Weaver's Week 2005-06-11

Weaver's Week Index


A game show review review - 12 June 2005

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

Anne Robinson: more scary than a Senate committee, says George Galloway.

Our Survey Said: The Greatest Game Show Moments

(Touch Productions for Channel 4, 2223, 4 June)

It's seven years since Channel 4's first Game Shows Night, since when the scene has changed utterly. Celebrity Countdown was the highlight of that week in May 1998, while Noel's House Party and Gladiators were still scheduled to come back in the autumn. Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was still three months and a couple of pilots away from transmission, while The Weakest Link was still a glint in Fintan Coyle and Cathy Duggan's eye. Even Big Brother had yet to begin anywhere in the world.

So much has changed in the years since, yet so little was reflected in this production. Of the shows receiving significant airtime, only Fort Boyard and Touch the Truck have debuted since. Millionaire was only present to demonstrate the explosive growth in cash prizes, and Weakest Link turned up solely to laugh at some of the more dense answers.

This column liked to hear the story behind the infamous "Turkey" episode of Family Fortunes, and we were jolly pleased to see The Adventure Game get the recognition it deserves. No-one can deny that Anneka Rice, The Krypton Factor, and Daphne Fowler also deserve a space to tell their stories. It was also good to finally get some confirmation of a half-memory this column had of the first episode of The Price is Right, of the first contestant declining to come on down.

Some of the clips left us wanting to see more. We don't quite remember Now Get Out of That, other than at least one series involved teams from Oxford and Cambridge universities. We'd have liked to see it in context, rather than dismissed with a cheery wave of the hand. Two or three clips from The Great Egg Race was all we got, and not even the promised interview with Dr Heinz Woolf.

As one might expect, much of the footage was taken out of context. Scavengers appeared solely to ridicule the acting skills of host John Leslie. Nothing was made of the tremendously high production values on the show, how it made The Crystal Maze look like a small-budget show. Almost all the shows were cropped to fit a widescreen broadcast; the recent Two Ronnies series has shown it's acceptable to show old footage in its original format, yet producers insist on chopping off the top and bottom - and, for most viewers, the sides as well.

There were some strange absences. The 1998 documentary also featured Daphne Fowler, explaining how she had secured her win on Going for Gold partly by memorising famous people's birthdates. Yet there was not a single mention of the pan-European quiz show this time, and surely Mrs Fowler's story is not complete without a mention of her continental honour. Or of her series wins (plural) on Fifteen-to-One; host William G. Stewart was present, yet his daytime show was missing. Nor was there any mention of anything Bob Monkhouse did before or after Family Fortunes.

It's perfectly reasonable for a documentary on game shows to decide that it'll only look at "obvious" game shows, and try to ignore the reality genre - down that path lies an endless dissection of Big Brother, and that surely won't air on Channel 4. It is, perhaps, less credible to suggest that the only children's game show ever was Crackerjack. Barely two years ago, the viewers of Challenge television voted Knightmare as their favourite game show ever, yet Treguard was notable only by his absence.

The clear bias towards nostalgia enabled the show to ignore the concept of game show as life-changing experience. Shows like Without Prejudice?, The Mole, and Raven have encouraged people to look at their lives, to think about their fellow man, and to overcome their limitations. Some of these moments - Sara shooting Zi in the back, "Kinia" taking the leap of faith, and the panel assuming that a good man will not treat himself with the prize - have been a privilege to share. However, this sort of emotion is far too complex to discuss in a frothy documentary.

Perhaps the biggest absence from the show was Blockbusters. Not one second of Bob Holness's finest hours appeared on screen. Not even the contestant for whom "organism" will always miss half a syllable. The other clich?s of comedy were present - "Turkey" had an interview of its own, and "Handel" turned up in the too-short 3-2-1 tribute. We also note that Bruce Forsyth didn't contribute to this show, and his film clips were all from the 1970s The Generation Game.

The format of the documentary was seven criteria for the "perfect" game show. The contention: a good show needs the right contestants, some embarrassment, to be a little bizarre, have the winner taking all, have something for the geeks, try people to the last, and have a great host. The show that most closely met these criteria, according to the documentary, was not The Golden Shot, it was not Countdown, it wasn't even Shafted - indeed, none of these shows were mentioned at all.

