Weaver's Week 2007-11-04

Weaver's Week Index


Saboteur Watch

The EBU has banned animals from appearing on the Eurovision stage. That's good news for the BBC, because they were worried that one of the beasts might make a deposit on the stage, and upstage their entry.


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Though ITV resolutely refuses to commission any new game shows for children (or, indeed, any new shows for children full stop), the BBC has been making many new shows. Already this year we've had the entirely brilliant Get 100, the pseudo-fantasy world of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and we were only able to criticise Escape from Scorpion Island because it was just too ambitious.

Trapped! is another CBBC production, and it's another hit. For reasons that are never fully explained, six children have been captured by an evil sorceress, and are held captive at the top of her tower. Being the kind-hearted purple-lipped sort of evil sorceress, she won't keep them all prisoner forever. No, not at all. She'll keep five of them prisoner forever, and let the sixth go free.

So, how do we get from the top of the tower to the bottom? In a move that would not tax the mental capacity of a gnat, so is probably beyond the capabilities of your average All-Star Family Fortunes contestant, you go down. Very helpfully, the kind-hearted purple-lipped white-face-painted evil sorceress has provided some trapdoors for the contestants to travel through. Stairs do not feature in this tower's design; the unfortunate contestants are winched to the top floor in a converted shipping crate, powered by a jackdaw.

On the top four levels of the tower are games. Each game can be won, and probably should be won under the normal run of things. But there's a catch. The kind-hearted purple-lipped white-face-painted carefully-enunciated sorceress has provided each of the unfortunate contestants with an ear-piece, and she can use this to communicate with them without the others hearing. Sort of like this:

"Weaver, stop calling me kind-hearted. It is a terrible slur against my character, for I am The Voice of unmitigated evil. There is nothing kind in my heart, and if you repeat this slander, I shall inflict a punishment of extreme tedium on you."

Er, right. The Voice gives instructions on how the Unfortunate contestant might sabotage the challenge. This is perhaps the one weak point in the show: the games are of very variable difficulty. Some are lotteries that the team could reasonably pass or fail by chance, and only need to be guided to make errors. Others are more physical tasks, requiring (say) all the lights to be on at the end of the time; the saboteur's job is either very easy or very difficult.

If the challenge is passed successfully, the saboteur is a miserable failure and will not progress from this floor. If the challenge is failed, the contestants have a vote amongst themselves to try and determine who was the saboteur. Whoever gets the most votes – regardless of whether they were or were not spoiling the team's efforts – will take no further part. Draws are broken by the Draw Straws. There's a vote, just for the hell of it, if the challenge is won. The Voice asks the contestant how it feels to be trapped, and then uses the show's catchphrase. "Poor Unfortunate N. You're trapped!"

Rinse, repeat, descend until just two players remain. They take part in a quiz about the previous four games – who was trapped in game X, what happened in game Y, who sabotaged game Z? Most correct answers wins, and leaves.

The Voice is played by the well-enunciated purple-lipped Eve Karpf, who lends an imperial majesty to proceedings. She's more Jadis from the Narnia books than a version of Anne Robinson who might like to spend a bit more time in the sun. The show is introduced by the building's caretaker, Simon Greenall; he explains the outline plot, and demonstrates each game by cueing in clips of Wiley Sneak (Olly Pike). He's the re-assuring face of the game, proof to the viewing children that this really is a work of high fantasy.

And high fantasy it is: the production is a demonstration of what can be done on the relatively small children's department budget. What the show might lack in special effects it certainly makes up in atmosphere. Trapped! has atmosphere coming out of its pores, and isn't afraid to give a safe scare. Perhaps they might have given the viewer an opportunity to play along at home, by only revealing who the saboteur is in vision, and advising people to look away now.

Overall, we're chalking this up as another success for the CBBC hit factory, particularly the performance of The Voice. She's a softy at heart, really.

"I warned you. Review this!"

Dirty Rotten Cheater

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Though we didn't know at the time, the episode we reviewed from April 2003 turned out to be the final one broadcast on the Pax network. In the four-and-a-half years since, not only has the show gone missing, but the entire network has been renamed.

