Weaver's Week 2007-07-15

Weaver's Week Index

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


Fine, then

If you are ever dining with the Queen, and spill your soup, she will spill hers to distract attention from your gaffe.

0898 Raking In The Cash

Image:Square You Say We Pay.jpg

One sector of the broadcasting industry is profiting from 0898-gate. It's not the independent programme makers, who have mostly been put out of business as the market for their false hopes has collapsed faster than a tower of cards. It's not the broadcasters themselves, who have had to grub around in the back cupboard to put out more episodes of When Cheap Programming Goes Off Air.

No, the winners here are the regulators – in just the last month, OFCOM and ICSTIS have taken in a cool half-million in fines. We've previously reported how OFCOM fined Channel 5 £300,000 for trouble on its BRAINTEASER show. As we briefly noted last week, premium-rate regulator ICSTIS has fined Eckoh £150,000 for a serious breach of regulations concerning the "You Say We Pay" contest on the Richard and Judy show. And OFCOM responded, with a £50,000 fine on the BBC for its Blue Peter phone-in nonsense.

We'll first leaf through the ICSTIS report into Richard and Judy, and record the most interesting facts for the record.

The telephone lines were open until about 5.38pm, and callers who called before this time would have heard a recorded message asking them to answer a multiple-choice question and to leave their name and telephone number. Eckoh selected 24 participants randomly from those who had called and answered the question correctly, and passed these names on to the production company. In practice, all 24 names had usually been sent to Cactus by about 5.15pm. However, the lines would still be open for another 20 minutes or so. For the period 29 January to 15 February 2007, it can be calculated that approximately 47% of the calls of viewers attempting to enter the Competition were received after the shortlist had been drawn up.
For the period 29 January to 15 February 2007, the revenue received from callers was £176,536.37 from a total of 229,895 calls. In 2006 the Competition received 1,393,986 calls and generated a revenue of £1,055,247 while in 2005 3,190,201 calls were received generating revenue of £1,857,205. The panel noted that roughly 60% of the revenue generated was paid out in prize money. Eckoh’s gross profit in relation to the period 29 January to 15 February 2007 was £2,873.69.

People within Eckoh were getting worried during the summer 2006 run of Richard and Judy, but these queries did not percolate up to the senior managers. Eckoh said, "We accept that mistakes were made with You Say We Pay but it seems clear that all three parties could and should have spotted the problem much earlier."

The regulatory structure for premium-rate telephone services is such that ICSTIS holds Eckoh responsible for any breaches by Channel 4 or Cactus Television. ICSTIS makes no attempt to distinguish between the failures of each party – it holds Eckoh responsible for them all. Eckoh's plea in mitigation alleged shortcomings between Cactus and C4 was disputed by the production company and the television station, and the matter has been referred to OFCOM for further enquiry. As we said previously, this is confusing, and fundamentally unfair to broadcasters and operators.

That Richard and Judy adjudication in full

Image:Square Blue Peter.jpg

Thence to OFCOM, and its findings into the Blue Peter balls-up. We join the narrative with the production staff talking to the telephone provider.

The researcher expressed concerns at that meeting about the short time available during the live transmission for capturing calls, telephoning a potential winner and getting them on air. She was reassured by the telephone service provider that although this was a tight turnaround, it was feasible. However, according to the BBC, given that this was the first time Blue Peter had used a premium rate number for a competition where the entire competition including the result was to be completed in the course of one programme, the researcher was still anxious. She formulated her own contingency plan, in the afternoon the competition went to air, to be used in the event of technical difficulties.
The researcher told a Blue Peter assistant producer who was supervising a group of children and their parents visiting the studio that day that in "the most extreme circumstances" or if something went "drastically wrong" with the telephone lines, the researcher might ask the assistant producer to "pick someone" from one of the children she was supervising to be the winner of the phone-in competition. The BBC stated that the assistant producer did not refer this plan to the senior editorial team, assuming that it had already been cleared, which it had not. In the course of the competition, the researcher encountered technical problems when attempting to retrieve any of the competition entrants' calls. She therefore implemented her contingency plan, without the senior editorial team's knowledge.
The BBC stated the true management failings were to have left the researcher to conduct the competition without apparently being aware of the standard procedures for dealing with a technical failure and she therefore felt the need to devise her own contingency plan.

