Weaver's Week 2011-11-20
Coming up, we'll be finding out why Ros Clarke said, "Ian Hislop is hilariously incompetent as team leader."
But first, we have a problem, a schedule clash at 7.30. We want to watch Harry Hill, but we also want to watch Bruce Forsyth. Which is more visual? There's only one way to sort this out:
BBC1, since 2004
This review looked at the shows transmitted on 5 and 6 November 2011
It's (checks watch) seven minutes from the first credits to the first performance, and (checks yearbook) six years since we last reviewed an episode of Strictly. Or watched one when we weren't feeling ill and in need of something friendly and undemanding. That seems to be Strictly's forte, it's a pleasant, light, fluffy way to while away the early part of a Saturday evening, floating by like a cloud made from whipped cream.
As we say, seven minutes of introductions and a catchup of what contestant Lulu has been up to this week. And, almost inevitably, Bruce Forsyth cracking a couple of jokes about his very long career in the show business business. He's working here with some celebrities (of varying age, celebrity list, and dancing ability), each of whom has been paired with a professional dancer of exceptional ability.
At some point between 2005 and now, we seem to have lost Alan Dudleycoat's Guide to the Steps, a brief explanation of what we should be watching for as the couples dance. On the one hand, it's reasonable to assume that most of the 11 million people who saw this show will have seen last week's, and last year's, and most of the episodes since 2005. On the other hand, most of the 11 million aren't dance professionals, and won't be able to predict what should happen as well as the resident judges do. Perhaps it's a sign that Strictly is slightly less about the dancing and slightly more about the spectacle.
The announcements are still made by Radio 2's Alan Dedicoat. The music is still played live by Dave Arch And His Wonderful Wonderful Orchestra (at least, we think that's their name). And viewers on the BBCi Red Button Super Ceefax technowizardry are able to watch a commentary by Karen Hardy and her special guest. This week, it's Martin Offiah, a contestant from series 1 back in 2004. "In my day, it was all about the dances, now it's about the show," he remarks early on. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to watch the entire show with this pair chattering away: they managed about one useful insight in each two-minute routine.
The judging panel has seen some changes over the years, most notably when Alesha Dixon moved in to replace Arlene Phillips. This week, regular head judge Len Goodman is on holiday, and has been replaced by someone called Jennifer Grey. Who? Appeared in "Dirty Dancing" back in 1987, apparently. The others on the critical panel are Craig Revel-Horwood, Alesha Dixon, and Bruno Tonioli. Mr. Revel-Horwood and – to a lesser extent – Mr. Tonioli have been cast as the pantomime villains, the Aaron Allard-Morgans of the programme, at whom the audience can boo and jeer to their heart's content. The crowd takes their role a little too seriously, jeering at any mildly critical comment from the panel.
We can compare this to the BBC's other recent programme, So You Think You Can Dance, where Nigel Lythgoe and Arlene Phillips would often give very critical responses, but would always give constructive criticism, outlining where they felt the dancers could improve. We don't get that positive feedback loop on Strictly, just a bubble of niceness. It's too nice to actually bring about improvement.
From the introduction by Bruce, through a video report of their training, the performance itself, reaction from the judges, a chat with Tess Daly backstage, and the announcement of the scores, it's about seven minutes for each couple to perform. It drags on a little, really, and after a few performances, we completely lost track and had no idea how much more of this there was to go.
After all the couples had performed, the marks were totted up. Craig Revel-Horwood had been the only judge to give any huge variance in his mark, the others had almost exclusively awarded 7 and 8 out of 10. The contenders are put in rank order, whoever's at the top scores 10 points, the next one down 9, and so on. Where two contestants tie, they both share the same points, and the next couple down scores just one fewer – this week, a tie for fourth saw both couples given a rank of 7 and the next couple score 6. This was instituted when the show conspired to run a Phone Vote of Complete and Utter Pointlessness a few years ago.
The couples haven't performed in any particular order, and appear to retain their voting numbers through the series. Lines are open for 23 minutes, and calls cost 15p from a landline. The Saturday show ends with Bruce giving his new signoff, "Keep dancing!" At least this one makes sense.
