Weaver's Week 2008-08-17
There's one thing wrong with the BBC's flashy new Sunday night show Britain From Above: too many shots of Andrew Marr, too few shots from the air. There's one thing particularly right with Britain From Above: the aerial shots, because the air co-ordinator is Michael Malric-Smith. After twenty years, we got a good zap, Mikey!
Nick Knowles is an antiques expert who has taken a curious sideline in quizzes recently: see, for instance, his hosting duties on The Rich List. Myleene Klass is to 2008 as Tony Slattery was to 1993: ubiquitous. She seems to be absolutely everywhere at the moment, and has certainly done far better than we'd expect for one who starred in ITV's house band some years ago.
If we're being honest, we went into this series not particularly impressed with the basic idea. Almost every Saturday night since at least summer 2006 has featured some sort of voting-off contest: three runs of Lloyd-Webber casting shows, two series of Strictly Come Dancing with another to follow this autumn, that When Will I be Famous? malarkey, the DanceX that royally annoyed us, The One and Only Fame Academy clone, and probably some others that we've completely erased from our memory. It's almost as if the BBC has forgotten how to make quality Saturday night light entertainment that doesn't demand that its viewers participate and televote.
Last Choir Standing – originally developed as Choir Wars until it became clear that title didn't fit – is a contest between choral societies, vocal ensembles, and other large singing groups across the country. We're told that sixty choirs auditioned, and two audition shows reduced them to fifteen. Are there really only sixty choirs in the country? No, there are far more, but many of the others are church choirs, and they have their own Choir of the Year competition, neatly tucked away in Songs Of Praise, and hosted by that nice Aled Jones. Religious music need not concern the Saturday night audience, for it is devoted entirely to secular pursuits. Songs from the hit parade, yes. Songs from the shows, of course. Gospel songs, they're fine. Songs glorifying the one-winged angel of the Great Prophet Zarquon, no. Not on Saturday.
Two audition shows are, of course, par for the course. Lesser shows, such as ITV's Britain's Got A Simon Cowell Promotion Factor, quite deliberately use these audition programmes to humiliate and demean contestants who think they're all that, but they're not. Is it still entertaining to laugh at people whose opinion of their talent is somewhat greater than that of the glitterati? The BBC doesn't think so, and we give them a cheer for this forethought. Instead, though, we have to put up with lots of puff pieces about the choirs and their leaders, all about how they've had to struggle through adversity and overcome all sorts of hurdles to get where they are today. It's not overtly nasty, but it is a different form of emotional manipulation.
After enough of this nonsense to be getting on with, we get to the studio sequences. The fifteen qualified choirs are put into groups of five, and submit themselves to the rigours of live performances. And, let's be quite fair, everyone concerned puts on a good show. The choirs are really very good, whether they're theatrically trained semi-pros or enthusiastic and practised amateurs. The judges actually give constructive feedback: they don't merely say that they thought the performance had flaws, they point out the bits they thought were weaker and explain how the choir might do better. Negative, destructive criticism on this show? Dream on: there are plenty of feel-good vibes here.
In these qualification rounds, each choir sings twice; a group number at the start of the show is not assessed, and is there mostly to fill time. At the end, the judges deliver a partial verdict. One of the five choirs will progress to the final, another will be eliminated from contention. The remaining three will come back to sing again in the Sunday programme, and the best performance there will go through to the final.
The first five shows, therefore, were recorded and broadcast from tape. Only from programme six, which took to the air on 9 August, was Last Choir Standing broadcast live. By now, the contest was down to six choirs. Some rose to the challenge and stretched themselves by incorporating a song and dance routine that reminded us (in a good way) of the showgirls on 3-2-1. Other choirs tried to play it safe, and were overtaken by their rivals.
Like all the other voting shows since summer 2006, Last Choir Standing has been shot using high-definition cameras. And, like all the other voting shows since time immemorial, the programme has been mixed to sound as loud as possible all the time. At least one group was praised by the judges for their use of quiet bits and loud bits. That's odd, we don't recall there being any particularly quiet bits in the broadcast. By carefully analysing the sound file from the live broadcast, we find that there was very little dynamic range. The loudest bit was only very slightly louder than the quiet bit, completely flattening the effect generated by the singing.
Why is this important? Very simply, dynamic range is a vital part of any good choir's repertoire, and these are all good choirs. They know when to sing softly, and when to belt it out. For some reason, the BBC's audio engineers aren't broadcasting the quiet bits as quietly as they should. That gives an entirely distorted picture of the choir's quality and ability, and we can't help but assume that it will leave viewers on the rocks of ignorance.
Of course, Last Choir Standing complies with all the official rules of premium-rate voting, including wealth warnings and a warning against ballot stuffing. The number to call is put up on screen during the choir's performance, but Myleene reminds us that the lines won't open until the end of the show, and if you call now, your vote won't count and you may still be charged. Would it not be possible to open the lines at the start of the show, as they did at last year's Eurovision Dance Contest?
