Weaver's Week 2003-12-27
Well, apologies for the slightly late appearance of this end-of-year special. We've run into a few funding problems here at Weaver Towers, so we've taken the unusual step of selling some advertising space.
FOR SALE: E-reg television format. Cherished family possession. One careful owner. Approx 35,000 contestants. Apply WGS, Elgin Marbles House, Hendecagon St, Wandsworth.
FOR SALE: Large mansion house in Hampstead. Could be used as recording studio or television location. Comes with easily-irritated neighbours. £1.7 million from Parks & Good Estate Agents, 020 2944 7637.
One Year On
A year ago, this column made some bold predictions. How did we do?
A new format that becomes the talk of the nation. Sadly not. There were many good shows, but nothing that quite caught the zeitgeist. Even Celebdaq remained a minority pursuit. Perhaps it was the street cleaner's jackets they give away as "prizes," or the way the presenter changed his name when working on Radio 4.
Rain in Norfolk. Bit close on that one, all considered.
Challenge ? repeating more cult shows, and developing a few of their own. Surprisingly, no more repeats from the channel. New Fort Boyard will become a cult, and there's a chance Casino Casino might follow suit.
England will not win the world cup. Er, we meant cricket, obviously.
An airdate for NICKED!
Indeed, the Regina -v- Ingram & Whittock trial went to court in March, and the Carlton -v- Ingram & Whittock trial went to television in April. More on that later.
Henry Kelly and Robin Cook will be the new hosts of HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU. ONE AGAINST ONE HUNDRED for a prime time slot. Surprisingly not.
The best new format of 2003 will not air in 2004. Well, wait and see.
Het Grauniad cheated, waited for press releases, and predicted the following:
Black Water, BBC - This turned into THE MURDER GAME, in which former police chief Bob "Bob" Taylor had nine investigators and two suspects bumped off, one choc ice put under the grill, and 5 million viewers disappear down the back of the sofa.
House Sitters, Sky One - A surprisingly good arts-based travelling show, visiting Croatia, Morocco, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka, and showing off the local culture.
Reborn in the USA, ITV - Former stars go on tour to the US, and hope to wow the crows over there. Won, not surprisingly by That Bloke Out Of Spandau Ballet.
Sports Academy, BBC1 - A trial of endurance, not least for the viewer forced to sit through Sally Gunnall and Dermot O'Bigbrother. More controversial for the obvious sponsor's branding throughout than for the prize - A Bursary!
Overall, this column's not had a good year at predicting anything, especially the latter stages of University Challenge. However, we did make this prognostication in August:
Q: Where does this leave Pop Idle?
A: In far greater danger than ITV could have expected. The BBC show has lucked out, and found somewhere between one and four genuine stars. Don't expect Pop Idle to enjoy much of a media profile until the beginning of October, when SA finishes and Antan Dec have the floor to themselves. Even then, the Grate British Public might be jaded at the thought of another vote for a star show when we've already got some new ones.
The SCAVENGERS award for Being Quietly Dropped Because It Wasn't As Big As We'd Hoped goes, for the third year running, to ITV. The struggling commercial channel hoped to have a big summer of game shows, with JUDGEMENT DAY using its contestants as a foil for the host's poor jokes, and giving one of them a decent prize. After two weeks, and with viewing figures struggling to pass ten, the show came off air. Dale Winton's I'M THE ANSWER was, if anything, even more rubbish, and that lasted twenty daily episodes.
Last year's winner, MR RIGHT, has won this year's Format Blunder award. The man who was supposed to date the contestants actually married the host.
Channel 5 has tried to do something with that awkward half hour between 7 and 8 that isn't the News. In January, DOUBLE CROSS put people in different rooms (actually the same room with different lighting) and gave them a Gizmo. In November came 19 KEYS, where Richard Bacon explained the rules every week and never quite felt in charge. That'll be the show's charm.
THE BEST AND WORST OF UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE
"I did it in history, but can't remember" - Andrew Lay, Warwick captain, on Spanish history.
Hidden Student Indicator: The teams have difficulty identifying a picture of Emlyn Hughes, but no trouble defining Trekkies.
Jesus pulls it back a little, but Durham's lead is never below 20, and extends to 70 when they know the Latin for "wart" is verruca. The Bermondsish, as we all know, is "mingin."
"Oh, please stop saying 'we don't know'!"
