Weaver's Week 2002-11-16

Weaver's Week Index

16th November 2002

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

Last weekend, Weaver spent some time in Belgium. Where they do a lot of shows very well indeed, with one in particular catching my eye. Which one? Keep reading.


First round, match 11: Birkbeck -v- Emmanuel Cambridge

Birkbeck's record is impressive: they've qualified for six of nine series since the revival. 2nd round in 95, missed 96, lost 360-40 to Manchester in 97, took a lot of stick for that, made the final in 98, losing to Magdalen Oxford, the quarters in 99, losing by 5 to eventual champs Open, missed 00, suffered a losing draw in the second round of 01, and missed last year. And, as Thumper points out at every opportunity, these people are workers by day, students by night.

By comparison, Emmanuel hasn't made it to the revival before now.

A score of 185 will guarantee at least a place in the repechage, even if it doesn't win the show. This means the second chance for top-scoring losers will take place on December 9 and 16, dove-tailing exactly into the new year hiatus. Hats off to the BBC schedulers, and don't mess it up now, gentlemen!

Perhaps it pays not to give up the day job, with Birkbeck leading by three sets of questions after the first picture round. Quick sets of bonuses on Scottish lochs and electrical circuits bring the Cambridge side back in touch. It's neck and neck into the third quarter, when this happens:

What did he say of the week?:

A speech by Tony Blair at St Saviour and St Olave's School in Bermondsey on 
7 March 2001 was used...
Tony Gilham, Birkbeck: [mutters something about education reform]
Thumper: Incorrect... to announce the date of what event?
David Owens, Emmanuel: The general election

The school is correct, the date is clearly not. It was actually 7 *May* that this speech took place. Given that Thumper moved into Election Campaign Mode for that night's NEWSNIGHT, I'm slightly surprised that he didn't spot this error himself. It's also worth noting that the subtitles, which precis the question, said only that the speech was "in 2001".

It is unfortunate to have one blatantly wrong question make the show. Last week, though, the mistake was of no consequence. This error - perhaps a slip of the tongue, perhaps a slip of the pen, but completely and utterly wrong - could easily alter the result of the game, or the losers board. Emmanuel goes on to score 10 from the resulting bonus set.

Birkbeck pulls away strongly in the final minutes, and ends up winning 230-185.

Gratuitously long starter of the week:

Which institution has its origins in the collections of John Tradescant, head gardener
to Charles I; after being housed in a museum in Lambeth, they were bequeathed to
an antiquarian, who donated them to Oxford University, where in 1683 they formed
the basis of the first museum open to the general public?
Sandy Douglas, Emmanuel: Ashmolean

Comedy moment of the week: Thumper shows Birkbeck some pictures of tree frogs.

(The first one is green) Ah, that'll be the Green Tree Frog.
(The second one has big, bulging, red eyes) And that's the Red Eyed Tree Frog.

Top individual scorer of the night was Douglas for Emmanuel, securing 66. Gillham made 62 for Birkbeck with four missignals, and he finishes behind Colum Gallivan on 65. Birkbeck: 22/41 bonuses, 4 missignals. Emmanuel: 17/30, no missignals.

Even when it is factually wrong, the judge's decision must stand. In my view, Emmanuel has the best claim of all the sides that would be on 165 to progress to the repechage - they're fractionally behind Jesus Oxford on bonuses, but Jesus had four missignals. We now have three sides indisputably tied on 165 for the last two places.

The Top Losers Board:

185 Emmanuel Cambridge
180 York
165= Jesus Oxford

165= UMIST
165= Brasenose Oxford

Next week is stored with history: Durham -v- Queens' Cambridge

Bonus Not At All Obscure College Game Of The Week: As viewers of CNN and all domestic channels may know, the football team from Bath University takes on Mansfield in the first round of the FA Cup, a single-elimination knockout tournament for all English teams. The side is now only two wins away from meeting really big opponents such as Manchester Untied, and eight wins away from winning the entire competition.

Bonus Non College Game Of The Week: Flushed with the success of UCR, the Granada team is now looking to pit teams of professionals against each other. Lawyers could take on judges, footballers could take on referees, and the tutors of FAME ACADEMY could take on the trio from THE SHINY SHOW and a tub of lard. And probably lose.


The original Belgian show is now one week away from finishing its second series as the most talked about show in French-speaking Belgium, while the British copy is fast becoming the most derided show of the year. Why is this?

An unfortunate quirk of scheduling allows a direct, side-by-side comparison. There's a 40 minute slot where both shows are airing simultaneously. Which is better? Why is this so?

The Belgian original is working in French, and hence the French language pop idiom. One has to be able to perform chanson - ballads delivered with soul and feeling - as well as the more uptempo stuff, and cover all points in between. Those whose ability to emote is limited (thinks of Gareth Gates, for some reason) find their careers strictly limited.

