Weaver's Week 2006-02-19

Weaver's Week Index

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

Returning officer Gates has cleared his throat, and declared who has won the Game Show Poll. Analysis comes ... well, next week.


Beauty and the Geek

(September Productions for E4, 2200 Tuesday)

(Quotes are from an episode of Daria, MTV productions, 1998. They're spoken by Quinn Morgendorfer, Daria's fashionable and popular younger sister.)

Now, here's a novel idea. Take someone whose talent is in their brain, and someone else whose talent is in their looks, and see what they can learn from each other.

Which is my best side? I know they're both good.

Actually, no, this isn't a novel idea at all. One of the oldest tropes in literature is that - gosh! - if you remove the glasses and make a few changes to the genius in the red corner, they're actually jolly good looking. And - shock! - the pretty young thing in the blue corner can actually string together a sentence without once using "like", "you know", or "cer-uuuuute!"

Some of the most successful game shows have taken stereotypes about people, and quietly but completely subverted them. Without Prejudice? compressed the entire process into an hour, and some of the moments where the viewer saw the panellist visibly adjust their attitudes made for marvellous, thought-provoking, television. On Big Brother, the viewer's opinion is in a constant state of flux, based on the evidence supplied about each person; even if the editing is not always honest, stereotypes are rarely allowed to last more than a few days without challenge.

So, where does Beauty and the Geek come into this? Seven young ladies make their living from their bodies; seven young gentlemen believe their main asset is their intelligence. The central conceit of this programme is four-fold. One, the young ladies (described, rather leadingly, as "Beauties") have very little in the way of book learning. Two, the young gentlemen (described, equally leadingly, as "Geeks") have very few social skills. Three, that these matters can be taught. Four, that such teaching is a rewarding exercise in itself.

"If you can see any of my pores on camera, I swear, I'll kill you. Stop the tape! I do not have pores! My pores are cute! My pores are tiny!"

The action takes place in a remote Scottish castle. The first three minutes of the opening programme attempt to sell the format to us, combining clips from throughout the series. Rather than compete as individuals, the contestants form twosomes, and they will teach each other their skills. At the end of the series, the winning couple will take £20,000 each.

Much of the first programme was taken up with the pairing-off process. Of a four-part show, the game proper didn't begin until the third stanza. That's an awfully long time to introduce people, especially as the introductions weren't particularly memorable.

The first game itself was also rather weak. The gentlemen tutored their co-contestants through some book-learning; the ladies gave instruction in the art of disco dance. A quiz produced a winning lady; a public performance produced a winning gentleman. So far, so - well, so?

The winning lady and winning gentleman came from different teams, and both of their pairs were safe from elimination. Each chose a team to face elimination; the three remaining teams were also safe. The elimination quiz itself complied with the spirit of the First Law of Modern Game Shows, by using the penalty shoot-out format (copyright all game shows everywhere.) The only novelty came by extending the quiz to six questions for each team; three on the book-learning for the ladies, three on popular culture for the gentlemen.

"Can you have a CD without a CD player? I don't think so!"

Even so, the setters managed to make a major goof - the question "how many people were in S Club" admits no fewer than three correct answers - 7 (completing the original group's original name); 6 (probably the most accurate, as the original group dropped the number after one member left); and 8 (as the successor "S Club Juniors" were briefly known as "S Club 8", before changing their name again to the rather ludicrous "I Dream Featuring Frankie And Calvin". Do we get danger money for researching this?)

This isn't a particularly enjoyable elimination format. Far better would be to have a ranking for each challenge, awarding points, add together the scores over the run of the show, and the lowest-scoring teams would play in the elimination game. It worked for the daily show House Sitters, and should be able to work for a weekly programme. As it is, the format is too heavily weighted in favour of those with a bit of an aptitude for the quality being tested, and that just feels wrong. The show would have felt more balanced by not having any eliminations until the second episode, and taking three couples into the final. The second episode was badly out-of-kilter, with both safe couples known just 24 minutes into the programme, leaving a terribly long twenty minutes to fill with gossip and tittle-tattle. There was too little time spent playing games, and too much time discussing a "potential romance". One that we could spoil, but will leave that to the Bother's Bar's Commentariat. The show claims it's a social experiment, but is turning out just as "reality" as Big Brother.

The one novelty in this series comes with the host. There isn't one. Mock the Week regular David Mitchell provides a voice-off, and "Gates The Butler" provides scrolls for the competitors to read out themselves. But the contestants, either in voice-off, or directly to camera, give most of the narrative. As we saw on E4 some years ago, this is the standard format for Big Brother Us, but hasn't been seen in the UK before, and really doesn't work at all. Some have suggested that the commentary is rather mocking and superior. This may be something in David Mitchell's voice, but remember, they could have gone for TV's Mr Sneer, Jimmy Carr.

Beauty And The Geek rests on the accuracy of its founding ideas. By their own admission, the gentlemen have few social skills, and at least one of them will say he's grown as a result of his experience. The ladies claim to have little in the way of book-learning, but there's a suspicion that some of them may have some more education than the others. Too often, we're encouraged to laugh at the contestants, not with them.

"You have to be good at something. You're good at your reading and writing and stuff, and you're good at your little paintings. I figure, being attractive and popular, that's what I'm good at. Maybe it's not that important, but, you know, it's what I can do."