It really is one of those weeks, especially when the music round turns out to be "How many people are playing," a poor - and only slightly less arbitrary - derivative of Argonds Round the Pond.
Thumper: Producing a narrow beam of coherent light, capable of travelling over
vast distances without dispersion...
Subhaniel Lahiri, Merton: Laser.
Thumper: Wrong, lose five points... and of being focused to give enormous power densities, the device known as "laser" has what full name.
Grimshaw: Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
Birkbeck gets a question on derivatives of trig functions, and offer as an answer that well known mathematical function, "Ermintrude from THE MAGIC ROUNDABOUT."
Sheffield takes a starter attributing Tetris to ancient Rome, where it was played by dropping large stone slabs from a great height onto out of tune bards.
The music round is a complete blighter, being two pieces of classical music played at the same time. Please, bring back Colin Sell at the piano. Please, bring back Britain's Eurovision entry - no, hang on, two discordant classical pieces mixed together is an improvement.
"The term 'web log' is often..." Does no one at the quiz writers ever consider that many of these students have one of their own?
"The winner of the 2002 Nobel peace prize was Jimmy Carter." St Hugh's buzzes, and says Jimmy Carter. "Who, in 1906, became the first US president to win the prize?"
The music starter asks for the next four lines from a stage musical once it stops. While this does do away with the home-turf advantage for RNCM, it turns the question into a Fingers On Buzzers round, and they're Humphrey Lyttelton's domain. Even worse, Thumper invites the musicians to sing the last answer, and the whole thing is degenerating into a brainy version of Pop Idle.
"Not served unless the offender is convicted of another offence punishable with imprisonment... (St John's interrupts, says "suspended sentence", and loses five) ... what is the current maximum period in the courts of England and Wales of a suspended sentence?
The only reason Cambridge will win this week is because they're a little better on the buzzer than Oxford. And they get questions on rabbits."
"Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan suffered from Dupuytren's contracture, a medical condition that results in which part of the body being fixed in a bent condition?" Saeed Amen: "The brain."
Reading hasn't learned the solution to any question about an ancient Babylonian city - say "er" and be correct, because the answer is "Ur."
If you are watching University Challenge and you begin to feel sleepy, do the following:
- Walk about the room.
- Have a strong cup of coffee.
- Prop your eyelids open with matchsticks.
- Watch some paint dry.
- Change into your pyjamas.
- Have a cup of Horlicks.
- Lie down on the sofa.
- Turn over and watch Here Comes the Sun.
That was another patronisingly obvious public service announcement.
Bores And Girls
Disaster of the year - even worse than the UK's performance at Eurovision - was Chris Evans' much-hyped new show. Before it launched, posters for the show were slammed as "offensive," "degrading," "inappropriate for children," and "another example of the pornographisation of our public spaces." One (still unnamed) TV exec went on the record as saying "this is what television has been waiting for." C4's Tim Gardnam said B&G would provide "a sense of occasion and personality [...] alternative to the mass entertainment on the other channels."
They wanted it to be big. They needed it to be big. After a hype campaign we compared with SURVIVOR I, anything less than headline television was going to be a failure.
And "FAIL" it was. "Babe Or Minger" tried to be embarrassing car crash television, but wasn't even interesting television. "Parents On Parade," "Down Your Street" and the musical interlude were blatant filler, and the video diary from the week's shopping spree was better in its uncut form on E4. The Main Game played to the cliché, and the finale was as arbitrary as they come. Even worse, the whole programme was badly presented by the ITV Digital Monkey, it was the same programme every week, and was an insufferable disaster. After five weeks, it moved from 9pm to 10:30. "We are moving it to 10.30pm because we think a later slot will help it get the audience it deserves," said a Channel 4 spokey, who didn't say what audience the show actually deserves. Nor did the spokey say how scheduling B&G opposite the football highlights on ITV will help attract that audience, or indeed any audience at all.
Bores & Girls may have plumbed new depths of tedium, but it wasn't the most soporific show of the year. The Claire Sweeney vehicle HERE COMES THE SUN starts off by assuming no one speaks any language other than English, then goes downhill when it emerges the host doesn't even have that qualification. The show needs a certain lightness of touch, not the heavy-handed drone it gets.
LOST: Two million Big Brother viewers. Answer to the names "Jade" and "Alex". Likely to congregate in Ibiza and bars. Dangerous when roused. 020-9555-4444.
FOUND: Unused key. Would fit into a Jemini. 0532-536161.
