Weaver's Week 2003-08-16
16th August 2003
Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.
At some point, this column is going to have to review Star Academy 2. This is not the week.
Nor is this week's the annual Things To Purchase issue. But Star Academy 2 viewers: do you want to hear Alex's tear-wrenching rendition of "I Don't Wanna Talk About It"? Audley's performance of "My Girl"? Or Louise singing "The Chicken Song"? Search the internet carefully, and you'll find official download sites, from where you can purchase such tracks for 99 new pence each. Even if one viewer in a thousand purchases one song per show, that'll be (whips out calculator) something around a £35,000 revenue stream. Most of that revenue will go to Endemol and Polydor records, and only a few pence per song back to the BBC.
Endemol's interactive media head, Peter Cowley, told Het Grauniad: "Fame Academy is a multimedia event and we are always exploring ways for fans to get more out of it. These downloads will let them get hold of their favourite tracks from the live show almost straight away - and what's more, they're legal."
Over on ITV, Pop Idle 2 merchandise will include CDs, books, videos, a songbook, an electronic dance mat, a karaoke interactive recording studio, toy figurines of the stars of the show (Simon Cowell, Nikki Chapman, "Doctor" Fox, and Antan Dec,) makeup (including hair gel), a full range of clothing, a PlayStation 2 game, and the soon to be much derided perfume. Yes, fair reader, Pop Idle Perfume. The phrase "don't dilute your brand too far" evidently has no meaning for format owners Fremantle Media, who see a cash cow and milk it for all they're worth.
THE BRAIN OF BRITAIN TIEBREAK TEASER
Brain Of Britain is a very long established general knowledge competition. It's been running on the Home Service (latterly Radio 4) since shortly before the invention of the wheel, and the erudite and unflappable Robert Robinson has hosted every episode.
The format is simple: a player receives a question; if they get it right they score a point and are asked another; if they get it wrong the question is thrown open to the other three contestants for a bonus, and the next question is asked of the next contestant. Five in a row gets a bonus point, and contestants have ten seconds to answer. Repeat until there's enough material to fill a 30 minute show, and the highest score is the winner.
"But what if there's a tie," cries our collective audience, eager to cover all bases before setting out. For the first 4,800 years of the quiz, the procedure was simple: ask one more question, first to give the correct answer is the winner. By 1980, this was deemed a little unfair, favouring speed on the buzzer to a broad spread of general knowledge. So for the past 20 years, the number of bonus points has been the tie breaker. Whether from five in a row or from other people's errors, bonuses count equally.
A correspondent to Radio 4's PEDANTRY WEEKLY recently pointed out that this system works against people who get their own questions right; with two players having an equal number of points, and five in a row very rare, the one who got more bonuses will have made more mistakes on their own questions. The producer of the show responded by saying that a bonus point comes from a question that someone else didn't get right, and so is a mark that that contestant knows more than at least one other.
What else could we use to break ties. Perhaps the longest run of correct answers, but the subject matter of questions is variable, and this produces a result just as arbitrary. Maybe we could count bonus points for five in a row first, then other people's errors; this rewards one's own knowledge. We could abolish five in a row and give two bonus points for seven in a row, but now we're changing the composition and rhythm of the quiz.
Mr Roger Bolton, the host of Pedantry Weekly, wonders if anyone can come up with a better tie breaker. Team, over to you.
 Melanie Beaumont -v- Gavin Fuller 
 Said Khan -v- Michael Penrice 
 Clive Spate bt Olav Bjortomt 
 Dee Voce -v- Graham Nash 
This week: Said Khan and Michael Penrice.
The last two heat winners meet in the second QF. Said Khan put a swift end to the title ambitions of Duncan Bickley, while Michael Penrice downed Michelle Hogan. James Richardson makes a big deal of the way Michael Penrice didn't do well on the words round, but doesn't remind us of the unusual circumstances, Michael Penrice tripping himself up on the pronunciation of a word. Carol Vorderman says she'll come back for James' prediction, but never does.
Opening round, usual stances. Said Khan has arms in front of him, Michael Penrice has arms folded. It's neck and neck until Said Khan has a run of bad questions, giving just one of six correct answers. Overcoming the opening question disadvantage, Michael Penrice has kept 19 seconds, far more than in his heat.
Numbers round, and Michael Penrice is having a little difficulty reading the screens showing the equations. Again, it's neck and neck until the closing stages; again, Said Khan has a run of passes to lose the round. Michael Penrice keeps just over 8.5 seconds. James points out that Said Khan should perhaps have used a switch.
This week's keyword is "Great"; all the questions here involve that word. Said Khan appears to be hanging back from answering the question until Nick Rowe's finished - he doesn't need to do that, Michael Penrice certainly isn't. Then we have the Cameron Stout Memorial Question:
Q: In fishmongery, which number is meant by a Great Hundred? Said Khan: Switch. Michael Penrice: Switch back. Said Khan: Switch. Michael Penrice: Switch back! Said Khan: Pass.
Michael Penrice wins that round by 21 seconds. "I forgot you could switch," says Said Khan. "I'm happy to be shaving the odd seconds here," says Michael Penrice. Again, James harps on Michael Penrice's uncharacteristic loss of cool in his previous match. That proves nothing, sir.
