Weaver's Week 2012-05-06

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We were seriously thinking about running a review of The Voice of Holland UK this week, but we wish to think about it a little more. That should appear in two weeks, after the Mastermind final.

Instead, we're going to slightly break format and look at a foreign show. Total Blackout was unleashed on the world in autumn 2010, the result of a "creative alliance" between Fremantle Media and Fuji TV. The first editions were aired in Japan in 2010, and Scandinavia during 2011, since when versions have been produced in Belgium, Poland, and most recently into North America.


Total Blackout

TV Norge, early 2011

For this review, we've managed to obtain a copy of a show that a Norwegian station made last year. TV Norge is the leading commercial channel in Norway, and participates in a cultural exchange – they sent us 71 Degrees North, we let them have The Graham Norton Show. Fair trade.

Now, we have to point out that our Norwegian is approximately non-existent. We were going to have some lessons, but saw the rate card and concluded they were too expensive. Then we remembered that a television course in Swedish we saw some time ago featured a lesson in Norwegian, allowing us to translate the name of each round.

Runde 0: L. O.

The opening titles have been clips from the series, cutting between a low-rise office building with only a few windows lit, and people doing crazy things in the dark. Scrambling up rubber sheets, looking at snakes, patting teddy bears and then recoiling. Because that's the basic idea behind Total Blackout: everything takes place in the dark. The contestants literally cannot see their hand in front of their face.

The host with the ability to say 'Three, Two, One, Jump!' in Norwegian.

Our host for proceedings is Synnøve Skarbø; dressed in dark clothes, she's a friendly presenter, but isn't going to stand any nonsense. She will show us some slightly spoiler-iffic footage of what's going to come up, but only from the first half of the programme.

Synnøve is standing in a room with six white squares, each marked (inaccurately) with a radioactivity symbol. Behind each square is a contestant, introduced by name, age, profession, and location, and with a very brief video clip. The contestants are Tore, a pensioner of 69; Neda, a technical support person; Andreas, he's 22; Cathrine from Brandbu; Sascha, a man with a Very Loud Voice; and Else, a cook.

This week's lineup.

All of the contenders are kitted out in tight-fitting one-piece bodysuits: black, coming down to their knees, and with navy blue arms and collars. Synnøve goes down the line, having a quick word with each contender, before we go into round one.

Runde 1: R. U. ..? S., I. M. ...

Playing completely in the dark, and filmed through infra-red cameras, one of the contenders must put their hand into a perspex container, in which is something long and slippery. Their goal is to identify that the long and slippery and moving thing in the box is a snake. Preferably without removing it from the box, or panicking completely and turning round and bumping into their fellow contender.

Only when the first contender has identified their object can the second dip their hand into their box, finding that their mystery object is (in this case) a woollen hat. Contender 1 is then back on it, identifying lobsters.

Total Blackout goes for a Game Show Hat entry.

Just when we're getting the hang of the first team, we see teams two and three enter the room. We don't see them battling with the snake, just the members trying to identify, from touch and smell, some pasta. Contender one has cockroaches, before the climax of the round as player two tries to identify a human head, wearing a ponytail. As in, the head of a human from the production team, who is going to be prodded and poked.

From this round, we learn the Norwegian expression "Damn I'm good" translates as "Damn, I'm good", and the word "Dude" translates as "Dude". We also learn that this round drags on a bit, the pace is perhaps a smidgeon too slow for our liking.

The snake says, "It's a lobster! How can you not see it's a lobster?

Now, the scoring isn't apparent (it's probably explained in the Norwegian bits we don't understand), but we reckon that the players must correctly identify all six objects to clear the level. Incorrect guesses cost nothing but time. Only the pair with the longest total time is in danger of elimination.

What? Elimination? Yes, this programme will gradually come down from six players to one. And the elimination is done in the most simple manner possible. Back in the hall with Synnøve, contestants are told to jump on the white squares (the ones with the radioactivity symbols, remember?) Players who are safe will remain standing, but for the player who has performed least well in the challenge, the square falls away, for it is a trapdoor, letting them plummet down to the next floor of the building and out of tonight's game.