And Last Choir Standing complies with the rule of split transmissions, pioneered by Strictly Come Brucie last year. Lines close at about 9pm, and the top choirs in the public vote are safe. For the bottom two, it all comes to this: a quick sing-off to persuade the judges that they should be saved, before the terrific trio give their judgement. And before Myleene signs off with the line "The show's not over until the last choir's standing." Apparently, that passes for a catchphrase.
We're annoyed by the poor audio quality of the programme, last night's rendition of "O Fortuna" had loud bits and very loud bits. And we're utterly tired of these ceaseless Saturday night voting shows. This musical chairs idiom was novel when Pop Idle did it, but it's become a cliché for lazy broadcasters. We hope that the BBC can come up with something new for next year.
All that said, we do enjoy Last Choir Standing as an entertainment. It's a good show, everyone involved is playing to their strengths, and it feels like they're all having fun. And, goodness knows, it's more entertaining than The Cowell Promotional Vehicle on the other side.
Match 6: Exeter v Pembroke Oxford
We begin with the definition of the week, "bluff". It's won by Exeter, a university that was formed out of various colleges in the south west, and now has two sites in Exeter and one in Falmouth. The Chancellor is Floella Benjamin, and alumni include the President of Turkey and JK Rowling. This week's side are able to link a football side with the Percy family and Richard II, through White Harts. There are an awful lot of dropped starters in the opening stages.
The first visual round opens the scores for Pembroke Oxford, which we're reminded was home to JRR Tolkein and Roger Bannister. The pictures are of the flags of Commonwealth countries in the South Pacific, and Exeter's lead is pegged to 50-20.
Has the 50p had a makeover recently? Can't say we'd noticed, or seen any examples. There's a set of bonuses on the year 1985, and we idly wonder if they came about after BBC4 showed that episode of The Rock 'N' Roll Years about six months ago. Worth repeating the whole series. (Hint.) There are more dropped starters in the second stanza, leading to the Emergency Starter that boils to "Who became prime minister in 1940?" The audio round is on classical arrangements of popular music by The Section Quartet. It goes to Exeter, and their lead has increased from fifteen to 110-60.
How do people not know that a third plus a ninth plus a twenty-seventh and so on converges to one half? Answers on the back of an ever-reducing envelope, purlease. Thumper would not have accepted "An Oasis album" to the question, "What everyday object contains the inscription 'Standing on the Shoulders of Giants'", because the pop group only stood on one shoulder, and that's jolly clever of them. (This was also the Question that Round Britain Quiz Listeners would remember from six hours ago.) The Not Very Precise Hidden Transmission Indicator of the Week is about Helmand province, the part of Afghanistan always in the news. Knowledge of EU accession dates through the years brings Pembroke to within five; knowledge of Laurence Olivier in the second visual round extends Exeter's advantage to 150-120.
In art, how many dancers in the picture, how many graces in the sculpture? Good question: the answer is "three", and we don't know where the answer is going until the last moment. Two starters have put Exeter ahead by 55, but two for Pembroke pull them back to within 25. Exeter gets the next starter, but the knowledge of the Irish coastline is lacking. More starters are dropped, the knowledge that cochineal produces red colouring helps the Exeter side, and that should be enough. Indeed it is: no-one can recall that Bulgaria and Romania have a coastline on the Black Sea, and they were answers to a bonus question earlier. Exeter has a win, 195-150.
Exeter's best buzzer was Katy Limmer, who got nine starters. The team made 18/36 bonuses and picked up one missignal – they could easily have had three. Pembroke had a team effort, Adam Taylor getting four starters, but the side converted 14/24 bonuses and no missignals.
The repechage board: Surrey 170 Pembroke Oxford 150 Hull 140 St George's 110
Next match: Selwyn Cambridge v St Anne's Oxford
0898 Silly Question, Really
Over on Channel 5's call-and-lose programmes, there's been a slew of cases solved by those fearless folk at OFCOM Towers. One asked people to name words beginning with S and ending in T. One of the unguessed answers was SAILCLOTH, which – as acutely observant readers will note – doesn't actually end in T, but H. Channel 5 described this as an "innocent but stupid mistake", and probably used another word beginning with S and ending in T.
Channel 5 has also been criticised for not explaining how the road signs were altered on a "Which Road Signs Are Wrong?", and a round of "Which Flags Are Wrong?" contained a flag that was, actually, right. OFCOM found that the alterations were so subtle as to be unsolvable except by guesswork.
Bringing 0898-gate almost full circle, a "Count the Cats" game ran as follows:
- "15 cats meet 3 cats each. Those cats all meet 25 cats and they all go for a curry! How many cats?"
