Weaver's Week 2015-03-01

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This week, we've mostly been watching old Winona Ryder movies. Again, this is a misunderstanding, but an enjoyable one.

Reality Bites


Reality Bites

Hungry Bear Media for ITV2, from 5 February

Last year, ITV2 got a purpose. It split into two channels: ITVBe took over most of the reality programmes, leading with The Only Way is Essex. The remaining ITV2 became an entertainment channel for young people, making hits like Release the Hounds.

Of course, there's quite a bit of crossover between these areas. ITVBe gets to show new episodes of Dinner Date, the reality dating-and-cooking programme, but they turn up on ITV2 a few months later. And fans of reality television aren't abandoned by ITV2, not when this panel show is on air.

Stephen Mulhern hosts, with Emma Willis and Joel Dommett as the team captains. Joel who? Toby the work experience kid from BBC Switch's Popatron, and Jonathan from Casualty in 2004. Glad to be of help.

Reality Bites A sample panel: Joe Lycett, Jimmy Bullard, Emma Willis, Luisa Zissman, Joel Dommett, Bruno Tonioli. Stephen Mulhern sits.

Stephen also introduces the guest stars. Bruno Tonioli, Dappy, Luisa Zissman, Rylan Clark, Katherine Ryan: many guests have a connection with the world of reality shows. Almost inevitably, that means Big Brother. In part, that's because Big Brother is the elephant of reality shows, it's had a lot of contestants over the years. More importantly, it's the single touchstone for the reality genre.

Over fifteen years, Big Brother has built up its own mythos, developed its own legends. Some of them are based in truth, like Kate Lawler being the girl next door. Others might have been true but proved less accurate, such as Brian Dowling being a good presenter. And some were complete confections, spun from pure nonsense. Big Brother repeats its history, it reinforces the images it wants people to remember. Reality Bites takes these fables and develops a panel show around them.

The show begins with a panel discussion, based on the week's reality television show developments. "Look at Phil Tufnell on The Jump!" went the conversation on the opening programme. "See how far he jumps! It's a tremendous distance – Over Nine Thousand millimetres! Almost half the length of a cricket pitch!"

The panel takes that bit for laughs. Yes, it's easy to pick ludicrous moments from The Jump, many of the final jumps are short and it's a bit embarrassing. But they choose to ignore the serious achievements: coming down the hill lying on a teatray, standing on a teatray, er, standing on two narrow teatrays.

Reality Bites This week's Fly on the Wall is Nikki Graeme.

Reality Bites takes a broad view of reality television: it's not just I'm a Celebrity but includes The Hills, not just The Apprentice but also Made in Chelsea. The panel discussion will run wide, and will tend to include themes of a sexual nature. It's an ITV2 show, it goes out well after the watershed, they're going to be as smutty as they can get away with.

The first scored round is "Fly on the Wall", in which a former reality star dresses as a human fly to press some buttons. So that's what Ultimate Big Brother runner-up Nikki Graeme is doing these days. This week, Nikki is watching Joe Swash try to hit Simon Cowell with some eggs. And then she's going to rant about a Celebrity Big Brother housemate.

Thence to "Reality Star in a Reasonably-Priced Bar", in which someone who used to be a bit famous (for instance, Alex Sibley from Big Brother 2002) goes into a regular bar. How many people will recognise this person? Was it three people, five people, or no-one at all? Even when they're giving clues about their one memorable moment?

Reality Bites Trying to identify Richard from The Great British Bake Off 2014 while blindfolded.

"Where the hell am I?" has people blindfolded and sent into a reconstruction of another famous reality telly moment. "The Real World" goes overseas with a mystery format. And "Big Fact Hunt" – always very carefully enunciated – is true-false statements about one reality television regular.

These rounds are derivative (of Mock the Week, Top Gear, They Think it's All Over, and Radio Active). All of them reinforce an uncritical view of reality television. Reality Bites relies on the genre's canon programmes and canon moments, the elements the producers choose to remember. Alex behind the door. Nikki's rant. Smut on Bake Off. Americans being gross.

The programme could test people's memory of the really obscure moments, those the producers tried to forget. The show could challenge received wisdom, but chooses to celebrate it. They could examine the similarities between unscripted entertainment and the panel show. And, in the final moments, they do draw a comparison, by dragging out the result with spurious tension.

Reality Bites Jake Quickenden and Dan Osbourne find that ITV2's costume budget has all been spent.

The points are pointless, the winner will be forgotten in the morning. The hallmarks of almost every reality competition, and of every panel game. The entertainment isn't in the winner, but the process. True of the reality show genre, and of this panel game. Utterly disposable, and – if one looks hard enough – a reflection of something about culture.

