Weaver's Week 2010-11-28

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A couple of shows from the more visible parts of the digital universe. Shortly, we head off to meet parents, but first we need to get there. What mode of transport is available?

The Love Bus


The Love Bus

Carbon Media for Fiver, from 31 October

There are a number of good things on Fiver. That flashing line they have in their idents, that's brilliant. We tried to get an interview, but the cursor had to dash off, leaving us a bit dotty. The programmes themselves? Er, not so hot. In fact, other than checking details of the Don't Stop Believing final, this column cannot recall the last time we watched a programme on Fiver.

Until now. Zoe Salmon is wearing a bus conductor's uniform, because she's on a bright pink bus. Not only is the bus the sort of thing you'll see coming a mile off, it's plastered with the Fiver logo, and she's having it driven through the city. Joining Zoe on the double decker is a driver who we'll not get to see, and a contestant who we will. Just by boarding the bus, the contestant is a winner, and will win a romantic meal at one of the city's poshest restaurants.

Who will join our lucky contestant in their meal? One of half-a-dozen people waiting at various bus stops strategically and magically located throughout the city. Over the course of the show, the bus will drive from stop to stop, and some of the people waiting will be allowed to board it.

The Love Bus Who travels in a bus like this?

Who leaves? The original passenger decides. Should they be bored of the boarder, the passenger will ring the bell and the newcomer will be turfed off, and someone else will take their place. But if the passenger and their new companion are still making interesting conversation, the pair will stay on board and the bus will drive past the waiting hopeful. Whoever is on board the bus at the end of the show will join the original passenger in their romantic meal. And, er, that's it. The passenger knows that they'll see six potential dates, so it's possible for them to apply a standard result from mathematics.

The Stopping Problem is this: you want to take someone to dinner, and potential diners come along in sequence. Whoever you choose, you stick with, and once you've rejected someone, you can't go back to them, because they've gone off in a huff. The optimum result of the Stopping Problem (and we're not going to explain it here: readers may wish to consult the explanation. Or they may not.) is that you should reject the first 37% of partners, and take the first one that's better than anything you've seen so far.

It appears that none of the contestants is following this strategy to the letter. Maybe it's the colour of the bus, that pink really does get in the eyes. Anyway, the show proceeds at a reasonable clip, getting from the start to the finish without any major points of note. It's never going to give the exhilaration of wind rushing through the hair, but then this is The Love Bus, and not The Love Two-Seater Sports Car.

The Love Bus Ah, that's who.

The first episode we saw was filmed in the city of Manchester, and featured all of the city's landmarks. Exchange Square! That Urbis building! A clock that Andy Crane can't read! The building with a bloke waving a chainsaw! The illusion was only entirely spoiled by the continuity – looking one way, it's an urban street with offices crowding out the street, but looking the other, we're suddenly deep in suburbia where houses sit well back from tree-lined avenues. The bus itself had strange and magical powers: seen from inside, it's night and there are streetlights glowing, but outside the sun is in the sky.

There is a serious point to all this – we found ourselves laughing mostly at the continuity errors, and not concentrating on the game itself. The prime reason? It's not a very good game, our mind wanders, and we concentrate on the little details. How this show is sponsored by one of Richard Desmond's organs – he owns the channel, you know. The way the ad break in the middle is used to promote other shows sponsored by Richard Desmond's organs. And didn't Fiver used to be known for the quality of the announcements between programmes?

Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents

Objective for E4, from 18 November

From the pink to the purple, a colour used exclusively by E4. Meet the Parents is their new game show, featuring a couple who have been dating for a few months. One of them has not met the family of the other, and this show covers what happens when they do see the kin.

Except it doesn't. The meeting bit, that's genuine. The parents met in Meet the Parents aren't actually parents, but actors. They're good actors, given almost-credible characters to play, and great latitude in how they play them. The opening episode, for instance, featured a father who was a headteacher in his day job and in his house. Asking trivia questions of children during grace is unusual, but obtaining school reports strained the bounds of credulity.

The other characters were similarly drawn: convincing at a first glance, but cartoonish around the edges. There's a sister who has gone on a gap year and found herself, thus giving an excuse for a sketched-out hippie. There's a brother who believes he's the British answer to Mr. 50 Cents, but MI High's already cornered the market with Seventy-Five Pence. There's a hysterical mother, and a randy gardener.

