Weaver's Week 2006-07-02

Weaver's Week Index

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


Boss Beaters

Coming up, a short polemic on the rights and wrongs of everyone's favourite Endemol production.

Beat the Boss

BBC for CBBC, 4.30, 22-26 May

What do you do if you've finished second in The Apprentice, won the support of the nation, but not the head of that show? For Saira Khan, it's been a year of popping up on various BBC shows, and eventually making her own series.

The central conceit is to determine whether children or adults can make the more child-friendly product. We meet two teams of three - the youngsters know all about being children, but have no business training or experience; the adults know everything there is to know about turning a profit, but have forgotten what it's like to be young. If, of course, they ever were young; some of these people seem to have been born middle-aged.

The programme splits, reasonably naturally, into four main parts, with short before and after sections. In the prologue, with Saira, we meet the teams, and find out exactly what it is they've got to do. Act I is market research - the "Bright Sparks", as the young team is called, go off and find out what products are already there, on the assumption that they know what children want because, well, they are their own target market. The "Big Bosses", as the older team is known, have to find some children and talk about what they like and what they don't like; the assumption here is that the old fogies know roughly what's out there already. Saira Khan provides a voice-off, usually suggesting that the teams need to focus a little more.

Act II, Brainstorming. Inspired by their research, the teams go off and come up with a design that - they hope - will be compelling and appealing to a jury of 8-12 year olds. During this early design time, Saira drops by to look at the ideas. She asks awkward questions of the teams, and is quite confrontational about it - she's very much a graduate of the Anne Robinson school of diplomacy. Unlike the elder woman in black, Saira's aim is to inspire the teams, rather than crush their hopes, and she guides them towards workable products.

In Act III, the teams go off to an actual company, and discuss their products with an actual expert in the field. The staff will make a prototype product for the judging, but first the expert discusses the designs, and suggests how the teams might improve their products. There's a chance to look at the production line, which might inspire other tweaks. This is also where the two teams meet, and there's usually a bit of needle between them.

The final act is the big reveal - summoned to a big glassy office, the teams get to see their prototypes, and to watch the reactions of the jury when they tested them out. Then, and only then, Saira confirms that the winner, by whatever margin, was the winning team. In the epilogue, Saira joins the winning team in a stretch limousine, complete with fruit juice bar; the losing team doesn't even win their bus fare home.

Now, why does this show work when The Apprentice fell flat? A lot of the success of Beat the Boss comes from the programme's pace - the entire life-cycle of two products is demonstrated in a 27-minute programme, ensuring that everything has to move at a quick clip, but it's not done so quickly as to be confusing. Careful inter-cutting between the two stories allows us to make comparisons that the teams can't, and maintains the pace.

It's clear who the audience is expected to root for - this is a children's programme, aimed at the young people who will be judging the products. The bosses aren't portrayed as evil in any way, but neither is anyone expected to kow-tow to their experience. There's always a rivalry between the two teams - in some programmes, there's a lot of needle, because neither side wants to lose face.

Saira Khan is a more than competent host, providing constructive criticism to both sides in an impartial manner. There's not enough evidence for us to judge if she will become a top-grade television personality, but there's enough evidence to place her above the average.

The obvious comparison is with The Apprentice. That show is slow, doesn't have a clear hero, and is hosted by someone who may be good at schmoozing and dealing, but can't host a television show for toffee. Saira Khan may not have been employed by him, but her show really does beat the boss.


First round, heat 13

John Wright will discuss 20th Century Liechtenstein. This isn't the visual artist, but the microscopic country best known for having the same national anthem as England and confusing the fans terribly when the countries met a few years back. His score is 6 (5).

Nick McDonnell will tell us about the Life and Work of Bruce Springsteen, the guitarist and singer. We squeeze in the almost inevitable question about Courtney Cox en route to a 12 (0) score.

Steven Chopak has been swotting up on The Titanic. We've been reading A Night To Remember (actually, listening to Martin Jarvis read it), and almost beat the contender's 8 (3). But not quite.

Lesley Edge has the Life and Career of Mary Seacole. The first two questions establish her as a nurse from Jamaica, and later we find she was a contemporary of Florence Nightingale. 14 (1) gives this contender the lead.

Last year, we railed against people taking small subjects. Even given its diminutive size as a country, Liechtenstein is a large subject when compared to anagrams of the word "but". Mr Wright might have been rewarded for a question about Stanley Johnson, but wasn't; he finishes on 12 (11) so it's academic.

Mr Chopak recounts the tale of the man who was on the Titanic and the Lusitania and survived both sinkings. Didn't he take a starring role as Jonah in The Beano? He gets this week's BBC cross-promotion (for early digital channel BBC Perfect Day 24), finishing on 20 (6).

Mr McDonnell suffers the host saying "George, don't do that," the catchphrase of Barbara Bush. His final score is 18 (5).

