Weaver's Week 2013-01-27

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Readers expecting a review of the Daryl Hannah movie are in the wrong place. Sorry.



TwoFour and Eyeworks for ITV, from 5 January

Being ever-so-slightly cheeky, we suggested last October that ITV had run a test of Splash! The trial was an impromptu pro-celebrity event, staged at the main football stadium in Warsaw after someone left a window open and the whole place flooded. Hosts Adrian Chiles and Gabriel Gatehouse spent an hour discussing whether it was suitable for play, what the ref was doing bouncing a ball on the sodden turf, and showing some bored fans running onto the playing area and diving through the mud.

The winner of Splash! Poland 2012.

Adrian Chiles is a master at turning the most unpromising events into television gold. The question behind Splash! is whether ITV's dream team – Vernon Kay and Gabby Logan – can front a show more entertaining.

(SPOILER: No. If you want to go off and watch The Great Comic Relief Bake Off, we understand.)

And then we find ourselves thinking much further back, to the mid-aughts series The Games. That featured diving most years – we remember Peter Duncan proving he's still a world-class diver, and we remember Bobby Davro demonstrating that if you hit the water at the wrong angle, it will hurt. The Games was able to get through some behind-the-scenes training footage, the actual diving, the judging, and reaction, and still have change from half-an-hour.

Splash! A swimming pool in Luton.

In the years since, Tom Daley has replaced Peter Duncan as Britain's best-known diver, partly because he's a bit good at his sport, but also because he's a bit good looking. Daley joins Vernon and Gabby for this show – not only will he open each edition with a splash, but he’s been working with all the contestants to improve their diving ability. Generally, that means "building up their diving skills from a zero base".

So we're treated to some footage of the celebrities learning to dive. It's the typical ITV reality show footage, concentrating on The Story and The Journey, as though the judges are going to be marking on how far they've come, rather than on the quality (or otherwise) of the dive. After about five minutes of this, it's time for the dive, right?

Wrong. It's now time to join Vernon (or it may be Gabby) on a platform some metres above the pool. The host is joined by a contestant, who is about to jump, but first they've got to face the exquisite torture of being asked how they feel by Vernon Kay. "Blimmin' nervous, and if you don't stop asking patronisingly inane questions, I'll happily push you over the edge meself," the answer that hasn't (yet) been offered.

Splash! Omid Dalili prepares to jump from the top board.

After all of this, it is now time for the dive. The celebrity starts high, often jumps a little bit higher, but then gravity wakes up and starts pulling the contender down towards the ground. The celeb can turn and twist as much as they like, but the result is inevitable: they're going to get wet. For the sake of viewers who couldn't quite believe the evidence of their own eyes, a number of replays of this dive are shown.

Back at the side of the pool, Gabby (or it may be Vernon) asks the judging panel what they thought of the performance, and to give it marks out of ten. Two of the judges are Andy Banks and Leon Taylor, a professional diving coach and a recently-retired competition diver. Separating them is Jo Brand, the comedian and contributor of nonsense to Dictionary Corner. Her qualification to judge other people's diving seems to be entirely that she once learned to dive for a show on one of the UKTV channels. Her ability to judge other people's diving is soon established: flimsy-to-minimal. It's an even more baffling inclusion than Dawn French on the Britain's Got a Soapstar Superstar panel last summer.

Splash! The Splash!down panel: Andy Banks, Jo Brand, Leon Taylor.

After the judges have given their votes, and explained why they've given the votes they've given, Vernon (or Gabby, as the case may be) is now down at the poolside, and is having a chat with the competitor, and with Tom Daley. There's enough time to explain the voting numbers (35p a time, and lines don't open until everyone's had a go) and take a commercial break, before doing it all again for the next person.

Where The Games managed to complete its diving segment in about half-an-hour, Splash! has still only had two people hit the water. There's nothing wrong with programmes proceeding slowly, but there has to be a sound editorial reason for this slow pace, and it mustn't feel dragged out. Splash! meets neither of these criteria: the programme feels like it's being dragged out for the sake of going on as long as it does.

Splash! Gabby Logan (left) and Vernon Kay's Shorts.

Watching this show, we got bored. Bored enough to note how the celebs were wearing badly-fitting dressing gowns, and Vernon Kay's trousers hadn't entirely turned up. Bored enough to consider abandoning it half-way through for the Bob's Full House re-runs. Bored enough to notice a Celebrity Big Brother advert in the break, and think that that can't be as bad as Splash!! We were so bored, we almost missed the Active Voting Window, a 400-second period during which the phone numbers were read out once more, and some adverts were shown.

