Weaver's Week 2007-01-21

Weaver's Week Index

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


A clash between pseudo-celebrity and real celebrity

"This is what Big Brother is for. It holds a mirror up to national attitudes. If we don't like what we see, we ought to change" - Hari Kunzru

On Monday, it looked as though the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother was going to end in ignominy. Three of the contestants had flounced out of the contest, two others had left in the normal manner, and the whole thing was being overshadowed by such trivia as David Beckham and the new singles chart rules. Then OFCOM slipped out a press release, saying that a couple of hundred people had complained over what they believe to be racist bullying in the current series.

On Tuesday, the floodgates opened. OFCOM received over 10,000 complaints in one day alone. The previous record for a game show was slightly fewer than 500 for Big Brother 5's Fight Night; over 8600 complaints were entered when the BBC broadcast Jerry Springer The Opera. The MP for part of Leicester, Keith Vaz, submitted the following motion for consideration in the Commons:

That this House views with concern the comments made about Big Brother contestant Shilpa Shetty by other housemates; believes that Big Brother has a role to play in preventing racist behaviour in the Big Brother house; regrets that these comments have been made; and calls on the programme to take urgent action to remind housemates that racist behaviour is unacceptable.

His point was made, though the motion will not be debated. Mr. Vaz made an intervention at Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday, by which time the complaint count was pushing 20,000. Tony Blair responded that he had not seen the programme concerned, and could not comment upon it. Neither had Nadine Dorries (C, Mid Bedfordshire), but that didn't stop her from calling for the programme to be pulled from the airwaves, and saying that the racist comments (comments that Mrs. Dorries hadn't seen, by her own admission) were being made by role models. Lorely Burt (LD, Solihull) said that the BBC was wrong to screen the programme. Er, quite.

There was no "I've not seen it" luxury for finance minister Gordon Brown. At the weekend, he had said, "I'll have nothing to do with celebrity culture," so it must be politics that caused him, while visiting India on Wednesday, to say that "Britain prides itself on tolerance and fairness". Indian television showed footage of protestors burning effigies of Big Brother's producers, so Davina and Dermot might want to make alternative holiday arrangements.

Given Endemol's previous record at manipulating the media, we have to wonder if the company has been instrumental in sparking off these complaints. If they have, it would be a tremendously dangerous thing to do. Though OFCOM does not have the power to prevent a show from airing, it can impose swingeing fines (in this case, unlikely) or make it politically impossible to continue production. The latter prospect came a little closer when chief executive Ed Richards said that, in view of the 27,000 complaints received by Wednesday night, OFCOM would be writing to Channel 4. Twenty-seven thousand complaints, and OFCOM's response is to write one letter. Back in the Commons, John Straw, the Lord Privy Seal, urged OFCOM to do more.

The evidence suggests that this isn't an Endemol plot. We have a reference on 9 January ( 1), and a few in the days after ( 2, 3 and 4) No, this shows all the signs of a storm generated by viewers, not producers - perhaps the tipping point was when comedian Dave Gorman noted what he believed to be a casually racist remark on last Sunday's Big Brother's Little Brother ( 5).

Nor have we turned up any evidence that any particular website or blog asked people to complain to OFCOM - not until the watchdog issued a press release on Monday afternoon saying that a couple of hundred people had complained. Up to that point, it appears to have been a grass roots movement, of people independently complaining without being encouraged to do so. Once the press release came out, and was picked up by the media, the snowball was rolling.

It is, of course, too early to determine the long-term effects on Channel 4, Endemol, or anyone else involved. The short-term effects include an ill-defined debate on whether reality television should show what is actually real, or whether it should show what is politically correct, sanitised, approved, and sung from a narrow liberal hymnsheet. By Thursday, the latter view was gaining momentum, as the show's sponsor - a mobile telephone retailer - withdrew its name, saying, "This behaviour is entirely at odds with our brand values." Is it better to aim for a perfect world, or to accept the actuality of this one? A perfume company withdrew one of its products that bore the imprint and name of one of the contestants, in the face of 32,000 people writing in to OFCOM.

Buried somewhere amongst all the hoo-ha is the beginnings of a debate about the liberal assumptions that have characterised the race debate for over four decades. There has long been a consensus amongst the great and the good that prejudice on the basis of skin colour is wrong. Rarely if ever does anyone bother to explain why they hold this view, or why they hold the converse to be incorrect. It is simpler to suppress the inconvenient opinions than to address them directly, to deny the racists an opportunity to speak rather than allow them to ruin their own argument simply by making it.

