Weaver's Week 2010-01-17

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Late last year, Simon Cowell said that he wanted to make a television show to help people work out how the country should be governed. We rather hope that this idea dies a swift death, because some of us remember Vote for Me (2005) and still wish we didn't. Political discussion can turn up in the most unexpected places, such as the heart of ITV's Saturday night entertainment schedule.


Take Me Out

Talkback for ITV, Saturday evenings

In the beginning, Cilla created Blind Date. Young bachelors and young spinsters exchanged double entendres through a cardboard wall, some of them went on a holiday somewhere romantic, and one or two of the couples lasted longer than Next Week's Show. Over the years, Blind Date became a cultural touchstone, something that everyone was familiar with. This column can't have seen more than half-a-dozen episodes over the years, and none since the mid-90s, yet we know exactly how the show worked. It was cheap, it was remarkably successful, and it drifted off the television screens with nary a whimper in the early part of the aughts. (You know, the decade just ended.)

Inevitably, any new dating show is going to draw comparisons against Blind Date. This is unfortunate for two reasons: nostalgia means the old show is mythologised beyond its limited quality, and the new show is not allowed to stand on its own merits. We're attempting to avoid too many references to the Cilla Black show, but one or two will inevitably sneak in.

So, the show. It begins with the opening title sequence, in which the host is pictured, in silhouette, in the middle of some concentric circles. Are we meant to associate this show with the James Bond canon, where operatives like Dr. No and General Oddjob attempt to take out the titular spy? No, this programme isn't going to end up with anyone getting shot. We hope.

Take Me Out Secret agent double-oh oh.

Paddy McGuinness is the host. We must confess to a blind spot surrounding this particular gentleman, and have had to do some research. Comedian, appeared in "The Street", made his television debut on long-forgotten ITV dating show God's Gift (1996-8). Cor, remember that? No? That's why it's long-forgotten. The basic premise was that a bunch of men tried to demonstrate they had gifts from some supernatural being. The series was eventually cancelled after the United Deities persuaded Ego, the Cretan god of selfishness, to stop making these people think they were anything special.

But we digress. Back in the present, Mr. McGuinness introduces himself as "General Love-meister", and brings on his brigade of thirty women. We're told they're all single women, and all are clad in McGuinness's chosen uniform of dressless evening straps. They walk down stairs in the middle of the audience, to the strains of that recent pop single "Here come the girls". Do you see what they did there? They played "Here come the girls" as a phalanx of girls came down the stairs. Goodness alone knows what we might have thought was happening if we hadn't had such a subtle audio clue.

The thirty women stand behind podia, fifteen on each side of the central divide. At the rear of the set stands a tube reaching up into the skies, or at least going out of the top of the shot. Are the women on the verge of achieving transcendence and will leave the show by ascending through the roof to their own personal nirvana? Well, no. The column is a blatant metaphor, because it descends to bring someone else down to the level of the women. Out of the base of the lift shaft emerges a man, and as he walks out, a piece of popular music plays.

Take Me Out Descending in the lift: man from heaven.

Immediately, some of the women are reaching for their buzzers. Paddy McGuinness has told them to press their buzzer if they don't want to step out with this particular gentleman. What was the catchphrase he used? "No like-ee, no light-ee." Genius. Where did they get the scriptwriter for this line? It's on a par with such classics as "The game may be over but the show goes on!" and "Nine in a line, start the clock." Once the gentleman has settled on the central spot in the middle of the audience, the host discusses the reasons why some of the women have declined this person. The answer is usually along the lines of "There doesn't seem to be that much about him". Take Me Out isn't an intellectual exercise, and we don't think the players are discussing his ability to solve Only Connect clues.

The next phase involves the man talking about what he's looking for in a woman, about what he likes and dislikes, and sometimes includes clips from his friends or work colleagues. Again, some of the panel buzz out; again, Paddy McGuinness asks them what turned them off. The gentleman then displays a special talent he has, or skill he's learned. The first player proceeded to wrestle the host to the ground, and a later guest indulged in some solo salsa dancing. That's not a euphemism, by the way, but the effect is to suggest to the remaining panellists what might happen if she were to leave the studio with this man.

After this display, there may be many women left, there may be one alone, or there may be none left. If there's one remaining, then the date is established, and we move straight to the endgame. If no women are still interested, the gentleman will exit the studio without company, and with the warbles of Céline Dion playing over the PA. Again, the subtle use of musical cues invites the audience to think, "Ho ho, look at him, rejected by thirty single women, he's got to think twice, he's been misled, il parts sans toutes, etc, etc."

Should there be more than two women remaining, the gentleman will move along the line, pushing the buzzers of ladies he doesn't want to spend a night with. When only two remain, Take Me Out has its direct nod to Blind Date, as he asks a prepared question to both of them, and the women must think of a swift answer, one more impressive than the other contestant. Having heard the answer, and mentally weighed up the assets of the remaining contenders, he makes a choice.

