Weaver's Week 2005-06-04

Weaver's Week Index


Europe votes - 5 June 2005

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

A late result from Europe: Yes 38, No 62.

Eurovision Continues

With Senior Mastermind taking a full month off air, we have a little more space to discuss the world's biggest game show.

The BBC confirmed on its Feedback programme that it was committed to continuing in the contest for the foreseeable future. It's still a big crowd-pleaser - the main event pulled in 8 million viewers on BBC1. The semi-final pulled in less than 400,000 on BBC3, and failed to make the channel's top ten programmes.

No-one has had a bad word to say about the presentation of the songs, other than that a certain Irish commentator might have the grace to shut up while people are singing. Is there some way of forcing his microphone off when the band strikes up? Can he take lessons from ITV's Matt Smith?

A lot of people had bad things to say about the voting. Many reckon that it went on too long, and rendered what had been a fantastic evening rather sterile. Two ideas spring to mind: first, reduce the number of countries voting by lessening the importance given to the failed semi-finalists. They came, they had a go, they weren't popular enough. It would be reasonable to compress their national results into a single set of 12-10-8-etc votes, and perhaps present these last of all.

Alternatively, adapt an old idea that we show on the UKGS website, presenting the scores via the set of Blankety Blank. Rather than bringing up satellite links to everywhere, have the presenter from each country come to the hall in Kyiv, or Athens, or Chisinau. All the televoting is now reported to the hall by internet satellite laser link to Svante's Laptop and to the national centre. There's no logical reason why the hall can't have that bundle of paper, and give the right sheet to the national spokey. They could then hold up flags on sticks. "Vote for one point; votez pour un point" and up go four (or six, or however many) flags. Add these points to the scoreboard, and move on. The top few places could still be announced in the traditional manner, and the full national result shown on the scoreboard.

Others have suggested omitting the repetition of the vote in French (or English), though this could cause more "did you catch it" problems than it solves.

The main complaint this year has been that there's something called "political voting" going on. Apparently, people don't judge the best song on the night, they prefer to vote for countries with which they're friendly. This is, of course, a complete load of nonsense. If there were "political voting," then Finland would never vote for Russia, Turkey would never vote for Greece, and no-one would ever vote for Switzerland.

This idea has gained great currency in the Netherlands, where Glennis Grace's song failed to progress to the Eurovision Grand Final. "It's a conspiracy against Old Europe in general, and the Netherlands in particular," claimed some observers. Cornald Maas, the television commentator for Dutch TV, begged to differ: "It says something about the narrow-minded way of Dutch thinking in the last years since Theo van Gogh was killed, since Pim Fortuyn was killed, since Holland got out of the European [Soccer] Championship last year. Every time the Dutch show the same behaviour: a sort of narrow-minded way of thinking. And I think it's really stupid that Dutch people think it's because of eastern European countries that Glennis Grace got [pushed] out of the Eurovision Song Contest."

That's not to say that there aren't cliques in Eurovision, and some statisticians at Oxford University have been crunching the numbers on our behalf. (PDF link.) Rather than politics influencing the vote, the research by Fenn, Suleman, Efstathiou, and Johnson suggests that cultural similarities bind bits of Europe together, and not always in the obvious ways. Their research covers the period 1994-2003, the ten years after the expansion eastwards but before the introduction of the semi-final. Three major cliques show up:

1) Greece and Cyprus. No, really, there is an apparent link between these two countries, and it's almost twice as close as any other cluster. Not only do they always give each other points, but the Cyprus - Greece pairing tends to give out its points in very similar ways.

2) The Baltic bloc: Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Estonia, Norway, Finland, UK, Ireland. The Oxford group didn't draw conclusions about Lithuania and Latvia, owing to lack of data; this column's subsequent analysis shows that both countries regularly swap votes with Estonia, Ireland, and the UK (indeed, Lithuania and Ireland have exchanged votes on seven of 12 possible occasions), clearly suggesting these countries belong in the Baltic bloc. Austria doesn't enjoy particularly strong relationships with any country, but is stronger with this group than any other. Hungary is a little short of data, and most of the information is from the mid-90s, but it does suggest the country fits on the edge of this group

3) The Balkan bloc: Croatia, Malta, Bosnia, Turkey, Slovenia. Ethnic closeness might account for this link, though it had been rather weaker than the Baltic grouping. To 2003, there's not quite enough data to bring in Macedonia or Romania; this column's analysis suggests the closest link is with this group. It's a little too early to properly suggest where Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, and Ukraine will go, but early evidence suggests this would also be their bloc.

Two other groups also show, albeit at barely significant levels:

4) Belgium and Netherlands. Possibly caused by Belgium's habit of sending an entry through its Dutch service every second year.

5) France and Portugal. It's still too early to suggest where Andorra or Monaco should go; the evidence of where those countries vote suggests they may yet hook up with this group, and perhaps bring Spain in.

There's no particular alignment for the remaining countries, either amongst themselves, or amongst the other groups: Germany, Israel, Poland, Russia, Spain, and Switzerland. Amongst the other competing countries, Belarus has twice voted for Russia, while Italy, Bulgaria and Moldova have only returned one year's votes. The possible presence of Czechia will be interesting; they could join Poland and Germany in straddling the two big blocs.

Further analysis shows that the UK has a lot of relatively strong bonds across the Eurovision spectrum. Their network analysis suggests that the UK is more strongly in tune with the rest of Europe than any other country. And which country gave Greece and Malta 12 and 10 this year? The UK.

