Weaver's Week 2007-09-09

Weaver's Week Index


The Eurovision Song And Dance Contest, Without The Singing

An observant The X Factor viewer wrote to us this week. "Why do they use the Chicago skyline? It's not as if anyone who is auditioning is from Chicago." We have no idea, so will open the floor to the assembled readership.

Eurovision Dance Contest

Sunset + Vine / Splash Media for EBU, shown on BBC1, 8pm 1 September

Europeans have a fascination with competing against each other. In previous centuries, this need to prove that your nation was better than any other was expressed through events such as the Eurovision Invasion Championships. The 1066 edition has gone down in history: English representative Harold left the Norwegians with nul points and nul survivors, only to be beaten by the Norman entry when we got the results from Switzerland. In more recent times, the practice of asserting nationhood through war has fallen out of fashion, and been replaced by more ritualised combat events.

Perhaps the most visible of these is an annual celebration of the art and craft of popular song and dance: the Eurovision Song Contest. Established in 1956, the Song Contest has established many rituals and traditions of its own. Most of them were observed in last week's inaugural Eurovision Dance Contest. It's not the first time the EBU has run a competition for the artistic fleet of foot: Eurovision Young Dancers ran from 1983 until 2005, but attracted approximately zero interest outside the competitors.

In the small studio in central London is a slightly raised dais, about 40 foot square, marked out in a chessboard pattern. Narrow video projection walls, gently rising from one side of the stage, curving around, and reaching the ceiling after covering three sides of the square. And presenters, Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman. Though filling the EBU directive saying that the hosts of all Eurovision programmes - like the contestants here - shall be a man and a woman, they ignored the recommendation that they should pretend to be asking each other out for drinks afterwards. They were sarcastic, perhaps a little too sarcastic for an international programme, and we wondered why they had to give a few announcements in French, seeing as how the only francophone country taking part was Switzerland. Another EBU directive, there. We shall explain more as we run up the scoreboard.

16th: Switzerland (0 points)

If the Swiss want to do well, they have to import someone from overseas. This year's contestants were home-grown, and last place beckoned. It wasn't a fair reflection of their abilities, but neither was the pair ever in contention for a top-half finish. Unlike many of the other competitors, the Swiss didn't do a Bucks Fizz during their second performance; the rules prohibited costume changes or props during the set dance, but almost everyone else followed the Eurovision tradition of disrobing.

15th United Kingdom (18 points); 14th Sweden (23)

Each couple gave two performances of 90 seconds in length. One was a ballroom-or-Latin dance, the other a free programme reflecting something of their national character. For the British couple - Brendan Cole of New Zealand and Camilla Dallerup of Denmark - this was themed around James Bond. The Swedes sent a former wrestler. Both couples had clear strengths, and deserved a few more points. Not that the British commentators - Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli - could see the flaws in the UK's entrants. Partisan commentary? Tick that off the list.

13th Greece (31); 12th Netherlands (34); 11th Lithuania (35); 10th Spain (38); 9th Denmark (38)

The voting structure was the established 1-12, with each country's spokesperson reading out points 1-7, then having them added to the board, then the 8-10-12. Though the presenters didn't echo the lower points, very little time was saved, as the spokeys paused after each point. Indeed, Lithuania rather confused matters by omitting their four points and causing the process to re-start. Is there merit in bringing the spokespeople to the competition venue, or getting them to (gasp!) record their announcements? Voting cock-up? Yep. Friendly voting? Yep. There was voting along the lines established in the senior contest, and half of the exchanges were for the maximum 12 points, but no country received more than two votes from traditional friends, and the biggest gainers were Sweden and the UK.

We can't tick off the traditional 12-point exchange for Cyprus and Greece, because Cyprus wasn't taking part, but the Greeks did send their traditional dance. The Dutch were wooden, and the Spanish mugged to the camera like it was amateur night; we would put these two couples much lower down. Denmark sent a very young couple, whose interpretative dance confused Tonioli and Goodman no end. We got it first time, and we'd not seen the rehearsals. The Lithuanians were very good in their Latin dance, and gave another artsy performance - based on Beauty and The Mask - for their free programme. Both deserved more marks for effort.

8th Germany (59)

Though the stage was large enough, not everyone made full use of it - the Swiss and German entries, in particular, seemed scared to fall off the edges. For some reason, the BBC had decided to use a small studio for the show, ensuring that most of the introductions took place from one of the aisles in the audience. And there had to be introductions - the first half of the show was punctuated by short films about the contestants, but the second half was performance, recap, introduction, performance - just about 45 seconds to clear the floor and prepare. The Germans didn't really try, their "national character" was reflected in a German flag halfway through their routine ... and, er, that's it. The vocals were from that well-known German Bonnie Tyler, for goodness sake! Though the stage was small, the scoreboard was not - it's the first clear scoreboard we've seen since the days when BBC Broadcast made them.

