Weaver's Week 2002-08-10

Weaver's Week Index

10th August 2002

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

In the week when we got confused by the BBC FOUR crossword, this also happened:

- The semi of an age

- Ball's Head

- A daytime words and letters quiz


Keele 69 -v- Open 85

It gets serious now. Open won a very high scoring match, perhaps the best of the opening round, beating Keble 76 by 285-220. The next week, Keele showed that age was no boundary to quality by defeating St Andrews 82 by 340-160. These games are slightly longer than the regular matches, filling a 35 minute slot rather than the usual 30. No commercials, this is the BBC.

Thumper asks a question "for all you oldies" reminding me that the teams are all of a similar age, now around 50. Apart from the ladies, who are certainly no more than 21.

At the first picture round, Keele has had the better of the starters, and a decent lead. Our host might well know a science question himself; like the teams, he's of the right age to have been taught the definition of sine. He doesn't particularly understand the associative, commutative and distributive laws applied to sums and products.

Open takes the lead shortly afterwards, with a tricky set of bonuses on war literature. Keele retakes the lead just before the first of two music rounds. Open comes up 1/4 on songs about midnight, thanks to the Funky Rev David Wintle. He promptly gets two questions about psalms.

Interruption of the week: Derived from the Old English for "loaf mass"... Aubrey Lawrence, Keele: "Lammas."

Just as Keele looks set to run away with it, Open pulls back with questions about sins in ballet. Keele gets 3/4 on the flags of former Soviet republics.

Interruption 2: The first place where coined money was used...

Lawrence: Lydia.

Thumper: Gosh, yes it was.

This speed of thought brings Keele the edge as the contest turns into a captain's battle between Lawrence and Open's Barbara Thompson. Though the Open tries hard, and Lawrence starts talking about giant phalluses, the gap is just too much to overcome.

OPN 40 55 50 15 40 [200]

KLE 70 15 75 35 60 [255]

Lawrence's winning contribution is worth 123 points, Thompson scores 77. Open managed 18/33 bonuses, Keele 28/39 with three missignals.


SWAPHEADS (Mo, We, Fr 1902)

Johnny Ball hosts. Twenty years ago, Johnny was the man for teaching science to children, through his hugely accessible and entertaining THINK OF A NUMBER series. These days, he's perhaps best known for being the father of Zoë, host of CLASS OF... and father-in-law of well known dance act Fatboy Slim.

A simple format hides complexities. Two experts in diverse fields are brought to a country house, and given a nine hour crash course in the other person's specialist subject. Then they answer questions on what they've learned. We're shown a brief overview of the subject, voiced over by an anonymous voice. There's footage of the contestants being taught and examined, and a general air of study.

The quiz has a slight twist: the expert competitor grades the opponent's questions into easy, medium, and hard. More difficulty translates to more points. Each competitor faces two questions in each category. Then there's the Name Ten: a metric dozen of guesses to a multiple part question, with a point for each correct answer. Winner gets a grand; both come away with knowledge, and a grand day out.

As well as being hugely entertaining, Swapheads can be a bit of learning through fun. Even though we don't see him in the flesh, the choice of host is inspired. Education through play was Johnny's big idea back then, and the germ could still be there but it doesn't come through on the programme. The exposition side of the show is limited to perhaps seven minutes across both subjects, and none of the questions require much more than a good general knowledge. This means that the subject can only be given the most superficial treatment, without any of the depth required to understand the topic. A longer slot - even the removal of the adverts - would help to add this depth and improve the programme.

Swapheads entertains, and it educates the participants. It's just slightly too rushed to educate the viewer, and this is very unfortunate.

BRAINTEASER (daily, 1330)

Alex Lovell hosts this live daily show. Don't make too much of the live element - it's only live so that the obligatory viewer's contest can be resolved on the show, at premium rates, natch.

The show splits naturally into four segments. The first two parts see two new contestants play two short rounds each. There's an anagram section - a word is split into pieces of two or three letters, and the contestants compete on the buzzer to unscramble them. For example, INSTANCES could be shown as ANC IN ES ST. This is not the Conundrum round.

Then the duo plays a crossword puzzle, much in the style of Tom O'Connor's CROSS WITS from the early 90s. They take turns to pick a clue to solve - some are general knowledge, others slightly cryptic clues. A correct answer keeps choice and first crack at the next clue, an incorrect answer means the choice of next clue will go to the other player, and they get a chance to steal the current clue. All correct answers are rated at 10 points, rather than longer words scoring more points. Highest aggregate score over the two rounds progresses.

Repeat this in part two, so that we have two semifinalists. They play a rather messy game, where they're given the length of a word, and its first and last letter, and have to fill in the blanks. For instance, S----T could be SPIRIT, SPRINT, or many other possibilities. The answer is typed on screen and checked against a dictionary - we're not told which one. On the opening show, the host constantly missed the cue for how long the word was, causing at least one wrong answer. Again, 10 points per correct answer - it's clearly more difficult to come up with longer words than shorter, but the scoring system doesn't reflect this.

