Weaver's Week 2004-05-29
29 May 2004
Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.
Voting procedures - Weaver's Week
Big Brother 5 began late last night, and if anyone can turn on the barbecue, they're doing better than the production team. The usual coverage of what everyone else is saying begins shortly.
Some other gossip you may have missed. Turkish paper Hurriyet reports that when the producers brought up the line to the (Greek) Cypriot spokesman in the first rehearsal, the Cypriot man said, hello Constantinopolis. Turkish host Korhan Abay responded with the news, it is Istanbul for the last 500 years. In the second rehearsal, the host said, hello South Cyprus instead of Cyprus. The EBU had a quiet word in both men's ears, and everything turned out well on the night. Perhaps we should have let them do a nice, satellite- delayed rendition of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." Perhaps we'd rather hear the Swiss song again.
From Pravda: Kyiv mayor Alexander Omelchenko told a packed press conference that his city had no hall large enough to stage Eurovision. The venue would need to seat 15-20,000, whereas the city's largest arena, the Sports Center, is able to accommodate a mere 8-10,000. He said that the interior of the Sports Center is of the old Soviet type, and does not conform to European standards. "The time to prepare is short, merely a year, but we will be looking for ways," he said. Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich said he would do all he could to ensure that the next song contest takes place in his country, possibly building a new venue for the event. And build a new arena is exactly what they'll do - a 14,000-seater arena will be in the capital next May, and it'll be turned into a convention centre afterwards.
During the contest, Terry Wogan went off on his annual spiel about political voting, and Cheryl Baker says voting is more biased than when she won. Die Welt suggested weighting the voting so that the small countries give fewer points, which means the big countries (like, say, Germany) give lots of points. "Bonsoir, Kyiv, ici Monaco avec les results de notre televote. France, un point. Au revoir!" "Hallo. Here are the results of the German vote. [...] And finally, our 38 points goes to ... Turkey!" The oh-so-reliable Daily Mirror went on about "A load of Baltics," clearly oblivious to the fact that the top five are nowhere near the Baltic, and rather closer to the Balkans, apart from the two that aren't.
However, it's fair to say the critics do have the bare essentials of a point. But just un point, not trente-huit points. And it's not to do with the winner - the right song won, as it does most years, and the right songs end up at the top end, as they do every year without fail. No, the problem is to do with the way automatic qualification for next year is decided. The top ten songs join Germany, Spain, France and the UK, who fund the whole she-bang, in the next final; everyone else has to go into the semi. (It took Paddy O'Connell hours to explain that?) The right songs emerged to progress to next year, but more by luck than judgement. With two songs finishing level, there can only have been a few votes from Malta losing a point somewhere, or Croatia gaining one.
Perhaps we can think of this problem from a signal-to-noise aspect. The signal is the genuine musical preference of Europe, as determined by its constituent geopolitical aspects, or countries. This signal suffers interference from those who prefer to cast their votes primarily on the geopolitical aspects, rather than the actual musical preference. By increasing the number of votes available, and with a fixed amount of political voting, we're able to include more music, and hence diminish the importance of the politics. But I hear you asking, "where does the noise come into this?" Ah, there's always Jemini, who probably wouldn't have scored on this basis until we start awarding points for 15th place, while this year's Swiss entry probably would have scored an 11th. Somewhere.
Two possible changes spring to mind:
Idea 1: The semi-finalists lose some votes. Their songs have been judged, they've been found wanting, so it would make sense for the semi-finalists to lose some influence. Perhaps their votes count for half (or we double the votes of the finalists, to help keep the maths Wogan-proof); perhaps they award 6-4-3- 2-1 to the top five. This could be done for the whole contest, or just for working out the qualifiers for next year.
If we halved the votes of the semi losers, the Ukraine won by one point from S&M, 227.5 to 226.5. Croatia, Russia, and Macedonia end in a tie on 43 points, with Macedonia losing from having the fewest votes for; Malta makes 36 and misses out.
If we reduce the semi-final losers to a top five, the Ukraine's margin of victory is 4 points, with Macedonia and Russia taking the last two automatic places, and Malta slipping to 15th.
