Weaver's Week 2005-12-30

Weaver's Week Index

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


2005: The Week of the Year

Is it that time already? If Mastermind is on the schedule, and Mishal Husain is frightening young children (and their parents), it must be time for the End Of Year Review.


The Beeb's flagship channel started the year with a slight show, but one that would turn out to be memorable for all the wrong reasons. Star Spell (3 January) saw the prime-time debut of Dick and Dom, and victory for Richard Whiteley. How long ago this seems. 29 Minutes of Fame was the big comeback for Bob Mortimer, but was tediously arbitrary and narrowly focussed. Of course, it's been renewed. Superstars came back for a second series, but relegated to Sunday teatime and shunted around at the convenience of the sport department, it was never going to be a winner. Of course, it's not coming back.

Test The Nation The National Test had the usual slew of outings: BBC Entertainment (March), Twentieth Century (June), English And Short-Term Memory (October), and The Year (December). The format is, perhaps, beginning to wear a little thin, but each show is fine entertainment and does still feel like Anne Robinson's hosting Britain's biggest pub quiz. The concept spread slightly - Des Lynam and Mark Mardell hosted debates wrapped around quizzes on prime-time television. Children's programme Blue Peter adapted the concept for their own ends, proving that there's very little this show can't do.

Singing shows have been mercifully absent from BBC1 this year, with the exception of Celebrity Star Academy II, during which judge Richard Park ensured the world knew what he thought of host Patrick Kielty. Instead, it's all been dance. Strictly Dance Fever sought out people with a passion for movement in time, and didn't try to make money out of their Terpsichore in distressed jeans. The third series of Strictly Come Dancing just about beat the opposition in the autumn, and continued the revival of formal dance.

On the lottery, Come and Have a Go brought back the interactive game from last year, but Julian Clary was a poor substitute for Nicky Campbell. The series got better as it went on, but that wasn't exactly difficult. Millionaire Manor was, quite simply, Jet Set on a budget. Neither is exactly going to be the next Winning Lines. The word of the year was "Sudoku", and the only decent attempt at making a game out of the puzzle was daytime's Sudo-Q.


The main effort on BBC2 has been to find something for the troubled 6pm slot. Last year, it looked like the channel had found a stable line-up, with Headjam and Beg, Borrow or Steal making for eminently watchable television. Neither programme has been re-commissioned, which is a shame. The channel tried madcap inventions in Geronimo!, but eventually gave up and bunged Eggheads and Strictly Come Dancing out for weeks on end.

In between came Dick And Dom's Ask The Family. It's not entirely clear why critics hated this show with a passion. The hosts took the spirit of the programme, updated it, and gave it something the original lacked - an atmosphere. The comedy creation Piggy Cowell deserved better company, and a lack of variety in the jokes is probably where the series fell down. While the original series - bravely repeated at the same time - felt like it was taking place in a vacuum, the re-make was played slightly for laughs, but always had a decisive final round that either team could win. Maybe the press critics should have turned their quills on the tawdry Lashings of Fun documentary that went out before the series, surely the laziest piece of television the BBC has commissioned all year.

In primetime, BBC2 has given us business shows The Apprentice and Dragons' Den. One involves five venture capitalists trying to invest money; the other gave three months of airtime to some oily, unctuous, schmoozing, lying, cheating, self-interested bullhitters. Mock the Week was a cross between HIGNFY and Whose Line Is It Anyway?, always made for good viewing, and returns in the new year.

This year's series of Mastermind seemed interminable, stretching from March to November, with far too many heats. University Challenge has really picked up steam this year, with four fantastic sides contesting April's semi-finals.


It seems that ITV has thrown everything at the scheduling wall this year, in the hope that some of it would stick. Scream! If You Want to Get Off premiered on 1 January, and tried to bridge the gap between The Crystal Maze, Survivor, and Fear Factor. This one didn't stick to the wall, and it was removed from the screens by the end of January. By then, political popularity contest Vote for Me had tried to expose the workings of parliament, but only saw Kelvin Mackenzie and Lorraine Kelly upstaged by the inevitable ex-con-legalise-hard-drugs-and-pull-up-the-drawbridge candidate.