The analysis shows that there is some predictable voting. It's nowhere near enough to determine the result of the contest proper. However, with the apparent growth of the Balkan bloc, it's perhaps enough to tilt the balance for tenth place - witness Macedonia making the final on votes almost entirely from the Balkan bloc, and going back down as the southern vote split in multiple ways.

It's far too early to make big predictions, but that's not going to stop us. We note that four of this year's automatic qualification places went to the Baltic group, compared to just one last year. This should make the semi-final less of a success for the Balkan group, as they won't be able to congregate behind two entries, and open up the contest by itself.

Let's not fool ourselves, these blocs alone will not decide the winner; barely half the competing countries are in either the Balkan or Baltic blocs, and a great performance is able to transcend these relatively weak ties. Nor will they affect the positions towards the bottom of the scoreboard. They may have some influence towards the middle of the competition, around the cut-off for tenth place.

The other big question: how can the UK win again? In a contest of 40 countries, any one would only expect to win two or three times per century. Britain isn't due another win for about 30 years. On the other hand, the UK will always take a place in the final 24, and (by random chance) should get a top ten place perhaps twice in five years. This hasn't been happening in recent years; this was the sixth time in seven Britain has finished well below half-way. We might wish to re-state the question: how can the UK perform respectably again?

Perhaps the answer is to revert to a technique the BBC has used in the past: pick a singer, or a group, and write songs for them. We've tried rejects from casting shows, and they've not been too successful. Perhaps the time has come to pick a group that can hold down a record contract.

Three types of act could prove very profitable. The UK might send a former one-hit wonder, perhaps living a little off past glories, yet still working hard. It worked for Katrina and the Waves, it could work for someone like Right Said Fred. Or they could go for an act that is so large that failure wouldn't damage them, merely be another career point; this was true for Cliff Richard in the past, and is true for Elton John or Texas now.

Alternatively, the BBC could pick an act that reflects the ethnic traditions of the UK, rather than the standard pop-rock fare. Scottish roots act Capercaillie spring to mind, there are surely equivalents elsewhere in the UK. This last option has one major advantage - we can be sure that there won't be many entries in this idiom, and the UK won't be buried under a plethora of blokes with guitars (as hampered James Fox last year) or energetic ladies dancing (as Javine found this.)

We can dismiss all talk of "political voting," and concentrate on the songs, for that is what has let down the UK in recent years. A bold step would be to pick a known act, tell them to go and write half-a-dozen possible Eurovision songs, put them to the vote, and send the most popular to Athens. The BBC will have tried something new, and it can hardly be less successful than the current system. In return, the performers get an hour of prime-time BBC to showcase their work, a performance in front of a whole continent, and if they've got any brains at all, they will release the six songs as a mini-album the following week.

This column believes that the UK can gain respectability at Eurovision again. To that end, anything is worth trying once.

Big Brother 6

Oh, go on then. Let's give full, fair and factual coverage to the publicity-seekers who will keep the nation entertained for the next twelve weeks. But we're going to stop watching the programme as soon as we catch publicity-seeker number one, Endemol, telling an untruth.

First into the house is Derek Laud, who was mentioned in John Major's autobiography, according to this script. (Quickly flicks through John Major's autobiography, and finds Mr Laud is not mentioned, or even alluded to.)

Well, that'll be that, then. Our research shows that Mr Laud is mentioned in one of Alan Clark's famous Diaries, but that's not the claim that made the screen. Barely ten seconds into the competition proper, we remember exactly why we can't trust a word Endemol says.

Let us concentrate instead on facts, rather than the myth. All the official contestants have been listed on the BBC's Celebdaq thingummy. Shares rise and fall based on the buyers and sellers of the stock. A dividend is issued weekly, and is directly related to the amount of press coverage each contestant gets. This column's contention is that the real winner of Big Brother is the one who attracts the most column inches, and our proxy for this is the performance of each on Celebdaq. After one week, the amount returned on a 100-unit investment, dividends re-invested, is as follows:

13) Vanessa 221.16 12) Saskia 341.44 11) Roberto 342.18 10) Craig 343.84 9) Kemal 351.04 8) Derek 354.24 7) Science 354.58 6) Maxwell 364.26 5) Lesley 378.00 4) Anthony 385.31 3) Makosi 391.96 2) Sam 429.78 1) Mary 444.24

If it's full coverage of Big Brother you're after, let us recommend Bother's Bar, where E4's famous Brig himself will keep you abreast of all the action.

This Week And Next

Our spies over the Atlantic say that both Hit Me Baby One More Time - the 80s revival singing show - and Strictly Come Dancing have done well on prime-time television. Wonder if they'll get Celebrity Love Island?

Not such good news from the Yorkshire Television studios, where a press release has confirmed that Richard Whiteley is not well enough to resume presenting Countdown. The remaining shows for the current series - until the final on 1 July - are safely in the can. The following Monday will see the first in a short series of guest hosts.

It's the penultimate Splash Camp this week, and the series has turned into quite the gripping series, with the girls team providing some genuine competition in the contest. Though it wasn't apparent in the early episodes, it's become clear that Steve Wilson has exactly the right approach to the show, mostly remaining off-screen, and remaining restrained in his enthusiasm. With all the drama supplied by the contestants, a calm voice is exactly right. The hyperactive approach of Beat the Cyborgs would not be appropriate here; calling the show another CITV success would be correct.

Highlights for the coming week include Mock the Week, a new celebrity panel show dissecting the week's news, Anne Robinson's new celebrity panel show, What's the Problem?, Channel 4's opinion poll-based new celebrity panel show 8 Out of 10 Cats, and their other new celebrity panel show Back in the Day. All, some, or fewer of these will be reviewed next week, along with last night's Channel 4 documentary.

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