Weaver's Week 2011-03-20
It's been Comic Relief week this week, and two of our four reviews are of shows only going out to help raise money for this good cause.
We were watching The Weakest Link a few weeks ago, and a question asked, "Who is the Home Secretary?" Ooh, we know that, it's Ken Clarke and Theresa May (But Won't). But no, Anne reminds us that it's a repeat, so it's got to be John "Known As Jack" Straw and, oh, wotsisface. Postman chap. Alan Johnson. No? Older than that? Crumbs. Jacqui Porn-on-expenses? John "Oh, not health" Reid? Good grief, that was back in 2006! Big Brother was still popular then!
It was no surprise to find that Anne Robinson's programme has this week been sent off to have its tapes changed, and something less ancient is going out in its place. And it's not even a revival of Noctem Lunae Ad Londinium Palladium.
CBBC for BBC1, 5.15 pm, 14-18 March
In the beginning, there was Glee. Shown in the UK on E4 and Channel 4, it's an all-singing, all-dancing programme about a youth choir trying to survive the internal politics of a US high school. There are regular appearances for TV's Famous Autotune and Pam Puckett, and for songs you might have heard of. Unless you are Brian Sewell, of course, but more on that story later.
Last summer, Glee begat Don't Stop Believing on Channel 5 (see the Week of 22 August). It was an entirely serviceable song-and-dance show, helmsed by Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton, and featuring Chucky Kaplow on the critical panel. It went a bit long on the sob stories and phone voting, and was effortlessly young – we noted that the average performer probably couldn't remember 1990. For reasons of internal politics, Don't Stop Believing was deemed a flop, not least because it had been co-created by the channel's chief executive who was sacked by the new owner part-way through the run.
All of which sets the scene for Glee Club. It's hosted by Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes, CBBC's own Ant and Dec, and sets out to find the best youth group who can both sing and dance. A series of auditions brought the numbers down to 18 groups, split into three categories. We can see where Musical Theatre fits in, we can see where Choirs fit in, but we can't really see a tremendous difference between either of those categories and Contemporary. But it fits into the week-long narrative – Monday was an audition show, Tuesday to Thursday these categories, and Friday the grand final between the category winners.
Monday's audition show, then, had the 18 groups performing for a panel of three judges. Sisco Gomez (off of So You Think You Can Dance) gave comments on the dancing, David Grant off of Fame Academy critiqued the singing, and Carrie Grant did a little bit of both. That's eighteen performances, and the results, plus some Comic Relief footage, and all in a 45-minute programme. It didn't exactly feel rushed, but it did feel as though the performers were on a conveyor belt. A quick trip behind the scenes with the performers, a 40-second snatch of their performance, some criticism from the Critical Panel, and a very quick debrief, and then onwards.
Results were given by calling two of the performance groups up on to the stage and advising which one had progressed – clearly they'd learned from Don't Stop Believing's habit of cramming five or six groups onto the stage. And, if viewers were confused by what had just happened, the familiar tones of Alan Dedicoat (from Strictly Come Dancing) would clarify what had just happened.
Tuesday brought the first live performance show. There aren't many novelties left in the world of live performance shows, but Glee Club brought a couple to the table. Opening by the hosts in full-on New JK and Joel mode, check. Video of the first performers preparing, check. The first performance in full, and it is in full – they're allowed a full three minutes for their full routine, giving a clear song-and-dance. As the hosts point out at the start, these performances were taped earlier, presumably to ensure that no-one makes too much of a fool of themselves on live television. Other than the hosts, natch. Then responses from the judges, today augmented by Glee Club's very own Spice Girl, Melanie "Scary Spice" Brown. We recall Geri "Red Spice" Halliwell on Popstars: The Rivals, for which Simon "Manager Spice" Fuller was the producer. Melanie "Sporty Spice" Chisholm was rather average on The Games. We can't find any game shows in the career of the last member of the band, Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham-Aadams.