The result isn't given late on Saturday night, but on Sunday evening, about 24 hours after the performances. This second show is hosted by Tess Daly, with Claudia Winkleman stepping into the backstage role. The 35-minute result show begins with a performance by the professional women still in the contest, and that's followed by a good 5 minutes of highlights. Only then do we start to find out who is and isn't safe: four pairs are confirmed to be coming back next week, and the spotlight goes out on them, allowing them to slip off the stage part-way through. One couple is announced as being in the bottom two.
Backstage, Claudia chats with some of the safe dancers, before Louis Walsh's protoges Westlife perform their new single, "Flying without wings". It's only taken them twelve years, but Louis has finally found a decent song for them to perform. What? ITV Record of the Year 1999? Oh.
What's next? Some backstage chat with the judges, including a series of out-takes from rehearsals. This feels like Big Brother's Little Brother invading the main show. It also feels like a sequence of items they can chop and change and cut out so that the programme fits exactly to time. Most of the sequences will have been filmed shortly after lines closed on Saturday, but the taped programme allows for pick-ups and re-takes and editing these interviews down to time.
Part two of the voting reveal is followed by a performance from the professional men, and then the highlight of the evening, Bruce is going to sing us a song to promote his new album. It's in Woolworths and Our Price and Andy's Records tomorrow, priced just three guineas.
Claudia's talking to the two celebrities who might be leaving the contest tonight, and there's just five minutes until the final curtain. Stop gassing, get to the dance-off! Let us see what Audley Harrison and Lulu can do one more time!
They're not going to have a dance-off? We're going to have a programme called Strictly Come Dancing and precisely none of the contestants will perform? Swizz-o-rama! Instead, we hear more thoughts from the judging panel, before they tell us who they've decided should leave the competition. The losing couple – Lulu and Brendan Cole – have a quick chat with Tess, then begin their last waltz into the closing credits. As endings go, this is possibly the most underwhelming and rushed ever. The results show is three minutes of announcement spread over 35 minutes of television. Spectacle rather than dance.
This column's going to nail our colours to the mast, and say that we preferred So You Think... You Can Dance. We can see why this is not the general opinion, because we like our shows to have some edge, to challenge the viewer as well as the performer.
Strictly operates in the world of ballroom, of heavily-patterned dances. When someone sings, "I'm standing on a bridge", we can expect to see a contestant actually standing on a BBC prop bridge. So You Think lived in a world of interpretation, of allusion and inference, asking the viewer to go along with a couple fighting over a bed, or setting off for war, just from the actions. When performance and choreography combine, it's jaw-dropping television magic, and we just don't get that feeling from Strictly. Worse, we don't think it can happen, not in ballroom: the lows aren't as low, the highs are less high.
Next week, we'll be reviewing The X Factor.
Second round, match 4: The Queen's Oxford v Worcester Oxford. Our money's on Oxford.
The Queen's College Oxford got here by beating King's College Cambridge on 12 September. Five weeks later, Worcester cruised past St Andrews in the repechage. It leaves Marcooth casting around for something else: "I hate an Oxford vs Oxford episode of University Challenge." There's always The Eastenders...
A few weeks ago, a correspondent asked if "Pointless" was a description of every movie made by Colin Firth. Evidently not; it allows Worcester to get off to the best start. A high standard in the opening exchanges, Worcester prove a little lax on 19th century explorers, but all other questions are correct, and at the first visual round, Worcester leads 65-45.
Divisions of the Legion d'Honneur give The Queen's a chance to invoke Sylvester McCoy, with words that exchange an "o" for an "oo", such as "domed" and "doomed". Worcester's Dave Knapp amazes himself by knowing two of the flattest states in the US, but his team knows little about Pulitzer prize winners. The audio round asks the question "where does the music from the airline commercial come from", introducing operas set in Asia. Worcester still has the lead, 110-75.