OFCOM also heard that a technical misunderstanding had led to lines remaining open for the CBBC channel broadcast later that evening, and that the premium-rate number remained on screen.

OFCOM determined that returning to the competition on a later show would have been in accordance with the rules. This also happened to be the BBC's standard contingency plan. The regulator also found that asking a child to pose as a winner was incompatible with the section about taking good care of young people.

That the researcher had voiced concerns that this competition was beyond Blue Peter's usual style, and had come up with a plan – even though it was at short notice – was seen as evidence that the BBC had been planning for failure, and should have planned properly. Not covering up the number on the repeat was bad; the three-month cover-up of the original errors made a bad situation even worse. OFCOM assessed a £45,000 fine for the original programme, and a £5000 fine for not concealing the number on the CBBC repeat.

That BBC report in full.


BBC Manchester for BBC2, 7.30 Mondays

Here we are again, with the first of 24 heats, leading in to six second-round matches, which in turn lead to the final. Given that BBC2 is committed to a two-week Autumnwatch programme, and it (surely!) won't be running editions on Christmas or New Year's Eve, we're looking at a final somewhere just before Easter next year. Or, as normal people call it, the middle of March. In that show, Mastermind will crown its 34th champion – we must disagree with presenter John Humphrys, for we consider the radio and Discovery Channel editions to be canonical.

Susan Sworn is the first of almost a hundred contenders this year, and she's taking the History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. She goes somewhat faster than your average underground train through North London, and pulls into the two-minute terminus having scored 16 points. She made 2 passes, and these will count against her in the event of a tie.

Chris Andrews has "The Alan Clark Diaries". He was a minister under Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Major, but is best known for his titillating journals, published in three volumes between 1994 and 2001. There's no mention in this round for Derek Laud, a former Big Brother contestant who was mentioned in his books, and not Mr. Major's as was claimed at the time. It's a worthy total, 14 points (1 pass).

Damien McKearney discusses the History of the Electric Guitar Since 1952. Like the other two contenders, he's taken a small and relatively esoteric subject, one that's relatively easy to research, and finishes on 16 (1).

John Burke has the Mediaeval Abbeys and Priories of England. We've long held a theory that smaller subjects are less challenging than larger ones, and suspect that Mr. Burke has chosen a subject that's a degree larger than the others. Not that that's going to stop him in the slightest, as he races through the questions to finish on 17 (1).

Those were the two minutes of questions on a specialised subject, and we're rather pleased to see that the rounds all contained about 20 questions; previous episodes have been rather less consistent.

The contestants come forward for the second, general knowledge, round in ascending order of their first-round scores. Mr. Andrews is first up, and though he starts strongly, falls into Pass Holes towards the middle. His final score is 24 (6).

Host John Humphrys has clearly been taking lessons from the William G. Stewart School of Charm, as he suggests Miss Sworn is "allowed" to be interested in football. Mind the misogyny. This doesn't throw her, as she finishes on 28 (5).

Mr. McKearney explains how the early electric guitars were just a normal guitar plus a record needle. He has the misfortune to be asked a question about Lewis Hamilton – an obscure name when the show was recorded some months ago, now a reliably large Celebdaq dividend. He does remember what David Sneddon did before a football phone-in on Radio Scotland, but is less strong on high culture, finishing on 25 (5).

Mr. Burke has visited many of the structures and ruins, and suggests restoring some of the more complete ruins. His is the only name listed in the BBC's INFAX database, making the semi-finals in 1985 and 1993. Even if he's been here before – and the name is common enough to suggest doubt – his general knowledge round never quite makes the grade. 26 (2) would be enough to win in many other weeks, but not this time, and runners-up are out for the year.

University Challenge

Granada for BBC2, 8pm Mondays

Nottingham v Lancaster

We're not saying that the Mastermind format is longer than it should be. Actually, we are saying that, and here's the evidence. With 14 first round-matches, seven second-round contests between the winners, and a repechage involving four high-scoring losers, we will see all the quarter-finalists at least twice before we see tonight's Mastermind winner again.

For those of you who have been stuck in a traffic jam on the A38 outside Bristol for the past 45 years, there's a by-pass you might wish to use. And the rules are simple. Two teams of four compete as individuals to answer questions on the buzzer. These starter questions are worth ten points. A correct answer to a starter yields three bonus questions, each worth five points, on which the team can and should confer. An interruption to a question on the buzzer incurs a five-point penalty; in a nod to nomenclature used in the 1960s, we call this a "missignal". The higher score when time expires wins. Our host, for the fifteenth year running, is Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman, a replacement for original host Bamber "Bambi" Gascoigne.

