Weaver's Week 2013-10-13

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It's a good week to go international. In the south of France, the MIP festival of television, a global gathering of executives and producers. Bother's Bar has been having a Dutch week. In lieu of new programmes and formats in the UK (and we want to give Channel 4's new panel game two episodes, which is two more than recent Channel 4 panel games have deserved), we're going to look in the other direction, at a couple of shows making their way onto screens in Ireland. Coming up, the return of Anna Nolan, but first!


Celebrity Apprentice

TV3, from 23 September

This review is based on the show from 23 September, which introduced the Irish celebrities. Ten of them, and we reckoned we might have heard of four: musicians Frances Black, Edele Lynch from B*Witched, and Mikey Graham from Boyzone; and Nick Leeson, an expert on the prison system in Singapore.

Joining them are Amanda Brunker (columnist with the Sunday World), Emma Quinlan (Einstein geek), Daniella Moyes (not a legend in Japan), Michael Conlon (boxer), Maclean Burke (from super-soap Fair City), and Martin Maloney (from the mockumentary Hardy Bucks). The role of Big Bad Boss is played by Caroline Downey.

As this is a celebrity series, there's going to be a lot of work done for charity. As it's a programme shown on Ireland's third most popular television channel, we can assume that people do want to talk about their good deeds. The opening challenge is set up by Caroline Downey: it's to design and sell t-shirts in a leading department store, with all proceeds (not profits, but proceeds) going to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The women's team heard that the Game Show Hat committee was visiting.

As this is a series of The Apprentice, Caroline is going to introduce the challenge, and then go away. She's got far better things to be getting on with – there are twelve large Genoise cakes waiting, and she doesn't want them to go stale. Her representatives on earth will be Liz O'Donnell (former TD for the Progressive Democrats†) and John McGuire (entrepreneur).

As is traditional, the initial teams are divided by sex. The somewhat annoying (and terribly serious) voiceover man refers to them as "boys" and "girls". How utterly patronising: all of the contenders are grown-up people, most of them won't see thirty again. This line is clearly intended to belittle the contestants, make them appear inferior before the great knowledge of super-capitalist Caroline.

Aware that they're being patronised by an off-screen narrator, the teams give themselves names – Athena and Iconic. Two names of religious significance: one being a B-list Greek deity, the other referring to the veneration of inanimate objects and religious depictions. Neither name is as overtly capitalist as other ideas: "Mammon" and "Vulture" and "We Are The One Per Cent, We Chuffin' Well Bail You Out".

Nick Leeson poses with the Irish economy. (And we'll stop now, before we get offensive.)

Wasting no time, the gentlemen settle down to read their brief and design their t-shirt. Wasting no time to read their brief, the ladies settle down to design their t-shirt. The design of clothing doesn't actually make for good television, there's only so much interest in scribbling badly-drawn pictures on flipcharts, and it's rather skipped over in the broadcast. The rest of the first day is more televisual – there will have to be a window display, there will be decisions on pricing, and there will be a mandatory shot of a design geek working a computer and looking moody.

Almost since the team names were plucked out of thin air, they've been talking about a PM. Surely they don't get that in Ireland, and mean a Drivetime With Mary Wilson. Or, with this being the commercial side, a Last Word With Matt Cooper. Except they're not talking about early evening news-based radio shows, and are actually talking about Project Managers. This piece of industry jargon is just tossed into the discussion, as though everyone watching will know what it means. We notice when we're excluded.

The contestants were issued with phones. That's what this is.

We also notice the PP logo on the break bumpers, indicating that this programme includes some Product Placement. We wouldn't be surprised to find that the department store had given a few pennies to the producers, we lost count of the number of times it was mentioned, and its advantageous locations were discussed. This column has no objection to product placement, so long as it's clearly displayed, and it would take a complete moron not to notice the arrangement here.

Back to the contestants, where a series of off-camera deals have brought in items for their window displays. Just half-an-hour to fit up the windows before the doors open, and then it's sell sell sell. The gentlemen have brought in some male models to not wear the t-shirts (or, indeed, anything very much), but aren't really exploiting their sporting hero. The ladies are rushed off their feet, glad-handing and escorting shoppers to the pile of t-shirts. This section of the contest makes better television, but we found the sequence – almost 20 minutes of it – to be draining and repetitive.

The gentlemen were busy.

Part three is the debrief, the post mortem, the discussion of what happened. Caroline Downey appears on screen for the first time in almost an hour, and goes through the events of the days. Or, to be exact, she goes through the events as noted by John and Liz. Are they honest rapporteurs of proceedings? Has the footage been skewed to match up with their notes?

