Weaver's Week 2007-02-25

Weaver's Week Index

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


Fame And No Fortune

"Do these puzzles have to be so hard?"

You Complain, We Refund

According to last week's Mail On Sunday, even Richard and Judy's show isn't above this whole call-and-lose nonsense. If we're to believe the newspaper's claims, the contestant pool for their You Say We Pay feature was chosen in the first few minutes of transmission, but the presenters continued to plug the contest until about half-way through the show.

The dynamic duo reacted quickly, spiking the paper's guns by pulling the contest two days before, and telling their viewing millions on Monday that they were "horrified" by the accusations, and the contest wouldn't be back until it was clearly above board. On Friday, they truncated their previous position, and said the contest wouldn't be back. Ever. Richard and Judy have acted swiftly and with integrity, and we expect them to come out of this difficulty without trouble.

It's not clear if the show's producers, Cactus Television, will emerge smelling of roses; they ended the week engaged in a public war of words with Eckoh Communications, providers of the premium-rate number. Regulator ICSTIS has launched an investigation, with some claiming that the dubious practice has been going on since the programme began on Channel 4, in late 2001.

Channel 4's founding chairman Jeremy Isaacs has weighed in against the trend of programmes being made to make money first, and to entertain or educate afterwards. Said Mr. Isaacs, "They aim to persuade viewers gullibly that they will win something. It's a disgrace and it should be stamped out." Evidence of gullibility is available a few minutes before Richard and Judy, when a notorious television conman says, "you have won" when revealing the home viewer bribe. He could say the more neutral, "the name of the winner is on-screen", but prefers language as garish as his shirts. Figures bandied about this week suggested that there were about 20,000 calls for each day's You Say We Pay, funding a prize of perhaps £7000, and leaving a similar amount as profit. We dread to think of the profit margins for other daytime shows.

The claims line - for people who believe they've lost out since June 2006, when there's clear evidence that dodgy practices were afoot - is 0800 666 805. That number is free from BT lines. Any money left unclaimed will be donated to Great Ormond Street hospital.

When Will I be Famous?

BBC1, Saturday evenings

Graham Norton's last big show was the phenomenally successful How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? The eventual champion, Connie Fisher, has won more awards than the host makes slightly saucy remarks. Can he bring his magic to the ultra-competitive Saturday night talent show format?

The format is deceptively difficult. Eight acts will perform over the first show, but they've been split into four pairs of broadly similar acts. So someone who sings will be put against someone else who sings, while a performing dog will naturally go up against a pair of dancers on rollerskates. Novelty acts, you see. Each pair of acts performs, and 101 specially selected viewers at home will vote as to whether they preferred the first or the second act.

The four winners from this process then go to that staple of Saturday night entertainment, the Great British Phone Vote. In the results programme, after a few of the acts from the auditions have performed to amuse the public with their uselessness, the top two perform again before the winner is declared. That winner will collect £10,000, but must come back on the next programme to defend their title.

Has the world progressed since the days of Bob Blackman banging himself over the head with a tin tray while singing Mule Train? Well, perhaps it hasn't. Just as they were in the 1950s, many of the acts are drawn from circus troupes. Witness, if you will, the granny walking along a tightrope that's stretched between two unicycles. Don't try this at home, kids. Or the performing dog, surely a doyenne of travelling shows since the invention of the travelling show by Hiram G. Barnum in the nineteenth century. Almost inevitably, there is at least one singer on the programme, and that harks back to the travelling minstrels who have been wandering around the world, seeking a village where they might find an appreciative (or deaf) audience since the days of Cacofonix.

But there are also acts that are more of the moment - roller-skate dancers and human beatboxes are surely the sort of thing that any modern talent show will. Add to that the new invention of telephone voting, replacing the postcards and sealed-down envelopes, and we have a programme that is dripping with the novelty of 1987. They've even named it after a record by an up-and-coming bunch of lads.

Oh. Erm, is there anything about this show that hasn't been done before? Not really. The judging process features a bunch of hecklers with microphones - one is Dave Spikey, the former Bullseye host, the others are (we think) Messrs. Statler and Waldorf. None of these people have any particular input into proceedings, they just heckle from a box above the audience. Host Graham Norton tries to be funny and sarcastic, but he seems to be missing the mark a little bit. Maybe they should have drafted in a showman, someone with theatre in his or her blood.

No, perhaps the only nod towards modernity is the cosmopolitan nature of proceedings. In the two shows we've seen (10 and 17 February), there were contestants from Russia, Poland, various parts of Africa, Norway via Australia, Germany, and Brighton. Is this a prototype for a forthcoming Eurovision Talent Show Competition? Or - as one email news letter that bitches about the popular culture alleged this week - because the auditionees were so poor that the BBC had to ship in professional performers?

Whichever is true, the producers have missed one trick - they named the show after a record by Bros (a short-lived popular group of the late 1980s), but completely failed to use that song in their show. Is there a complete absence of popular music? Not entirely; one episode featured the London choir Libera, who will have been well known to the Classic FM audience.