Simon Alvey of Nottingham gets the honour of giving the first correct answer of the season, suggesting that one might find wine in a "bin". And so the stereotype of the student is perpetuated for another year. Another starter question asks after the name given to a group of chemical elements, thus suggesting that this show might require knowledge of something other than alcohol.

Lancaster does well on a series of questions about words and their reverses; Nottingham has the first of two picture starters, on film characters, but trails 55-40. Lancaster promptly gets a question about the derivation of "three sheets to the wind", and we're back to the old stereotypes. The northern side is swift on the buzzers tonight,

A few years ago, this column had a regular snark against questions that took swerves so bad that the answer was completely unrelated to the first phrase. Such questions have now been relegated to little-viewed Saturday night failures, and been replaced by the likes of this:

Q: A multicellular, eukaryotic, photosynthetic organism adapted primarily to life on land is a definition of what simple..?
Nottingham, Kester Jarvis: Plant.

Even the guesses count – Nottingham guesses that someone wrote La Marseilleise on a given date, and just happen to be right. They've pulled back a little, and after the only audio round – on the Enigma variations – Lancaster's lead is reduced to 105-85. Quite how Nottingham's Jarvis can get "beetle" from "Whirligig, bombadier, and minotaur" is beyond us.

Nottingham clearly hasn't been watching the previous programme, as they don't know the side that won the FA Cup in 1901 was Tottenham Hotspur, a fact put to Miss Sworn not an hour earlier. The second visual round is positions in a rugby union team, and Nottingham has exploded in the last five minutes, running up a 185-105 lead.

Lancaster gets the first starter in the final stanza, and manages to pull out two of the African countries on the Greenwich meridian. Tom Fanshawe was listening to Round Britain Quiz, where there was a question about the Mohs scale. Who says they just throw these shows out in any order, eh? Nottingham needs a couple of starter, and a bonus or two, to wrap up the game; they get it with about a minute to go. Though Lancaster gets the next starter, it's not going to be enough on its own. At the gong, Nottingham has the higher score, by 240-185.

As is traditional, the losers on the opening show will be back in the repechage during the autumn. Simon Alvey was the best buzzer on the Nottingham side, recording six correct answers, one missignal, and opening the door for 10 bonuses; captain Tom Fanshawe led from the front for Lancaster with six correct starters for 8 bonuses. Nottingham made 24/39 bonuses with two missignals, Lancaster had 15/31 and no incorrect interruptions.

At the end of the show, there was an appeal for contestants to appear on a new series of University Challenge The Professionals. Call 0161 827 2355, or email universitychallenge at the BBC.

Next match: SOAS v Magdalen Oxford

This Week And Next

Quickly back to Round Britain Quiz, where the Midlands team scores a nigh-perfect 23 marks out of a possible 24. In most weeks, 18 is a winning score.

Ratings for the week to 1 July are scant. Top prize goes to Anne Robinson, whose Dr Who-themed Weakest Link pulled in 4.45m on Saturday night, when it was raining. Millionaire had 4m later that evening, but Big Brother comes in second, 4.15m tuning in on Friday, when it was raining. 2.85m for Ten Cats that wet night, and 2.4m took shelter under Noel's gaudy umbrella that afternoon. Buzzcocks had 1.75m on a wet Wednesday night. How do we remember it was raining? The 30th most popular show on BBC2 – achieving an audience of precisely 1 million – was Wimbledon Rain Break on Wednesday. When it was raining.

America's Got Talent topped ITV2, 975,000 on Friday night. BB Big Mouth had 485,000 on Thursday, and Deal on More4 had 250,000. Come Dine With Me took 195,000 on a shockingly not-wet Sunday. CITV's top show was Jungle Run, 215,000 on Monday. Challenge's top show was old Millionaire, attracting 110,000 viewers on Thursday. It rained.

Next week's highlights include new series of Win My Wage (C4, 4.15 weekdays) and The Book Quiz (BBC4, 11pm Tuesday). It's also the final of The Sorcerer's Apprentice (BBC1, 5pm Friday) and Sing It Back: Lyric Champion 2007 (ITV, 6.40 Saturday). We expect to review at least one of these shows next week.

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