Ms Edge requires seven to be assured of the win, and secures it thanks to the Hollies tune, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". Her final score is 22 (4), enough to progress.

This Week And Next

In Canada, there's a huge row over whether the national public broadcaster, the CBC, should be making its own reality television show. Part of the deal to bring the Star Academy format to the country is that it must show the United States' version as a simulcast. The controversy has centred around the fact that SA-US will be timed for their domestic audience, and not for the convenience of the CBC, thus pushing the nightly 10pm news broadcast, The National, back to 11pm.

By focussing the argument on the rights and wrongs of moving the news, both critics and supporters are in danger of missing the real point of contention. On this side of the pond, it's generally accepted that a strong public broadcaster is an essential part of a functioning television landscape. The established television channel - France 2 and 3, ARD and ZDF in Germany, Sweden's SR, or our very own BBC - needs to have some successful shows, so that it honestly say that everyone gets something from the service. Where the national public broadcaster is weak, such as in Italy, so the entire television system is wall-to-wall rubbish, punctuated by rants from the station's owners.

The CBC is right to chase ratings once in a while. Doing so explicitly says that this is a company for all Canadians, not just the privileged middle classes super-served by PBS south of the border. When this column criticised the BBC's production of Star Academy in 2002 and 2003, we did so because the BBC was making a mess out of what could have been, should have been, and (if it wasn't for Dogsby and Kielty) would have been fantastic television. The format was a creative risk, and in retrospect probably didn't work, but the BBC was right to try it, and was right to make it part of their schedules for a couple of months. The CBC is there, in part, to take creative risks, and we wish them well with their project.

Off the soapbox, and back to domestic news, and the Challenge repeats. Monday's editions of Bruce's Price Is Right suffered terribly from interference on the cable line, and we gave up when the picture started to go pop about 20 minutes in. We did note that, like Pasquale's recent version, Bruce suffered from a fixed format - only the second pricing game would take more than a moment to play.

The cable line was in full order on Tuesday, for Don't Try This at Home!, a show now almost ten years old. Host Davina McCall has scarcely changed her act in the years since, and it's a shame that she's still wasting her talents on Big Brother. Kate Thornton was, perhaps, less anodyne and fluffy then than she is now, but it's a close call. Light and undemanding fare, yes, but the programme had an attitude of being weekly event television. If glitter didn't come out of the set, there was a sense that something might. It was television with a bit of balls, not the creatively bankrupt options that have come to dominate the Monkey's output in recent years.

The short nostalgia series ended with Walker's Catchphrase, another edition of Stars in Their Eyes, and another pair of Dennis's Family Fortunes. An unsatisfactory end to the series, these shows are all over the schedule already; even some primetime Supermarket Sweep would have been a brave decision. For everyone except the ITV executives who don't want us to realise how far and how quickly their channel has fallen, it's been good to see single episodes of many old shows. This column hopes that Challenge repeats the exercise in the future.

BARB ratings for the week to 18 June, in which there was almost as much Deal Or No Deal as there was football, and another blissfully warm weekend. It was another Endemol production, Big Brother, that secured the most viewers of any game show, 6.4 million for the eviction interview. Silver went to the last Jet Set of the current series, on 4.4 million, with Question of Sport recording exactly 4 million. Best Deal was the Sunday night game, making 3.6m, just ahead of 8 Out of 10 Cats. The three Endemol formats occupy positions 1-13 on Channel 4's most watched transmissions, and only imported dramas Desperate Housewives (14th) and Lost (15th) prevented the company from scooping the entire top 22 programmes. We may never see such dominance again.

Over on BBC2, Great British Menu had 2.8m viewers for the prove-out session, a HIGNFY repeat secured 2.3m, 1.8m saw University Challenge, 1.6m for QI and Link, and 1.3m saw Mastermind, correctly reasoning that it couldn't be duller than Sweden - Paraguay. On the digital channels, BBBM took 935,000 viewers on the Friday night; BBLB's best score was 599,000 on Tuesday. Deal or No Deal peaked at 254,000 on Sunday night, while two repeats of Raven (best 202,000) beat new Never Mind the Full Stops (170,000). This column will be reviewing the last of these programmes next week.

Readers may be interested in a feature on this week's edition of Feedback, which goes behind the scenes at a recording of Brain of Britain and talks to the question setter Kevin Ashman. 8pm tonight on Radio 4, or Listen Again via the website - the feature's about 17 minutes in.

What's coming after the world cup finishes? Well, ITV's creative novelties include Celebrity Love Island II, another series of the show nobody watched last year. We may have to watch one episode, for academic purposes. The "Schedule A and Schedule D" we mentioned in the Game Show Guide is the new Ant and Dec series Con.Test, now known as PokerFace, which will be stripped across the week. The BBC will be teaching celebrities to jump in Only Fools On Horses - the first episode is next Friday, just about the only new game show of note. In the meantime, it's a double dose of The Price is Right to put up with. Radio listeners can enjoy the return of Just a Minute.

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