In a nutshell, prejudice is wrong because it treats people as interchangeable units, and denies the possibility of individual talents. Some working-class white people, disadvantaged by immigration since the 1950s, appear to believe that the removal of all or some immigrants would be a panacea for all their ills. To the best of our knowledge, this assumption has not been systematically challenged by any mainstream politician or commentator; indeed, many elements of the press subtly advocate precisely this position, using "immigrant" as a codeword for "dirty foreigner", "darkie", and other such terms. In a climate where anyone who can't trace their great-grandparents to these islands is systematically denigrated, criticism of a talented upper-class Indian by lucky working-class Brits causes the world to explode in a tremendous rush of wind.

Andy Duncan, the head of Channel 4, says that no-one is entirely sure that there has been overt racism. "They eat with their hands, don't they" can be little else. By the end of the week, it was clear that Channel 4 was on the ropes; the boil may have been lanced when a hitherto-unknown dental receptionist from Southwark left the programme on Friday. The complaint count at this time: 41,000. That's very nearly one complaint per hundred adults in the British population.

If this whole storm generates a semi-rational debate about the reality of division by skin pigmentation, then it will have done some good. This column, which has given the impression that Big Brother can teach us nothing more, will be eating large slices of humble pie.

Further reading: The results of OFCOM's deliberations

Junior Mastermind

Heat 1, 8 January

Once more, a group of ten- and eleven-year-old children are in the big black chair, facing questions from John Humphrys.

Quito from London takes The Cottingley Fairies Hoax, a couple of young girls who claimed to have seen fairies down the bottom of the garden. They didn't; Quito scores 13 points (with 2 passes).

Joe from Aberdeen is discussing the FIFA World Cup 2006. All the stars are there - "three yellows" Poll, the Wondergoal, Shakira, even the instantly-forgettable motto. He's scoring well, finishing on 16 (2).

Beccy from Peterborough has His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, at least the third time this subject's been taken on the senior or junior version this decade. Rarely has it been taken with such aplomb; the score here is 17 (2).

Striding up to the chair with confidence is Robert from London, and he'll tell us about Madame Tussaud. No waxwork here, but plenty of hard work, and a 16 (0) final score.

Quito explains the hoax in far better detail than we ever could, and though she gets Newsround from its presenters, she makes it only to 20 (4).

Joe, a Scotsman, was supporting the Netherlands at last year's event. He confesses that, yes, he was listening to the radio commentary beneath the bedcovers; good on him! To one question, he responds "Cheese!" with a note of glee, and finishes on an outstanding 29 (4).

Robert asserts that there's far too much modern culture at the Tussaud's exhibition on Baker Street, and that the founder is more interesting than the new waxworks. We'll be seeing Robert's twin sister later in the series. He wants to beat her. His score is 32 (2). Blimey!

Beccy has been listening to the books, rather than reading them. She also auditioned for the role of Lara in the forthcoming adaptation of the novels. A lack of knowledge of the Blue Peter cats goes against her, and was the inclusion of a question about Martin Luther King day meant to be a Hidden Transmission Indicator? If it was, it missed by a week. Anyway, Beccy finishes on 29 (5), so won't be back as the highest-scoring runner-up. A decent contestant had to lose.

Heat 2, 15 January

Sophie from Epping is telling us about classical ballet. The questions are about the plots of works and the people who perform, rather than the actual process of dancing. The final score here is a respectable 13 (0).

Jason from County Durham will talk about Green Day, a popular music group. The round is, perhaps, better than its topic, as Jason finishes on 13 (2).

Tintin from London is discussing Elizabeth I. A shaky start, with none of the first three questions answered correctly, but a total at the end of two minutes of 13 (3).

Racing into the seat is Ethan from Northampton, researching the History of the Mini. And racing away is what he does with his questions, finishing on 15 (0).

Sophie's elder sister, Emma, was a finalist here last year, and Sophie is a keen dancer herself. The general knowledge round is far better than the contender was expecting, and she finishes on 26 (3).

The small-headed host recalls his initial reaction to the subject: "what?" Jason went back into his school during the summer break in order to do some research. That's dedication, and it's rewarded in the general knowledge round, where he advances to 27 (4).

"How do you get a name like Tintin?" It's a nickname, from her hairstyle when she was a baby. Antonia is the name on her birth certificate, and brother Robert made it to the final in last week's show. Half-way through, it looks as though her work will be in vain, but a late run takes her to 28 (6).

Ethan, therefore, needs 14 to win. Smallhead had a mini and it was terrible; Ethan's Aunt Olive had a mini and it was fab. He grinds through the questions, but comes off the rails in the final moments. It's a close-run thing, and his final score of 28 (0) means he wins through the fewer passes rule.