Anyway, repeat all that for the second and third groups, and then open the lines. It's only 5.36, there's still more than half the show to run. What are we going to do to fill the time? First, marvel at the fact this is a Freephone vote: the number to call is an 0808 number, free from most landlines (but some operators and mobile networks will charge, check with the billpayer before calling). It's the first time such a number range has been used on a live show, but it was the regular number for Britain's Got the Pop Factor back in 2008. Glee Club does not allow voting via the purple button on your remote control.
While the vote takes place, there's a recap, a behind-the-scenes with the group leaders, another recap, another reminder of the phone numbers, and the Glee For a Fee feature, in which some of the show's viewers send in footage of them performing, and donate to Comic Relief, hoping to get on air. There's also some explanation of what it is that Comic Relief does. Melanie Brown tells the hosts that she found it difficult to sing and dance at the same time. Sam and Mark found it impossible, as their short-lived pop career (two singles and one album in 2004) will testify: when asked to sing and dance, they usually came up doing neither. After the lines close, there's a short piece from backstage, and a pre-recorded insert, today a performance by Leigh Francis in the character of "Craig David". The number he's performing was originally released in 2000, making it older than most of the viewers.
After this, the choirs are back on stage, for the revelation of the winner. "The first group going through to the final is," begins Mark (or is it Sam?). And then he stops. Says nothing. For twenty-six seconds, words are not going to come out of the television set. We're going to see increasingly close close-ups of the performers, but not a word will be spoken. After a gap so long that the Sugababes changed their line-up twice, we finally hear the night's winners. There is much screaming and hugging from the winners, and Sam (or is it Mark?) asks how they feel. Like a screech-owl, apparently.
Wednesday, copy Tuesday and replace "contemporary" with "musical theatre", replace Craig David with N-Dubz, and replace Melanie Brown with a chipmunk. Sorry, with Chipmunk. Thursday, replace with "choirs", Blue, and Denise Van Outen. And Friday's final, with guest judge Alesha Dixon, followed the familiar formula. Outtakes and highlights replaced the chat with the leaders, and the winning group – Soul Mates – performed their routine again at the end.
Three things were clear by this point. One, these were seriously talented entertainers. They could sing, they could dance, and their enthusiasm for what they were doing was infectious. Two, the tie-in with Comic Relief was never particularly obvious. It's a good cause, the work these youngsters are doing is good, but the link was never particularly obvious: the charity appeals felt like they were shoe-horned into an existing programme. And three, all of this is far more modern and up-to-the-minute than episodes of The Weakest Link from 2006. Half the songs these groups performed hadn't been written!
So, was this a show worth watching? If we're being honest, this is the sort of programme we'd expect BBC1 to put out at teatime on Saturdays to fill a bit of a gap. Sam and Mark didn't overshadow proceedings, demonstrating they weren't the stars of this show. The programme didn't have a tremendous budget, but it did have a lot of heart, and a whole lot of talent.
Deci-final 10: Oxford Brookes v York
Last week, this column took exception to the interminable quarter-final stage, which has taken all year to reduce eight teams to four. It raises the question: what would be better than a straightforward knockout? After a little consideration, our thought is to have the prolonged stage at the second round – teams have demonstrated their quality by winning an opening match, but aren't so familiar as to breed contempt. A group of three teams, from which two qualify, would ensure each match meant something – the group winners would be seeded apart in later stages, while second place would qualify.
The downside – possibly significant – is that this would mean only 24 sides could take part, and the first-round losers would have no repechage. If there were to be 14 first-round heats (plus one repechage place), there would have to be some fudgery about runners-up, and the quarters couldn't be group winners versus group runners-up. Perhaps it's more suitable to the cricket world cup, where there are eight sides clearly better than the others.
All of that is theory. The concrete fact is that tonight's sides are are Oxford Brookes, winners over Christ's Cambridge and losers to Sheffield; and York, who lost to Peterhouse Cambridge and beat Bristol. It's York who get off to the better start, picking up George Orwell; Oxford Brookes return with the vuvuzela, and York reply with Tony Benn's diaries and the island of Rhum. The first visual round is a map with countries and quantities – what's the substance they're producing? It's gold! It's York's, and they lead by 80-25.
