Weaver's Week 2013-07-28

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"Needs to be like Matt Baker."

Blue Peter You Decide Flying the flag over sunny* Blackpool.


Blue Peter You Decide

CBBC, 24 June to 22 July

A potted history of Blue Peter is beyond the scope of this column: we do have our limits. So spin your own from: trainset, Tony Hart, Bleep and Booster, sticky-backed plastic, climbing Nelson, George Cansdale, deathslide off Tower Bridge, Mary Rose, Percy Thrower, Jack and Jill have run away, runaway steam train, Tracy Island, bobbing for apples, "I'll do anything", tiffin, wing-walking, advent crown, making bangles out of lolly sticks.

Helen Skelton and Barney Harwood have been the regular hosts since summer 2011, back when Andy Akinwolere left. They've been joined by guest co-presenters, and CBBC regulars (most notably wildlife expert Naomi Wilkinson) have made films.

In March, we heard that the BBC was going to recruit a full-time new presenter for the flagship programme. Not by the usual methods (a cryptic advert in The Stage, or asking around in the BBC canteen), but by the modern talent-search method. Thousands of people sent in a show-reel; hundreds were auditioned, and eventually a final ten emerged.

Blue Peter You Decide One of these people is a television legend. Two of them are Dick and Dom

With the economy of style that has become Blue Peter's hallmark, all of this was included in the opening show, all of this was explained in terms that anyone could understand, and it was completed in ten minutes. Remember that when The X Factor takes ten weeks to complete its auditions. The top ten were introduced by a short film, one they'd made around their home or work, showing us something of their everyday life. We get to know Ross is a science demonstrator, Lindsey is a drama student, Freddie works on a farm, and so on.

These vignettes were placed during footage of an outdoors exercise in Snowdonia. Going around an obstacle course is nothing to write home about. Going around an obstacle course while blindfolded, that becomes a challenge in itself. It might have been a test of how well the presenters coped with unfamiliar and disconcerting experiences, but no. The official assessment was based on a 15-second piece to camera: each presenter described some of their experience, hoping to capture some of the fear and unfamiliarity, trying to explain how they relied on someone else to lead them.

Blue Peter You Decide The panel of television professionals...

We say "the official assessment" because we suspect that the judging panel may have had access to the rest of the footage, helping to inform and colour their decisions. We cannot explain at least one of the eliminations from the formal tests; it makes more sense after considering the background.

But we get slightly ahead of ourselves. The judging panel was Cel Spellman, a CBBC star, representing (and only slightly older than) the target viewer. There was Myleene Klass, music star and quiz semi-deity, representing the views of the parents. And there was the monumental Eamonn Holmes, always happy to step back and let his co-presenter take the limelight. Remember that time he let Sarah Cawood and Alan Dedicoat deal with the lottery protesters? What a gallant person! Such remarkable magnanimity!

Blue Peter You Decide Let's not leave Dick and Dom in the drink!

The judges got to see these brief pieces telling the story of an assault course. They also got to see a soundbite taken while the contestants were constructing rafts from planks of wood and floaty things, and a one-minute piece to camera describing that whole exercise, which ended with a dramatic rescue of Dick and/or Dom from the middle of the lake. By "rescue" we mean "left to wade ashore"; by "dramatic" we mean "left to wade ashore".

Blue Peter You Decide You did bring a change of boots?

About two-thirds of the way through the show, we see the judges giving their feedback to the contestants, trying to transmit the knowledge they've gained from years of hard work in television. "Wave your hands about less," says Eamonn to one contender, having difficulty with anyone who works at anything faster than a very pedestrian pace. "You need to run to time: 30 seconds is not a minute," advises Cel to another hopeful.

On the first show, four people were eliminated. It's clear that this number was to set up the programme as a weekly competition, and we're not convinced that it helped to find the best presenter. Three of the original contestants were clearly less good than the others; they could host a television programme, but not this one at this time. Cutting a fourth person required the judges to pull an excuse from thin air; in any event, we maintain that science-man Ross would have been more worthy of the final four than teacher Emma.

From here, the presenters went to sunny Blackpool, where we did get to see them talk to camera in a scary situation – while riding a frighteningly big rollercoaster. They also suffered Dick and Dom's elevator pitch, being told three key facts while riding to the top of the Blackpool Tower. The skill here is swift learning: Blue Peter has a very small budget, and there isn't time to wait while the host refreshes their memory. There was another elimination at the end of this episode; again, it seems that the judges could have flipped a coin between two people.

Blue Peter You Decide Hettie raided the CBBC dressing up box.

Whatever their method, it failed: Hettie and her pink hair went, Isaac remained, and promptly managed to do a Blue Peter make without actually making anything. He told us how to turn a piece of cloth into a pineapple outfit, he really needs to show us. That said, the main programme is not handling its makes well, there's too much discussion with children at the table, or having two makes going on at the same time, and it's just confusing and frustrating television. This episode was at the Eden Project in Cornwall, and also tested one-on-one interview skills, and how well the presenters worked with the audience, persuading them to join in with the dressing-up stunt.

