Weaver's Week 2003-09-20

Weaver's Week Index

20th September 2003

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

Readers on the website won't see the signature files from the email list. One such runs, "It's not what you win, it's the games that you play." Two years ago, that was regularly heard on Challenge TV's trailers.

THE GAMES (Endemol UK for C4, w/c Sept 7)

"In Sheffield, ten celebrities take part in a range of athletic events. At home, ten viewers try to work out who they are."

Dead Ringers, Radio 4, Sept 12.

Such was the premise of the latest instalment of minor celebrities doing almost anything for a fleeting moment of fame. So, we have the quotient of desperate pop stars - Lee Latchford-Evans, once of Steps; Harvey, apparently part of something called the So Solid Crew; and Melanie Chisholm, once of the Spice Girls. A handful of actors and comedians - Terri Dwyer, who seems to have been in Hollyoaks; Josie D'Arby, once of the CBBC studio; and Bobby Davro, a comedian, it says here. Add in the rent-an-appearances from Gail Porter and James Hewitt, and two complete wild cards - Miss World and Jean-Christophe Novelli - to complete the set.

The current British culture doesn't allow celebrities to compete in any game show purely to advance their careers. There has to be some ulterior motive, and it's usually as a charity fund-raiser. For The Games, the income came from viewers phoning up to vote for the competitor doing best at their event, and from sales of tickets - at GBP5 for an hour's entertainment, they're decent value.

During the nightly live shows, the competitors performed their sports. In a one- hour format with commercials, something had to give, and often it was the events themselves. On two nights, the credits rolled while the competition was still in progress, and C4 had to stay almost five minutes over time when the curling contest ended in a 0-0 draw after two extra stones.

Jamie Theakston was a tediously obvious choice for the main host, caring more about getting in his scripted jokes than being genuinely entertaining. Similarly, Jayne Middlemiss's trackside interviews were more banal and cliched than anything since Alan Partridge. On the upside, Dougie Anderson showed that he's a real talent for C4 on the teatime show, and the late-night review from the athlete's quarters was mercifully devoid of sound dips for language.

Endemol doesn't usually produce shows without an elimination element (think Big Brother, think Star Academy, think One Against 100,) but all ten competitors were scheduled to last the whole week. Unfortunately, Ms Porter sustained a leg injury that ruled her out after the first day, while Miss Chisholm suffered a torn ligament during a judo bout. According to some reports, Endemol will now have to compensate Miss Chisholm's record company, as she will be unable to promote her single and album in the lead-up to the lucrative seasonal market.

This column has a standing theory, that television reflects the society in which it's created more than television influences society. Much about THE GAMES evoked not contemporary Britain, but the sports-mad Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe during the 1980s.

The first clue was the five-pointed star, the same one from pre-revolutionary Yugoslavia, and still seen on the front cover of the extreme left paper the Morning Star. The giveaway, though, was the way people on the fringes of fame attempted to sell themselves by their sporting prowess.

Sport was at the epicentre of the 80s communist regimes - it was relatively easy for countries to demonstrate their excellence on the sporting field, far easier than to demonstrate any superiority of the closed political system. Sporting stars were the heroes of the old regime, displayed as examples for the others to emulate. "Work hard at the revolution, and this success could be yours," went the subliminal message.

With the old Soviet-era regimes thankfully confined to the dustbin of history, we're left with a different hegemony of public approval. The state's role in shaping and controlling the lives of individuals has gone, but its place has been taken by the mass media.

Consistently, the most well known people are excellent at some sport, and excellent at self-promotion. Mr David Beckham, a footballer and ceaseless self- publicist, is the obvious example, but note also the success of Mr Phil Tufnell and Mr John Fashanu in Celeb Bickering 2. Unlike too many popular musicians, the cult of sporting celebrity does owe a lot to innate talent - these people wouldn't have the opportunity to sing their own praises if they weren't good at their jobs to begin with.

In contemporary Anglo-Saxon society, we treat government attempts to promote activities, people, or goods with deep suspicion. There's generally less cynicism attached to private promotions, so long as they are tasteful and subtle. Celebrities are encouraged to behave badly, but - as Peter Brame found out last week - not too badly. Some excess helps to attract attention, but too much excess attracts opprobrium, as Jennifer Lopez will testify.

Soviet-bloc countries had other objectives for sport: national integration, military training, promoting mass sport programmes, and the emancipation of women. The Games may not have done much for the army; and by selecting completely different events for its male and female competitors, the show didn't make any significant strides towards gender balance. It did, however, show off the vast range of sports available in the UK, showing that competitive activities don't begin and end at the football field. The jury is out on national unity: The Games picked up good viewing figures, but wasn't water cooler television.

The Games was short on moralising, it didn't sell all its participants in a good light all the time, and as a result of that honesty, may be more effective at relaunching - or launching - careers than (say) Celebrity Big Brother.

In many ways, sport mixes the communist virtue of practice making perfect with the capitalist acceptance of innate talent. Similarly, The Games attempted to combine both practice and initial talent, awarding marks based both on performance against the group, and against one's own personal best.

The Games benefited from a more realistic feel than the likes of Big Brother. Everyone was candid about their strengths and weaknesses, and spoke of the events they wished would be over soon. With the addition of some all-day live streaming on E4, and perhaps some new presenters, this event could well be worth a repeat.