We have a concrete example of this. Liz noted – correctly – that the gentlemen's sign spoke of a "limited addition shirt", not a "limited edition shirt". The voiceover has picked up on this three times already, but the producers couldn't find a single member of the public who voiced their concern to camera. They couldn't even find a single contestant who would say to camera, "Joe tells us that our sign's spelled wrongly. Burger." The sign is wrong; the producers are also wrong to assert that this was a major factor in the gentlemen bringing in less money than the women.

Wrong sign, allowing the producers to spin a false story.

That's the result: by general consensus the gentlemen had the better t-shirt design, it was fashionable and wasn't something to promote the ISPCC's campaign, but they'd failed in the selling part of the task. In the world of The Apprentice, money is everything, and quality counts for nothing. It's clear that Caroline doesn't know who to eject from the show, we get the impression that she'd sooner remove one of the ladies. Finally, she makes her choice.

"I thank you for coming on board, you're a good man, you're just not suited for this one. I wish you the best of luck. Unfortunately, Martin, you're fired."

Hands up if you think the contractual obligations make bad television.

We know that the "you're fired" line is part of the format, something that international owner Mark Burnett sees as utterly integral to the success of the programme. Here's the counter-example, the line is bolted on in a most unsatisfactory manner. It actually detracts from everything that Caroline has been saying. Unquestioning adherence to the prevailing orthodoxy does not guarantee good results.

A similar problem has been following the show around throughout the broadcast. There's an irritating orchestral score behind all the action. Contestants can't speak by themselves, they have to shout to be heard over this loungecore wibbling. Viewers can't form their own opinion of the programme, they have to suffer emotional manipulation from the plinky-plonky synthesiser.

And why are the contestants wearing ill-fitting and shiny suits? Is it fancy dress night on TV3? Will veteran journalist Vincent Browne turn up wearing a chicken costume? The ladies get out of their costume as quickly as they can, kicking off their high heels; of the men, only Nick Leeson is ever spotted without a rag around his neck. Never trust a man who wears a tie without irony; never trust anyone in a suit so shiny you can see yourself reflected in it.

Why are all the captions in LOLcat font?

Celebrity Apprentice is professionally made television. But it could be television from anywhere in the world: local celebs make and sell a t-shirt to support a local charity. We don't get anything local from it. Most of these criticisms stand from our look at the UK version, back in March 2005.

The Great Irish Bake Off

TV3, from 25 September

It's been far too long since we last saw Anna Nolan. Everyone's favourite Twentieth Century Big Brother contestant has carved out a niche back in Ireland, presenting lifestyle programmes. She was an obvious choice to fill the spot of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and host this programme.

As it's the first in the series, we need the explanation of why the programme is done in a big marquee somewhere in the country. It's to be fair to all the contestants, they can't know where the hot spots are in that particular oven, they're out of their own comfort zones. We must also meet the judges, Paul Kelly and Biddy White Lennon. Well, actually, we don't: we had to do a bit of research to find out who these people are. Biddy is a journalist and author of cookery books, and Paul is a chef with two decades of experience.

Fourteen minutes in, and already the blowtorch is out.

The first challenge is cupcakes. Yes, they're going to ease the contestants in gently, as though they were college football sides opening up with a match against much lesser opposition. Twelve cupcakes, of two designs, with the contestant's personality and ability shining through. That's why it's a signature challenge, something personal and individual to the bakers.

Interspersed throughout this first challenge are profiles of the contestants, beginning with a young student who wasn't even born when Paul first donned an apron in anger. We learn what drives the contestants to bake, what the judges are looking for, and that a "ganash" isn't the cry of an Abyssinian wire-haired tripe hound, but an icing made of chocolate, cream, and butter. (And it's actually spelled "ganache".)

All of this is light and fluffy: there's a certain amount of tension as the clock ticks on, and Anna can only get on screen by giving her impression of the Countdown clock. "You have one hour left. Thirty minutes. Ten minutes!" The judges are touring the room, asking the contestants to explain what they're doing, gently and subtly prodding them to give something to make good television.

Paul, Biddy, and Anna eat cakes.

Eventually, time expires, and the judging takes place. This is presaged by extreme close-ups of the cupcakes, and salacious shots of their interior. Look! You can see the filling! Paul and Biddy give their opinion, and it quickly becomes clear that Biddy has a very sensitive moisture detection system.

All of this has taken up half of the programme, the second and final challenge is the technical bake. The judges introduce the idea, they've left the ingredients and an outline recipe, but there's room for the contestants to do what they think best. In this episode, the technical bake is a Genoise cake: a sponge cake sliced in three, with a thick icing filling between each layer. The topping is local strawberries, and the whole structure is coated in a coconut glaze.

