Weaver's Week 2006-07-09

Weaver's Week Index

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'

This column's resident proof-reader has had his work cut out this week, ensuring there are no slips in the feature review.


Never Mind the Full Stops

BBC4, 10.30 Thursday

Some programmes are easy to review. Without Prejudice? we nailed in about half of one episode. Some programmes are just beyond review - Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow defied our best efforts for a series and a half, and took off before we'd figured out the reason why it was so good.

Some shows defy us in another way; the programme's execution is clear, but the actual objective defies any logic. Such is the way with Never Mind The Full Stops. Julian Fellowes is the host, his cut-glass vowels and perfect diction make him the best-spoken new host this side of 1970. The show's set is very red, like the 99-03 University Challenge backdrop. Please don't remind us of that colouring, it's got too many memories of dullness.

After four years, the channel's regular viewers are getting an idea of who is the right person for a BBC4 programme. The guests on this programme very much fit into this Fourth Programme mould, your Gyles Brandreths and Julia Hartley-Brewers and Hugh Dennisses.

Every week, the panel put forward their least favourite manglings of English - for instance, Hugh Dennis thinks that "Warning - Trip Hazard" might be best put down as "Mind The Step." Or just be best put down. There's also a mnemonic round, which (allegedly) helps people to spell a word.

The actual rounds vary from week to week - there's a regular request to punctuate a passage, to parse a sentence, convert from SMS-speak to proper English, or to translate a regional dialect - this round smacks a little of "look at these yokels, aren't they funny". When he does educate, the host is very prescriptive about his view of language - it is a matter of stylistic debate whether there should be an apostrophe in e.g.'s, or whether a sentence has properly finished. There's an occasional rambling discourse into the reason why English is so difficult, but the show never takes the opportunity to educate when it can entertain. For a BBC4 programme, this is a significant criticism.

Really, this is Full Stops' problem - it doesn't know if it's a more modern version of radio fave My Word!, or if it's trying to have the earnest pedantry of Lynn Truss's and John Humphrys's books, or if it's aiming for an entertainment-with-education approach from Scrapheap Challenge. Or is it trying to be a comedy programme, like Have I Got News for You The way the scores are given - "the teacher's pets are this team, the class dunces are that team" is a direct lift from Angus Deayton's time on HIGNFY.

Radio has done language games well in the past - in addition to My Word, there's been Word Wise, hosted by that same Mr Humphrys; and there's been Wicked Words in which Craig Charles spoke 38 times in 30 seconds. None of this liveliness has translated to the television, and the result seems to be closest to seminal radio programme Quote... Unquote. People either love or hate Nigel Rees's programme, there's no middle ground. Never Mind the Full Stops looks like it will fall into this middle, because it's really rather tedious. The programme lacks a defining purpose, a central conceit to keep everything together.

This is a shame - Mr Fellowes is a decent host, able to make cogent television out of a show that's brought together Carol Thatcher and Janet Street-Porter. It's not as though there's an interesting discussion to be had about language, and hence a decent enough panel game. This is not it.


First round, episode 14

"Four more willing victims," says John Humphrys. He's not talking about the people who watch Full Stops, but the contenders here.

Caleb Liu is the first, he's taking the NBA Finals 1975-2005. This is the new name for the league formerly known as the Basketball Association of America. Nothing sheepish about this show of knowledge, a 10 (0) score will do him well.

Barry Brown is discussing the Napoleonic Wars 1796-1815. He has a little difficulty remembering the years, rather setting the tone for the questions to come, finishing on 5 (1).

Alison Jenner will talk about the Life and Work of Nevil Shute. She looks a familiar face, and if the BBC deigned to put its INFAX database back online, we would test our observation. She's raring to answer every question, and finishes on a very respectable 14 (0).

Martyn Smith tells of the Life and Work of Woody Allen. It's a staccato round, finishing on 8 (4).

Mr Brown - who is not the famous singer - agrees that his specialist subject was too large. It's worth noting that we haven't had very many microscopic subjects this year. He starts his general knowledge round by exhaling loudly while thinking, and finishes on 13 (3).

Mr Smith suggests that Woody Allen is hard-working, there's always a new work out. After a slow start, his score ticks over at a respectable rate, ending on 16 (4).