And so it goes on. These characters are badly drawn, and that's for a reason. They only have to last for five hours without completely tearing. If there's a slight hole in the sister's backstory, it doesn't really matter; the contestant is going to be confused enough. The contestant? Gosh, yes, this is a game show, there's a prize at the end of this. If the contestant can last for five hours without walking out (and embarrassing their new romantic companion) they'll win a holiday. If they do walk, they don't leave the country. At least not on Objective's dime.

Meet the Parents (1) The show is captioned for the hard-of-thinking.

Meet the Parents is a hidden-camera show, with all the actors wired for sound. In this, it feels like an extended skit from Beadle's About, without quite such an air of surreality. It's fairly obvious that an alien is going to be a plastic model, and it won't want a cup of tea. It's less obvious that the people in front of you are telling fibs, living in a cartoonish world.

We've no tremendous moral qualms about the show, we just found it terribly choppy. Five hours of life is edited down into about 20 minutes of television. While five characters are needed to have a hope of pulling off the stunt in real life, it's over-staffing by one or two people for the television show. We've no doubt that the contestant is given other things to do, ones that we don't see, and that only makes us think that we're being spun a particular line. And Ed Hall's voiceover tells us what to think; we're perhaps too used to Big Brother's sparse commentary, and Meet the Parents is shot like Big Brother.

Overall? It's a way of spending half an hour, and we think there are better ones.

University Challenge

Second round, match 4: Peterhouse Cambridge v St John's Cambridge

Peterhouse qualified on 26 July with a 265-165 win over Exeter, who left the contest last week. They're playing St John's Cambridge, victorious over St Andrews four weeks ago. The winners will join Christ's College Cambridge (and six other sides) in the quarter-finals. We kick off with obBilly Shakespeare, people who share their name with characters from Hamlet. They're all dead. That goes to Peterhouse, but St John's kick off with knowledge of da capo. That's the musical term, and not the ITV minor celebrity. Thumper stalls badly while reading out a question about e, i, and θ, and is saved by Peterhouse's Tait.

What did they say? Oh, Carter Ruck. The visual round is on versions of the UK in other European languages, after which Peterhouse has a substantial lead, 100-20. St John's are the men (and woman) who answered questions about "The man who"; Peterhouse get librarians for their bonuses, and then some questions on derivatives – mathematical, financial, and in physics.

And on Peterhouse go – the very anagrammable word AERIST makes wordgame players smile, and gives the leaders a set of bonuses on mushrooms. Such fun guys. Er. The audio round is on popular music producers, and Thumper is a bit lenient on a slightly delayed answer. This column reckons that if we can say "tick tick boom" in the pause, it's lost; this one just about worked. Not that the bonuses helped them, it's the first time they've missed a set entirely, so their lead is a mere 180-40. St John's advance on European monarchy, and subsequently on Greek myths, but this feels like it's delaying the inevitable.

University Challenge St John's: Elliott Bennett-Spragg, Mark Wilson, James Orr, Caroline Tecks.

Or maybe not: they're interrupting the bonuses, and the gap has come down to 80 points. The Punic wars and origin of pigments go to St John's, and we're up to the second visual round: illustrations of Bible stories. Peterhouse believe the story of Moses is in Genesis, St John's pick up that it's in Exodus, and suddenly the score is 185-145. Knowing that 15/- was three-quarters of a pound is more points to St John's, four minutes and 20 points in it.

Game on! Peterhouse need two more starters to win it, but they've needed two more starters since about the music round. Finches bring St John's within five points, and Utopia takes them into the lead. St Johns's take a bit of time to answer questions relating UK prime ministers and US presidents, but Peterhouse pull back with the result from this year's African Cup of Nations; they take the lead back with sites of battles.

Oh dear, Voiceover man is excited again. The next starter goes to St John's, but they miss three questions on "ash". No-one can complete a Pythagorean triple, then wives of Wallis Simpson crop up. Ben Slingo gets it, and Peterhouse have the win! Peterhouse have the win! Mr. Slingo has nine starters, his side made 18/37 bonuses and a missignal. St John's Mark Wilson led with seven starters, his side were right on 19/33 bonuses, but that means Peterhouse win by 215-205.

What a match.

Next match: UCL v Sheffield

Only Connect

Quarter-final 3: Radio Addicts v Brit Poppers

"How did you manage to win your heat?" asks Victoria of the Radio Addicts. "We scored more points than they did," the answer the captain didn't give. "What's your strategy this time?" asks the host of the Brit Poppers. "We've a 1-1-1 formation, and we're going out to win."