The winners of the contests: After a superb performance in the athletics stadium, Mr Harvey won the gentlemen's contest; the ladies' title was shared by Miss Dwyer and Miss Miss World.



Christopher Joby tells us about the religious paintings of Rembrant. This raises the question of just how much secular work the Dutch painter executed. Our contestant starts strongly, trips over a few, and finishes with a stumble, scoring 10 points and one pass.

Joe Shelly talks about BBC radio comedy, 1940-60. Readers can hear more vintage comedy on BBC7 at 1930 weeknights. Two passes and 13 points caps a memorable display.

Daniel Yates speaks on the fiction of Graeme Greene, 1938-83. Sadly, he never gets into his stride, thrown by questions on obscure plot points. Seven points and five passes doesn't bode well.

Katy Bennett offers the Manic Street Preachers; this column is reliably informed it's a Welsh punk band. She knows her pulpit-bashers, scoring 14 points and two passes.

In General Knowledge, Daniel Yates starts well, but then falls back into Pass Hell. Four more passes and a total of 15 points.

If the name Joby is familiar, Christopher's father Richard made the Mastermind final in 1984. His son probably won't keep up the family tradition, though he does correctly answer a question on Pavlov's conditioned reflex, something about which Anne Robinson knows nothing. Three more passes in this round, and a total of 23 points.

Joe Shelly does very well, securing two passes and 27 points.

Katy Bennett needs to do fairly well, but falls into Pass Hell. She's asked what the education acronym SAT stands for, offers Standard Attainment Targets, but is told it's Standard Assessment Tests. Both terms are in common usage. This doesn't affect the outcome: four passes and a total of just 18 points.

University Challenge

As usual, fourteen first round matches will produce fourteen winners. The four highest scoring losers will play off against each other in the repechage for the two remaining places. The remaining sixteen sides then play a straight elimination tournament, and we'll crown the winner in thirty weeks.

Round 1, match 1: St Hugh's Oxford -v- Strathclyde

St Hugh's made the quarterfinals two years ago; Strathclyde hasn't sent a team in the revival.

This column was very pleased to see a short starter: "what is the professional name of the musician Mike Skinner?" Less pleased to see a question on archaeological hoaxes that, stripped of Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman chuntering on, boils down to "in which US state is Syracuse?"

Back by popular demand! Rubbish starter of the week (1): "The Cap Vert peninsula is the most westerly point in mainland Afri..." St Hugh's buzzes, says Africa, and loses five. "...and is the site of Dakar, the capital of which country?" If you want to ask that, don't start from outside the city limits.

Rubbish starter of the week (2): "The term 'web log' is often..." Does no one at the quiz writers ever consider that many of these students have one of the own?

Rubbish starter of the week (3): "The winner of the 2002 Nobel peace prize was Jimmy Carter." St Hugh's buzzes, and says Jimmy Carter. "Who, in 1906, became the first US president to win the prize?" Again, if you're asking that question, don't bother with the preamble. If anything, the questions have become even more sloppily written over the summer, and that should surely be impossible. Have we got another seven months of this rubbish ahead of us?

The final score: St Hugh's 150, Strathclyde 195. Had they not been the butt of the two ludicrous starters, St Hugh's would surely be back in the repechage. St Hugh's made 16/27 bonuses and four missignals; Strathclyde took 19/33 with two missignals.

Top individual scores: Ian McQuade, Strathclyde, 62.4; Liam Brooker, St Hugh's, 58.2.

The individual scores attract more correspondence to Weaver Towers than anything else, so an explanation is in order. Each starter question is worth 10 to the person buzzing in. Bonus questions arising from that subject are worth 0.8 to the original buzzer, and 1.3 points to each of their colleagues on the team, even when it's clear who provided the answer. (These figures have changed slightly since last year.) The players' individual scores add up to the team score. Deductions for incorrect interruptions (or missignals) are from the player, and all scores are final at the gong - extra time questions do not count. The individual score primarily attempts to find players who do well on the buzzer, not on bonus questions.


Confusion reigns in the Saturday night pap panel shows. The voting lines for STAR ACADEMY all begin 09011 2121 and those for POP IDLE begin 09011 2122. An accidental press of the wrong key, a slight error when writing down the number, and the viewer is not just voting for the wrong person, but voting on completely the wrong programme. Someone who wanted to vote for Jason Pop Idle found instead that they'd voted for Alistair Star Academy. Those who wanted to vote Peter SA found themselves voting for Michelle PI. At least there's no such confusion when voting by SMS. Test this theory tonight: If PI contestant 10 does better than expected, it's obvious that even Alex SA's voters can misdial.

To the surprise of almost exactly no one, Channel 4 has thrown in the towel on its failing breakfast show, RI:SE. The show launched in a blaze of boredom in April 2002, and suffered a relaunch with Iain Lee this January. During Big Brother, the programme mutated into a Big Brother Breakfast show, but even hiring last year's winner Kate Lawler couldn't save the ship. The last episode will air December 19.

Next week: the usual suspects, the highlight is going to be a primetime QUESTIONS POUR UN CHAMPION special on TV5 next Friday night.

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