Weaver's Week 2011-07-17

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Right, let's settle down with sixteen alarm clocks, a stinky cheese sandwich, a steaming hot mug of coffee, and settle onto a bed of nails. We'll watch this show without falling asleep if it's the last thing we do.

The Marriage Ref


The Marriage Ref

Zeppotron for ITV, from 18 June

The Marriage Ref is a very strange show. It feels like a throwback to the 1950s, a direct descendent from Do You Trust Your Wife? It's as if Mr and Mrs never happened. The host, Mr. Dermot O'Leary begins the show by introducing a panel of three happily-married relationship experts. Owing to a problem with the bookings agent, they've actually got Mr. Jack Dee, Miss Sarah Millican, and Mr. Will Young. Relationship advice from a comedian and winners of Pop Idol and Celebrity Big Brother? The show isn't taking psychology seriously, is it.

The Marriage Ref Mr. Young (right) has just told the most hilarious joke, as Miss Millican (centre) and Mr. Dee (left) demonstrate.

The principle here is very simple. Couples are in a long-standing relationship. They love each other very much, except for one thing. One of them believes they are the set-up for a music hall sketch or comedy song. In the sample episode we saw, the first matter under discussion was of cookery. Specifically, Mrs. Contestant believed that she should serve up food from all over the world, but her husband was only interested in traditional English food.

"Rigatone?" "Bangers and mash", went their argument. "Minestrone?" "Bangers and mash", it continued. His concluding plea was, "Give us a bash of the bangers and mash me mother used to make." Yes, they were re-enacting the argument at the heart of Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren's cross-talk song "Bangers and mash".

The couple present a short film describing their problem, and seek the panel's opinion on who is right. This drags on a bit, and we find ourselves wondering if there's something a bit more interesting on one of the other channels, like prime minister Mr. Macmillan answering questions on The Parliament Channel. We snap back to attention when the focus switches to the studio, only to lose it again as it emerges the couple are to be questioned by the panel, as if they've not been paying attention in the film.

So much does our mind wander that we drift off to sleep, and find ourselves in the far and distant future.

The Krypton Factor

The Zircon Quotient

Northern Television for ITV, the mid-1990s

In our dreams, we glide effortlessly forward through time, to the mid-1990s. Television broadcasts are now in colour, and the programmes are constrained only by the imagination of the producers. This particular dreamscape has two presenters, an avuncular gentleman from The Regions, and a well-spoken younger lady.

The Krypton Factor Penny Smith and Gordon Burns. See, in The Future, they don't use titles that often.

The show begins with an animated title sequence, showing the programme's title and its logo, a "Z" carved out of a square by making some small notches. Then the animation is replaced by film images of this week's contestants, and we're away.

The opening round is a challenge of physical ability, a race along an army obstacle course somewhere near the Northern Television studios in Manchester. There will be climbing, there will be descending, and there will be fun and entertaining things to do, like crawling along some parallel wires, or hopping across some stepping stones. The round will, of course, end with a spectacular splashdown into some water; some television conventions must not be changed.

The Krypton Factor The Zircon Quotient's studio. Contestants enter through the dome top-middle.

But the first person down might not be the winner – from their time, we'll deduct 4 seconds for each year the person has lived, and 50 seconds for being a woman, because those are the performance guidelines the army uses in assessing physical conditioning. Whoever has the shortest time after deductions is the winner of the round. Why is this better than staggering the start? Very simple: the physical round has to be filmed some days before the main body of the programme, and it would be unfair for the winner to know they're ahead. That said, it could be a bit confusing for the viewers, but people in The Future are going to be far cleverer than us now.

The Krypton Factor Gordon Burns with a wafer-thin touch-screen tablet device.

We need some mental work next, so a series of questions to select one or two from a set of four images. With this being The Future, and a complete work of fantasy, we can assume that contestants can indicate their responses simply by touching the answer as it's displayed on their television monitors. That'll also allow for the programme's computer, the Zirconium 2000, to display the number of right answers each one has given, though we might forget to program it to light up when a player has touched the screen. What an oversight. No-one will notice that, because the area they're answering from will revolve. So will the host's desk. Revolving furniture, imagine that!

The Krypton Factor You only have to touch the screen, not push it off the table.

We've done the mind, we've done the body, how's about a test of hand-to-eye co-ordination? Our imagination says that the new pastime of aerobatics will become popular for spectators, and the RAF could well have a squadron of planes dedicated to showing off. If the White Spectres have a Zirconium 2000 of their own, a suitably advanced device to simulate flying, they could take our contestants for a spin, perhaps over the familiar landmarks of Blackpool. And we'll assess their performance on a scale from 0-1000, so the contestants don't know their relative performances. And to make sure it's all scientific and precise. This is The Future, after all.

The Krypton Factor Flying around Blackpool. Try not to crash your plane beneath Central Pier.

