Weaver's Week 2007-06-03

Weaver's Week Index

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


Repeat After Three

Doesn't time move like lorries on the uphill stretch of the M25 on a rainy bank holiday Monday when you're watching this show? You wouldn't know because you've never seen it? An excellent idea.

For the Rest of Your Life

Endemol for ITV, 3pm weekdays (most regions)

As any evolutionary biologist will tell, human beings are biologically programmed to take two periods of sleep per day; a long one during the night, and a short one during the heat of the day. ITV's schedule follows this rhythm almost exactly. For some years, it has screened a programme designed to lull viewers to sleep by telling them fairy stories of the person who got rich by calling into a television station. Now, there's something in the afternoon that's been purpose-built to send viewers to sleep.

The host of this siesta-time show is Nicky Campbell, moonlighting from his jobs on Radio 5 and BBC1. He's joined by a different couple each day, for reasons that will become clear. The beginning of the show is taken up by a mystery voice-over woman telling us all sorts of information about the couple; it's noting more than a coded signal to start drinking our cocoa. One of the couple picks an envelope containing an amount of money - two of around £130, one of perhaps £170.

In the first round, there are eleven silver cylindrical things, about four feet high. They're scattered in a circle on the studio floor. Within each cylindrical thing is a lamp; eight white, three red. One of the couple must guess numbers from one to eleven, their playing partner will be invited to "Go to number" whatever. Then they'll be invited to "Put your hand on the light" - or, to be exact, the handle that allows the lamp to be lifted from its opaque holder. The first person will be asked, "Are you set on number whatever?". Only after this confirmation will Nicky Campbell invite the player to "Light it up," by which he means, "Remove the lamp from its holder and hold it in the air so that the camera can get a good shot, allowing the director to play in the appropriate coloured sting while shooting from an overhead camera."

If the lamp was white, then the team increases the amount of money by the contents of the envelope they opened earlier on. If it was red, the team loses that amount of money. In the unlikely eventuality that the team finds all three red lamps, they leave the game with nothing, and we must presume that the show is junked. Once they've uncovered a net four white lamps, and the most recent lamp they've uncovered was white, they may stick. It is generally regarded as good strategy to stick at the earliest possible opportunity, as the risk of losing over £500 is greater than the chance of adding to it. It is also regarded as good strategy for viewers to wonder, "Isn't there something more exciting happening on the Parliament channel?"

Assuming that the couple has something to play with, and hasn't invited the host to "Light this up, mush," they play for time. One of the couple is invited to go into the For The Rest Of Your Life Sleep Tank. In a clear nod-off to 2004 one-shot Shattered, if they snooze, they lose. The eleven lamps have now become fifteen, eleven white and four red. If the team pulls out eleven consecutive white lamps, they will be paid the amount won in part one every month for the next 40 years. The chance of pulling 11 white lamps from 15 is one in 1365, and with Nicky Campbell asking both players after every single white if they wish to stop, the chance of actually reaching that is even more remote.

As before, a white lamp will increase the amount of time, a red lamp will decrease it. A net score of four white lamps equates to a whole one year; seven is worth five years, eight tickles up to ten years. As soon as the player on the floor decides to stick, or uncovers all four red lamps, the game ends.

Before each lamp is illuminated, Nicky goes through the whole spiel he did on every lamp in the first part. To see it once is bad enough; on the twentieth repetition in forty minutes, viewers will either be clawing at the remote begging for the merciful release of a Gyles Brandreth anecdote, or will be softly snoring into their slippers.

The final part is the prove-out; the player in the Sleep Tank is woken up each time their partner picks a white light, and asked whether they want to continue in the game. As soon as they stop, even if that's before their colleague did, the game ends.

The amount of money that the team wins - assuming they win something - is displayed on screen throughout parts two and three. It's a misleading figure, because it doesn't take account of inflation. By the end of ten years, inflation will have reduced £600 in today's money to £400, and a quoted prize of £72,000 is actually worth slightly less than £60,000. Over 40 years, that £600 becomes just £125, and the total quoted prize of £288,000 is really worth just £145,000.

As we've noted, the show is slow to the point of pain. The entire programme could easily complete in 45 minutes without feeling rushed, though a half-hour slot would be too quick. If ITV must put out an hour's programme, have two couples play on each show.

There are points of comparison with Endemol's other daytime production, Deal or No Deal. At heart, both are glorified guessing games. Both are hosted by a former Radio 1 DJ with a long record of slightly tacky game shows. Both feature repeated chants for certain colours, never red. And both hosts seem to encourage gambling beyond the point of reason; in fairness, Nicky Campbell can argue that he's giving both sides of the argument. The main point of difference: while there's no question that Noel Edmonds gives the impression of rebuking people who accept a marginal deal that turns out to be less than perfect, Nicky doesn't overtly criticise the decisions of contestants on his show.

Is For The Rest Of Your Life going to be on screen for the rest of our lives? No. It just feels like it. Daily.

That's the Question

Intellygent / 2 Way Traffic for Challenge, 3pm weekdays

We're not saying that this show is any worse for being done on a budget of about 28 new pence, but it does rather show. For some reason, Sarah Cawood doesn't command a particularly high fee, and we reckon that's most unfair, because she is a presenter of talent. Still, TTQ is a show she can put on her CV alongside The Girlie Show and Live and Kicking III, and that time she provided a human shield for Eamonn Holmes when he was confronted by a protester.

