Weaver's Week 2006-10-29

Weaver's Week Index

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


Take It or Not

This Monday marks ten years since the premiere of Wanted, by far the most innovative game show of the 1990s. We await another run through the format with interest.

Take It or Leave It

TWI for Challenge, 8pm weeknights

Over the years, Challenge has made some interesting shows - though the likes of Defectors and Totally Top Trumps were cheap to the point of parsimony, they were actually quite watchable television. Does their new show reach these heights of acceptability, or will we leave it to rot on the vine?

Very little expense has been spent on the title sequence, or on the theme music - it's just a chord sequence repeating over and over. According to the pre-publicity, the host was to have been Michael Barrymore, in his first major series since encountering some personal problems earlier in the decade. However, he was unable to complete the recordings, for reasons we don't particularly know.

The net result is that Challenge's big programme is hosted by Richard Arnold, who is (apparently) a regular on UK Living's Most Gullible nonsense. He is perfectly good at what he does, but the evidence we've seen so far suggest that he's a very late replacement for Barrymore.

The game is simple to explain. Three couples have come to the studio; one of them has been seeded to play, and they must choose their opponents from a picture on screen and a brief description. Will they take the first pair, or reject them and compete against the other couple? So far, so rubbish; the Bit Of A Wasted Journey Pointer worked fine in Fluke, but nowhere else.

The first couple now has to answer a general knowledge question, by deciding whether the proposed answer is correct (taking it) or incorrect (leaving it, and being lumbered with the remaining option). These are moderately demanding questions, sharp and to the point, and cause a decent level of debate. An incorrect answer causes the playing couple to swap places with the pair they selected.

However, assuming a correct answer, the players can open one of twenty safe boxes. Eighteen of them contain amounts of money, ranging from £15,000 all the way down to One New Penny. The other two are booby-traps, and taking one of those will cause the pairs to swap out. Both players pick a box, one is opened, and the players have the option to take this box, or leave it and take the other box. Repeat for ten questions, advancing down the set towards the inevitable giant video screen, and add up all the money banked.

Whichever team would have faced the eleventh question goes on to play for the money. The other team leaves with nothing; indeed, they don't even leave with the customary round of applause. Saying goodbye to game show losers is polite, for there wouldn't be a show without them.

The final round is five questions, answered in the same way. Answers are not given immediately; instead, they are presented afterwards, with correct answers coming before incorrect ones. The players have the option to validate their answer; if right, they remove one of six safes that may contain the money. If wrong, they leave the game with nothing. The team doesn't have to validate an answer, but then must open one of the remaining safes and wins whatever's inside.

The effect of the safes rising and falling is well done, and the questions are concise and well-written. There, though, our praise must end. Take It or Leave It is horribly drawn-out, with an annoying amount of chitter-chatter serving only to pad out the programme. At heart, this is a 29-minute game in a one-hour slot.

In the earlier stages, the 20 safe boxes are represented by computer graphics, which lack for a certain something. It would be possible to have the boxes built into the wall of the studio, or a video link to a burly security guard (or a whimsical bank clerk - we're thinking along the lines of Fort Boyard regulars La Boule or Pére Fouras), and play host and contestants with that comedy character. That would be an entertaining difference. Indeed, that would be mightily more entertaining than the current shows.

The advertised £50,000 jackpot is as unlikely as the £249,000 top prize on One Against One Hundred. Indeed, while Dermot's show successfully combines quiz with drama, Richard's is a quiz played at a soporific pace, and doesn't quite gel.


This week, John "Smallhead" Humphrys has been in Baghdad. Readers may wish to insert their own puns along the lines of "hostile barrages".

Final Eliminator 4

Ashok Venkatesh (Life and Fictional Work of de Borjes, 13 July) will discuss Led Zepplin, the rock group who took their name from a barbed criticism by Keith Moon. No questions on Stairway to Heaven make us wonder, and 15 (1) confirms we're wondering if he'll get through.

Laura Campbell (Douglas Adams, 22 June) takes the Fiction of H P Lovecraft. We know nothing about him when we go in, and after a 13 (1) round, we know something.