In January, STAR ACADEMY 1 winner David Sneddon released his record. "A Practical Guide to Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (Chemical Analysis)" peaked in the Amazon.co.uk charts at position 566,373. In the mad world of record companies, that's enough copies to go polystyrene.
In March, the Celebrity version was won by Will Mellor. His recording career remains dead in the water. The main losers of CSA were a number of Celebdaq players who bought Ulrika Jonsson in the week when she got married. The Celebdaq players had voted to delist all the CSA contestants, few of them realising this included Ulrika. One huge broo-ha-ha later, the shares were relisted, but not until Ulrika-holders had missed two huge dividends.
In July, Star Academy 2 took to the air. The new karaoke format didn't work, the new judges didn't add much, and the bickering between Richard "Dogsby" Park and Patrick "Golden Handcuffs" Kielty made both men look like children. Somehow, in spite of the format, the show unearthed five genuine talents; public vote winner Alex Parks has already sold 250,000 albums, failed Eurovision composer Ali Griffin has a massive fanbase, and Big Things are expected.
POP IDLE 2 launched in August, attempting to steal some of the BBC's fanbase. It failed to set the nation alight, and came to a grinding conclusion last week to the relief of everyone. Pap Panellist Pete Waterman excused himself from the post-show interviews, while winner Michelle McManus looks to be the one star to emerge.
Over on C4, Big Brother IV showed that it had brains. Jon Tickle - already vaguely remembered as being a twin on Blockbusters - charmed a nation with his pedantic geekery. Thanks to a daft twist from the producers, he lost the title to Cameron Stout, a straightforward fishmonger from Orkney. Cam's cause benefited from a trip to South Africa, but the show suffered from losing all the interesting contestants by half way through, and removing its central purpose with the infamous Double Eviction. That wins the coveted Blunder Of The Year award.
The channel also tried to promote sport in THE GAMES, but only succeeded in resurrecting James Hewitt's career, and stopping Melanie Chisholm's singing career in its tracks. So not a total write-off, then.
Nonsense Of The Year: The television pressure group who told the House of Lords in June that BIG BROTHER - and its exec producer Peter Bazalgette personally - was trying to "pass off the stuff of the vulgate" as high art. This was, of course, a load of pompous twaddle. It comes from people who still think it's big and clever to bamboozle by using big long words.
Apparently, BB "presents rather ignorant people as though they were players in a Shakespearean drama." This presupposes a highly elitist point of view: that Shakespeare is entirely divorced from everyday life, and is of value only in the highly artificial setting of the theatre. Again, codswallop. This column compared THE MURDER GAME'S Jennifer Wilmington to Lady Macbeth, and sees the plot of Hamlet played out in the power struggles within the BB house.
The group's report concluded: "What is being renounced are ways of thinking about the purposes of broadcasting, and through that, the character of the society we wish to have in place." This column has said it before, and will say it again: television does not shape society, television reflects society. This report clearly puts the cart before the horse.
Event of the year has to be Regina -v- Ingram at Southwark Crown Court during March and early April. On the opening day, we heard how nineteen coughs were made "into the mike" from Contestant's Row, and how someone had tried to cover the word "no" with a splutter. We also heard how someone kept popping in and out of the studio, clutching a mobile phone. The plot briefly centred on four vibrating pagers, but these were apparently discarded late in the day.
Quotes from the case include:
Philip Davies, floor manager. "Someone coughing would usually try to stifle their sound."
Graham Whitehurst, contestant. "I was leaning forward glaring at Mr Whittock saying 'don't you dare, don't you dare'."
Eva Winstanley, researcher. "I mentioned that the PR manager would have to come and have a chat with him about what would happen from there. Mr Ingram said that he didn't want to see anyone, he just wanted to be left alone."
Chris Tarrant, host. "I have developed a strange, impassioned face that hopefully does not give them a clue to whether they are right or wrong. I cannot do that."
Charles Ingram, contestant, trained by reading fairy tales, and didn't meet Mr Whittock before the recording.
Tecwen Whittock, contestant, has an unfortunate allergy to dust, and who compared the prosecution case to a box of chocolates.
Latvian Television is proud to present the Eurovision 2003 Concert Tour 2004.
Coming to a city near you in the new year, fifteen of the biggest acts from Eurovision 2004.
You'll CHEER as Sertab Erener's costume peels off into fifty-metre trains.
You'll HOLLER to Birgitta and Lou.
