Weaver's Week 2003-05-17

Weaver's Week Index

17th May 2003

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.

Last week, it was the sausages. This week, another foodstuff made an unexpected appearance on television, before coming to an equally unappetising end.


Art critic Kurt Andersen's half hour visual essay aired on the thinking person's channel. The programme contained clips from many shows, including Annie Goes To Hollywood, Survivor UK, Millionaire UK, Pop Idle, Celeb Torture, and Dog Eat Dog. "How Brittrash Conquered America" purported to show how the standard of cultural life in the US has been reduced by imports from the UK.

Mr Andersen's premise centred on one contention: British television was once the best in the world. He held up such shining examples as "Fawlty Towers," "Monty Python" and Alistair Cookie's "Monsterpiece Theatre." Even at this early stage, there's a large hole in Mr Andersen's argument: Britain only ever exported her best shows. For every "Fawlty Towers" there's a hatful of "Mind Your Language"; for each "EastEnders" there's a helping of "Night And Day."

The view we see in the UK is similarly tainted: both sides of the Atlantic see each other through rose-tinted spectacles. For every "Friends" there are a dozen deeply unfunny comedies; for every "My So-Called Life" a hundred dramas-by-number.

Mr Andersen doesn't stop there. He sees the success of "(The) Weakest Link" and "Survivor" as evidence of a new nastiness that just wasn't present in US society before 2000. Is that a credible claim?

It's true, no one had thought of sending a dozen people to live wild on a desert island before Charlie Parsons. No one was ever quite as mean to the middle class before Anne Robinson stepped in. And no one was quite as good at accurate putdowns as Simon Cowell.

Ultimately, these traits were present in US society far before UK television took its position. There's always been a streak tending towards vengeance, one that glorifies the winner and sees losing as shameful. It's the antithesis to the Olympic spirit, where what count are not the prizes that you win, but the games you play. We see this tendency to domination on daytime talk shows, on political debate, and even in the "look what you didn't win" finale on "The Price is Right."

Historically, the US has welcomed immigrants with open arms, and absorbed them into a homogenous culture. Even the constitution says that everyone shall have equal protection under the law. This has helped to shape a culture that values everyone's contribution, and a culture that tends to shy away from honest criticism. In the US, people prefer to praise what they can, rather than seek out the blunt truth. Enter, stage right, Anne and Simon, two people who will tell the truth as they see it, placing the emphasis on their opinion over the feelings of the person they're judging.

Perhaps most tellingly, nowhere does Mr Andersen mention the free economic market that best defines the US. If the show doesn't attract the viewers, the networks will pull the show without mercy. "Winning Lines" and "Greed" have vanished without trace, "Weakest Link" and "Millionaire" survive in daytime editions. The (Dutch) format "Fear Factor" does still survive in prime time, and is far more physically cruel than any of the shows from the UK.

Mr Andersen does have a point. Unfortunately for him, it's not the point his essay tried to make. The way the US sees itself has changed, and perhaps a few taboos have been broken. Television is not the force that moves and shapes society; it's a mirror of society, whether or not the chattering classes like what they see.


In which Martin Bashir spent thirty minutes attempting to present a fair and balanced documentary about the Millionaire trial, and once again fails spectacularly. About two-thirds of the show is an edited repeat of April's documentary, concentrating on the big-money questions.

New material was thin on the ground, and was limited to highly selective clips of the convicts' appearances on This Morning, Richard and Judy, Hard Talk, Primetime, and maybe one or two other shows I didn't properly catch.

Meanwhile, the trail seemed to have gone cold on another Millionaire plot. The Sunday Times, Britain's largest tabloid, reported over Easter that Celador had spotted a scam in the selection procedure for WWTBAM, trying to get their panel of ten on Contestant's Row.

One subscriber to the UK Gameshows group kept detailed records, and spotted that a number of people seem to be returning every four or five shows. Those people often phone friends who greet host Chris Tarrant with silence, or are described as "quizzers." Northamptonshire seems to crop up a lot.

Northampton's Chronicle and Echo finally picked up on the story, and on Friday published its account of the scam. According to the report, possible answers to the second qualifying question went around, in return for a percentage of the winnings.

Peter MacGibbon, from Daventry, Northants, is quoted as saying he was aware of the idea but hadn't been approached by any syndicate. "I know suspicion was aroused after four of us from Daventry all appeared on the show in a short space of time. We all know each other and we help each other out with the questions on the phone lines."

The report names as the ringleader a man who has appeared on international editions of the show, and has one of the less glowing write-ups in the official "Millionaire Moments" book (£3 from all good remainder bookstores.)

There's a great investigative documentary to be made here, but ITV won't make it, as the show would be negative publicity and damage one of the few brands they've still got. Celador could easily impose a new rule in the autumn, saying that people could only appear once every 50 shows, or so.


We game show geeks are perpetually annoyed, irritated, or amused by minor inconsistencies in television presentations. The strange removal from reality in THE MURDER HAM has spread beyond game show fandom and into the wider public. Weaver exchanged this sequence with correspondent Perfectlyvague earlier this week:

PV: The murder plot is not that far off an episode of Crossroads. And I love the way all the suspects seem to conveniently use dictaphones at every opportunity.

W: Everything was pointing towards Lady Macbeth Jenniffffffer to be the culprit... until they pull some evidence out of left field that clears her. And what's with all these sudden revelations about everyone's paternity? It'll be the "revelation" that someone's a hermaphrodite next week, mark my words.

