Weaver's Week 2006-04-16

Weaver's Week Index

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

It's the first of two Weeks looking at the current crop of quizzes based on school. Next week, Channel 4's That'll Test 'Em and BBC4's Top of the Form night.


School's Out

So TV for BBC1, 1859 Wednesday

Danny Wallace, the champion of the light entertainment world? Well, perhaps. The comedian is best-known for his semi-serious project to turn his flat into an independent nation state with representation at the UN and EBU. He's not known at all for his appearances on He's Having A Baby, the failed Davina McCall project from last year. Now, in his first appearance before a non-zero audience on BBC1, Danny is asking some very simple questions.

This time, he's appearing in character, and the chosen disguise is as a school teacher. He's not as sharp as the master from Cruel Summer 2002, nor does he (quite) conform to the comic-book stereotype of Teacher from Bash Street. Danny (Wallace, not the Bash Street Kid) does pull off the transformation from slightly cuddly eccentric to slightly fearsome know-all without much effort.

Contestants on the first episode, which aired on 5 April, were Richard Hammond from Top Gear, Shelly Rudman from the skeleton bobsleigh events, and Richard Bacon from 19 Keys. All of them moderately famous, none of them particularly associated with the A-list. Throughout the contest, the contestants are referred to by their family names only.

After the introductions, and a brief film clip from one of the contestant's former teachers, the quiz commences. The opening round is a monologue by Danny Wallace, during which he poses a dozen questions, and chooses one of the contestants to answer for five points. There are a few proper jokes in here, but much of the humour derives from Danny's no-nonsense approach to getting the answers, and the celebrities squirming uncomfortably in their seats when they don't know the answers.

The second round follows quickly, and employs a rather convoluted timetable mechanism - the week is divided into days, each day into subjects, which can be either "single" or "double" lessons. Behind each lesson is a question requiring one answer - two if it's a double. Get all parts of the question correct, earn ten or twenty points. Everyone's got to take one double. Some of the questions are introduced by film clips involving real schoolchildren doing real schoolwork. This round could drag a little, but Danny keeps the game moving, and the atmosphere rolling.

Next comes an interview with an external examiner. In the opening episode, the contestants were invited to converse with a real French assistante, who managed to elucidate that Bacon was feeling well, and Rudman was an athlete. No-one was asked about buying a return ticket to Lyon, or an ice-cream from the youth hostel. Everyone is marked out of 20.

Finally comes the prepared passage round, or what we now call homework. The contestants have been given a short text to memorise, and must write down their answers on slips of card that are made to look like cut-up exercise books. The spirit of Blankety Blank lives on, albeit without the teasmades. Five points per correct answer, but two away for not writing anything and denying us all a comedy moment.

Add up all these scores and, by a remarkable piece of game design, we have a percentage score. The contestant who has scored closest to 100% will win a hundred pounds and the chance to come back and do it all again on tomorrow's show.

No! The contestant who has scored closest to 100% wins the School's Out trophy, and has the chance to earn £2000 for a school of their choice. They have to play the timetable grid again, and must answer one question from each day, and at least one double somewhere in the week, to win the jackpot. £300 per day completed, a bonus of £500 for passing all parts of the timed test. The clock counts down in the bottom right corner, and slowly changes colour from green to yellow, and presumably on to red, as the time runs down.

This is a remarkably good early evening entertainment, offering something for children, something for the parents, and sends everyone away with a smile on their face. What could possibly stop it from coming back next week? Well, the commitment amongst the UK's television networks to show Middlesbrough football club every mid-week they possibly can, that's what. The BBC showed the 'Boro cup replay against Charlton at 8pm last Wednesday, thus pushing back to 7pm the latest show they're not cancelling but certainly won't renew, Davina McCall's failed chat show Davina.