Splash! comes from a swimming pool in Luton. This isn't a bad thing, Luton is a bit good at this sports lark, and there are only about a dozen places with a 10m diving board in the country. Vernon and Gabby present the programme from the pool floor. Again, this isn't a bad thing, it would be a less immediate show if one or both was cooped up behind glass. But the result of broadcasting from a massive swimming pool is that there are weird acoustics. Everyone is wearing the fashionable ear mikes, which may not help.

Splash! The entrants for Luton's Dodgiest Dressing Gown 2013.

We can forgive the poor acoustics. We can't forgive the poor shot direction. When someone leaps from a high platform, we can be reasonably certain that they will hit the water (and if they're not going to hit the water, we don't want to see it). One of the most important things in diving is the angle of entry: judges like to see a straight body, perpendicular to the surface. The obvious place to stick a super-slo-mo camera would be at the waterline, to provide a side-on close-up of that moment of entry.

There is no camera showing the side-on shot. There's an overhead shot, there's one from a camera tracking down, there's some unfortunate poking a camera just above the water and then following the contender down into the pool. But this confuses motion and looking pretty with technical ability.

Splash! Splash.

After the lines close, and there's some sort of water-based performance to entertain the viewers, the results are in. Phone votes and jury votes combine, with the overall winner progressing to the next phase, and the next two taking part in a "Splash!-off" to determine which will advance. As ever, the dedicated fans of a popular-but-poor diver (such as Joey Way Is Essex) will take to the phonelines hoping to see more of their man in trunks, while competent-but-unpopular divers will not be allowed to jump again. The programme closes with the presenters mangling a catchphrase: we believe they're aiming for "no running, no bombing, no heavy petting, just diving", but they've not yet been able to get it out without crashing the credits.

We're not saying that Splash! is a poor idea; it's proven popular in the Netherlands, and been sold elsewhere. We're not saying that it's poorly presented, though even this rank amateur can come up with improvements. Splash! has one fundamental problem: it's dull. Vernon and Gabby and Tom Daley cannot fill 90 minutes of ITV with ten minutes of action. We'd rather have seen the show complete very quickly: two heats of six or seven divers, leading straight into a final. If it's going to bomb, at least it's gone quickly.

Splash! Oh, go on. Here's a picture of Tom Daley.

Off The Telly

The recent news that the Challenge? channel isn't (currently) buying more episodes of Bob's Full House sparked off a bit of a discussion over at Bother's Bar. And it set us wondering, what exactly do we expect from Challenge??

We'll begin with a fact. Arranging to air old shows is painful. The paperwork has to be dug out of a rusty old file, arrangements have to be made with the performers, there are usually extra royalties to be paid. As we've seen this week, someone has to go through each edition of the most innocuous programme (The Tweenies, anyone?) and weed out any jokes that were acceptable in the 80s but would cause Whingey McWhinebags to bleat at OFCOM. This all takes time, and time is money.

By contrast, new shows will have been commissioned with the idea of selling them on to other channels, and all the contributors will have been paid on that basis. Someone may still need to watch the programme and ensure it's still compliant, but this shouldn't result in many edits. It's cheaper and easier.

Bob's Full House Bob's Full House has had bits removed for current standards.

Challenge? is owned by the Murdoch corporation. Prior to that, it was owned by Flextech, and before that by International Family Entertainment Inc. The common link between all of these companies is that they're looking to make a profit. As its then-chairman James explained a few years ago, the Murdoch corporation believes that the public is best served by them making a sizeable profit. Anything that happens to be in the public service is an incidental by-product of them making money.

This isn't an argument against the Murdoch corporation specifically, it also applies to the UKTV group, to Disney's channels, and (to a lesser extent) ITV and the other Channel 3 licensees. These companies are all out to make their own profit. They're not putting out shows because of the artistic merit of good shows, like non-commercial channels can. No, Challenge? puts out programmes because it thinks it can make money.

Right now, just about the only way Challenge? can make money is through selling advertising. You know, those slots between the programme, the interstitials between rounds one and two. Airing vintage game shows could well bring in an audience that helps them sell advertising. This audience could be people who wouldn't otherwise watch Challenge?, it could be people who find this particular show more fun than the alternatives.

Pointless Pointless: easier to edit and clear.