The final elimination came after the remaining four learned to dance with pop group Stooshe, and collared someone on the streets of London to learn their greatest secret. No budget, sometimes the presenter has to do the researcher's job. A mock episode with Helen and Barney lay in wait for the top three, with a pre-recorded film at Chester Zoo testing their ability to work with animals.

Blue Peter Socks (right) and Cookie. Little bundles of trouble.

Blue Peter presenters have to work with animals. They won't have to work with Socks and Cookie, the show's cats, who retired a week ago. Readers will recall how there was a tremendous kerfuffle about these pets, in particular how Socks got his name from a poll on the Blue Peter website. Except Socks wasn't the most popular name, it was Cookie, and the result was reversed for reasons that might have made sense at the time but escape everyone's attention now. It was the nadir of 0898-gate, a series of competition scandals that came to light during 2007, and brought about a compliance culture for everyone in the BBC.

Blue Peter You Decide Waiting in Leeds for the announcement.

They couldn't name a cat in 2006, can they find a presenter in 2013? In truth, the decision wasn't difficult. Any of the final ten would have made decent presenters, and we sense a guiding hand from the editor to pick the final three from amongst the best candidates. They didn't want someone as manic as Barney or his immediate predecessor Joel Defries; they didn't want a giggly presenter like Zoe Salmon; the ten didn't obviously include a tough-as-nails presenter in the mould of Helen and Gethin Jones. In the event, the choice was between the relaxed Freddie (the new Matt Baker), the happy Ben (reminded us of Konnie Huq), and Lindsey (a successor to Liz Barker).

Freddie had the grown-ups' vote and had been solid throughout the heats. Lindsey had strengths and weaknesses, and we'd seen a certain spark right from the beginning. Ben was young, and the panel had confessed to taking a risk when they preferred him to the schoolteacher Emma in the final cut. When the announcement neared, we didn't know who would win, we just hoped they'll live up to the promise they'd shown.

Blue Peter You Decide Lindsey at the zoo.

The announcement was made by You Decide hosts Dick and Dom. They'd been bundles of nervous energy throughout the series, cajoling and encouraging and at times almost heckling from the sidelines. In the event, drama graduate Lindsey Russell was announced as the winner. Time will tell how much of a legend she'll be; she'll be joining the programme proper in September.

Only Connect

Series 7, semi-final 1: Festival Fans v Celts

Here's a Question Too Topical for Only Connect: what completes the sequence: The Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William, ? We thought it possible that the answer would change while we're on air tonight. In fact, it changed before the opening titles had completed. Certainly before we hit walls 328 and 329.

Back at the game, the Festival Fans love drawing monsters, and have one win, one loss, and one draw. The Celts include a national poetry competition winner; they have two wins.

Remembering that we're in the semi-finals, it's pictures for the Celts as they kick off. Pictures of perpetual motion machines, apparently: a rotating cylinder, an overbalanced wheel, and a never-draining glass of wine. Are we quite sure that never existed, or did the host disprove it? Two points there; three for the Festival Fans, who remember that the Franco-Prussian War was caused by a telegram. 3-2: higher scores than the host expected.

Music for the Celts: something sweet and dreamy, some Ella, something by the Beach Boys, and a woman singing. "Is it to do with cars?" No, it's not. It's 15, Sweet Advantage, Little Deuce Coupe, and everyone knows where the ten is. Let's put a stop to this love of non-scoring: the "Behaviour" album, pop group "Fun", the "Eat" sandwich chain, and "Bench" clothing label. These all have what's described here as a "superfluous" full stop, but nothing in art is ever superfluous. 3-3.

How to levitate a frog. How woodpeckers avoid headaches. Just two of the studies to have won in the Ig Nobel prize, and worth a point to the Celts. For the Festival Fans, it's US Green Cards, Vietnam conscription, £161,653,000, and the NBA draft. The Fans are stumped, but the word "Lottery" slips their lips, scoring a point. We're level, 4-4.

Hoping that none of these sequences have changed in the last two minutes, the Celts have graph paper missing an e, a high-C trill, and actors from some police drama. "Next" "That's the question!" The answer is not the letter A, nor Ill. It's Quadrille paper, and The Bill, so they wanted a Mill to make Million (etc). Oh. Name for Anne Boleyn's marriage, Napoleon's rule, and they think it's 1000 days, 100 days, and so something that lasts one day, like Christmas Day. Three points, the Fans lead 7-4.

Gloves down for the Celts: Melancholia and Cargoes and Where Are The War Poets? They buzz, someone says "Wasteland". We are working on works by Poets Laureate, ending with something by John Betjeman. Lovely and tricksy question, that. But no points. Card games for the Fans – 4: Inside straight, 3: pairing your overcard, 2: Open-ended straight flush. Poker, we reckon, and sneering from the host at 1: 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8. Try 1: Inside straight flush, being the number of ways to complete that hand. Bonus for the Celts, who very wisely turn down the host's offer of a quick game.