You'll PICK UP YOUR PHONES AND JOLLY WELL VOTE THIS TIME as F.L.Y. and Ruffus entertain the continent for no reward.
You'll QUEUE FOR THE BAR while the Cypriots and Israelis perform.
You'll FIGURE OUT WHY THEIR CAREER COLLAPSED if Tat and/or Tu deign to perform.
You'll WANT TO PUT IN EARPLUGS as Jemini sing out of tune.
You'll WONDER WHERE REYNARD'S BICYCLE WENT as a sneak thief removes the host's transport home.
The Eurovision 2003 Concert Tour 2004 is compered by Reynard Coupers and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.
Dec: "Line 52! Hello!" Caller: "Hello!"
Dec: "Hello! Who are you?" Caller: "Me!" Dec: "Hello, Me!"
On the April Fools' day SWEETEST LINK, we were proud to hear "In an internet poll in 2002, who was cruelly voted the fifth greatest game show host of all time?" Could she have been referring to the internet poll at  by any chance? Within moments, Anne proves she's unable to pronounce the word "antipodean" correctly. *This*, my friends, is the reason we only voted her the fifth best game show host of all time.
During BB fever, one tabloid organ published contestant Jon Tickle's posts to the internet from his time at university. Mr Tickle retains copyright in his posts, as do the other people in the discussions. We never did find out how much that organ had to pay.
Ireland's big summer show finished on the rocks - quite literally. A ship carrying nine contestants for CABIN FEVER ran aground on rocks near Tory Island after less than a week on air. Thankfully, no one was injured; sadly for the producers, the event was not captured on film.
Q: What name is given to an animal that eats both meat and plants? Contestant: Zoo keeper? ZK: Deal for a thousand. C: Deal. ZK: Herbivosaur? Weaver: bats head against cushion.
The moment when Antan Dec interviewed nine sausages live on national television.
Congratulations to Brandon Showalter, who managed to get himself removed from Big Brother 4 in the US one day before the show began.
From The Vault:
[Question, something like: Water, Madonna, and Bulldog are all types of which flower] Contestant: £200 Waitress: £500 C: £200 W: £500 C: £300 W: £300, deal. Deadly nightshade.
Usually, this column does not recommend inflicting senseless violence on a game show contestant. Usually, this column does not watch people on Broker's Doh.
At the start of one episode of WINNING LINES, Phillip Schofield claimed that his show was always on time, unlike the trains. Thanks to Alex's famed failed microphone moment in the preceding Star Academy show, Gopherman was actually running four minutes late.
Suzi Perry: "What does a Scimintal cow look like?"
Bruce: "A cow."
Mel: Hello caller! Caller: Hello! Mel: Who are you? Caller: Nicola. [pause] Caller: Who are you?
Remember the US government's attempt to use Celebdaq for its own ends? Terrordaq would offer shares in assassinations, bombings, and general political unrest, with the hope of gathering some useful intelligence, and making a glitzy show. The idea fell foul of public opinion within seconds.
Q: In which sport might you employ a nightwatchman? Gavin Fuller: Chess. Er... [together]: Cricket!
Q: Which tree produces the conker? A: Acorn.
Q: In which European city did the first opera house open in 1637? A: Sydney.
Fremantle is proud to unveil its range of Pop Idle merchandise. Three CDs from the series, a tie-in book to follow in the new year, with videos and DVDs available in January.
Youngsters can learn to dance like Pete Waterman on the PI electronic dance mat, and they can pretend to be as tuneless as their favourite PI star on the karaoke interactive recording studio.
Toy figurines of the stars of the show (Simon Cowell, Nikki Chapman, and Antan Dec,) are out there, as is a range of makeup (including hair gel), a full range of clothing, and perfume.
There's even a PlayStation 2 game, in which Neil "Doctor" Fox searches for synonyms for the word "tad."
Unsufferable Smartarse Moment of the Year
This column never thought much of Jeremy Paxman as a host for UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE. He's not Bamber Gascoigne, especially as he doesn't put in the work to make it look like he understands the questions. It only takes an error on one of Thumper's strong suits to bring out his acerbic side, while he's perpetually amazed by the most basic of scientific knowledge.
This year, every institution that has won UC twice has appeared on the show. Every institution, that is, except for the Open University. A team from Open hasn't made the show since the winning side in 1999, containing the man who only applied for a degree to appear on UC. Such grim determination seems to have rubbed the host up the wrong way, and he appears to dislike teams of mature students.
