Weaver's Week 2015-02-01

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Stars in Their Eyes

A confession: this column saw about three episodes in the original run of Stars in Their Eyes. The programme ran from 1990 to 2006, and tends to be associated with Matthew Kelly. It was first hosted by Leslie Crowther, and ended under the stewardship of Cat Deeley. Three fine hosts from three very different eras, and we remember approximately none of it.

There's one advantage to our past failing: we can treat Harry Hill's current revival as something new, and judge it on its own merits. And that's what we're going to do.


Harry Hill's Stars in Their Eyes

Initial (an Endemol company) for ITV, from 10 January

The basic premise of Stars in Their Eyes is simple. It can be summed up in one phrase: "Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Rick Astley." Or Meat Loaf, or Gabrielle, or Cilla Black.

Stars in Their Eyes Tonight, Harry, I'm going to be...

Ordinary people are given five minutes of fame, a chance to dress up as their favourite performer, and to sing like their performer on network television. The audience votes for their favourite, and that person comes back for the final at the end of the series, where the winner takes home a trophy.

All the bits from the original programme were there. The contestant still gives a potted biography of their chosen singer. They still step through a portal guarded by silver doors, into a smoke-filled chamber. Then the picture loses focus for a moment, before ordinary Joe comes back looking and sounding like someone extraordinary.

Enter, stage left, Harry Hill.

Stars in Their Eyes Harry's being the one in the middle.

A familiar face to Saturday teatimes, Hill spent more than a decade hosting TV Burp. He made a star out of Heather from Eastenders, he made a star out of Brian Belo. He got Freaky Eaters and Hole in the Wall recommissioned, invented the Bush Push, Wagbo, and compressed episodes of The Apprentice to a more palatable length (twelve seconds, including titles). Heck, the man turned a small knitted character who appeared in two scenes of Eastenders into a cult figure.

More to the point, Hill spent a decade mocking the talent show in general, and ITV talent shows in particular. "At Home with the Pop Idol judges" ran in one early series, and he never missed an opportunity to mock the many faces of Louis Walsh. Some years later, The K Factor was an acerbic spoof of some other programme, with over-wrought emotional stories and emphasis on one character who couldn't fail to win the Not Live final. After leaving TV Burp, Hill wrote "I Can't Sing", a musical based on The X Factor.

So it's no surprise that Harry Hill's take on Stars in Their Eyes is different. The show embodies one fact: the way to an audience's heart is not through karaoke performances, however good. It's the other stuff around the singing. It's the argument between Louis and Simon. It's the tension of the Incredible Spinny Chairs. It's Claudia and Tess larking around in the ballroom.

Stars in Their Eyes The trophy's going to be literal.

On this programme, Hill takes the standard talent show and deconstructs it, piece by piece. We see the winner's trophy – a star in an eyeball – and hear it described as "made from a durable resin and painted silver". Tat dressed to look decent on screen, just like every other winner's trophy.

Appearing on the show "isn't going to change your life – but it's not going to ruin it either." Every other programme builds up its importance, pretending that the decision to back Gary over Barry is the most critical choice one could make in a lifetime – or at least since last week's choice between Barry and Larry. Stars in Their Eyes knows that it's disposable entertainment, forgotten by Sunday teatime.

So, we meet the contestant via a video package they recorded in their hometown. Normal practice for talent shows, where the contender will tell us about their past life, or the pub where they sing. Not normal: the contestant talks dolphin.

Stars in Their Eyes Or gets handed a babygro made of meat...

Then the contestant has a chat with the host, exploring some of the themes raised in their video piece. But some of these themes – many of these themes – have been bizarre. In effect, the contestant takes part in a sketch with Harry Hill, then does some singing at the end. Always a respectful sketch – there may be dogs to groom, Brian Belo in a ball pit, and cream buns landing on the host's bald head – but the contestant can step aside and let the pandemonium happen about them.

Stars in Their Eyes Tonight, Harry, I'm going to be... Jessie J!

Yes, the performer does get to perform, they do get to go through the doors into the smoke-filled room. They do emerge to sing their song. There are backing dancers, energetic choreography, and it's all done to make the contestant look as good as possible. It's a one-shot performance – these people don't want to live the life of an international pop star. They don't want to be the new Meat Loaf or Miley Cyrus, they want to be their heroes just for one night.

The audience cheers and applauds, and only when the praise dies down will Harry step on to the stage. He'll give them a novelty Stars in Their Eyes pencil, because every programme gives its guests a pencil. Or was it just Crackerjack?

Stars in Their Eyes The prize is going to be memorable, and useless...