Kenflaw is experiencing "that smug feeling you get when you know an answer and your mother is disgusted she didn't." KBslittlesis reports, "I got an opera question right on University Challenge. My life is now complete." _hep "feel like such a god when i get the answer on university challenge." And Erikau tells us, "Correctly answered 3 questions in a row on University Challenge! Lifelong ambition fulfilled." Well done, everyone.
And well done from Thumper to Matthew White of The Queen's, who got "the football war" from just its date. Modern sculptures are the subject of the second visual round, after which Worcester leads, 145-95.
Woe! Woad! An answer that evades The Queen's, but they do get David Lean, and with five minutes to play, the gap is 50 points and falling. But then Worcester respond with the golfer Graham McDowell, and score well on Greek prefixes. They suspect that the prefix "Xero" refers to "copying", but it's actually "dry", and perhaps readers can deduce how the copying company got its name.
Queen's pull back with another set that's gone so quickly we were still recapping the last one, and then rattle off 25 in no time on exiles. Years with two general elections and anagrams of the "O-men" mean it's level pegging, 185-all.
Game on! Worcester's captain Rebecca Gillie scores the starter, and the team gets one on books about beaches. Can The Queen's — no! That's the gong, and Worcester has won by 200-185.
We agree with SpammerMorrow: "University Challenge was awesome tonight!" This series took a bit of time to get going, but by jove it's going now! 28/52 for The Queen's, 29/57 for Worcester Oxford, and an overall accuracy of 57/90.
Random Punter o'the Week is Ashleyaurora: "Boom, got four answers on University Challenge. Now time for Only Connect!"
Next week: Christ Church Oxford v Manchester
Children in Need of Assistance special
This week's celebrities are John Lloyd of Europe, Joan Bakewell of Lord's, and Nick Hornby of Ashburton Grove. They all have faith in something or other, and are the Great Believers. They're up against Simon Singh of the Old Bailey, John Sessions of Missing the Train to the Studio, and Ian Hislop of Bananas; these are known for their refusal to be silenced, and are the Free Speakers.
- Harrisimo: Next week, I'd love to see this lot on Strictly Come Dancing.
It may be a celebrity show, but we still begin with Round 1, and the Wick o'Twisted Flax o'Doom. What links "paintings signed by Leonardo" and "locks on the Suez canal". John Lloyd thinks it's a nun. Oh, sorry, none, there are precisely zero of these things. The Speakers have "Sell socks in packs of three", "Make the Channel Tunnel a No Fly Zone", and they go for Policies of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Someone has to.
- Series 2 champion Mark Labbett: Hotel room has a blank screen for BBC4. Disaster!
Audio for the Believers, with "Je t'aime" and "Relax" and "God save the Queen" and "Leader of the Pack". Or, as the BBC would have had it, 40 seconds of silence, because all these records were banned by the Beeb. Pictures for the Thinkers: some loaves, a raisin in a muffin, some bottles of beer. Ian Hislop tries to answer before pressing his button, which is a bit silly, but goes on to give the right answer: nicknames for the abdomen.
- Juliacush: Ian's complete inability to work the technology amuses me.
St Sadaam's Hospital, Uncle Albert Hall, Kelsey Grammar School, Sandi Toksvig House. "They're all in a comedy series". Which one? "Little Britain" says Nick Hornby, but it's not his turn, so Ian Hislop says "Little Britain" for a bonus. The Speakers get Erté and Hergé and Jeep and Esso, being names derived from the sound of the company's initials. It's enough for a point, allowing the Speakers to lead 6-3.
- SchoolboyError: Really want to go on Only Connect so I can ask for the snake with ears question. That ain't no horned viper.
Into round two with silver George, bronze Paul, black Ringo. We all know it's "John" next, but in any particular colour? Not "John in Red", but "John in White", it's what they're wearing on the cover of Abbey Road. Just one point to Simon Singh, but he knew the cover just like that. Well done, sir! Some numbers for Simon to crunch: 604,800; 86,400; 3,600. It's seconds in something, again he tries to give the answer before buzzing. It's 60, seconds in a minute / hour / day / week, and two points.
