Weaver's Week 2001-09-18

Weaver's Week Index

18th September 2001

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

Before getting to the column proper, allow me to extend my condolences and deepest sympathy to all those involved in this week's calamities in the US. Words are incapable of expressing the enormity of this week's horror.

This week's complete trivialities:

- Update: University Challenge

- Review: The Biggest Game in Town

- Preview: the coming week


This week, it's Nottingham versus Keele.

In the 98 contest, Nottingham were The Other Team when New Hall Cambridge scored a piffling 35, losing by 300. They inched past Kings London and Jesus Cambridge, only to lose another titanic battle to Birkbeck London in the semis.

Two years later, Nottingham had a comprehensive victory over Cranfield. They beat North London in the second round, but lost a close quarterfinal to Oriel Oxford.

Keele last appeared in 1996, beating Trinity Hall Cambridge, only to lose in the second round to the LSE.

An unusual outbreak of kindness from Paxo, who allows "Gulliver" as an answer, shorn of the given name "Lemuel." He's close to the knuckle in refusing "imaginary" as the numbers illustrated by an Argand diagram; "complex" is the correct answer. (A maths grad writes: A complex number has both a real and an imaginary part. An imaginary number would be somewhere on the vertical axis of the diagram. Not quite precise enough for the points.)

Both decisions are on Keele questions, and the team has the best of the early exchanges, leading 80-20 after the first picture round. Identify the Womble. They all count. Paxo has a good giggle as Keele's Rob McElroy tries - and fails - to remember an answer. Ian Shepperson has a great night on the buzzer; his only blot a momentary lapse during a biography of Cleopatra.

But this is his only failure, as Shepperson goes on to score 100 points before the second picture round. Keele is a mile ahead, and though Nottingham closes the gap slightly in the closing minutes, 215-125 is the final score. Shepperson's contribution: 128, the highest of the series so far.

Keele made 18/39 bonuses, Nottingham 9/30. Andy Foinette of Nottingham has the lowest individual score of the series, four incorrect interruptions giving a grand non-total of 0.

Half way through the first round, these sides are already through to the knock-out phase: Somerville Oxford; Christ Church Oxford; Wadham Oxford; Keele; Christ's Cambridge; Bristol; Salford

The highest-scoring losers so far: 185 Hull 150 Edinburgh 140 LSE 130 Leicester

THE BIGGEST GAME IN TOWN (ITV; weekdays 1:35; Friday 5:30)

ITV's new daytime quiz show is clearly live. This alone differentiates it from all other quiz shows, and adds the frisson of excitement that something will go wrong.

The title sequence is spectacular, a globe with a criss-cross pattern and numbers on it slowly revolving. Add in some atmospheric music and the effect reminds me of the Atlaspheres from GLADIATORS, for some unknown reason. The set's colours are baby blue and bright pink, ones that don't work well together; they cause distortion on badly set-up sets, and that's most of them.

Steve Le Fevre - a polite Irishman - is the host. There's canned audience applause, which the people in the studio clearly can't hear as they talk all over the top. The game is split into two distinct parts. There's the studio quiz, in which three people play a game that is a dead ringer for Bob's Full House - mark the corners on questions about the (tabloid) news, complete the middle line on questions about ITV programmes and new films, then complete the card on general knowledge. Winner goes for nine correct answers in 45 seconds to scoop the £5550 jackpot.

There's also a game for people at home - they call up for a free gamecard, and call a premium rate number to register it for that day's game. Each correct answer from the studio generates a number, 1-49, to be crossed off the game card. Eliminate all fifteen numbers first and win a share of £5000. A computer knows which cards have been registered, and gives a running score of how the players are performing. The game always seems to be won on the 24th or 25th number, statistically consistent with the numbers being generated at random. This contest is promoted on-screen with bizarre overhead shots of people stretching one arm up and twirling their index finger round.

There's plenty of scope for things to go wrong, over and above the fact the show is live. Wednesday's show was a classic example - the studio element was won in double-quick time, before the home game had a winner - the producers had to generate extra numbers to give a winner. In the endgame, an incorrect answer was accepted, but the host later failed to hear a correct answer. Luck evens itself out.

The whole show feels like it's about to descend into farce at any point: a sample question "Basil, Sybil, Manuel: which Fawlty Towers character shares their name with a herb?" [1] sounds like it's going to be off Tim Vine's comedy quiz WHITTLE. Other questions take sharp and unfair twists: for instance, "Today is newsreader Carol Barnes' birthday, but which newsreader has a famous actor brother?" [2]

20,000 home players calling the premium-rate line would cover the prize given out to the home players; 49,000 cover the total prize fund for the day. There's also a premium-rate phone-in quiz along the lines of "Would you like to win a new car? A) Yes B) No."

On the upside, the quiz cracks along at a good pace, the sound effects are appropriate without being intrusive, and Le Fevre is a competent host. Richard Easter provides the voiceover for the show - he also writes "funny" material for Chris Tarrant on Millionaire, and worked for many years with Steve Wright on his radio shows.

The interactivity is a bit of a red herring: Le Fevre gives the name of the winner or winners at the start of the next day's show, when it would perhaps be neater to have the winner on the phone at the end of that day's show. This is a failing that the show shares with the UK lottery show, leading us to find a winner but not saying *who*.

Overall, this is a perfectly fine daytime quiz - nothing spectacular, but nothing much wrong.

A Granada production for ITV.

[1] Basil [2] John Suchet, brother of David.


All details are as provided to the listings magazines, and may be subject to short-notice amendment.

Saturday: UNDER PRESSURE airs 4:55 on C5, a sports-based show starring double Olympic champion Daley Thompson. A slightly early start - 6:50 - for DOG EAT DOG on BBC1, followed by WINNING LINES at 7:25. A celebrity edition of WEAKEST LINK airs on BBC Choice at 8, I have no details about which one. MILLIONAIRE on ITV at 8:15.

Sunday: MILLIONAIRE omnibus on ITV2 at 11:15 am. SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE sees our teams build a monster truck capable of climbing hillocks and crushing cars - C4 at 6. There's new BANZAI on E4 at 11:40.

Monday: The big hitters are out: Magdalen Oxford against Trinity Cambridge in UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE, BBC2 at 8. WEAKEST LINK USA airs nightly on BBC Choice at 11:30.

Tuesday: Chris Tarrant tries to give away lots of money, ITV at 8.

Wednesday: There's a 45-minute slot for WEAKEST LINK at 8; this *may* be used for the TV Medics show that was dropped last week to allow extended news bulletins. WINNING LINES follows directly.

Friday: End of an era, as the last 30-minute COUNTDOWN goes to air, C4 at 4:30. There's no WEAKEST LINK, it's pre-empted for live tennis from Ecuador.

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