7th Russia (72); 6th Portugal (74); 5th Austria (74); 4th Poland (84)

With voting beginning at the start of the show, and ending shortly after all performances completed, the early runners seemed to lose a little. Russia came on second, had one of the best Latin dances, and a wild Gypsy-influenced free dance, and still came behind the Portuguese and Austrians. Both of these couples were good - the Portuguese were generally entertaining, the Austrians were pirates - but there were better in the contest. Poland's success mystified us: the couple was competent, but we couldn't put them above the general scrum around half-way. Nor did we think that Claudia Winkleman acquitted herself well - one too many fits of the giggles, sadly.

3rd Ireland (95)

Traditionally, the best bit of a Eurovision programme is the interval act, and that's why BBC3 cuts away to show Paddy O'Connell chatting up the birds from Serbia. It wasn't the case for this dance contest, for the interval act was a performance by Enrique Iglesias. Ireland sent two very young dancers: their Latin dance was the sort of thing one would expect to find at a church hall event, while their free dance was traditional Irish dancing. We've long said that if Ireland wanted to do well at Eurovision again, all they had to do was send Riverdance. They sent Riverdance.

2nd Ukraine (121)

With voting going in alphabetical order of the country name, Ukraine was the second-to-last nation to vote. By this point, we knew the winner - indeed, it had been apparent who would win after the third jury - and Graham and Claudia were begging the spokeys to hurry up so that they might get the show finished almost on time. A three-minute over-run isn't bad, but any over-run is traditional. Ukraine's couple was the only one to offer a ballroom dance, rather than a Latin, and gave a sensitive free programme. The latter wasn't particularly to our taste, but we could see the technical merit, and the couple deserved their high placing.

1st Finland (132)

The statistics show that performing late was a very small advantage, but sending a pair of good dancers was a tremendous help. Over the two performances, Finland was technically the best, and Jussi Väänänen and Katja Koukkula clearly gave much of themselves to those three minutes. The free dance was art that non-specialists could understand, perfectly judged for the contest. No stripping, no gimmicks, dance taken seriously, and performed by people who know what they're doing.

When wondering who would win during the interval, we narrowed it down to the entries from Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, and Finland. Then we remembered a brief description of the other event: A competition where Europe finds the song that most annoys Terry Wogan. For this event, Finland received the worst reviews from Goodman and Tonioli, and the win was assured. The last tradition is upheld.

Overall, this was a lightweight but satisfactory evening's entertainment. It wasn't as well produced as recent editions of the Song Contest, but it ticked more of the Eurovision Contest traditions than the Junior Eurovision, and that may be why it was better television.


Heat 9

The rules of this programme remain simple. Highest score wins, everyone else will be terminated with all the ruthlessness of a BBC news presenter seeking to close BBC4.

Pete Brooke-Monti will take Peter Gabriel and Genesis 1967-75. Before making one of the best pop music videos ever, Gabriel sang with hoary old rockers Genesis. That's actually how they were described when formed at Chapterhouse in 1967 BC. It's a decent round, a few errors, but no complaints about 13 (0).

Jacqui Menzies discusses the Belgariad Novels by David Eddings. Questions about Ctuchik, Nyissan, and Tolnedran demonstrate to any viewer that we're somewhere between Narnia and Galifrey. The result is equally not of this earth, 18 (0).

Iain Murray has the Life and Work of Barnes Wallis, and our support for spelling his given name correctly. This round is more bounce than bomb, ending on 14 (1).

David Malaperiman offers Snakes of the World. We mishear one of the answers, and think that a certain snake is best known for eating "cake". The correct answer is "eggs", and we'll be getting our ears washed out. 15 (0).

A very high standard, and Mr. Brooke-Monti says that Mr. Gabriel is innovative and theatrical, but not pretentious. "They might watch this and say they were rubbish in 1975," he suggests. Rubbish is not a fair description of this contender, who ends on 23 (2)

Mr. Murray tells us how Mr. Wallis also made airships, aircraft, submarines, and that little matter of the Dambusters. This round doesn't go so well, ending on 22 (7).

Mr. Malaperiman is a will writer, going round to people's homes to help them compose their final bequests. "Who starred in The Good Life and Yes Minister", asks our host, trailing two shows appearing on BBC2 later this year. The round rather stalls in the final moments, finishing on 25 (0).

Mrs. Menzies confirms that the Belgariad novels are not high literature, but you don't need much explanation in a fantasy world. Should she have got questions on Hercules and Hitch-Hiker's Guide? Not that it matters - 30 (3) is a clear win.