Paul and Biddy have an idea of how they expect the cake to look and taste, as demonstrated by Paul's own creation. But they'll be judging this one blind, so they withdraw from the tent. Somewhere, there's a room; somewhere, there are fingers to point.

There's a slight change of pace in the show here: Anna is the only outsider, the only person to tease out what the contestants are doing, but we don't get such a tremendous insight this time around. Maybe it's because the technical challenge is significantly more difficult and requires more concentration. Maybe it's because the producers left far less time – the actual cooking is condensed into nine minutes. Certainly this is one place where the UK's two presenters can naturally fill the void: Mel and Sue can naturally talk amongst themselves, Anna looks a bit daft talking to herself.

...but whose cakes are they eating?

Again, the cooking ends, and the judging begins. Again, we have exceedingly focussed shots of the cakes. Again, we have the judges giving their points, and Biddy declaring cakes to be "moist" – or, in one case, "soggy". This time, the judges are offering opinions on twelve very similar cakes, and the whole thing gets more than a little repetitive.

The end of the programme feels rushed: in barely 90 seconds, we find out the week's star baker, the baker to leave the programme, and consolations to the loser before we're into what's up Next Week. It's not the only element familiar from the BBC2 version: the marquee's level playing field, the colourful decorations that remind us of a country fair, the contestants who nick their fingers or pick up a hot tray, requiring treatment by the medical staff.

We noticed that this show also featured product placement, but we couldn't honestly tell you what products had been placed there. Was there a uniquely Irish element to proceedings? Beyond the use of local strawberries, and the tent being in an Irish manor house, not really, but neither was it at all obvious that this was an imported format. The opening cry of "On your marks, get set, bake" still felt natural.

Most importantly, The Great Irish Bake Off is entertaining television. Anna Nolan has retained her charm and empathy. The judges clearly know what they're talking about, but they're not saying that they know best – different interpretations of their guidelines are welcomed and rewarded. The whole programme is a serious competition, but it's not the end of the world if people lose. A programme infused with a light dusting of fun.

Only Connect

Series 8, Match P: Oenophiles v Science Editors

Walls 353 and 354. Didier Bruyère, Scott Dawson, and Jamie Dodding are fans of Pinot. Jamie is the brother of the Draughtsmen, finalists in an earlier series; Didier was a Mastermind finalist last April. Andrew Cosgrove, Shreeya Nanda, and Kester Jarvis all work in science publications; their weakness might be arts other than film and literature.

Connections, and the Oenophiles (pronounced EE-no-files) kick off. They have The Banana Industry, Perfect Squares from 9801, The Natural History of a Goldfish, and they're thinking it's Books that have won Oddest Title of the Year. Good, but no. Books by David Foster Wallace? No. No! This is a set of specialist subjects rejected by Mastermind. Onwards! Pollock's "Lavender Mist", William Riker, Apsley House London, and some gin-based Pimm's. "They're all number two." No! "They're all Number One". It's top of the pops, it's a bonus for the Oenophiles, and they'll see Mike Reid next Thursday. Number 1-0.

More music for the Oenophiles' next question: something loud, the Cars, Van Morrison, and two points for modes of transport. The first was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Over to the Editors, who have unglazed pottery, an extra shot in croquet, light brown, and shellfish soup. Kester pushes the buzzer, but he's just out of time. Another bonus there, "Bisque" is right. 4-0.

Pictures for the Oenophiles: Sister Sledge, Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. "Female relatives" is right for three; the identification was wrong, it was Grandma Moses. For the Editors, Thursday in Welsh, Fireman Sam's fire engine, Mozart's 41st symphony, and the fifth planet. "Jupiter?" It's right; they don't believe it, it's right. The Oenophiles lead 7-1.

Sequences loom, the Oenophiles have a ship's wheel, some Sanskrit sign, and then they have a very long think. They buzz, continue conferring, and suggest a fish (or something representing Christianity). That's OK: it's symbols of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, being religions by increasing adherents. For the Editors, Sclera, Choroid, Retina, which doesn't lead to the optic nerve, nor to the lens. Bits in the eye, and going forward from the back it's the vitreous humour. 10-1.

2000 Kafelnikov, 2004 Massú, so it's tennis and it's four years. 2012 Murray, correct, being winners of the quadrennial ATP 750 event on the men's tennis tour. Over to the Editors: Maggiore, Neuchâtel, Constance, so it's lakes, and getting bigger. But it's not Garda, it's not Como. We want Swiss lakes, so finishing with Geneva. This match is already as distant as the Finland station, 13-1.