Take Me Out This bloke only has half-a-dozen women to choose from.

The prize for the winning couple is to be freed from this eternal torment, after a brief interview during which those concentric circles from the opening titles are badly chroma-keyed behind them. Honestly, John Craven's Newsround was more convincing in its backdrops. Paddy McGuinness promises the couple a sample of the finest nightlife Manchester has to offer, and threatens that they'll be back on the show next week. But FAC51 is now a swanky block of flats, and the best spectacle in the city is the bloke from Greggles' Bakery wearing a mask and wielding his motorised croissant.

The brevity of each segment of this show can help it – if you don't like the current man, there'll be another one along in ten minutes. But this can also work against the programme – if we've only had a short time with the man, it's difficult to form any sort of attachment with him, and we won't much care if his date succeeds or fails. Nor is there time to really discuss the reasons why women turned down the man – was the rejection of the black man due to his skin colour? Such deep questions are left hanging.

Even so, we said this was an overtly political show. Here's how we reached that conclusion. The programme makes it clear that the women are there only for men's pleasure – women are only allowed to leave the panel if they're chosen by a man, from which it's a short step to women's submission in other aspects of life. There's an assumption that the only validation of a woman is her reproductive ability, signalled on the programme by her dress (or lack of it) and a contestant is rewarded for making herself available. A Freudian psychologist would note the huge lift shaft in the middle of the set and write "Game over" in his book – it says that all good things come out of a giant upwardly-pointing tube and (by further implication) that it's the only route to salvation.

But the politics goes deeper. Take Me Out encourages snap judgements, to determine compatibility based only on appearance. Whatever women do with their bodies – whether they flaunt it, hide it, neglect it, obsess over it – is a political act. The contemporary culture prizes a particular definition of beauty, and is prepared to judge women on their appearance and nothing else. It's true that Take Me Out isn't only judging women by these yardsticks, it's judging men by them as well. Men only exist for the approval of women, women only exist to be wooed by men. The show's bigotry and prejudice stretches to both sexes, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable.

By commissioning this programme, ITV has said that it's part of a sexist culture, it's going to stick to traditional stereotypes. ITV is content to live in a male-dominated society, and is happy to air the most patriarchal show we've seen since BBC4's 1955 Week.

Take Me Out This contestant escaped the studio, but was swallowed by a purple black hole.

Our gut reaction was that this show was rubbish, and we couldn't put our finger on why it was so bad. It took a few days of careful thinking to realise the underlying message it was sending, but no time at all to come up with the problem: it's bad television.

University Challenge

Preliminary quarter-final 2: St Andrews v Manchester

Manchester bookended the first two rounds, defeating the Royal Vet. College in early July, and King's London just before Christmas. St Andrews accounted for Somerville Oxford and Newnham Cambridge on 9 November. There's little to choose between the two sides in points terms, though we note that Manchester's not been stretched at all.

St Andrews get off to the best possible start, getting the word of the week, "Minute". Manchester get the next starter, and a set of bonuses on writers in the Spanish Civil War. One starter asks after some of the contenders in the Four Minute Mile race – Roger Bannister became a doctor, Christopher Chataway an MP, and Chris Brasher founded the London marathon. The question didn't mention the stadium announcer, known to a generation of children as Norris McWhirter. Another starter asks for a device to interrupt the flow of air. We could tell you the answer, but that would be a SPOILER! Oh.

The first visual round asks after words from the way they're spelled on a mobile telephone without predictive messaging. Apparently, 3-33-4-777-33-33 is the temperature outside: one degree. The score is 50-20 to Manchester, and Thumper reports "The producer is telling me to hurry you up, but I'm enjoying this too much." Greek mythology leads Manchester into a labyrinth of wrong answers, but they're getting a lot of starters, and that's freezing St Andrews out of the game.

How many Rochesters do we know? One in Kent, one in America, and there's always Jane Eyre's gentleman friend. It's yet another starter for Manchester, and it puts them in a 115-15 lead at the audio round – works of Borodin and other members of The Five. St Andrews pick up a starter, which almost becomes a team best, but they guess Tchaikovsky for two of the bonuses. As any Classic FM presenter won't be able to tell you, he wasn't one of The Five.

Nicknames of kings give Manchester a little trouble, as does a set of bonuses on the prefix ortho-. The second visual round is on the name of a country in the language of a neighbouring country, and is another one dropped by both sides. Manchester's lead of 160-25 grows when one of the St Andrews side misunderstands the question. We wrote "game over" in our notebook a long time ago, but we suddenly find ourselves checking the history books for Manchester's biggest win. Lincoln Oxford fell by 345-30 in the semi-final last year, and St Andrews briefly look in danger of failing to equal the Oxford side's score. They pick up a missignal from the opposite side, but no bonuses.