As a free-to-view part of the Murdoch corporation, Challenge? also has a role in promoting that company's other products – programmes on the Sky Travel channel, imports on The Satellite Channel and UK Living, and overpaid men kicking around innocent balls of plastic. We choose to regard this as advertising.

It's clear that the block of wrestling programmes on Challenge? helps to bring in lots of money – it has 200,000 viewers most weeks, and they're likely to be the young male viewers who are attractive to advertisers. Vintage game shows are a harder ask: we've seen that they cost more to show, and it's possible that even 100,000 viewers aren't enough to sell enough additional advertising to turn a profit.

In its later years with Flextech, Challenge? picked up a reputation for safe, predictable, staid and boring schedules; the owners were trying to make a small profit on a minimal investment. The new owners have spent some money, but risk falling into the same trap of being so obsessed with profit that they end up being boring. A small number of archive shows will help the image of Challenge? no end.

Ultimately, arguments for a channel showing nothing but obscure game shows (or obscure comedies, or obscure documentaries) founder on this problem of profit. Viewers who want the Obscure Game Shows channel will probably have to fund it by means other than advertising, and will not expect to make any money from it.

Countdown Update

"We're crowning the greatest Countdown contestant of all time," promises this week's host. It's the first week to be shot at YTV's new studio facility in Trafford, and Countdown is now in high definition. (Actually, it's been in HD since the final week of the December series.) Unfortunately, no-one could find the right sort of computer connections, so the traditional LCD displays have been retired after 30 years, replaced by flatscreen computer monitors.

This was the first of three weeks entirely spent in the Round of 32; winners will return in the second week of February at the start of the Round of 16.

Match 11 was between Kai Laddiman (semi-finalist 2008) and Jon O'Neill (semi-finalist 2005). Jon took the game's first winner, "Stowage", and he was spot-on in a six-small numbers round. Kai needs a winning round, but his offering of "echnidas" was not quite correct – it's "echIDNas", and that was pretty much the end of the game. The rounds ran out on Kai, and Jon's winning score was 101-76.

Chris Hawkins and Jill Bright (quarter-finalists in 1994 and 1998) met in Match 12. Is "Yawniest" a word? It's not, but Chris had already come up with one winner, and he gets another with the numbers round. Then there are three winning words in the second period, and by Susie's segment this is turning into something of a walkover. Susie declares 'no "pettings"' in one of the later rounds, reminding us that this show is far more exciting and skilful than Splash!. Chris's winning score is 95-51.

Match 13 saw Martin Bishop (semi-finalist, 2008) play Chris Wills (champion, 2002). Nothing was wrong with Martin's "Unlaced" in the second round, and in a high-quality tournament like this, a small gamble can have big results. It was no surprise to find that the players were evenly matched, and that seven-point gap lasted. It was there at the anecdote, it was there at the origin of words, and then Martin offered "dragouts". It's not in the book, so the gap is reduced to nothing. The final letters game restored the gap, Chris's offer of "epaulet" is rejected – it is in the dictionary, but marked as an American English variation, and under Countdown rules, that's not allowed. The conundrum was crucial, the conundrum was revealed, and on twelve seconds, Chris said, "is it MYOPATHIC?". It was, and Chris emerged the winner by 102-99.

Countdown A look at the new studio, with the selection for round nine.

Match 14 pitted David Williams (semi-finalist, 2000) against Chris Davies (champion, 2009). The breakthrough came as early as round four, when Chris had "Absented", a lovely winner. The recent champ improved his position by getting the numbers spot on, and "Pinnule" after the anecdote. It was a twenty-five point lead, grew a little with another winning word, but then David got the second numbers to pull a little way back. But only a little, and he had to risk "outgrades" in the final letters round to remain in contention. It wasn't there, and Chris's winning score was 108-58, which doesn't recognise David's quality play.

As a contest, Match 15 was over in the first declaration: Innis Carson (semi-finalist, 2009) declared "Cogitable" for nine, Adam Gillard (runner-up, 2011) had an eight, and in a tournament of small differences, those 18 points would decide the contest. Each player missed one of the numbers games, and Innis added the conundrum to emerge the winner by 116-91.

This Week And Next

University Challenge continued in its second round with the penultimate match. UCL had a handsome victory over Exeter, Jesus Oxford a narrower win over Queen Mary London. Jesus got off to the better start, though they do have to suffer through Thumper explaining the "on the internet, no-one knows you're a dog" cartoon. UCL picked up a starter each, but none of the first seven bonuses following. This run gave them the lead, but only for the briefest time.