Even worse, Thumper has a terrible habit of sneering at the contestants. He likes teams from Oxford and Cambridge, is sympathetic to teams from Traditional universities, is ambivalent towards the Redbrick universities, but doesn't hide his patronising contempt for the 60s and 90s universities at all. When the questions are as impossibly hard as this year's, the show needs a sympathetic host who will bring out the best in the teams. They don't need to be chided, and we certainly don't need this sort of display:
The music round descends into farce: Thumper asks the teams to listen to a piece of music, then recite the words back to him. No one buzzes. No one can decipher the ramblings of Shane McGowan. "Can we have some paper?" asks Nottingham Smith. "No, you're supposed to be clever," responds the host. This column always thought University Challenge was a test of general knowledge, not of auditory comprehension of the deliberately incomprehensible. That's TOP OF THE FORM territory. That's demeaning to the teams involved, especially when the host takes the piss in that way.
This column would like an apology. Actually, this column would like a new host for the show, but it'll settle for an apology.
A close second in this category: Martin Bashir, who hosted Celador and ITV's attack on the Ingrams and Mr Whittock. Over three hours of primetime television went to a character assassination of the convicts in Nicked!, without giving them so much as a chance to respond.
At the same time, another Millionaire plot hit the press. Britain's largest tabloid reported over Easter that Celador had spotted a scam in the selection procedure for WWTBAM. One of our number spotted that a number of people seem to be returning every four or five shows. Those people often phone friends who greet host Chris Tarrant with silence, or are described as "quizzers."
Northamptonshire seems to crop up a lot.
Northampton's Chronicle and Echo finally picked up on the story. According to the report, possible answers to the second qualifying question went around, in return for a percentage of the winnings. A man from Daventry, Northants, is quoted as saying he was aware of the idea but hadn't been approached by any syndicate. "I know suspicion was aroused after four of us from Daventry all appeared on the show in a short space of time. We all know each other and we help each other out with the questions on the phone lines."
This report named as the ringleader a man who has appeared on international editions of the show, and has one of the less glowing write-ups in the official "Millionaire Moments" book.
That would have made a great investigative documentary. Wonder why Mr Bashir never turned his talents to that tale?
Not Next Week's Television
0500 C4 Countdown
Annoyed by the continued success of the Vorderman-Whiteley show, C4 has been pushing it back. 7,400 people complained about the new start time. Three supported it, all from Horseferry Road, London.
0720 CBBS The Shiny Show
Tigs and Mukka are looking for Patrick Kielty's credibility, and Dogsby's career.
0900 BBC2 Boris The Menace
Boris and Gnasher get their teeth into a top-rated comedy news quiz.
1000 STRV House Sitters
People sitting around, doing nothing.
1100 E4 Big Brother
People sitting around, doing nothing.
1230 BBC1 Eggheads
Can anyone beat the boredom?
1645 ITV2 Antan Dec's Takeaway
More jolly japes with the Geordie twosome. Repeat.
1700 BBC2 Time Commanders
Stamford Bridge, 1066, and Harold Hadrada's crack Norwegian team tries to defeat the Chelsea side under Harold II. Eddie Mair tries to keep order and track the bar bill.
1700 RAD4 PM
Subbing for the otherwise engaged host, Patrick O'Connell.
1800 BBC1 Here Comes The Sun
Claire Sweeney messes about on a lilo.
1930 BBC3 The Weakest Link Murder Game Special
"Whose brain is softer than a choc ice under the grill?"
2055 BBC1 Winning Lines
Phillip Schofield cuts to the chase, and straight to the Wonderwall.
2100 BBC1 Have I Got News for You
This week's Angus Deayton is Chris Morris, with guests Ken Livingstone and Jimmy Carr.
2130 BBC2 University Challenge
A celebrity edition. Captains are James Hewitt and Pugwash.
2200 BBC3 Celebdaq
Hosted by Paddy "You've not heard from me today" O'Connell.
Spectacle Of The Year: The Eurovision Song Contest. At the end of the 2002 contest in Tallinn, Terry Wogan commented that Latvia would have to go some way to beat the Estonians. Latvia went that extra mile, and then some. Yes, the introductions went on too long; yes, the interval act was cheap and cheerful. Hosts Renars Kaupers and Marie N didn't speak in rhyming couplets, nor did they threaten to burst into opera, both of which are good things. The stage was beautiful, a glass floor that displayed the same patterns as the light displays around the hall. The moment when the back of the stage dropped back to reveal the competitors in the green room was, perhaps, the best demonstration that Eurovision understands the language of modern television.
