Weaver's Week 2002-10-12
12th October 2002
Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.
This week, Mark Austen of SURVIVOR 1 was named as the new face of ITV's early evening news. We're reviewing another Constructed Reality Show that's threatening to make Mark's escapade last year look like a major success.
First round, match 6: Leeds -v- Liverpool John Moores
Leeds appeared in the 2000 series, losing to Christ Church Oxford. LJM beat Surrey Oxford before falling to Exeter in tight matches during the 96 season.
Leeds takes an early lead, though LJM never lets their opponents take a huge advantage. A 3/4 on sax tones brings them within five just after the music round, but LJM is keeping Leeds close, but not behind. Then Steve Kidd gets three starters in a row, and Leeds extends the lead.
By the second picture round, the game is up. Neither captain gets a starter until James Webb for Leeds with two minutes to play. Leeds rolls away with the win, 230-135.
Hidden Student Indicator Of The Week: Leeds goes 0/3 on ballerinas, then 4/4 on pop concerts from the crowd.
"Jumbuck is an Australian slang term..." Colin Wilson, LJM: Sheep.
Long Starter Leading To Short Answer Of The Week: In statistics, what is the value of the product moment correlation coefficient for a perfect positive correlation between two independent variables? 
Didn't We Have Him The Other Week Of The Week: The answer to a starter is "Edgar Allan Poe," who cropped up in this review just the other week.
Thoroughly Bizarre Answer Of The Week: [The correct answer is Toc H] Kidd, Leeds: The Elvis Presley Fan Club.
The Top 4 Losers Board: 180 York 165 Jesus Oxford; UMIST 160 Selwyn Cambridge
Kidd is the topper for Leeds, scoring 79 points; James Conway's 64 heads for LJM. Leeds made 19/39 bonuses with one missignal, LJM 13/24 with two missignals. The week was heavily biased towards entertainment (155 points available, 85 scored) and literature (125 available, 90 made) and against geography (20 available, 10 made.)
Next week: Cranfield -v- Brasenose Oxford
FAME ACADEMY (Initial [part of Endemol] for BBC; all over the schedules)
"Some of you have been highly critical of manufactured pop music. Well, if last night's show was an example, then most manufactured groups would wipe the floor with the lot of you." Thus spoke voice coach Carrie Grant (bet that's not her real name) (bet that's not her real hair, either) on Saturday, putting an unfortunate burst of reality into the fantasy world of Fame Academy.
The show began last Friday night with three group performances. Twenty one minutes into the show, and there was an unfortunate if inevitable comparison to POP IDLE. King Crimson's "Dancing In The Moonlight" is being mauled by three people who clearly care more for their dance moves than their ability to carry a tune, or hit notes with any approximation to accuracy. At least one of them is going for the Britney Fan vote, with cleavage most of the way down to her waist. We saw it in January, and Darius Danesh was a halfway decent singer.
Indeed, we've seen most elements of this show before. People living together in a big house is the Unique Selling Point of Endemol's BIG BROTHER. Pliable people being crafted into a generic product is the Unique Selling Point of 19tv's POP IDLE. A plain-speaking head teacher was the USP of Brighter Pictures' CRUEL SUMMER 2. Hmm, another Endemol company. Wonder if we'll see the Academy play SHAFTED at any point...
Probably not. FAME ACADEMY strikes me as being the apotheosis of the Constructed Reality Show genre. For starters, it's the first one to be airing on the BBC. The hits mentioned above have all aired on commercial channels. The Beeb has restricted itself to 2000's year-long CASTAWAY, which was billed and shot as a social experiment, albeit with elements of the docusoap genre so popular four years ago. What is the public service element of Fame Academy? What can the BBC bring to this format that the commercial sector can't? These questions remain unanswered after a week.
Over recent years, the genre known as Constructed Reality Shows has become a scheduler's staple. Big Brother. SURVIVOR, even if no one watched. I'M A CELEBRITY LAWYER, GET ME IN AND OUT. Even that pioneer of the genre, THE REAL WORLD, has had a renaissance. Auntie's mixture of the two could offer something fresh and exciting, but it's beginning to feel like all the good stuff has gotten left in the bowl, leaving us nothing more than the stodge.