No, according to this documentary, the greatest game show of all time - but only number 10 in the Challenge poll - was Bullseye. When UKGS ran a similar poll in 2002, Bullseye didn't even make the top 50. Our survey said...

{fx: eep-orp.}

Back in the Day

(Endemol for Channel 4, 1559 weekdays)

It's the summer of celebrity panel games, really. This one is clearly based on the BBC's reliable warhorse Have I Got News for You Rather than have resident captains and a variable host, Channel 4's gone down the road of having a resident host and variable teams. The vast majority of the people invited to play are comedians and writers, a little too young to have played Whose Line is it Anyway?, but experienced enough to be familiar on daytime television. Sue Perkins, Jeremy Hardy, Helen Lederer, Hugh Dennis, Richard Herring - you get the picture.

Rather than deal with news of the week, Back In The Day has dugout some vintage archive clips from 1950-1999. Opening round The year in question features three stories and a popular song from one year. Points for naming the story, the song, and the year; no bonus points for sitting through an old track "sung" by Antan Dec, as one team experienced this week.

Connections is the next round, in which our host reads out five names, places, or things, with a link. Name That Year follows the break; three news events, three years, identify the events and match them to the year. The final round is Dial-a-decade, where Clive starts by asking questions about 1950, then when the teams get one right, about 1951, and so on, until they run out of the allotted one minute (or, in theory, run out of decade, though how one squeezes ten eight second questions into a minute is not clear.)

There's also a viewer's phone-in question, about a year between 1950 and 1999, and for between £1950 and £1999. The winner's name is displayed on the screen at the end of the show.

"Back In the Day" has no particular strong point, nor any real weakness. There's nothing ground-breaking, nothing edgy, just five people discussing recent history, usually showing clips of an old movie premiere, and having a few jokes. In the pre (er) post-Countdown slot, once occupied by Today's the Day, this sort of light filler is exactly what the audience wants.

Big Brother 6

Your Celebdaq figures after two weeks:

13) Vanessa 492.72 (nc)
12) Derek 630.94 (-4)
11) Science 660.54 (-4)
10) Kemal 671.49 (-1)
9) Craig 707.34 (+1)

8) Anthony 725.12 (-4)
7) Roberto 777.55 (+4)
6) Saskia 780.22 (+6)
5) Lesley 853.18 (nc)
4) Makosi 867.32 (-1)
3) Maxwell 983.06 (+3)

2) Sam 1117.17 (nc)
1) Mary 1216.37 (nc)

In other news, Monday saw Big Brother defeated in the ratings by Celebrity Love Island. It's the first time ITV's series has defeated Channel 4's ratings blockbuster. There were further stormy scenes on Friday, though these were caused by Mother Nature, she whipped up a tropical cyclone to prevent transmission of that night's episode. We understand that a highlights show went out instead, and readers may insert their own punchline here.

This Week And Next

The BBC has confirmed that it won't be renewing Dick and Dom's Ask the Family after the series received lukewarm ratings and mostly unfavourable press coverage. This column still thinks their leap into "Question One!" was a work of genius.

Still at the Axe Desk, ITV has pulled Fat Families - a sort-of game show (competitive dieting, if you will) after barely one episode. We're still waiting for the Monkey to cancel a show before actually airing an episode, as Channel 4 really should have done with Boys and Girls. Curious how that, too, was missing from the documentary.

OFCOM has very quietly published new rules, the effect of which is to allow someone other than the BBC to televise the National Lottery draws. The current Lottery Corp, Camelot, are widely believed to be unhappy with the BBC's coverage, the word "tacky" has been bandied about. The Beeb's been criticised for concentrating on making people rich, rather than the "good causes" the lottery was set up to support, or the "general tax fund" it now supports.

Our regular friend Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman has been sent a crate of barbecue sauces, and a certificate naming him "Grillmaster Supreme." Mr Thumper's response to this publicity stunt: "In all my born days I have had no greater honour conferred upon me than to be appointed to the Grand Order of the Grill. Thank you. Now I am going to lie down for a while."

Next week, ITV takes its viewers for a ride (again) on Cash Cab, CBBC repeats Raven, and ITV stands to give away rather a lot of money on The Big Call. If it airs, mind.

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