- Thingsbehindsun: Celebrity Only Connect is like playing Christmas parlour games with a collection of semi-sober old soaks. Clearly no idea of the rules.
Wick o'Twisted Flax o'Doom hides the ITA and IBA and ITC. Joan thinks it's ITV, but no. We know, we're probably the only people who read their complaints bulletins for the giggles: John Sessions tells us it's OFCOM, and a bonus point. His side have the pictures: ships and sealing wax and cabbages. "I'm not hearing anyone pressing the button" says Victoria; the team have it, it's kings and two points.
- Tahninial: Ian Hislop's team have turned Only Connect into a farce. Brilliant.
John of Gaunt's monologue is recalled by Joan Bakewell for three points, and not performed by John Sessions. The Speakers get Wilberforce and Humphrey and Sybil, but what's the current Downing Street Cat? He only appeared behind Nick Robinson on national telly last week. "They're all characters in the well-known children's series..." begins Ian Hislop, completely missing the point(s). Nick Hornby gets the connection, it is Chief Mousers to the Cabinet Office, a post currently held by Larry, and not his girlfriend Maisy. The Speakers lead by 12-6.
- Peach_e_keen: Bless Ian Hislop for getting over excited.
Wall 124 for the Free Speakers, who start off looking for pop stars called Billy. Too many of them. Simon Singh recalls that Mastermind and Go and Hex were games, but did he ever play Kensington? There are films in there, but no-one knows anything about Corgan. Is there a Billy Corgan? Apparently there is: the team has little time to try and find its games, but time expires. They've only got one connection: pop Billys. There's a set of Palaces, films by Fritz Lang, and strategy board games. Five points!
- Seamus Harkins: I honestly never thought I would spend two and a half minutes shouting "Billy Corgan" at John Sessions
Great Believers have wall 125, and kick off with some non-alcoholic cocktails. Do speak up, team, we can see that Coren and Muggeridge are comedians. Ah, there look like some curves in there, there are some curves. And they solve the wall very quickly: editors of Punch (including Alan Coren, "the best" according to our strictly impartial host), but they can't recall to Mock ___ turtles and The Week.
- Howardberry: Mock!!
Which means the Free Speakers lead 17-13 as Victoria dons her remarkable bright yellow novelty ears. The final round includes famous film quotations, which ends 1-0 to the Believers. "Things That The Daily Mail Believes Cause Cancer", that's a 2-2 draw, and we wonder if we should note this for March. The Thinkers get a point on (Number One) Singles Beginning With Parentheses, and roll out the winners, 20-16.
- Housetoastonish: Ian Hislop trying to work out who Billy Corgan is has got to be one of the most amusing things BBC4 have shown in ages.
Next week: Analysts v Trade Unionists
A few points of information. A Mock Orange (yes, we had to look it up) is a shrub native to North and Central America, and known for how its flowers look like orange flowers, and smell orangey. Billy Corgan is the lead singer of 1990s alterna-rock band Smashing Pumpkins. He's perhaps now known more for his friendship with one of The Veronicas, which strikes us as more than a little creepy and cradle-snatchery. Kensington was an early 1980s board game similar to Nine Men's Morris, and sold in a gatefold sleeve not unlike an LP. It's a matter of debate whether Mastermind is a game of strategy, reasoning...
...or not throwing things at John Humphrys. Philip Price is the first to attempt that feat tonight, taking Wines of the Loire Valley. Grapes have been grown in central France since time immemorial, and an alcoholic drink is made from them. The contender goes slowly and carefully, finishing on 10 (3).
Frances Chant is taking the Sandman graphic novels of Neil Gaiman (since 1988) Based on the classic mythological creature of sleep, the Sandman is one of a group of characters to embody the entire human condition. Thanks to their character and depiction, the works have been adopted by the goth culture. It's a decent score, 11 (2).
Maya Davis will tell us about the Life and Work of Gerard Hoffnung (1925-59) Born in Germany, Hoffnung was a cartoonist, humourist, and musician, making some fine works for the Festival of Britain. He's best known for the tale of the builder's barrel. A couple of errors and one pass are the only blots on a strong round, 14 (1) the final.
