Weaver's Week 2012-08-19

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Big Brother

"The summer's cultural high point ends tonight," claimed microbloggers BB Spy last Monday. What rot: this year's cultural high-water mark is Danny Boyle, The Exhibitionists, Julien Temple, and punk bands playing to a pub audience measured in two figures.

Big Brother

Endemol for Channel 5, 5 June – 13 August

This is Big Brother. Stab. Hug. — Lab rat Lydia Louisa.

Day 4348, and the latest group of lab rats are three days into their experiment. Today's mantra is "they'll tell the stories they want to tell". There'll be love stories, it's only a few minutes before Interchangeable Lab Rat 326 is plotting how she would pair off the various rats. There'll be bizarre stories, ILR-330 and ILR-323 are discussing the best way to floss their teeth, possibly the first time Channel 5 has given so much coverage to dental hygiene.

But mostly, our first sample episode was about the hate stories. Every year, the group gets along famously until something happens. This year, it was someone eating a sausage. The exact details need not be recalled; they were unclear at the time, they became irrelevant within moments. The processed pork product was a cypher, an excuse to ascertain and assert control in the studio.

About two-thirds of the highlights programme was given over to this power play. One of the protagonists appeared to light the blue touch-paper and retire, and contributors to the SPeak Your Branes boards were full of praise for this "tactic". Had ILR-323 deliberately planned this event? Had she spotted the gap and blown it open, like ice freezing in a cracked pipe? Or had she made and resolved her point, and the discussions by others been an exposition of their own fears and uncertainties?

"Typical girls fighting over a sausage" – Lady Sovereign

It wasn't the first time sausages had been the excuse for a power-play. Way back in 2003, sausages were the focus of debate on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! Then, the battle was between the contestants and the producers, with the contenders threatening to quit en bloc, leaving ITV with five hours to fill. This year, the battle was entirely internal. The Party does negotiate, but likes to pretend it does not; I'm a Celeb's producers are transparent and honest.

Room 101 In January, Gregg Wallace suggested that sausages enter Room 101.

In a change to prior practice, the lab rats were allowed and encouraged to discuss nominations, to plot and scheme openly. Let go of the arbitrary and counter-productive rule, only ever introduced to clip Nick Bateman's wings, and directly responsible for more ill-feeling than any other. The rule was re-introduced at The Party's convenience, and the entertainment programme suffered.

ILR-32 — ah, this isn't working. Benedict said that he was a human being, and that he could snuggle up to whoever he wanted to snuggle up to, whatever genitalia they had, and there was nothing wrong with that. His argument was contradicted by Julie Bindel, a publicity-seeking hate-peddler who claimed that women only sleep with men because patriarchy's made them, mmmkay? (We may be slightly misrepresenting Miss Bindel's argument.) Because Miss Bindel is not in The Party's television studio, and Benedict was, there was no chance to discuss this matter further. Nor was the opportunity taken up when Benedict had left the studio. Apparently, this doesn't fall in the remit of Bit on the Side, on the grounds that it's too complex for the Channel 5 audience to understand. Yet Channel 5 was let loose with Daria?

"The stories people tell make and reveal patterns. They unfold and invoke a vision of a world."

We heard the national anthem more on Big Brother than on any other show. Never mind Gary Barlobe and the Soldiers' WAGs, never mind Andy and Mo and Victoria and Kate, just get Sara to holler the song in her unique style. "God save the Queen" is written to be easy for anyone to sing, it only has a range of a few notes, and Sara managed to miss them all.

Big Brother Sara, Caroline, and Lauren have a tea party.

A couple of recurring motifs characterised this year's series. Before it began, the publicity was along the lines of "Big Brother meets The Hunger Games", referring to the hugely popular series of books and merchandise. While the show was on air, many correspondents were annoyed by The Party using "up for nomination" when they meant "up for eviction".

We put two and two together to make five, or in this case The Big Brother Hungry Game. Lab rats wake up one Tuesday morning to find that all the food in the house has vanished, apart from the most basic of supplies: chickpeas and lentils are nutritious, but dull. The challenge lasts until Sunday night, and during the six days they will – collectively and individually – be offered luxury food to eat.

But this comes at a price: this challenge determines the shopping budget for next week, and that budget comes down for every time someone succumbs to temptation. If everyone has something now, they will all suffer next week. What's more, anyone who doesn't take of the rich nosh cannot be nominated that week. Do the lab rats go hungry, or do they go home?

9.45: The light in the bedroom has now been switched on as well. This one is a bit easier on the eye.