The construction of popular music has become a staple of television schedules lately. It started with MAKING THE BAND, a flea-on-the-wall documentary about teen pop band O-Town. Then there was POPSTARS, the show that constructed a teen pop band before your very eyes. It didn't show the subsequent fallout, culminating in the band splitting a week before Academy opened. POP IDLE anointed Will Young as the singer most likely to sell to teen pop purchasers, and then ignored the popular vote and marketed sad loser Gareth Gates anyway. With the losers from Popstars still a spectacular act, and a second season of POPSTARS: THE RIVALS now under way, finding not one but two teen pop bands, what can the Beeb offer? Another teen pop star constructed before our very eyes, or something more substantive?
One co-host of the prime time shows is Patrick Kielty, previously best known in these parts for LAST CHANCE LOTTERY. The other co-host is Cat Deeley, who spent four years getting up early to host Saturday television with Antan Dec. Make comparisons with her co-host's amazing success. CBBC's daily editions are hosted by Jake Humphrey and Holly Willoughby; Choice's by Danann Breathnach and Vanessa Langford; I've never heard of any of these people, and after watching a week's output, I still couldn't tell them from Eve.
First night viewing figures were unspectacular-to-disastrous. THE RUNAWAY BRIDE (ITV) 5.7m / 28.2% FAME ACADEMY 4.6m / 21.2% GARDENERS' WORLD (BBC2) 4.3m / 19.9%
By comparison, Survivor season 1 ep1 took 6.7m, and BB3's opener 6.9m.
Original publicity for the show asked for people with a talent. I was wondering how the viewing public would try to choose between actors and jugglers and painters and orators. None of those people would get past the first interview: they're looking for musicians. Not any old musicians, either - trombonists and conductors and rappers need not apply. They're after vocalists for music in the pop idiom. Surely the BBC should seek to widen the pool of talent, not trawl through the same waters as a number of previous shows.
Like its rivals, the show is based on exclusion, but by a heinously complex method. The "head teacher", former Capital Radio boss Richard Park, in concert with the dance and vocal coaches, chooses three "students" for "probation" each Monday. Those three will perform live to the nation on Friday evening, going to a phone vote. The phone vote opens on Monday, which surely defeats the object of the Friday performance. The two lowest scorers in that phone vote then go to the remaining contest -- sorry, students, and it's the fellow contestants who have the final say on who goes. The other contestants will also do a turn on the Friday show, in duets and as a group.
The prize is simple: a year of opulence. A swanky flat in central London, a vacation on Concorde, tickets to high-profile events, and a recording contract. Like Cinderella's gifts, everything will disappear at the stroke of midnight after one year. The total value is somewhere around £1 million, dwarfing the Beeb's previous largest prize.
By Monday, Classmaster Park had decided that the contestants weren't up to murdering "Celebration" on national television, and selected a U2 track to kill in a faux-gospel style. The pink one thinks she's a bird, the one who looks like Jonathan Levison can see clearly, and the OAP is waiting till midnight. Lights out is 2300.
By Tuesday, a million viewers have been lost down the back of the sofa.
By Wednesday, we finally have some high drama. A wasp has stung one of the dubious dozen. The dance teacher is cruising to have a mike stand shoved where the sun doesn't shine.
Already, we've seen one contestant receive attention from a Harley Street specialist for vocal problems. Another is going to have her mezzo-soprano voice trained out of her, purely to please the judges' obsession with the "popular" cliché. The way things are going, it feels like someone is going to have a ruined voice, or have acquired career-limiting bad attitudes by the end of the series.
At the end of the day, this show lacks the Higher Purpose required by all BBC shows. Thanks to the unique way the BBC is funded, it is not sufficient for its productions to chase ratings. A tax on television sets requires some form of return for all people, over and above that provided by the commercial sector. There is no reason why this show could not be replicated on a commercial channel; that's not a killer in and of itself. The show is derivative; that isn't a bad thing, though not what we'd expect from the BBC. The way the show is plastered all over the schedules in the corp's most overbearing, "we will drive this down your throats until you like it", Auntie Knows Best manner, is perhaps the straw that breaks the camel's back. On early indications, Fame Academy is shaping up to be a massive failure; possibly even more high profile and more spectacular than Survivor 1.