University Challenge

Quarter-final 1: London Business v Gonville and Caius Cambridge

For those of you with memories like a fish, or who are coming on to the website directly, here's the full draw again:

  • London Business v Gonville and Caius Cambridge
  • Manchester v Imperial Medicine
  • SOAS v Trinity Hall Cambridge
  • Liverpool v Hertfordshire

So, London Business won two tight matches in December and January, against Trinity Oxford and Nottingham and don't play again until April. Gonville & Caius (G&C) accounted for Edinburgh and Sussex. This column favours the Cambridge side, just.

Something of an international bent to the early questions - G&C get bonuses on Iceland, LB get language codes and note that Wenceslas of Bohemia was a Holy Roman Emperor. And he was famously good. The first picture round is birds on flags, after which London Business has opened up a 45-30 lead.

Things we never knew: "hunky dory" takes its name from a district in Yokohama. And the way the British Vegetable Society amended the phrase "Who ate all the pies?" in their advertising. [1] LB are buzzing just that bit more quickly than their Cambridge opponents, but are averaging just one correct answer per set of bonuses. And they're taking an awfully long time to give it. The audio round is a stinker, asking the teams to discern individual instruments of the orchestra. London Business's lead is up to 110-70.

There's more of a literary bent to the third stanza; G&C get a poem from about two words, and LB are asked about the Wife of Bath. BBC plug of the week comes with a mention for Skaro, the planet of the Daleks, as seen on the new series of children's programme Dr Who. Thanks to some inspired buzzing, the Cambridge side has come back to briefly take a five point lead. London Business get the next starter, and the second visual bonuses - on actors playing artists - and their lead is up to 165-130.

That's just two rounds of questions, but two, then three starters go begging in quick succession. London Business stop the rot, get the next correct starter, and it looks like they're home and dry. G&C bravely try to pull it back, and interrupt a bonus, but it's not going to be enough. London Business win by 215-145, a margin of victory that does rather flatter them.

Ian Gosling was the LB's top scorer, with 97; Darren Khodaverdi again led for G&C with 82. London Business took 17/38 bonuses, G&C 13/24, and neither side suffered a missignal. Over the three outings, Mr Khodaverdi made 266 of the side's 595 points, and they made slightly more than 50% of their bonuses. London Business have only got 47% of their bonuses correct, but have 57% of their starters.

Next match: next.

Quarter-Final 2: Manchester v Imperial Medicine

Manchester took easy victories over Trinity Oxford and St Hilda's Oxford. The London Medics lost to Nottingham, but came through the repechage against Trinity Oxford and St John's Oxford. This column reckons that Manchester will show their buzzing prowess to win.

There aren't enough musical works involving the flugelhorn - Vaughan William's ninth symphony and a number by New Kids On The Block, if our memory serves us correctly. This question took everyone by surprise.

Q: In 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed [Joseph] Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the oldest of the nine congregations of the Roman Curia and formerly known by what name? [2]

While Manchester interrupted their very first bonus, such is their urge to rack up a huge score, Imperial Medicine slow the pace down. Both are scoring well - at the first visual round, on British political parties, Manchester has raced to a 90-20 lead. Blimey!

No surprise to find the Medics are correct in a question about medicine, no surprise to find Manchester's Irish captain also gets a question about Irish history. These things even themselves out this year. By the time we reach the audio round, Manchester has already surpassed Gonville and Caius's losing score from the first quarter-final. The lead is at 175-50.

Make that even larger, as Manchester get the Julian calendar, and anniversaries celebrated by £2 coins. Imperial Medics get a starter, but are rewarded by a set of bonuses on Fourier transformations. This column sympathises. Manchester gets one of its next set of bonuses, the first time the side has failed to make at least two. The second visual round is Name That Mineral, and Manchester can almost afford to relax a little - they're 215-100 ahead.

