Weaver's Week 2007-04-22

Weaver's Week Index

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



Coming up, the latest, greatest thing to emerge from Portersteeth.

University Challenge

The Grand Final: Manchester v Warwick

The two competing teams
Eyes front for the first question

Manchester, lest we forget, came through the repechage, and has visibly grown in confidence with every match. Can they emulate the Durham 2000 team by winning after losing a match; and emulate the Magdalen Oxford 1998 team by retaining the trophy. Warwick ran their luck a little to get here, but after trouncing UCL last week, it's difficult to argue that the side doesn't deserve its place here. There's no snark in Thumper's introductions tonight, these are two seriously good quizzing sides. Let battle commence.

Q: What verb of five letters can mean to prepare an explosive for detonation, to fill a...
Warwick, Rory Gill: Prime.

Country houses, unfortunate schoolboys, and a starter question on poetry that we don't pretend to understand even after seeing it again, all give Warwick 45 points from the first eight questions. Manchester gets the Bonuses From Hell; they're given a stadium where the England side exited the football World Cup, and must give year, round, and victorious team. Manchester picks up a full 15 points, only to lose five on a swerve question about the function of an orrery. We'll take Interesting Number of the Week:

Q: The largest number whose factorial is less than 10 to the power of 100, what two-digit number links the year of the four emperors in Roman history, the Carlisle...
Manchester, Adam Clark: 68
Q: ...the Carlisle to Tyneside trunk road, and the age at which Ronald Reagan was first elected president?
Warwick, Gill: 69.

The first visual round is on unsuccessful candidates for the US presidency, introduced by a picture of John Kerry. A strange choice, but let's not debate politics here. Again, the bonuses bear the tooth-marks of Cerberus Deliveries, asking for the candidate, the year he lost, and the man who beat him. Warwick's lead is 60-30.

The winning team (l-r): Prakash Patel, Harold Wyber, Rory Gill, Daisy Christodoulou

Manchester brings the gap down to 10 with their captain's knowledge of philosophy, only for Warwick to pull ahead again from their captain's knowledge of poetry. There's a quiet nod for the production company, sneaking in a mention of New Granada. In an earlier round, Tim Hawken scored eight correct starters before anyone else could work out what that strange metal disk in front of them was for; his bell mojo seems to have deserted him, as he begins tonight with two missignals. That's not the entire difference between the sides, but it doesn't help. The audio round is on songs taken from Shakespeare plays, and Warwick's lead is an impressive 130-55.

The third stanza is very short - a question on income taxes, another on a French poet, and then we're into a set of visual bonuses on Turner's paintings. Warwick's lead is down to 150-90.

The geography of Scottish islands, and First World War acronyms, are fertile territory for Manchester, bringing them to within 35 points. Is a come-from-behind win possible? Perhaps not; Harold Wyber gets a starter about the CITES agreement, ensuring that all eight competitors have answered a starter tonight. All eight contestants leap for their buzzers when asked for the Greek letter to denote summation, David Elliot wins the race for Manchester, and the gap is down to 30.

Then it goes up again - Israeli politics give Warwick the advantage, they spike a set of bonuses on poetry, and in spite of Thumper's hurrying, time is against Manchester. The defending champions fall on their next set of bonuses, on plants, and Warwick has won, 170-140.

For the third year running, it's very hard to pick a winner, and it would be deserving to give the sides a longer run-out, perhaps a best-of-three final as shown on ITV. The trophy is presented by Ann Widdecombe, who says that she might have got about six questions right.

For the record, Daisy Christodulou led for Warwick, five starters and 74 points; her side made 16/30 bonuses with two missignals. Manchester's best buzzer was Ciaran Lavin, four starters and 57 points; his side made 13/29 bonuses, but five missignals damaged their chances beyond repair.

The captain and the trophy

Thus ends the 31-week series of University Challenge. It's been a fun journey this year, almost every week's show has had something memorable about it. We note, with approval, that the starter questions at the beginning of each episode tend to be longer than those near the end. If they could do the same for bonus questions, that would be the jam in the cherry on the icing on the cake.


