Weaver's Week 2008-01-13

Weaver's Week Index


Finger of suspicion

A happy new year to all our readers, whether through email or on the website at ukgameshows.com.


BBC Scotland for CBBC channel, 2006, now repeated weekends 1.30pm

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We're working in reverse chronological order this month, reviewing three old formats from newest to oldest. The first is a CBBC detective show that – to be brutally honest – we completely missed when it first went out two years ago. It's our loss.

Simon Grant leads a double-life. By day, he's the youthful and bespectacled manager of the Kilcrammond House Hotel, bearing a distinct resemblance to that bloke from the Gold Blend adverts. But as soon as there's a bit of a disturbance – a rock through a window, a CD going missing – he turns into the chief examiner for the Academy of Criminal Investigation. A youthful and bespectacled examiner, looking for all the world like a youthful Rupert Giles. These acadamies don't fund themselves, not in children's television. Just as MI9's master spy has to work as a mild-mannered janitor to make ends meet, so Simon has a hotel to run.

The transition between Simon's two lives is marked by a very old lift, probably winding the cable by hand, going down from the main lobby to a remarkably flashy chrome workspace. The main feature is the huge central room, where he meets this week's team of three investigators. They'll construct a timeline of events, and map out the connections between the suspects.

During the course of the show, they'll get evidence from various sources. Initially, there are brief statements from each of the four suspects; later, some CCTV footage arrives. There's always some forensic work, lifting fingerprints or comparing handwriting. All of the crimes are solvable using evidence presented to the team and to the viewer, and Simon reminds us that the key points are motive, means, and opportunity. For instance, someone may dislike their boss, and may quietly cheer that someone's tipped red paint all over his car, but they were in the dining room for the entire time the car was painted. Or were they?

The investigators are encouraged to give their initial suspicions, but they don't have all the evidence, and it's necessary to keep an open mind. Not least because they'll interview three of the suspects, and (for no adequately explored reason) put them in small metal pods until the big reveal. Actually, it's more of a small reveal, over almost before we've worked out that it's started.

The attention to detail here is fabulous: the boards fill up with jottings, and the team has a sense of purpose that's absent from other attempts to make a game show out of detective work, such as The Murder Game. On the other hand, each show follows a predictable formula: four suspects, some CCTV footage, the forensic examination, the head-to-head interviews, some more evidence.

All of the mysteries were written by Jim Eldridge, who is perhaps best known for his long-running radio series King Street Junior, but wrote such children's television as Julia Jeckyll and Harriet Hyde and Powers. The various actors are clearly well-acquainted with the underlying plot, but have to face the challenge of questions from the detectives, who could be asking questions from almost any tangent. The explanation of how the crime was committed comes from Simon, who hedges his bets a bit, saying that the culprit "probably" did this and "could have" done that. It's a bit stilted, but the alternative – mock-confessions in the style of Very Amateur Dramatics – would be even more toe-curlingly bad.

In retrospect, it looks as though Suspect was killed by its expense – even after commissioning a dozen episodes, that set must have cost a packet. The contemperaneous summary reminds us that there was an unusual lack of promotion when the series first aired in 2006 – it flew completely under our radar, and we don't think it's ever been shown on BBC1 or 2. A shame, because this show had the makings of something quite special.

University Challenge

Round 2, match 6/7: Nottingham v Christ Church Oxford

Nottingham beat Lancaster in the season opener six months ago, Christ Church Oxford overpowered Homerton Cambridge in the last first-rounder three months later. The rules are unchanged: starters for ten, bonuses for 5 to a maximum of 15, penalties for incorrect interruptions, most points at the gong wins and comes back in the quarter-finals.

CCO gets off to a good start, knowing all about nicknames for parliaments and quotations about the measles. Nottingham brings the scores to deuce, and gets the first visual round, on the counties of Northern Ireland. Nottingham has a decent lead, 80-40.

Does no-one remember Middlesbrough Ironopolis? And why does our spell checker insist on asking "Do you mean, 'Middlesborough'"? No, you dunder-headed piece of Seattle nonsense, otherwise we would have typed that. Nottingham get lost in a mosaic, and don't even get the useless fact about how Romans proved they were inferior to the gods by leaving a mistake in each one they made.

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Why do companies pay huge amounts of money to ask 10,000 members of the public stupid questions, like "If the Queen's head were to be removed from the coin of the realm, who would you like to see on there?" Presumably in the hope that they'll get some free publicity, or even a starter question on this programme. (Danny Wallace holding some DIY equipment was the most popular answer, apparently.)

Christ Church brings the scores level at 95-all, but Nottingham's away with the next starter, and promptly halted by a lack of knowledge on Moliére. The Oxford side takes the lead shortly after, and the audio round is on annual best-sellers from the 1980s. "Don't you love me baby" is the offer for the Human League's song, and is correctly rejected. The round should contain a Hidden Transmission Indicator, being the biggest-selling single of 1988 from Cliff Richard, but "Mistletoe and Wine" is passed over in favour of a chance to hear Thumper wonder what on earth they meant by "Yazz and the Plastic Population." Almost worth the inaccuracy.

Christ Church leads 140-100, and extends their advantage with knowledge of English language newspapers in Asia. Nottingham need a quick comeback, and get it with the literary inspiration for Kid Nation, a show that (mercifully) hasn't been picked up on a channel worth watching. Starter of the week:

Q: Here are the nouns from a well-known quotation: to whom is it attributed? "Britain, generals, minister, Cabinet, England, neck, chicken, chicken, neck."