Round two will follow shortly, the Brit Poppers have won the toss, elected to bat, and picked the audio question. It's something classical, some Gershwin, "Vienna", and "London Calling". The link is music about European capital cities, good for a point. Radio have Rachel Stevens, the Newfoundland dog, Joseph Stalin, and Donald Duck. "Donald Duck doesn't wear trousers". "The letter S – Rachel was in S Club 7, er, Stalin's name begins with S, er, um..." No. Born with webbed feet is the surprising answer, so no points. Poppers have things that aren't from where they claim to be from: Coade stone, Damascus steel, Greek fire, Egyptian pyramids. Nice idea, but no. They're all things that people have forgotten how to make. A bit like points in this round.

Radio take some simple words: Narrative, Open, Industrial disease, and that's enough for coroner's verdicts and two points. The picture clues lie behind with Wick o'doom, and it's stamps: Schumann, air plane, a Swedish yellow, and an upside-down aeroplane. "They've all hosted the World Cup". Noooooo. These are famous stamps: they're printing errors – the yellow was supposed to be green, and the upside-down aeroplane explains itself. A bonus to radio, who get Shogi 30, Go 361, Reversi 4, Draughts 7. It's not the number of squares on the board, or pieces at the start, but legal opening moves.

Round one, then, saw Radio take a 3-1 lead. Wick o'doom has more pictures for the Poppers, who begin with a starling, some staring eyes, and thing that we're losing a letter each time to produce string and Sting and three points. Radio have Patroclus, who was killed by Hector, who was killed by Achilles, who was killed by Paris. Two points. Boreal and Oriental for the Poppers, who should remember Occidental as it's pertaining to north, east, south, west. Two points there.

Radio begin with Alexandra of Denmark, and reckon it's consorts of kings. They go for it on three, but it's not quite the right answer: it's Camilla Parker-Bowles, who is (technically) the current Princess of Wales. Poppers have a Googolplex, then a Googol, then a Hundred, and finish with what's neither 1 nor 10, but 2. It's the number of zeroes in the previous clue. Nasty. Lovely. Radio finish us off with Granule, Sand, Silt, and reckon it's something to do with grain sizes: next isn't mud but clay.

Only Connect (2) Their winning streak is snapped; no crackling from the other side.

After the walls, the Poppers will be hoping to be in the lead; they currently have a 6-5 advantage. But it's Radio to go to the walls first, beginning with stars, then men in white suits. Now, why is "Mark twain" in lower case, and what is the significance of 365.76cm? Is it four yards? Well, they've solved the wall, perhaps more by accident than design. "Perfect" is the prefix for the third group, and the fourth group – completed by a snooker table – are all the same size. Even the guesses count. Ten points!

Brit Poppers are amongst us now, they've got a discovered attack, but begin with various Elton John hit records. They discuss types of wedding, things in a grenade, brothers, things in a barbecue, and they're randomly jabbing as time expires. The other connections are things that can be pumped, words that sound like wading birds, and chess tactics. Only the birds were in hand. Three points.

Walls are on the website, but Mssng Vls are upon us, Radio leading by 15-9. Stock market indicies goes to Radio 2-(-1). Nicknames of British monarchs is theirs by 3-1, and then there's Things MPs have claimed on expenses. Radio have that by 4-0, with Moat Cleaning and Duck Island appearing. Concept albums appears, Brit Poppers lose a point for missing the "the" from "The Dark Side of the Moon", and then time expires. Radio Addicts have won that by 24-8, and Victoria is quoting Cole Porter at them.

Next match: In Laws v Alesmen


Heat 14

Matthew Coombs is our first contender tonight, he's taking the History of the SAS (from 1940). Though the idea of a fast-reaction strike force had been mooted in the Boer War, it wasn't until the Second World War that the British got around to organising an airborne division. The SAS caused havoc in Italy, and conducted a counter-insurgency in Malaysia. They're perhaps best known for their unorthodox entry into the World Snooker finals of 1980, and for lending their motto to the game show Who Dares Wins. This contender dared, and this contender -- well, it's a bit early to declare victory, but he scored 16 (0).

Sally Jones will take the Novels of Evelyn Waugh (1903-66). Evelyn was the son of a novelist, and his brother was a novelist, so it wasn't a surprise that he, too, wrote books. "Decline and Fall" was a satire of the prep school industry, "Vile Bodies" took a snark to the fashionable set, and "Brideshead Revisited" counterpoints the innocence of university years with the stark realities of war. "Almost all the disasters in English history can be traced to the influence of whales" is one question and answer, and we have to wonder why there's a bowl of petunias in the corner of the room quietly sniggering behind its leaves. 3 (3) is still three more than said flowers have got.