Indeed, the amazingly tedious recap shows on BBC1 make me long to be able to turn over to something more gripping, such as the financial news channel. This, I suggest, may not be a good thing.
This is as far as I'm taking Fame Academy for the moment. Don't expect blow-by-blow recaps. Do expect an update by the end of the series.
A prize to dwarf Fame Academy's... Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos has signed an agreement with Russia's First Channel to send a game show winner to the International Space Station. All contestants would train for space flight during the series, showing the audience how cosmonauts are trained prior to their space flight. Runnerup prizes are just as out of this world: kind words from Anne Robinson and Simon Cowell, and a full exposition of thirty year t-bonds from Emma and/or Nigel.
Clips on this week's THE SHOWBIZ SET included the opening to ITV's 1978 Saturday night sensation, BRUCE FORSYTH'S BIG NIGHT. Included was a teaser for a spot called "Teletennis." Yes! People playing that late 70s sensation, move the paddle up and down to keep the ball in play. Literally hours of fun for the whole family, which is more than could be said for Brucie's show.
Two weeks ago, we reported how Castaway Television (Bob Geldof, Charlie Parsons, SURVIVOR) was suing Granada Media Group (half a monkey, Ken Barlow, I'M A CELEBRITY...) over GMG's hit constructed reality show.
Last week, we reported how CBS had launched a copycat lawsuit against ABC, on similar grounds.
This week, we learn that Granada is threatening to countersue Castaway over its plans to make a celebrity version of Survivor.
According to a posh launch at Cannes this week (to which we weren't invited) Celebrity Survivor involves sending a group of celebrities to a remote location, where they must perform a series of physical and mental tasks. It'll be a charity event to be scheduled daily over a two week period.
These were the key features of Granada's I'm A Celebrity... format, and Granada is now consulting with its lawyers.
This is a Weaver's Week exclusive. In an attempt to boost the popularity of Fame Academy, the corporation will set them different tasks each week. BBC1's Saturday is dominated by some windbags who are never off our screens. The FA XI takes on Slovakia at football. Followed by WINNING LINES at 2030. MILLIONAIRE takes the week off, replaced by Ulrikakakakaka and some makeovers. Hmm. Ulrika -v- Sven. They don't just throw these schedules together, do they? The FA XI takes on Macedonia (or The Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia Nul Points, to give them their full Eurovision title) on Wednesday evening.
This week's SCRAPHEAP CHALLENGE (1735) is to build a locomotive that works on road and rail. A job with Branson Trains for the winners. On a similar theme, UK Horizons has PANIC MECHANICS at 1930 Thursday.
The second season of TEMPTATION ISLAND UK begins on Sky1 at 2200 Sunday.
WIPEOUT returns to daytime, at 1230 Monday.
Top francophone channel TV5 is now available to most Sky subscribers. Highlights include PYRAMIDE (Jeu de connaissance de la langue française présenté par Patrice Laffont) a 16h05 toutes les jours, et QUESTIONS POUR UN CHAMPION (Jeu de culture générale, animé par Julien Lepers) a 16h30. "Qui j'est?" "Vous êtes Henri Kellé et je prétredres mon quatre points." Et ils avant le jeu venerable DES CHIFFRES ET DES LETTRES a 11h05 (lundi - jeudi seulment) présenté par Laurent Romejko avec Arielle Boulin-Prat et Bertrand Renard. Ils n'avant pas Richard Leblanc. Bien!
If you don't want to watch Friday's Fame Academy, there's always some sumo on Eurosport. There's also the very, very silly INTERNATIONAL KING OF SPORTS on C5 1755 Sunday. Somewhere between BANZAI and SUPERSTARS.
And finally... A soft drinks firm has ended its sponsorship deal with POP IDLE loser Gates. 29 weeks of his fifteen months of fame remain.