Had the losing semi-finalists not voted at all, S&M would have won by three, but with no change to the qualifiers for next year.
This idea will tend to work in favour of the already popular songs, and in favour of the "regional" voting. Surely, though, regional voting is the one thing we're trying to eliminate, not enhance, so this idea is not so good.
Idea 2: Extend the voting down to 12th place. When the current voting system came in for the 1975 contest, there were 19 competing countries. There's a strong argument that we should vote to halfway down the list; perhaps a top 10 suffices for the semi, but if we're going to use the final to discriminate between 12th and 13th, we need more information.
We don't have the information to work out the top 12 scoring system (perhaps based on 15-12-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1) for this year. This system would, by design, favour countries that picked up lots of small points, like Malta, at the expense of the bloc vote-getters, like Croatia and Macedonia. It would also give more points to those countries that were popular, but just missed the national top 10s - the UK and Poland would seem to fall into that category this year. For determining the 12th most popular song, this surely has to be a more precise method than the existing one.
However, this would extend the voting procedure even more, which must be A Bad Thing. We're adding 72 votes, so could really do with removing six countries. Hmm. How about having the lowest six countries in the semi-final consolidate their national votes into one Meta-Jury Of The Hopeless (first spokesman: Jan Tiegen, whose "Mil Etter Mil" started the whole nul points story.) That removes 60 votes at a stroke, and should eliminate further political voting by averaging out six countries from across the continent. Alternatively, have their votes added on during the contest, but not read them out.
To coin a phrase, the jury is still out on whether going directly to the final is A Good Thing, and we need at least one year's more information before answering that question. Would Malta still have beaten Croatia had Europe only heard the songs once? Would Russia have benefited from two performances? We need more information.
For the UK, James Fox put up a fine performance, but he had the wrong song on the night. That has to be a further black mark against the Song For Europe format, which this year relied on the vocal talents of otherwise unsigned acts and invited songwriters. Clearly, what the UK needs is a big talent, still popular on the continent, singing a song deliberately written to win the contest. Many people in the Eurovision fandom have advocated Right Said Fred (yes, of "I'm Too Sexy" fame) to perform the song; perhaps Philip Pope (responsible for summer-holiday-by-numbers anthem "The Chicken Song") could write it. If, for some inexplicable reason, the BBC reckons they need a
"serious" songwriter, then perhaps Cathy Dennis, Karen and/or Shelley Poole, or even past Eurovision hopefuls like Catherine Porter or Alistair Griffin might get the nod.
One final thought on the automatic qualification: Germany, Spain, France, and the UK all put in huge amounts of funding, but all four countries have had some bad results during their protected years, perhaps none worse than the UK. The EBU might force the big 4 to finish in (say) the top 16, as they did this year, to gain automatic qualification. Also, given their technical prowess and the help they've given in the past two years, perhaps we can and should add Sweden to the Big Group, if only for a limited time.
That's just about it for the 2004 Eurovision coverage. Competition for the 2005 event begins here.
As regular viewers of her daily show will know, Mel Sykes is pregnant. Her replacement as Vault host is set to be Gabby Logan, who will be at a loose end from the start of July when some European football cup or other finally finishes.
Assuming we've not managed to pick the show to pieces by then, naturally. Last week, the top player in the first round qualified with one correct answer on her own, and getting nothing on the remaining nine questions. Another contestant got two answers on her own, bought six from the brokers, and left with the grand non-total of nothing. Perhaps we need a quick re-jig of the rules, so that the two contestants who get the most correct answers in round one progress, rather than the two with the most money.
This week, the first contestant was bowled a very low ball. "Robert Kilroy- Shaft is a candidate for which political party?" Now, hang on one cotton- pickin' moment, isn't there an election on? Aren't all television companies meant to be scrupulously fair and even-handed when talking about candidates, celebrity or otherwise? (We leave it to the reader to determine which group Mr Kilroy-Shaft falls into.) And does this mean that there will have to be a question about every candidate in the East Midlands region, lest the UK Independence Party gain an unfair advantage? Is this all going to end up in court? She leaves with £600 and seven correct answers.
