Weaver's Week 2006-01-22

Weaver's Week Index

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


Whose house is it? - 22 January 2006

"Have we ever read anything?" - Richard Hutchinson, Imperial College of Medicine.

Celebrity Big Brother

(Endemol (as Brighter Pictures) for C4 / E4, 5 - 27 Jan)

As regular readers will know, this column is beginning to run out of things to say about Big Brother and its celebrity off-shoot. Over the years, we've done the play-by-play account. We've done the interpretation of the shows, we've provided social commentary, and we've given an airing to those who found the show tacky and tawdry.

What can we add to this year's festival of people who want more publicity for themselves? Well, we could rattle on about how members of parliament might wish to be active in their constituencies, but that would be presuming to know the motives of an MP. Or we could discuss whether Channel 4's decision to blank any vaguely political references from the MP is justified, given that the only reason he was invited was his fire-brand reputation.

We might wish to recall the participation last year of Mr Laud, who was allowed to give vent to his own views unchecked. Just as were the other contestants last year. Just as all the contestants are this year. We could ask Channel 4 if they are deliberately conflating "anything that goes against the ruling class" with "dangerous and subversive propaganda that must be counteracted", a view one would more easily associate with Ms Greer from last year's celebrity edition.

We could ponder on why the two performers of popular music in the contest have seen their records leap up the charts over the past couple of weeks. And we will wonder what on earth some of these people have done to gain anything that might approximate fame, or have any significant claim to the word "celebrity".

We could mention how one of the contestants is the subject of court proceedings, but this is nothing new. The fact that one of the lawyers involved was the interim leader of Veritas before Robert Kilroy-Silk might almost count as interesting, but doesn't. Comedy, yes, but laughing at the vanity of the host of Shafted is so 2004.

All this is repetitive. We've done it before. Move on, there's absolutely nothing new to see here. Not watching Big Brother is like not watching the gambling channels of an evening - there's a faint possibility that something interesting might be happening, but so little does that it's really not worth the candle.

There is one fact, one thing that is interesting enough to be recorded here. Channel 4 has turned off its "red button". No more tacky games, no more text promotions for Boys and Girls, and no more Big Brother Interactive. So no chance for viewers to form their own, unmediated opinions of the contestants unless they're willing to pay through the nose for the internet feed.

Beyond that, this column proposes to stick to what it's vaguely good at, programmes that entertain and/or inform.

Finders Keepers

(The Foundation for CITV, 1629 Friday)

Back in the 1990s, when Neil Buchanan was the brightest young thing on children's television, he presented almost every show going. Motormouth, Art Attack, that show with the wolves that no-one can quite remember, he did them all.

Including Finders Keepers. The concept here is very, very simple. An object has been hidden somewhere in a room, and the contestants have to find it. Whichever team is better at finding these items will win the game, and gain the chance to win some perfectly decent prizes. Along the way, all of the rooms are going to be made very messy, beds will be upturned, drawers will be emptied, and (of course) the suit of armour that everyone's got in their spare room will come to life.

Fast forward ten years, for it has been that long since Finders Keepers was last on air. Neil Buchanan is no longer the brightest young thing on children's television; he's now the brightest young thing making children's television, through his Media Merchants company. But it's The Foundation who have bought the idea back, to add to their for quality programmes (Globo Loco, Eureka TV, er, The Basil Brush Show, erm, Ministry of Mayhem) and this is another hit to add to their list.

What's changed? Precious little. Because he's now behind the camera, Mr Buchanan has been replaced by Jeff Brazier, who learned the ropes while making a couple of series for Channel 4's youth strand E4. Oh, and the final search has been reduced from four minutes to three. But that's as much change as you'll get.

There are still some entertaining effects - the blind in the kitchen still goes up and down of its own accord, and fails with alarming regularity. An arrow indicates the object's location, and moves if it's knocked off. Streamers still come out of the furnishings, and the whole game is conducted at a tremendous pace. The commercial break in the middle comes as an almost welcome relief from the frenetic pace of the game.

The scoring system to decide between the teams is interesting. Each pair have an opening room to raid. It's nominally worth 25 points, but as the points go to the other side if they fail, it's really worth 50 points. Then comes a round of memory questions, a correct answer allows the team to raid another room. If the team complete their raid, they get 25 from the question and 25 from the raid, thus taking a 50-point advantage. If the object eludes the searchers, the points go to the other side, and neither team takes advantage from the room. Repeat for double points, and whichever side has 350 points or more will be the winners.

In the final game, each object indicates the next room to search in. The contestants will go up and down the stairs (and a new staircase has appeared at one end, as well as in the middle) and find their objects. Find all eight in three minutes - and this would be brilliant searching - would win a tremendous prize. Six is more typical, and that's worth a games console.

When it comes down to it, analysing the gameplay too hard would miss the fun. This is light-hearted entertainment, something to let the youngsters relax at the end of the week. Finders Keepers does the job admirably.

University Challenge

Repechage 2: Imperial College of Medicine v Trinity Oxford

The losers of heats 13 and 14 meet in this week's play-off for the right to meet (and probably be beaten by) St John's Oxford in the second round. Imperial were rather soundly beaten by Nottingham; Trinity ran London Business quite closely.

There's a clue to the way the producers expected the scheduling to go, as the first set of bonuses is on literary works of 1905. It's not a particularly high-scoring week, and going into the first visual round - on royal wedding paraphernalia - ICM have a 35-30 lead.