Mr Liu has financed his studies in the UK - and appearance on this programme - from a $125,000 win on Who Wants to be a Millionaire in his native Singapore. He perhaps lacks knowledge of European culture, or the wisdom of age. 14 (4) doesn't reflect his talents.

Mrs Jenner requires three to win, and it's not long before the win is secured. We're depressed that she didn't know the host of Name That Tune, but more depressed to realise Challenge didn't include it in their recent retrospective. 23 (0) is the winning total.

This Week And Next

Two men have been thrown out of Big Brother Australia after an apparent sexual assault against another contestant. BB-AU's broadcaster, Network Ten, did not screen the incident, although it was streamed live on the show's website. Police in Queensland, where the house is sited, interviewed the victim about the incident, and she told them she did not want to pursue the matter. The case has been dropped through a lack of evidence, making us wonder what exactly is wrong with the round-the-clock video recording footage.

Aussie politicians have reached for their favourite weapon, the retrospective ban. Prime minister John Howard interrupted his busy schedule of finance meetings, peace-keeping decisions, and cricket squad selections to tell a radio station, "Here is a great opportunity for a bit of self-regulation and get this stupid programme off the air. It is just a question of good taste." Opposition leader Kim Beazley said, "If my advice is worth anything to the folk who run Channel Ten - and how they choose to conduct themselves is their business - I'd say, 'make this Big Brother the last'."

All this is, of course, grist to the Endemol / Channel Ten publicity machine, already reeling after pressure - presumably from advertisers - led to its X-rated late night spin-off being pulled a few weeks back.

Writing in the Guardian this week, Germaine Greer pointed out that "Sexual harassment is a part of daily reality; it might have been more useful to have allowed Australian Big Brother viewers to see how housemates coped with it, instead of slinging the perpetrators out holus-bolus." We note that this is reality television at its least realistic; in the real world, people can't rely on a deus ex machina removing sex pests.

Over in America, the Acadamy of Television Arts and Sciences has announced the nominations in its annual awards fest. With about ten zillion categories, we're not going to name all the nominations, but we do note that Dancing With The Stars has three nods in the Best Choreography category. That's - well - the whole point. It's like Celebrity X Factor getting the nod in Most Desperate Attempt To Keep Some Viewers. No game shows have been nominated for the highly prestigious Best Hairstyling award, but they do make up in the Best Reality Competition Show - Amazing Race, Pop Idle, Come Dancing, Project Runway, Survivor are the nominees.

Ratings in the week ending 25 June remained depressed, thanks to the world cup. Big Brother retained the top spot for a second week, 5.8m saw the Friday eviction show. Question of Sport had 4.6m earlier in the night, and 3.6m saw Millionaire on Saturday evening. C4's Friday filler 8 Out of 10 Cats finished a very close fourth, with Deal peaking on Monday with 3.2m - the other episodes lost half a million to football. 2m saw Monday's Link, the only one opposite footy; 1.5m saw University Challenge and Mastermind, according to ratings gurus BARB.

On the digital channels, Full Stops had its regular 177,000. Challenge's best figure was 120,000 for Friday's Takeshi. E4 Big Brother peaked on Tuesday with 643,000 seeing Little Brother; Deal was More 4's most-viewed show, taking 274,000.

Now that the football has finished, we can get back to some sensible television. Well, sort-of; Celebrity Love Island (ITV, 9pm Monday, 10pm thereafter) has dropped the first word from its title, in order to comply with forthcoming OFCOM Truth In Programme Titles rules. There's also Only Fools On Horses (BBC1, 9pm nightly), Sports Relief Gets Subbed (BBC1 and CBBC, 4.30), and a new series of University Challenge The Professionals (BBC2, 8.30 Monday and Tuesday). Radio listeners might enjoy Crackerjack (Radio 4, 8.30pm tonight) and early birds can catch an hour-long Just a Minute (BBC7, 11am today). The Personality Test, a show where the host asks questions about themself, could be an interesting concept (Radio 4, 6.30pm Wednesday) - and, yes, Gyles Brandreth will be involved, how did you guess? Eggheads comes to Challenge (11am weekdays), and BBC3 gains Annually Retentive, the antidote to television panel games (10.30 Tuesday, and repeating every ten seconds thereafter). Returning to those new regulations, Antan Dec begin Huge Cash Giveaway To Attract Audiences And Conceal Lack Of Any Decent Programmes (ITV, 8pm nightly from Monday.)

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