Weaver's Week 2006-10-01

Weaver's Week Index

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


Bad News and Treasure Maps

Two weeks ago, this column ran an article on the future of children's television in general. Last week, this column intimated that OFCOM was incapable of addressing serious broadcasting policy matters. This week, this column reports that OFCOM has declined ITV's request to ditch its afternoon children's programmes. When we'd picked ourselves off the floor, we realised that ITV still hasn't committed to making any programmes, it's just got to show them. The news also casts doubt over game shows including Set For Life, Show Me The Money, and The Rich List, which had all been pencilled in for the opposite-Countdown slot.

Best of the Worst

4D-TV For Channel 4, 9.30 Friday

There's one good thing to come out of Channel 4's new Friday night line-up - it ensures Davina isn't going to be the worst programme on terrestrial prime-time this year. Ms McCall's chat show went out on BBC1 in the spring, and was roundly ridiculed by critics and the public alike. But she's an absolute natural when compared with Charlotte Church, whose Channel 4 chat show is the worst ever.

The warm-up act is not much better. It's yet another celebrity panel game, with a quiz giving an excuse for some one-liner jokes. Alexander Armstrong is the host, and we can see why he's been passed over for the regular gig on Have I Got News for You - the different presenters make for a much more entertaining show. Regular team captains are Johnny Vaughan (last seen with a chat show of his own on BBC3 a few years back) and David Mitchell (not yet at the media ubiquity of Tony Slattery circa 1993, but getting that way.) Guests on the first show included Jayne Middlemiss, who didn't make any contribution for almost five minutes.

There are four rounds to the game. The opening round posits four "worst in category" options, which the teams discuss. After some time, each team picks one of the options, and the audience votes on which would be worse. "Worst Five" asks the teams to discuss five bad items, and guess what the story is. "Worst Happens Next" asks what happened next in two clips, and which would be the worse. And the quick-fire buzzer round asks the panellists to discuss some bad things.

It's not a particularly promising premise for a game show. Though the execution is competent, the object of a comedy panel game is to be funny. There are far too many scatological references, too much laughing at (rather than with) other people, and too little actual entertainment. We have a comedy quiz that doesn't ask anything in particular, and doesn't make one laugh. Sounds like a candidate for inclusion on its own programme, and is desperately, remorselessly, hackneyed. The programme obeys every single law of comedy panel games, but completely forgets to entertain.

La Carte Aux Trésors

(Adventure Line for France 3, broadcast on TV5, 5.33 Wednesday and 10.16 Saturday)

Though our Treasure Hunt came from this idea, there are an awful lot of differences. In the French version, there are two contestants and a host, all in their own helicopter. Sylvain Augier, the host, spends the entire show in the air, mugging to camera from the seat by the pilot.

The game splits into four parts. The first three concern the solution to an Enigma (or "clue", as Kenneth Kendall would call it). Each enigma has one or two sub-clues on the way, and it's a race between the two contestants to reach the solution first. There's a 1500 euro (£1000) bounty for each Enigma solved, and a photographic clue in the final part. Should the third enigma not be solved within the allotted hour, it is lost by both players.

The fourth enigma concerns the location of an eight-pointed compass rose, the perpetual treasure in this hunt. Another 1500 euro to whoever gets the rose first, with a further 4500 euro (£3000) if they can complete a short adventure challenge within the twenty minutes allowed for this part of the game.

As ever, our international games correspondent Nick Gates has the details on exactly what happens in this programme, and we can do no better than to refer readers to his description.

Compared against the British incarnation, the biggest difference is the competition. It's not a team in the studio up against the clock and the limits of sound communication, but it's an open race between two people. In that respect, there will inevitably be comparisons with Interceptor, not least because a part of the first enigma is for the contestants to find their helicopters, hidden somewhere around 3 minutes' jog away. Unlike Interceptor, there's no obvious baddie to jeer against.

La Carte Aux Trésors also relies a lot on hitching lifts. Almost inevitably, the chopper will touch down on farmland or a muddy rugby field somewhere on the edge of town, and the contestants will have to wave down some unsuspecting passing motorist, say "I'm from La Carte Aux Trésors, can you take me to the museum / the tourist office / the youth hostel". It's quite remarkable, and another throwback to Interceptor.

Because the enigmas need to be solved in the helicopter, it's not possible for them to need a complete library, as is available in the UK. Instead, contestants have access to a few local reference books, and a computer containing a dictionary and encyclopaedia. This makes the programme significantly less cerebral than the British incarnation.

Casual viewers beware: La Carte Aux Trésors still requires a decent knowledge of French, above and beyond "un aller-retour pour Lyon, s'il vous plait". It can be enjoyed on the same level as Fort Boyard, gawping at the magnificence of the scenery, and the host will break away from game coverage when nothing is happening to throw in a gratuitous shot of some lovely French scenery. If you're wanting to play along. in-vision subtitles (see TV5text p 891) and a handy French-to-English dictionary are your friends.

And do remember to tune in bang on time - our viewing of last week's show was rather spoiled by the trailer that aired just before the programme, and gave away the overall winner.


Final Eliminator 2

Colin Daffern offers the Life and Works of Ian Dury. This isn't a perfect round by last week's standards, the contestant finishing on 8 (3).

Trevor Rhodes has been devouring the Agatha Raisin series of thrillers. These are detective books with a twist, and the questions are on details in the books. 13 (3) is a good score.

Mark Eves likes the Life and Gospel of St Mark so much, he took it as his specialised subject. And he likes it so much that he scores 17 (0).