Belgium is down to the last five, and it's billed as "un programme exceptionel" with guests Natasha Saint-Pierre and Isabelle Boulay, two of the biggest stars of francophone pop at the moment. In the opening duet, it's difficult to tell the #1 star from the #1 student.

The candidates facing the chop are also of very high quality, able to hold a tune and make appropriate movements to help them emote. Clips of the week's voice coaching show they were using Stravinsky's "Prince Igor" and rapping over the top.

The Belgian set is a warm, inviting pinky-purple, with the Pop Panel sitting in the orchestra pit, in front of the seated audience, and a staircase leading down the back of the stage. Flicking over to the BBC, and find the same old cold blue set, the audience standing, a catwalk into the audience, and the Pap Panel on their balcony overlooking proceedings. In Belgium, the assessors are on the same level as the students. In Britain, they remind me of Statler and Waldorf, the old duffers in the box who would heckle the Muppet Show mercilessly.

The UK show goes straight into the elimination solos, where Raven Haired Lass does good karaoke, Token Irish Bloke the new standard "Babylon", and Blonde Lass the Brit Best Single of 88 - "Perfect" almost as well as Eddi Reader. Showing their complete lack of credibility, the Pap Panel deems this the worst performance of the night.

Back in Belgium, there's a retrospective on the career of chief judge Plastic Bertrand. Perhaps this is the biggest difference between the two shows - Bertrand was the one famous Belgian punk, and seems to have infused the show with a genuine creative spirit. Richard "Dogsby" Park, Carrie Grant (bet that's not her real name - or hair colour) and the others are industry insiders. Indeed, Betcha claims she's worked with artists responsible for eight number one singles this year alone - but all eight have also worked with Mr Simon Cowell of POP IDLE infamy. Plastic allows each performer to grow in their own way, and seems happy to judge between different styles; Dogsby has forced his charges to conform to his idee fixé or be thrown out. The ultimate contrast comes when I'm switching over from Token Irish Bloke to see Plastic jump about on stage performing his own hit "Ca Plane Pour Moi." You wouldn't catch Dogsby doing that.

Make of this what you will. Belgium allows SMS voting right up to the last moment; the UK closed its SMS lines 90 minutes before the show started.

Irish Chick and Curly Locks are doing a soulless cover of the Chimes' soulful cover of U2's rocker "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." It's rooted firmly in the bloated pop idiom, and is never going to work. This member of the audience has found what he's looking for on the Belgian show, where it's Results Time. Two hours ago, I didn't know these people from Adam and Eve, but I'm already excited to find who will go through. Mélanie wins the public vote, and she, Leonardo, and Catherine vote to take Roxanne into the final four. Good choices.

This means that I've missed the appearance of the Special Guest Star in the British version, Miss Mariah Carey. She's been miming her next single on FA. And lest we forget, FA is all she earned from her last album, which was briefly the Biggest Flop Record of All Time. Is this the sort of example we should be setting to our future stars? Should they be taking lessons from someone who doesn't use one note when two octaves will do?

In Belgium, the final four are leaving on their charter coach to Plastic's Pad. They go through an excited crowd, as loud and vociferous as any BIG BROTHER eviction night crowd.

In Blighty, we finally have a bit of excitement. It's Scottish Bloke on a piano, it's a song he's written himself, it's clear quality, it's cutsie, it's safe, but at least it's something different. We may have a decent rival to Catherine Porter for ESC 2003.

On the other hand, perhaps this is the problem here. I have no real complaints with the quality of the vocals - all thirteen performers on the series have placed on the scale from "more than adequate" to "really rather good". But their material is clichéd and hackneyed beyond belief. Every song performed - even those written by the academicians - would fit well on contemporary easy listening stations or at Eurovision. There's nothing with any relevance to the contestants' lives. We've not seen anyone attempt "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Anarchy In The UK," and I really doubt we will. Much of this must be laid at Dogsby and his commissioners, who have insisted on something "family friendly" and "safe" for Friday night viewing. That translates into "dull" and "insipid" viewing.

UK host Cat Deeley claims the prize on this show is the country's biggest ever. A year of living in luxury, rent-free, a vacation, tickets to top events, and "a million pound record contract." It's only worth a million if the winner earns that much in royalties, and that's by no means a foregone conclusion.

We have our loser for the week, Dodgy Karaoke Queen. She returns to her family, and the show comes to a grinding halt. No closure, unless you count the show on BBC Choice. This just about sums up the British version - remote, cold, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Better versions of STAR ACADEMY are out there.


The most talked about show in Dutch-speaking Belgium is BIG BROTHER (RTL II), where another series will reach a conclusion around New Year. There was the obligatory live overnight feed, and a nightly task show live on the channel. BB overkill? Not a chance.