On their own question, it's mobile technology. GSM led to GPRS and to EDGE and now to 3G. Or UMTS to acronym fans, or two points to the Celts. For the Fans, I is Moneyback, II is The Red, III is The Great, and suddenly the penny drops. Nicknames for Grand Princes of Russia called Ivan. Two points, so the Fans lead still, 9-7.

Only Connect (2) Ed Dovey, Marianne Fairthorne, and Stewart McCartney prepare to battle the wall.

To the Walls, where the Fans are trying to find things flavoured with aniseed. But that doesn't come out. Things that are green? Things that are set on fire? That glass of Sambuca is distracting the team. They have some gambling places, too, and it sounds like there's a whole load of panic and frustration in the captain's voice. As time expires, they've failed to solve any groups. The groups are: locations for Grands Prix, which the team misses. They do get: nicknamed The Green something; things that can be set on fire – Chametz is something from the Passover ritual, and spoiled the team. Aniseed is the last link. Three points!

The Celts are quieter about their thinks, but have types of gin, and then go on to bring out a group of people wearing red coats. The gin is still just out of reach, but then they have actresses in "Mad Men". Cor, remember when that was on television, right here on BBC4? The fourth group appears to be things that were auctioned off, but it's not; they carry portraits of Queen Victoria. Seven points!

All change into Missing Vowels, the Celts now have a 14-12 lead. Provinces of South Africa the first group, and in two questions the sides are level. In two more, the Celts are two ahead once more. Schools of thought includes a nod to a former champions, epicurianism, and the round ends 3-0 to the Celts. Things people say when breaking up is a fun category, going to the Fans by 3-1. So the Fans have 16, the Celts 20, and it's end of the line for the Festival Fans.

Are these questions a one-time pad for MI9, or are they simply too difficult for irregular viewers to understand? More on this next week.

This Week And Next

Reading took on St John's Cambridge in this week's University Challenge. Reading got the first starter, and two bonuses on it. Ten seconds; it took them almost ten minutes to achieve that very minor feat last week. The first visual round was on places called San José; the teams may know the way there, but not where to find it on the map. Are we entirely sure that they've not used that Ohms and Möse anagram question before? The audio round is the Hidden Transmission Indicator of the Week: tunes used during the Critical Mass Mass Arrest, a year ago on Saturday.

The team don't know who wrote the Dambusters March: we'll get their Coates. Hey, it is Reading playing, we're entitled to a few bad puns. St John's are recovering from a 100-45 deficit, but have no luck: even when zigging with "Mercury", they find the answer is "Venus". Reading impress us by recognising three European Union functionaries, and getting two of their functions correct. We thought at least one of them was Dr. Otto von Schnizelbank. St John's continue to push, perhaps securing a place on the repèchage board if they're very lucky; Reading's winning score is 180-120. Nothing surprising that they're the best winners we've seen so far.

University Challenge St John's: Jarret Huang, Casey Swerner, Anna Stansbury, Robin Younghusband.
Not pictured - Reading: Michael Dunleavy, Christopher White, Peter Burgess, Luke Tudge.

We learn that there's to be a junior version of Just a Minute. Children – aged 10 to 13 – will be joined by seasoned players of the game, because it's difficult enough for grown-ups. The series will be controlled (!) by Nicholas Parsons, and broadcast as part of The 4 O'Clock Show on digital station 4xtra next year.

BARB ratings for the week to 14 July, The Apprentice had 8.25m seeing the semi-finals, a portrait of The Final Five had 3.4m viewers, and You're Fired took 2.9m over on BBC2. In It to Win It had 4.05m; ITV's best was Mr and Mrs (3.1m) in its new Sunday slot. There were 1.75m viewers for Big Brother on Channel 5. Channel 4's most popular game was The Million Pound Drop with 1.35m; Deal or No Deal is again missing from the top 30, attracting fewer than 640,000 viewers.

Which means Little Noely remains less popular than Only Connect (705,000); the latter tied with E4's fast-fading Skins. 635,000 on ITV2 for Hell's Kitchen, 540,000 on UK Dave for the more-sport-than-game-show Soap Box Race, and 470,000 for Swashbuckle on Cbeebies. It's more popular than Britain's Next Top Model on UKTV Living (430,000)

This week, it's the grand final of Counterpoint (Radio 4, 3pm Mon), the new series of Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1, 8pm Wed), and That Music Show (C4, 10pm Fri) is, er, a quiz show with added music. I Love My Country (BBC1, 7.30 Sat) is a new celebrity panel game and (sadly) not the Singing Corner revival. It's followed by Break the Safe (BBC1, 8.20 Sat), a game involving a thirty-second countdown.

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