"We're about due a Shakin' Stevens revival," thought someone at ITV Control last year. He won the career-reviving pop series ...Baby One More Time. Celebrity Wrestling also got a new time, relegated from Saturday evenings to Sunday mornings. The Sunday Times carried on a brief vendetta against Millionaire early in the year, and it's worth noting that the programme has been almost entirely absent from our screens this autumn - a handful of celebrity specials, a similar number of regular episodes, pre-emptions for Harry Potter and X-Fools, and that's about it.

ITV Daytime got a new look in April, and has launched a dizzying array of game shows. Perseverance had a promising concept - repeat the same questions over and over again, but suffered from a grossly unfair final round. And from ITV's obsession with self-promotion completely ruining the tension in that final. Watching the Detectives rather lived up to its title, and could generate similar quizzes in the future. Chef V Britain was also a complete giveaway, and The Golden Lot was an entertaining little filler.

Children's programming has also been doing well, with the watersports promotion Splash Camp a real grower over the summer. Celebrity Love Island was also a grower, overcoming more critical barbs to become a moderate hit - enough to get itself re-commissioned for a new series next year. Less fortunate was the competitive dieting show Fat Families, pulled from the schedules after just one episode. It did complete its run, which is more than can be said for Scream...

The Big Call had been at least two years in development, and could probably have done with some more. We had Doctor "Neil" Fox on one mountain-top, shouting at contestants on another; a melty-faces bit (but only on the opening show); a strange and rather poor scoring system; a scoreboard that could barely be seen; questions about obscure celebrities; and a curious ending that seemed to be a complete anti-climax each week. There wasn't even a consolation prize, The Big Call glowing mobile-phone holder wouldn't cost more than a fiver, but would look good. Unlike the prospects for this show. Hopefully, we won't be seeing Celebrity Spelling Bee again either. We'll never get that hour and a half back. Nor will we get back the evening spent watching X-Factor.

Antan Dec has, once again, held ITV's schedule together. From the spring's run of Takeaway to the fifth series of I'm A Celebrity, the Geordie star has kept the network ticking over. There's been no sign of Angus Deayton's Bognor or Bust, but we did have Al Murray's Fact Hunt.

Channel 4

The second independent channel spent the first half of the year looking to replace Fifteen to One. They didn't spend much time thinking about programme titles. Name Your Price was just rubbish, trying to get viewers to SMS in with the price of antiques. Natural Born Dealers was a bit better, but didn't add anything to Bargain Hunt. The Great Garden Challenge was, yes, competitive gardening. Coach Trip was, surprisingly, a coach trip, from which people were voted off for no adequately explored reason. Perhaps the best of the bunch, Come Dine with Me was an entertaining idea well executed, competitive dinner party hosting is so far behind the times it's fashionable again.

All of the ideas were predicated on the cornerstones of the daytime schedule - Richard and Judy at 5, and Countdown at 3.15. Channel 4's calculations were thrown into disarray in May, when Countdown host Richard Whiteley went into hospital suffering from a bout of pneumonia. His recovery took longer than anyone hoped, and producers Granada Yorkshire made contingency plans for guest hosts. Then, on the night of 26 June, came the impossibly sad news that Richard had passed away.

It was absolutely right for the series to finish over the following week, and Channel 4 aired some tribute programmes before and after the final - which was a classic event on its own. And it was absolutely right for everyone concerned to take some time out, come off the air, and think about what they would do next. Eventually, it emerged that Countdown would come back, with a new presenter. Summer turned to autumn, and we finally found that the third member of the Countdown trio - joining numbers whizz Carol Vorderman and wordsmith Susie Dent - would be Des Lynam, of whom more anon.

