Weaver's Week 2006-11-19

Weaver's Week Index

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


Star of Fortune

Confirmation, then, that Des O'Connor will step in to the Countdown breach from the start of next year.


The Grand Final

At last, the end is nigh. By the end of tonight's programme, we will know who will become English Language Mastermind 2006. Not that we're saying it's been a long time coming, but when this series started, Des O'Connor was a daytime chat show host on ITV.

David Stedman has taken Caravaggio and Edward I; tonight, it's the Life and Work of Thomas Girtin, a painter who was active around 1800. Only two people (Eggheads Ashman and Hughes) have done the Brain of Britain and Mastermind double; Mr. Stedman won the former title in 2003, and will not be beaten easily. One error, no passes, 15 points.

Geoff Thomas (Edith Piaf and William Joyce) will discuss Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind. He's been revising everyone's third favourite Georgian in Atlanta, says he "really, really" wants to win, and that he won't be back if he doesn't win tonight. He's going down fighting, scoring no passes and 15 points.

Katharine Drury (Roger Brook, Reginald Perrin) puts the spotlight on King Edward VII. She takes us to the top of the Blackpool tower, and - having won the last heat - is making her third appearance in eight broadcasts. A slightly sluggish start puts her at a disadvantage, but she recovers well, and finishes on 14 (0).

Ashok Venkatesh (de Borjes, Led Zeppelin) tells us about the Life and Fictional Works of Albert Camus. He shows us around his school, discusses philosophy, and reminds us that his son Nikhil appeared on Junior Mastermind earlier this year. It's another slow start; unlike the other contenders, he never quite picks up steam, and the final score of 8 (7) is not looking promising.

Ray Eaton (British Track and Field Athletics, Andrew Jackson) now exposes us to Television Series Porridge and Going Straight. "One of the best television series we've ever produced", says Mr. Eaton, who has the support of his colleagues at the Royal Mail sorting office. It's another very good round, and his 16 (0) is just enough to take the lead.

Mark Eves (London Zoo, St Mark) has picked the Ottoman Empire 1878-1924, and has visited the Imperial War Museum to work out why the Empire fell. Lost the war, it's more complex than that, but not much. He's not going to be leading, but nor is he entirely out of it, after finishing 12 (0).

There's a short film going behind the scenes at Mastermind - one of the make-up team says she never gets anything right, and the warm-up man for the audience is none other than Ted Robbins from The Slammer. On with the quiz; Mr. Venkatesh says that M. Camus's work is not exactly airport reading; has Mr. Venkatesh never spent nine hours stuck at Charles de Gaulle? His general knowledge round ends on 19 (13).

Mr. Eves suggests that the decline of the Ottoman Empire - after 600 years - was a model in how not to dismember a regime. We're still clearing up the mess to this day. The question-and-answer session includes the second question of the night on Liberia, and ends on 20 (4). Mrs. Drury says that Edward VII had a terrible childhood, and reckons that his father, Albert, was to blame. She just does enough to take the lead, finishing on 20 (2).

Mr. Stedman tells how Girtin threw off the shackles of quasi-photographical watercolour painting, and developed a more impressionistic style during his career. The general knowledge round is unusual, as Mr. Stedman makes a number of mistakes, and makes hard work of scoring 24 (3).

Mr. Thomas informs us that Margaret Mitchell didn't want her work to be published, and took ten years to be persuaded. His general knowledge round goes forward, and further forward, and (thanks to a question about Counterpoint), finishes on a stonking 36 [THIRTY SIX] (0). It's only the highest score of the Humphrys era, a fact that will not be mentioned.

Mr. Eaton has something to live up to. "Follow that!" says the host, rather stealing our line. Porridge was set in the cramped confines of a prison, forcing the characters to be great. He needs 20 points to draw; 21 after an early pass. Though he's going like the clappers, he's spilling errors here and there, and after the fourth mistake, it's clear he's not going to get there. His final score of 24 (3) puts him in a tie for second.

Geoff Thomas promised us that, whatever happened, he would be retiring after this show. He's going to go out in the biggest blaze of glory possible, and collects the trophy from Magnus Magnusson, who reminds Mr. Thomas of his ambition to win Mastermind and live to be 100. Good luck on the latter, sir.

All-Star Family Fortunes

Talkback for ITV

You know that your game show has seeped into the public consciousness when it starts being parodied by the comedians of the day. Who can forget Jon Culshaw's impression of Noel Edmonds, or Rory Bremner's take-off of Chris Tarrant? The phenomenon is not a new one - back in 1980, the cast of The Burkiss Way could assume that the listeners to Radio 4 UK were sufficiently familiar with the concept behind Family Fortunes to enjoy a parody, based around the anticipated punchlines to Bob Monkhouse's jokes. (Did Bob owe a debt for the concept of Gag Tag? We'll never know.)

