Weaver's Week 2008-11-16

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Are You an Egghead?

12 Yard for BBC2, 4.30pm weekdays

In the beginning, there was Eggheads. Dermot Murnaghan, Kevin Ashman, Christopher Hughes, Daphne Fowler, Judith Keppell, CJ de Mooi. Five of the great and good of the game show world, with a list of victories longer than something very long indeed. And the host, a man who had enough appeal to appear on BBC1 and BBC2 at the very same time. Originally appearing in the 12.30 slot before the news, Eggheads scrambled to BBC2's teatime in 2005, and has become the almost permanent replacement for The Simpsons.

Since it began in autumn 2003, Eggheads has faced two major criticisms. This series addresses one of these problems. Ever since it began, Eggheads has carefully vetted its contestant teams. Anyone with a spark of knowledge, anyone who has seriously competed in the world of quiz, is ruled out by the production staff. We reckon the aim is to make for populist television, on the assumption that the casual viewer will be able to empathise with the poor benighted team, withering under a ferocious barrage from Mr. Ashman. What this doesn't allow is any sense of drama – when the final round begins with the resident Eggheads already 5:1 ahead, we may as well turn off to something less boring, like the regional news bulletin showing live footage of a cardboard box blowing around the city centre.

For the spin-off series, thirty-two game show contestants have turned up, and they'll be eliminated over 31 shows until a winner is found. The calibre of competitors is high; there are Mastermind and Fifteen-to-One champions, and at least one million-pound winner took part. For the person who can defeat all their opponents, the prize is to become the sixth member of the Eggheads box, rotating in with the existing heroes.

To determine the daily winner, our two contestants play a version of the regular daily game. Five rounds of questions, best-of-three, with multiple choice answers available. It's true that the questions are a little harder than we'll see on the daily show (barely an hour later) but we don't think anyone's brains will be fried by these posers. If necessary, tie-break questions are played, without multiple-choice options.

The resident Eggheads haven't had that much to do so far. Dermot will occasionally ask the panel – all seated at their customary long desk – to answer or elucidate on the questions. The winner of each round is allowed to pick one of the Eggheads to help them in the final round.

This repeats for five rounds, until all of the regular Eggheads have been picked by one or other player. The final round is best-of-five, with the players allowed to consult the Eggheads they've won, but only the once.

We mentioned earlier that Eggheads has faced two criticisms. The second criticism is that it's a very slow show, and this version maintains the traditional glacial pace. It's not that there are no questions in the game – we'll typically see 35 questions in the course of a 45-minute show, a far faster rate than (for instance) Millionaire or Duel. No, the problem is that the show is still repetitive and feels drawn-out. These are quiz geniuses, they know the answer to these questions straight away, they don't particularly need to explain their thought processes. Duel may have been slower in strict question terms, but there was pace and tension in the game.

There's no tension in Are You an Egghead until the final round, and often not until the end of that round. Compare this against Channel 4's Deal or No Deal, which covers its lack of substance with layers of Noel Edmonds' showmanship. Compare this lack of tension to the conquest of Alaska in the name of Blue Peter. Even ITV's airing of the testcard and some music is only slightly more predictable.

Questions Pour un Champion

A brief addendum to last week's lead review, as we've finally got to see the 20th anniversary show. It contained winners from all the special editions – the celebrities, the Grandes Ecoles, the families, the international editions – but also the two greatest players of the game, who (not surprisingly) won their respective halves of the game. The final was nip-and-tuck, but we always had a sense – just a sense – that one player would come from slightly behind, just as he had done a little earlier. And so it was: Karim Andreys-Keroui overcame a number of small deficits to defeat Khorem Majeur, to add the 20th anniversary title to his 10th anniversary title, the Super-Champion from 2007, and the Grand Cagnotte of 500 000€ he collected just last year.

But the show wasn't just about the equivalent of Ashman versus Fowler. There were flashbacks, clips from the various international editions, sequences of M. Lepers singing (let us be thankful that Henry Kelly never tried this), and some of the most hysterical over-reactions to questions ever seen. We also got to see the equivalent to the "Turkey" question: a contestant answering questions in the Quatre En Suite round, about seas of the world. He could only think of one, and repeated it as the answer to every question. Only as time expired would "mer noire" be the correct answer.

University Challenge

Second Round, 1/7: LSE v Selwyn College Cambridge

LSE got here by overpowering Bath, 220-80, in a game aired on the August bank holiday. Selwyn booked their place a week earlier, overcoming St Anne's Oxford by 180-115. There are no substitutions this week.

