Weaver's Week 2015-01-25

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Three "superfans" demonstrate their specialist knowledge; the best will win the prize of their dreams.

The Fanatics


The Fanatics

Victory Television for The Satellite Channel, from 7 January

For the past fifty years, Mastermind has been the UK's best-known specialist subject quiz. It's a simple programme: ask questions on the nominated subject, and on general knowledge. The best over a series will win a glass bowl valued by the Antiques Roadshow experts at about £500.

The Fanatics First impression: bright and breezy.

The Fanatics is not Mastermind. We can tell this from the very beginning. Rather than the dark studio in Salford, The Fanatics is in a bright studio. It doesn't give over half the programme to non-specialist questions, everything on The Fanatics has some link to the chosen topics. And the host is different: Baz Ashwarmy is best known for hosting Irish hotel contest Failté Towers.

Each programme begins with the contenders descending a stairway through the audience – an idea since used on Celebrity Mastermind. There's one other similarity to BBC productions: KYTV has stopped disfiguring its programmes with promotional guff. Other than a logo after each break, the show doesn't have any on-screen graffiti.

Straight away, we're into round one, Mash Up. Here, four varieties of potato have been cooked and put into a pile: the contestants are to taste the concoction and Name That Spud. We jest, but there's a germ of truth. In the actual show, four faces (or other pictures) have been chopped up and reassembled into approximately one face. The contenders get five seconds to see the picture, and Name Those Folk.

The Fanatics We can see the question, the player cannot.

Five seconds. That's all. We viewers can look at the picture while the player gives the answer, because there's a video screen built into a pillar down the side of the set. This is a genius idea, it helps us to see what they're thinking about without giving the player any advantage. Where this round falls down is the (or other pictures) bit: faces are easy to recognise, buildings are much more tricky to spot from portions. With a point for each correct answer, any imbalance here is going to remain through the programme.

Ba-bing! The audio round comes next. Before the clip, the player is told what they're going to hear, and two facts they need to recall about it. For instance, "You're going to hear a piece of Terry Wogan's commentary. I need the act he's describing, and the year." The clips are short, but have enough information to give away the answer – when Wogan talks about Finns and heavy make-up, he's probably talking about Lordi from 2006.

The Fanatics Where did you get that hat?

During this round, each player stars in a pre-recorded clip, explaining more of their passion. These are interesting pieces, but they're too much like the chats each player has with Baz before the rounds. Worse, the chats don't build from the filmed pieces. The first commercial break falls midway through the audio round, and the next break comes after "Feel It", the tactile round.

Blindfolded, the player is allowed to feel and handle an item related to their passion. It could be the trunks worn by a boxer, it could be the luggage rack from the Metropolitan Line train. One point for identifying the object, another point for a supplementary question Baz fires before the round begins. The opening episode included three minutes as a Maven Of The London Underground names and counts every station on the modern Metropolitan line. Brave, or blatant filling. Maybe both.

Eurovision Song Contest "A bit of a visual extravaganza" – Moldova's 2011 entry

When we first heard about The Fanatics, we feared the worst. The show could sneer at its contestants. It could adopt a holier-than-thou tone, looking down on people who are obsessed with these esoteric subjects. When we heard it was a KYTV show, we almost expected that bigotry of low expectations. Instead, Baz has been impressed by, and slightly fearful of, the contestants he's working with. It's easy to be impressed by their knowledge; the fear comes from a sense that they might have wasted some of their life.

The subjects have been predictable – Dr Who and the London Underground on the opening programme, fishing and the Eurovision Song Contest, spaceflight and comic boooks, The Beatles and James Bond. All the subjects are low-to-middlebrow, there's been no high culture, no-one has taken Beethoven operas or the paintings of Raphael. Many of the subjects have been subtle cross-promotion for other KYTV channels. Boxing, fishing, football, all as seen on KYTV Sport. The motor racing contest Formule First, as seen on KYTV Zoom. Game of Thrones (catchphrase: "winter is coming") as seen on KYTV Weather.

The Fanatics Apparently, this is the Moscow stage.

Back to the game, and we're at part three, round four, Jigsaw. Here, a giant foot and a pterosaur give clues to letters, while Wilf Lunn tinkers in his inventory. Except, no, this isn't a revival of the early-80s show from the BBC Children's Department.