Russell Turner (Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers, 6 April) offers Gustav Landauer. Though his round falls away a little towards the end, 13 (2) keeps him very much in contention.

Diane Hallagan (Vicar of Dibley, 21 August) has been reading the Hercule Poirot novels of Agatha Christie. Another strong round, another 13 (2) score.

With barely a whisker separating all four contestants, it's going to be the general knowledge round that decides the contest. Miss Campbell may be young, but she has a good general knowledge, making 24 (3). And we're getting the chats this week, so no tie-break is needed.

Mr Turner describes his subject as an anarchist thinker. Again, he starts strongly, but falls away just a little towards the end. Sneaking in a final correct answer, he takes the lead on 25 (4).

Mrs Hallagan reads the Poirot books purely for the puzzle, and tries to solve a problem like Mastermind. Unusually, this one isn't going to happen, she finishes on 21 (5).

Mr Venkatesh reminds us that ver Zep didn't court publicity as we now understand it. He looks relaxed through his round, but that can be deceptive - 26 (5) gives him the win by just a point. The contender in last place was just five points behind.

University Challenge

First Round, match 9: Robinson Cambridge v Wadham Oxford

Before we begin, a football score from last weekend. Cambridge United 0, Oxford City 3. Oxford consolidates its position at the top of the Football Conference (the national 5th division); Cambridge is now in deep relegation trouble at the bottom.

Robinson Cambridge was only opened in 1979, being named after the city in which it stands. The criterion to make the team: they're available for tonight's show. Wadham was the first all-male Oxford college to admit women, and they've sent their pub quiz team, named Wadham and Gomorrah.

Do we need to know every national holiday in Canada? If it gives those in charge an excuse to give us a Thanksgiving holiday around this time of year, we're in favour. Thumper is right to deem "DARPANET" a missignal when the correct answer is "ARPANET", though it does leave Robinson on the non-total of -5. Bryn Harris of Wadham gets "Madison" from one of half-a-dozen clues. The first visual starter is Name That Tectonic Plate, it goes to Wadham, and their lead is a surely insurmountable 95-(-5).

We're rather late taking the opening picture round, suggesting that at least one stanza tonight will be brief. For the Wadham side, this show can't go on long enough - they're picking up every starter going, leading to a set of bonuses about Warner Brothers cartoon characters. Robinson finally gets a starter, though just the one before the audio round. It's Name That Song About School Subjects, and we're very pleased to learn that no-one remembers the time Girls Aloud entitled their one song after Reading. "Why should you know?" asks Thumper, and Wadham's lead is 165-15.

We've not had many teams threaten the Lowest Scores Ever list, but with just one starter, Robinson is threatening to usurp New Hall. Their resident American gets the question about the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, but that's about it for the third stanza. The second visual starter is Name That Flower, and Wadham's lead is up to 215-30.

Here's Good Starter of the Week:

Q: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." Which character... [1]

With three and a half minutes to play, Robinson gets its third starter, but remains becalmed on 40 points. Here's Bad Starter of the Week:

Q: Turned to ashes by Zeus after she had asked him to appear before her in all his glory...
Wadham, Matthew Bladen: Semele
Q: ...Semele was the mother of which deity? [2]

That's the second straight missignal for Wadham. Not that it really matters, they're winning by an embarrassment, but can Robinson get past 50? Not with Wadham's speed on the buzzer, and the match finishes Wadham 295, Robinson 40.

"Can we come back as high-scoring losers?" asks captain Lucy Freem.

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


Instead, here are the lowest scores of the revival; all were in first-round matches unless stated.