The army have contributed, the air force have contributed, what about the navy? They rely on keen observation, so play a specially-shot animation, packed full of details for the contenders to remember. Then, assuming Regional Gent asked the questions in the earlier round, let London Lady ask the questions here – five or six posers, touch-screen responses, again assessed by the Zirconium 2000.

The Krypton Factor Which executive commissioned The Marriage Ref?

If we're going to call this "The toughest quiz on television", there will have to be some sort of token quiz element. A short buzzer quiz feels about right. But we'll have to be careful with the scoring, otherwise this round will dominate. Suppose we give 10 points for the winner of the earlier rounds, then 6, 4, 2 in order. We'll get perhaps ten questions in, so two points for a right answer, but penalise by two points for an incorrect answer. Even so, a contender who's finished second or third in every round but has a wonderful general knowledge might yet run away and win the game over a more well-rounded contender.

The Krypton Factor A spotlight to show which contestant has buzzed in, because this is The Future.

What can we do to make this less likely? The end of the quiz round is not the end of the contest, there's the Zircon Challenge to follow. Contestants have been accumulating points through the earlier rounds, and here they spend them to make the final round easier. We'll start with something fear-inducing, like an indoor parachute jump.

The Krypton Factor Contestants are issued with emergency supplies of Kendal Mint Cake.

Then we'll send the contenders into a steel maze of rings. But we'll make life easier, we'll tell them the route they need to follow. Put up five numbers or letters, each in a contender's colour apart from one in white. Construct the interlocking rings and label them so that if they start with the symbol in their colour, and follow round the sequence we show them clockwise, they'll come to their exit point quickly. We could also sell advantages in this round, 6 points will buy a guide arrow at the start of the maze, 8 points for one further in.

The Krypton Factor This contender has bought two batons, one ladder piece, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Once out of the rings, a simple mental challenge, like cracking a code on a computer keyboard. If we want them to type "U", they might have to type "T", the letter before; or "W", the letter two after in the alphabet. If we want to be cunning, make them type "I", the letter to the right on the keyboard. Twenty letters feels about right, but we'll let the contenders buy a five-letter word for 10 points.

The Krypton Factor They might even have something to take the place of string.

A skill challenge of getting past strings with bells on them comes next; ring any of the bells and the contender will have to freeze until they silence. Can we make this easier by removing half the bells? Ooh, that'll cost a lot, 15 points? Then into a giant revolving thingummy, containing rods. But these rods only release when a light flashes by them, and the lights move in sequence, and not all the rods are within reach because some are on the roof. Six rods to collect, and we'll sell them for 5 points each.

The Krypton Factor Build a ladder, then climb it.

And finally, back to the start, a climb up the Zircon Tower. First construct a ladder out of heavy steel pieces, ten points for each ladder segment they want to buy. Then a 30 foot scramble up a complex rock face with plenty of overhangs, all to grab the Zircon logo.

The Krypton Factor A contender prepares to hoist the Zircon Quotient's flag.

There are two things that we absolutely mustn't do. One is to let another show use most of these elements for many years beforehand: if flight simulators or Regional Gent become too closely associated with this similar show, our brand new idea will be spoiled in The Future. Even if we use the name of that old show, it'll all end in tears. This is a new idea, it needs to stand and fall on its own merits.

The Marriage Ref (cont)

And the other thing we mustn't do is eat cheese sandwiches before watching incredibly boring shows, because it gives us terribly vivid dreams. Cripes, no-one would ever understand a show that complicated, not even the contestants.

Anyway, back in the real world, we wake up to see the last of the night's couples. Here, Mr. Contestant is a great fan of the rising young comedy stars Mr. Paul and Mr. Barry Chuckle, and has turned his spare room into a shrine in their honour. Grief, we should have stayed asleep.

The Marriage Ref The Chuckle Brothers have just told a hilarious joke, and that becomes a team best.

The problem with The Marriage Ref is that we just don't care for the couples, it's almost as if their disagreements have been hyped up for the purposes of entertainment. The programme's pace never rises above the most pedestrian and predictable, and we don't much care for the outcome. Someone might like this programme, but it's certainly not for us.

University Challenge

Heat 2: Trinity Cambridge v Birmingham

Olivertearle has an existential problem. "Cambridge are elitist, Birmingham turned me down for a job. So whom do I support?" Whoever you want; though this column is a graduate of Birmingham University, we hope and aim to be impartial in the coming half-hour.

It's Birmingham who get off to the better start, clearly it helps to have a hedgehog sitting in the middle of the desk. Trinity pull back with the next starter, and one of their answers is that well-known banker Fred Goodwin. Can we still call him a banker? Well, the show's not been taken off air, so we assume yes. We are asking questions about Little Billy Shakespeare, but he's almost a hometown lad for the Birmingham side.

University Challenge Trinity Cambridge — Max Spencer, Lee Zhao, Rosalind Lintott, Joshua Caplan.
Birmingham — Thomas Farrell, Kirk Surgener, Oliver Jeacock, Eric Rhodes.