2641, apparently. Except it's not, it's 2461. Two other cryptic counting games were also criticised, including one that brought about this cryptic cryptic counting explanation:
- "Viewers had to calculate every possible number within the kites (which were also different colours), including: numbers within other written numbers and numbers within digital numbers. Viewers then had to add each of these possible numbers to each of the other numbers. In addition, if a kite was facing right, then all the numbers that could be made on that kite were positive numbers and, if facing left, all the numbers on that kite were negative numbers. Viewers then also had to work out the total of the numbers for the different coloured kites. Then every number from each of the kites needed to be added or deducted from the other respective kite. The final answer was the result of all these sums, plus the original numbers that could be made from each of the numbers on the kites."
In neither case could anyone running the quiz work out the correct answer, and it's clear that The Great Big British Quiz wasn't following the rules, whatever they were. That'll explain why it no longer takes to the air.
The department of Jokes That Went Over People's Heads reported from Xfm. Earlier this year, driveltime presenter Rick Shaw ran a Very Short Quiz. He'd ask questions of a listener for 40 seconds, and then awarded the listener a prize for each question they got right. No matter what the listener asked for – "a girlfriend", "a million pounds", "a private jet", "a pork pie" – the presenter said he would send them, but all the winners were sent a bundle of CDs and DVDs. One listener complained to OFCOM because they believed the presenter's spiel, and thought that they would actually be sent the prizes promised on air. OFCOM, with their usual inability to spot a joke when it comes up and goes "honk" in their faces, said that Xfm should have described the prizes entirely accurately.
This Week And Next
On Battle of the Brains this week, we had World Quiz Champion and defending Brain of Britain Mark Bytheway; Mastermind, Millionaire, and BoB champion Pat Gibson; and recent Mastermind champ Geoff Thomas on the other side. Turning up later were stars of The People's Quiz, Olav Bjortomt and Mark Labbett. We reckon that's more clever stuff per head than they've got in Eggheads, and without the terribly passé Dermot Murnaghan.
In an interview with the Rusty Old Radio Times, Terry Wogan hinted that he's done with the Eurovision Song Contest. "I'm very doubtful about ever wanting to do Eurovision again." Fans all over the country will be cheering at this glad news. The worst thing from Ireland in Belgrade (yes, making Mr. The Turkey (pictured) look sensible) went on to drivel, "Days before the show, I knew Russia would win. The fact is, Putin was getting nasty, which means the former satellite states were always going to vote for Russia in order to keep the oil coming." Ah, this would be the version of "fact" that has no basis in reality, merely what the ghosts in Mr. Wogan's head say.
He continued, "It's unfortunate, I suppose, but whereas we have always taken Eurovision with a pinch of salt, the former Eastern Bloc countries are not sufficiently versed in the ways of democracy to realise they are supposed to be voting for a song, not a next-door neighbour." At this point, we do start begging the BBC to give us a new commentator next year. Even before this year's contest, Dima Bilan was a massive pop star in the Eastern bloc, so large as if the UK sent Mika. The old Warsaw Pact countries voted for a familiar performer singing a song he had been busy promoting. Mr. Bilan worked his cotton socks off, and we would have hoped Mr. Wogan might remember that he was seeing the bloke who came second just two years earlier.
The Eastern Bloc is sufficiently well-versed in the way of democracy to vote for its favourite song, and does so every year. This year, that favourite happened to be from a regional power. Last year and in 2004, it was from Serbia, two pieces of utter brilliance that Mr. Wogan refused to appreciate. In '05 and '06, the Eastern and Western favourites coincided, good news for Greece and Finland. As we say, we're asking the BBC for a new host for next year. Is Basil Brush available?
Ratings for the week to 3 August are in. This Time Tomorrow still leads the way, with 4.75m, and Last Choir Standing attracted 4.1m. Big Brother had 3.85m, and Dragons' Den (3.3m) beat Who Dares Sings! (3.05m). Mock the Week had its best score of the year, 2.95m. Come Dine With Me led the digital tier, 675,000 saw the concluding episode. Big Brother is finally advancing, the Friday night Big Mouth had a season-best 650,000, and Tuesday's Little Brother 415,000.
The answer to the RBQ-style clues: "Intergalactic Sonic Sevens" was a 2002 album for rock group Ash. "Personality dialysis" is a lyric from Sondheim's song "Popular"; remove the U to leave Poplar. The "Dunce of Denstone" is David Edwards, who won the top prize on Millionaire by knowing the Latin name of the Oak. Francesco Stefani is most famous for his short film The Singing Ringing Tree, and trees were the link.
Sport Mastermind reaches its final at 7pm Wednesday, but that clashes with the real sports. We'll review the final – and the series – next week. Viewers in Scotland don't have that viewing clash, and viewers in Wales get to see 0 Ond 1, S4C's new expat show.
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