Weaver's Week 2007-03-04
'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'
Checking it out
James, James, James, James. Liz.
Central / Talbot Fremantle for ITV, 5.29 weekdays
Ah, let us hail the return of the prodigal son. Back in autumn 1993, when Carlton was the target of media in-jokes, daytime ITV gained a new face. Runway was not coming back; in its place, up popped the imported Supermarket Sweep, hosted by the smooth disk jockey Dale Winton. He wasn't ITV's first choice - they wanted Ross King, they wanted Keith Chegwin, but Winton's self-belief and conviction landed him the job. That's according to My Story, the completely unbiased and impartial account of the life of Dale Winton, written by Dale Winton. Our oh-so-modest host recounts,
- "Having seen a show in which the host's name was always mentioned in the answers, I set about drilling this approach into my contestants. 'When you give me an answer, say my name. Say, Pizza, Dale, Ham, Dale, Spinach, Dale.' Some might think this kind of self-promotion shameless, but my producer says it was an inspired move on my part. It was destined to become a kind of nationwide catchphrase, and the students loved it."
Very few people loved that first series, with Winton in brightly-coloured suits, but without any personality or charisma. It's no surprise that these first series episodes have never been repeated, though we reckon Winton is now a firm enough star that we can laugh at the character he's playing, and laugh with him, at the same time. The critics described the show as "crass", "tacky", and "consumerism at its worst". Lynne Truss wrote, after seeing the first edition,
- "In the modern world, careless congratulatory talk has been taken literally, with appalling results. 'You ought to be on the stage!' was a thoughtless cliché that led straight to karaoke; 'You ought to be on the telly!' led to Jeremy Beadle; and ultimately, 'You're so good at shopping, you ought to go on Mastermind!' led, in the very last tick-tock minutes of civilisation, as the hourglass sands drained finally and softly away, to Supermarket Sweep."
The Great British Public, as is so often the way, disagreed, and the show turned into a clear hit; more people tuned in than were interested by Runway or The Time The Place. The show was coming back, but the macho Winton wasn't. After re-auditioning for his own job, a cuddlier, camper host presented the second series in autumn 1994. The rest is history - Winton proved that he had the chemistry to make a consumerist game all his own, and the fluffy, vacuous television continued until 2001.
So, why is there a revival now? Well, have you seen the state of ITV's schedules recently? They've averaged roughly one bona fide entertainment hit in the years since, while formats such as Shafted and The Big Call have turned out to be great disasters. Every show that the channel has tried in the traditional Blockbusters slot has been a failure, from a nostalgia quiz to a Dancing on Ice recap to I'm the Answer.
Most recently, The Price is Right failed to attract an audience on weekday evenings. Why did that fail, and Supermarket Sweep succeed? The answer is very simple; Sweep is exactly how we remember it. Dale Winton in a dodgy black jacket, check. Contestants answering silly questions about food, entertainment, shopping, check. The shopping list, the trolley dash, the cut-down hunt for the treasure. Compare that against Price, which had a new host, a completely different look, and somehow a completely different feel.
Yes, some things have changed. Bobby Bragg's commentary over the main sweep has gone, replaced by Gary King. We don't recall him being quite so enthusiastic when he was presenting the early show before Simon Mayo, but seeing as how his broadcasting day was finished at 6.30am, we're surprised that we remember him at all. Our loss. We're not convinced about the idea of having a commentary during the final hunt for the prize (now two grand), but neither is it totally out of place. The mini-sweep at the beginning is worth £50, to compensate for the increased price of goods these days, and that's about all the changes.
Watching Joe Pasquale try to emulate Leslie Crowther and Bruce Forsyth was, ultimately, unfulfilling television. He's a good presenter, but like Ed Tudor-Pole and Des Lynam, he was trying to follow a television genius. Winton's return to Supermarket Sweep really does feel like going back to a favourite uncle's house after many years. He's made some changes - redecorated the place, doubled the prize money - but it's still the same person that we knew from before.
We will never know if Winton was right when he said in 1993 that no-one else could present Supermarket Sweep as well as he could. We do know that any better host would have to be very, very good indeed.
Round 2: Warwick v UEA
At the end of this match, we'll know all eight quarter-finalists. Warwick got past Emmanuel Cambridge to get here; this column doesn't agree with Thumper's description of the match as one-sided, but must declare a bias as a Birmingham alumnus. UEA scraped past Linacre Oxford, and agrees with Thumper's assertion that even the guesses count. For instance, here's the first starter:
- Q: The leaders of a small European state attempt to ease its financial problems with a loan from the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale and the appointment as president-dictator of Rufus T. Firefly, in which film by the Marx Brothers?
- East Anglia, David Brain: Duck Soup
Two students of English literature on each team this week, and they collectively do spectacularly badly with a set of bonuses on the number 1729, only getting the art question. Interesting, that. The first visual bonuses are on Flags of Spanish Autonomous Communities, and UEA's lead is 55-30.
The East Anglian side goes on to suggest that the four-word previous name for the Competition Commission was "The Really Really Big One." How come there was only one Monopolies and Mergers Commission, anyway? Warwick does remember the time that President Bush spilt his dinner into the Japanese PM's lap; no-one remembers the short-lived fad for ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers in mobile phones.
UEA can't remember the beginning of a question that asked about an astronomer born in 1877, and responds "Galileo". Thumper can remember how to sneer at them, quite rightly; it's not as though it's a ten-paragraph epic like the questions from 2004. The audio round is on acts that have closed the Glastonbury festival, and asks for the year. UEA leads 95-55, and we're wondering if we get danger money for having to hear Rod Stewart performing Sailing.
