Weaver's Week 2006-07-30
'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'
The crisis at ITV continues, as a show that attracted just 1.7 million viewers (provisional) has been removed from the schedules. No, not that, but Phillip Schofield's It's Now Or Never, which was only scheduled to run for two weeks anyway!
Endemol for BBC1 and BBC3, 7 to 15 July
It's generally seen as bad form to criticise charity television. The people involved are risking life, limb, and dignity to do good in the community, and surely any method to raise awareness and/or funds is fair game. It would also be wrong for this column to ignore the week of special programming raising funds for and awareness of the Sport Relief telecast.
Endemol was responsible for the big evening programme, Only Fools On Horses. It's fair to assume that they thought of the title first, then came up with a format to fit. Or, in this instance, coming up with bits of other formats to fit. It could have been called Strictly Come Jumping Or Bust without any loss of originality.
The basic mechanic was utterly simple, so easy that even the people who turned over from Love Island wouldn't find it taxing. These celebrities are going to learn how to show-jump, see, and the worst one will leave each night until Saturday, when we have a winner.
The decision as to who was the worst wouldn't be decided entirely by what happened on the course, because that's how the professionals do it. And it wouldn't take into account the views of the experts, because they know what they're talking about, and can reasonably compensate for different levels of skill at riding, jumping, or falling off in a painful heap on the arena floor. No, the removal metric incorporated that old stand-by of pseudo-interactive television, the Grate British Public participating in a mega-phone in, voting for their favourite horse or jockey or both.
In fact, the riders were ranked in order as to how well they had done over and/or through the jumps, and then were ranked by the GPB, with the lowest placed person not darkening the arena's doors again. The method was pioneered by Strictly Come Dancing, and shamelessly stolen by ITV's last major success, Strictly Come Dancing On Ice. (Yes, ITV has had a hit this year. Just the one, mind.)
Host for the event was Angus Deayton, making his first prime-time broadcast on BBC1 in almost four years. His script delivery was as good as it ever was, and this column doesn't really see why many other critics find him wooden. There have been more wooden presenters of Endemol formats over the years.
Let's face facts, this is a straight rip-off of an old Endemol formula. There are judges who double up as tutors and have very little say in the final result. There are famous people wearing badges that say things like "Matt's friend" (and when worn by Konnie Huq, the Valerie Singleton of our days, they look woefully out of place. We all know who Konnie is, and why she's here.) There was a viewer plebiscite to decide the result and raise income via premium-rate voting. There's a presenter who annoys more than he entertains, and a female presenter who does interviews with the competitors and their support. There's a BBC-3 spin-off show. And, hey-ho, there was a cameo appearance, for one night only, by Ruby Wax.
In short, this was nothing more and nothing less than Star Academy On Horseback. Insert the usual review here; for all the weaknesses, the competitors clearly had a grand time, and a good fraction of this energy came through the television screen. Their task was certainly more demanding than that attempted by another reality programme on another channel.
CBBC, 10-15 July
Regular viewers to CBBC will recognise the familiar face of Barney Heywood. The show's announcer is called Colin. Actually, it's CBBC's man of a thousand voices, Dave Chapman.
In the opening rounds, two families of four play silly games. F'r instance, the Catch Items Being Thrown Over A Wall game. In which some items are thrown over a wall - or, in this case, a badminton net. And, rather than catch into baskets, the players catch the items into giant shuttlecocks worn on their heads and around their waist. Or the Champ V Chump round, in which the teams have to guess how well a sportsperson will do against a comedy creation.
After these two rounds, the team captains - this is a CBBC show, it's going to be one of the youngsters - have to substitute one of their team members for one of professional sportspersons (or CBBC's Saira Khan, for no adequately explored reason) on the Substitute's Bench. The inevitable chatter breaks up a game that's beginning to show signs of tedium.
The nominated celeb joins the captain in a physical game, such as an in-studio bicycle race, or crazy golf using hot-air blowers. A general knowledge round completes the first part of the show.
So far, so It's a Knockout, with just a sneeze of The Weakest Link in the nominating off. Once the four rounds are over, the family in the lead so far take first pick of two more substitutes; the trailing team get to pick two of the remaining three. There's surprisingly little tension in the choice of substitutes.
The daily final is to bowl a ball into a target. Anyone who fails to complete the task is eliminated, and the last person standing has won for their team. Both teams start with six players, and it's only the choice of subs - presumably for their bowling ability - that can affect the outcome. The jeopardy is pure Friends Like These, but the execution is perfunctory, and the fact that the same game was played each day for a week tended to the tedious.
Five daily winners met up for the Saturday final; three elimination games reduced them to two families, who played out the daily show for the grand prize.
The programme suffered from the same problem as Superstars - celebrities tended to be famous people from a few years ago (Steve Davis, Iwan Thomas), or current players in minority sports (such as a player for Arsenal. That's the Arsenal women's team.)
Overall, a mildly diverting half-hour show, but it's not going to be CBBC's best programme of the year by a very long shot.