We've warmed to Reality Bites. The first episode fell into an awkward gap between quiz and naïve criticism in the style of Gogglebox. By this week, the topical element has been eliminated, and it's settled into a more comfortable groove. Make no mistake: Reality Bites could be a topical discussion show with added games, if the producers wanted it to be. They're right to choose one way or the other.

Countdown Update

February in the Countdown studio began with Shaun Gill; he did enough to win four games, but looked like he would fold against determined opposition. Nick Briggs was that opponent, easily beating Shaun, but it's his only win. Kevin Steede proved stronger than Nick, winning a high-quality match and going on to become an octochamp. Kevin had five century scores, a game where he scored a maximum in 12 of the 15 rounds. But he wobbled in a couple of games, and won't finish above third seed.

Andy Lambert took the vacant champions' chair, and faced six crucial conundrums in four games. Two of his three wins came on tie-breaks, after he'd won a crucial conundrum. Andy's fortune eventually ran out, he lost to Jordan Barker. We say "lost to" rather than "was beaten by", because the only difference was a word Andy offered and wasn't allowed. At the moment, Jordan has four wins.

Only Connect

Semi-final Y: Qi Elves vs Nørdophiles

Ba-bing! The show begins with the music question, flowers. Nominative determinism (people whose names describe their job) follows, and it's a point each. SFA gives two to the Elves, they might have had three if they'd not known about Gorky's Zygotic Munki. The point comes across as a bonus – things happening after 20 years, such as the Musketeers sequel "Twenty Years Later".

We were thinking "front companies used by Delboy and Rodney" for the next question. Close: it's actually Royal Warrant holders, two for the Elves. Pictures for the Nords, not Pulitzer winners, not National Gallery. All works by Robert Doisneau, apparently. The Elves have the first set, 6-1.

The first connection is elementary: O6, B5, Fe4, so it's something ending in 3. Oxygen, Boron, Iron, the only three-letter element is Tin. Sn3, two points. Things that happen on days of a week, and the Nords offer "Thanksgiving". Three points, and it's Thanksgiving in the Yankee style, not Canadian.

Arrows pointing to bodies of water evades both sides. Gulf of Mexico, East China Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and ending in the Mediterranean Sea. Outflows of the longest rivers, which the Nords get on about their fourth attempt. A LAMP-stack going backwards gives three to the Nords. Sure we've had something similar before.

The family tree of Genghis Khan ends with Kublai Khan, and two points to the Elves. More pictures for the Nords: a wild boar, an antelope, a griffin. Not house emblems in Harry Potter (back in BBC4 days, Only Connect had an editorial edict against HP) but labours of Hercules. Both sides knew it, neither remembered the order – the Nemean Lion was first.

10-7 to the Qi Elves, but the Nordophiles strike back with twelve taps. Four Irvine Welsh novels, four film genres, four Robbie Williams songs, and four types of wave. Ten points!

The Elves strike with characters from King Lear, UK airports, and Victorian poets. The fourth link has the team highlighting three items, and then spotting they begin with the names of British prime ministers. And, just to advance their chances, the Elves spend time checking their work. Or is it to reduce the Missing Vowels time? Ten points!

Three points still the gap, 20-17 to the Elves. NNNN-words ends in a 1-1 draw. Collectors and what they collect: it includes the £700,000 question "arctophiles and teddy bears" in a 2-2 draw. Sportspeople merged with music acts (Frank Bruno Mars) just gets the one, to the Nordophiles.

Which means the QI Elves have pulled off an upset, defeating the Nordiphiles by 23-21. Sad to see them go, and great that they played in an absolutely cracking match.

It's Debateable

Rather than have politicians at podiums, we cast them in game shows.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire

5) Who Wants to Win Even More Money

... "cash for questions" ... "John (known as Jack) Straw" ... "David Edwards used three lifelines here" ... "£64,000, but I don't want to be given that".


Semi-final 3

A certain progression in the first round scores this week, and we'll take the contenders in ascending order.

Stuart Jenkins had questions on John Clare, a poet of the early 19th century. One or two details evaded him in a round to 8 (1). Stuart won a tight contest on 31 October, answering on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and kicked off with a question he didn't know he knew, recognising a Jaffa cake from its description. Slowly and cheerfully, he makes it to 18 (4), which doesn't feel like a winning score.

Bill Carey answered on Aubrey Beardsley, an illustrator of the late Victorian era. We knew nothing about the subject before this round, and didn't learn much in the 90 seconds allowed. The contender made it to 9 (1). He'd won with questions on Brian Epstein back on 5 December. This time, he gets a question about John Selwyn Gummer: wonder if the producers would have accepted his Danish nickname. 19 (2).