The British version has been tucked away into the daytime schedules. The show remains recognisable from the US original – a cross between Topranko!, The Enemy Within, with a blast of Family Fortunes, but has enough changes to make it worth our while noting them. The number of contestants has reduced from six to five, and there are no cash bonuses for the least popular answer. We could have sworn that the original went twice round the circle on most questions, but not here. Answers range from £100 to £1000, a tenfold decrease from the original $2500 to $25,000, but par for the course for UK daytime television.

Many of the elements remain, particularly the finish, where the cheater's money will disappear down a hole if they've been spotted by the audience. However, it's hard to get excited by a neat pile of £2000 in twenty-pound notes; the pile disappearing lacks a certain visual something. The original was playing with figures of around $100,000 (then £65,000), with huge amounts of money just thrown into a perspex pyramid. That looked like a large sum of money, even if it was just a wodge they brought in for effect.

Indeed, the visuals for this programme are poor. There's a back-projection screen spelling out the show's title in big boring block capitals. Host Brian Conley is amiable enough, and he's a great people person, but spends the show wandering around the set, looking over the contestants' shoulders. Does he get to see who the cheat is? Even if he tries to put it to the back of his mind, Brian can't forget who the panel should be voting off.

Though the show is played as much for laughs as for money – a couple of grand seems to be standard for daytime shows – the staging is bright and bold and entirely naff. There's no attempt at subtlety, the show attempts to hit us about the head with the visual equivalent of a house brick. Even a little touch like the masked criminal from the US version's logo is beyond them – the UK logo is the show's title in red letters, apart from one letter in blue.

All things considered, Dirty Rotten Cheater is a moderately-entertaining 45 minutes, but needs more work if it has designs on primetime.


Heat 15

Andrew Hesford takes the Life and Works of Joe Orton. For an awfully long time, we fear that we're watching a round that will go down in television infamy; it's question six before the contender scores a single correct answer. The final score is 3 (8).

John Welsh will discuss American Independent Cinema Since 1980. We know absolutely nothing about this topic, not even enough to know what the definition of "independent" is. We do know how good a score 9 (3) is, or isn't.

John Hubbard has Trees of the British Isles. Mind the Very Large Subject. And it is a very large subject; a question started after the buzz helps him to 8 (6).

There's plenty for the black-clad Adam Kirby to tilt at, he's taking the History of Chelsea FC, 1970-2007. And he bangs them in like – well, like Chelsea against Manchester City. 13 (1) is his final score.

Mr. Hesford says that, yes, he was terrified during the previous round. One of Mr. Orton's habits was to deface library books, a habit that will invoke the wrath of the librarians, and we don't want to annoy a librarian. The final score is 9 (14).

Mr. Hubbard has been to Westonbirt to see their really old trees, which are really nothing more than a few thin sticks in the ground. Italian phrases seem to be a common theme in this week's round. 18 (13) is his final score.

Mr. Welsh defines independent cinema as being entirely constructed out of circles and looking amateurish. His general knowledge round begins with The Price is Right, and progresses smoothly from that point, finishing on 20 (3).

Mr. Kirby is asked tonight's most difficult question: what is the point of advertising. To change people's minds, so long as it's legal, decent, honest, and truthful. Mr. Humphrys doesn't have the time to press the point that people wouldn't change their minds if advertising were these things. His general knowledge round begins by mis-pronouncing the former Chilean dictator "Pinochet" (hard T at the end – Thumper gets it right), and goes to pot until he gets a question about the demise of those Asterix characters the Esdipi. 20 (6) is his final score, and Mr. Kirby has lost the game on pass countback.

University Challenge

Second Round, Match 1: SOAS v Exeter

In their heats, SOAS beat Magdalen Oxford by a gnat's crotchet, Exeter never looked worried against Jesus Cambridge. SOAS buzzes in to two of the first three starters, gets neither of them right, and finds itself chasing the game already. It takes six goes for Exeter to get a bonus question right, and it's Junior Mastermind subject Tintin that does the trick. Three questions about cardiac surgery is a perfect fit for this game, where there are no medics, no biologists, and only one scientist at all. The first visual round is Name That Rugby Logo, and Exeter's lead is 40-10.