After all five have performed, we get to the voting segment. A running skit about Adele's baby, a recurring feature about the government scientists counting the vote, and the obligatory warning not to try voting at home – "it's impossible, and you may still be charged." The winner emerges, and that performer leads the cast in a final singalong.

Harry Hill's Stars in Their Eyes carries the stamp of the host. It's wacky, it's zany, it's outraged po-faced viewers who expected yet another straight talent show. But if you want a straight talent show, go and watch The Voice on BBC1. You know exactly what you're getting. Viewing figures have been wobbly, no better than Splash! in this slot last year. (But a darned sight cheaper and so much more repeatable.)

Stars in Their Eyes The show's going to end this way...

This show is many things, but it's not another carbon copy of a historic show. Family Fortunes, Catchphrase, Fifteen-to-One, Birds of a Feather, Celebrity Squares. All have come back with little change from the original, none have recaptured their former glories. We applaud Stars in Their Eyes for daring to be different.

It's Debateable

Last week, Celebrity Big Brother held a mass debate. There were also ideas for political leaders to have their own mass debate. Saying that politics is equal to the Big Brother show is clichéd. So, in the first of a series that might run longer than it's funny, some other game formats they might use.

1) The Krypton Factor

In this two-hour special, contenders are put through their paces by Gordon Burns, Penny Smith, and Ben Shephard. With seven participants, the producers have decided on a format with seven rounds.

1) Mental Agility. Gordon will read out a short, factual sentence, such as "The Greek prime minister has promised to end 'austerity and destruction'." Candidates are to logically progress from this statement to their own established policy without hesitation or deviation. We suspect that Mr. Cameron will have an advantage, as they teach this at Eton.

2) Response. Contenders take to the flight simulator at RAF Neville, where they will follow a Eurofighter as it conducts aerobatics over the English Channel. Points will be deducted for failure to follow the lead plane, or for shooting it down.

The Krypton Factor

3) Observation. A short clip is played, after which Penny asks questions about the details of the clip. Attention to the periphery pays dividends here, good news for the Scottish and Welsh representatives.

4) Physical ability. To Holcome Moor, where contenders take on the Iconic Army Assault Course. The Lib Dems have sent Paddy Ashdown just so they can win this round.

5) Intelligence. Given a supply of lollipop sticks, yoghurt cartons, sticky-backed plastic, a milk bottle and half a brick, the contenders are to make something. Home territory for the Greens.

The Krypton Factor

6) General Knowledge. Ben talks with Jennie and Al Knowledge, booking agents for the Knowledge Nightclub of Knowsley. All the contenders performed there: will top marks go to the Ed Miller Band?

7) The Kryptic Rings. Placed in order of achievement so far, the contestants enter a giant metal construction of interlocking rings, searching for a way out.

The Krypton Factor

And, with the two hours up, all of the politicians are stuck in the Kryptic Rings. What a terrible shame. Goodnight!

Countdown Update

A recent selection contained Semolina and Toenails. Why did this remind us of school dinners? It also contains Ailments.

Andy Noden was the carry-over champion from last year. He reached eight wins (828 pts), in volatile style. First win was a 13-max game, last win was a 13-max game. In between, a remarkable match where Andy scored a maximum 89 points on the letters, and was pointless on the numbers rounds.

Josephine Sinclair followed with two wins, and Neil Stephenson looked in good form while winning three matches. He was beaten by Tracey Mills, who became an octochamp on Friday, and her total of 836 points puts her as top seed for now.

This Week and Next

Further reading: Kip Hakes goes behind the scenes at Deal or No Deal. Daniel Peake lists his five favourite Treasure Hunt clues.

The Oh You Again round on University Challenge continued, with an Oxford derby. St Peter's beat the independent Oxford Brookes by 240-80. Gabriel Trueblood got ten starters for St Peter's Oxford.

For Only Connect, the Bibliophiles (don't know One Direction) against the Gamesmasters (could pass for One Direction). Pictures! Missing punctuation! Exclamation marks! One to the Gamesmasters! The Bibs scored one with government securities, then neither side got music with titles associated with the Cinderella story. The Bibs scored one for people born by Caesarean section, and a bonus for the duration of BBFC cuts. Sets of things that had the same name gave one last point to the Bibliophiles, who led 4-1.

To sequences, where the answer is not John Smith, nor Jonathan Ross, but the sons of the Beatles, ending with Zak Starkey. The clue "4th then 6th: The Silver Chair" is obviously a trip to Narnia, the reading order isn't the same as the publication order, so "1st then 2nd: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe". Three good points to the Bibs. Two good points to the Gamesmasters, who spot four vowels.

