Weaver's Week 2007-05-06

Weaver's Week Index

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

In the event of rain, the Garroway-Theakston rules will come into play.

The People's Quiz

BBC1, most Saturdays 24 March - 23 June

The objective here, we think, is to create a quiz competition that anyone could win, and that would determine the best quizzer in the entire land. The outcome is a show that doesn't live up to its own promises.

When it first crossed our radar in January, we had high hopes for this format. Open auditions would take place around the country during January and February; anyone who could give ten correct answers from a supplied list of questions would progress to the next stage, a computerised question bank. The best responses from this test would progress through a couple of rounds of studio heats until the best 24 emerged for the televised stages.

The website promised that up to 200,700 places would be available. In the event, we understand that approximately one-quarter of those places were taken up, not that that's stopped presenter Jamie Theakston from implying that almost 3% of the country auditioned. Two shows were made from the audition process, and the experience of Marjorie from Glasgow was typical. She has eighty-seven years of experience, and failed to obtain the ten-in-a-row. "Have you had a good day?" asked the host. "No, it was very boring indeed," replied the former Brain of Britain finalist. And it looked to be tedious - hours of sitting around, waiting for one of the researchers to ask the questions, only to find their voice would be dubbed for one of three Questioners.

Ah yes, the voices behind the questions. William G. Stewart is, quite rightly, a legend in these parts. Most saliently, he produced and hosted Fifteen-to-One for sixteen years, a show that Channel 4 has still not adequately replaced. His credentials are obvious, and it would not be unreasonable to deem him a Quiz God.

Myleene Klass, though, has a couple of rather tenuous claims to quiz fame. She was part of the manufactured pop group Hearsay, at the time the fastest-selling new act in the UK. This fact has been omitted from the potted biographies at the start of each programme. A few years later, when asked general knowledge questions in a Celebrity Mastermind, she managed the princely sum of one (1) correct answer in two minutes. Again, this fact has not crossed the lips of our host. If she's a Quiz God, then the pantheon is in deep trouble.

The third member of the panel is Kate Garraway, someone of whom we had been in ignorance until this programme started. Apparently, Mrs. Garraway is the journalist on GMTV. Her closest approach to a quiz is the amazingly simple call-but-we've-already-selected-the-winner phone-in competitions aired on the ITV network. We have no idea what other claims to fame she might have, and can find no trace of her ever asking or answering questions more difficult than "What colour was the yellow submarine" in a television or radio quiz. If she's a Quiz God, then we're the world's best singer. We cannot, in all honesty, deem these people to be Quiz Gods without falling into blasphemy. Let us call them the Questioners, and wonder if Nick Rowe was too expensive.

As is almost obligatory for Saturday night television, the Questioners attempt to judge the contestants. Myleene is clearly the Nice Questioner, the one who will offer a quiet note of encouragement. William G. relies on facts to back up his opinions, while Kate is clearly training to be an inferior version of Simon Cowell. We're particularly unimpressed with the way she leads the character assassination of Mark Labbett, merely because he stated his opinion that he could - not will, but could - win the tournament. Evidently, having some confidence in oneself and ones work is grossly offensive to Mrs. Garraway.

Anyway, after two qualifying rounds, there was a phone-based competition; the first studio round was quietly cancelled due to the underwhelming number of qualifiers. The top 48 scorers on the phone were invited to a studio-based round, where they were asked general knowledge questions for two minutes. Think Mastermind, only with three heads instead of one. The players were split into groups by age - under 25, over 40, and those between, and precisely eight from each group qualified. Would there be two chances for each age band to progress, then some open rounds for the final places?

Er, no. After spending an hour impressing on us the importance of age, the topic is discarded with somewhat less finesse than a spent question on Get 100. Instead, the 24 qualifying players were taken off-screen, and sat some sort of test. The top ten in the test played on the opening show, then those who were still seeking a place in the final were joined by the next on the list for the second show, and so on until everyone has had a turn.

The main show consists of three rounds. In the opener, there are "two minutes" (edited down to about 105 seconds) of questions. A correct answer allows a player to nominate someone else, an incorrect answer eliminates that player from the game. If there's more than one player surviving at the end of time, a further question is asked. The first player to buzz in and answer correctly progresses to the second phase, and four players will move on in this way. As an opening round, this rather tickles our fancy, combining tactical elements of Fifteen-To-One, the Red Zone from Jet Set, and the time pressure of Mastermind.

Insert the first commercial from The Lottery Corp. here. Or not.

Round two is what happened when Going for Gold bumped into The Weakest Link. Contestants must answer as many questions in a row as possible, but in order to register a score, the player must shout out "Save!" before the next question. The longest saved string of correct answers after each contestant has played for 90 seconds will win. We note, in passing, that a question in play when time expires in the first round is finished; in the second, the question stops. Though hideously unoriginal, this is an interesting variation on a theme.

Insert second commercial from The Lottery Corp. here. Or not, as the case may be.

The winner of the second round now chooses their opponent from amongst the other nine players competing. They will face a selection of twelve categories; behind each category is a question, answered on the buzzer. Whoever gets the question right wins the category. Behind five of the categories is a "Q" symbol. Whoever uncovers the majority of those "Q" symbols is the winner, and makes their way to the final. The loser is eliminated from the contest. We don't like this round; Jamie Theakston seems to confuse this round with the British Pulling A Silly Face competition, or the European Stating the Blindingly Obvious contest. The Questioners take forever to complete the question, and by choosing their opponent, the winner is able to pick the weakest of all the competitors available, making for incredibly one-sided competitions. The whole round seems to be spun out so long that the tension disappears, replaced by complete boredom.