University Challenge

First round, 9/14: Bangor v Edinburgh

Some entertaining subjects this week: Bangor features a future doctor of Excessive Motivation, and Edinburgh a doctor of glaciation. If we're to believe the researchers, the Edinburgh team met on the university's haggis hunt, though hunting of haggis with foxes has long been outlawed. Two gents on each side, and a slight bias to the arts from Bangor.

Of the first five starters, just two are answered correctly, and only one bonus is secured. In an effort to shock the teams into correctness, Thumper goes stark staring bonkers:

My handbag and I, we'll stick together till I die, and if I get a bit - well - dippy, it says, "Come on! Put on a bit of lippy". A lyric from the song "It was Surely Purely Chemistry" from which stage show, first performed in 2006?

Er, quite. The first visual round is Name That Knot, the starter is dropped, and Bangor has a 30-10 lead. Quite possibly the lowest we've ever had at this stage. Edinburgh suggests that the Eden Project was constructed over a railway line in 1856, which is not strictly correct. If other quizzes swept the floor for the starters dropped by this show, they'd put the question setters out of work for the year. The audio round is on the film compositions of Bernard Hermann. It's slow going, especially when Edinburgh confuses Dumbo with Citizen Kane. Bangor's lead is 75-40.

Things don't pick up quickly in the third stanza, a mixture of Edinburgh's ability on the buzzers and Bangor's missignal leaves the scores tied at 70-all with about seven minutes to play. The teams need to come up with another 85 points to avoid taking the Lowest Aggregate Score Ever. The second visual round is new British buildings, all the fault of the Millennium Fund, and hence of the National Lottery, and hence of Noel Edmonds. Edinburgh's lead is 100-70.

There's a certain resonance this week: incorrect answers - the Eden Project, and the chemical compounds esters - later turn up as correct answers. Not that we're clock watching or anything, it's just that we're correctly predicting Thumper's quiet cries of "come on" before he makes them. Hidden Transmission Indicator of the Week is a starter on hurling, the day after the all-Ireland final; that lifts the scores past 225. A pair of missignals pushes the scores back down, but Bangor just has time to avoid ignominy. Edinburgh wins, 130-105.

The winners didn't qualify for the repechage:

  • Lancaster 185
  • Liverpool 165
  • Magdalen Oxford 160
  • Birmingham 145

Steven Palmer was Edinburgh's best buzzer, four starters as the team made 11/30 bonuses and five missignals. Chris Saville was the Bangor captain and the night's best buzzer, six starters, but his team made only 6/22 bonuses and a missignal.

Next match: Durham v St Edmund Hall Oxford

This Week And Next

Simon Shaps, the current head of programmes at ITV, has confirmed our suspicions that he's picking the best bits from other people's schedules. Tycoon had similarities to The Apprentice that didn't stretch to not being a complete and utter feedback; Dancing on Ice is almost a carbon copy of Strictly Come Dancing, but on ice. Mr. Shaps defended his decision to keep running the ITV Call and Lose strand overnight. "As far as we can measure it there is no impact on the ITV brand as a result of ITV Play being there.

Is he right? If you think yes, ITV doesn't suffer from being associated with tawdry and dishonest rip-offs, call 0898 ITV IS OK. If you think less of ITV because it fills four hours of otherwise dead programming with something that makes money, call 0898 ITV STOP. All calls will be charged, none will be connected. And we're not worried about a visit from the Blokes From Premium Rate Telephone Regulator ICSTIS, because they now work for Premium Rate Telephone Regulator PhonepayPlus. Really. You'd think, with their recent income of half-a-million quid from naughty broadcasters, they could afford a decent name. OFHOOK, that has a certain ring to it.

X Factor remained the most popular show in the week to 26 August, with 8.85m people seeing the second week of auditions. Millionaire came in second (5.85m) and Big Brother (3.95m) beat the final of Dance X (3.65m). One Versus One Hundred had 3.55m. University Challenge took 2.5m, Link 2.35m, Mock the Week 2.25m, Deal or No Deal 2m, Eggheads 1.95m, Mastermind 1.75m, and BB On The Couch 1.65m.

On the digital channels, Xtra Factor led with 865,000 viewers. BB Big Mouth (515,000) and Little Brother (475,000) beat Sunday's X Factor repeat (460,000). Come Dine With Me (240,000) beat Raven: The Secret Temple (205,000) and QI on G2 (200,000), but all beat Deal or No Deal (170,000), now less than 100 shows from the end of its contract. G2's repeats of HIGNFY (140,000) and Buzzcocks (115,000) both inched ahead of Challenge's top Millionaire (105,000).

Next week: the third host in as many years for Brain of Britain (Monday, 1.30 Radio 4) as Peter Snow assumes the mantle of Robert Robinson. Tim and Jeremy Vine combine on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (ITV, 8pm Tuesday and 8.35 Saturday, except UTV)

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