Weaver's Week 2001-09-04

Weaver's Week Index

4th September 2001

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.

This week...

- Countdown present and future

- All change as the autumn schedules launch

- Mental: a review.


There were amazing scenes in the COUNTDOWN studio this week. Long-term champion Craig Richardson is knocked out on his seventh appearance by Neil Wheeler, 47-46. This game was remarkable as it contained three nine-letter words, and a potential maximum of 104 points. The contestants got just one nine-letter word, and aggregated 0 on the numbers game.

The next day, along comes Jim Hankin, who blows Neil's challenge out of the water, 69-5. It could have been a 76-0 whitewash, had Jim declared GILLIES rather than ILLICIT, which used one I too many. Jim also missed a maximum on the first numbers game.

As mentioned a few weeks ago, Countdown moves to a 45-minute slot at the end of this month. I'm wondering how huge scores we can expect.

At the moment, we have six letters games, played for a maximum of 18 points; two numbers games for 10 points each; and the conundrum, also for 10 points. Under the extended version, there will be 11 letters games, three numbers, and one conundrum. The theoretical maximum increases from 138 to 238.

Realistically, I reckon the maximum under the current format is somewhere just above the 104 we saw on Wednesday. That day had two seven and one six-letter word games, so I'll call 107 the max. The record is 83, 77.5% of the maximum.

Following a similar distribution, the longer game might see four 9-letter rounds, three 8s, three 7s, and a 6. I suspect one of the three numbers games may not be resolvable, so call the maximum 160. That suggests the all-time record will tend towards 124 points.

Such exceptional performances will, by their nature, not happen every day. A regular daily maximum under the current scoring system could be: two 8-letter words, three 7s, a 6, a 10 and a 7 from the numbers, and the conundrum. Total of 70 points.

In the longer game, this might become four 8s, four 7s, two 6s and a 5. Two 10s and a 7 on the numbers game, plus the conundrum, gives a total of 114.

Applying the 77.5% rule gives an average winning score of 54 at the moment, which is close to the observed median. It gives 88 for the longer game, which I suspect may be a little too high.

Time will tell, no doubt.


The autumn schedules begin to kick in this week, so lots of old favourites return, and some new gems.

On the daytime schedules, look for Wipeout at 12 on BBC1, Dale's Supermarket Sweep at 2 on ITV, and the resumption of Number One at 4 on C4. ITV's The People Versus swaps slots with Crossroads, and is now on at 505. Countdown and The Weakest Link retain their regular slots.

University Challenge resumes after the bank holiday, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? returns for the first time since April. WWTBAM is on just once this week, 8pm Tuesday (1055 ITV2) Lines are open till Thursday for the first five shows. Also note Masters of Combat, BBC2 645 Friday. Martial arts experts challenge each other over a series of games.

Wholesale restructuring of the Challenge TV schedule comes into effect on Monday, far too complex to detail here. Radio listeners and those overseas may like to hear Pete McCarthy's challenging X Marks The Spot at 130 Wednesday lunchtime on Radio 4. Real audio from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/


We weren't as thick as the University Challenge team when I was at Birmingham. We played a quizzing drinking game. Someone would challenge someone else to ask them a question about a subject. Winner would take a swig of ale. The game would end after an hour or so, either because we were all too merry to continue, or because we were fighting about whether the dinar or the shekel is the currency of Saudi Arabia. [1]

Why regale you with tales of my student past? Because it's now a game show format.

Iain Lee, a man who looks like a perpetual student, hosts. He once presented C4's THE ELEVEN O'CLOCK SHOW (think Comedy Central's THE DAILY SHOW, only less funny). Six contestants, all in their 20s (UK Play's target audience), and a small stereo as a grand prize. Primary-coloured set (from orange to purple as the show progresses) and subtle music.

In round 1, contestant A picks a subject (all performers of popular music) off the board, and challenges contestant B to ask them question about that subject. B asks a question. If A knows, he can answer for 10, or challenge B to answer. If B knows, she scores 15; if not, A scores 15. Each contestant is both A and B twice. (Anyone who can follow this can award themselves a large swig of ale.)

After round 1, we lose the two lowest-scoring contestants. And take a break. Round 2 is the same as round 1, except contestants can choose their B as often as they like. Lose the lowest two scores after this round, leaving just two. Round 3 has randomly-chosen categories, seven seconds to think of a question, and each player can play their Music Brain Card once. This doubles the points. Don't mention the IT'S A KNOCKOUT joker.

I could be nasty and say this show is so cheap they can't afford to hire someone to write questions. However, they can afford a C-list presenter, and not one but two "rock experts." Neither is Phil Swern, who wrote questions on Tony Slattery's THE MUSIC GAME in the early 90s.

As always in this kind of game, we get some low-quality questions that are clearly wrong; and some that are accurate but too devious for this show. For instance, one contestant asks a question about aging Irish rockers Nirvana, not the Seattle group of the same name. In my uni days, this is not sporting, but legit. On tragically hip UK Play, this is Not Allowed.

There are funny moments - the description of a cheap prize as something life changing is well handled by Lee, and the "panel of experts" are routinely abused.

The show has a decent premise, but the subject matter is so amazingly esoteric that it can't hold much appeal to the casual viewer. It *is* a fun format to play, though. It might well work with a panel of witty comedians giving plausible but wrong answers (shades of Celebrity Squares, perhaps.) Or it might work with a panel of intellectuals and great quiz show contestants. Either way, this is a format made for the intimacy of radio, and doesn't really transfer to the bright lights of television.

[1] Neither - it's the ryal.

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