The LSE kick off with this week's Word of the Week, "haiku". The side also gets a question about an instrumental album that was given an "explicit lyrics" sticker. And we'll take Geography Lesson of the Week:

Q: "A French overseas departement in the Indian Ocean..."
Rajan Patel, LSE: "Reunion."

That's impressive; we're slightly rolling our eyes when the side starts to give each other low-fives – just visible above the desk – during the bonus round. We're with Richard O'Brien on this one. The first visual round is on well-known Hollywood actors that, er, no-one knows. LSE has the lead, 80-0.

The sides continue to find the questions slipping through the cracks in their knowledge – a Shakespeare play is the one they just miss, "amoebic" movement is not "amoeboid" movement, and we'll not mention their collective inability to note dance steps. For those who missed it earlier, here's a Repeat of Geography Lesson of the Week:

Q: "In which ocean are the island groups Salomon..."
Rajan Patel, LSE: "Indian."

We think that Mr. Patel is quite an expert on the Indian Ocean. He's also an expert on Country Music Entertainers of the Year, identifying the singer Johnny Cash before he opens his mouth, for which we thank him deeply. LSE still has a good lead, 135-25.

Readers who haven't seen this show yet are warned that it contains quotes from Norman Tebbit. Bring your own garlic. By the third stanza, every member of the LSE side has correctly answered a starter; at this point, only one Selwyn player has done the same. Mr. Patel gets another speculative buzz, on definitions of "nick", but to quote three in one review would be greedy. Maybe in the next round. The second visual round is Name That Low-Earth Orbiting Object, an idea they've quite clearly pilfered from SKY television. The LSE's lead is 220-55.

We may as well write "game over" in our report here, except that there's still seven minutes before we switch over to Only Connect. Selwyn get a couple of starters, bringing their score up to respectability. It's the second round that LSE has won the game at a canter, though the bonuses were far more to their taste this week. Selwyn actually has a very good final round, it's a shame that it's far too late to affect the game, which ends 270-135.

For the LSE, Rajan Patel finished with six starters, the side made 27/42 bonuses with one missignal. Jacob Leland led Selwyn Cambridge on the buzzers, also getting six starters; the side made 13/24 bonuses with two missignals.

Next match: Corpus Christi Oxford v Edinburgh


Episode 11

Regular readers of this section (there's got to be someone reading this... surely) will recall that the first two heats of this series were won by women. Tonight's might be another, for three women take part.

Jean Taylor has been on home turf, researching The Coventry Blitz. In this week's Hidden Transmission Indicator, the firestorm took place on the night of 14 November 1940, following a British attack on Munich. Such was the ferocity that the statue of Queen Victoria in nearby Leamington moved, and the Germans came up with a new word, "Coventrated". It's not exactly a good word. The round ends on 9 (3).

The token bloke this week is Barry Ingram, who will tell us about The Scottish Enlightenment. Here was the triumph of Reason and Rationality over Religion and Supposition, lead by thinkers such as Maynard Keynes, Adam Smith, David Hume, and the invention of the lending library. The round ends on 9 (5).

Nancy Dickmann will tell us about the "Amelia Peabody" novels of Elizabeth Peters. The round doesn't explain the subject well to the newcomer – Peabody is a detective, the books are set from 1885 to 1920, and given her propensity to explore tombs, we suspect she may bear some kin to Lara Croft. 13 (0).

Miriam Collard has Dic Penderyn and the Merthyr Rising of 1831. Again, the subject isn't particularly well explained through the questions. The Merthyr Rising was a revolt against plans by an ironworks owner to cut his employees' wages. In a week of fighting, troops were deployed, one of the soldiers was injured, Penderyn was framed for the crime, and hanged. The contender scores 15 (0).

Mrs. Taylor is a survivor of the Blitz, and was celebrating her birthday on the night. Which means she must be celebrating today; happy birthday, ma'am! She attributes her sunny disposition to good humour and dirty men, which leaves the host lost for words. The round ends on 15 (7).

Mr. Ingram confirms that the Scottish Enlightenment and the French Revolution acted as a joint force against the domination of the Churches, which deemed anything they didn't like to be herasey. These days, they don't even object to Hear'say. We agree that egg nog deserves to be derided, but we don't recall it being particularly German. The round finishes on 15 (10).

