Weaver's Week 2010-05-09
The Game Show General Election 2010
The ballots are locked, the papers are sealed, and even as we speak, the virtual studio is being put to good use. Tim Vine's Brother has been politely but firmly ushered out to work on his crazy paving, and the stars of Bamzooki are running around, counting up the entries, and working out who's won. It's a good job Centi has mastered the art of binary arithmetic, he can count into Squillions of Squillions before he lifts too many legs off the ground and falls over. It's a harsh life for a zook...
Anyway, Major Gallop-Pole has asked us to fill in his ballot, as part of his attempt to predict how the public will have voted. What? Apparently this is the entirety of Major Gallop-Pole's research. We'd better not let the chap down, though Tank insists on saying that this is an exit poll of one voter, we've no evidence to say that the rest of the country has swung in this direction, but then we've no evidence that they've not, either.
How this column voted
Beginning with the Greatest Game Show Hosts category, and three newcomers who almost made it into the final list. Almost, but not quite – they've only had one big hosting role each, and we're a little wary about saying someone's the best thing since sliced bread on precisely one item of data. Still, we salute Richard Bacon, Victoria Coren, and Charlie Brooker, and hope that the commissioners are sensible enough to give each of them lots and lots and lots of work, because they're quality broadcasters and deserve success, and we wouldn't mind seeing an awful lot more of them.
On to the top ten, which we compiled with one question in mind. We've heard that there's going to be a new show on one of the digital channels. The format leaves us a bit nonplussed, the central conceit is a bit samey. Which hosts would raise our pulse rate, who would turn a run-of-the-mill programme into event television?
1 pt – Phillip Schofield
If it's live television, Phillip's your man. He turned the Broom Cupboard and Going Live into clubs for every child, and he's continued that ability on This Morning. But we're marking him for game shows, and the Schofe is at his best on live or near-live broadcasts – Talking Telephone Numbers, Winning Lines, Test the Nation, Dancing on Ice, all edge-of-the-seat stuff, and all masterfully handled by Phillip.
2 pts – Davina McCall
The host of every eviction night on Big Brother, the show simply wouldn't be the same without her. Davina always came across as a genuine fan, actually interested in the show she's working on. But there are more strings than that on her bow – she was the only person to make The Vault comprehensible, and there's clearly a razor-sharp mind at work there. Davina's a bit lucky, we were going to put her just outside the list until we heard her new engagement on The Million Pound Drop, and thought that we might enjoy the show now. Would the host we excluded, Ant and Dec, be better?
3 pts – Liza Tarbuck
Another woman of the people, Liza's star turn remains the moderator's role on Without Prejudice?, a show that actually required her to sit back and not be the star of the show. We applaud anyone who will not force herself into a format, but let it breathe. She's since become a regular contributor to Just a Minute and other comedy panel games, and deserves a major gig on a big channel.
4 pts – Bruce Forsyth
We've said in the past that we're not massive fans of Bruce Forsyth. Particularly when the host's ballot was a mere five names, we considered that his record wasn't quite worthy of a place. However, the ballot is now ten names, and Brucie gets a bonus set of votes from this corner. We're a bit sceptical about Play Your Cards Right and The Price is Right, but he's proven more indefatigable than any would-be leader, and Strictly Come Brucie wouldn't be the same without him. For our money, his greatest work was the 1970s run of The Generation Game, a format that's never been far from our screens and no-one has ever hosted it better.
5 pts – Chris Tarrant
It's only when we look at the record-breaking list of shows Tarrant has presented that we realise just how many clunkers he's had. Cluedo? PSI? The Colour of Money? But there are many other shows in his career that were only held together by his drive and talent – Lose a Million and The Great Pretender wouldn't have worked with anyone else hosting them, and we insist that The Door is better for his presence. Chris has only had two massive hits, and Everybody's Equal was re-made with Tim Vine and wasn't worse for the experience. But can we seriously imagine Who Wants to be a Millionaire without its original host? No way, final answer.
6 pts – Dermot O'Leary
The only decent host of Big Brother's Little Brother, Dermot's another presenter at home on live television – he made his name on T4, and now hosts ITV's cash mountain Simon Cowell Says Vote This Way. He's moved away from game shows in recent years, presenting a regular show on Radio 2, and BBC3's Question Time. One Versus One Hundred showed that he's still cracking with people, and there's another great show left in him yet.