The contest wouldn't be anything without its songs, though, and what a bunch of songs they were. Of the 26 competing countries, at least twenty had great tales to tell. Alf Poier for Austria, with lyrics to enter the canon of Completely Bonkers Eurosongs. He was singing about the December 25 festival of Frau Holle, making it the first Christmas song ever to enter the contest. Seven months on, no one can understand why Latvia's entry, "Hello From Mars" wasn't competing for the victory. Iceland had a storming opener, Greece a singing corset, Poland sung in German, Russian, and Polish. Sweden had an Ikea-esque entry, Britain simply sent some planks of wood who couldn't hold a tune if it was glued to their hands.
Even the voting provided its share of entertainment. Bosnia completely messed things up, Slovenia said "I'll be off", and three countries could win going into the final vote. In the final analysis, the result had been decided by political events on Cyprus, where the border between the Greek and Turkish sides had been thrown open, making it possible for those countries to exchange points. The English-speaking press, petrified of anything that might challenge their rampant heterosexual market, had also influenced the result. And spice was thrown in by Ireland's continuing inability to hold a phone vote correctly, resulting in Belgium gaining eight points, and Latvia losing five.
Turkey, one suspects, will not be able to follow that. After two exceptionally good contests, even a merely good one will be a letdown. On the other hand, they can't really do much worse than World Idle. Host Antan Dec welcomes us to "the biggest music show of the year," then wildly overestimates the viewing figures at 100 million. The actual figures were nearer 20 million, less than a fifth of the Eurovision audience. The singers were clichéd, the songs tedious, and only the honest Belgian and the Syrian contestants enlivened proceedings.
The Gareth Gates Fifteen Minutes Of Fame Award: Tatu. The faux-russian-lesbian duo secured a tenuous place on the game show map after failing to win the Eurovision Song Contest by a gnat's crotchet, but providing three minutes of the most electrifying live television of the year. In February, they sold 100,000 singles in a week; by June, one of them had been booted out of the Big Brother house for being portrayed on C4 (but not E4, curiously) as loud and a bit gobby. By the end of the year, even the Japanese market had turned against the duo: "As their music is rather orthodox, they have drawn ordinary music fans of different age groups. It was unfortunate for music that they were associated with such a series of unscrupulous sales gimmicks and commotions."
The pair are clearly bent on becoming the new Antan Dec, as they're currently recording a flea-on-the-wall documentary about the making of their second studio album, to air on MTV Russia.
New from Fishy-Pricey Games: 19 Keys!
Yes, you too can recreate the thrill and excitement of Channel 5's hit* quiz show in the comfort of your own living room!
Comes complete with two clocks, four key display panels, a stack of 200 questions, one floor that changes colour, 19 keys (but only one of them unlocks the box) and a tape of Richard Bacon reading out the rules and other catchphrases from Going For Gold.
The deluxe version includes a perspex box, for added reality.
(Potential quiz masters who wish to have complete reality will have to bring in white powder from outside. There's plenty at this time of year.)
Yes, that's 19 Keys, only 300,000 viewers from Fisher-Pricey Games!
Revival of the Year: SUPERSTARS. Twenty years after the original series finished, the BBC put out some more episodes the show where sports people play each others' games just for fun. Johnny Vaughan struck just the right balance between respect and satire, while Suzi Perry never quite brushed off her enthusiastic fangirl image; both helped the programme immensely.
Inspired Casting of the Year: Nick Rowe. This column wasn't hugely impressed by the format of GRAND SLAM, though didn't complain too much, because there aren't enough game shows on prime time Channel 4 any more. (Hint.) By far the best part of the show was the rapid-fire, clear, and accurate diction of The Quizmaster, who could teach Anne Robinson more in five minutes than she knows already.
Out Of Space Concept of the Year: STARFINDER. Four children spend a week aboard a space station, training to be an astronaut. They carry out drills involving practical skills, reactions, and hand-eye coordination. At the end of the week, the winning cadet goes to Star City in Russia for some real cosmonaut training. The special effects are something quite amazing, with a large set complete with slides and remotely controlled doors and complex lighting.
Host Tom Zikas was a perfect choice: personable, sympathetic, and with an exotic Central-European-to-American accent. There were superior arcade games with vibrating chairs, there were practical games with robot arms and simple but effective reaction tests. There was no elimination, no overall scoring system, four contestants working together, working apart, and being judged by their peers.