Three mathematicians on the teams tonight, and a starter on the mathematical works of Lavoisier. "NO physics questions PLEASE!!" pleaded ToryKitty; we've got three on the mathematics of spirals, if that's OK? The first visual round is on rivers that flow to the north, and no-one can identify the MacKenzie river. Birmingham has eked out a lead of 45-15.

"One guy with a mohawk and one guy with a Ramones T-shirt on the Birmingham University Challenge team. Those darn punks got smart!" Arnivore does the fashion watch so we don't have to. It's only ten minutes into the game, but everyone from the Birmingham side has a starter already, and they're answering questions on David Hockney and ballet dancers.

Trinity have The Golden Hour, questions about popular culture in the last decade. They fail to score on these questions, which might tell us something about the team. Mumbler3 is correct to point out that "Popstars debuted in 2001, didn't it? Not 2000." Yep, 10 January of 2001. The audio round is about insects in classical music, and Birmingham have extended their lead to 115-45.

Languages and chemical reactions don't allow Birmingham to run up their bonus tally, but the fact they're hearing them means Trinity aren't allowed to answer them. Trinity do have cognate anagrams, such as ENRAGED and ANGERED. It's all a bit Teatime Teaser, this. Trinity ensure they've all got a starter, and ... oh, go on then. Speaking for about a thousand microbloggers is someone famous:

University Challenge DaveGorman: "excellent – Rebekah Brooks is currently appearing in University challenge – next to the cockatoo!"

The second visual around is on the Edinburgh Comedy Award, and Birmingham's lead is up to 155-70. Trinity were rubbish on pop culture of the 2000s, are they better on the history of 1511? Two out of three, not bad. Birmingham get two on plant biology, and do well on disputed territories in Asia. Trinity don't have anyone on their team from north of Sheffield, but get questions on the geography of County Durham. Birmingham have catalogues of composer's works. And that, without a single time check, is the game.

Birmingham has won, 225-105. Nine starters for Brooks-a-like Kirk Surgener, but Birmingham had a low overall accuracy rate, 31/63. Trinity were right in 15/39 questions they faced, and the final word goes to this week's Randomly Chosen Punter of the Week, JennyTattum: "eleven questions right on University Challenge, I'll take that."

Next week: Worcester Oxford v Clare Cambridge. Viewers in Wales should note this episode won't go out until 7pm on Tuesday, as the Royal Welsh Show is far more important.

This Week And Next

The second series of Popstar to Operastar ended this week, with a surprise. The public voted for Zack de la Rocha as the winner, even though he hadn't been in the competition until now. Ah, we jest; the actual winner of the televote was 2009's Christmas number 2, Joe McElderry. Popstar to Operastar ticks many of the boxes for ITV – it's entertaining, tolerably cheap, and ticks a regulatory box – a single episode brings opera to more people than a whole year of shows on Artsworld. ITV will have difficulty finding a summer slot next year – the combination of the men's European football championships and the Olympics take out June and July, the only spot between Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor. Would a one-night special work as well?

RTÉ has announced the competitors for the fourth run of Celebrity Bainisteoir, the show where famous people manage a football team. The elite eight this year includes erstwhile Europhile Dana Domestic (too right-wing for FF), erstwhile TD Paul Gogarty (too sweary for GP), and erstwhile footballer Tony Cascarino (too good for AV). Throw-in for this series is in September.

Hats off to Marcus Bentley, who leaves Channel 4 this week. He'll be best remembered for an often-imitated but never bettered way of saying "chickens".

In the ratings to 3 July, The Apprentice remains Britain's top game show, just under 9m saw the show on Wednesday. 4.8m for In It to Win It on Saturday, and 3.55m for The Apprentice You're Fired on BBC2. ITV's top game show was Popstar to Operastar The Results, 3.45m; again, The Marriage Ref fell short of the channel's top 30. Channel 4's top game show was Come Dine With Me, a shade under 2m there.

Some low numbers on the digital tier: Britain's Got Talent US (ITV2) had 565,000 viewers, Come Dine With Me (More4) 550,000, and Splatalot (CBBC), 370,000. Gory Games and QI tied for fourth, on 320,000 viewers. The perfect post-tennis entertainment on Sunday? For 145,000 people, that's Blockbusters.

Coming up this week, celebrities are taught by children in the possibly not-gamey Born to Shine (ITV, 8pm Sunday), and comedians hope to become celebrities on Show Me the Funny (ITV, 9pm Monday). Maybe they want to appear on The Celebrity Apprentice Us (BBC1, late night Monday); the UK version finishes on Sunday (BBC1, 9pm). Irish viewers get Come Dine With Me Ireland (TV3, 9pm Monday) and Stars Go Racing (RTÉ1, 8.30 Wednesday), and young viewers get Camp Orange (Nickelodeon, 5pm Friday). We're all in this together.

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