7 pts – Richard Whiteley
Local journalist and interviewer presents a spin-off of the local evening news magazine, gets commissioned for obscure new television channel that no-one's watching, sticks with it for almost a quarter of a century, gets fourth place in this list. Richard was really known for Countdown, where his swift wits were hidden behind the façade of a bumbler who didn't quite know what was going on. The phrase "a national treasure" was used to describe Richard in 2004, a year before his untimely death, and even though Jeff Stelling is the best host they've had since, he's got a very long journey to top Richard's achievements. Richard was Countdown, and his abilities with the show were shown into sharper relief by his successors.
8 pts – Barney Harwood
We're going to get some raised eyebrows for this, and no mistake. This column's admiration for children's television is well-known, and those who don't watch CBBC will be wondering why this chap from Blackpool gets such a high placing. Very simple: everything he does is worth watching. Even the juvenile comedy Bear Behaving Badly is rendered mildly tolerable by his presence. Two game shows stick out for us: The Sorcerer's Apprentice was magical in its first incarnation, but lost a chunk of lustre second time around, partly because Barney had been replaced by Ortis Deeley. Let's be fair, Ortis is good, but he's no Harwood. And even before we'd seen a second of Bamzooki Street Rules, we figured it was going to be worth watching because Barney's in it. Watch this man, he's going to go far.
10 pts – Michael Underwood
Which brings us to someone whose career seems to have stalled in the past four years, and that's a criminal shame. Jungle Run's been cancelled as ITV doesn't bother making entertainment programmes any more, and Michael's talent has been wasted on shows like TV-AM, Dancing on Ice, and Simon Cowell Says Vote Here. Give him an action-adventure show – he was a perfect choice for The Door – and we hope there's more in store soon.
12 pts – Bob Monkhouse
We may as well repeat what we said in 2006, when giving Bob our full house of points. "Combining stand-up comedy, a remarkably swift wit, and an energy that saw him work almost every day, Bob was, in every way, the king of game shows. No-one else handled The Golden Shot with such aplomb; no-one else made Celebrity Squares such fun, or made television bingo at all well." Even if the show wasn't so good, Bob could be relied upon to tell a joke, to do something funny, and bring us to the next moment when something might turn up.
We also compiled the greatest game shows list by musing on a question. In this case, which shows would we not want to miss an episode of? Which programmes would we set the video for, which shows would we be miffed to miss, even on repeats? Which shows have had influence, which do we want to come back to so that we can see how they've inspired other programmes?
Some of the shows we considered were really one-season wonders, great fun while they lasted but they've not stood the test of time. We'd want to watch 19 Keys, Duel, Without Prejudice?, The Sorcerer's Apprentice once, but seeing the same show twice loses a lot of the fun.
Some of the shows are still young, and – again – we're reluctant to give high praise to a show that's never coming back and never inspiring much. Bamzooki, Get 100, Scene Stealers, School's Out, Step Back in Time, You Have Been Watching are all grand programmes, they all bear watching (or hearing) again, but the commissioners didn't like them.
Inevitably, there were some shows finishing just shy of the top ten, because there are only ten places and far more than ten shows competing for them. Wipeout, particularly the Paul Daniels version, remains an entertaining and educational half-hour. Just a Minute has been going strong since the invention of the pea-whistle, and is still an enchanting way of spending a half-hour. The Krypton Factor ... well, maybe the revival wasn't as good as we remembered. Even so, any of these shows could have made the top end of the list.
The five that just missed the top ten show just how difficult it is to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, to fit twenty great shows into the top ten. Sometimes, programmes we'd really like to put in are left out, because there are some even better ones coming up. Goodness, this column's had to exclude Countdown and The Crystal Maze from the voting slip – Countdown in spite of running forever and bringing Richard Whiteley to the nation's sitting rooms, The Crystal Maze in spite of inspiring a generation of miniature games. There's no room for The Search, a criminally-overlooked programme, sacrificed on the altar of Jade Goody's career. Well done, Channel 4, a deal worth making there. Winning Lines misses out, by far the best endgame ever. And we have to lose X Marks the Spot, a radio entertainment that combined geography with puzzles and some of the most obscure clues around.
1 pt – Interceptor
Take two yuppies, plant them six miles apart, arrange transport to get them to meet up inside a strict time limit, and ask them to do something hair-raising en route. As if that wasn't difficult enough, have them chased by a man in black, an obviously-evil villain in the style of The Hooded Claw, and equipped with the latest in high-tech gadgetry (well, a helicopter and a high-powered teevee remote). The show works as a simple chase, but there are levels of humour, some plot and character development, and – if all else fails – some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain. (And a cement works near Kelso, but let's not quibble.) Laser tag played on a grand scale.
