Zero to Hero
TalkbackThames for Channel 4, 28 March to 9 May 2004 (7 episodes in 1 series)
The initial task in Zero to Hero is always the same. Become a superhero using loads of junk, a bit of science, some tight clothes and your mates.
There are two teams made up of 3 people of whom one is to become the hero. Each team gets a bit of help in the form of the 2 regular experts. The green team get Jem Stansfield (then vaguely familiar from Home on their Own and Science Shack, more recently nigh-on-famous from Bang Goes the Theory) who's an aeronautical engineer and the red team get Geraint Owen, a car loving engineer. So far so Scrapheap Challenge right? Well no, there are similarities but also a lot of differences.
First off is that at the start of the planning time the two teams are given a clue. In the past this has lead us to believe that the two engineers have a plan worked out before the show starts. After planning the two teams come up with a list and have to go into the warehouse where they have 30 minutes to find everything they need. This is where the differences start, after these 30 minutes are up they teams can't go back to the warehouse if something isn't working. This makes the scavenging a lot more frantic than Scrapheap and as the build areas are only a few metres away there aren't as many let-ups while the goods are carted back to base.
While the teams are busy in the warehouse Jem and Geraint explain their designs to host Trey Farley. While they're explaining the concepts are illustrated in a wireframe animation. While this isn't as funny as Scrapheap's chalk drawings it is a lot cooler. After the 30 minutes are up, the sirens go and the build begins. They now have 3 hours until they have a chance to test their designs on a scaled down version of the challenge in the test zone. By this time they must have a working prototype ready and the hero themselves has to make a trip to the design lab to talk about a name and costume with comic book artist Stewart 'Staz' Johnson and the goth with the cloth Venetia Ercolani.
Just having the equipment isn't enough, the hero has to look the part as well. After the 3 hours are up the sirens wail again and the teams head to the test zone to look for weaknesses in their design. Each team gets 30 minutes in the zone and after those 30 minutes Trey gives them a superhero rating out of 10 taking into account functionality and style. Next the teams have another 2 hours to tune their designs and the heroes can make the final adjustments to their costumes. When the sirens wail to signify the end of the build time the teams down tools and the hero nips off to get ready for the challenge.
The challenge is usually standard superhero fare but they show a lot more originality than Scrapheap. The heroes are introduced by the required big, booming, dramatic voice that also explains the challenge and commentates the challenge before the hero appears dramatically amongst a lot of lights and smoke. Their equipment and costume are described briefly and then the Evil Nemesis is introduced.
Crammed into some very tight red lycra it's her job to put the heroes off as much as possible, usually with a bazooka firing steel balls which do look like they really hurt. The heroes really act the part taunting the Nemesis and acting as superhero like as possible. This is accompanied by shouted encouragement by their teammates and the design team. If the heroes are taking on the challenge one at a time then they won't find out who's won until after the challenge which amounts to some tension if the times were close. The winner claims the admiration of his friends but the designers get the power to choose their favourite teams as the finalists.
Zero to Hero is a lot easier to watch than Scrapheap which can get boring halfway through. Fortunatey there's always something going on in Zero to Hero as it has seemingly been made for a much more mainstream audience. Scrapheap fans will like it and so will those who don't like Scrapheap.
Channel 4: Zero to Hero, via archive.org