Anyway, Miss Cawood has turned up, and the budget has run to precisely two contestants for each game. This is rather good, because it's a two-player format. In the first two rounds, the contestants are presented with an answer, and dots indicating letters in a question. They're also presented with a series of general knowledge questions, to which the answers are displayed on screen. But there's a catch; the scrambled answers are one letter too long. Answer the question correctly, whether from knowledge or from a swift piece of anagramming, and the remaining letter is inserted into the question. An incorrect answer passes play to the other person. There's one point each time the letter appears in the question, and the contestant can ask the question - after they've given a correct answer - for bonus points.

After the break, the contestants must find both answer and question. The highest scorer after about 20 minutes of this goes on to end game: one final question and answer, solved in the same way as the rest of the show; they have one second to play for each point they scored in the main game. Succeed and the player wins £500; fail, and they leave with nothing.

A half-hour show is just about the maximum length for this format; TV5 has previously shown a Swiss version that gets the whole game done in 16 minutes. Some of the production decisions are a bit awkward - the only score shown is that of the player currently in play, making it difficult to remember the position. There's a caption showing the scrambled and real answers, and that caption slides up and down at a giddying rate; we don't like motion for motion's sake, and would rather see a straight cut, or a spin, or something like that.

A slim budget means only the quiz has to work just that little bit harder, and 120 questions in a 30 minute show is a workrate that William G. Stewart would not knock. Overall, the impression is that this really is a show with absolutely no budget. It's executed perfectly well - we can't fault the professionalism of the Dutch production crew, nor the people who have come to the recording from their homes all across the Netherlands - but that can't shake the feeling that it's very cheap daytime filler. Heck, even the obligatory call-and-lose question gives just one prize per week. And we're surprised that Challenge is only showing the show once, rather than getting some value for its money and stripping the show at least twice per day.

This Week And Next

Did we see Emma Forbes taking part in Celebrity Masterchef? As in, Emma Forbes, Live 'n' Kicking's resident cookery expert? That's like having a celebrity quiz on the influences of Greek architecture in London between Jade Goody, a lump of wet modelling clay, and William G. Stewart. The only interest is who will come second.

We've also been treated to Emily Reed on Let Me Entertain You. Readers who enjoy torturing themselves will recall Miss Reed's previous television appearance, losing A Song for Europe 2003 on a rather dubious telephone vote. She would have been a better choice than Jemini, but managed to exit stage left after less than a minute.

Channel 4 has announced that it is halving the cost of telephone votes on the new series of Big Brother, and will not be making a profit on the vote. There will be no voting by SMS - remembering the problems that have affected other shows, the channel says that it cannot guarantee quality of service for text messages, and would sooner play safe. By removing the funding from voting, Channel 4 is reducing its income by £3 million, approximately 0.5% of the channel's spending on programmes during 2006. We argued last year that one of Big Brother's reasons for existing was to fund other C4 projects. If Big Brother no longer pays its way, or attracts audiences to other programmes on the station, or bring in advertising revenue, then we must wonder if there's a reason for its continued presence.

Independently, other research suggested that Big Brother is responsible for almost a quarter of C4's yearly advertising income. The £40m cost is recouped nearly four times by extra commercials. That said, if BB is on E4 for 14 hours per day for 17 weeks, we'd be rather discouraged if it didn't bring in a sixth of the channel's revenue - it's certainly occupying a sixth of the space.

The BBC has suspended premium-rate competitions for programmes where the winner needs to be determined within 30 minutes. Sources suggest that it is "unlikely" that the concept will return. The move comes after the Blue Peter phone-in error last year; the BBC Trust (the politically-correct name for the Board of Governors) has deemed this incident "particularly serious". Director-general Mark Thompson has announced a pan-BBC working party on the use of telephone and text voting, and there will be a policy on appropriate charges.

Equity, the actors trade union, will meet with broadcasters to work out a code aimed at preventing the humiliation of contestants on reality television. Under the proposed arrangement, audition footage will only be used if a contestant is advancing in the show. Jim Townsend of Birmingham Variety Branch said that "the failure of some participants is bloated out to become the entertainment itself." Neither Simon Cowell nor his brother Piggy was available for comment.

Song and dance continued to lead the viewing figures in the week to 20 May. Any Dream Will Do had 6.15m viewers tuning in, just ahead of The Apprentice's season-best 6.05m. HIGNFY took 5.35m, and here's a surprise - The People's Quiz managed 4.25m viewers in its new 6.20 slot. On ITV, Gameshow Marathon hit the Bullseye and had 4.9m, the best rating of the series so far. Grease is the Word had 4.5m, and Millionaire 3.95m.

Great British Menu also had a season-best, 2.9m on Friday. Deal or No Deal had 2.8m on Wednesday; the same day's Link had 2.5m. Eggheads peaked on Monday with 2.4m. The Apprentice interview took 2.25m, HIGNFY's Saturday repeat 2.1m, and a part-networked QI 1.65m.

Pop Idle US had 685,000 on ITV2. For the second week running, Deal or No Deal fails to make the More 4 top ten. QI on G2 attracted 125,000, both HIGNFY and Dragons' Den pulled 100,000. Challenge's top show was The Pyramid Game With Donny Osmond, dazzling 93,000 viewers with nothing more than a Thursday night smile.

Highlights for the coming week include the Great British Village Show (BBC1, 6.50 today), in which Alan Titchmarsh goes in search of the best cakes, crafts, and vegetables. The grand finales of Shipwrecked (C4, 6.10 today) and Great British Menu (BBC2, 7.30 Friday), then both Grease is the Word and Any Dream Will Do come to their conclusion on Saturday night. There's a special Challenge Anneka (ITV, 9pm Wednesday), and the first in new series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday) and Britain's Got Talent (ITV, Saturday).

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