First round, episode 17
For completeness, we should mention that there was a Very Minor Celebrity Mastermind for Sport Relief. We're not quite sure why, none of the contestants were sportspeople, and Mastermind isn't exactly a sports quiz. Anyway, Chantelle, a non-entity from Essex, beat Jade, a non-entity from south London.
Justin Beattie has the Life and Work of Hunter S Thompson, and has turned up in a suit and tie. The tie contains small dots, and rather dances before the television camera. It's not a classic round, finishing on 10 (5).
Next up is Neil O'Donovan, taking Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds, while wearing a bright yellow shirt and colourful tie. He stands out against the background, and starts well before tripping over the way all the shows seem to merge into one. 9 (3).
Colin Daffern has the Life and Career of Kenneth Williams, and a natty blue jacket over an olive green shirt. The round features the grand total of one wrong answer, no passes, and 16 (count 'em!) correct ones. Very little was beyond his Ken.
Sean Carey will take the History of the Academy Awards, wearing a tasteful blue jumper over a lighter blue shirt. This might not be an award-winning round, but it's worthy of its time on the small screen, 11 (1).
Mr O'Donovan insisted that he be asked about Gerry Anderson's project, excluding the film from a couple of years ago. Mr Carey would not be asked about it, either. Wasn't the highlight there the theme tune by Busted? Anyway, the general knowledge round finishes on 10 (9).
Mr Beattie's round starts well, but - again - falls away towards the end, finishing on 18 (8).
Mr Carey recounts one of a million tales of ego-trips in Hollywood. His general knowledge round takes a detour up the Pass, but anyone who is asked to define ADSL is not getting an easy question. 17 (6) is the final score.
Mr Daffern needs just three to win, and points out how he's best remembered for his Carry On films, and not his work on Just a Minute, or providing the voice for Willo The Wisp. He does what he has to do, and little more, finishing on 20 (2).
This Week And Next
Selling the millions. Dutch company Two Way Traffic is the preferred bidder for Who Wants to be a Millionaire, beating off attention from giants Endemol, Dutch maestro Jan de Mol, and the immaculately-suited local favourite Chris Tarrant.
Celador wants to bring Mr and Mrs back, only this time in a new and radical re-vamp for the new millennium. Hmm. Haven't we been here before? In fact, haven't we had a new and radical re-vamp for the new millennium, launched by ITV in the Not News At Ten slot in March 1999, and axed after a whole two weeks? Another show that Julian Clary (for it was he) managed to botch up.
The US version of Love Island has been cancelled before it even reached the screens. MyNetworkTV, a very cheap channel from News International, has ditched its proposed entertainment shows, including a version of Britain's Brainiest. Instead, the fledgling network will air the same programmes, at the same hour, every night of the week. Good to know that they've picked up at least one idea from ITV.
After two weeks, and with nine people still competing for the prize, Star Academy-US has been utterly cancelled. A number of questions arise. Why on earth did they think it would work at 10pm on Tuesday? The hour-long UK edition shuffled between 8.30 on Friday night and 6pm Saturday over its two series; the Belgian show, at almost double the length, was just about wrapping up by 10pm. ABC remains the channel least likely to schedule any programme properly.
And, perhaps more than other casting shows, the SA format takes a bit of time to get going. The first episode of the BBC's version may have been amongst the worst programmes ever aired on prime-time BBC1, but Auntie had the guts to see the show through, and it did turn out to be half-way decent in the end. ABC, though, clearly hadn't thought this through, and yanked the programme just as the ratings were beginning to tick up.
UK viewing figures for the week ending 15 July, and it's remarkably tight at the top. Just 50,000 viewers separate this week's top two places, and Big Brother (6.2m) just manages to hold off the challenge from Poker Face (6.1m) for the week's single biggest audience. Over the week as a whole, Antan Dec's show averaged 4.6 million, Big Brother 4.8 million. Clearly in third was Only Fools On Horses, which scored 4.6 million for the Saturday final - two of the daily shows had attracted 4.1 million viewers.
Eight Out of Ten Cats finished its run on 4 million, and Noel Edmonds' Deal or No Deal is rather embarrassed. The red-box-and-telephone game had 3.1 million viewers, fully 200,000 fewer than the premiere of Celebrity Love Island (as BARB calls it). Tuesday's CLI lost 400,000, but no other episode had the 2.3 million viewers to penetrate the ITV top 30. BBC2's best score was 2.3 million for Celeb Pot Black. UC Pro had 2.2m, and repeats of Link (1.9m) and Eggheads (1.6m) both beat Mastermind (1.4m).
On the digital channels, 934,000 saw Big Mouth, 397,000 saw the debut of spoof game show Annually Retentive, which we'll have to review in brief once we've sat through a whole episode without shooting the television. Rob Brydon beat Love Island on ITV2, which got 338,000. 215,000 viewed More 4's best Deal, 156,000 saw the last Full Stops, and Challenge's best figure was 91,000 for a sixteen-year-old Crystal Maze episode.
Next week's Week will look at the French version of Fort Boyard. Before then, we have the proper start of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, a new run of Dragons' Den, and the return - after a break of almost a month - of Millionaire. Coming next month: Sudo-Q II, celebrity Families, and there's news of trouble in Alaunus.
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