In this case, it's Sascha and Else who risk elimination, and it turns out to be Sascha who takes the plunge downwards. Clearly, he took too long identifying the fact it was a ponytail.

Sascha does his lemming impression.

Runde 2: F. U. N. E. X.?

This second challenge – played individually – has the competitors crawl through some square perspex tubes, carrying a Total Blackout Basket. Dangling from the roof of the tubes are some strips of thin plastic, and pieces of string.

Also in these tubes is the sound of some clucking. This is because the tubes contain some hens, and they'd like to know what these humans are clucking well doing. Some of the contenders get pecked, some of them shout a lot, and there's a lot of footage of competitors being scared by hens brushing past their elbow.

The tubes are arranged into a cross shape, and at the end of each arm is a cloche covering two eggs. The contenders want to get the eggs into their basket, and escape in the fastest possible time – and that's not only because the hens are getting clucking annoyed.

A third of the country is watching people put eggs into a basket. No pressure.

Just to confuse, the producers have put in a hard-baked potato. Is it an egg, or is it not an egg? We're shown footage of all the contenders collecting their eggs, many of them spilling their eggs out of their basket, some of them forcing chickens out of the way.

We thought the first round could have lost a moment or two. This round really drags on for far too long – we had our fill of chicken-based entertainment ten years ago. Eventually, the ad-break comes to our rescue, including the mild spoiler that two of these people will be making their way into the next round. Else won't, she managed to spill all the eggs out of her basket just before the end.

Runde 3: U. R. D. K. G.

The third round invites the contestants to assess the weight of four other people. And they'll have to do it in the dark. When he hears the nature of the challenge, Andreas says, "Oh, sheet", which we think is a reminder that he wants to do the washing when he gets home. Very economical language, Norwegian.

Anyway, back in the game, we get five minutes of the contestants lifting up other people (or trying to), of feeling the shape and size of their bodies, prodding and slapping and poking, and eventually giving their guesses. It's all done in a slightly immodest way, enough that we would expect complaints if this challenge went out here before the watershed.

Andreas performs ju-jitsu moves to work out weight.

Fairly quickly, the round comes to an end, and there's another elimination, this time based on the aggregate distance from the right answers. That'll be the right answers painted on the foreheads of the people being measured, in ink that shows in infra-red light.

Just to mix things up a bit, Synnøve asks the contenders to jump in pairs: Neda and Andreas are safe, and it turns out Katrine's trapdoor will not fall, eliminating Tore.

Runde 4: A.?

Each round begins with the contenders entering a room in darkness, then the door closes behind them with a satisfying slam. Sometimes, as in this case, a studio hand guides them to the start line.

For this challenge, the players must dance from the start line to the finish line, about five metres away. On part of their journey, limbo music plays, with some sort of buzzing from time to time. Truth to tell, we completely don't understand what happened here, only that Neda's not going through to the final. We couldn't tell you why.

Get from the Start to the Mål, somehow.

Runde 5: O. M. G.

We can tell you that the final round sees Andreas and Katrine going into the room together, just as they did in the very first round. This time, they play against each other.

They're going into a room filled with cobwebs, and equipped only with butterfly nets. Into these nets, they're to put the spiders found in the cobwebs. Some of the spiders are plastic. Most of the spiders are plastic. Some of them, though, they're real spiders. And when Andreas finds a real spider, the whole world is going to know about it.

A spider writes: How can I spin a web with this racket going on?

He shouts, he hollers, he sings to himself, he invokes "Jesus Christus", which we guess is Norwegian for Mr. Christ of Nazareth. While he's making more noise than a Finnish Eurovision entry, Katrine is busily collecting the spiders on her side of the room. After about five minutes of this, during which time Andreas pretty much loses it, and Katrine suffers a fit of the giggles, the round comes to an end.

We viewers know that she's won, but the victory still comes as a surprise to Katrine. So much of a surprise that we find that the Norwegian for "Oh my god" is, "Oh my god". It's a blessing we couldn't affjord those language lessons. Katrine could, she's now richer to the sum of 25,000 Norwegian krone (about £2500).