Beauty and the Geek doesn't really have an answer to Quinn's point there. It takes for granted that everyone should be clever and popular. Why should people not be happy the way they are, playing to their strengths, doing what they do well? It is a trifle unfair to expect a single television programme to change attitudes - this column has argued in the past that television reflects and does not shape society. But why should people who are good at being beauties, or good at being geeks, suddenly become good at describing what's going on around them? A random member of the public isn't going to be as good as a random voice-off artist, or a random game show host, for the very simple reason that their talents lie elsewhere.

Somewhere in the complex rules, the overly-long introduction, and in the presenter-free format, lies the heart of a potentially interesting game. We don't really see it fully, such glimpses as we do manage are through a dense layer of fog. This show is more interesting than much of E4's output, but doesn't quite manage to transcend the flaws in its concept. Could it be that inventor Ashton Kutchener - another product of the MTV school - has kept too tight a rein on his invention, and strangled the creativity of the British producers? And what would Quinn say about all this?

"And you, too, can have bouncy hair if you just take the time to bounce from the inside out."

Junior Mastermind

Heat 4 of 5

Roisin from the Wirral takes the Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence. Again, this is a book series that has rather passed this column by, but it's clear that this contender has done her homework. 17 (0) is a perfect score.

Striding confidently to the chair is Domnhall from Dublin, and he's swotted up on the History of the Spitfire. It's another superlative display of knowledge, also finishing on 17 (0).

Georgina from Surrey talks on Birds of Prey. It's a larger subject than is common for Junior Mastermind contestants, and the contender - sitting upright and attentive in the chair - gets some slightly easier questions. If only they did this on the senior show. 14 (1) is a good score, but may not win this week.

Alexander from West Sussex will tell us about the History of the London Underground. His round is slightly more reliable than the Tube - in the time it takes one train to get from one end of the platform to the other, he scores 9 (5). In discussion, Alexander says that he has a photographic memory, but only for the Tube map. He'll be far too good when playing Mornington Crescent. In spite of his earlier modesty, Alexander advances to 21 (9).

Georgina talks about how one can train falcons, and the way the Egyptian falcon drops rocks on other birds' eggs. She goes well in her general knowledge round. It almost works, 27 (4) is a strong score.

Roisin talks about the Roman habit of making toothpaste out of powdered mouse brains. That should be small enough to fit in the ultra-small John Humphrys eggcup. It's a good, but not quite perfect, general knowledge round, finishing on 31 (+2).

Shaun finds aesthetic beauty in the Spitfire. His second time in the chair is good, but never looks like being good enough, and he finishes on 28 (+0).

This Week And Next

The BBC announced to great fanfare on Friday that Dick and Dom won't be making a new series of the Bungalow. This is not news, as anyone who has been watching their impossibly accurate take-offs of classic game shows will know. The gents said as far back as last summer that the demolition crew would tear down the one-storey muck-factory by Easter. The oh-so-accurate BBC press office suggests their replacement will be a new rising star by the name of Bruce Forsyth.

Ratings for the week to 5 February. Almost a million viewers for Pop Idle US on ITV2, and we're not even out of the auditions phase. On the senior channel, Dancing on Ice fell agonisingly short of 10 million, and such was the lead-in that Millionaire recorded 7 million - a terrific mark for the show. BBC1's Manor fell to 4.9 million, and must surely be in danger of not coming back.

Deal-watch - 163,000 on More 4 and 3.7 million on C4 were the best ratings of the week. It's worth noting that the ratings went up late in the week, after an unflattering article about the programme appeared in a Scottish newspaper. Deal beat Link on four days, the fifth was a statistical tie - Link's best score was 3.5 million. University Challenge is up to 2.9 million, Masterchef Goes Large twice had 2.5 million.

The British performers for Eurovision have been announced. They are, in alphabetical order:

  • City Chix (a group that's been seen on a Scottish soap);
  • Anthony Costa (former member of boy band Blue, whose song may be ineligible because it's been out for some months);
  • Four Storey (so famous, they fell off the BBC press release);
  • Goran Kay (a relative unknown);
  • Kym Marsh (former member of ITV house band Hearsay); and
  • Daz Sampson (aka DJ Daz, former member of shouty pop duo Bus Stop, and whose song may be disqualified because it's got loads of kids and sampled vocals).

The "Making Your Mind Up" national final will come live from Butlin's in Skegness on 4 March. It may be up against the first Deal to go out after 7pm, and will be up against the Dancing On Ice behemoth.

What do we have to look forward to next week? The Winter Olympics cause Masterchef to slide through the schedules with all the grace of Andi Peters - from 7.30 on Monday to 4pm on Friday, and the weekly final isn't even going out in Scotland because they're airing the a political conference instead!

The BBC has been promoting The Apprentice as if the license fee depended on it. And it may well do. Highlight of the week is Just the Two of Us, a twist on the celebrities singing badly formula of Comic Relief Does Fame Academy. No longer will mildly famous people experience tuition from Carrie and David Grant, or get the shakes from Richard Park - he's busily ruining the Eurovision show. Instead, they'll team up with moderately famous performers, such as The Blonde One Out Of Atomic Kitten, Jo From S Club However Many It Was, and Curtis And His Amazing Performing Tigers. Rick Astley has pulled out of the show, preferring to spend time with his ruddy big pig. That's 8pm on Thursday and Friday.

Next week's Week, by the way, should be taking another look at the Channel 4 Daily Double, and answering the one question on everybody's lips.

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