Chris Quinn will be trying to beat that with the History of Cryptography and Codebreaking. We're not going to put his score in a very complex code, it's NINE (ONE).

In their general knowledge rounds, Mr Daffern progresses to 15 (3), and Mr Quinn to 16 (4). Mr Rhodes discusses how the Agatha Raisin books were originally published in North America before crossing here. He finishes on 20 (7).

Mr Eves has a very shallow path to secure his win, and though he's not been watching Maria - he doesn't know a song from The Sound of Music - he passes the winning line on a question about Manchester United, finishing on 25 (0).

Owing to the BBC preferring to boost Bill Oddie's bank balance than to finish what it's started, the third Final Eliminator will be on 15 October.

University Challenge

First Round, Heat 7: Newcastle v Royal Holloway

Newcastle, originally a college of Durham, gained its independence only in 1963; this year's side also forms the university's Frisbee team. Royal Holloway, a college of London University, is famed for its architecture, according to Thumper's opening spiel. Two medics for Newcastle, two classicists and no scientists for RH.

One of the early rounds of questions is on the institutions that competed in Mediaeval University Challenge, a subject to which we may return. The first quarter goes entirely to Royal Holloway, thanks to their mature student John Bradley, and the lead is an already formidable 85-0 after the first picture round, Name That Cowboy.

Asking the teams to name three of the Wisden cricketers of the year is harsh. Newcastle finally breaks their duck with a golem, and is rewarded with a set of bonuses on astrophysics. It's only a one-off, and the Royal Holloway rout continues apace. We are seeing quite a lot of starters go begging this week, but not including the audio round which is on UK Eurovision Song Contest winners. "See if you can quicken it up for the next one", asks Thumper. Royal Holloway's lead is now 145-15.

Eurovision is looking a rather appropriate metaphor for this week's contest, which is pitting Ruslana against Jemini, until Newcastle get their second starter. Here's the Sneer of the Week:

Q: The yellowhammer belongs to which group of long-tailed songbirds, less variable in appearance than the finches, and whose other species include the corn, reed, and snow?
Royal Holloway, Sophia Nash: Warbler?
Thumper: Nope.
Newcastle, Tariq el Menabawey (who looks surprised that Roger Tilling has stuttered over his name): Budgie.
Thumper: The budgie? (as everyone laughs for a good ten seconds)

Buntings was the answer no-one got. The second visual round is on Modernist architecture, and Newcastle's architecht gets it, and the bonuses, and closes the gap to 185-65. With such a huge gap, the final minutes are a clear case of running down the clock - Newcastle aren't going to threaten the repechage board, but nor are they embarrassed any more. We're not going to explain the difference between Prince Albert and the Duke of Windsor, not in this context.

The repechage board:

  • Bristol 195
  • Pembroke Cambridge 160
  • Manchester 150
  • Sussex 140

Royal Holloway's victory is by 270-95, and the gentlemen sitting in seat 1 led their teams to success. Ben Potter got five of Newcastle's six starters, and though he collected the side's missignal, he has a personal score of 59. For Royal Holloway, John Bradley made seven starters and 105 - the man on the other end, John Ware, had six starters and 95. Newcastle answered 8/18 bonuses correctly, Royal Holloway 24/44 with no missignals.

Next match: 15 October

This Week And Next

The death has been announced of Phil Chilvers, the director of many entertainment shows. He was found in his room just before a recording of The Price is Right on Friday last week.

As promised, a quick word on Face the Music, which aired as part of Joyce Grenfell night on BBC4 a few weeks ago. The opening round, three pieces with a connection between them, was a little tedious. Then came a round where host Robin Ray played a folk tune in a classical arrangement, an idea that's become a staple of NPR's Performance Today programme. One Opera To The Pictures Of Another does exactly what it says on the tin, and the Dummy Keyboard invites the panel to pick out a tune purely from its rhythm. There was also an extended chat with a guest from the world of music, who was invited to talk about some pieces. It was a comfortable show, never particularly boring. If the BBC doesn't want to put classical music out on its terrestrial schedules, perhaps Classic FM might pick up the idea for its thinly-watched television channel.

BARB ratings for the week to 17 September, and we have a new number one. Maria rose from third to first place, pulling in 8.2 million for the final. Saturday Night Takeaway came straight into second place, and the Geordie's 7.6m beat X Factor by just 50,000 viewers. In It To Win It left the schedules with 5.95m, Celebrity Masterchef had 3.95m for the Friday final.

Dragons' Den may no longer be top of BBC2's lists - that's gone to Extras - but 3.4m still beats Noel by a quarter of a million. Mastermind had 2.2m, there was no UC. Come Dine With Me took 2m, Link 1.85, while Eggheads, Mock the Week, and Link all had 1.7m.

ITV2's repeat of X Factor took 1.6m on Sunday night, ahead of C5's Interior Rivalry (1.2m) and All Star Talent Show (800,000). Deal on More4 took a poor 185,000, and Challenge's top show was Fear Factor (150,000).

Des Lynam has decided to step down as host of Countdown; we will discuss this news further next week.

Highlights for the coming week: Battle of the Geeks (BBC2, 8pm Sunday) transports an egg across a canyon. The Match (Sky1, 10pm weeknights) follows a bunch of celebs training for a kickabout. Showbiz Darts (Challenge, 10.30 weeknights) should explain itself. And, just to spite us even more, ITV repeats last year's Jungle Run (3.30 weekdays).

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