Edmund Dickinson is going to tell us about Formula 1, 1960-1980. This was an era of change: national teams were replaced by sponsored groups, engines moved from the front to the back, tracks arrived and departed (racing cars at Aintree? How will they get over the fences!), and Murray Walker made more regular appearances. And if we're not very much mistaken the round was a car-crash. We are very much mistaken! 15 (1).

Last to the chair tonight is Robin Ball, with the Life and Films of Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977). A native of London, Chaplin is best known for his character "The Tramp" – bowler hat, tight coat and loose trousers, cane and moustache. His best-known film is perhaps "The Great Dictator" (1940), a satire on the nazi party. This round, well it ends on 5 (2).

With the best will in the world, it's a second half of two halves tonight. Sally Jones starts her general knowledge round strongly, finishing on 14 (6). Must we remember "Saturday Night Fever"? Robin Ball does, and quite a bit more, finishing on 14 (5).

Now, to business. Edmund Dickinson is asked about α and ω, and Jacques Chirac's old job, and the big building next to St Pancras, and he's on a roll. The last rulers of Scotland, Big Brother (the Orwell creation), the largest desert, all keep the scoreboard ticking over. Then there's the chain bridge in Budapest, Gulliver's Travels, Durham's castle, and the binary number system take his final score to 30 (4). At the very worst, that's third on the repechage board.

Fifteen for Mr. Coombs to win, perhaps twelve for the runners-up. Though he wasn't expecting it, he's right about the Spanish Inquisition, and about the battles of Ypres. There are a couple of sitters left unswatted – the first man to swim the Channel, and the Muse of history both go begging – and it becomes clear that the contender is in a bit of trouble. Alan Turing lifts him out of the pass spiral, but it's a bit late – 25 (4) is the final.

So Edmund Dickinson goes through as of right, and the repechage board remains unaltered.

This Week And Next

No tremendous surprises in ratings for the week to 14 November. 14.7m people saw Cowell on Sunday, 11.15m stuck around for I'm a Celeb, while 11.75m saw Strictly on Saturday night. The Apprentice (7.55m), HIGNFY (5.85m), The Cube (5.55m) put in their regular appearances, and are joined by QI (4.75m).

Top of the minor channels is University Challenge, 3.25m saw the match. Dancing on Two was seen by 3m, The Apprentice You're Fired by 2.9m, and Come Dine With Me peaked with 2.8m. Celebrity Coach Trip emerged with 2.5m followers, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks slips into BBC2's top thirty, 1.75m viewers puts it behind Pointless.

Ratings for BBC1-HD remain unavailable from BARB, so Cowell remains the biggest HD programme, 1.06m saw the results, and 995,000 saw I'm a Celeb. That HD transmission is actually the biggest digital game show, Celebrity Juice was showing highlights and "only" pulled 1.03 million. Xtra Factor had 860,000, additional Celeb coverage 730,000, Come Dine With Me 720,000, and Only Connect 635,000, making it 27% as popular as The Million Pound Drop. Copycats came back to 455,000 viewers, but CBBC's top show was The Sarah Jane Adventures, a whopping 985,000 means this children's show is the BBC's biggest digital transmission.

The inky press put out their guesses at the Christmas schedules this week. Drop Zone concludes on the 19th with a double-bill, The Apprentice finishes the same night, and there's a clash on Monday as Only Connect clashes with Young Butcher of the Year. Stop making sausages? Stop making heads hurt! There's a live edition of Millionaire on the 23rd, and Have I Got News for You tells jokes out of Christmas crackers on the 24th. Highlights for the 25th include Strictly Come Dancing, The Cube, a Come Dine with Me special, and Noel Edmonds' Guide to Soul Music.

This column prefers to deal in actual fact, such as the fact that we missed the live final of Codi Canu (S4C, last night), and that we plan to publish a double-issue of the television guide on 23 December incorporating all the big shows for the new year. And the Only Connect Grand Final, which looks like it'll go out at 9pm because the questions are too scarily hard for children to see.

In the coming week, there's a new series of cookery show Còcaire nan Còcairean (BBC Alba, Monday 8.30), and a new run of House Gift (ITV, weekdays 2pm). Saturday's casting shows? Strictly is 6.40 for an hour, themed as movie night. Cowell is 7.40 till 9.25, with two songs for the remaining performers. And I'm a Celeb reaches its conclusion – 8.30 each weeknight, and an hour-long final from 9.25 next Saturday. Or you could be watching BBC4's coverage of BBC Choir of the Year (8pm), hosted by Aled Jones and Josie D'Arby.

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