Weaver's Week 2006-03-26
'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'
Endemol (Initial West) for Channel 4 / E4, 17-25 March
It's time for that annual rite of spring, The Games. Is it us, or is this contest getting earlier each year? A quick look through the archives shows that, yes, this programme is getting earlier - 2003's event took place in the first week of September, 2004 in the second week of April, last year's straddled March and April, and now we're finishing the competition before the clocks go forward. Indeed, we're starting it before Gretna's football side wins promotion, so it must still be the depths of winter.
As someone once said, who are these people?
- Bernie Nolan, formerly part of the singing group "The Nolan Sisters", but probably best known for her work on seminal 80s comedy show On the Waterfront. Has since been reduced to playing bit-parts on soap operas.
- Michelle Gayle, whose career trajectory is like Bernie Nolan's, except in reverse. She started out playing bit-parts on soap operas, then had an (all-too-short) singing career, finishing in second place in 2003's Reborn in the USA.
- Amanda Lamb, whose career has rather been overshadowed by that of her uncle Larry. She is - or was - the host of A Place in the Sun, which seems to have been cancelled to make way for Deal or No Deal. We're not entirely sure if this is a good thing.
- Javine Hylton, perhaps best known for her inability to wear a dress live on the BBC last March. No-one mention a fortunate 22nd place at Eurovision, or the way she could have been in Girls Aloud, and we'll be fine.
- Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Julia Goldsworthy Empee MP, to use her full and rather unwieldy name. Member of parliament for Falmouth and Cambourne since last May, she's recently lived up to her birthright by becoming the Liberal Democrats' second spokesperson for financial affairs.
For the gentlemen:
- Mr Jade Jones, who is so famous he doesn't have a Wikipedia entry. May once have been friends with (or family of) Emma Baby-spice-Bunton, a band-mate of 2003 Games contestant Melanie Chisholm.
- Peter Duncan, twice host of Blue Peter, first person to run the London Marathon in a green-and-white checked suit, and now Chief Scout. The hardest man ever to host BP, though Gethin Jones is already giving him a run for his money.
- Adam Rickitt, whose career followed a similar path to Michelle Gayle's - bit-parts in a soap, then a short time spent in pop music. (For those booking for the 2007 series, any danger of asking another late-90s popstrel, Anna "Lolly" Kumble, to appear?) Mr Rickitt was a late replacement for Mr Goldie, who injured himself in training.
- Jason "King" Griffiths is a DJ from Manchester, who works with Joel "Ross" Hogg on Radio 1's high-profile four-in-the-morning slot. Mr Hogg won (or was it lost) last year's Worst Celebrity Driver programme, but the duo also won the pairs edition of The Weakest Link in January.
- Marcel Sommerville, aka MC Platinum, works alongside DJ Eugene and the Paperboy Possee (sic) in the urban car-porch music outfit, First Class.
Those are the competitors, what about the actual events?
Competition began on Friday the 17th, with the Ladies' White-Water Kayaking. Michelle Gayle pulled off a surprise win, 20 seconds ahead of Javine Hylton. Pre-race favourite Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Julia Goldsworthy Empee MP (let's call her Shadow Goldsworthy otherwise we'll never finish) capsized before the fifth gate, with Bernie Nolan falling at the same place. Amanda Lamb capsized after one gate.
For the gentlemen, Jade Jones won the water-ski, clearing 9.1m, ahead of Peter Duncan. Adam Rickitt's first-ever good jump came when it mattered, and he finished ahead of Mr Platinum and Mr JK.
Saturday was the ladies' 70m hurdles, won by Javine ahead of Shadow, Michelle, Amanda, and Bernie. In the gentlemen's weight-lifting, Mr Platinum won easily, with Peter Duncan beating Jade into second place. Mr JK finished fourth, and Adam recorded another PB but came last.
Sunday saw the ladies' 600m scratch cycling, won by Shadow in a competition record time, overtaking Javine with a lap to go. Amanda came third, and Bernie took fourth after Michelle crashed on the final lap. The gentlemen played Kendo - in the qualifying round-robin, Adam Rickitt finished bottom of the pile, and in spite of beating Mr JK, scored nil point. In the semis, Mr JK was fortunate to beat Peter Duncan, Jade - undefeated in the round-robin - beat Mr Platinum, and landed a late blow to beat Mr JK in the final.