Ewan Paton answered on the Scottish Football Team since 1945; it quickly emerged that this was a round on the men's football team. A couple of stumbles in the middle took him to 10 (0). The runaway winner on 23 January, taking the US Masters golf, Ewan had a strong general knowledge round. So it proves here, zooming through the questions to finish on 23 (0). An error on the last question might hurt him.

Andrew Teale had a deceptively large subject, King Henry VII. One error in the closing moments spoiled the round, 11 (0). The winner on 19 September, when he took James Wolfe, Andrew has been this far on Mastermind before. Half-way through his round here, we find he'll not progress further – four errors in five questions end his challenge, and he knows it. The round fizzles out to 17 (6).

Diane Hallagan was this week's runner-up – she'd lost on 12 September with the House of Cards series. An error on her first question with the Miss Marple novels boded ill, but this was the one error in an otherwise perfect round. 12 (0). Another regular in the Salford hotseat, Diane knows to keep calm, and keep talking: "blether blether Alice Keppel" will be adjudged the right answer. She spits out the author of "The Barber of Seville", and that helps to compile a remarkable round.

Diane's winning score is 27 (0). It would have beaten any of the other competitors in their individual heats, and the heats have a minute's more questions.

This Week and Next

BARB viewing figures in the week to 15 February.

  1. BBC The Voice of Holland of UK joins the exclusive Ten Million Club, as 10.1m saw the spinning chairs on Valentine's night. It's still behind Call the Midwife (10.75m).
  2. The Comic Relief Bake Off brought 7.75m on Wednesday, and Win Your Wish List pulled 4.95m.
  3. University Challenge 3.05m, The Great British Sewing Bee 3m, Take Me Out 2.95m. Something something Paddy McGuinness something something no likey.
  4. 2.2m for the final 8/10/Cats/Countdown of the series, and 2.05m saw Joey Essex win The Jump on Monday. And that was opposite University Challenge and The Eastenders.
  5. Over a million for Take Me Out on ITV2, and 580,000 for I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse on BBC3. The Dare Devil drew 180,000 to CBBC. Some of the UKGameshows contributors spent Sunday evening playing Quiz the Nation with Gordon Burns: the quiz includes a television broadcast on the open-access Showcase channel, and is rated at 8000 viewers.

Beneath the top 30, we hear that Shipping Wars is doing well – it's increased audiences at 11.30 by almost half.

Roll of honour update: Gok Wan and Michael Sheen have won their episodes of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off. Ray Quinn was the series champion of Get Your Act Together, at least for this year. Elspeth and Irene, two sisters from Liverpool, took The Million Pound Drop for £100,000. It's about a grand for each year of their combined life, the players were somewhat older than Channel 4's regular casting. And they're familiar from Pointless, where they won the show's jackpot just last month.

On 16 August, this happened on University Challenge.

Paxman: "What links Winston Smith's residence in 1984, May 8th 1945, and Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar?"
St Peter's Oxford: "The letter V"
Paxman: "Yeah, we were looking for the word but you're quite right V does link them all, V for victory, well done."

A viewer complained all the way to the BBC Governors that host Jeremy Paxman had shown bias towards the Oxford side. The Govs didn't believe this showed bias.

We noted this as one of three marginal decisions in one episode, all of which were to the advantage of St Peter's. We agree with the Governors on one point: there wasn't systematic bias in favour of Oxbridge sides, and there wasn't any bias from the host. Rather than conspiracy, we believe there's an accumulation of error. Innocent little slips soon add up, and let us believe that they producers are not capable of running a party in a bakery.

This week, 150-85 was Bristol's winning score over Oxford Brookes. It eliminates the Oxford side from the contest.

The X Factor

Kitty Brucknell is also out of competition, the BBC is biased against talent show competitors and dismissed her song. It was then turned down by the Swiss broadcasters. This week, Brucknell failed to win the ticket from Moldova to the Eurovision Song Contest. The good people of Ireland have voted for "Playing with numbers", a song about "the risks people take every day in love and in life, and the experiences of taking the road less travelled". It's written by Molly Sterling and Greg French; Molly performs it at the piano.

British viewers aren't allowed to choose their representative, a mark of how badly T***y W***n polluted the national debate. The BBC's entry will be unveiled on Superer Ceefax 601 next Saturday, at about 9.30.

Next Saturday also sees the UK's one and only televised song contest, Can i Gymru (S4C, 7.30). In two weeks, we will be comparing the choices of Barry from Bala and Guy from London. The charity tour of every sport ever invented continues, this week is Let's Play Darts for Comic Relief (BBC2, daily from Sun). A new run of Coach Trip (C4, weekdays), and the welcome return of Big Star's Little Star (ITV, Wed).

Photo credits: Hungry Bear Media / Victory Television / Thames and Syco

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