University Challenge

Round 2: Brighton v York

Brighton got here by knocking out Imperial Medics, and they still seem to be as glum as Thumper paints them. York downed Harris Manchester Oxford 40. The subtitlers have clearly had an off day, as they start the game by referring to the "American war of Indoleance", whatever that is. We'll take Definition of the Week:

Q: What's been variously defined as "events where drugs are used to gain competitive advantage", "anything you can't play in normal shoes", "a contest in which a winner can be indisputably defined", and "hunting, shooting, and fishing - anything else is a game"?

Thumper is a little harsh to mark York as wrong for declaring a statement to come from the start of the Falklands war, rather than the Thanksgiving Service afterwards. He's harsh, but right. Brighton are yet to trouble the scorers after the first visual round, Name That Sleeve. York's lead is 65-0.

Brighton gets off the mark by knowing the cultural centre of eastern Belgium, and advances by knowing all about the Platonic solids. No-one recalls the strength in depth of the England cricket XII who beat the Aussies in 2005. Gosh, remember when England beat the Aussies... We can tell Thumper doesn't like James Bond, as he refers to the character as "Oh oh seven".

Brighton has pulled back to within five points of York, and it's game on at the audio round. Name that woodwind instrument is the challenge, but it turns into a slightly less guessable set on music featuring the bassoon. "It's the bit where Mickey Mouse..." says captain Charlotte Bonner of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and York's lead is 95-75.

In the third stanza, York pulls away once more, getting questions about dinosaurs and the foundation of the Football League, two subjects that have nothing in common. We think. Brighton hasn't troubled the scorers since before the music round, and after the second visual round - Name That Dome - York's lead is up to 180-75.

And rising; York might lack the precise aim of previous champions, but they muddle through, get the job done, and fully deserve their place in the last eight. Thumper misses a sneer opportunity when Nicholas Duvall of York suggests The French Revolution as the title of a book published in 1776. The revolution, of course, wouldn't happen for another decade and more. Which is almost as long as Brighton has gone without answering a starter correctly, until Ray Thompson ensures that everyone has at least one to their name. In the conclusion, it's not a close contest, York winning 245-110.

York spread their starters around - everyone got at least three, and only Matthew Lacey took five, and 73 points. The side was correct in 20/45 bonus questions, and made one missignal. For Brighton, Tom Scopes was the best scorer, two starters and 33 points. The side had 12/18 bonuses correct, and no missignals.

Next match: Merton Oxford v Aberystwyth

This Week And Next

The broadcasting watchdog's first report of the new year has reprimanded ITV Play. In a game where callers were invited to guess items that might be in a woman's handbag, the expected answers included "rawl plugs" and "a balaclava". OFCOM determined that no-one in their right mind would guess these answers, and that ITV Play had been taking money under false pretences.

OFCOM also criticised G-Cap's Cash Call programme, a radio call-and-lose programme. One listener heard references to their local stations, but not to the fact that the programme was networked; this situation has since been rectified.

ITV News's viewers will not have been surprised to see Mark Austen head the channel's coverage of global warming. Game show fans may (but probably don't) remember him as the host of the first series of ITV's Survivor programme.

While researching the Big Brother article, we noted that there will be a second series of Annually Retentive. Good oh!

Barbara Kelly was the vivacious and witty Canadian on television's What's My Line?. Her humour and light touch made her a perfect foil for the curmudgeonly Gilbert Harding. The wife of Bernard Braden, Barbara Kelly retired from television work in the 1970s, and died on Monday.

Ratings for the week to 7 January, and the first number one of the year is Celebrity Big Brother. The Wednesday launch show took 7.3 million viewers, but this had sunk to little over 3 million by the weekend. By Sunday, more people were watching While Potatoes Grow on BBC2 than the vegetables on Channel 4. The reliable In It to Win It came second, on 6.95m, with the final of Just the Two of Us taking 6.15m on Sunday night, and beating CBB by two-to-one. ITV's Soapstar Superstar took 5.75m that night, and Saturday's Millionaire a credible 5.25m.

Deal or No Deal had 4.35m on New Year's Day, and finished ahead of Tuesday's Fortune Million Pound Giveaway (3.5m). A great score for Come Dine With Me (3.4m on Wednesday), beating every transmission of The Simpsons; Link also had 3.4m, and Ready Steady Cook 1.95m. C5's coverage of World's Strongest Man had 1.5m. Big Brother on E4 had 645,000, Deal on More4 300,000. Challenge's top audience was 85,000 for a Wednesday night Fear Factor.

Coming up this week: Shipwrecked (C4, 6.25 tonight), Perfect Strangers (BBC2, 3.15 weekdays), and Masterchef Goes Large (BBC2, 6.30 weeknights).

To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day, receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers sign up to our Yahoo! Group.

Back to Weaver's Week Index

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in