Tiger Aspect for ITV2, 10pm Wednesday and Thursday

Andy Zein of Tiger Aspect sums up his programme as follows: "What happens when a weekly celebrity magazine becomes staffed by the very people it reports on? It's about our obsession with celebrity, but also our obsession with women's magazines, the sales of which seem to be going through the roof. And it's about the relationship between celebrities and women's magazines - who might be seen to intrude on [celebrity] lives, but also provide them the oxygen of publicity."

Let us take you first to Portersteeth, a famous landmark in the Thames flood plain. In the middle ages, people would come from miles around to see these twin great white pillars, soaring away into the night sky. Some thought them a predictor of earthquakes, or hurricanes, or the second coming of the great Robin of Kensington. Others found them inspirational, and pilgrims would carve pictures of themselves into the rocks below the high-water mark, and attach a slip of parchment with their name. The identities would float away with each night's tide, but the rock would be changed for many years to come.

What on earth does all of this completely made-up nonsense have to do with a game show? It bears about as much relationship to real journalism as does "Deadline", an insert into one women's weekly magazine, and subject of its own series on ITV2. The magazine's nominal editor is Janet Street-Porter, the woman who single-handedly invented youth television, edited two national newspapers at the same time, and has the most famous gnashers this side of Beanotown. Her staff consists of a Darryn Lyons, a professional picture advisor; Joe Mott, a professional sub-editor; and a few viewers who have come in on "work experience" (read: do the boring work for nothing more than their bus fare home). Oh, and a bundle of minor celebrities, about whom the resulting television programme (and hence this review) concentrates.

The Unique Selling Point of "Deadline" (the magazine) is that it's a celebrity gossip magazine put together by celebrities. Or, to be exact, by someone who could run a bit, someone who used to spin records on Radio 1, someone who used to have a large mobile telephone, someone who used to be married to that Saturday night institution Chris Tarrant, someone who is the daughter of that other Saturday night institution Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and a few other people who are famous for being famous.

So it's a celebrity gossip magazine put together by people who you might have heard of, but only because you already read celebrity gossip magazines, and they only include acres on these people because they can't get enough copy about people who are famous to those of us who don't spend our lives reading celebrity gossip magazines. As if that's not enough to get your head spinning, honour obliges this column to note that it is an amateur journalist passing judgement on other amateur journalists. Do we have the moral authority to make this sort of call? It's the sort of ethical quandary that would keep us awake at night, if we weren't still trying to untangle the first sentence of this paragraph.

There is a place for serious, contemplative, authoritative journalism. It's clear that the pages of "Deadline" are not this place. In the opening episode, Lisa I'Anson suggested a feature on the recent anniversary of an act making it more difficult to operate a slave trade in the British empire. The editor could have argued that the proposed article would have been hackneyed, clich├ęd, blatant copycat, and the moment would have passed by the time it appeared. All of these were valid journalistic reasons to strangle the piece at conception. Instead, Mrs. Street-Porter simply argued that it was "wrong" for a gossip magazine, and took no further discussion. Heaven forefend that the reader might actually be educated while being entertained! That would be improving for the reader, it might cause her to think about the complete vacuity at the heart of the project, and turn to something more edifying instead. "Deadline" is not an improving magazine; neither ITV nor its commercial partners does that sort of thing.

Instead, "Deadline" the magazine operates in a strange bubble, almost hermetically sealed from the rest of us. It has a cast of a hundred or so regular guests, who are photographed doing the things that the rest of us do every day. These events take place in familiar surroundings (well, surroundings that are familiar if and only if you frequent central London), and are meticulously captured by freelance photographers. That is where Deadline (the programme) spends most of its time. Writing words on a page, that doesn't make for good television. Watching V-list celebrities stand around on chilly street corners waiting for someone famous (or listed on Celebdaq) has a certain interest, but only serves to emphasise the completely soulless nature of the enterprise.