Which can only mean we will have another female winner this week. Nancy Dickmann is a publisher of children's non-fiction books, and delivers a broadside against the nonsense written on the internet. Not everything on the internet is accurate; while this column (indeed, the whole of UK Gameshows) tries its best to be correct all the time, mistakes do slip in, and we apologise for those. Given her accent, we suspect that the contender has known about the "electoral college" since she was very young, and storms through to finish on 27 (1).

Mrs. Collard is our final contender, and she's roused Mr. Humphrys' inquisitiveness: why should someone who isn't Welsh be so interested in the principality's history? She's Welsh by adoption, has ancestry in Flintshire, and reckons that the M-54 is far nicer than the Severn Bridge. We agree. Unlike the previous contender, this player takes her time, considers each question, and gives the right answer. Her final score is 27 (2), an agonising defeat by just one pass, and more evidence for why we should have a repechage for the best losers.

This Week And Next

The BBC rather trumpeted a press release saying that Strictly Come Brucie had been sold to 38 countries, making it the most-watched format in the world. That will come as news to the good people at Millionaire Towers, who have recorded over 100 international versions, some of them still on the air. It'll have the people at the Eurovision Song Contest not believing their ears; not because Jemini will be entering next year, but because their show is seen in at least 43 countries, because they vote in it. Even the fine folk of Sesame Street threw a cookie, seeing as how there have been 33 national live-action series made, with a further 19 dubbed versions. The BBC can't have Bruce Forsyth beaten by a big bird, but seeing as how he's almost six foot, there's no reason for Tess Daly to worry.

OFCOM's fortnightly report into broadcasting errors includes a slap on the wrist for Kerrang! radio. Back in April, the station's breakfast show ran a contest inviting people to call in and win tickets for a film premiere. Rather than give the tickets to the first correct answer, like they had promised, the "winner" was known to the presenter, had been recorded the day before, and was played in from tape. The presenter was subsequently sacked, Kerrang! broadcast an apology every hour for a day, and OFCOM determined that the competition had not been conducted fairly. The jock responsible, Tim Shaw, is now on Absolute 1215. OFCOM's next task is to investigate many thousands of complaints by people who are annoyed that Laura The Winner was voted off ITV's The X Factor last week. While the regulator ponders and concludes that everything was above board, we have a suggestion. If people think it's rigged, they can – and probably should – stop watching.

Only Connect moved into its quarter-final stage, and stepped up the difficulty a lot. We found ourselves getting better at the game as the first round wore on, and it'll be interesting to see if this happens again in the second round. Or could it be that the most taxing questions have come up in the early games? The show was followed by How To Solve a Cryptic Crossword, and the one crossword they explained is on the BBC website. We particularly agree with the taxi driver who suggested that we get a crossword with cryptic and straight clues, try it as a cryptic, with something to help when we get stuck.

The X Factor continued to have more viewers than any other show in the week to 2 November, 11.65m saw the performances, compared to Strictlys 9.8m. Family Fortunes reached 6.55m, HIGNFY 4.9, and Millionaire 3.75m. The Restaurants final served coffee and mints to 3.15m viewers – more than had dined at any earlier sitting; Dragons' Den and Dancing on Two had 2.95m. The Xtra Factor didn't quite replicate the main show's success, just failing to beat 1m viewers. Hell's Kitchen USA served deep fried celery to a record 795,000, and Come Dine With Me had 610,000 guests. Argumental debuted on UKTV Dave, with 350,000 viewers.

We note that – with a little juggling – it's possible for viewers in England to spend all of next Thursday afternoon and evening watching game shows on the terrestrial channels. Begin at 1pm with Going for Gold (C5), delayed fifteen minutes. Then hop over to ITV for House Guest, Dickinson's Real Deal, and Spin Star. Then over to BBC1 for the start of Raven's Finals Week, and Election, and dodge Newsround while watching the Going for Gold Extra from earlier. Then The Weakest Link, Eggheads, Dancing on Two. Is there nothing on at 7pm? This is where the video comes in: Golden Balls can be shuffled into this hour, before ITV begins its two-hour marathon of I'm a Celeb. Ten hours of solid game shows, and tapes of Countdown, Deal or No Deal, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks take the total to something like fourteen hours of continuous viewing, and we couldn't squeeze Are You an Egghead? in without using a second VCR. That strikes us as quite a game show marathon.

Yes, ITV begins the latest series of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! tonight (9pm), in which a bunch of people are stranded in the Australian suburbs, possibly as much as ten minutes from a fresh latte. Sadly, that's just about it in the way of new shows this week.

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