While Friday's show was as bitty as any season-opener, and Saturday's was a well-drilled machine, the technical quality of Sunday's programme left a lot to be desired. The cycling pictures concentrated on the leaders, completely ignoring the battle for third place. It doesn't compare well to coverage from the Commonwealth Games. Kendo may be exciting to play, but it doesn't transfer well to the small screen.
Monday was events in the gymnasium, which barely count as sport. The cognitive dissonance required to watch Shadow Goldsworthy - who one would expect to be preparing her response to Gordon Brown's finance statement, not prancing about in a green leotard to the Kaiser Chiefs - was remarkable.
To the pool on Tuesday, where Javine beat out Shadow, and Michelle Gayle finished, which was close enough to a personal best as not to matter. The scoreboard showed Javine just two points clear of Shadow, with the other three contestants tied. The gentlemen went off a high board, and no-one who read the Eighteenth Blue Peter Book will be surprised by the result. Back in the early 80s, when he was on the children's show, Peter Duncan was told that he could become a champion diver. More than twenty years later, the man returns to the 10m high concrete slab and wows a new generation.
Wednesday was the ice events. The gentlemen went speed-skating, Mr Platinum and Mr JK bit the ice twice, while Jade skated to an easy win. Peter Duncan came through the melee to second in the race. Again, the camerawork here was very poor, showing an empty picture of the finish line while the commentator spoke of a close race for third. In a very close week, Jade had a 5-point lead over Mr Platinum and Peter Duncan, with Mr JK a further 5 adrift. The ladies were curling; Michelle was closest to the button, with Javine beating Shadow by a gnat's crotchet to pull further ahead.
More cycling on Thursday, with Jade again holding off Mr JK for the win. Javine's march also continued, beating Amanda in their audition for The Archers. The Friday final took place in rainy conditions; the ladies' hammer event was won by Javine, ensuring that she couldn't be caught for the overall championship. None of the competitors had the sharp reflexes of Stuart Rendell, the Australian champ at the Commonwealth Games earlier in the day, who threw his hammer, saw it fly and fly and come down slap bang on the plastic cone indicating 75m. You'll see it on A Question of Sport soon.
The gentlemen's event was over after the javelin, with Jade's win opening up an unassailable lead. Interest was retained for the minor placings; Shadow had already secured the silver, and Michelle needed a decent result to take third. Michelle's second place was enough, but Javine won the race to set a series record of 45 points. In the men's contest, Mr Platinum went into the sprint one ahead of Mr JK, with Peter Duncan one behind. Mr Platinum was the favourite, won the race and second, but was pushed all the way by Mr JK, who finished the week third.
The programme itself has tidied up slightly since its 2003 debut, there are fewer throws from stadium announcer to commentator to presenter to reporter. But the show still feels over-staffed, on some nights there were more commentators than contestants. As a piece of public service television, demonstrating that sport can be fun, The Games succeeds where all other Endemol programmes fail.
The situation in Serbia-and-Montenegro is terminal; the Montenegrin side rejected the re-run mentioned last week, the Serbians went off in a huff, and the umbrella body for both broadcasters threw their hands in the air and withdrew from the contest. Serbia will still be able to cast her votes, presuming that the contests are still shown. Croatia, the country finishing 11th last year, will take an automatic place in the Saturday final. We said last year (29/05/05) that the country was "unlucky" to come eleventh for the second year in a row.
The draw for the semi-final:
01 Armenia (debut); Bulgaria; Slovenia; Andorra
05 Belarus; Albania; Belgium; Ireland
09 Cyprus; Monaco; Macedonia; Poland
13 Russia; Turkey; Ukraine; Finland
17 Netherlands; Lithuania; Portugal; Sweden
21 Estonia; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Iceland
The fans reckon that Ireland is the only song from outside the second half that will challenge.
