Weaver's Week 2006-02-26
'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'
This week, we look into the exchange rate between birds in hand and birds in bush, dish out some cake, and examine the possibility of the current cold snap returning at the end of the year.
The Results Are In!
The declaration from Game Show Central has been made. In the best host category, *HRH Bruce Forsyth has been re-elected, ahead of Lord Bob of Monkhouse, Baron Edmonds, and the Saturday Knight Sir Antan Dec.
We note that eight of the top 11 (the top four, plus Chris Tarrant, Bob Holness, Phillip Schofield, and Paul Daniels) have hosted an awful lot of game shows between them - indeed, these people are rightly regarded as all-round entertainers. Though Richard O'Brien and Richard Whiteley are only really associated with one game show each, they also had showbiz careers that didn't involve taking two lock-ins from the top.
Glenn Hugill retaining his top ten place, that is a bit of a surprise for someone whose work is behind the scenes. Lower down, Davina McCall has seen Big Brother through thick and thicker, and her co-conspirator Dermot O'Leary gets a top-20 place for sheer hard work - to name just one, Shattered would have been rubbish without him, but was surprisingly watchable with. The voters have given long-service awards to, amongst others, Thumper, Parsons, and Vorderman. We note that la Vord is fast approaching Lord Bob's total of game shows.
The Best Game Show Of All Time Ever does have a new winner, The Crystal Maze defeats *The Mole by a very small margin. A tremendous intervention from Deal or No Deal puts the show in third place, which we suspect will be the high-water mark for this format. The Krypton Factor and Millionaire retain their top five places.
It's clear that repeats on Challenge have had a tremendous effect on the game show fandom - Blockbusters has come from way down the statistical dregs to land in 6th, Gladiators was airing in prime-time during the polling period and comes in tenth. Bullseye was named as the greatest game show of all time on Our Survey Said last year. The UKGS viewers disagreed at the time, and still disagree; it only ranks 19th, behind Family Fortunes.
Missing in action - that there's no space for Bargain Hunt says a lot. Indeed, no BBC lunchtime programme makes our top 50, not even Wipeout. There's a hole in the schedules there, Aunty, just as there's a yearning need for something other than The Weakest Link at tea-time.
ITV Productions (as Granada Yorkshire) for Channel 4, 3.30 weekdays, also Saturday.
Auntie's problems are compounded by the clear success of Channel 4 earlier in the afternoon. It's barely four months since Des Lynam slotted into the chair on the right hand side of the studio, and he's slowly beginning to cast the channel's longest-running show in his own image. No longer does the host introduce the dictionary corner guest, that's now the job of Carol Vorderman. No longer does the person who selected the letters declare first, that honour goes to their opponent. There are still letters from the viewing millions, and there's still a sense that Countdown is a club to which all its viewers belong. It's the little touches, like the cake presented to Tom O'Connor last Friday on the occasion of his 100th episode.
Most tellingly, there's a regular Saturday edition. It took some time for Carol and Des to banter in a natural manner, and it was Saturday that provided the opportunity. In a past life, Des was a famous sports presenter, and he's making sure the country knows about the trials and tribulations of his football team. Where Richard Whiteley had his gypsy creams, Des has Brighton and Hove Albion.
But the game isn't all about the banter, it's about the contestants. Here, Des is encouraging, commiserating with someone who has been beaten by one letter in every round. His training in sport means that Des instinctively knows when a match is tense, or a big comeback is in the offing, and he steers a fine line between overselling the drama and ignoring it totally.
What of the contestants? Defeats for defending champions have been in short supply over the past weeks. Keith Maynard completed his octochamp run, scoring 795 at +12 to Par. The next game saw Michael Bowden start his eight wins (739 at +16). Keith Reading inherited the empty champion's seat (1 win, 172 at +13) but fell to Paul Howe, the start of another octochamp run (815 at -19). Andrew Gedney won the third match in a month without a defending champ (1 win, 182 at +26) before falling to Alexia McCluskey (2 wins, 248 at +14). In turn, she fell to Matthew Shore, who completed his octochamp run yesterday (840 at -44). Had Matthew picked easier numbers games, he may be the number one seed by now.
In a post to the C4Countdown forum, Damien Eadie has indicated that the series final will air on 26 May, and he hopes a Champion of Champions event will follow. This date falls on a Friday, adding substance to the theory that the Saturday edition will only air during the winter. It's not clear how many people will play in the final stages, so here are positions 1-12 on the leader board at present.
