Weaver's Week 2003-08-30
30th August 2003
Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.
It's been dubbed the quiz show of the summer; this week's Week has praise and criticism for Grand Slam, news from the Millionaire camp, and a visit from a top Shakespeare villain.
GRAND SLAM (Monkey for C4, 2000 Friday)
What's wrong with Grand Slam?
1) It's an unbalanced format. It gives an advantage to speed of recall on problems that can be expressed simply. It doesn't test the ability to solve problems requiring more than about ten seconds thought. Some of the best mental games on The Crystal Maze required two minutes' solid thought and observation. They could be done in time, if one was methodical, or lucky. Grand Slam contestants aren't tested on anything so taxing.
2) Switches. Whose question is this, exactly? It starts out going to the one on the left, then gets thrown over to the one on the right, who throws it back. There is a tactical use for switches, where the other contestant has very little time remaining on their clock, or is obviously not concentrating on the question, but most times they're wasted.
3) Over-accurate clocks. It's clear that these clocks are manually controlled, and not as accurately as they might appear. When play switches, there's about 0.12 seconds when neither clock is running, and the clocks themselves appear to tick about five thousandths of a second faster than the speed of the broadcast. It would be perfectly reasonable to determine the camera can't discern changes of less than 0.04 seconds, and calibrate the clocks in 25ths of a second, rather than 100ths. Any round won by less than a full second must owe something to the format as well as the play.
4) There's almost no tension in the final round. It's a total anticlimax. In just one of twelve shows has the gap between the contestants been less than 35 seconds, and that quarterfinal between Michael Penrice and Michelle Hogan was perhaps the only match to be interesting that late on. No one, not even Ms Hogan, has pulled back a final round deficit to win.
5) Losing a round - even if it's by fractions of a second - ensures that the loser will start the next round. That turns a fractional advantage, one possibly gained by the mechanics of the show, into a 5 second penalty for the unfortunate player. This one is fairly easy to resolve - allow the winner of the pre-game toss to pick a round for their opponent to start, then the opponent picks a round for the toss-winner to start, and so on through the game.
6) The "contemporary" knowledge round often isn't about contemporary knowledge, but is merely general knowledge with a different colour. Even if one accepts the "contemporary" precept, there wouldn't be current questions in the opening round, and perhaps a preponderance of history, science, and classic literature there. This hasn't happened, and it skews the general knowledge element perhaps too much towards modern information, at the expense of "classical" knowledge. Grand Slam doesn't use its distinctive round branding to best advantage.
It's easy to criticise, so here's what's right with Grand Slam:
1) The opening round was badly unbalanced, with many matches over before half time. This led to contestants taking high seedings thanks to the weakness of their opponents. Also, the ranking by time remaining would normally set seeds 3 and 4 to not meet before the final, when they would be certain to give each other a strong match. The difference between the players could easily be very small, and (again) attributable to the mechanics of the game. Having seeds 3 and 4 (and, by extension, 1 and 2) set to meet in the semis gave a far better chance of two strong semis and almost guarantees a final to remember.
2) The standard of questions has been very high. This column has marked every question about which there's something dubious, and there's only been a handful such questions. The others have been precise and uniformly accurate. If only University Challenge were as clear and cogent.
3) Nick Rowe. We won't remember Grand Slam for Carol Vorderman and James Richardson telling us what we've seen with our eyes, and relying on context- free statistics of dubious merit. A very impressive signing, Grand Slam has been made memorable by Mr Rowe's clear, rapid, faultless, and definitely live work as The Questioner.
THIS WEEK'S GRAND SLAM
Gavin Fuller -v- Michael Penrice
Clive Spate -v- (Dee Voce or Graham Nash)
This week, Dee Voce and Graham Nash lock horns. Since we last saw her ten weeks ago, Dee Voce has been practicing her maths skills. Graham Nash hasn't been training at all.
Graham Nash gets off to a poor start, answering just one of his first six questions correctly. Dee Voce doesn't know that Percy Thrower designed the Blue Peter garden, but that's about all she doesn't know, and wins the round by 30.5 seconds.
Everyone expects a Graham Nash win in the numbers, but will Dee Voce's training - and the fact she's not answering the first question - swing in her advantage? Graham Nash has the knowledge, but not the tactics - he spends almost ten seconds thinking about 5/13 of 338 before passing. Rather than switching a question when Graham Nash has 0.5 seconds remaining, Dee Voce answers it, and keeps 8 seconds and the switch. The question on screen for about 1.5 seconds at the end of the round: what is the square root of 225.
This week's keyword is "Old." There's some ever so subtle humour here, the round starts with a question about "Old Nick," and ends talking about old boys of Eton. Dee Voce is never really challenged, and takes 28 seconds through. James claims that Graham Nash is the comeback king, but then he's the only player to recover from losing the opening two rounds, albeit by just 13 seconds. Neither James nor Carol mentions the tight first half in Graham Nash's heat.
In the heat, "contemporary" knowledge wasn't so much Graham Nash's win as Laura Richardson's loss. Switches fly thick and fast this round, Dee Voce uses all three of hers, Graham Nash both of his, and Dee Voce manages to come through with just 0.26 seconds left. That's well within the range of statistical error, but she'll take extra seconds because Graham Nash will start the next round.