Then the twosome plays a round of definitions, where they're given five clues that should collectively identify a person, place, thing, or concept. Often these definitions are exclusive, but not always. 10 points per correct answer - is anyone spotting a pattern here? Highest score progresses to the finale.

A pyramid of words makes up the finale; this also provides the setting for the phone in game. Start with three letters, and then add a letter in a specified position. For instance, TEN / S... / TENSE should lead to the answer SENT. The prize grows from £250 for this link to £3000 for turning a seven into an eight letter word. The contestant only has 45 seconds thinking time to make all the links, otherwise they go home with just £100. None of the defeated contestants go home with anything.

The studio set has a greeny-blue background, with a pinky-purple swirly logo placed behind host and players. The swirl is a predominant feature in the design, with curved podia for the contestants, and a curved stand for the host to stand by but never actually use. The show's soundtrack is rather annoying - a busy hum in the background, with slight bleeps every second, and loud buzzes and pings to denote correct answers. Thanks to the high levels of audio compression C5 uses, it's quite a relief when the round ends and the noise stops.

Overall, this show doesn't feel like a disaster, but neither will it revolutionise daytime telly. The games are - in the main - promising, though the scoring needs a fair bit of work to equalise some disadvantages. The endgame can be very tense, providing a suitable climax. The sound does need tidying up, and the whole show feels like it's a bit ragged around the edges. This may well improve over the coming months, and it's good enough to keep an eye on.

A huge change to the format might speed things up. Keep the same two people in the qualifying rounds, remove the call-in contests, and the resulting programme should fit into a 30 minute slot.


Anne Robinson has withdrawn from the ballot to become Rector of St Andrews' University in order to spend more time with her links. This removes the possibility that she will turn up to congratulate the winning team on a UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE final and get into an "I'm Nastier Than You" battle with Thumper. Australian feminist Germaine Greer is now the favourite to take the position.

In the US, NBC has ordered another 13 episodes of stunt show DOG EAT DOG. The show, loosely based on a BBC format, has achieved tolerable ratings in its timeslot.

BARGAIN HUNT launches into primetime soon, hoping to do for MILLIONAIRE what it did for THIS MORNING. The show sees David Dickinson lead two couples around an antiques fair seeking items priced below their auction value. The couple that gets the higher price is the winner. The show pops on Thursday nights at 8 from August 22.

The qualification rounds for NICKED! took place this week in a courtroom at Bow Street, London. The qualification was a formality, most of the hard work having been done off the camera in earlier weeks. We can confirm that Major Charles Ingram and Diana Ingram, both 39 and from Devizes, Wiltshire; and Tecwen Whittock, 52, of Cardiff, will appear in the full NICKED! show. The studio has been changed; recording will now commence at the Southwark complex on August 28.

A sudden upsurge in people searching ukgameshows.com from Australia for material on IQ tests. It's all to do with TEST AUSTRALIA, another Great British Game Show (even though it's a Dutch idea) has been exported, and our cousins down under this week experienced the national televised test of how well one does at nationally televised tests. As ever, all groups taking the test on the internet scored well over the notional average of 100. Full breakdown of the scores by age, state, gender, and preferred footy code at the gratuitously long URL

All the interesting BIG BROTHER news: Alex advertises a brand of bleach, and Jade is set to host a television entertainment. Could it be a revival of that festival of wrong answers and lack of knowledge, LOSE A MILLION? If all the housemates were going to get fifteen weeks of fame, they have (checks watch) ... exactly ... one month from ... now!

The very good THE ENEMY WITHIN returned to screens this week, albeit still in daytime. Gone from the show is the segment where home viewers can call in and guess the mole. The show benefits from this omission.


The BBC wheels out BIG BREAK (1825 Sa) followed by WEAKEST LINK Feisty Women (1855) and WINNING LINES (1945). Over on E4 there's new SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE AT 1905, also 1545 Su.

Another round of FLOG IT! on BBC2 at 1530 from Monday. We know the Summer of Sport has ended: new WEAKEST LINK DAYTIME on Monday. No COUNTDOWN that day, thanks to the Men In White.

LIAR 2130 BBC2 Mo tries to find a virgin; look for one or more of the claimants to burst into something approximating song. COMBAT CARS is as much a game show as ROBOT WARS - if that's your thing, C5 Tuesday and Thursday at 1900.

This week's SWAPHEADS: Monday - The SAS -v- Barbie; Wednesday - Shakespeare -v- Robbie Williams; Friday - Coronation Street -v- skateboarding.

LOST! moves towards class war on the coast of Venezuela: Monday 2130 on Discovery Home and Leisure.

Next week: motor vehicles tearing each other up and some blatant untruths. Yes, it's the Formula One season review.

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