W: Meanwhile, eight people are dead on this Yorkshire bloke's watch, and all he can think about is going down the store, buying a choc ice, and putting it under the grill.

PV: And no one seems at all concerned about the 5 bodies that Andrew found in the woods a couple of weeks ago during the Killer Game. And surely the killer has left enough flimming DNA around the place to be matched after a month of investigation. And like, wouldn't you have checked Jennifffffffer's alibi weeks ago?

W: Tweedledim wrote "Sat Nov 30 - 17:45 - Home Alone" in a sequence on the cable show while Token Girl and Nice Bloke were at the solicitor, and Mr Popular having a nap. What sort of solicitor is open after dark on a Saturday?

PV: I think it's the inspector myself, he always knows where the clues are and doesn't seem at all concerned that he's losing an officer each week.

PV: I also like the fact that when they visited the old people's home the old codger just happened to have written every detail down about the 'young attractive' visitor and it was the only entry in his diary and no one was remotely suspicious.

W: Has no one thought to investigate Dorothy's death? Someone is spreading a trail of destruction around the Essex countryside. Even Big Chief says, "Trust no one." Why should we trust his judgement that Dorothy died completely naturally?

PV: The most genius moment of them all was last night when Mel, Andrew, and Nick started bitching about Richard's constant theorising. 'He's always talking about the clues and going over the details.' No sh*t! Isn't that what you should be doing?

PV: And if you were going to destroy an incriminating letter, wouldn't you burn it rather than shred it, put it in polythene and dump it in a suspiciously flooded crime scene, hmm?

W: We now know that Jennifer is innocent, and next week's article comparing her with Sherry Palmer off of "24" has had to be pulled. Who's left? Goldie, the voice on the tape; Jay, who knew he was the victim's brother; and Trevor, who didn't know he was going to gain a daughter. The logical answer is so blindingly obvious. At least Catherine hadn't been incestuous. Whether the scriptwriters have another left-field twist up their sleeve remains to be seen.


Tick off all these items, and Big Brother must be well under way:

  • Embarrassing videos are shown on E4 overnight.
  • There's a rush of documentaries about reality television, hidden cameras, or both.
  • Heat magazine puts Davina McCall on the cover.
  • Channel 4 unveils this year's gaudy eye (Rainbow rays coming out of a white-on-grey eye. Very 1969.)
  • Dermot O'Leary pops up on screen with a freshly-shaven head.
  • Someone describes Alex Sibley as a "Big Brother Expert."
  • A broadsheet columnist laments the demise of intellectual television.
  • Another broadsheet columnist says that television merely reflects society.
  • Someone is concerned about amateurs looking after the chickens.
  • The cricket season begins.
  • Someone moans about other people urinating in the shower.
  • Jade Goody is back in the papers.
  • The cricket season is washed out, forcing Channel 4 to show old episodes of Countdown.
  • A tabloid describes itself as "The Official Big Brother Paper."
  • Jade Goody is back on television, talking about being in the papers.
  • Someone isn't concerned about the chickens looking after amateurs.
  • A tabloid describes itself as "The Official Anti-Big Brother Paper."
  • Davina McCall looks foxy.
  • A tabloid describes itself as "The Official Pro-Big Brother Paper."
  • A reject from Celeb Torture And Bickering pops up on Liquid News as a reality tv expert.
  • E4 viewers beg to return to their diet of Friends reruns.

These things are yet to happen on Big Brother UK: A proper fight involving security. Penetrative sex. Open rebellion airing on the nightly summaries. A book group. Popular discontent. Ratings failure.

The new series begins at 2030 next Friday.


Anneka Rice will return to our screens, ten years after CHALLENGE ANNEKA bit the dust. The former TREASURE HUNT star will host a daily cookery show on Channel 5 from June 9.

According to a report in the Sunday Tabloid, Brian Connolly will host a new quiz show with the working title ROULETTE. Connolly, whose name rings a bell for some reason, says his show will be " a fresh version of Millionaire, which has had terrible ratings recently, apart from the cheating major scandal. Contestants will still have a chance of winning a million, but it will be easier -- they'll just place a bet on red or black." BANZAI it is not. Red? Black? Red? Black? Betting end!

Fifth on MINOR CELEBRITY TORTURE AND BICKERING was Mr Antony Worral-Thompson, the camp cook. Fourth out: Wayne Sleep, the camp dancer. Third: Mrs Linda Barker, the designer. Runner-up: Mr John Fashanu, the Gladiator. Winner: Mr Phil Tuffnell, an English cricketer winning something in Australia. Mr Tuffnell has since agreed to join the cast of THEY THINK IT'S ALL OVER.

THE MURDER HAM concludes at 2240 tonight.

LIQUID EUROVISION previews the entries to be performed in Riga next weekend at 2000 nightly on BBC3.

Channel 5 has a documentary about previous BIG BROTHER contestants at 2100 Thursday. Over on BBC4 at that time, WATCHING YOU is a documentary about the hidden camera and surveillance techniques. YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS follows it, a 1968 drama set in a world of Constructed Reality Television. Those who want to avoid this have to move to a deserted island and (er) be joined by camera crews. That's 2150 on BBC4, not (as the name might have suggested) Channel 5.

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