The music sequence (yes, such things exist) is "Green green grass of home", "Goodbye yellow brick road", "Orange crush", so mercifully we won't hear "Lady in red". Phew. No, please don't ask them to sing it. Just give two points to the Bibs and move on. The Gamesmasters come within a smidge of pulling the Five Point Klaxon, on the main courts at grand slam tennis events. Three scored. Surnames of Pat from The Eastenders should end with Mrs Butcher. The Bibliophiles still have their lead, 9-6.

Even in the first moments, the Bibliophiles find groups. Spanish dances, arms of the US government, words doubled to form films, and sandwich fillings. Ten points! Gamesmasters go with D-day beaches, magic ____, tarot suits, and space probes. Ten points!

Which means the Bibliophiles defend a 19-16 lead in Missing Vowels. "Highs and lows" ends in a two-point swing to the Bibliophiles, but 'neologisms in "Jabberwocky"' goes 4-0 to the Gamesmasters. "Two football teams from the same city" goes their way 3-0. Seven points in next to no time.

22 points and the Gamesmasters come from behind to beat the Bibliophiles on 20.

"Could Show You Incredible Things" A little birdie tells us that Pointless might, possibly, be going on tour. Xander and Richard will perform their greatest hits set, playing such memorable works as

Pointless There's your red line!

There will be special celebrity cameos, and talented members of the public joining the dynamic duo on stage. The show will climax with a sing-a-long version of Pointless's greatest hit, "oooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!"

In related news, we hear that Taylor Swift (the Richard Osman of the pop world) has applied for trademarks based on her image, signature, and catchphrases. We're already prepared with "The 200 Club™".

Eurovision Song Contest is looming, and we can work out who's not entering by their tour dates. Swifty, for instance, takes her 2015 1989 tour to Rock In Rio in Las Vegas, so won't be available for Vienna. Lucy Spraggan is touring in the UK, with a homecoming gig in Sheffield on finals night, so she's not in Vienna. Kitty Brucknell might be there, but will have to convince the good people of Moldova that her song is the best. We note that Armstrong and Osman don't have a booking in May...

Mastermind continued, won by Tom Parker. He took Game of Thrones, a DVD series known for its weather forecast "Winter is coming, so do wrap up." The contender knew that, and almost everything else: 13 (1) was his specialist score. Set eight to win, the contender doubled his score to 26 (2).

Julie Lloyd studied Bournville Village, a model estate in central-southern Birmingham best known for its chocolate. The contender knew almost everything she was asked, and closed on 11 (2). Even in the first round, we got the impression that Julie was pleased to be here and impress us, which she did: the score of 20 (8) gave her the lead for a few minutes.

David Kisilevsky answered on Neil Young, a singer from Canada known for his song "Only love can break your heart". The contender wasn't asked that, but knew almost everything he did get, making 11 (1). Slow and steady in the second round, considering each question before passing, and 18 (4) the final score. Bob Monger had the Life and Career of Sir Edward Marshall Hall, a lawyer active in the early twentieth century. The contender knew many things, reaching 9 (1). Even before returning to the chair, he heard Thumper's curse, "there's plenty of time"; the final was 15 (4).

The final Mastermind heat this week, and we think a losing score of 25 with no more than two passes will qualify a player. That's unless three players do so well.

BARB ratings for the week to 18 January.

  1. Call the Midwife returned to 10.15m viewers. The Voice stabilised on 9.45m.
  2. Win Your Wish List held up with 4.95m, and University Challenge (3.25m) is the UK's third most popular game show. Celebrity Big Brother had 3.2m on Channel 5, and about 60,000 on MTV.
  3. Top on the third button was Take Me Out (3m), with The Chase (2.9m) beating Get Your Act Together (2.5m, and we plan to review that next week).
  4. Only Connect reached 2.65m viewers with its monster tie-break. 2.15m for Mastermind and for 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
  5. Four in a Bed on More4 (505,000) was the top non-PSB game show, ahead of Take Me Out The Gossip (ITV2) and Come Dine on More4 (both 470,000).

Shipping Wars (C4, 4pm weekdays) causes a raft of schedule changes, most notably pushing Deal or No Deal opposite Tipping Point at 3. Channel 4 also gives us The Jump (today) and ITV2 pushes Reality Bites (Thu), a panel game with Matt Edmondson and not a movie with Winona and Ethan. We're unsure about 10,000 BC (C5, Mon and Tue) and Quiz Nights (The Satellite Channel, Fri); both seem to be much more documentary than game.

Photo credits: Initial (an Endemol company), Granada, ITV Studios

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