The Nobel Prize for Economics is the subject of York's next bonus round; as we saw last week, this is always celebrated by a glass of fizzy pop, left so long that the fizz has dispersed. Oxford Brookes have personality disorders. As the subject of their bonuses, and nothing else! York prove to be a bit good at African geography, picking up some of the largest countries in the continent. They prove less good at telling types of stars apart – the sun is type G, Betelgeuse is type M, and Jordan is type OK. And if you were entertained by that joke, do give generously to Comic Relief.
The audio round is the national anthems of two finalists in a FIFA World Cup match, and the question is to name the year they were in the final. This forces the teams to hear both pieces, so it's not going to go quickly. York's lead is 120-60 when this finally comes to an end. Kings of France and two-word expressions beginning "locus" help Oxford Brooks advance their score, this match isn't over by any means. We have reached the second visual round, pictures of French mathematicians and some of their favourite equations. York's lead is 140-95.
Oxford Brookes recover ground with cities of Sicily, but can either side integrate y=x2 between 0 and 1? Er, no. But paintings in an Italian museum bring the gap down to just five points. Perkin Warbeck, anyone? Anyone? Perkin? We're due a Little Billy Shakespeare question, so let's have the one asking where his plays were set. That falls to Oxford Brooks, gives them their first lead of the night, extended by commonly-confused words. Rare earth metals bring York back on terms, but they promptly pick up a missignal. Oxford Brookes let that starter slip, but keep the next one on clarinet players; they find the Cyrillic alphabet to be no help.
Two minutes to play, and York pull out all the stops to get "organ". Scientific terms ending in "ITE" are their next bonus set, and it gives them the lead. Two starters to go, Voiceover man is about to pop, and Oxford Brookes are buzzing. And buzzing wrongly; York pick it up, extend their lead to 25, and that feels about it. But Oxford Brookes are going to go for it – they get the starter, but miss the first bonus, and confer forever on the next bonus. They get the third, there's time for another starter, and York manage to buzz. And buzz wrongly! Do Oxford Brookes know about carbon atoms? They don't, the gong sounds, and York have won! York have won! 195-190 is no margin, but it's a winning margin.
Where was this game won and lost? In the detail. York had the night's best buzzer – Andrew Clemo took seven starters, but Sarah Johnson had five for Oxford Brookes. The bonus conversion rates were good – Oxford Brookes had 18/30. York 20/33. York had one more starter, but all three missignals. Of such fine details are matches decided. Overall accuracy tonight was 59/89.
Next week: Peterhouse Cambridge v York
Presentable for BBC4, 14 March
They say that a fool and his money are soon parted. Quite clearly, this is never going to apply to Only Connect viewers, who are not only smarter than the average Tremarctos ornatus, but they know exactly how much marmalade to put on his sandwiches. Will a genius and their money be parted?
"A quiz so clever it tells Fred Housego the best way to Leicester Square". This week's edition is in favour of Comic Relief, and features celebrities. There's "Treesome": Grub Smith, Brian Sewell, and Adam Hart-Davis. Who is, we're reliably informed, not an inventor, and says he knows everything about nothing and nothing about everything. On the other side are the "Larks": Michael Bywater, Stuart Maconie, and Andrew Motion. One of these has recently been signed to BBC 6 Music, replacing Nemone Metaxas of 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic).
Round one: what's the connection. The Larks won the toss and elected to bat, and kick off with Lord Nelson! Sir Anthony Eden! And Stuart Maconie's got it! They're all listed by Bjørge Lillelien! The Norwegian sports commentator! After his side defeated England in a 1981 World Cup qualifier! Your books took a hell of a beating! (More) Three points there, and two to RTÉ's Feargal Keane for his impression when Ireland won the cricket lately. Fawlty Towers and spices quickly lead the Treesome to Basil and two points. Pictures for the Larks, and they've got a Pompom and a Berber and a Dumdum. No, sorry, that's on Channel 5, where no-one's watching. Two points for reduplicative words.
Parliaments that burned down, or buildings in general, is a very swift spot for the Treesome, and tree points. The Larks go for Ivory Coast's strip, the black box, and that's enough to make them suggest it's orange-red. Orange, that'll do, and be glad it's not David Dickinson but three points. Audio for the Treesome, popular songs about telephones, and Brian Sewell says "I thought they said music". He expands, "It's a trash question. I was expecting Handel and Beethoven and Mendhelson." His team has interrupted before "Busy line", the classy jazz piece. Three points, and the scores are tied at 8-8.