Another starter – on the traditional Japanese mat – lifts St Andrews on a more even keel. A question left standing: the largest country with a coastline on the Med is Algeria. Not that it matters: Manchester has won well, 195-50. Christopher Flaherty led for St Andrews with three starters; the side made 5/12 bonuses and three missignals. Jacob Whitfield's six starters were the best for Manchester, 16/36 bonuses and one missignal. The overall accuracy rate was 37/73.

Next match (PQF3): Imperial v Edinburgh
Then (PQF4): Emmanuel Cambridge v Jesus Oxford

Only Connect

Heat 2: Polymaths v Strategists

"What a coincidence, the same surname!" exclaims Victoria Coren, consigliere to the Greek letters, as she spots two of the Polymaths have the same surname. They're married, that's why, and one of them is the reigning champion of The People's Quiz Wildcard. The Strategists are fans of obscure European board games, such as Agricola, which is neither a game about Roman rulers nor about selling soft drinks to farmers.

The Polymaths begin round one with the music question, and only hear three clues in time. They go for rivers, which is the correct answer. Strategists kick off with the picture clue, which is Pegasus and toucan and other sorts of road crossings. (What's a Pegasus crossing? Our horsey friend tells us it's a specialist crossing for mounted riders. Doesn't that make it a centaur crossing? We digress.) Question three is a list of religious leaders and places, not the places where the religions were founded, but where they died. Bonus point to the Strategists there.

Only Connect (2) Able to do anything: the Polymaths.

The Strategists get dates in 1955, 1964, 1982 – changes of government? Wars? No, it's launch dates for the last four national analogue terrestrial channels. You do realise more people are watching this than are watching Channel 5. Places on the moon is the Polymaths' next offer, they're seas, but that's enough for two points. Strategists get the Shakespeare connection for the next set, and two points. That's enough to give them a 5-4 lead.

What's next? What's fourth! Numbers and letters in a pattern that evade the Polymaths completely, but cross over to the Strategists for a bonus point. Capital cities in South America suddenly moves to Canberra (as third clues tend to do), and finishes in Wellington, as it's the most southerly ones in the world. Bonus to the Polymaths there. Very impressed that Polymaths get the next clue on three points, it's tennis scoring (apparently).

Strategists spot that their next list is of monarchs, but fail to spot that it's the longest-reigning queens, ending with Victoria of the UK. No points there. The Polymaths pick up the picture clue, and that it's four books in a well-known series, but they neither side knows that Breaking Dawn is the fourth. They needed a squeeing girl on the teams! The final question is on the "Only Fools and Horses" theme, the Strategists get it for three points, and take a 9-8 lead into the walls.

Only Connect (2) Neither fools nor horses: the Strategists.

What have the Strategists got on their wall? Lots of people who appeared in Dad's Army, and it looks like there are plenty of shades of blue. They divert to other clues, such as the England goalkeepers looming there. There are Royal___, there are Merchant___, there are Blues. The Royals turn out to be a red herring, we learn the Strategists know what they've been watching, and that Anne Robinson is an England goalie. Ten points!

Polymaths kick off by splitting out four shades of Green, and then get distracted by things on a fruit machine. There's a group of assassinated US politicians (though not including Kennedy, he belongs somewhere else). With two lives left, they think about Howards, and types of music. The final two groups evade the side – they turn out to be types of maid, and some famous violinists. These connections were also missed by the side. Four points!

Strategists take a 19-12 lead into the final round, and (with a little time to fill) the host discusses how she always confuses Nigel Kennedy with Gary Rhodes. Not seeing it ourselves... Anyway, eyes down, we begin with Manuscripts. These go 2-1 to the Strategists, as does Things Represented by MD. Ah! That's where we've seen Chris Cummins before. The Strategists only have a Countdown star on their team. Famous Mistresses has a harsh-but-fair ruling from the host, so 2-0 to the Strategists. Companies Founded in Germany also goes to them by 2-1. Supergroups, another Strategists win by 3-0 with one question unasked. The end of the round, the end of the contest, the Strategists have won by 31-15.

Next match: Choir Boys v Brasenose Postgrads


Heat 14

Stuart McLagan is taking the Eurovision Song Contest (1956 – present), an annual competition to encourage excellence in popular song across Europe. We've written a bit about this in the past. "Every year there's something amazing", such as this year's stage. Inevitably, Katie Boyle and Jahn Tiegen get into the questions, as does the 1994 winner, "Riverdance". Though not Dustin the Turkey's apology. It's not quite a perfect round, finishing on 15 (1).