On Going for Gold, the only escape from the endless cycle of questions in fractured English was by winning a daily show. This option isn't available for winners on The People's Quiz, where they must return on each of the next shows, and give their opinion on the qualifiers. Appearing for perhaps ten seconds per show has us bringing out the Bit Of A Wasted Journey Pointer.

The questions are of a similar standard to those one would find on typical Saturday evening shows. They're harder than Eggheads, perhaps easier than some of the stinkers on One Versus One Hundred, and certainly far easier than anything asked in the University Challenge studio. We don't see ourselves providing a Witty Question of the Week from this show. We will be picking up William G. on something he said last night, that this was the FA Cup or Ascot of the quizzing world. We suspect that the correct sporting comparison is with the Cricket World Cup - it goes on for months and months and months, and the competitors in the final appear known from the opening match. And, with the final due in mid-June, you can bet it'll take place in pouring rain.

Is this show going to find the best quizzer in the country? Hardly. We presume that there's a clause in the Eggheads' contract preventing them from appearing in other television quiz shows, so no place for Daphne Fowler, no place for reigning International Mastermind champion Christopher Hughes, and no place for Kevin Ashman. Three Quiz Gods not competing there. Reigning Grand Slam champion Clive Spate appears not to have taken part, and we believe the most recent Brain of Britain Pat Gibson has also found something more interesting to do.

Perhaps that's a good choice. Mark Labbett, who honestly believes he can win, has suffered boos and jeers on the transmitted programmes. These catcalls were not present in the studio, and have been dubbed on by the producers. If that wasn't shameful enough, Mrs. Garraway has taken to criticising Mr. Labbett's appearance. She has no valid intellectual grounds to raise a gripe against him, so just uses a few catcalls. Words such as "kettle" and "pot" spring to mind, for some reason.

There is to be a "wild-card" programme, finding an extra finalist. Jamie Theakston plugged this until the closing date, and we assume that it will be transmitted on BBC2 in the weeks immediately before the final, scheduled for the Saturday before Wimbledon starts. We will review that, as we will review the final.

Finally, note that the three-round format was clearly devised to wrap around commercials from The Lottery Corporation, who also get their name into the show's full title. It's not doing so, because the show is far less of an audience-grabber than Joseph auditions, a bloke in a long scarf, and some kids playing at doctors and nurses. The programme is being bunged out at 6pm, and has nothing to do with The Lottery Corp's programme other than sharing its name. The Lottery Corp. is providing none of the prize money, though the format does remind us of their products. A lot of people play, very few people get anywhere close to winning, and one person gets hugely rich while everyone else loses out. Unlike the lottery, at least we know that the winner here has done something to deserve their prize.

This Week And Next

Richard and Judy's next series will not include the You Say We Pay contest, or anything along similar lines. The competition was suspended in February, sparking a rash of complaints about the general abuse of premium-rate telephone numbers.

Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan said that phone-in revenue was not a critical part of his company's revenue stream, and would diminish in importance anyway. He isn't going to ban them entirely, suggesting that where voting was key to the editorial concept, it would continue. Call-ins would also take place where it "generally enhances the viewer experience"; for his example here, Mr. Duncan cited the contest crowbarred into the channel's Merely Bad Shirt or Really Bad Shirt.

A new number one in the BARB television ratings for the week to 22 April, and a great week for Adrian Chiles, involved with two of the top three rating programmes. The Apprentice rises to the top of the pile, taking 5.7m viewers for its Wednesday transmission. Any Dream Will Do slips to second place, with 5.5m, and Adrian's run on HIGNFY pulled 5.25m. The second part of The People's Quiz had 4.5m, in a rough tie with ITV's Grease is the Word. Millionaire dragged in 4.3m, while Gameshow Marathon suffered from being Blankety Blank, and only took 3.85m. Even A Question of Sport (3.9m) was more popular.

University Challenge bowed out on top, 3.15m tuning in for Warwick's win. Deal or No Deal had 2.55m at best, down by something like a million and a half on the audiences it had at this time last year. Weakest Link managed 2.3 million in its last outing before the snooker break; Great British Menu had 2.25 million for its weekly final. Adrian Chiles was back for The Apprentice You're Fired, 2.15m there. QI took 2.05m in a part-networked repeat, and Eggheads managed 1.95m across the whole country. Back on Channel 4, Derren Brown's Trick or Treat had 1.75m.

For the minor channels, Interior Rivalry on Channel 5 took 880,000. Pop Idle US had 720,000 tuning in on Friday night. Deal on More4 attracted 210,000. Challenge's top rated show was Take It Or Leave It, recording audiences of 102,000 on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

It was The Golden Shot on the Gameshow Marathon last week. Plus a lot for getting Jim Bowen in to load the crossbows, and giving the instant catchphrase, "Bully, the bolt!" We're also impressed with the finale, getting someone down from the audience rather than having a viewer phone in. Digital delays mean that the phone-in will never work again.

Two new shows next week - The Pyramid Game With Donny Osmond comes to Challenge (8.30 weeknights), and For the Rest of Your Life appears on ITV (3pm weekdays from Tuesday). There's also the little matter of the Eurovision Song Contest semi-final (BBC3 and RTE2, 8pm Thursday); we expect to review the first and last in next week's Week.

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