GET THE PICTURE (Dutch: a KRO original) has two contestants, and grids of twenty letters. The players buzz in randomly to reveal bits of the picture, and answer questions to keep control and earn cash (a whole 1 Euro [57p / US$1.005]). A correct identification of the picture wins larger prizes - 25 Euro. A later round has two pictures at once, one tinted blue, the other red. Winner goes to the endgame, where all questions are of one initial letter, and a correct answer gives two squares in a puzzle. Guess the puzzle in the time to win the big prize. This feels like a daytime quiz, perhaps in the BRAINTEASER slot.

LE BIGDIL (French: Teleloisirs for TF1) sees Vincent Lagaf' steer contestants through some silly games. For instance, there's a bit of paper indicating some thousands of Euro hidden inside a piggy bank, all our hero has to do is smash the right one. Or build a tower of sugar cubes, or play a giant game of darts from one of those camera hoist jobbies. For no adequately explored reason, there's a CGI character displayed on screen from time to time, not dissimilar to Ratz in the first year of LIVE AND KICKING. Lagaf' is loud and bald, and I reckon this would have made a great Saturday night show for Christopher Price.

EEN TEEGEN 100 (Dutch: Endemol for TROS, and VRT in Belgium). This is going to be a huge show when it translates to English. One contestant is in the middle of the studio, facing a bank of 100 competitors. The One wins money by eliminating others from the game, the 100 have to answer questions correctly to win their place in the spotlight. A category comes up, and The One chooses a level of difficulty: medium or hard. Medium questions will keep more people in play, but later questions are worth more money. Three potential answers appear, and the 100 have six seconds to lock in their answer. If The One cannot answer a question and has some money in the bank, they have three escapes, costing 25%, 50%, or 75% of their winnings so far. The One will survive to the next question, but anyone who gave the wrong answer will leave the game and The One wins nothing for their elimination. Outlasting all 100 contestants is worth a huge bonus.

The scoring on the Dutch version was baroque in the extreme: eliminated contestants on question 1 won 500 Euro; on Q2, it's 581 Euro (!); suddenly rising to 900 Euro for Q5. A slightly more idiot-proof scoring system, and a tough but friendly host (Richard Littlejohn feels about right) should turn this into a sure-fire midweek primetime hit. It's too tense to be a lottery show, and there's no predictable natural break for the draws anyway.

100% QUESTIONS (Reg Grundy for France 5) The show without a host, but with in vision subtitles.

WEAKEST LINK (Portugal) uses the standard daytime money tree and format, although denominated in Euro.

And on Ned2, DIT WAS HET NIEWS mit Oengus Dooyten in his brown suits, and a special guest appearance from Ross Noble.


Channel One in Russia wants to give away a trip to space. The winner of the show will take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the International Space Station. Competitors will learn how to be an astronaut at the Star City cosmonaut training centre near Moscow. Hmm. An academy for budding star travellers. What can we call the show?

The latest person to attempt to play god is Liza Tarbuck. The daughter of Jimmy, previously best known for a fair stab at BLOCKBUSTERS a couple of years ago, will host the new format. The audience will award one of five contestants a £50,000 prize, but the contestants will have to open themselves up for all sorts of (verbal) inspection. WITHOUT PREJUDICE comes to C4 in the new year. God was unavailable for comment, but sent a cactus juice round.


... and speaking of which, tapes of previous cultural exchanges with Radio 4 are going out at 1830 Tuesday nights. Also, a new run of I'M SORRY I HAVEN'T A CLUE at 1830 Monday. Can Colin Sell master the piano? Can Andy Hamilton master the oh-so-simple rules of Mornington Crescent? Can the can?

The most talked about show this week will be CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER (C4/E4 from Wednesday), where another series will reach a conclusion in a week and a half. There's the obligatory live overnight feed on E4; two nightly shows live on C4, at 1700 and 2100; and BBLB on both channels from 1800. BB overkill? Not a chance.

The rest? JET SET and the satellite delay at 1935, MILLIONAIRE at 2005.

SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE's second semi sees the teams build a digger. They need it on the Beeb, where the contestants who haven't fallen asleep are playing Cluedo and Monopoly. That's GAME ACADEMY, even more ubiquitous than before.

Fans of computer games may wish to know that GAMEPAD3 starts on Bravo this week. Fans of German flowers should know that violets in Berlin are outside the scope of this site. MTV shows I BET YOU WILL weeknights at 2200. See reviews of WOUDDJGA CODGER.

A brand new slot for a very old format: PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT moves to 1930 Tuesdays on ITV. And a brand new slot for a very old format: Ulrika's search for MR RIGHT moves to 2300. Somehow, I think they would have done better asking Anna Nolan to look the length and breadth of America for said Mr Right.

This week's Angus Deayton is John Sergeant. This week's Smart Alec is Bob Bevan.

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