The needle match next, both contestants rose to fame on words show COUNTDOWN. It's neck and neck right the way down, with Graham Nash claiming 6.5 seconds
Dee Voce has a lead of 60.5 seconds going into The Anticlimactic Final Round. She wins by 75.7 seconds, and will face Clive Spate in the second semi final.
Next week: this column has been running one week behind transmission, so recaps of both semis in one fell swoop.
A review of last week's huge prize, which Mel claims is the biggest ever given away on live television. Confining this claim to the UK, and excluding lottery draws, it's still false. ITV might not want us to remember SURVIVOR, but the two winners took their prize of One Million Pounds, Cash on a live programme.
Have they thrown away the rule book for the last show in the series? Two contestants both spotted two numbers in the vault combination, but took places on Broker's Row; hot seat players included one man who failed to get any of the digits correct.
After the recent display of mental dexterity, it's briefly back to foolishness tonight:
Q: Which tree produces the conker? A: Acorn.
Then we get a student teacher knocking down the questions like skittles, clearing the first round inside 90 seconds.
Q: In which European city did the first opera house open in 1637? A: Sydney.
The top studio player is one of the brokers, scooping £13,400.
There was no Mastermind this week, but on Winning Lines, they reckon Dumbo is a sign of the zodiac, and the royal family bought Parkhurst prison as a country retreat. To repeat, there was no mastermind this week.
WOULD IT BE MILLIONAIRE SEASON AGAIN?
Nicked! star Chris Tarrant spoke about this spring's highly-rated show. He claimed to have had real doubts about the show's results, where Diana and Charles Ingram and Tecwen Whittock were eventually convicted of using a series of coughs to cheat their way to the jackpot.
"People are now criticising the show's production company Celador for making a huge amount of money out of the documentary about what happened but it could so easily have gone wrong for them. There could have been a reality where the three of them were found not guilty because there was not enough concrete evidence. It was all very circumstantial. The whole story of it is so extreme and it's in the hands of a jury so it could have gone either way."
Speaking at the start of the fifth anniversary series of MILLIONAIRE, Mr Tarrant said he found giving evidence "a hoot." "It wasn't supposed to be but it was funny. It was quite obvious that they all loved the show and the solicitors were saying things like, "Is that your final answer? Ha ha ha!" and all this. It was extraordinary and I was going, "Did I get that right? What have I won?" It was bizarre, a very funny day in court."
Meanwhile, debut £500,000 winner Peter Lee believes the show has lost some of its magic from being shown once a week rather than nightly. "I would not say it is on its last legs, but it is on slow legs," he said to the Western Daily Post.
He felt that viewers might be bored because so many people who had not won were returning to take part in the fastest finger first section. "If you look at the 10 people each week there are three or four who have been in that seat before," he noted.
What of the conspirators? Charles Ingram has been thrown out of the army, while Diana has been compared to a Shakespeare character so often that Goneril fears for her reputation. Tecwen Whittock has been writing to the Trademarks Office, so that he can control his own name. "Tecwen Relief" wasn't a fund to help pay his legal fees, but a cough medicine proposed by a London company. He told the BBC in Wales, "What I wanted to do initially was to stop other people using the name. I've got no plans to launch a cough sweet or whatever myself, but I certainly don't want a company doing it without my permission."
THIS WEEK AND NEXT
The very best of wishes to Nush from BB4, who was brutally assaulted in London last week.
Good wishes also to the people of Kelowna, British Colombia. The town, scene of many of the games in MOLE 2, was evacuated last weekend as fire swept through the south of the town.
Endemol produced a tape of BBC1 lowlights (the opposite of highlights) for the Edinburgh television festival. It included THE MURDER GAME, very good viewing for both people who saw every episode, and THE CHAIR, of which the least said the better. Also on the tape, clips from Endemol's very own STAR ACADEMY 1. Are they dropping hints here?
Those who thought that BBIV in this country was dull had best avoid the US show, often even more boring than watching paint dry. With no public vote, the show turns into a SURVIVOR clone, but sadly it combines the predictability of Survivor Panama with the crushing rituals of Survivor Thailand. Anyway, the finale of BIG BROTHER 4 over there has been pushed back from September 17 to September 24. It looks like the entire final week will be conducted with the grand non-total of two contestants. Unless, that is, they're going to add someone who can't win, but could use the publicity. Enter, stage left, Federico riding a donkey?
In Hampstead, Endemol has made a series of concessions that allow filming to continue at Witanhurst House. Camden Council is satisfied that Endemol's changes, including organising coach access to and from the site for production staff, limiting crowd numbers to 60 and stepping up on-site security to discourage public onlookers, has adequately addressed the problems. Brian Woodrow of the council said in the Hampstead and Highgate Express: "Although Fame Academy has a reputation for nuisance, we have received no complaints this time and they appear to be behaving themselves. But people who have been disturbed by noise should get in touch with us."
If it's September, it's the start of autumn seasons on most channels. As observant readers will have noticed, MILLIONAIRE is back at 2015. It won't be followed by the terrestrial premiere of THE ONE WITH THE COUGHS - the show starring Mr Ingram has been pulled and replaced by Coronation Street Does Stars in Their Eyes. BBC1 debuts the second run of JUDGEMENTAL at 1230 weekdays, while ITV runs STARFINDER at 1600 for one week only [but continues for five more Thursdays thereafter... - Ed] This week's Primetime WEAKEST LINK is a Celeb Failure Special, 1900 BBC1 Wednesday.