Last up is Adrian Scott, answering questions on the Scottish Enlightenment (18th century), a period of significant philosophical development. Thinkers of the time included Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, and Adam Ferguson. From a firm foundation, the round slightly crumbles towards the end, but not before the contender has reached 9 (3).
Adrian Scott is back amongst us quickly, and he's asked some fairly simple questions like the writer of Narnia. The questions do get harder, such as the composer on the Austrian one-euro coin, and finishes on 21 (6).
Philip Price has "The Red Flag" and Shakespeare's character Falstaff, and wins our hearts by not remembering Norman Tebbit. You remember, that well-known fan of immigration. The round doesn't move at any notable place, and finishes on 17 (11).
Frances Chant, complete with red bow in her hair, remembers the new owners of the Liverpool Somersets, and the performer of recent hit song "Forget you". If Mastermind still went out at 11pm, we wonder if Humphrys would use its original title. The contender continues to pick up points here and there, and in the new two-and-a-half minute round, that can lead to enough. 23 (6) is the final score, it's certain to get her on the repechage board for the rest of the year, probably not much more.
Maya Davis needs ten to win, and with sitters like "Ash Wednesday" and "Art Garfunkel", she's not going to be denied that. Almost before we can draw breath, she's being asked the first jockey to be voted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and the country that left the Commonwealth in 1949. The final score's 27 (6), the winner for this week.
This Week And Next
The BBC's new Delivering Quality First initiative has lived up to its name, by deciding not to bother with a new series of Shooting Stars. Our view: the series was funny in its day, its day was the mid-90s.
Countdown has announced its new host, and Reg the Friendly Robot has missed out again. The latest occupant of the chair will be Nick Hewer. Apparently, he's one of the regular panel on the BBC's bullying show The Apprentice. We look forward to being able to spot him in a crowd.
BBC1's net replacement for So You Think... You Can Dance is The Voice, a show with a gimmick and lots of karaoke. It'll be hosted by Holly Willoughby, known for her work on Celebrity Juice, the Ministry of Mayhem, and that ice skating show. In turn, that ice skating show gains Christine Bleakley as Phillip Schofield's sidekick.
The ratings to 6 November are in, and while The X Factor Results proved more popular than Strictly's Results (11.6m to 11.1m), the dancing performances were more popular (10.3m to 9.65m). Make of that what you will. HIGNFY was seen by 5.15m on Friday, Young The Apprentice by 4.75m on Monday, and The Chase with celebrities proved slightly more popular than The Cube, 4.15m to 4.05m – it's the highest score of the year for both shows.
University Challenge led on BBC2 with 3.05m, QI followed on 2.95m, and Celebrity Antiques Road Trip entertained 2.55m, inches ahead of Strictly on Two. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is is a 2.25m programme, Celebrity Juice attracted 2.03m, ahead of Come Dine With Channel 4 (2m) and Big Brother (1.7m for the Friday eviction).
As we say, 2.03m for Celebrity Juice, 1.24m for Xtra Factor, and a year-best 1.1m for A League of Their Own. X Factor Us pulled 940,000 viewers, and Only Connect beat Come Dine with More4, 695,000 to 610,000. Junior Bake Off had 370,000 CBBC viewers washing their hands, Masterchef Australia 245,000, and even though Mastermind missed BBC2's top thirty, the 102,000 viewers on BBC-HD puts it top ten there.
A quiet week for new programmes is in prospect. New episodes of Dickinson's Real Deal (ITV, 3pm weekdays), and Britain's Strongest Man (Challenge, 10pm Monday), and the resumption of Chris Moyles' Quiz Night (C4, 10pm Wednesday). Highlights of Would I Lie to You? (BBC1, 8.30 Friday) and a documentary about the computer that appeared on Jeopardy! earlier in the year (PBS, 7.50 Thursday). Next Saturday's talent shows: Strictly 7-8.15, X Factor 8-9.45.
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.