"Contemporary" knowledge next, and a rare stumble from Nick Rowe; the Questioner has been the revelation of this series. It's neck and neck with 15 seconds to play, but Said Khan doesn't get any of his next two questions. The third answer is correct, but play doesn't transfer until the "T" of "correct," and Said Khan's minute expired somewhere around the first "R". Michael Penrice takes 13.5 seconds with him.
In the words round, both players miss easy opening questions, and for the first time, Said Khan has a clear lead in a round. Then he gets bowled a very, very bad question. Remember, the contestants only get to hear these questions.
Q: How many consonants are there in the word "dissent"? Said Khan: Five. Q: Four.
"Dissent"? "Descent"? Even with perfectly clear diction, it's going to be impossible to discern the difference in the studio environment. We established earlier that the clock should stop on the "T" of "Correct." After one answer, Said Khan's clock keeps ticking for a good half second after the word has clearly finished. In spite of these errors, the round goes down to the final ten seconds on both players' clocks. Michael Penrice spots that his opponent is off guard, switches a question to him, and takes 4.6 seconds through. He's very, very lucky to have won the round.
Win the round he has, though, and it adds to almost 1:07 on his clock. Michael Penrice needs only answer two questions correctly to win the game, with 1:20 in hand. Michael Penrice does seem to be genuinely weak at the words round, and if he meets Clive Spate in the final, that could be his undoing.
Michael Penrice will meet the winner of next week's match: Melanie Beaumont -v- Gavin Fuller.
Saturday was the hottest day since the invention of the thermometer. So hot was it that people did really silly things, like playing the "Macarena." Would the heat befuddle the wardrobe managers? Of course not, as host Melanie Sykes turns up, for the seventh week in a row, wearing something black.
The heat had gotten to the question setters. Some softball questions, and one very knowledgeable broker, mean that all four contestants clear the first round. It's £5000 bonuses everywhere, and perhaps a determination by ITV that this game has gone on quite long enough, and would someone please win the jackpot. The £600,000 jackpot doesn't go in the studio, but the player takes home over £12,000, quite a remarkable return. The broker escapes with some phenomenal figure over £7000, even better than our favourite piano teacher's achievements earlier in the run.
The home player didn't get the jackpot either, because she didn't know which state contains Seattle. "Mexico" was never going to be the correct answer, but it was the best daft answer of the week. 700 grand tonight, and with £200,000 still missing from the first series, will the bank holiday weekend finale be played for a cool million?
Neil Stewart is taking British history since 1945. He doesn't do at all well, failing to get the first three questions, and totalling just five points and two passes. Jennifer Smallman offers twentieth century fashion. She guesses well at the end, taking her total to 12 points and two passes. Clive McLaughlin is telling us about English and Scottish racecourses and their races. Again, a broad topic trips him up, with just four points and as many passes. Andy Page offers The Academy Awards. Which academy, which awards? Something to do with films, and he gets 14 points and no passes.
Clive McLaughlin returns for the general knowledge round, and only comes good in his last minute of competition. He advances to 14 points, and a fifth pass. He won't win. Neil Stewart starts off strongly, but soon falls into the pass circle. He advances to 12 points and four passes. He won't win. Jennifer Smallman also falls into Pass Hell, but then spots a clue about an aspidistra and gains Uncle's favour, answering all the rest of the questions correctly. She finishes on 25 points and five passes. Andy Page progresses without incident to 27 points, and the victory.
THIS WEEK AND NEXT
Yells, Bells and Knells corner. Dead this week: One True Voice, the "male vocal harmony group" constructed by Pete Waterman on Popstars 2 last autumn. Their two singles combined for career sales of slightly more than 500,000, or one quarter the career total of Antan Dec. Married this week: Lee and Sophie from Big Brother 3, quite the society wedding, with many of the housemates joining the happy couple, Jade amongst those to send their apologies. Also married this week, Lynn Chircop and Antoine Faure; Miss Chircop placed 25th in this year's Eurovision song contest, so clearly did better than Jemini.
At the start of WINNING LINES, Phillip Schofield claimed that his show was always on time, unlike the trains. Thanks to a failed microphone in the preceding Star Academy show, Gopherman was actually running four minutes late. The perils of fake-live television.
Still in Whinger's Corner, the ITC has ruled on Federico's infamous appearance on BIG BROTHER BREAKFAST at the start of last month. Discussing the July 4 eviction, he described a fellow competitor as talking "a bag of wink." There was some discussion about the meaning of the word with an American guest, Mr Coolio. He did not appear to understand the phrase and promptly repeated it on air. A formal apology was made later in the programme, and this viewer thought that would end the matter. The other viewer complained that the language was totally unsuitable in a programme broadcast in family viewing time, and that it had been heard by his children. Does that mean there were more than two viewers for that edition of BBB? Has Channel 4 been informed of this remarkable feat?
The ITC ruling is that, yes, that sort of language isn't appropriate for just after 8am on national television, especially after everyone has been briefed not to swear. After this incident, Federico was warned he would not be allowed to return to the programme if there were any repetition. The ITC will be absorbed into super-regulator OFCOM before the end of the year.
Subscribers to our Yahoo! Group will be getting Nick Gates' recap of CRUEL HOLIDAY later in the day. Everyone can see the Weakest Journalist on BBC1 tonight, and the sudden appearance of Judgemental tomorrow.