It's that commercial radio station that provides the best fit for this programme. The programme is unashamedly populist, it's a diversion from the regular grind of singing and dancing and nothing else, it's moderately forgettable, and by no stretch of the imagination can it be classed as high art. When Will I Be Famous? is an old-fashioned entertainment programme, the likes of which we've not seen for a couple of decades, and it makes an interesting little diversion. The sort of thing that the BBC should be doing, and hiring in acts just shows that they're taking care to make sure the show is entertaining.

University Challenge

Round 2: Girton Cambridge v UCL

Girton beat Sussex, UCL squeaked past Pembroke Cambridge. Both were sides that showed promise without being clearly brilliant. UCL gets the first starter, a four-candled tribute to Ronnie Barker, but completely miss the misquoted bonuses. Girton does better on economic crises, and no-one remembers who wrote "In the Bleak Midwinter." UCL fails to score on the game of Nim, and the first visual round is Name That Woodwork Joint. Right up Paul Merton's street, he got his CSE in the subject (or was it metalwork?), and for Girton, who lead 45-20.

No lawyers on the team, so it's not surprising that Blackstone's plea for ten innocents to go free itself goes begging. The teams are certainly racking up the missignals tonight, at one point there are four errors, and six starters answered correctly. The audio round is very silly. Thumper starts by asking the teams to Name That Opera...

Music with a Spanish flavour plays.
UCL, James Doeser: Carmen.
Thumper: By Bizet, yes.
For the bonus questions, the teams are invited to identify the nationality of the opera characters singing.
Music: Violetta Valery from La Traviata
UCL: Japanese?
Thumper: No, it's French!
Music: Lakme and Mallika singing the Flower Duet from Lakme.
UCL: Er, French??
Thumper: (thumps the desk, and through clenched teeth) No, you're not very good on operas, are you? They're Indian.
Music: "Un bel di vedremo" from Madama Butterfly.
UCL: We're going to go for Japanese again.
Thumper: Well done!

After all that, UCL is ahead, 80-60. Thumper goes on to read a huge spiel about an element, which may as well have been Wetnoodlium for all that anyone knew about it. Someone suggests that the river Dee flows through Norwich, and we're wondering if Corpus Christi Cambridge can come back. We're not entirely sure how anyone can mention Ypsilanti without mentioning its famous water tower. Er, we'll move on to Name That Scientist, the second visual round, and the UCL team looks too young to remember when Newton was back on the one pound note. They do remember leading 125-60.

Five minutes, and UCL has quietly racked up a lead of 85, and climbing. Looks like we've got our winners, confirmed when Matthew Howson becomes the last player to correctly answer a starter. Calum Aikman gets Girton's first starter for a good quarter-hour, and tries to gee up his team-mates. Not going to happen, is it; the side needs something more than 50 points a minute. It's pleasing to see that the show doesn't end with a stream of dropped starters, but UCL's victory is by a century, 185-85.

Seven starters for James Doeser of UCL, a personal score of 85. The side made 12/42 bonuses and three missignals. Calum Aikman had three starters and 38 points; Girton had 7/16 bonuses.

Next match: Warwick v East Anglia

This Week And Next

Thanks this week to Russell Davis.

Another face of Channel 4, Jade Goody, has been dropped from this year's Comic Relief charity campaign. Mrs. Goody had been filmed in an A Question of Sport spoof alongside Jack Dee and Frank Skinner.

We're deliberately keeping a little behind the pace in The Search, not watching the Saturday episode until Sunday evening. A distinct slapped wrist to the producers for including a huge spoiler in the opening sequence for the previous six weeks - giving away the person who finds that week's symbol. We still think that it's the sort of show that someone should make, and if the commercial market is going to fail, then the public service broadcaster has an opportunity to move in.

Last month, there was a flood of publicity when popular singer Stephen Morrissey announced that he was interested in performing the British entry for this year's Eurovision song contest. This month, there was somewhat less publicity when Mr. Morrissey announced that he was unable to perform in Helsinki, as he would be washing his hair that night.

BARB ratings for the week to 11 February came with a few surprises. Not the list leader, Dancing on Ice held sway with 9.15 million. Pokerface was second in the list, scoring 5.65 million, with A Question of Sport taking 5.55m to come third. That's bad for One Versus One Hundred, which dropped to 5.2m in its half-past-nine slot. TV Burp took 6.3m, and Fortune improved to 4.1m.

Deal took 3.7m to win the minor channels, but Link is back to 3.45m, its highest rating of the year. It even beat Dragons' Den (3.4m). University Challenge continues to rocket up the ratings, also making 3.4m, and Masterchef Goes Large takes 3.2m. Mock the Week had 2.15m, the tribute to Magnus Magnusson 2.05m, and Safari School 2m.

1.06m tuned in for Pop Idle US on ITV2, leaving Deal's 240,000 trailing badly. QI on G2 attracted 180,000 viewers for the umpteenth repeat. Challenge's most-viewed show was one of the episodes of the Sunday Takeshi marathon, 94,000 there.

Next week: The Applicants is a musical spoof of The Apprentice (BBC2, 10pm tonight). Sudo-Q returns (BBC2, 3.15 weekdays), as does 50/50 (BBC1, 4.30 weekdays). Next Saturday sees The Con Test reach its Million Pound Final, and the start of a new series of Pro-Celebrity Bickering, starring Richard Park and Patrick Kielty.

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