We're impressed by Arthur Saville's pronunciation of an Estonian we've never heard of, but it's the wrong Estonian we've never heard of. Exeter gets a set of bonuses on Great England Cricket Disasters, and (almost inevitably) gets them all wrong, though two questions asking for a year is a bit rum. SOAS guesses the definition of "bathycolpian", as in Melinda Messenger. We'll take Thumper Has No Idea What He's Reading Out Of The Week:

Q: Gamma one equals mu three over mu-two-to-the-power-three-over-two, where mu two and mu three are the second and third moments about the mean, is the coefficient of what, being the degree of asymmetry about the central value of a distribution?

Skew, the answer there. Chris Parker gets "Quisling" from the clues "Norwegian fascist", but then there was only the one. The audio round is music played in an unusual style, and Exeter's lead has gently extended to 90-40. Neither side can work out that the London Symphony Orchestra started selling ringtones, 30 second snippets of classical music. It's like Classic FM on speed.

SOAS manages to confuse Elton John with Monserrat Cabaille, clearly showing they've not seen one of them perform. More Classic FM nonsense, as Max Bruch (composer of the station's most played tune) is the answer to a starter. The second visual round is on the statues in Trafalgar Square, and Exeter still has a lead, 110-70. Have we arrived at Zigzag Of The Week? No. Yes!

Q: In the traditional abbreviation, the state of Missouri is represented by the same...
SOAS, Joe Perry: [thinks] Erm, Monaco.
Q: ... is represented by the same two letters as which metallic element?
Exeter, Chris Parker: Molybdenum.

Exeter goes on to confuse Miriam Stoppard and Marie Stopes, much to Thumper's amusement. SOAS gets a set of questions on chemistry, which goes down like a lead balloon. Exeter's lead reaches 80 points with four minutes to play; it's almost enough, but they could do with another starter to be sure. They get that starter, and though the side quickly picks up a missignal, they're far enough ahead to be sure of the win. 155-110 is good enough to put the side through.

Eight starters for Chris Parker of Exeter; the side collected 10/33 bonuses and one missignal. For SOAS, Arthur Saville had three starters, the side made 11/22 bonuses but was hurt by five missignals.

Next match: Just when we thought we'd get through the second round before Christmas, along comes Bill Oddie and his Autumnwatch show. We return on 19 November.

This Week And Next

Big Brother Africa has run into a storm of protest after one contestant appeared to carry out an indecent assault on another while both were drunk. Producers deny that anything out-of-the-ordinary happened.

Ratings for the week to 21 October showed Strictly Come Dancing top of the pile, with 7.7m viewers. X Factor had 6.6m for the performances, climbing to 7m for the results – how much of that was dejected England fans who were slow to switch off their sets is not clear. HIGNFY had 5.35m, and Millionaire (4.6m) scarcely beat In It to Win It (4.5m).

Dragons' Den topped the BBC2 list with 3.2m, just ahead of QI. With the final of The Restaurant (2.85m), University Challenge (2.65m) and two editions of Eggheads (2.35m), game shows make up six of BBC2's top 10. Strictly Come Dancing on Two had 2.15m, Link 2.1m, and the England-only repeat of HIGNFY 1.85m. Over on 4, Deal or No Deal was seen by 2.25m.

On the cable channels, Xtra Factor led the way with 900,000. QI on BBC4 had 550,000, ahead of the Sunday X Factor repeat (450,000). Come Dine With Me hit new heights on More4, 405,000 on Sunday; Deal's 185,000 was beaten by 205,000 for Dancing With the Stars. Challenge's top show: Take It or Leave It, 105,000.

Two jolly good shows return to Channel 4 this week: Scrapheap Challenge picks up where it left off in the summer (5.45 today), and Codex begins a second series (5.45 Saturday). Between then, Chris Tarrant hosts The Great Pretender (ITV weekdays, 4.30 in Ulster, 5pm elsewhere).

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