Max Kaufman gets the answer as Winston Churchill, and not Thumper's food order at the University Challenge Christmas Party. The second visual round is Name That United Nations Secretary General. Nottingham gets Boo-Boo and Kofi, but still trails 205-125.

Thumper shows off his flawless pronunciation of South American sea-ports, and is right to fine Christ Church when they buzz but fail to answer. Sounds like there was a bit of a kerfuffle off-screen, even though the side is a hundred up with six minutes to play. Nottingham is perfect on chess terminology, and planetary atmospheres, but CCO gets every second starter, and that's going to help run down the clock and preserve their win.

The teams are getting through questions at a rate of knots, but Thumper finally starts to beat them with starters in the final few minutes. Even then, it's only by a smidge: ? + e + i2 is 4.86 to 2dp, not 4.85. At the gong, Christ Church Oxford has posted a phenomenal score, winning by 305-180.

Max Kaufman answered ten (count 'em!) starters correctly, and CCO made 31/45 bonuses and two missignals. Their match against Manchester (and it's surely a case of where in the draw that will fall, not if) should be a classic. Simon Alvey's six starters are nothing for Nottingham to sneeze at: the sides 15/33 bonuses and four missignals didn't help, but Kaufman very nearly beat them single-handedly.

Next match: Trinity Hall Cambridge v Worcester Oxford

This Week And Next

Highlights from the week of Celebrity Mastermind included:

  • William G. Stewart taking Lord Elgin of Marbles fame, and very politely losing the game to Peter Serafinowicz.
  • Jan Ravens explaining the Fiona Bruce impression she does without once mentioning Charlotte Green.
  • Brian Sewell not knowing the theme tune to Desert Island Disks. Anyone would think that neither he nor the host had ever been on it.
  • Brian Sewell picking a fight over the questions.
  • Kaye Adams and Danny Wallace having a fight to the death, or at least the most fascinating of the contests.

Michael Greed has begun to make his mark at ITV, completely re-writing the station's week-end schedule. Most tellingly, Dancing on Ice has moved to Sunday nights, displacing the Sunday Soap Hour into the week. Now, if we might talk to him about a cab...

Last week, ITV put out a show entitled When Britain First Had Talent, hosted by Amanda Holden. Apparently, she's one of the judges on Britain's Got Talent, not that we noticed her underneath all the nonsense of the format. Highlights of the programme included the later career of Rosa Michelle, one of those child stars who later found gainful employment as a music teacher; and Tony Hallard, a man whose rather dubious talent was that he could ripple his muscles, and can still do it at 68. Simon Cowell confirmed that his presentation style – direct and confrontational – owes a lot to Tony Hatch from New Faces.

As we'd expect from ITV, When Britain First Had Talent was an airbrushed view of television talent shows, concentrating on the contributions from ITV, and giving as little time as possible to the BBC's steps in the area. In part, that's because the Beeb never quite had a stand-out talent show, giving us Bob Says Opportunity Knocks and not a tremendous amount more. (We'll be returning to this subject in next week's Week.) The only reason for the complete omission of the 2003 second series of Pop Idle, or the following year's debut of The X Factor, must be that Simon Cowell has personally removed the master tapes of the entire series from the LWT archive, and buried them deep in his gold-lined swimming pool.

Our favourite moment came from the last member of the Britain's Got Talent panel, former newspaper editor Piers Morgan. He said, and we quote after rolling around on the floor for almost five minutes, "We British have a heritage of laughing at very stupid things."

We hear that ABC-US is to reverse one of its many wrong-headed early cancellation decisions. The Disney-owned entertainment station will make a new series of The Mole, the first since 2003 to star members of the public. Over on NBC-US, a new series of Gladiators has begun, with the part of John Fashanu taken by Hulk Hogan (could they not afford Two Scoops Berry?) and the role of the Crash Mat played by A Pool of Water. We're hoping for domestic revivals of both shows, but only if they're as brilliant as the best of the original runs. So, don't bother.

In more regrettable news, the Serbian edition of Big Brother came to a premature end after three of the evicted contestants were killed in a car crash.

As rumoured during the rainy season last year (we refuse to call it a summer), the BBC is to stage a celebrity conductor series. A group of moderately well-known people, possibly including newscaster and tie-wearer Jon Snow, will compete for the right to conduct an orchestra during the Last Night of the Proms concert in September. A spokeschord for the Beeb said, "We hope that by following different people's journeys in learning how to conduct, it will succeed in opening up classical music to a completely different audience." The definition of "classical music" is, of course, becoming too fuzzy to be of any real use – do G4 count as classical, pop, or some space between? The question this column will be asking is, as ever: does this make for television worth watching?

Ratings for the week to 16 December: X Factor final 12.25m, Come Dancing 11m, Family Fortunes 7.3m, Dragons' Den 3.6m, QI 3m, Scrapheap Roadshow 1.7m. Digital highlights: Xtra Factor 1.2m; QI on BBC4 610,000, on Dave 365,000; Millionaire on Challenge 131,000 – the year's best.

In the week to 23 December, Strictly Come Dancing ended with 12.1m, though Who Dares Wins only had 5.35m. ITV's competition, Star Traders, had 3.15m, and was beaten by Monday's editions of Dragons' Den (3.4m) and University Challenge (3.2m). Dancing On Two's final preview took 3.05m.

Coming up next week: Dancing on Ice (ITV, 5.50 Sunday), Mock the Week Again (BBC2, 10pm Tuesday, most regions), Quote... Unquote (Radio 4, 1.30 Wednesday), and Duel (ITV, 8pm Saturday). Next week's Week reviews The One and Only at slightly greater length than it strictly needs.

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