Public Service Broadcast of the Year: Day 33, and Cameron sees for himself that there's really no difference between BB Africa and BB Europe. It's a huge sock in the eye for the racist elements in society, and maybe - just maybe - it's going to convince a few people that those who live there are no different from those who live here.
In stores now, the Ingram Doll Set.
An 18 inch plush doll of Charles, accurate to the very last detail, complete with a voice chip that goes "erm" and "ah" a lot. A 16 inch plush doll of Diana, complete with a face you can pull into all sorts of pouts and grimaces. The pack comes complete with some strings for the Diana doll to pull the Charles doll.
The Tecwen Annoying Rhinitis doll makes a perfect companion piece to this set. When you tickle its tummy, it coughs! When you scratch its ear, it coughs! When you ask it a question, it coughs!
Also in stores now: the Martin Bashir doll. Feed it a flimsy story, and before you know it, you'll have a superficial and popular television programme you can pass off as an investigative documentary.
Available separately: The Ludicrous Outfits Set. Dress Charles in an ill-fitting purple leotard! Put Diana in jeans and t-shirt! Website and television presenting work for the Tecwen Rhinitis Doll. Pins for the Martin Bashir Doll. Apply to Mr M Jackson, Neverland Fabric Supplies, California, Berks.
Made by the Ingram Doll Company, Theyvesufferedenough House, Havant, Swindon. Satisfaction guaranteed or no money back.
Almost Game Show of the Year
It was a tough call for Game Show Of The Year. The runner up was reviewed in the very first Week of the old year. Step forward, RAVEN, of which this column has seen the second series, but will speak little of it.
In the fantasy tournament, six contestants face perils, challenges, their own fears, and all for a small prize. Challenges range from the clearly physical Swim Across A Lake, to the cerebral Riddle Path. Courage is tested in Jump From A High Tree, skill in the Walk Across Wobbly Stepping Stones In The Water, and teamwork in the Spider Cave. The talking point is the last challenge of most shows, the Surely Impossible Way Of The Warrior, where one person runs an assault course, attempting to remain in the game.
The prize is as much for the inventive and ingenious games as for the credible incredible setting. Raven is set entirely out of doors, with everything carved out of nature. The contestants dress in mediaeval garb, are given made-up names, lending a charming mystical air to the whole show. Demons took a bit part in the first run, but play a greater part in the later series. There are also some CGI effects to look forward to.
Any show that has us shouting at the telly when a contestant dives through a ring in the water, or leaping up and down to cheer on our favourites, is clearly on to a winner. In an idle moment, we wonder if there might yet be a version of RAVEN for adults.
The Roll of Honour 2003
University Challenge: Birkbeck
Fifteen To One:
April - Jack Welsby, David Steadman (tie)
December - John Harrison
I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!: Phil Tuffnell
The Murder Game: Andrew Weaver (no relation)
Championship of Champions - Graham Nash
June - John Davies
December - Chris Cummins
Eurovision Song Contest: Sertab Erener for Turkey
Just A Minute:
Winter - Paul Merton (P7, W4, 2nd 3)
Summer - Paul Merton (P6, W6)
Round Britain Quiz: Wales
I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue:
Summer - Barry Cryer
Winter - Graeme Garden
Celebrity Star Academy: Will Mellor
Big Brother: Cameron Stout
Star Academy: Alex Parks
Pop Idle: Michelle McManus
Brain of Britain: Andrew Steadman
Scrapheap Challenge: The Destroyers
Masterteam 2003 will finish transmission in early January.
The Game Show of the Year
For the first time in recorded history, the International Emmy panel agreed with this column, giving 12 Yard Productions its award for Best Unscripted Arts show. In January, this column summed up WITHOUT PREJUDICE? as follows.
The Panel sits in judgement on The Recipients, seeing if they can judge on the evidence in front of them. The Viewing Public sits in judgement on The Panel, seeing if they can judge on the evidence on the screen. Then the Viewing Public looks at itself, spots that it's not working without prejudice, and goes off and has another think.
This is the prize, getting the Great Viewing Public to think about how they view other people and hence themselves.
So WITHOUT PREJUDICE?, a show where five members of the public give a member of the public £50,000 just for being themselves, has won the Game Show Of The Year title, just for being itself.
See it - and you - next year.