them back. We've had a question about the definition of "metrology" - the science of measurements - in the past, surely. Trinity Oxford suggest that the sexually-transmitted disease originating from birds is avian 'flu. This show was recorded before the recent media scare. The final score sees the LBS win, 170-130.

Break this!
1) St Hugh's Oxford 190
2) St John's Oxford, Durham, Trinity Oxford 130
Three will go through.

Last week, we explained that St John's had a better record than Durham, and hence a better claim for a repechage place. St John's is clearly better than their Oxford colleagues. Trinity made 8/27 bonuses tonight and no missignals while conceding 11 starters; Durham had 10/30 and four missignals, conceding 10 starters. By this column's reckoning, Durham has a slightly better claim to a repechage place, but it would be most equitable to see all three sides come back.

LBS made 14/32 bonuses with two missignals. Their top-scorer was captain Anthony Lerman with 83; Trinity's best buzzer was Justin Kueh on 63.

First round, match fourteen: Nottingham v Imperial College of Medicine

Nottingham were last here two years ago, and became the first victims of the charmed Magdalen Oxford team. Their best result in the BBC years was a semi-final place in 1998. Imperial Medical School joined us in 2000, losing their opener to New Hall Cambridge.

Two orders of business for tonight's teams: first, win the game; second, lose with at least 135 points. One order of business for the producers: keep the losers below 130 points, otherwise there will be the devil's own tie-break to make. There's not a linguist or social scientist on the panel tonight, which leaves Thumper rather isolated; the team from Nottingham includes two medics and a geneticist, all the team from Imperial Medicine are, er, medical students. Curious, that.

Though Thumper talked up the quiz prowess of the Medics, it's Nottingham who have the lion's share of the opening exchanges, coming out of the first visual round (on Morse representations of help signals) 80-15 ahead. The Medics pick up a starter on medicine, while Nottingham get a set of bonuses on the policies of the Monster Raving Looney Party. And get them all right, which is surely our Hidden Student Politics Indicator of the Week.

Nottingham are very impressive here, passing the 130 points required for the repechage less than half-way through the broadcast. They're even experts on the most Byzantine of knowledge, correctly naming the empire that flourished around the 10th century. The audio round is Name That Ballet, and Nottingham's lead is an impregnable 170-30.

There's another starter on biology, which inevitably goes to the Medics, as does one on descriptions of Blackpool. Nottingham almost give the song title as Safe may sheeply graze, but that's just about their only slip. Imperial's Medics are coming up on the rails, though, and by the second visual round - on writers' houses - they're on 100.

Nottingham are safe, their score is already on 190, and they run up the scores as though they've put money on the outcome. Imperial Medics need to get two starters and a decent fistful of bonuses to make the repechage. They get one starter, then a second, and one bonus, but they're annoyingly short. Then Jason Ho gets a starter with "Laos", the gong goes, and the result is Nottingham 245, Imperial Medics 135.

In this week's match, Alex Jolley led the scoring, with 115 for his Nottingham side. Richard Hutchinson was best on the buzzer for Imperial Medicine, making 81 points. His side went 7/27 on the bonuses; Nottingham had 21/42, and neither side picked up a missignal.

A total of 4,540 points were scored in the first round; the median total score for the 14 matches was exactly 300. That's higher than in either of the past two years, but still the third-lowest of all-time. The quality of competition has been high, and the omens look good for a cracking knockout phase.

But there's one problem to solve first. Here's the final repechage board:

1) St Hugh's Oxford 190

2) Imperial Medicine 135
3) St John's Oxford, Trinity Oxford, Durham 130 (2 places)

In the opinion of the producers, Durham were the weakest of the three teams, as the other teams "required fewer questions" to reach their totals. As this column discussed last time, it would require the wisdom of Solomon to separate Durham from Trinity. In the absence of an off-air match to split the sides, one of them must be left out, which is a desperate shame.

Even more of a shame is the repechage draw, which pits the two best sides against each other. Jan 9: St Hugh's v St John's Jan 16: Imperial Medicine v Trinity Oxford

We shall start the new year with a fantastic match. Shame it's in the repechage, really.

This Week And Next

Since we last looked at Countdown, Daniel Peake lost his seventh game (6 wins, 585 pts, +60 to Par). Ray Oakley (2w, 215pts, +20) put on the surprise defeat, and prevented Daniel from coming up against Conor Travers. The fourteen-year-old took to the small screen like a duck to water, appeared in some national papers, and became the first octochamp of the series. His stats - 8w, 890pts, -61 - indicate that he's a seriously good player. His run also allowed new host Des Lynam to hit his own stride, feeling like he was settling into the game, not renting it from a departed uncle. Rosemary Ilsley took over the vacant chair (1w, 183, +15) before Clive Johnson took over. He made five decent wins, but never quite looked to be as good as Conor, and left with 5w, 519, +43. Marie Hayden is the current champ, with four wins to her name.

Viewing figures for the week to 4 December, and I'm A Celeb (10.7m on Sunday) was the pick of the crop. X-Factor scored 10m thanks to a later slot, and that's 300,000 ahead of Strictly Come Dancing. The first episode of Millionaire Manor took 6.9m, with 5.2m for HIGNFY and 4.4m for the pop Weakest Link. The daytime Link scored 3.4m, with 2.9m for Dancing Daily, 2.7m for UC, and 2.6m for Eggheads. Dragon's Den pulled in 2.2m.

The major news came on Channel 4, where Deal Or No Deal has hit the top spot. It took just 35 episodes, as Friday's Deal Or No Deal racked up 3.2m viewers. The Scrapheap Flying Machines took 2.5m, and came fractionally ahead of the best Countdown figures - looks like all the publicity for young Conor paid off, for this was the day his octochamp run completed.

As this is the last Week for some time, here's a look ahead to some of the highlights of the festive season.

On BBC1, Test The Nation The Annual National Test Of The Year takes place tonight (8.30). Hard Spell returns for a second series between Christmas and New Year (first episode 5.30 Boxing Day, final on New Year's Eve); the companion Hard Spell Abbey enjoys a welcome repeat on BBC2 next week, albeit at 7.30am. Generation Fame (6.30 New Year's Eve) sees Graham Norton trying to be the new Larry Grayson. There's the usual celebrity editions of Mastermind (from 7.30, 28 Dec on BBC1) and University Challenge (from 8.30 New Year's Eve on BBC2).

ITV keeps up traditions, with celebrity editions of Millionaire (from 8pm Christmas Eve) and starts something new, Antan Dec's Christmas Takeaway (6.30 Christmas Eve). There's also a few episodes of Cash Cab (from 12.10, Holiday Tuesday). The new year brings a new series of Finders Keepers (4.30, 6 January).

On Channel 4, Countdown continues until Wednesday, then returns on 2 January. In between, there's a tribute to The Wonderful World Of Whiteley (3.25, Holiday Tuesday), followed by a classic episode. Deal or No Deal takes time off on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, but otherwise it's full steam ahead for Noel's juggernaut. The Big Fat Quiz of the Year premieres at 9pm Boxing Day; readers are cautioned that this show will contain Jimmy Carr. By the time we meet again, the next Celebrity Big Brother will be well under way - it kicks off at 9pm, 5 January.

That's just about all for your weekly coverage of 2005. A review of next Monday's University Challenge will appear next Tuesday, and the Week Of The Year emerges in the last few days of December. The next regular Week will appear on 8 January.

Until then, and on behalf of all the UKGameshows.com team, may you have a very happy Christmas and a fabulous new year.

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