Weaver's Week 2006-03-19
'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'
The West Lothian Question:
- How can it be right that MPs elected to Westminster from Scottish constituencies have no ability to affect the issues of their constituents which have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament; and
- If power over Scottish affairs is devolved to a Scottish Parliament, how can it be right that MPs representing Scottish constituencies in the Parliament of the United Kingdom will have the power to vote on issues affecting England (including those that don't affect Scotland), but English MPs will not have the power to vote on Scottish issues?
The concept of "the West Lothian question" has become a shorthand for all the political tensions arising from devolution within the UK. Devolution has only been implemented in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, one could class the representation of those areas in nationwide voting as part of the West Lothian question. OK, it is a bit of a stretch, but the title "Why a vote in Belfast is worth between ten and fifty times as much as a vote in London" is nowhere near as snappy.
BBC1, 23 February to 5 March
When the 2006 preview came out in January, this felt like it would be an eight-week show, slotting into the spot vacated by Strictly Come Dancing, and perhaps providing a wrap-round for Saturdays when Doctor Who returns. In the event, it's been rather rushed, completing in a week and a half.
If Dancing on Ice was Strictly Come Dancing, but on ice, then Just The Two Of Us is Strictly Come Dancing, but singing. This show is so close to SCD that their replacement for Tess Daly is, er, Tess Daly. Her real-life husband, top economist Ben Bernanke, is the show's host. Everything else is exactly the same - minor celebrity meets famous singer, judges cast their votes, public cast their votes, and we're falling asleep just thinking about it.
The judges are just as cliched as the format. Trevor Nelson, who is somehow still broadcasting on Radio 1, offers little. Cece Sammy, the vocal coach, does know what she's talking about, so is given the least airtime. Steward Copeland, formerly of the Police, has been a star but doesn't quite know how to share it with the contestants. And Lulu - well, the BBC had to give her something after taking off her Sunday show for Dale's Pick of the Pops.
Annoyingly, there is the germ of a decent little series here. It's called Celebrity Star Academy Duets, and would work if given the room to grow, like the original Star Academy run did in 2002 - a couple of shows per week just in prime-time BBC-1, more for digital viewers, and event television when the actual performances take place. Indeed, get rid of Kielty, let Dogsby concentrate on Eurovision, and the format's a winner.
Instead, we're yet again criticising the BBC for being weak and wimpish, for not having the guts to stick with the format. Rather than spreading the programme out over eight weeks, like they did with The Murder Game some years ago, it's all done and dusted in a week and a half, which is no time to build up momentum. Has the Beeb no patience any more? Does the public demand so much instant gratification that we have to have someone voted off every single night?
If there's one thing we can be thankful for, it's that this nonsense has killed off Simon Cowell's proposed Star Duets project. At least, it's killed for the UK. Viewers in North America will not be so lucky.
The original pitch suggested that the bottom celebs would take time in the regions that least liked them and try to boost their vote. This has been discarded in the rush to get the show finished, and been replaced by a regional voting system. After votes from the public and judges have been combined, the bottom two must face off. The country has been split into five regions, and whichever couple has been more popular in three regions will come back to sing again.
The five regions are: Northern Ireland (population: 2 million); Wales (population: 3 million); Scotland (population: 5 million); Northern England (population: approx 17 million); Southern England (population: approx 31 million). So, yes, it is perfectly possible to win the show thanks to rabid support from the 10 million people on the Celtic fringes, leaving all 48 million people in England completely unrepresented.
There's a further argument beyond this; the few people who are voting for the bottom two find their votes count twice - once for the overall poll, and once for the find-a-loser segment.
Readers who think that this is a bit unlikely will wish to cast their eyes at ITV's Westlife Record Of The Year last year, which adopted a similar system (though dividing England into four, rather than two, regions). Though McFly received more votes across the country, the regionalised voting gave the bauble to the titular Westlife. Or readers may wish to consider the results of 2003's A Song for Europe, where a similar regional vote (three regions for England) ensured that Emily Reed missed out, and Jemini went. What a success that was.
It's no surprise that the subsequent Song For Europe contests have adopted a relatively complex voting model, albeit one that's easy for Mr Wogan to explain, if not understand. This year, England accounted for about 210 of 326 geographic votes - that's 65% of the votes for 83% of the people. It's not quite as democratic as one-person-one-vote, but far better than Just The Two Of Us's system.
Does the voting at Eurovision take proper note of different populations? No, but it doesn't really need to. It's the various broadcasters that make up the EBU, and each broadcaster is entitled to send one entry. In turn, the broadcasters poll the audience in their region, and cast votes accordingly. Eurovision voting isn't perfect, especially when it comes to relegation, but it's far more representative.
Second round, match 6: Gonville and Caius Cambridge v Sussex
Sussex had an easy victory over a Sheffield side in week 8, Gonville and Caius beat a very promising Edinburgh side in the following programme. The latter programme was remarkable for the way host Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman asked questions worth 30 points per minute through the entire match - Cambridge sides in general, and G&C teams in particular, have a reputation for not wasting time on questions they don't know. Should be a good match.
We have a change to both sides, G&C swapping their physicist for a second English student, Sussex lose their natural scientist for an astrophysicist, and still have four scientists, all wearing smart sky-blue polo shirts.
Sussex suggests that Elizabeth I was born around 1505; they should pick up some sort of grouch from Thumper, but only get a polite "No." Is our host going soft in his old age? Gonville and Caius are already well in the lead, but manage to make three missignals in four starters, and incite Thumper to say "Thank heavens that was a correct interruption." The first visual round is on poker hands, which allows the Cambridge side to go 50-35 ahead. G&C don't do quite as well on this increasingly bizarre set of bonuses.