UCL proved themselves experts on depressing music, and the lead changes hands a number of times. There's no Only Connect this week, but UC tried to fill the void with a sequence of their own: "Give the next in this list of German Chancellors in reverse chronological order." Might not be the best sequence, that.

UCL slowly eked out a clear lead of their own, peaking at 45 points, only for Jesus to chip back at it. We reckon the game was over when UCL got a set of bonuses on US universities, and Thumper started getting really crochety at their slow pace. Then Jesus got a couple of starters and some bonuses, and the lead was down from 60 to 20. UCL had done enough, taking the final starter, and the win by 215-180.

To Mastermind!

  • Kate Jamieson (Lord Nelson) had a round covering all the familiar events and characters, finishing on 5 (3). The general knowledge round features a protester in the middle of the course; this is a question about Fenton invading the Boat Race last year. The final score is 15 (8).
  • Rob Hemming (The African Big Five) discussed large animals followed by game trackers – lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, and leopard. 11 (3) ensures he remains in the game, and he answers the general knowledge questions quickly and crisply. Not all are correct answers, and the final score is a very creditable 23 (7).
  • Simon Rundell (Monty Python) began with the Liberty Bell, went through spoof game Blackmail! and finished with the Zinc Stoat of Budapest. An award even Face the Clock could win. 12 (1) is the score there, and the contender picks his way through a difficult first minute before closing with a bit of a roll, on 25 (6).
  • Mark Skinner (Hergé's Adventures of Tintin!) Again, all the stars were there – Haddock, Thompson and Thomson – and such unusual characters as Red Rackham. 13 (0) is his score, and he needs the same again to win. Enough to make him work, and after a strong start the contender is again skipping over the questions to find one he gets right. Though he has 25 points with some time to go, he has passes, and not until the final question does Mark seal the win: 26 (4).

Day 4575. It emerged that Celebrity Big Brother lab rat Rylan Clark had been leaving the main studio in order to spend time rehearsing for The X Factor tour, which he'll be doing in a few weeks. The remaining Big Brother faithful (Syd and Debbi Bonkers) were whipped up into a state of mild surprise about this; the general reaction is that something like this has been possible throughout the Channel 5 series, as there's no live or as-live coverage of the filming, but it was still dispiriting to have such things confirmed. The series finished on Day 4579.

Michael Winner, 1935-2013.

The death has occurred of Michael Winner, film director, restaurant critic, Shooting Stars irregular, speaker of truth to Richard Littlejohn, a man whose life was edited by Arnold Crust, and titular host of Michael Winner's Dining Stars.

OFCOM complaints bulletin time, and the regulator has decreed that it's not acceptable for Celebrity Juice's Keith Lemon to promote itself with footage of someone attaching a long pink balloon to their waist. Did no-one at OFCOM ever play the game of "pricket", because apparently they do little else at Upper Ground. OFCOM also said it's not on for The X Factor to show lots of shots of the hotel where its finalists are staying, and that 8 Out of 10 Cats wasn't guilty of giving a commercial product undue prominence.

BARB ratings in the week to 13 January put Dancing on Ice as the top game show, with 6.9m viewers. Family Fortunes just beat In It to Win It on 5.55m, and Splash! had 5.2m. A good week for The Chase (3.5m on Wed) and University Challenge (3.1m). QI continued its recovery with 2.6m on Friday, level with Sunday's Big Brother. Come Dine with Me Ireland brought 2.05m to Channel 4 on Saturday, but the daytime is slumping – CDWM domestic had 1.45m on Friday, and Deal or No Deal just scrapes a top-30 place with 1.25m viewers.

Most-seen game show on the non-traditional channels was Only Connect, 980,000 to BBC4. That's as many as Bit on the Side on Channel 5; the edition on 5* attracted 510,000. The Satellite Channel's Got to Dance S4 had 845,000 viewers. Over on CBBC, Jedward's Big Adventure had 420,000, we believe that's more than are watching Face the Clock an hour earlier.

Next week In another quiet week for new game shows, we note the return of Great British Menu (BBC2, 7.30 weekdays), followed on Monday and Tuesday by shows with Michel Roux and Mary Berry. Next Saturday has an emergency edition of Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, 6.15), while Britain's Brightest and the Splash! final go head-to-head at 7.

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