This starter caught our eye:

Q: Which market town to the south of Cambridge acquired its prefix in the 16th century when it became a centre for the cultivation of crocuses.

Very little else in the second stanza did, as neither team particularly wants to answer any bonuses correctly. Justin Kueh identifies the composer of the Star Wars theme from just the first note. Knowledge of other Williams works helps Trinity pull back to 85-65 down.

Trinity gets an unusual bonus question, requiring two parts, for five points each. Imperial Medicine get one bonus purely for knowing Byron's death date. It crops up at least once a year. Imperial Medicine remains ahead, but Trinity are never more than forty behind. Yes, Imperial Medicine get a question on anatomy, but Trinity also get a question on obscure physics principles. The second visual round identifies battles in the US Independence war of the 18th century. Imperial Medicine's lead is at its highest all game, 155-105.

Trinity begin to pull back the deficit, but their hopes are rather stuffed by a set of questions on stuffing. Imperial Medicine's knowledge of the size of a barrel of oil (35 gallons) gives them the victory. And both sides finish at quite a canter, running up the scores to 205-145.

Richard Hutchinson led from the front for Imperial Medicine, making 78 points; Trinity's best buzzer was Katie Lee on 55. Her side made 12/27 bonuses with one missignal; Imperial Medicine had 13/42 and no missignals. The side looks vulnerable to good buzzers who are slightly better at the bonuses.

Next match: School of Oriental and African Studies v Churchill College Cambridge

Countdown Update

We left the story with four wins under Marie Hayden's belt, and a suspicion that she would become the next octochamp. It didn't happen, she won one more before losing to Sue Alexander; Marie still finished on 5w, 593pts, and -11 to Par. This column reckons that anyone who can finish under par through their run is a strong contender for the series championship. Anyway, Sue lost to Nick Rafferty, who lost his next game (after the festive break) to John Josephs, who lost to Christine Armstrong.

Christine looked like she would be the next octochamp. Again, it didn't happen; her aggressive numbers game compensated for a weakness on the conundrum, and there was a certain inevitability that she lost her last game on a crucial conundrum to Douglas Clark. Christine's final score was 7w, 693pts, +56 to Par. Douglas lost his first defence to Mark Blackwell, who lost to Ray Waddington. Ray won two games (235 pts, +43) before coming up against Keith Maynard. He's been undefeated this week.

So far this series, twelve players have had two or more wins.

  1. Conor Travers - 8 - 890
  2. Christine Armstrong - 7 - 693
  3. Daniel Peake - 6 - 585
  4. Keith Maynard - 6 - undefeated
  5. Marie Hayden - 5 - 593
  6. Clive Johnson - 5 - 519
  7. Maureen Sye - 3 - 330
  8. Arthur Mactier - 2 - 263
  9. Ray Waddington - 2 - 235
  10. Stuart Coxhall - 2 - 232
  11. Colin Wreford - 2 - 228
  12. Ray Oakley - 2 - 215

Yesterday's was the 56th heat of the series; over the past few years, the spring series has seen about 115 heats, the autumn series (thanks to the cricket) nearer 100. If Channel 4 are serious about running this series from October to the end of June, we'll have around 170 heats; a more regular series length would perhaps have a final around Easter.

This Week And Next

There's still time to vote in the UKGS Poll. We're looking for the Greatest Game Show of All Time, Ever; the Greatest Game Show Host of All Time, Ever; and the Greatest and Worst New Shows of 2005. Details of how to enter, and how to win some rather tasty cash prizes, are here.

Voting closes on 27 January. That's this Friday. And we've already received a number of votes for Shafted as the greatest game show ever. This is curious; someone's either mis-read the word "error", or they're all from a Mr Kilroy of Edgbaston.

Those of you who don't read the UKGS mailing list will have missed news of the Wanted revival. Internet giants Yahoo are in talks with various production companies to bring a version of the show to the web. There's some obvious corporate synergy at work - the concept will promote online mapping, instant messaging, real-time chatter, and act as a useful draw for daily video updates.

Ratings watch, and the most-watched game show in the week to 8 January was ITV's week-long Soapstar Superstar - the Friday edition pulled in 7.1 million. Celeb Big Brother has 6.7 million on its opening night, but only 4.6 on subsequent nights, and it was soundly beaten by the ITV show on all three nights they went against each other. Millionaire took 6.1 million, the Lottery 5.9m, Question of Sport 5m, and Monday's Celeb Mastermind 4.6m.

Weakest Link was on BBC2 that week, 3.6 million the best, and all four episodes beat Deal's best figure of 3.3 million. The More 4 repeats didn't start until the following week. The University Challenge special had 2.9 million, and Ready Steady Cook 2.3m. Countdown didn't make Channel 4's top 30, but needed an unlikely 2.2m.

ITV has announced Joe Pasquale's next project - the comedian will host a version of The Price is Right, to air opposite The Weakest Link at 5pm. This just feels wrong; Mr Pasquale is a wonderful comedian, but Price requires a straight figure to host. Maybe he would have been better on the Catchphrase revival.

Next week sees Masterchef Goes Large in search of the new Jamie Oliver (BBC2 from Monday); re-runs of autumn 2004's Have I Got News for You (BBC2 Wednesday), and the start of Junior Mastermind (BBC1 Thursday).

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