Weaver's Week 2007-11-11
"It's his rapping name: The Snowman."
Countdown's 25 Anniversary, The Big Fat Anniversary Quiz
Yorkshire Television; Hot Sauce, both for Channel 4, 2 November
How do you celebrate a quarter-century on the air? If you're the BBC, you have a huge outside broadcast, and get a princess to marry a bloke from Greece. If you're ITV, you partied so hard the previous year that you spent three months with a hangover, showing nothing more than a blue screen and an apology caption. And if you're Channel 4, you celebrate your successes and laugh at your own failures. This column reviewed Channel 4's Greatest Bits in 2002, just about the only celebration of the station's first two decades, and we stand by every word. Well, almost every word; we'd probably not use seventeen of them now.
One of the channel's biggest successes is Countdown: three hosts, two contestants, one Carol Vorderman. Susie Dent was unable to take part in person as she's recently delivered her second child, and our congratulations to all. Others sending their congratulations included Rory Bremner, the cast of Coronation Street, the bloke from the neophyte show coming afterwards, and football manager Alex Ferguson. His selection of vowels and consonants was put up in record time.
It would have been a gross error of judgement not to include a clip of Richard Whiteley, and the joke he told was a fair summary of his unique style. Des O'Connor was almost invisible on this edition, completely overshadowed by the occasion and the game. Yes, there was a game in amongst the celebrations, Conor Travers beat Chris Wills by a fair margin. For once, we weren't here to play along (or, as has been the case recently, gawp in awe at the brilliance of the contestants).
The evening entertainment was a derivation of The Big Fat Quiz of the Year. Three teams of two – Alan Carr and Jack Dee; Carol Vorderman and Frank Skinner; Richard Ayoade and David Mitchell – are asked questions about C4's output over the past twenty five years and five hours. Six rounds split everything up into manageable chunks: the channel's hits, its imports, yoof television, comedy and sport, controversy, and factual entertainment.
Some of the clips have become familiar through over-use, but for every "oh no not that again" moment (such as the Brookside kiss, and Oliver Reed) there were some moments that had been unfairly forgotten. Such as the episode of Club X that asked a bunch of playwrights to write and stage a play in just one hour. "There's no prize for being first" was the general assumption: it may be the worst play ever performed on Channel 4. Or the clips of First Aids presented by Mike Smith, asking how to stop people from having sex. The answer is in the question, people.
There were some fairly rubbish bits: there was an extended and not particularly funny joke about "ER" on ladies' underlinen, and Jack Dee was so morose that we could feel the atmosphere being sucked into his seat. There was also the malignant presence of Jimmy Carr, a man who was described in the first few minutes as a speccy twit without the specs. Very kind.
But let's look on the bright side. The Big Fat Anniversary Quiz had commissioned some people to do interesting things. Jon Snow, the veteran newsreader, describing the plot of The Snowman in the style of a news report. A group of primary-school children re-enacted classic moments from the channel's history, including one youngster in an ill-fitting ginger wig, pretending to be Chris Evans. And Carol told the story of Richard's tie, the one with COUNTDOWN written down its length, but that lost the last four letters beneath the desk, and the "O" was obscured by his microphone.
There were some notable absences from this show. It appears that Endemol declined to release clips of their shows – there was no footage and just one question about Big Brother, nothing on Deal or No Deal, nothing on Nathan Barley. Nor was there a word from Richard and Judy, or from Paul O'Grady, stars of the teatime output. No Tony Slattery, the Jimmy Carr of 1991. No Johnny Vaughan, the Tony Slattery of 1997. And not a word from Hot Sauce owner Jonathan Ross, who was Mister Channel 4 during the flying blocks era. The final round included a highlight from The Crystal Maze, the lady who had to hook the crystal from the wobbly log but spent more time in the water. The winners – Messers Carr and Dee – got to spend some time in a cut-down Crystal Dome, collecting tokens. We'd rather have seen the show end with a re-enactment of Wanted, in which Jimmy Carr hides in a telephone box, and can't leave until he's found. What, we have to look? No fair!