Round two is upon us. What comes fourth. Larks begin with St Petersburg, then Petrograd, and we end up back in St Petersburg, with three points. The Treesome have "Peter Gabriel", then "Peter Gabriel", and then "Peter Gabriel". So? No, it's actually "Peter Gabriel", on the grounds that he called his first four studio albums after himself. Two points for the Treesome, and Mr. Sewell says it would help if he knew who Mr. Gabriel was. Onwards! Larks have Cupid and Bacchus and Pieta; next is David, they're works by Michelangelo. The sculptor, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Two points.
"Oh, these are choreographic instructions" says Brian Sewell. But to what? It's how to dance "The Time Warp" Could Victoria give us a demonstration? No, but Brian might. "What?" he says. Two points. Larks! Save us from this insanity! Roof = 4, Carpet = 3, Bottle = 2, so what = 1? No-one has an idea, so it's over. Grub gets it: bookmaking terms for odds, so Evens or Levels, and a bonus point. Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan – they've won the Razzie for worst actress, but who comes fourth? Apparently, it was Sandra Bullock. No score, so the scores are tied at 13-13.
"How did they manage that?" asks Brian. Oh, read the recap again. Right, Treesome are at the walls, and think they've got types of club. As in the mile-high club. There's types of mining in there – longwall mining? Evidently so. The clubs come out, and there's terms in philately. What about the final group? Good question. Terms in colour theory, apparently. That evades the players. Seven points!
Larks step up to the wall, and find some spaceships. Who would pick the Liberator over the Heart of Gold? Most improbable. There are some nicknames for snooker players, then the rest of the wall falls out – Joseph Conrad novels, and some waving of fingers about – signs made with two fingers. That's perfect. Ten points!
Larks lead by 23-20 going into the final round, the Mssng Vls round. Surgical operations begins the round, and that ends up in a 2-2 draw. Fictional businesses in sitcoms, and that goes 2-1 to the Treesome. Tongue Twisters is a whole load of fun, points gained and lost at a rate of knots, and ends in a 0-0 draw. In the end, the Larks have it, by 26-24.
"A quiz so twisted there ought to be a law against it," suggests Victoria. Assuming there's nothing adverse coming out of the forthcoming Queen's Speech, we understand that Only Connect returns in the autumn.
Second round, match 3
It may be Comic Relief night, but there's no larking about on Mastermind tonight, where we'll find out the third of the six finalists.
Diane Hallagan is first into the chair tonight, and her subject is Black Books (2000-4). The comedy was written by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan, and is set in a small bookshop in central London. The characters – the gloomy shop owner, his ditzy best friend, and his assistant – live in a surreal little world of their own making. Three series were made, two BAFTAs and one Bronze Rose d'Or were won, and then it came to an end. So does this round: 14 (1) is a decent score in a two-minute round, and excellent in these 90-second sprints.
Philip Evans follows in the hot seat, with the Life and Times of Oskar Schindler (1908-74). Born into a Catholic family, and with a love of motorcycles, Schindler made his living as a salesman, and set up a saucepan factory in Krakow shortly after the German occupation. He resisted the laws forbidding Jews to be paid wages, and actively subverted the attempts to systematically murder them. After the war, he emigrated to Argentina, and divided the last years of his life between Israel and Germany. On a night of good causes, this contender has 10 (0).
Hurry up, please, it's time. Kate Morris has Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). A native of Dublin, Sheridan was educated in Bath, and wrote three famous plays – The Rivals, School for Scandal, and The Critic – in little more than a year. He then turned his attention to parliament, where he was returned by the electors of Stafford. In the Commons, he defended the cause of the Irish, the French revolution, and freedom of the press – all unpopular causes. The round slips away a little from this contender, who ends on 7 (3).
Up next is Martin Short, and he's been listening to Deep Purple (est 1968). The progressive rock band is best known for its album "Machine Head" (1972), and the popular song "Smoke on the Water". Don't try to play this in a guitar shop. The group's had more changes of line-up than we've had hot dinners, and continue to tour. Again, the round starts promisingly but slows down, ending on 7 (3).
