Weaver's Week 2004-11-20

Weaver's Week Index

20 November 2004

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

"Sorry for sounding like Queen Victoria" - Thumper


Play the Game

(Darrall MacQueen for CITV, 1602 Thursday)

Let's start with a history lesson. About ten years ago, the BBC's Live And Kicking ruled Saturday morning television. One of the running features was a game in which children would phone up and direct an on screen character to perform some feat by shouting commands such as "Left", "Right", "Up", "Down", "Toss". The more often they achieved that feat, the better prize they would win. Games such as "Nip the Squid" filled about five minutes of screen time, and helped to get the viewer involved early in the show.

Fast forward to the present day. Steve Wilson and Sarra Elgan are the hosts for this show, which clearly belongs in the Thursday CITV Loud Slot. They're in a studio with a video wall at one end, a catwalk with lights underneath down the middle, and 150 (count 'em!) youngsters in sky blue t-shirts bearing numbers down the sides.

The games begin with some numbered snowballs appearing in the crowd; the 150 youngsters throw them forward to the presenters at the end of the catwalk, and the person whose t-shirt has the same number as the snowball comes forward to play.

And what do they play? Similar games to those popular back in the 90s. Rather than have any sort of joystick or touch-controller, these games are voice-activated. Indeed, such is the debt owed to the likes of "Snuffle the Truffle" that the contestants can use their "phone buddies" to play one game in their stead. It's not immediately obvious how this works, as the show is clearly recorded, unlike the live games on the BBC. Our theory: about a dozen "phone buddies" are quietly invited into the studio to watch from another room, and only the numbers of those people with a buddy are thrown into the crowd.

For most of the games, the players choose one of four computer-generated rabbit-like characters. There's Betty, who rides a BMX bicycle; Ollie has a skateboard, Trix some rollerblades, and in perhaps the most original naming, the bunny on the scooter is called Scoot. For the purposes of the games, the characters appear completely interchangeable. Unlike last year's Beat the Cyborgs, no character has any special talents or point-scoring abilities.

There's also a hand-puppet in the studio, Buck is notionally in charge of proceedings, though a hand puppet in a crowd of children generally doesn't work. This character lacks the credibility of Roland Rat or Gordon the Gopher.

The games themselves are similarly derivative. Two contestants will play Bunny Block, a straightforward Pacman clone. Two others will play Rocket Rabbit, a game that's somewhere between Connect 4 (dropping counters down a chute) and Reversi (counters surrounded by the other colour will change to that colour.)

After the break, one of the crowd is picked to come up and unwrap a stack of presents laid out on the catwalk. The prizes are consumer durables, such as a scooter, a television set, or a ghettoblaster. The member of the crowd gets to keep the gift they were unwrapping ten seconds before time ran out.

The two remaining contestants then play Fleadom, in which the object is to move a trampoline up and down to bounce fleas across the screen. This is perhaps the most obvious nod to L&K, we can just about see Zoe Ball introducing this as an item.

After this game, Steve announces, "We have a winner! Except we don't." Just to prove that this show has learned something from the past ten years of game show development, the winner must now take on someone from the crowd who has done absolutely nothing so far.

The two play Bunny Run, in which they guide their chosen CGI character down a course, guiding it left and right to collect targets and asking for tricks and jumps. This is thoroughly confusing to watch, as there appears to be no tactic involved at all, and the scoring tends to be arbitrary.

All the games are available to play on the CITV website and one top-scoring web player each week will win a prize.

Perhaps the most unsettling point is the negative ethic of the show. Six youngsters take part in the main game, a similar number will be named on screen. But for something like 138 of the crowd, the game is a bit of a waste of a journey. The games themselves seem more concerned about finding a loser than a winner - Steve sends losers off with the words "You're nothing but a number." It's not obvious that the apparent winner has been briefed that they must win three games, not two, and that's a deeply unsettling prospect.

This show is not at all convincing, not one bit. The gimmick of having someone shout and someone else control didn't properly work ten years ago, and nothing has improved it yet. Nor do we like the attitude to prizes; according to this column's reading of OFCOM regulations, children's game shows are meant to be more about the experience than the prizes. Some competitors on Play The Game strut about and whip up the crowd into a frenzy that brings to mind The Price is Right, and that can't really equate with the experience-led dynamic of Raven or CITV's own Jungle Run.


Second phase, 4/6

Don Young was an expert on Homer's Odyssey, now he's added the Life and Reign of Ludwig II of Bavaria. He knows his subject inside out, the eccentric mid-19th century monarch guides Don to 15 (0). The bar has been set already!

Wendy Forrester won with Elizabeth Gaskell, now it's the "Albert Campion" novels of Marjory Allingham. An error, a pass, a delay will prove costly, and Wendy's round contains a couple of long diversions as John looks for details Wendy can't provide. We don't know enough about the subject to determine the quality of her performance. 6 (5) is her score.

Brian Daugherty took Moscow last time, it's Erwin Schroedinger this time. Yes, we do get a question about the famous cat, which must logically be both present and absent. "Can Electrons Think?" is a wonderful title for anything, and Brian finishes on 8 (1).