There was a certain inevitability about Big Brother, which had celebrity editions in January, and a standard edition for much of the summer. Broadcast regulator OFCOM told Channel 4 recently that BB6 had pushed the boundaries of taste and decency to their limit, though hadn't exceeded them. That's a curious turn of phrase, almost identical to one in 2004's Butler Report. This column found both series crushingly dull, enlivened only by Germaine Greer's outspoken attack on the programme, and by Endemol's increasingly desperate attempts to convince people that all was right with their ship.

Dramatic irony has its place, but Big Brother flagged up each and every one of its twists in the tabloids beforehand. That must surely have taken a lot from the broadcast programme. The conceit reached its logical conclusion with December's Space Cadets, a one-joke programme that spread itself out over a week and a half.

C4 also aired the game show documentary Our Survey Said, which explored the qualities necessary for a successful game show, and promptly said the best show of all time was - er - Bullseye. Surely they mean Have I Got News For You, which inspired Back in the Day (Have I Got Pop History For You), 8 Out of 10 Cats (...Opinion Polls...), and Deadly Knowledge (...Daytime Filler...).

Channel 5

There's been very little from the fifth terrestrial channel this year - Brainteaser continued on its way, a new series of The Farm mostly passed us by, and Britain's Worst Celebrity Driver Live! was all a bit silly. Mercifully, new controller Dan Chambers has promised to axe the reality nonsense, and we look forward to some programmes that have had some thought put in.

Cable and satellite channels

Most of the Eurovision contests aired on cable channels this year; the Senior contest still suffers from an obligatory commentary by Terry Wogan and his acolyte Paddy O'Connell. The BBC's commitment to the contest clearly weakened this year, with the preview programmes being dropped after just two years, and the after-show party with Lorraine Kelly replaced with an chaotic broadcast from backstage. ITV2 gave Junior Eurovision a fair crack of the whip, sending over the refreshingly sensible Michael Underwood, and airing a shortened version on the main channel. Both shows cut off the reprises before the end, ostensibly because they were running late, but possibly to avoid irritating sponsor's credits. No-one showed Congratulations, the 50th anniversary programme; other people's reviews suggest it wasn't up to much, but the BBC was completely wrong not to give us the chance to decide for ourselves.

BBC4 has had an outstanding year, re-presenting some old programmes and ideas. Over Easter, the Television On Trial week was an excuse to bung out some old shows, and have talking heads natter over them. One of the old shows was an original edition of Double Your Money, proving that Chris Tarrant learned a lot from Hughie Green.

In October came The Lost Decade, a month-long celebration of the period between 1945 and 1955. That included the panel games of the era, and in turn gave Hugh Dennis and The Fourth Programme Panel an excuse to dress up in dinner jackets and play such games as The Name's the Same and What's My Line? (That's dressing up for all except Brian Sewell, who always wears a dinner jacket anyway.) We also saw some original archive programmes, and a sensitive documentary aired footage of programmes that hadn't kept complete episodes.

Continuous coverage of whichever Endemol product is currently on C4 kept E4 busy for most of the year. It did find time to make Bamboozle, a knowing game about people fooling the media.

Sky Onc continued to struggle - the Antan Dec-devised Celebrity Golf Challenge and Vorderman's Sudoku Live attracted attention, but little interest. Discounting the comedy format Ed Vs Spencer they were, at least, the first new game show commissions from this broadcaster since House Sitters in 2003. The Amazing Race has emerged on the Living channels, as did Jade's Salon. UK Gold launched Street Cred Sudoku (or Have I Got A Number Puzzle For You).

After a brief flurry of commissions a couple of years ago, Challenge's programmes have become dull and predictable. There's an awful lot of Bullseye, there's lashings of poker, and only Antan Dec-era Friends Like These has made its debut this year. Challenge's ultimate owner, Telewest, has recently announced a merger with NTL, and we hope that this will herald some changes on the channel.

Perhaps the most depressing trend has been the proliferation of call-and-lose channels. Viewers are invited to call a premium rate number, and try to guess the number the presenter is thinking of. If they're put through - and only a few callers get to speak on air - they're inevitably told that the answer is something different. At a pound a call, the only people making money out of this scam are the channel operators. Regulator ICSTIS has implemented some changes, such as requiring the operators to register their games, and forcing an answer - complete with working - to be made available, but this has done nothing to prevent call-and-lose channels popping up across the network. It's depressing that ITV can use its terrestrial transmitters for three hours a night of this nonsense, but can't be bothered to fund a decent news service.