- Conor Travers 8 890
- Matthew Shore 8 840
- Paul Howe 8 815
- Keith Maynard 8 795
- Michael Bowden 8 739
- Christine Armstrong 7 693
- Daniel Peake 6 585
- Marie Hayden 5 593
- Clive Johnson 5 519
- Maureen Sye 3 330
- Arthur Mactier 2 263
- Alexia McCluskey 2 248
Endemol West for C4, 4.15 weekdays, also Saturday.
Back in November, this column gave a mixed review to Deal or No Deal. "A prime-time version is quite possible, possibly as early as next year. This column is not convinced that Deal Or No Deal will last forever, or even as long as Weakest Link... It will have a good run, of that we're certain."
Nothing has happened to change that opinion. Deal has already had one outing in technical prime-time, at 6.20 on 11 February. It has one in clear prime-time this coming Saturday. The programme has become popular, regularly winning its timeslot and taking 3.5 million viewers. Indeed, such was the popularity of the format that it came third in our recent poll. And this column still believes that Deal will never make the top two.
Deal or No Deal marked its 100th episode last night, and the promised quarter-of-a-million prize remains unwon. Only 18 episodes have awarded a prize of £25,000 or more, and just seven people have left the studio with £40,000 or more. One might draw a comparison with The Weakest Link, where the average daily prize is around £1800, or 18% of the top prize. Half the time, the winner will get that much. The similar halfway house on Deal is around £13,000, scarcely more than 5% of the promised jackpot.
The bank's main role is to make the player leave with an offer rather than risking taking the player take sum of money in their box, and trying to make the lowest possible offer that does make the player leave. As a direct consequence, the game requires good faith play from both bank and contestant. There is, obviously, little room for high offers from the bank, it has never been wise for a contestant to reject a particularly generous proposition.
Equally, there is no room for absurdly low offers. It may win the battle, but it's a poor tactic, as it will only encourage the player to continue in a marginal situation. Ultimately, if the bank is making low offers, the player will open the box and win more. This will be more than if a reasonable deal had been offered throughout. The most sensible way for the bank to play, the most rewarding in the long term, is to guesstimate each contestant's utility curve. Any departure from that strategy will be punished.
When writing about Deal last year, Chris Dickson wrote, "It is believed that the Banker has no personal stake in attempting to keep contestants' winnings low, other than the pride of a job well done. Nevertheless, the moral imperative to give away as little prize money as possible takes... well, if not a hangman's sensibilities then at least a miser's, arguably a thief's. The person who plays the role of the Banker may be far from a miser in real life, but anyone who can be so miserly when such large stakes are on the line has demonstrated themselves to be miserly through their actions."
This is why the treatment meted out to "Geordie" on 1 February sticks in the craw. Here was a player who had done his homework, taken the time to work out and memorise the odds, and shared his knowledge with many other players over his time on the programme. His reward? A run of terrible luck from the boxes, compounded by five out of six offers from the bank being insultingly low. If the bank shows itself to be a miser by its actions, it is also a bully, and a spiteful, vindictive bully at that.
As ever, there was a back story. Viewers will have seen "Geordie" leave the set a few days before his appearance, and not return for some programmes. He was not feeling at all well, and waited over an hour for medical attention. After spending a sleepless night in hospital, he played his reward game the following day.
This isn't the first time Endemol has been criticised by a participant in one of its shows for poor health care. Readers with long memories will recall the injury to Bubble's ankle in Big Brother 2. In his book Living in the Box, Dean O'Loughlin is firmly of the opinion that Bubble should have gone to hospital. "I don't know many doctors who can spot a hairline bone fracture with only a ten-minute examination in a diary room," he dryly states. But hey, it's Endemol. Purveyors of negative television for the masses, never mind the players' welfare.
Finally, we have to turn our attention to the show's host. Our learned colleagues at TV Cream reckon that Noel Edmonds is on great form, with a sense of the show's history already. He goes along the lines of, "If this is a low blue, then it's the best position we've had at this stage of the game since 1806." This column fundamentally disagrees with the host on two matters.
First, Noel has an annoying tendency to put forward his views, leading the contestant to trust him. On occasion, he will describe a player's situation as being far worse than a calm analysis would suggest. Rarely if ever does he err on the side of over-stating a case. This column would not care to suggest that the producers are feeding Mr Edmonds deliberately misleading information, or that the host does not know the mathematics involved. Noel has been selected for this job, at least in part, because he built his career around leading the public to believe the most vacuous nonsense. We treat every word he says with suspicion.
But worse, far worse than this, have you seen his shirts? No? You win!
Next week, this column will explore the mathematics of Deal or No Deal in greater depth.