It's a photograph, over which 20 jigsaw pieces have been placed. Remove a piece, and identify the subject of the photo for three points. The player can elect to remove more pieces, for fewer points, but they're only allowed to guess the once. Baz gives a clue: "what Eurovision stage is this?" Identify a stage just from the pattern of lights? Or an underground station from the pattern of tiles? While seeing just 5% of the detail of the picture? It's possible.

The Fanatics Baz Ashwarmy, with some question cards.

Around this round, each player describes the prize they'd like to win. Travel to a tram museum in Vienna, or to Melodifestivalen in Sweden. A jacket like that worn by Sherlock Holmes, or boxing memorabilia. Only the winner of each show will claim the prize of their dreams, and that winner will be found after 60 seconds of rapid-fire questions on their specialist subject.

With the two losing players invited to leave the stage, the one remaining player steps onto the central spot to answer one final question. Get this right, and the player will add a further treat to the prize they named – tickets to a fight in Las Vegas, for instance. Get it wrong, and they still leave with the prize they won. We reckon the named prize is worth about £500, and the final question turns it into a £1500 prize.

The Fanatics Another triumph for the KYTV Promotions Department.

The Fanatics is adopted from a Thai format, and it's clear that they've designed it for internationalisation. Sight, sound, touch, this show can work well for people watching in a second language. You don't need to speak English to enjoy a man touching a giant cone. Many of the elements are familiar – Touch the Sportsman from They Think it's All Over, the specialist question from A Question of Genius.

Sadly, we found the show to be less than the sum of its parts. As seems to be the way, KYTV takes an adequate format and turns it into mediocre television. It's a stop-start programme, we only get to see the flashiest bits of the specialist subject. And when one or two of the contenders have subjects we care little about, the chatter makes it a slow hour.

The Fanatics feels like it's trying to be an ITV summer filler, something to fill an hour at teatime on hot Saturdays when most of the audience is out having a life. It's not a prime time midweek show for a mainstream entertainment channel.

Awards watch

Democracy Season continued, with results for the UKGameshows / Bother's Bar Poll of the Year 2014.

Best New Show was Two Tribes, by an absolute landslide. Quite right: of all the shows that came to air in 2014, Two Tribes is the most likely to renew for a few years. We were surprised that The Singer Takes it All proved more popular than The Jump.

Worst New Show went to Tumble, which is not a surprise. Reflex came a close second, the public is less forgiving of rotten voiceovers than this column.

ITV's new daytime shows evoked comment. Positive and negative votes for The 21st Question, universal rejection for Gift Wrapped, clear approval for Ejector Seat. We are alone in flying the flag for Who's Doing the Dishes?. People, you miss so much! As much as the voters would love to see a new series of Draw It!, not going to happen; nor is Revenge of the Egghead.

The live results show asked questions off its own bat. Was 2014 better or worse than 2013? We agree that it was worse: just one signficant commission reached screens between September and Christmas.

Best channel for game shows? We go with ITV: they have a deep catalogue of watchable shows. BBC1 invests heavily in its big light entertainment formats, it does them very well, but the catalogue is weak. Channel 4 daytime is structured around Deal or No Deal (which we can't stand), and its primetime shows are derivative.

Improvements for the new year? Our main bugbear is shows that are obviously padded out to the slot. The Fanatics would be trimmed to a punchy 30 minutes on the BBC. For a commercial hour (43 minutes of show) they need to fill six or seven minutes with chat and fluff. We don't have a dogma to bring back 30 minute shows. We do insist that shows realise their best while they're on air, every every minute.

Over on ITV, the National Television Awards validated the most popular programmes. This Morning gets out the vote for most popular daytime show. Most popular entertainment presenter went to Ant and Dec for the umpteenth year. The Great British Bake Off won the most popular skills challenge programme, maybe because it's the most popular programme full stop. I'm a Celebrity took the most popular entertainment programme,

There was a Dermot and Davina reunion, and that always has us squeeing. David Walliams was the most popular judge, Celebrity Juice the most popular multichannel show, and the most popular talent show went to The X Factor. Really? Really.

This Week and Next

File:Square BBC 3.jpg

BBC management has declined an offer to buy BBC3. Hat Trick and Avalon offered £100 million for the Beeb's youth-and-entertainment channel. The corporation wouldn't sell to the Have I Got News for You and TV Burp companies. Instead, management have put forward plans to put the channel online. Democracy season continues: have your say at http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/news/press_releases/2015/bbc_three_proposals

We're interested to read about "Buzzr", a television channel in the US later this year. The channel is owned by Fremantle Media's North American arm. It will appear on the digital multiplexes owned by the Fox Corporation in fifteen major cities. No word on a British launch.