Once upon a time, The Party was prepared to explain why it was doing what it was doing. It would enlist psychologists to give their opinions, people who would influence – and sometimes deviate from – The Party line. There was a time when people would be cast into the show to challenge the viewer's stereotypes – the blind man, the anarchist, the squatter.

This year, as last year, The Party has tended to cast along tediously predictable lines. The thought seems to be that Big Brother has a target audience, and so most of the participants should be along those lines. Oh, they'll throw in a couple of freaks, preferably the sort who will be out at the first opportunity, just so they can pretend to be a bit diverse.

Big Brother Some of the lab rats on the sofas.

"Delivering messages and making pointed criticisms"

About three weeks in, Conor had a rant, in which he suggested putting portable beauty devices in locations where they would cause injury. Our view is that this was just beyond the limit of acceptable behaviour: while of limited duration, it was aggressive and threatening, it was clearly aimed at a particular person, and we don't buy the argument that it was something said in the heat of the moment. There had been prior aggression towards other lab rats. It emerged that The Party wanted to keep Conor in, down-playing the offence, and geared their actions to that end. If The Party wanted him out, they would have thrown him out.

Inevitably, there was a lot of heat generated on the Speak Your Branes And Stamp Your Feet And Get Into A Huge Huff About What Is Only A Very Minor Game Show That Hardly Anyone Watches sites. About this, we care little; we demonstrated in 2010 that these people couldn't organise a mass eviction, and they successfully promoted Deana Uppal into third place in the final.

More telling was a communiqué from The Party. When the object of Conor's wrath sought a hug from another lab rat, the 140-character update read, "Yup, a good mounting. That’s all she needed." We wondered, "Does the OFCOM code cover publication on non-licensed platforms?", to which the answer is no. And then "Well, should it?", which requires a whole lot of thought and careful consideration, because if we legislate in haste, we will repent at our leisure.

Big Brother Spot the sexist.

Another edict from The Party was issued on Day 4367. It contained phrases like, "This may devastate the purists ... those days are gone my friend ... plenty of benefits to having lab rats who aren't shy of discussing their alliances ... more like an intense staring contest ... an opportunity to outwit fresh enemies." Rather than directly shape the experience of the lab rats in the studio, The Party wants to try and shape the experience of the lab rats in the wider world. Big Brother is still a social experiment: it's just that the bulk of the experiment is on society and isn't directly televised.

"The focus is on the clash of personalities rather than the clash of ideas – hardly surprising when there are so few ideas to clash."

And the daily transmissions continued, and the lab rats dwindled, and the Speak Your Branes sites decided that Conor was being protected, and that Deana was this year's Chosen One, and that Sara was quietly making her way to fourth place, and that Adam was being targeted by The Party's agents. We found the programme tedious – by mid-July, anyone with half a brain (Lydia, Benedict, Caroline Wharram) had been eliminated, and if we wanted to watch mind-rotting television, ITV2 does it in more style.

Voting over the internet was enabled for this series, as it had been since last August. Except that internet voting closed on 27 July, and did not re-open for the remaining votes. It's generally believed that The Party's chosen voting booth is a hotbed of fraud, with automated robots able to click and like, and probably stuff the ballot boxes. Indeed, a method of gaming the system was available as early as February. That's February 2011, eighteen months ago, and six months before Channel 5 began broadcasting Big Brother.

OFCOM is busy. The regulator is already investigating Conor's rant, and a comment on it by Victor, and something else that we didn't notice at the time. It's clear that the voting system this series had large holes, and may not have accurately reflected the viewers' wishes.

"New gameshow idea! 'Who Wants To Win Some Money?' If you say that you do, you win. That's it. That's entirely it. CAPTIVATING." — Alan Jensen

Big Brother The eventual winner. Whichever interchangeable lab rat he was.

The series' late draw was The White Room. This wasn't a tribute to the KLF, more's the pity; it could have been wild and anarchic and unpredictable. Instead, it turned into the most tedious drivel we've ever seen: three people living in a room that is painted in various shades of white, whoever lasts longest wins. Except that The Party insisted someone had to leave after just over a day, and someone else had to leave after about three days.

It was predictable, it was all done to an unnatural timetable, and the net result – that a ranting sexist was gifted £50,000 – left a sour taste in most of the public's mouths. Not least because the ranting sexist had been gifted this money without any public involvement. Participation in The White Room had been in the gift of the Party's Narks, as nominations were done by the lab rats' families rather than by the lab rats themselves.

"If all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth."