The second contestant gets six on his own, but spends big bucks getting three more answers, and leaves with £950. He would have earned more if he had said nothing all three minutes, which surely can't be right. He also heard that Estelle Morris resigned "last year," which would have been correct - last year. Slapped wrists all round.
By a strange coincidence, contestant three we missed thanks to an election candidate at the door. She scored £1100. Contestant four got the question "Who wrote [some books]" and didn't even guess once. He did have the right idea, not paying more than £200 for an answer, and thanks to the panel's lack of knowledge, five answers netted him £1300.
Contestant five was Lisa Simpson, though she looks a bit different from usual.
"Who was the first US president to win the Nobel peace prize?" elicits nothing more than a pass, and guesses of Reagan and Lincoln from the panel. We learn that John Prescott is a leading opposition politician (again, readers may insert their own joke.) She gets four on her own, buys five, and leaves with £350. Two contestants who got 9/10 leave the game.
In the second round, we have an exchange that goes
Broker: "£300" Contestant: "£200" B:"Deal for £300. [Wrong answer]"
What would have happened had the broker given the correct answer - the two hadn't agreed on a price.
The studio jackpot didn't go, and - for the eighteenth time in twenty calls - a lady picks up the telephone. Is this a coincidence? By random chance, and assuming an even gender split of callers, it's at an improbability factor of two to the power of 12.3. For the third week running, the home player stumbles on the second question, at an improbability factor of two to the power of not very much at all. (For comparison, the Swiss nul points had an improbability factor of about two to the power of 17.85.)
HYPE WATCH: BIG BROTHER 5 - PITHY DESCRIPTION HERE
With Channel 4's advertising campaign featuring slogans like "From friends to enemies," "Black is beautiful," and "Black Friday cometh," Endemol's series producer Phil Edgar-Jones has claimed the new Big Brother, which started last night, will be the "nastiest and cruellest yet."
According to a press release, twelve "very socially different" housemates have apparently been selected. The producers' aim has been to engineer them to "clash, bicker and fight," in a house that is "as uncomfortable as possible to live in." Judging by the pre-launch photographs, it's also going to be a house that's as uncomfortable as possible to watch. We're already wondering how to watch the show in sound only.
The Daily Tabloid was fed the usual misinformation, reporting a week before the entry that "The housemates will be feistier and sexier. Producers are determined this year's show will be packed with sex and rows." Last year, the same publication briefly offered a £50,000 bounty to any couple who, um, did it live on national television (terms and conditions applied) before withdrawing the offer halfway through. This year, a satellite sex channel has doubled the money (terms and conditions still apply, not least the straight couple has to present the channel's tacky show.)
More press speculation: the Daily Editorwanted says that a tenth of the £100,000 prize fund will vanish for each Saturday task failed. The organ claims that the winner "could leave with nothing," and with a full ten Saturdays in the show's run, that's possible. The Daily Tab claimed that the house alcohol would be kept under lock and key, and only released "to spice things up." They tried that in the US version of BB, and we all remember how exciting and gripping that was.
E4 viewers have been enjoying their favourite moments from the past four series, including the news that Jade Goody (BB3) still doesn't know where East Angular is, and that she'll be booked for Celebrity Vault. The over-hyped
"comprendez?" moment came tenth, then Paul and Helen, Adele's exit, Alex's to- camera singing, and Nick's exit came only sixth. "I love blinking", Alison on the collapsible table, Brian Dowling, Jade's kebab, and the winner: The Verruca Argument. Beat that!
THIS WEEK AND NEXT
Celador has started legal action against Disney for alleged loss of revenue from the US version of the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. The indie programme maker claims The Mouse colluded with its subsidiaries ABC and Buena Vista Television, to license the show "at prices well below the fair market value" and inflate production costs so that Celador's income was squeezed.
"In essence, Disney sits on both sides of the bargaining table in any negotiation for the production and distribution rights to the series, thereby enabling it to manipulate negotiations in any way that serves its corporate interests," Celador said in its lawsuit. The claim also covers use of the distinctive Millionaire music at contests in Disney parks, something Celador claimed fell outside the licensing agreement.
Next week: the return of an even older summer favourite, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, on Radio 4, and Jez Beadle on Countdown.