John Tallon was MASH, now it's British Pop Music, 1972-84. This is terribly precise; could he not have taken 1970-85? He starts off with a fair few passes, and misses the question about which children's television show gave us Brown Sauce. That's about all he misses, and John recovers very well to finish on 10 (3).

Wendy is first up on general knowledge, and misses the Conservative member for Folkestone and friend of Century Quiz hour, a Mr Michael Howard. Her final score is 14 (8), which certainly isn't going to be a winning score. Brian Daugherty finishes on 13 (6).

Late in John Tallon's round, it looks like he's going to do something very unusual, and leave Don Young the not entirely difficult challenge of sitting in the black chair for two minutes to win. He does rally towards the end, but 17 (8) is not going to stretch the last contestant. Don takes his time getting the three he needs, fully six questions are required. He finishes on 26 (2), clearly our winner.

University Challenge

First round 10/14: Magdalene Cambridge -v- Sheffield

Magdalene Cambridge is not to be confused with last season's winners Magdalen Oxford, even though the two sound the same. The Cambridge college was last amongst us in 2001, losing heavily to University Oxford. Sheffield has been a regular participant in the televised stages, and was last with us two years ago, defeating Homerton Cambridge, Merton Oxford, and Warwick en route to the semis. Sheffield has a reputation to maintain - the university has won its last four first-round matches. A good balance to both teams this week, with a scientist, an artsy type, and a social sciences student apiece.

Thumper's perhaps a little unfair to deny Sheffield the guess "George" when asked for the name of a lone tortoise. They do get a question about a leading feminist describing her native Australia, on the grounds that there is only one Australian feminist. The first visual bonus is on emoticons meant to look like famous people, after which Sheffield has a 60-15 lead.

The question that led Thumper to compare himself to Victoria was:

Q: What name is that of a former theatre in Clerkenwell built in the early seventeenth century and notorious for the extremely rowdy and vulgar behaviour of its clientele; it's also the proprietary name for a beverage currently in vogue among young people which is believed to have a stimulating effect?

Red Bull is the answer.

One of the longest questions this year is a not-particularly-potted biography of Brigham Young, interrupted by Sheffield after 17 seconds. It's followed by a definition of rock'n'roll that lasts a mere 19 seconds. The audio round is an unusually simple Name That March. Sheffield has taken the game by the horns, leading 120-35. Let the record show that no-one named any of those marches.

With about seven minutes to play, Thumper is reduced to encouraging the Cambridge side by saying there's just enough time to catch up. They're 110 adrift at that point. The second picture round is Name That Bat, after which Sheffield lead 160-55.

Quite simply, the game is up at this point. Magdalene doesn't have the buzzer ability to make the repechage, Sheffield has little incentive to run up the score. The gong comes as a slight relief, especially as it comes during a perplexing set of bonuses on cell centrifugation, whatever that is. Sheffield's winning score is 195-80.

Sheffield's captain Graham Gaff is the top buzzer, accounting for 80.1 of his side's points. Magdelene's best was Liz Duignan, making 37.8. This wasn't a high-scoring week - Sheffield took 13/38 bonuses, Magdelene 4/18.

The repechage has four games to go, and we can surely say the top two will come back:

  1. Univ Oxford 150
  2. Jesus Cambridge 145
  3. York 120
  4. Portsmouth 120

This Week And Next

The new series of Masterteam began on Radio 4 this week, featuring David Edwards, a retired teacher from a small village in Staffordshire. If the team from Round Britain Quiz have a vacancy for the Midlands side...

One of the questions on this week's show asked a team to name all five UK Eurovision winners. The second annual Junior Eurovision takes place this weekend, live coverage on (er) ITV2, with a repeat at Sunday lunchtime on ITV. Matt Brown will be the new Paddy O'Connell. Be vary wary, one of the interval acts is Westlife, and you wouldn't want to see them, would you.

The provisional list of participants for next year's Senior Eurovision has been released: the 36 competitors this year look set to be joined by Hungary (absent since 1998), and debutants Bulgaria, Czechia, Lebanon, and Moldova. Hungary has already asked to see the bill before they confirm their place; if all five apply, one will be randomly balloted out of the contest to keep it down to a mere 40 countries. Which, for those of you doing the maths, means 40 sets of votes on the Saturday. And 400 chances for Terry Wogan to complain about so-called "friendly voting". All competing countries will show the semi-final, though it'll probably be stuck away on BBC3 again.

Next week's highlight has to be the return of an old friend, featuring more new and exciting games. Yes, Raven III comes to CBBC next Monday at 8am, repeats at 2pm. From the trailers we've seen dotted around the CBBC output, it looks like this series will feature at least three new games - one featuring someone rowing, chased by a demon; one featuring some archery; and one involving moving a shield across a field of play. We were slightly hoping for a repeat in the 6:30 slot after Blue Peter, because that would have made an hour of must-see television, but that can always wait until next year.

What else? On BBC1 Can't Sing Singers, Antan Dec host the latest series of I'm A Celeb - and we're bored of it already, which doesn't sound at all promising. Challenge spends Sunday in Japan, and brings something good - Blockbusters, Bullseye, and The Crystal Maze - back to the afternoons. We've also the Scrapheap Challenge Series Finale.

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