Microwave ovens, custom kitchens, refrigerators. Prizes on The Generation Game? No, from the lyric to "Money for nothing", it's colour TVs for two points. Pictures for the Editors: a cow, Chandler Bing, an FHM model. Victoria wouldn't get this in a million years, it's not Google. It's a baby's bottle, being things with decreasing numbers of nipples. Victoria launches into a rant about how wonderful it is that the contestants don't associate buxom models with their nipples, and how they can all leave the studio with their heads held high. The Oenophiles look set to leave as winners, leading as they do by 15-1.

Fifteen-to-One We've done the Fifteen-to-One revival.

The Science Editors have their wall, with things found in the theatre. That doesn't come out; things with strings do. Sea-things? This just isn't happening for them; only the one group there. Parts of a stage, seals, come out; famous Johnathans doesn't. Four points!

For the Oenophiles, not wine but water. There are places in Hampshire, there are rags, there are tunes by Mike Oldfield, there are flags – and quite how the team don't identify Jolly Roger as a flag is beyond us. Guns come out as a group, and then they have Mike Oldfield tracks. There are flags, there are places in Hampshire, but the team don't quite remember what they've hit. With only moments to go, they do bring out the right groups, and give the connections. Ten points!

So, going into Missing Vowels, it's not really a contest. The Oenophiles lead by 25-5. Very rare that we've had a game as one-sided as this, a tribute to the general brilliance of the teams over the years. Types of accommodation goes to the Editors 2-1, extracts from the lyric of "American pie" goes to the Editors 2-0. Eminent biologists looks to be theirs as well, but slips away to the Oenophiles 2-1. The final score sees the Oenophiles on top, 28-10.

"Only Connect could go out into the snow wearing only a t-shirt. It doesn't. It may be tough, but it's not stupid."


It's been the MIP festival this week, a television trade event where formats are hawked around and awards get dished out. With the Week being compiled on a budget of about zero pence, we couldn't afford a can of pop, never mind pop to Cannes, and watched events on t'interwebs. Of course, this being the Massively Incorrect Producers festival, the awards go to the worst shows; last year's game show gong went to The Bank Job, a mere six months after it had been taken off air and been replaced by the test card and a tone.

The Bank Job Just go away.

This year, we found how MIP producers like reality shows, they're perhaps one-fifth of the cost of scripted drama and comedy. In the junior session, we learned that children want to be famous; they don't know for what they want to be famous. And they don't want to watch the same shows repeated over and over and over and over. Bad news for the Challenge channel.

"The lack of sharing for particular verticals is not because of that vertical, it's because of poor journalism." Al Jazeera straight-up confused us. But Fremantle Media gave the most gnomic utterance: "If you're gonna do something like fly-fishing, do it on a global scale, otherwise it's not monetisable." So we can't have Britain's Best Angler, but Bruno Brookes and J. R. Hartley must host Intercontinental Fly Fishing?

And we had the MIP Format Doormat, a bunch of Shows Before They're Shown. We've edited for style and clarity, but offer these without comment.

  • Married At First Sight: gets six single people to marry a stranger, chosen by strangers.
  • The Love Nest: a bachelor plus four women, with him awarding them 'hearts'. They can exchange the hearts for money and run if they want.
  • Guys in Disguise: men who fancy a woman take her out on a date, dressed in bizarre disguise (e.g. a giant rabbit costume)
  • Olé! (Fancy That!): sends six celebrities into a bullring and gets them to catch and stop a wild bull by the horns.
  • Versus: The exciting TV format where you predict the outcome of duels.
  • Keep Your Light Shining: TV karaoke, but each singer only gets 20 seconds to sing a segment of a song at a time.
  • The Band Rules: TV karaoke with a 14-piece band whose members stop playing if they don't like the singer.
  • Dancegerous: a TV dancing contest with 'crazy' challenges: contestants dance "on a greased floor, on the edge, with a bear..."
  • Sing It, Sell It: X Factor meets eBay: people write and record songs in order to sell their stuff.
  • You Marionette Puppet!: People compete for a job with Jim Henson's Workshop.
  • Grab It Hold It Count It: Players only get to take the money they've clung on to if they can correctly estimate how much they have.
  • Take on the Twisters: Winner of the award for Best Studio-Based Game Show Format Involving Eight Coloured Hourglasses That Just Sit There For 85% Of The Programme.

And if there's one useful thing we've learned, it's that the idiomatic "water-cooler" translates into French as "machine á café".