That wouldn't be fuzzy logic, Manchester's next answer, just bad logic. "Five and a half minutes to go," says Thumper. This looks like being the longest 330 seconds of the Medics' lives, but they - and we - are going to have a cracking semi-final at the start of May. It's going to take a team that's fast on the buzzer and strong on the bonuses to defeat the London Business School, and Manchester is just that team. Imperial comes back slightly in the closing stages, benefiting from Manchester's buffalo-bison confusion, but the final score is clear. Manchester wins, 275-140.

Gareth Aubrey was the top-scorer for Manchester with a round 100; Katherine Fitzgerald's 48 led for the Medics. Manchester recorded an eye-watering 29/39 bonuses, the Medics 12/25 with two missignals. Richard Hutchinson was ICM's most valuable player, making 213 of the side's 520 points; the side made just 38% of their bonus questions. Manchester has answered 60% of all their questions correctly.

Next match: SOAS v Trinity Hall Cambridge

[1] Replace the last word with "peas".

[2] The Inquisition.


Heat 3

Eifion Thomas will talk on the Operas of Verdi. His round is only slightly more hit than miss, and he finishes on 9 (2).

Nick Mazonowicz has been swotting up on the Inspector Morse novels and television series. The questions are very detailed, perhaps a little more so than the size of the canon allows. 8 (5) is the contender's score.

Lynne Ashcroft has Anne Boleyn as her specialised subject. It's another round that never quite hits its stride, and 8 (2) is the score.

Peter Taylor will talk about the Locomotives of Sir Nigel Gresley. As he gives the subject, the contender is exuding confidence, but after a little while, his score isn't ticking over as quickly as it might. His final score is 9 (3), making this a general knowledge shoot-out.

Mr Mazonowicz rattles through his questions, but seems to spill more than he saves. He must be doing something right, as he finishes on 18 (8).

Ms Ashcroft picks her way slowly but surely through the rock field of her general knowledge round, and takes the lead on 20 (3).

Mr Thomas gets the question about New Helvetia from last Monday's UC, but doesn't quite manage to get the answers he needs, finishing on 16 (5).

Mr Taylor is one of our more mature contestants, and suggests that the star of a 1990s Robin Hood motion picture was Errol Flynn. Can't have been worse than the real answer. He falls into something of a pass circle, finishing on 14 (8).

Once again, the contestant who trailed going into the second round has emerged victorious.

This Week And Next

Ratings for the week ending 2 April show a surprise New Favourite Game Show. BBC1's Jet Set pulled 5.7m viewers to its Saturday night home, ahead of Dance Fever (5.1m) and ITV's Millionaire (4.7m). Indeed, the Tarrant-tastic show finished a canvas behind the Boat Race, and barely beat The Apprentice's 4.5m on BBC2. Link had 2.9m, UC 2.8m, and the first of a million Masterminds 2.1m. Over on C4, Deal scored 3.8m. Challenge registered its highest score of the year - 165,000 viewers for an episode of Family Fortunes over Sunday lunchtime - for reasons we don't pretend to understand.

Gareth Gates, runner-up in 2002's Pop Idle, has finally been dropped by his record label. This came as something of a surprise, we thought he'd been shown the door a couple of years ago. The label rather stuck the knife in on the way out, saying, "His latest material wasn't strong enough to compete with fresh talent ... like The X Factor."

Paul Hineman, producer of Raven, has confirmed a couple of things. The Fifth Quest will be filmed over the coming weeks, for broadcast in the traditional December slot. There's also an Even More Difficult spin-off series in the works, provisionally called Raven The Island, and due for transmission in late summer. James Mackenzie, the title character, confirms there will (finally!) be a proper Raven minisite on the BBC. And a heads-up to Gatni, there's a DVDI game out in the autumn.

In a change to the advertised programme, Top of the Form night is this Monday - not last Saturday - on BBC4. Dave Gorman presents a one-hour documentary, followed by a then-v-now rematch, and a classic episode. That's from 9.05, so won't clash with University Challenge. And it's all repeated after Wednesday's School's Out. We've also got the return of Have I Got News for You next Friday night.

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