- Based in the USA, the IFOCE is the governing body of which sport, sometimes alleged to contribute to obesity.
- Held annually on 4 July in New York, "Nathan's Famous" is a contest in eating what well-known fast-food item?
- How many (of these) did Takeru Kobayashi of Japan consume in the allotted 12 minutes to win Nathan's Famous in 2004 and set a new record?
The presence of two English specialists is beginning to tell, they picked up two starters on the subject to give Gonville and Caius a decent lead. The audio round is songs from road movies - the questions are picked up by Sussex, and they trail 85-65. Thumper doesn't look at the contestant's subjects when this happens:
- Q: Fritz Haber won the Nobel prize for chemistry...
- Noel Cooper, Chemistry, Sussex: Ammonia.
- Thumper: Golly, well done!
Sussex goes on to work hard for 15 on the Jesuit order, but lose five on a missignal. The second visual round is on small furry flesh-eating mammals, and Gonville and Caius are 125-110 ahead. They extend the lead on famous Osbournes (including the opposition finance spokesman George, but not Oswald or his kin) and pronounce the answer "Kraftwerk" with vigour.
But Sussex will not go down easily; they get a lot of questions on the Nordic region, and pull within 15 points, then gain a tie. Even the voice-off man is excited; Gonville and Caius take 15 from the starter and a bonus, neither side can remember "circadian" rhythms, and Gonville and Caius have notched up a notable win, 175-160.
Darren Kohdaverdi led G&C from the front, buzzing for 57; Noel Cooper's fast buzzer work was worth 78 for Sussex. The Cambridge side made 16/33 bonuses with those three early missignals; Sussex had 13/30 with one missignal.
The answers: competitive eating; hot-dogs (six-inch hot-dogs, to be exact); and 53 and a half.
Next match: Manchester v St Hilda's Oxford, 27 March. They really don't want to finish this series, do they!
This Week And Next
One series they do want to finish - Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow. It's the one game show that this column never ever managed to review. Partly because it kept changing every week, partly because we often had better things to do of a Saturday morning, but mainly because we fell off our chairs with laughter every time. Remember them this way: too good for a Weaver's Week review.
The BBC has also had its new royal charter published, and the emphasis is on entertainment. So expect a lot more of Dick and/or Dom in prime-time, and fewer dreary documentaries about the east end of London.
Are we now 36? Following the withdrawal of Austria and Hungary from last year's Eurovision Song Contest, it looked like Serbia and Montenegro had withdrawn at the last possible moment. Montenegrin band No Name won the national selection last weekend, but the Serbian service raised an objection, claiming bias in the voting. In a development that's just squeezed past our deadline, the final will be re-run tonight. Last year's entry came ninth, so would have qualified directly for the 20 May grand final. It's not clear if Croatia would assume the grand final place, or if eleven, rather than ten, songs would qualify from the semi-final.
In not entirely unrelated news, the people of Macedonia will vote in a referendum for independence from Serbia on 21 May. If the worst thing that happens during the secession is a year out of Eurovision, and not an all-out war, it's not so bad.
Ratings for the week ending 5 March, and Dancing on Ice delivered some huge audiences. 11.3 million saw the main course at tea-time, 7.3 million remained for the interval act, Millionaire, 11.7 million the dessert after 9pm, and 1.15 million went to ITV2 for cheese and biscuits. Pop Idle US had barely 650,000 viewers.
Over on the BBC, Making Your Mind Up had 6.8 million for the results, but the actual show had fewer than 4.5 million. Rather embarrassingly, Just The Two Of Us peaked two days before its final, Friday had 6.5 million, Sunday just 6.3 million. Five million saw A Question of Sport, but the last (ever?) Millionaire Manor finished outside the top 30 for the third week running. 3.5 million saw The Apprentice, and 400,000 went to BBC3 for the post-match interview. 3.2 million was Link's best figure, 2.9m for Masterchef and University Challenge, and 1.7m for both Old News and for Ready Steady Cook.
Overseas news, and Ricki Lake will host the US version of Antan Dec's Game Show Marathon. According to a CBS press blurb, the participants begin at Leslie Nielsen and work even further down the ladder of minor celebrity, finishing at that well-known Scrabble hand Kathy Najimy. We know some of the games they'll play as The Price is Right, Blankety Blank, Play Your Cards Right, and Family Fortunes. They'll also play local favourites Press Your Luck, Let's Make a Deal, and Beat the Clock.
Torvill and Dean, meanwhile, will be taking their Dancing on Ice format down under, working with local celebrities.
In domestic news, Endemol has confirmed that Channel 4 will buy Deal or No Deal until the end of 2008. An awfully long commitment to a show that's still very young. The senior partner in the Endemol Broadcasting Corporation's - sorry, Channel 4's - Teatime Shuffle, Countdown, has suffered from a couple of bizarre rumours this week. A national tabloid suggested that Des Lynam wasn't happy about the Saturday editions, while internet fora intimated that the programme was to move to London from its natural home in Leeds. Both of these rumours are devoid of factual content.
On to the week ahead, and if you don't like football, avoid BBC1. If you don't like the Commonwealth Games, avoid BBC2. And if you don't like minor celebs trying to be good sports, avoid EBC4. And next week's Week, because there's not much else to write about - it's that or the new series of Quote... Unquote. Don't forget to miss it.
To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day, receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers sign up to our Yahoo! Group.