Heat 5 of 5
Nikhil from Derby is talking about W G Grace, a cricketer. A steely determination and an ability to swat the most difficult of bouncers away, and Mr Grace wasn't bad either. Just one error, but long questions restricts him to 15 (0).
From Pembrokeshire, James offers Marvel Comic Book Heroes. Some of these characters could easily beat Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman in a fair fight. Or even a comic-book fight. James loses his way slightly towards the end of the round, but 12 (0) is highly credible.
Anthony from Fermanagh will discuss St Patrick. This isn't the best round, Anthony has an awful second minute, and he visibly shrinks in the chair. A shame. 7 (3) is his final score after a valiant attempt.
Adam comes from Kent in a shock-yellow shirt, and has revised The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Another set of long questions and answers, but Adam secures a magnificent 18 (0). Those readers who prefer to count in base-4 will have got the joke already.
Anthony spends his time talking about Einstein, for some reason. And gets to call host John Humphrys an old man. His final score is 17 (4), but the chance to insult Old Small-Head on national television is worth it.
James says that comics help to expand his imagination. Small-Head gets confused between gentleman and lady characters, and reminisces about how the Captain Marvel of his youth used to say "Shazam." James is confused. What were you saying, Anthony? There is a game in this, and James gets a question on a card-trading game that he must play. He benefits from Small-Head starting a question after the buzzer, and finishes on 25 (0).
They'll be choking on their cigars in Gloucester tonight, Nikhil reckons that Dr Grace was a cheat and a liar, pressurising umpires into reversing their decision. A professional ahead of his time, perhaps. Nikhil wants to become a politician, so we'll see him up against Emily Maitliss on Newsnight some time soon. He tries hard, but falls into a bit of a pass trap, finishing on 26 (4).
Adam very sensibly prefers the radio version of HHGG to all others, and particularly likes the fast-evolving Hagumemnons. He's not quite as at home in his general knowledge set, but 29 (2) is more than enough to win.
Shaun, from heat 4, is the highest-scoring runner-up, so will join the other heat winners in the final.
This Week And Next
Special thanks this week to Chris Dickson.
The BBC has asked Julian Fellowes to host a quiz about punctuation. Working title: Have i Got? Misplaced Punctuation Mark's 4 You!
Flextech is to combine the gambling bits of Challenge and the testosterone-fuelled action series from Bravo, and launch a new channel. Player will launch early next month, and will lead to Challenge showing (er) an extra two hours a week of gambling and not playing proper games.
ITV, meanwhile, will counter the Big Brother behemoth with Celeb X Factor, which replaces the previously-expected Celeb Pop Idle. A longer version of Celeb Love Island will also air. Last year's edition managed to remain completely unwatched by any UKGS contributor, which has to say something.
Ratings for the week ending 12 February, and it's the second week running that Dancing on Ice has come within a whisker of 10 million viewers, this week falling short by just 40,000. Millionaire recorded 7.7 million, a mile ahead of the BBC's Manor - 4.6 million still makes it the Corporation's most-seen game show.
But only just - Link had 3.4 million, Petrolheads debuted with 3 million, UC had 2.8m, Masterchef 2.6m. Deal recorded its highest audience of the year, 3.9 million tuned in for Tuesday's battle. More4's best result came on Thursday, when a once-in-a-lifetime chance saw the top eight survive into the final nine - 274,000 is the highest score since the channel's opening, and all five episodes bettered 150,000. American Idol "only" managed 880,000, as the auditions dragged on.
Highlights for next week include the Junior Mastermind final at 5.45 today, the return of Through the Keyhole on daytime BBC2, the final of Dancing on Ice, and the BBC's annual search for a Eurovision loser, Making Your Mind Up.
Monday sees the final of Radio 4's Masterteam, between the Leeds team, who have all appeared on Millionaire, and the Stockport team who may have appeared on The Syndicate. After Masterteam, the Radio 4 Rotation would normally pass on to Round Britain Quiz, the game of logic, deduction, and marks out of 24. However, host Nick Clarke has been receiving treatment for cancer for the past few months. He's expected back behind the microphone in June, so RBQ will pass on this rotation.
Stepping up to the mark is Ned Sherrin's always-entertaining Counterpoint programme, which will build to a grand final on 29 May - conveniently, the bank holiday. Brain of Britain will then air, reaching its final on 25 September. It's not clear if RBQ or Masterteam will then follow; RBQ would naturally finish on 18 December, Masterteam would be building to a potential final the following week.
Yes! Snow on Christmas Day!
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