As with many other challenges during the series, the rules of The White Room had not been made clear to the viewers. We would like to say that this was the result of ill-considered, shoddy, and undisciplined production – it's a matter of record that previous series of Big Brother have been blighted in this way. We don't have enough evidence to conclude that the whole thing wasn't fixed in some direction, but nor can we demonstrate that it was rigged. At times, The Party is indistinguishable from the Daily Mail, somewhat tainted by accusations of rewriting articles at the slightest criticism.

Our big problem with this year's Big Brother is this: It was rubbish television. To mark the end of the series, The Party wanted to find people's most memorable moment. The three they suggested – one of the weekly tasks, a white room, and one set of nominations – were entirely forgettable. The lab rats were quickly reduced to two-dimensional, cartoonish characters. The Party's set tasks were vapid and nugatory, if not confusing, and we found no reason to tune in for more than the occasional episode.

This Week And Next

University Challenge had Wadham College Oxford against Bristol. It wasn't a classic match, with the teams answering only about 40% of the questions correctly. Bristol moved into an early lead, and though Wadham managed to draw level, they never quite managed to take the lead. There are some great questions – we particularly enjoyed the one on silent letters to make words look Latinate – but the players never got out of second gear. Bristol end up winning, 120-105, which is about right for the game. They'll doubtless wish to address the five missignals before their next outing.

University Challenge Wadham Oxford: Alistair Smout, Jonathan Hall, John Stanhope, Oliver Forrest.
Bristol: James Xiao, Andy Suttie, Will Brady, Madeleine Fforde.

Mastermind reached heat 2, and it went out across the UK and on BBC-HD at the same time.

  • Sian West (specialist: Billie Holiday) thinks before answering, and scores 12 (0 passes). The steady approach continues in the general knowledge round, with a guest appearance by Emu, and ends on 26 (0).
  • Matthew Clarke (Eddie Merckx) gets the first question wrong, and improves. 9 (1) is enhanced by REM's "Furry Happy Monsters" and more – 18 (10) the final score.
  • Nathan Scott (Ludwig Wittgenstein) struggles a little, 7 (3). His second round starts slowly, then he gets Rentaghost and is away. Gadzooks! 18 (8)
  • Andrew Granath (William Gladstone) gets a potted biography of the subject and 13 (0). His round is deficient in children's television nostalgia (unless one counts Ned Sherrin) and ends on 24 (5).

So the consultant Sian West is tonight's winner, and will take her precise method through to the second round.

After the success of Strictly Come Dancing's outing to Blackpool last year, the producers of The X Factor have decided they'll also be on the road for their final. It'll be held in Manchester. We believe Quay House is still available, complete with a bloke waving a chainsaw.

OFCOM news, and we learn that the trial period for internet voting in programmes like The X Factor is to be extended into August next year. OFCOM has said there isn't enough evidence to support a relaxation of the rule. The fact is that internet voting has twice failed on Big Brother – withdrawn this year, crashed last year – and was aborted by Britain's Got Talent after failing on its opening day. The technology hasn't been taken up by medium-sized productions. This column supports policy based on evidence rather than prejudice, and the evidence so far suggests that internet voting is not working.

The regulator has launched an investigation into Got to Dance, which went out on The Satellite Channel on 4 March. It's rejected about 400 complaints against Big Brother from early July, claiming some sort of racial discrimination.

Ratings in the week to 5 August won't take that long. No game shows at all on BBC1, no game shows in the top 30 for ITV or BBC2, so Big Brother returns to top spot for the first time since 2010 – 1.65m people saw Becky and Conor leave the set. Channel 4's top game show was Come Dine with Me (1.1m viewers), and Deal or No Deal's best was 950,000 on Tuesday. Elsewhere, UKTV Dave ruled the roost – QI XL brought 490,000, and HIGNFY 375,000. Additional Big Brother coverage had 355,000 on 5*, and a very good score on Pop!, where 63,000 tuned in to the Australian import Lab Rats Challenge.

The new season of game shows began yesterday. ITV now gives us The Chase With Celebrities (7pm Sun), Don't Blow the Inheritance (5pm weekdays), and two overlapping runs of The Talent Show Story (5.30 Sunday and 11.35 Thursday). For younger viewers, Alesha's Street Dance Stars returns (10am weekdays, CBBC). Channel 4 has a comedy season, including Vic and Bob's Lucky Sexy Winners (10pm Thursday) and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown The Rematch (9pm Friday). Next Saturday's edition of The Archive Hour (8pm, Radio 4) is of interest, as Mark Damazer (St Peter's Oxford) celebrates fifty years of University Challenge. He talks to Bamber Gascoigne (Magdalene Cambridge) and Jeremy Paxman (St Catharine's Cambridge), and the first broadcast interview with Gail Trimble (Corpus Christi Oxford) since 2009.

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