This Week And Next

Match thirteen on University Challenge was the fourth Oxbridge match of the still-young season, and the third in five weeks. Downing are the seventh Cambridge college we've seen. Everyone from Cambridge has been on this year! We reckon that if Brig Bother had got a few chums from his bar to make up a team, they'd have been given a place on the show. St John's Oxford were the opposition this week, alumni not mentioned include the captain of the defending University Challenge The Professionals team.

This was also a Tom week: precisely half of the contestants use this given name, and precisely half of them were sitting in seat four and reading maths. Downing had the advantage in the early stages, and led 75-15 after a round on the shipping forecast areas, "Who Wants to Be in Finisterre?" St John's got the Uxbridge English Dictionary round, on new words and new meanings for old words.

University Challenge St John's Oxford: Ted Elgar, Tom Finch, Jonathan Lane, Tom Salt.
Downing Cambridge: Tom Claxton, Georgina Phillips, John Morgan, Tom Rees.

St John's remained in touch until halfway through, but Downing managed to spell homophones correctly, St John's missed false friends in foreign tongues, and the game was as good as over. Thumper paused only to wonder a) how a student managed to know "The Fat Duck" restaurant, and 2) why students should bother to know such acclaimed restaurants. C'mon, Beardie, don't contradict yourself within a minute! Otherwise we'll replace you with someone who knows the price of a loaf. Downing's winning score was 260-115.

Following up a point we made last time, Countdown on Monday included Michaela Strachan talking about Gordon the Gopher. Nick Hewer, the present presenter, hadn't a clue who Gordon the Gopher is. Once a Ratfan...

More awards news, from the Classical Brits event. Hans Zimmer has been given a lifetime award for services to film and television soundtracks. His greatest achievement remains the soft rock classic that was the theme to Going for Gold.

Mastermind was up against the England men's football team, and brought out the Really Big Guns.

  • Bruce Lawson (Faraday and Winter novels by Graham Hurley) knew the broad plots of the books, but the piddling little details foiled him. 9 (1) wasn't feeling like a winning score, and the second round didn't pick up a head of steam. 17 (5).
  • Brian Pendreigh (Dad's Army) knew those little details, but suffered a slow start with a couple of errors. Once he got going, he got going: 12 (0). A semi-finalist three series ago, Brian knows to answer with a surname if he can, and gets a lot of questions right, but a few wrong and a couple of passes mean 25 (2) is a beatable score.
  • David Stainer (European football championships 1980-present) answered questions on the men's tournament, which we assume is what he specified. No passes, sharp answers. 12 (0) for the unbeaten Masterteam and Only Connect player, Grand Slam veteran, and heat winner just last year. Again, a tricky set of questions; again, a few errors in the round, and 26 (0) won't bring him back as a runner-up.
  • Andrew Warmington (French Revolution) was able to tell a story in his two minutes, and quickly got into the swing. His reward: a perfect 14 (0). Twice a heat winner in the past, Andrew needs thirteen to be sure of a win. There are a couple of errors in the early part of the set, which suddenly ramps up in difficulty. The contender remains stalled on 25 for a few questions, then gets one wrong on 26, before getting over the line. The final score is 28 (0).

Andrew Warmington, therefore, gets another heat victory to add to his collection. No prizes, this is Mastermind.

Ratings figures for the week to 29 September show that Strictly Come Dancing is back on top, 10.55m saw Saturday's performances. The X Factor had 9.1m on Sunday, but the Saturday edition is under threat from The Great British Bake Off, now 7.3m and rising nicely. Beneath the big three, Pointless Celebrities recorded 4.05m, Big Star's Little Star 3.9m, and University Challenge 2.95m. Channel 4 had the Big Fat Quiz of the 90s (1.85m), and the return of Never Mind the Buzzcocks on BBC2 had 1.15m viewers.

Celebrity Juice continues to rule the new channels, with 1.44m seeing this week's episode. Only Connect came back with 785,000, comfortably ahead of A League Of Their Own Series 7 (620,000) and Xtra Factor (a mere 605,000).

Biggest new show of the week is Fferm Ffactor (S4C, 7.30 Wed), the biggest Welsh-language entertainment series anywhere. Also: Sweat the Small Stuff (BBC3, 10pm Tue), and Masterchef New Zealand (Really, 6pm weekdays). Next Saturday, Pointless at 5.40 ahead of Strictly at 6.30. The Chase at 7 has Alastair Stewart and Cheggers, that leads into X at 8. There's a tribute to David Frost on BBC2 at 8.20, and highlights of the BAFTA Cymru-winning series Côr Cymru on S4C at 8. Next Sunday morning sees the return of Fort Boyard Ultimate Challenge on CITV and ITV Breakfast Broadcasting at 8.25. Set your alarms.

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