Radio 4's Monday quiz show continued, though took itself off during the election period, ensuring that the final episode of Round Britain Quiz was only on the website for 36 hours or so. The highlight was the return of Robert Robinson to Brain of Britain after his absence to illness for much of last year. There's been no new series of Puzzle Panel, which is a shame, but we do have John Simpson's discussion-by-quiz Where in The World.

Radio Scotland has been the home of new games. Your Word Against Mine was a Scots dialect quiz hosted by Cameron Stout; Kaye Adams hosted another language quiz, The Raw Deal; and Soundbiters brought back people who had been in the news.

Quotes Of The Year

"Is that really the stuff of public service broadcasting?" - Peter Luff, MP, on Dick and Dom.

"It was demonstrating the role of taunting in the playground and there are so many children whose lives have been ruined by taunting in the playground. I was worried about the object lesson in bullying I have participated in." - Germaine Greer, after leaving Celebrity Big Brother.

A: Bach.
Thumper: Which one?
[stunned team]
Thumper: You do know there's more than one...?

Jenny Bond: We've got a couple of eights, one I don't think's too risky - FORESKIN - is that all right?

Susie Dent: Yes, that's fine, it's in the dictionary...
Jenny: (Turns to Susie) And you've got one!
Susie: Yes, MONIKERS...(tails off, as she realises Ms Bond's entendre)
Richard Whiteley: Well, that would be a one-off, Jenny - a bit of an exclusive there!

Anne Aston, 1970: "He just touched the trigger and it went off into the ceiling!"
Eamonn Holmes, 2005: "I just touched the trigger and it went off!"

Q: First recorded in the United States in 1989, and referring to a supposed condition in which men are unable to resist offering answers to questions, even ones outside their field of expertise, for what do the initials MAS stand?
A: Men answering syndrome?
A: Masculine answering syndrome?
A: Male Answering Syndrome.

Kevin Lygo, Channel 4's Head of Big Brother: "I'm sure we'll want to do it again and again until it stops working and clearly it isn't not working."

Andy Duncan, Channel 4's Chairman: "Big Brother is a parable for our times, and a series that promotes honesty, integrity, constancy, and kindness."

Dan Chambers, head of Channel 5: "Every year, Big Brother tries to up the ante and make it more outrageous. It's reached the point where viewers turn off. I don't think Channel 4 can go much further with it."

Dick and Dom: "Question one!"

Paddy O'Connell: "Why do you have to vote on everything? Isn't it enough just to watch?"

Jon Snow, on Richard Whiteley: "He was effortlessly charming, easy with everyone, generous in spirit and very funny. Loads of us - from lazy students to the Queen - will miss him."

"Jade Goody - Professional Interviewee."

The Roll Of Honour

Star Spell: (Jan) Richard Whiteley
(Oct) Vanessa Feltz

Masterteam 2004-5: The Dunces of Denstone (David Edwards, Liz Banks, and Graham Richards)

Superstars: Zoe Baker and Alain Baxter

Strictly Dance Fever: Joseph Hall and Sadie Flower
Dance Factory: Claire and Gavin

The Apprentice: Tim Campbell

Round Britain Quiz: Scotland (Michael Alexander, Alan Taylor)

University Challenge: Corpus Christi, Oxford (Captain Charles Oakley, Nick Sharp, Stefano Mariani, David Whitley)

Junior Mastermind: Robin
Mastermind: Patrick Gibson

Eurovision Song Contest: Greece, represented by Helen Paparizou, performing You are my number one
Junior Eurovision: Belarus, represented by Kseniya Sitnik, performing We are together

Countdown: John Mayhew

Counterpoint: John Taylor

Celebrity Big Brother: Mark "Bez" Berry

Big Brother: Makosi Mumbasi (press coverage); Anthony Hutton (viewers' vote)