Last up tonight is Geoff Weller, with the Life and Work of Martin Luther (1483-1547). The founder of Protestantism made known his objections to the Catholic church in "95 Theses", nailed to the door of Wittenberg church in October 1517. His ideas – that faith was an end in itself, all believers were equal, and the Pope was fallible – were considered as heresy. His idea that the state should be able to organise their own local church was seized upon by England's Henry VIII, and was the excuse for his founding of the Church of England. The round stretches into other matters, and ends on 8 (1).
Kate Morris is first back into the chair for the second round. She won on 17 Dec last year, when taking Gilbert & Sullivan. She remembers the debut of Quentin Tarantino, Oscar Hammerstein, the UK swimming coach, and the shape of St Andrew's cross. She's asked who won last year's Eurovision song contest, but no-one remembers the Germans. Didn't even need to count penalties. 16 (9) is the final score.
Martin Short won the contest on 28 Jan, when his subject was the Pendle witches. Tonight, he has the sitcom Frasier, Lords' association with the cricket world cup, Cheddar cheese, but then there's an awful lot of passing, and the round finishes on 15 (7).
Geoff Weller was the winner back on 17 Sep, taking the Manic Street Preachers. His first question tonight is on the lead singer of R.E.M., and we learn that the White House is based on Leinster House in Dublin. Wonder if they'll ever have a Mary presiding in the former. The general knowledge questions do seem to be a lot more difficult tonight, and the round concludes at 14 (2).
We mentioned last week that there would be a show with two runners-up. This is it, Philip Evans finished second on 7 Jan, when he took the Welsh in Patagonia. The hero of Scrooge, the inventor of the Bunsen burner get the round off to a good start. He then suggests that Imelda Marcos (shoe collector) had the career of Clare Balding (jockey and cyclist), and we remember that this contender is trying to make the host crack up with ludicrous answers. But he'd sooner answer them correctly than be funny, and falls between the two stools, finishing on 18 (0).
Diane Hallagan doesn't have the largest of targets to win. She was the runner-up on 25 Feb, with the Brandon family novels, and such answers as the bodice ripper, the Carnival of Animals, and guides to the mountains of Scotland see her past the winning post before the round's really begun, which is good, as she forgets the career highlight for Johnny Wilkinson, but does remember how the UK national dish is chicken tikka masala. The final score is 24 (3).
So Diane Hallagan, an assistant accountant from Leeds, progresses to the finals.
This Week And Next
Dancing shows continued to head the ratings in the week to 6 March, Dancing on Ice led with 8.35m, Let's Dance for Comic Relief followed with 6.65m. Secret Fortune came in with 6m, and Masterchef had a year's best 5.7m. Take Me Out had 5m, The Biggest Loser 4.8m, and Push the Button recovered to 4.35m. On BBC2, University Challenge finished just over 3m, and the teatime Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is had 2.45m, just behind Come Dine With Me.
Celebrity Juice continues to lead the way on the digital tier, 1.5m saw this week's show. Come Dine on More4 had half of that, and A League of Their Own on The Satellite Channel had 700,000 viewers. All New Celebrity Wipeout (Repeat) on CBBC took 430,000 viewers, and Great British Hairdresser on E4 was seen by 345,000. Good score for Junior Masterchef Australia, 285,000 on UKTV Watch.
Very much a pick 'n' mix selection box of shows this week. Regionalia's covered by the grand final of The All-Ireland Talent Show (RTE1, 6.30 Sunday), and a new series of Bechingalw (Radio Cymru, 6pm Friday), a news quiz we don't understand. There's a remarkable juxtaposition at 10pm on Tuesday: Mark Lawson Talks At David Mitchell (BBC4), and Jade Changed My Life (UKTV Living). Next Saturday has the annual University Challenge Boat Race (BBC1 and Eurosport 2, 5pm), the return of So You Think You Can Dance (BBC1, 7.10), and – for no obvious reason – another chance to see Britain's Got the Pop Factor (C4, 9pm).
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.