Monkhouse presided over Fortunes during its entire run as an ATV production, and for the first couple of seasons under the Central banner, before being replaced by Max Bygraves in one of the more curious hosting decisions of the era. After a brief hiatus, Family Fortunes returned with Les Dennis at the helm in the late 80s, and he would remain in charge until the programme quietly disappeared from the schedules in the early years of this decade. Antan Dec gave the format a go as part of their Game Show Marathon last year, from where we get the latest host.

Vernon Kay, the man who fronted the hugely successful Boys and Girls, was the losing contestant on last year's charity revival. And it's mostly for charity that this year's games are played. Two celebrities, or actors on continuing ITV dramas, come along to the studio, and bring four relations. There, they play the game we all know. Spot prizes are still awarded, and we assume that these go to the lucky relative to keep.

Technology has marched on, though, and Mr Babbage - the display board that reveals the answer and its value - has had a dash of colour. No longer do we see the yellow-on-black LEDs, but a computer-generated line of text. Perhaps it's not as easily legible as before. The sound effects are still present and correct - the ding of a correct answer, the shriek of the buzzers, and the famous eep-orp for a response that isn't worth considering. Minus several points for losing the familiar theme music, and replacing it with something that could never pass the Old Grey Whistle Test.

There's been a subtle change to the rules since we saw the game last; rather than playing for the first to 300 points, the game is now limited to the highest score from five rounds - three at usual value, and two Double Money rounds. The undoubled rounds are called "Single Money", a blatant retronym. This change tends not to change the outcome - there are circumstances in which the first team past 300 won't be leading after five rounds, but these are heavily contrived. Charity donations: the losing team's score is trebled and given away. If the winning team fails Big Money, their combined score is also trebled. If they win, it's £10,000, increasing to £30,000 if they spot all five top answers. These are revealed with a new noise, perhaps the best new idea on the programme.

Because it's a 30-minute programme teased out into a 50-minute slot, there's going to be a few delaying tactics, and not just from introducing a second commercial break. We see behind the scenes at the parents' house, and there's an embarrassing chat about something the celebrity did in their youth. Or, for those who are Fearne Cotton and still in their youth, what they can still do now.

All of this is very good, but there's a definite sterility about the whole affair. Some of it comes because these episodes have been sat in the ITV storeroom for a very long time. It's one thing not to bill Fearne Cotton versus Chris Moyles as the Battle Of Breakfast on Radio 1, because Miss Cotton only took up that post a few weeks ago. It's quite another for "Name a place you'd buy records" having the top answer, "Our Price". Nor do we like Vernon Kaye's habit of saying "Our survey said" at every opportunity. What about such minor catchphrases as "Is it up there?" or "If it's up there, I'll give you the money myself!"?

No, the problem here is that celebrities are involved. While it's fine to see the parents and relations of famous people, the programme lacks the tension created when a group of people stand to win a sizable chunk of money. The members of the public were playing for their own enrichment; the celebs are playing for charity, and the atmosphere has gone flat. Much as we like seeing Fearne Cotton whup Chris Moyles' ass, such nonentities as Nicola Stapleton and Sara Cox leave us wondering if they should just have brought back members of the public and been done with it. But that doesn't fit in with ITV's obsession with celebrity, so will never do.

Most tellingly, is any comedian going to be doing an impression of Vernon Kaye hosting this programme? We think not.

This Week And Next

Ratings for the week to 5 November, and Come Dancing rules the roost once more, with 8.5m tuning in for the main programme. X Factor took just 7.9m for their results. The ITV Television Awards took 7m on Wednesday, there was 6.5m for Millionaire - but Family Fortunes missed the top 30. One Against One Hundred had 5.8m, HIGNFY 5.5m, and Question of Sport 4.9m.

For the second week running, Deal Or No Deal occupies the top six places in Channel 4's list, Monday's 3.8m the best. BBC2's top programme was Friday's Link - its 2.95m beat UC (2.9m) and the part-networked Mastermind (2.7m). QI had 2.65m, Dancing Daily 2.4m, and Buzzcocks 2.2m. Apparently, Channel 5's Make Me A Supermodel counts as a game show, and it scores 850,000.

On the digital tier, X Factor on ITV2 is back with a vengeance - 1.26m tuned in for the after-show on Saturday, with 700,000 seeing edited highlights on Sunday. QI on BBC4 had 600,000 viewers, ITV2's imported version of Hell's Kitchen had 490,000, the Deal or No Deal repeats on E4 topped at 240,000, a CBBC Raven repeat took 193,000, and Challenge's best programme was the repeat of a 1991 episode of The Crystal Maze at 9am Sunday.

Highlights for the coming week include the new series of Raven (5.30 weekdays on the CBBC channel), and, er, that's just about it.

We've been out of the country since last Wednesday, so there's probably a few other stories we've missed. More on these in the next Week, when we hope to turn our attention to Sudo-Q, and may have something to say about the OFCOM ruling on adverts in children's programmes. We'll have to read them first, mind...

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