Brain of Britain: Christopher Hughes

Scrapheap Challenge: The Powerlifters

Strictly Come Dancing: Darren Gough and Lilia Kopylova

X-Factor: Simon Cowell and Shayne Ward

Rose d'Or Awards:
Best Game Show: Test The Nation (UK)
Best Game Show Host: Thomas Gottschalk for "Wetten, dass?" (Germany)
Best Variety Show: Strictly Come Dancing (UK)
Best Game Show Format: Test The Nation (Netherlands)

Best Reality Format: The Apprentice (USA)

Pick of the Crop

Children's Show of the Year: Jungle Run

There will be a full explanation of this decision in the first Week of the new year, to be published on 8 January. Though Splash Camp was good, and Raven was great, the grandfather of children's game shows picks up the nod.

One-off Show of the Year: Harry Potter at the Castle

There was no budget, the show was nothing more than a 45-minute advert for other ITV programmes, and it was fabulous viewing. Even for those of us who think Mr Potter is the name of the gardener in Happy Families, the quiz was well-structured, good-humoured, and particularly entertaining.

Old Friend of the Year: University Challenge

It's only two years since this column was shouting from the rooftops because University Challenge had become almost unwatchable rubbish. Someone somewhere was clearly listening; last year's final four produced some unmissable television. This year's series has stopped being a vehicle for Thumper's sneering, and started to become entertaining once more. The questions don't drag on longer than a river, the host harries teams to hurry up with their bonus answers, and the quality of competition has clearly risen. We're looking forward to the later phases, and that's not happened in years.

Revivals of the Year: Antan Dec's Game Show Marathon

In the autumn, there was a brief revival of some old ITV game shows. The Game Show Marathon was the bravest decision of Antan Dec's career, setting up judgements against legends such as Bob Monkhouse and Bruce Forsyth. The Geordie host almost managed to pull it off, delivering some clear hits (Price Is Right, Family Fortunes), some brave attempts (Golden Shot, Sale of the Century), and only one turkey (Take Your Pick, and that's because the format is dull to begin with). Though Antan Dec isn't yet in the all-time premier league of entertainers, a place in the promotion play-offs looks certain. This column would welcome another marathon next year.

Daily Treat of the Year: Countdown and Deal or No Deal

It's perhaps too easy for television critics to focus on the things that aren't the way they'd like things to be. Very rarely is there praise for something that went well. So allow us to give fulsome praise where it is due, and doff our hats to Carol, to Susie, to Damian and the rest of the Countdown production staff, and to Channel 4 as a whole. The way they all handled Richard Whiteley's death, memorial, the hiatus afterwards, and the programme's return was brillant.

New host Des Lynam has quite clearly made his mark, and while he'll never replace Richard, he's slowly beginning to make the show his own. Slowly but surely, it's turning into three friends - Carol of the numbers, Susie of the letters, and Des - inviting a few guests round to play a simple parlour game. Next Wednesday, 4 January, will be the 4000th regular edition of Countdown. There will be no celebrations.

Des is much more than the warm-up man for Noel Edmonds, but that's what the ratings suggest he's become. Noel's Deal or No Deal programme has already become one of the channel's biggest programmes, and looks set to be the biggest game show in many years. A translation to primetime looks inevitable, and not just from the More4 repeats.

New Show of the Year: Cash Cab

It was a very close decision between Deal and Cab for this honour. In the end, Cash Cab got the nod. This is almost the perfect quiz, combining a distance limit for the entire quiz, a time limit for each question, a cap on wrong answers, and questions that gradually increase in difficulty. But the clincher is host John Moody, a real-life taxi driver, a man whose experience brings an extra dimension to the show.

This must mean Producer of the Year, the man who brought Cash Cab and Deal or No Deal to the screen, is Glenn Hugill. He was also the host of The Mole, this column's New Show of the Year for 2001.

May you all have a prosperous, entertaining, and thoroughly happy new year.

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