Peter Cowan takes Caesar's Gallic Wars (58-50 BC), a series of campaigns by Julius Caesar in Gaul (now France). His military success – culminating in victory over Vercingetorix – are recorded in seven contemporary volumes, and form the background to the successful Asterix series. The round begins with a few of early errors, but the indomitable contender soon hits his stride, it turns into a laudable compendium of accuracy, and his Vitalstatistix are XIII correct, with no passes.

Matthew Platts will discuss the Life and Works of Ayn Rand (1905-82). Oh dear, we feel a rather ranty rant coming on. It's the Week's opinion, it's our opinion, we won't enter into correspondence about it, it's our opinion. Alisa Rosenbaum emigrated with her family to escape violence in St Petersburg, became a failed scriptwriter for RKO, and took out her post-traumatic stress under the guise of a capitalist cod-philosophy she called "Objectivism". She claimed that it's possible to derive ethical truth from objective fact, a principle that thinking philosophers treat as similar to the Perpetual Motion Machine, trisecting the angle, or a hit ITV game show. Nevertheless, her fetishised selfishness fell on fertile ground in North America, where they were seeking a philosophical underpinning for vulture capitalism, no matter how shonky. Ahem. Back on the show, the contender benefits from a slightly generous interpretation of one answer, and ends on 12 (2).

Aline Griffiths brings us back onto more familiar territory, Florence during the Renaissance 1400-1550. Firenze (as it's known locally) is a city on the banks of the Arno in Tuscany, and its architectural highlight is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The city also houses Michaelangelo's statue of David, Dante's Divine Comedy; names in this period included the Medici family, Giotto, Donatello and many more. There's discussion of the invention of perspective and the discovery of the golden ratio, but sadly more than a few errors. The final score's a perfectly respectable 10 (2).

So does that mean that we're running from right to left in the second round? Indeed it does, which means Aline Griffiths is back amongst us, remembering the newspaper that bought the MP's expenses CD, having the host stumble over the pronunciation of deuterium oxide, and being far too young to remember The Woodentops. The final score is 19 (3).

Matthew Platts is also far too young to remember The Woodentops, and answers the questions crisply and sharply, giving surnames only if that's possible. But no-one remembers Labour's chief whip at the moment, nor where Plovdiv is to be found. He does know about the British version of Des Chiffres et Des Lettres, so he's got to be a fine bloke, and ends on 22 (4).

The top six runners-up:

  • John Cooper 29 (3)
  • Ian Scott Massie 26 (2)
  • Les Morrell 26 (3)
  • Colin Wilson 25 (0)
  • Peter Cowan 25 (2)
  • William de Ath 25 (4)

Peter Cowan begins with the murderer in Psycho, and the centre of the world according to the Mappa Mundi is another right answer. Interesting to note that "Higgins" is accepted for a snooker player – readers of a certain age might associate the name with Alex, rather than John. His final score is 25 (2), which is at least going to be enough for a place on the repechage board.

Stuart McLagan gets a couple of sitters, Margaret Thatcher's birthday and the holy book of Islam. The celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday remains a national holiday in Canada, not that this fact will get mentioned on the television. The contender may not know Evelyn Waugh, but does know about The Bangles and Jamaican sprinters. The points rack up, but slowly, and the final score is 25 (1).

Close. Very close. Mr. McLagan has won, and won by just one pass. Mr. Cowan slots into the repechage board, we reckon in fifth place. With ten games to go, it seems that a score of 26 will give qualification, 25 and no passes may prove sufficient.

This Week And Next

There's been an unorthodox promotional campaign for ITV's new Friday night singing show, Popstar to Operastar. Myleene Klass, one of the programme's hosts, claims to have seen some trespassers in her garden, waved a knife out of the window at them, and the police were called. Miss Klass's publicity agent told the newspapers that the police criticised Miss Klass for wielding a knife; this claim was taken up by other people with a political axe to grind. The Hertfordshire Police eventually put out their statement, saying that the article in the press "does not reflect the events of that night in an accurate way." Miss Klass's publicists clearly believe all publicity is good publicity, even when it's bobbins. Further research by Marina Hyde of Het Grauniad.

A think tank published a report on the future of broadcasting. Amongst their proposals was to transfer We Need Answers to the Bravo channel. Have these people actually watched any television in the past ten years? We Need Answers is clever, intelligent, witty, and powered by brains. The Bravo channel is dumb, stupid, and makes Take Me Out look like a convention of nuns. Surely part of the job description of a think tank is that they actually think.

We were hoping to include BARB ratings figures for the week to 3 January. These numbers have yet to be published, and we don't believe overnight figures are as reliable as the formal numbers.

Which brings us to the coming week's new shows. Relic - Guardians of the Museum (BBC1, 4.35 Thursday) is the biggie, inviting contestants to spend a night in the British Museum. There's a new series of Mock the Week (BBC2, 9pm Thursday), and Masterchef Australia comes to our screens (Watch, 7pm weeknights). So You Think... is at 7pm and 8.50 next Saturday.

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