But it would be unfair to leave with a sour taste. Almost in spite of the host, we found ourselves enjoying Big Fat Anniversary Quiz, as much for the "Did they really put this nonsense out?" element as for the "Oh yes, that was good." It's Channel 4 in a nutshell: always surprising us.
LWT for ITV, 10.05 Tuesday, 4 September – 9 October
Take two celebrities, and introduce them to each other. If possible, make it a bit of a chalk-and-cheese combination, a couple of people who would never usually talk to each other, or at least whose reputations precede them. For instance, socialist worker George Galloway and upper-class party girl Victoria Hervey; or royal correspondent James Whittaker and musician (er...) dancer (hang on...) bloke who shakes the maracas Mark Berry. These people will, of course, be famous for what they're famous for. Most of them will have outside interests, secret passions that we might not suspect. Who would think that Germaine Greer would take an interest in the wild flowers of Essex. Yet she will teach someone about them, and will learn about their interest.
If we're being honest, this programme is a re-tread of Swapheads, a programme that featured on Channel 5 a few years back. Back then, the presenter was Johnny Ball's Head; now, it's Alexander Armstrong. The emphasis on Swapheads was the learning about each other's specialised subjects; on Don't Call Me Stupid, it's clearly on the quiz. Swapheads began by bringing everyone to a country mansion, the new show starts (and ends) with clearly fake footage that's meant to be from the production staff.
Don't Call Me Stupid works more as an entertainment than as a learning experience. We get to see about five minutes of the celebrities showing each other their ropes, and that's enough shots to prove that George Galloway really has been on a horse without boring us so much that it feels like we've spent half the afternoon watching a dressage display. Then comes a two-minute quiz on the specialist subject, with Alexander Armstrong making wise-cracks throughout.
After both contestants have had their solo rounds, the winner is determined by another round, this time general knowledge, on the buzzers. The buzzers are linked to light-bulbs above the contestants' heads, and when they press the buzzer, the bulb illuminates. It's sad for us to realise that this little gimmick is probably the greatest design element we've seen on any ITV game show all year, and knocks spots off the entire Millionaire revamp.
Alexander Armstrong is competent as a host. We've never particularly rated him in the A-league of comedy hosts, and really couldn't see why he was ever considered as a possible host for Have I Got News for You. Here, Mr. Armstrong delivers his lines, and has comedy timing, but still lacks that certain something to make a decent show into a great one.
Make no mistake, Don't Call Me Stupid is a decent show. The central conceit is an interesting one, the execution holds the viewer's interest, and the choice of celebrities was generally good – we didn't have an endless stream of people from ITV dramas and ITV soaps and ITV house bands. It's not brilliant, but it's an entertaining half-hour.
It is, of course, possible that the entire series was a very sly dig at the ministry responsible for regulating television. The producers must have been aware that faked scenes on television, and people pretending to be something they're not, have been the cause of extreme controversy recently. Should we be referring to the Department of Culture Media and Sport, or the DCMS?
John Bald takes the Naval Careers of Nelson and Collingwood. He's wearing a black suit and white shirt, and has a shot at most of the questions. Eats time, but the guesses do count. 12 (1) is a decent score.
Bernie Doeser takes the Life and Works of Primo Levi. In contrast to the previous contender, his approach seems to be answer early, or pass. Squeezes in another question or two, but this will count against him in a tie-break. The final score: 10 (5).
Katie Bramall has the pop group Erasure. The name should ring bells, she was part of the UCL team that made the quarter-finals of University Challenge in 2002. It's a vam-vam-vam-vam round, every question answered very quickly – not all of them correctly, but a score of 17 (0) is enough to strike fear into anyone's heart.
Chris Bitton is taking the Life and Career of David Attenborough. It concentrates on his career as a maker of nature documentaries – hang on, we're confusing him with the BBC2 controller of a similar, aren't we. 9 (3) is his specialist subject round. No, it is the same man, as John discusses by invoking the spectre of Pot Black and Match of the Day. The first general knowledge question asks after the quizmaster played in Starter for Ten; the contender passes, and finishes on 17 (7).
Mr. Doeser described himself as a television extra and student. Smallhead trips himself up asking if it's necessary to look a bit strange, but has the grace to apologise at once. The agencies are short of people in the 30-55 range, one that the contender certainly falls into. Regrettably, he also falls into pass hell, ending on 13 (12).