UEA's guesses continue, suggesting that the four-letter word formed from the web domains for Switzerland and Austria is "Ausswi". No, it's the Kingdom of Alan Partridge. The second visual round is on artistic depictions of characters from Greek myths, and UEA's lead is up to 125-70.
With the next starter, and a set of bonuses on Schalke 04 (which Thumper pronounces "zero-four" throughout), UEA's 80-point lead should be enough. But Warwick gets a couple of starters, and there are gestures of appreciation from all sides. Can't they take a sip of water, as is traditional.
In no time at all, UEA's lead is down to 35, but they get another starter to extend their lead to 50. Warwick will need at least three starters in two minutes, tough going. Three starters they get, but the side still needs two bonuses. Somehow, time stands still, and Warwick gets three. Five points come when Thumper, listening for the correct answer, accepts "Pitt the Elder" when the team answered "Pitt", and seemed to be heading towards "Pitt the Younger."
Both sides drop a starter, and Warwick has - somehow - managed to pull out an impossible win, 165-160. Well may they cheer, for even the best winners need a little luck sometimes. Or, in this case, a whole lot of luck.
We can't cry foul too hard over UEA's defeat, the side had more than enough chances to put the game beyond Warwick's reach, and disallowing "Pitt" would only have pushed the game to a sudden-death buzz-off. That said, the manner of Warwick's win leaves a sour taste in the mouth, and it would perhaps be best for the producers to allow the next UEA side into the televised stages once they've passed the entrance exam.
Warwick made 16/30 bonuses with three missignals; UEA - never headed until the final moments - 13/30 with one missignal. Warwick's best buzzer was Rory Gill, who had three correct starters, one missignal, and 47 points; David Brain played a captain's innings for UEA, answering six starters and 79 points.
The quarter-finalists are:
- Wadham Oxford
Observant readers will already have noted that there's only one Oxbridge side in the last eight, a low that equals the 2003 series. Maybe it is time for Oxford and Cambridge to consider biting the bullet and submitting just one team each. Or maybe this will happen upon the completion of the joint Oxbridge Flying Pigs project.
Next match: Manchester v Wadham Oxford
This Week And Next
The final of The Search was a trek around London and Edinburgh, on the trail of Elizabeth I and James VI. We raised at least one eyebrow when one contestant proved unable to read a library mark, and wondered just what it is an art historian does all day. The final show was livened up by introducing some of the previous contestants, and proved the corollary to William G Stewart's Rule: guesswork will only take you so far. A worthy series, and we'd still like a second trek.
We make no apology for returning to the subject of children's programmes again. OFCOM has confirmed that it will introduce a ban on advertising foods high in fat, sugar, or salt during children's programmes. Amongst the banned products will be raisins (too sugary) and a well-known toast spread (too salty, if you eat a whole pot in one go.) Winnie-the-Pooh won't be allowed to advertise honey, but Tony the Tiger will be allowed to advertise his sugary snack. The not-at-all-ambidextrous regulator will conclude an inquiry into the state of children's television later this year. A survey sponsored by independent producers' trade body PACT found that two out of every three parents preferred British television programmes for their children. Just one in five found imports to meet the same quality threshold, yet this is the media diet recommended by OFCOM.
The new series of Celebrity Star Academy began last night, though not before Patrick Kielty had blown a raspberry at his former co-host, Cat Deeley. "Cat's turned her back on us. Good luck to her and her capitalism," said Mr. Kielty, whose attempts to conquer the US market with a version of Deal or No Deal made Celebrity Love Island look like energetic viewing.
The row over premium rate television rumbles on, with ITV admitting it had overcharged The X Factor voters to the tune of £200,000. These victims had cast their votes through a red-button interactive application run over the Astra II-D satellite. Refunds are available by calling 08000 636263; telephone bills must be provided.
We rather hope that the only nonsense in A Song For Europe will be on the stage. The list of competitors was announced this week: Big Brothers and Scooch have re-formed for the contest, Justin Hawkins of The Darkness and Brian Harvey of East 17 will be treading the boards, as will Liz McClarnon of Atomic Kitten and newcomer Cyndi. We'll have a full report after the final, which will take place on 17 March.
The Church of England has condemned television in general, and programmes that vote people off in particular. Edmund Marshall commented, "The ethos is to seek and save those who have been losers," rather than to shun them. The ruling General Synod adopted a compromise, and will look further into the influence of the media on behaviour.
BARB ratings for the week ending 18 February saw Dancing on Ice retain its top spot, but reduced to 8.1m by the counter-attraction of live football. One Against One Hundred returns to second place, taking 5.8m, with Question of Sport holding on to 5.4m. When Will I Be Famous? overtook Pokerface, 4.95m to 4.8m, and Junior Mastermind's final handsomely beat Fortune's final, 4.25m to 3.95m.
It looks as though the reign of Deal or No Deal at the top of the minority channel list is coming to a close - this week's best episode had 3.6m, barely beating Masterchef and a resurgent Link (both 3.5m). University Challenge fell back to 3.2m, but still finished ahead of Dragons' Den (3.15m). The Verdict attracted just 2.35m, and finished tied with Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
Pop Idol US dropped slightly, 930,000 seeing the Friday night show. Deal on More4 had 250,000, and 130,000 saw QI on G2. Challenge's best was for a Sunday night Fear Factor, 96,000 tuning in.
Next week's highlights include more Comic Relief shows, as the BBC gears up for its biannual charity-and-politics campaign; the return of Millionaire to ITV; and the return of Fort Boyard to TV5. Still don't know if it's a repeat, mind.
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