  • 50 St Edmund's Cambridge (QF, 2003-4)
  • 45 St Hilda's Oxford (2R, 2005-6)
  • 40 Robinson Cambridge (2006-7)
  • 40 Queen's Belfast (repechage, 2004-5)
  • 40 St Andrews (2004-5)
  • 40 Keele (2R, 2001-2)
  • 40 St Andrews (2001-2)
  • 40 Oxford Brookes (2R, 1997-8)
  • 40 Birkbeck (1996-7)
  • 35 Bradford (2004-5)
  • 35 New Hall Cambridge (1997-8)

Bryn Harris made eight starters for Wadham, his personal score is 119, and his team took 27/48 bonuses with two missignals. For Robinson, Aaron Curtis, Lucy Freem, and Simon Barnes-Sadler all got a starter, Miss Freem's led to two bonuses, so she top-scores with 15. The team took 3/9 bonuses and that one missignal.

Next match: Edinburgh v Birmingham

[1] Humpty Dumpty [2] Bacchus

This Week And Next

Ken Jennings, who won an eye-wateringly large amount of money on Jeopardy! last year, has appeared on the US version of One Against One Hundred. He's written about his experience of taping the first edition of a programme and it sounds like it was not fully rehearsed. Let us be glad that the UK contestants do not see giant, terrifying posters of Dermot O'Leary.

Early next year, we'll have not one but two reality programmes set in the South Pacific. Channel 4's Shipwrecked will move into the 6pm Sunday slot that's played host to Lost and Deal or No Deal. BBC1 will have the first new series of Castaway since 2000, and this time it's three months in New Zealand. It's not entirely clear how many people will sing There is nothing like a dame.

The BAFTA Children's Award nominees are out, and we're cheering Raven on in the Entertainment category. Especially as it's up against The Basil Brush Show, an idea that was past its laugh-by date when we were still in short trousers. CITV has picked up ten nominations, only one ahead of the Nickelodeon channels. One of ITV's nods is for Holly Willoughby of the Saturday Showdown, but she's up against Sam and Mark (of Pop Idle 2 and Level Up) for Presenter.

A heavyweight television guide has been dishing out brickbats to the shows it thinks are the worst ever made. 3-2-1, Celebrity Wrestling, and our favourite comedy programme Shafted all come in for criticism. It's amazing how closely this list resembles that compiled by John Naughton back in August (see the Week of 10 Sept), as it concentrates on easy targets and doesn't go for meaningful criticism. ITV fills a third of its prime-time schedule with soap operas; does this make for good television?

Our parliamentary correspondent reports: The culture, media and sport select committee will review the growth of call-and-lose television channels. The cross-party group will review how broadcasters handle calls from viewers; the information provided to viewers about the costs of calls, viewers' chances of participating and winning; the role of call-and-lose shows in raising income for broadcasters; the financial impact on viewers; whether further regulation of call-and-lose shows is required.

The committee has called for written submissions on the issue to be made by November 16. It expects to take oral evidence shortly after that date. Further guidance on submitting evidence is available at the committee's website.

Ratings for the week to 15 October, and we have a new number one. Antan Dec top the lists, with 7.65m seeing them being effortlessly funny. Now that people are singing, the X Factor drops to second, 7.5m for the performances, 7.4m for the result. Third place goes to One Against One Hundred, on 6.75m, which beats both editions of Strictly Come Dancing by a whisker. The return of HIGNFY pulled in 6.5m, with Ladette to Lady (4.95m) and Question of Sport (4.3m) also doing well.

Deal or No Deal remains Channel 4's most popular show, 3.6m tuned in. 2.95, for QI, 2.65m for Link. 2.25m for Eggheads, 2.15 for Mock the Week and a German edition of Numberwang, and 1.95m saw the most popular BBC2 edition of Strictly Come Dancing. The final of The All Star Talent Show took 0.9m.

Three X-Factor shows - one Xtra Factor and two narrative repeats - top the digital list, with 830,000 seeing the Saturday reaction show. QI on BBC4 took 550,000, just beaten by a repeat of Antan Dec. CBBC was led by Best of Friends (225,000), More 4's second show was Deal or No Deal (205,000). Challenge's top show was Bullseye (115,000).

Coming up: the Deal or No Deal Anniversary Special (C4, 8pm tonight); Sudo-Q (BBC2, 6pm weekdays) and In the Grid (Channel 5, 6.30 weekdays). A review of the last of these should be here next week.

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