Mr. Bald points out that Mr. Nelson and Mr. Collingwood were best friends, and better together than apart. His general knowledge round is strong – he beats the rule of two fewer general knowledge than specialist questions, ending on 23 (5).
In addition to her UC record, Dr. Bramall has appearances on Judgemental and Eggheads. She gives a wonderful put-down for Smallhead, enthusing about the cradle-to-grave nature of her profession. Seven to win, and (gosh!) she has to think about the first one, and has a bit of a panicked moment half-way through the round. She passes the winning post with plenty to spare, ending on 27 (2).
This Week And Next
No University Challenge recap, because there was no University Challenge. Unless you're going to count Bill Oddie looking out into the dark night sky.
OFCOM's fortnightly Moaning Minnies report was chock full of game show related complaints. Here's the summary news:
0898-gate continues, as Cash Call on The Hits was found guilty of fibbing about its prizes. The caption read "£450 guaranteed + £3000 jackpot". Yet £450 was the total amount in nine boxes; the eventual winner came away with just £20, less than 5% of the prize that was "guaranteed" in the same way as answers on The Vault.
In its defence, The Hits commented that it had terminated its contract with the production company two days after this broadcast, as it "felt that the vigour with which they were seeking to improve the financial performance of the programming was jeopardising the rigor with which they were adhering to the relevant codes of practice and regulations." We suspect they mean something along the lines of, "they were money grubbers, dragging our name through the mud for their profit."
Invicta Radio has been censured for changing the rules of a competition as it went on, and not telling its listener what had happened. Real Radio Scotland was criticised for incorporating advertisements in its quiz questions.
OFCOM has finally reported into Smile, the Sunday morning children's programme that (gasp!) recorded some episodes and (shock!) used callers who hadn't called in that day. The press jumped on this apparent fakery; objections were confined to those newspapers with an existing editorial vendetta against the BBC. All callers were considered for appearances on future programmes, and there's nothing unusual in inviting theatre school pupils to visit the studio. Nothing to see here, other than the rantings of jealous newspapers.
OFCOM also gave its judgement on various incidents of offensive language in this summer's Big Brother. The use of a racial epithet by Emily Parr on the 6 June broadcast was correctly put in context. OFCOM completely refused to rule on whether Miss Parr's exclusion from the contest was an over-reaction, as this column believed at the time, or whether she had otherwise been treated unfairly by the programme.
Laura Williams used a word offensive to homosexuals in shows broadcast on 1 and 4 July. Channel 4 said that this incident had also been referred up under its procedures introduced after January's Celeb BB problems, but underestimated the offense that would be caused. Miss Williams was ticked off in the 4 July episode; OFCOM found that this was also editorially justified.
Eyes down in the great Saturday night battle: and Strictly Come Dancing (8.3m on Saturday, 8.4m for the results) beat ITV's X Factor (7.5m) comfortably. Family Fortunes (7.3m) beat In It to Win It (6m), and HIGNFY had 5.4m. QI (3.1m) was the most-watched game show on BBC2, ahead of University Challenge (3.05m) and Dragons' Den (2.9m). Deal on C4 (2.4m) was top of the daytime pops, with Eggheads, Dancing on 2, and Weakest Link all taking around 2.2m.
Cable ratings are incomplete – we have nothing for Dave, or Challenge. QI on BBC4 had 615,000, beating ITV2's Xtra Factor (525,000) and X Factor repeat (450,000). The big news comes on More4, where an after-dark edition of Come Dine With Me scores a cool half-million viewers. UK Gold's Dancing With the Stars has 235,000, and CBBC's Hider in the House had 195,000.
Next week's highlights include some regionalia: Mastermind Cymru returns to S4C (8.30 Sunday), and Postcode Challenge reaches the STV and Grampian regions (8pm Monday). Nationally, old favourites are back: I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday), I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! (ITV, from 9pm Monday), and Never Mind the Buzzcocks (BBC2, 9pm Thursday). The third new Lottery format in little more than a year is Who Dares Wins (BBC1, 7.50 Saturday).
To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day, receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers sign up to our Yahoo! Group.