2 pts – University Challenge
Yeeeeeees. The student quiz ran for a quarter-century on ITV, launched the careers of a thousand people, and Bamber Gascoigne became a household name for writing (or re-writing) every single question himself. It went through a few formats in its years, and even our research turns up blanks. Were points originally awarded only on bonuses? Was there a three-wins qualification for the knockout phase? Was the Pass the Quizzlestick version something we dreamed up while knocked out on cold medicine? In a foreshadowing of its dash to commercialism, ITV discontinued production in 1987, and the show turned up on BBC2 seven years later. Jeremy Paxman has become the new host, the series has generated at least one star every year, and the viewing public still gawps in amazement that anyone is able to understand these questions, never mind answer them.
3 pts – Wanted
This was hide-and-seek for the video camera generation. Pairs of friends go around the country, film themselves doing something stupid, all the while trying to avoid being filmed by their appointed tracker. The rushes are edited down into a live show, and if the pair can win their weekly challenge, they get lots of money. There was a lot of artifice about the show – runners revealed their location every day, and the final challenge never quite gelled with the rest of the week. A cult favourite, but the complexity made it impossible to recommission. Still, Wanted has inspired a whole host of location-based games – see, for instance, Test Case and Intercept from the Ludocity project.
4 pts – Only Connect (2)
The only brand new show in our top ten, and quite clearly the toughest quiz on television. The OC has established itself as a home for intelligent questionning, and its innovative Connecting Walls have already spawned imitators on the internets. It's not clear whether the show will follow in the footsteps of QI and graduate to a more major network – we slightly hope it doesn't, because that would lead to easier questions, and those would devalue the show. It's meant to be tough!
5 pts – I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue
Cult broadcasting has always been loosely defined, but there are some characteristics. Cult shows attract young people, they grow an audience through word of mouth rather than formal advertising. They have a language and conventions of their own, and adherents are prepared to exclude others through obscurity and not explaining process. Like the shows we've just discussed, ISIHAC has these qualities in spades, with rounds that make no sense to the outsider – or the participant, as in the case of such complex and ill-defined parts as One Song to the Tune of Another. Humphrey Lyttelton hosted the show until his death in 2008, since when a series of guest hosts have occupied the chair. We're yet to be convinced that Jack Dee is as good a host.
6 pts – The Adventure Game
The grandfather of unscripted shows, this simply put three people on a well-decorated set, set them a puzzle, and waited to see what happened. Again, the cult of Arg grew through its four series, with the tiles in the first series' entrance hall becoming a unit of currency by the second. Quirky features abounded – the planet was ruled by an aspidistra, there was a red salamander and a man who talked backwards. Everyone had to get home by crossing The Vortex, an endgame re-used elsewhere. Direct descendents include The Crystal Maze and Interceptor; the observational and (mostly) non-interventionist style begat Big Brother.
7 pts – The Mole
The second-youngest show in our top ten, this was a game of skill, cunning, deduction, and intrigue. Once we'd worked out who the mole was, there was still the thrill of guessing how they would spoil the next challenge. The challenges stretched the contestants physically, mentally, and emotionally, and made for the most compelling television of 2001. Thanks to Channel 5's uncanny ability to stop making good shows after unreasonably short runs (see also: International King of Sports), two series was it.
8 pts – Eurovision Song Contest
Since the first General Election in 2002, the Eurovision Song Contest has expanded from one evening to a week's action. There's glitter, there's glamour, but there's also been the incompetent commentary from the BBC's appointed spokesman. Mercifully, he was shown the door a couple of years ago, and replaced by someone who doesn't talk all over the songs. The show has never fulfilled its mission of encouraging European popular song, but it does give exposure for the continent's cultures.
10 pts – Round Britain Quiz
Now the oldest show on our ballot, RBQ has been stumping listeners since the 1940s. This column only got into the show about ten years ago, and there's still a little tingle when we get an answer before the panellists. The programme only has twelve contestants per year, and we would dearly love to see a cross-cultural match between a panel from here and some of the youngsters on Only Connect.
12 pts – Raven
We said that our prime criterion to rank this list is how annoyed we would be to miss an episode. We don't particularly want to miss any episodes of any show on the ballot, but the fact is that, after 260 episodes of Raven and its spin-off series, we've only missed four minutes, and that's because our video recorder chewed up the tape. It's become an institution, a proper legend of television, combining skilful and physical challenges, and all set in a familiar environment. Familiar, but not safe, not with Nevar and his demons of mass destruction.
So, Major Gallop-Pole, that's our vote, what does the exit projection say? A swing to the roundabouts, and money is on the slide. Once the returning officer has counted and verified the votes, they'll be up on the website.