Which is a shame; there is some mileage in a fly-on-the wall docusoap about the life of freelance photographers (we don't particularly like the noun "paparazzi", and positively detest Mr. Lyons' habit of turning it into a verb.) From time to time, there are brief glimpses of the truth behind the lens, how much hard work goes into securing these shots of zero value yet that command huge fees. And there's an implicit assumption from Mrs. Street-Porter that her staff's time is more valuably spent stealing photographs from minor celebrities than hunting real news.

Inevitably, a reality programme leads to someone being booted off every week. In the first episode, Mrs. Street-Porter was faced with a choice. Miss I'Anson, who had been consistently late, had underperformed, and was a clear liability to the project; or Mr. Chris Parker, whose only crime was to respect the privacy of his friends. Mrs Street-Porter chose to end Mr. Parker's time on the show, showing that honour counts for nothing in her world.

There are other points worth making about the show. There's the way one member of the rag's staff is 45, but with the haircut of someone half his age. There's the use of some very poor film cameras, giving a shadow around the edge of the picture. And there's the way many of the minor celebrities enjoy their work. Make no mistake, Deadline (the programme) is well executed, and is a light and undemanding way of spending three-quarters of an hour. We just wish that everyone involved could use their talents to some more useful end than a throwaway paper rag.

This Week And Next

ITV's Complaints Department - which now occupies the entire third floor at their office on the Gray's Inn Road - has issued an apology regarding the Blockbusters episode of Gameshow Marathon. Not over the strange format, which could really do with Tess Daly, Fearne Cotton, or someone for Vernon Kay to bounce off (yes, even Anthea Turner would be welcome into this yawning chasm, though we wouldn't want to generate too many new yawning chasms.) Nor for the way the original slide projector contraption was swapped for a cheap computer generated board that made the 1997 Michael Aspel revival look classy. Nor, indeed, for the thoroughly confusing mechanic behind the game, making us think, "That's lacklustre!"

No, ITV's apology was over 10,000 SMS messages. These entries in the Win What They Win (But Be Warned, You Have To Have It Delivered By Lionel Blair) contest were discarded prior to the main draw. The problem was "isolated", according to ITV's Director of Complaints, but it's required the channel to run a separate draw amongst the one-in-12 entrants missed off, and has cost it almost precisely twice the expected amount.

We're surprised that ITV's Complaints Unit has not been bombarded with so many messages along the lines of, "oh, do stop spamming us about your tawdry shows, nothing on earth could possibly persuade us to watch Grease Is For Chips" that they've had to take over the fourth floor as well. Dear reader, if you are suddenly possessed with the desire to enter the Gameshow Marathon competition, and you reckon that the prizes outweigh the embarrassment of having Lionel Blair round, then do remember to end your SMS with the magic words NO INFO. That way, you don't get spammed with adverts for the "Great English Sporting Performances On ITV" blank DVD.

UKGameshows - we read the fine print so you don't have to.

BARB ratings for 8 April are in, this was Easter week. Any Dream Will Do retains the top spot, 6 million there, with the People's Quiz Lottery Draws pulling 5.45m. The Apprentice had 5m for its first fully-networked transmission, and beat Gameshow Marathon and Millionaire (4.25m each). Grease is the Word stuttered to 4.1m.

On the minor channels, there's a new Most Popular Host. Step forward Jeremy Paxman, who had 2.95m tuning in for Manchester's last win of the series. He beat Anne Robinson (2.85m) and Noel Edmonds (2.7m). Of the other shows, Great British Menu took 2.3m, Eggheads 2.25m, Underdog and Apprentice Fired 2.05m.

Channel 5's Interior Rivalry had 750,000, and beat Pop Idle US (620,000). The other cable channels: Deal on More4 had 200,000, The Slammer on CBBC 190,000, QI on G2 180,000, Dragons' Den on the same channel has 120,000. Challenge's top show was Sunday evening Fear Factor, with 60,000 viewers. The University Challenge Boat Race attracted 55,000 people to Eurosport, and probably more to the banks of the river Thames.

Next week: The Unbelievable Truth gets a series (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday), and Panorama investigates 0898gate (BBC1, 8.30 Monday). Catchphrase comes back to terrestrial television (FTN, 7pm weekdays).

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