This week's winner is Katrine!

For all that a couple of the rounds dragged on, for all the language barrier, we somewhat enjoyed Total Blackout. The show is pitched at a level of, here are some people doing crazy things in the dark and scaring themselves silly. Sometimes they're letting their fears run away with them, but sometimes there really are icky things in the room, like snakes and spiders and blokes with ponytails. There's drama in the proper dramatic sense of the word: the viewer is privy to information held from the contestant, and hijinks are certain to ensue.

That said, we can see the programme would get stale quite quickly Рthere's only so many times we can see people try to identify various creepy-crawlies from touch alone before it gets pass̩. Total Blackout bears some repetition, but not much Рwe'd be surprised if it's still in production in 2016.

T. V. 4. D. U. K.

What chances of a UK version? This is complete speculation, we have no idea if the distributors are in negotiations with anyone. Our gut feeling is that this would be a reasonable fit for ITV: the programme is scary without ever being shocking, in any sense of the word. So long as the challenges aren't unduly squicky, Total Blackout could fit into the family viewing slot used by The Cube – not as a replacement, but something else similar.

We can see Channel 4 taking to the programme: it's got that cool factor, it's been successfully marketed at young people (and young men in particular), the sort of great value to advertisers, and the sort Channel 4 don't serve so well. And we can see it would stand up well – and benefit from – repeats on shuffle channel 4seven.

Of the other major players, UKTV or Channel 5 could do a version, shaving the costs by re-using games (and possibly the whole set) from other European editions. The Sci-Fi Channel, owned by NBC, could do the same, and take episodes from their North America cousin. Total Blackout isn't the one-note silliness of Total Wipeout or Hole in the Wall, and doesn't work at 5.30 Saturday evenings. BBC3 could do a good job, but distributors might think the format deserves a higher profile.

It wouldn't surprise us to come back to Total Blackout within the next twelve months.

This Week And Next

Broadcast Magazine tells us that Channel 4 is thinking about The Bank Job 2.0. If it goes ahead, it's a daytime show, with "a number of changes" to the programme. This is good news. The Bank Job has a compelling concept, and a perfectly reasonable format, but the presentation is ghastly. If given the chance, we'd pre-record the programme, trim it down to 30 minutes, get a new host, and not restrict entry to shiny twentysomethings. We might have four players per game, taking part in the opening pitched battle round, and three in the two-bundles-only round to determine the winner and prize.

Ratings in the week to 22 April have arrived, and The Voice still leads the way, 11.25m people saw the Saturday show live or on catchup. Britain's Got Talent had 9.8m viewers, The Chance with Alan Sugar 7.25m, and HIGNFY drops to 5.85m. An earlier timeslot for The Cube actually cost it viewers, dropping to 2.8m, and barely ahead of The Chance Fired on 2.7m. Amongst the digital shows, Celebrity Juice led with 2.48m, Britain's Got More Talent took 1.085m, and A League of Their Own Sky1 brought 935,000 to The Satellite Channel. School of Hard Sums debuted to a geektastic 525,000 viewers (that's 0.7 Only Connects); UK Living)'s high-profile The Love Machine continues to splutter along to 190,000.

The Mastermind final (BBC2, 7.30 Fri; 9.35 in Wales) will be the subject of next week's Week. Before then, Britain's Got Talent moves into its live semi-finals (ITV, Sun – Thu) and it's marked with a Who Wants to be a Millionaire special (ITV, 7.15 Sun). Celebrity Deal or No Deal moves to Monday (C4, 7.15) with Louis Walsh. It's a bank holiday, so look out for marathon runs of Scream If You Know the Answer! (Watch, Sat and Mon mornings); and the complete run of Fort Boyard Ultimate Challenge (CITV, Monday). It's talent shows all the way next Saturday, with the BBC Young Musician 2012 semi-final (BBC2, 6pm), and The Voice of Holland UK at a suspiciously early time (6.10), to minimise the overlap with Britain's Got Talent The Live Final (7.30).

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