Final draw (preliminary):
01 Switzerland; Moldova; Israel; Latvia
05 Norway; Spain; Malta; Germany
09 Denmark; SF1; SF2; Romania
13 SF3; SF4; United Kingdom; Greece
17 SF5; SF6; France; Croatia
A decent result for the UK, position 15 will be far enough after the commercial break to have viewers back in their seats. Six of the last eight aren't yet known, and the arrangement of qualifiers from the semi-final will be critical.
Another year, another experimental voting system. Two years ago, everyone voted in alphabetical order. Last year, it was by order of performance in the semis and final. This year, a third draw has taken place to determine the order of voting.
01 Slovenia; Andorra; Romania; Denmark
05 Latvia; Portugal; Sweden; Finland
09 Belgium; Croatia; Serbia & Montenegro; Norway
13 Estonia; Ireland; Malta; Lithuania
17 Cyprus; Netherlands; Switzerland; Ukraine
21 Russia; Poland; United Kingdom; Armenia
25 France; Belarus; Germany; Spain
29 Moldova; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Iceland; Monaco
33 Israel; Albania; Greece
Countries 1-35 will have points 1-7 flashed up on the scoreboard and read out by the presenters. Only points 8, 10, and 12 will first be announced by the country concerned and then confirmed by the hosts.
In an effort to build tension, the last three countries will read out their results 1-12 in the traditional way. The EBU hopes that this will shorten the tortuously protracted voting procedure, which threatens to last longer than the contest itself.
A similar procedure was attempted at last year's Junior Eurovision, with the aim of trimming a few minutes off the process. Thanks to an unstable computer display, which crashed part-way through the process, it took longer than before. You never got this trouble with manual scoreboards...
This Week And Next
Antan Dec will give away a million pounds. Con.Test (Gallowgate / Thames) will involve six players, who will answer general knowledge questions until there's a single winner. The winner of each show takes a life-changing sum of money £50,000) and progress to the grand final for the prize of a million. There is, of course, a twist; players will be bluffing against each other via a mechanism that wasn't clearly explained in the press release. We'll have to watch the series this summer to find out; it's not yet clear if the show will be stripped daily a la Millionaire or go out weekly like, er, The Big Call. ITV is dead wrong to say that no show has ever guaranteed to give away a million, clearly forgetting the so last-century Someone's Going to be a Millionaire. Our good friends at Off the Telly have seen a clip of the pilot, which apparently involved bluffing about correct answers, and pressing a bail-out button, and are reminded of some iconic hand gestures.
Equity has raised its eyebrows at The Sound Of Lloyd-Webber's Music. The actors' union has told the BBC, in no uncertain terms, that it will not assist any show that helps non-professionals compete for a job in the West End. Actress Miriam Karlin, who starred in musicals including Fiddler on the Roof was quoted in The Stage as saying that performing in a musical required specific physical and technical training.
- "It's the Martine McCutcheon syndrome - did she ever manage to do eight shows a week in My Fair Lady? I think it is outrageous that there are young women coming out of three years training and for them to [potentially] go through the humiliating process of being judged by the public. It's such a slight on all professional performers that this could be happening. Maria is a great role and performing is very physically demanding. I am absolutely shocked."
The BBC told The Stage that the programme is in development but had not been given the go-ahead.
In ratings for the week to 11 March, there were 5.2 million viewers for Jet Set. The show easily won its timeslot, beating Deal or No Deal by a full half-million viewers. For this episode, overnight figures suggested 5 million viewers; 4.7m was the actual score. Deal was the biggest show on C4, The Apprentice topped BBC2's ratings list with 4.2 million. Link had 3.1m, Masterchef 2.9m, UC 2.8m, and BBC1's Question of Sport took 4.7m. Most watched game show of the week was Millionaire, 5.6m viewers on ITV. Digital winners included The Apprentice on BBC3 (505,000), Pop Idle US on ITV2 (598,000), and a couple of six-figure audiences for Challenge on Tuesday night.
Next week's highlights - another perform and win show, Dance Fever, begins on Saturday with the inevitable audition round. Mastermind begins its latest 31-week run on Thursday, and Channel 4 viewers get to see Beauty and the Geek on Friday.
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