University Challenge continued with the first of four matches involving sides we've already met, and that eliminate no-one. Liverpool beat Bristol by 175-115.

Only Connect is into the meaningful bit of its group phase, pitting the Linguists against the Oxonians. That's the hairstyle from one of Scott Pilgrim's exes against someone who wants to be a Pokémon. We'd like both sides to win.

The media questions come up early: pictures of people with no name gives a bonus for the Oxonians, musical confessions to murder a bonus for the Linguists. Titans give the Linguists a point, and they get a bonus for "synechdoche", naming the whole after a small part – like "wheels" for "a car". One more for things addressed by Robert Burns, but the Oxonians grab a pair of words containing vowels in reverse. 4-3 to the Linguists.

Three for the Linguists on accession of kings called William, beginning with IV: 1830. Would they have taken "deaths of kings called George"? Pics for the Oxonians yield one spade, two hearts, three diamonds, and four clubs gives two points. Suits are descending in bridge, or just going back through the alphabet.

Anagrams of planets is worth three for the Linguists, the capital in "arMs" helped. F-buttons in Windows gives three back to the Oxonians, then trade union leaders gives a bonus to the Oxonians. Music of Frank Sinatra for the Oxonians, ending in a winter tune. That's a bonus for the Linguists, and some singing for the viewers. Not sure if that's a bonus.

Oxonians trail 11-9 into the wall. Being a bunch of students, they get Countdown regulars in no time at all. Then it's gardens, words containing female animals, and female characters played by men. Ten points! Linguists kick off with types of stew, then it's presenters of Newsround, words containing birds, and spin words. Looks like Victoria had to be advised that "children's news presenter" was enough. Ten points!

So, with neither wall detaining the sides, it's 21-19 into Missing Vowels. Fingers on buzzers for Things Heard on Only Connect, a 2-1 to the Oxonians. Flavours of Crisps ends in a 2-2 draw, then Former Names for African Countries is 2-1 to the Linguists. Shows starring David Jason is a 1-1 draw. After a fast and frantic round, the Linguists preserve their lead, 27-25.

File:Countdown susie clock square.jpg

And with the teams congratulating each other and saying how lovely they are, we'll move on. Susie Dent said "Chuffed that Countdown made it onto Only Connect last night. Now we just need to coax Victoria into Dictionary Corner." Yeah, she'd be fine if all the letters came from the consonant box.

Mastermind is nearing the end of its heats.

Ewan Paton told us about the US Masters since 1970, a golf tournament produces a masterful 13 (0). Set eleven to win, the contender reaches this target in calm seas, and sails on to 26 (0). Strikes us as a calm competitor, the final could be within his grasp.

Keith Hutchings took Chart Music of the 1960s, recovering from an early wobble to reach 12 (3). He advanced to 23 (6), a decent score, not one to bring him back. Rod Armitage researched the Life and Films of Louis Bunuel and made 8 (1). Second time around, he advanced to a respectable 19 (2). Sally Jones offered the Poetry of John Betjeman, and put together a stable 10 (0). As she's done on previous appearances, the contender makes very good guesses at many questions, but many are incorrect. Visibly running out of steam, she finished on 15 (5).

BARB ratings in the week to 11 January.

  1. BBC The Voice of Holland of UK has returned, and 9.05m spun their chairs that way.
  2. A hammock effect for the surrounding shows: the earlier Now You See It had 5.15m viewers, the following Win Your Wish List had an even 5m. Over on ITV, Harry Hill's Stars In Their Eyes opened with 3.15m.
  3. Celebrity Big Brother began with 3.45m viewers, live coverage on Friday pulled 2m, and Bit on the Side started with 1.1m.
  4. ITV's Take Me Out (3.05m) and Family Misfortunes (2.85m) only just beat University Challenge (2.7m). 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown scored with 2.45m.
  5. Low scores off the big five channels. Take Me Out The Gossip brought 565,000 to ITV2, Four In a Bed topped More4 with 475,000, and The Chase Celebrity Specials on ITV4 attracted 310,000. Of The Fanatics – no official sign. Overnight ratings of less than 100,000 don't make it look good.

Coming up this week: light connections on The Link (BBC1, 3pm weekdays), The Great British Sewing Bee gets down with last year's sewers (BBC2, 8pm Wed), and advance warning that The Jump returns next Sunday. Get your first aid kit now!

Photo credits: Victory Television / NDR

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