Final eliminator 2
This episode was originally scheduled for 16 April, and postponed at about a day's notice. The additional task: why was this episode pulled? We'll find the answer in due course.
Valerie Roebuck takes Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552 – 1618) who served in France and Spain, and rendered good service for Queen Elizabeth in Ireland and as governor of Jersey. His two attempts to colonise Virginia failed, but his expedition to South America was more successful. James VI/I was less enamoured of him than Elizabeth had been, and Raleigh was executed for treason. It's a very good round, finishing on 12 (0).
Les Morrell has the TV series Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-9), written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey. In the series, Martin Bryce is a suburban busybody, threatened by the successful hairdresser Paul Ryman. The contender shoots out the answers like a rapid-fire pistol, gets 15 right, and still has time for a pass.
Michael McPartland discusses the Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell (1980- ) Sharpe is a military hero, who fought for the British military in India and the Peninsular wars of the early 19th century. Some of the books were adapted for television in the mid-1990s. It's another round over before it's begun, finishing on 13 (0).
Kevin Quinn has British Hit Singles of the 1960s. We can't be bothered to explain this to anyone, but any round that mentions Rolf Harris's hit single can't be all bad. 6 (2).
Finally, Andrew Warmington has been studying the Life and Reign of Henry VIII (1502-1547), who only became heir apparent after the death of his older brother Arthur. Now that would have been a legendary king, though we know that the BBC would have paid the trumpeters to play some completely inappropriate music at the start of his coronation. Off with their heads! On with the scoring! 13 (0).
Mr. Quinn got here with Lester Piggott (12 March), confuses pub quiz teams with marbles players, and thinks that Loose Ends goes out on Radio 4 every lunchtime. No, it's You and Your Things, the best advert for Lauren Laverne's radio show yet invented. There are plenty of correct answers in there, and the round ends on 16 (5).
Valerie Roebuck (Tolkein, 12 February) has the misfortune to confuse George Bush Sr. and Jr., but does know Plato's school for the smart, a classic Laurel and Hardy number, and the non-synoptic Gospel. The score is 23 (3), which might not be a winning score, but is certainly a good one.
Mr. McPartland (Nuremburg Trials, 2 April) has the Postponement Question, in which Hazel Blears' brooch about rocking the boat is recalled; having a television show postponed may be the substantive highlight of her career. Lots of guesses, but not quite enough right answers – 22 (2).
Mr. Warmington (Ancient Greece, 9 October) takes an interesting approach to his round, getting the difficult questions right, but erring on what we reckon are some of the more easy ones. Sadly, it's not a terribly successful one, ending on 21 (4).
So, Mr. Morrell (Clement Attlee, 11 September) requires nine to win. He remembers the singer of "Strangers in the night", where Mr. Sinatra didn't remember the lyrics. The Colorado beetle, Alison Steadman, Batman's butler, all grist to his mill. A guess at Rome, a stutter on the Common Agricultural Policy, it doesn't affect the result – 27 (2).
This Week And Next
Our congratulations to Kwasi Kwarteng, part of the Trinity Cambridge side that won University Challenge in 1995, and this week elected to the Westminster parliament as the member for Spelthorne.
The ratings in the week to 25 April were topped by Britain's Got Talent (11.45m), ahead of Over the Rainbow (6m for the results) and Thursday's abbreviated version of HIGNFY (4.8m). The Saturday main edition attracted 2.6m viewers on BBC2. There was a year's best score for Millionaire, 3.25m tuned in. Channel 4's top show was the Sunday night Come Dine With Me, seen by just over 3m.
Britain's Got Talent was also the biggest game show on the digital tier, 1.33m the additional audition footage, 1.32m the Sunday repeat. Come Dine With Me came third, with 815,000 viewers. There were 2010 highs for CITV's Jungle Run (205,000), Banzai on 4Music (60,000), Hairy Bikers on UKTV Food (55,000) and Come Dine repeats on Discovery Real Time (80,000).
Coming up this week is a new run of A Question of Genius (BBC2, 4.30 weekdays), and young versions of old friends: Junior Masterchef (BBC1, 4.35 weekdays) and Junior Apprentice (BBC1, 9pm Wednesday). Two shows of interest on Radio 4: So Wrong It's Right (11pm Tuesday) has people giving outlandish incorrections, and Why Go (11.30am Thursday) looks at the game of Go. Next weekend sees the final of BBC Young Musician (BBC2, Saturday 6.10 and Sunday 6pm). Where's our dickie-bow?
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