Weaver's Week 2006-02-12

Weaver's Week Index

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


Iced tea - 12 February 2006

And then there was one... Star Academy II winner Alex Parks has parted company from Polydor Records, after the mass media forgot that her second album was coming out, and that it's actually a bit good. Excluding the winner of the recent X-Fools series, whoever that was, the only reality show winner yet to taste the freedom that comes away from major labels is the original Pop Idle, Will Young.

Dancing on Ice

ITV Productions for ITV, Saturday around 7pm

(This review based on the programmes of 21 January and 4 February.)

ITV does seem to keep its programming ideas in gestation for a very long time. Last summer's smash flop The Big Call had been two years in gestation, with creative people adding so many layers that the game got far too hot and melted away, leaving a soggy mess on the carpet.

This winter's high hope for the old Gladiators / House Party slot has also been knocking around for some time. At various stages over the past year or so, it's been referred to as Dancing on Thin Ice, Untitled Torvill and Dean Project, and Celebrities Dancing on Ice. The final name was slightly shortened last summer, in part of the Great ITV Celebrity Purge, in which all vestiges of the C-word were removed from programme titles.

So, what do we have? The beginnings of a great Saturday morning children's television reunion party, that's what. Your host for the evening's entertainment is Phillip Schofield (Going Live, BBC, 1987-93), who likes the colour of the ice rink so much he dyed his hair to match. He's working with Gordon The Gopher (qv) for the first time in over a decade. Mr The Gopher has very cleverly adopted the disguise of Holly Willoughby (Ministry of Mayhem, ITV, 2003-5), but we recognise Mr The Gopher's trademark good looks and squeak when we find them. The programme is wrapped around Millionaire, hosted by Chris Tarrant (TISWAS, ATV, 1976-82).

Yes, there are some other people there, such as David Seaman (former footballer), Kelly Holmes (runner), and lots of people from ITV productions. But even amongst the contestants, we're not done with the remarkable coincidences. Amongst those appearing on the ice are John Barrowman (Live and Kicking, BBC, 1993-4) and Andi Peters (L&K, 1993-6). There's also an appearance by Bonnie Langford (regular guest on Swap Shop in the 70s), while Robin Cousins (another Swap Shop regular) is on the judging panel. Finally, the ITV2 show (Dancing on Ice Defrosted) is hosted by Stephen Mulhern (also of Ministry of Mayhem). All they need to complete the set is someone from Number 73 or Motormouth.

So, if the cast list is mostly taken up with people who were most famous about fifteen years ago, what happens on the show? Well, it's completely unique, and nothing like this has ever been seen on British television before. Late last year, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (ice skaters extraordinaire, 1981-4), took the ten mildly famous contestants, and paired them up with professional ice dancers. They've been hard at work training ever since.

In each week's live show, the dancers must incorporate certain steps into their routine. Fail, and they'll be marked down. Fall over, as Andi Peters memorably did while making his grand entrance, and they'll be marked further down, have the mick taken out of them by Harry Hill, and appear on every bloopers tape going. Before each performance, there's a video diary of what's been going on during the last week, and it's here that Ms Torvill and Mr Dean prove they're not just figureheads, but real coaches. The dancing is perfectly fine, if you like that sort of thing. This column doesn't, but does appreciate the nostalgia value of Tony Gubba providing an after-skate commentary.

Immediately after each dance, the judges pass comment, and there's an inevitable round of booing from the crowd whenever they say something that suggests the sun might not actually shine out of the skaters' heads. Then the judges give their marks - the scale of 1 to 6 allows for nothing finer than half marks, and is equivalent to marking them on a scale from 0 to 10. Interestingly, the show uses the total marks cast by the judges to rank the skaters; real ice-dancing has traditionally seen the marks converted into a ranking, which in turn is used to decide the placings. This is confusing enough when Rob Eastaway explains it in his books, so there's a good reason why the producers thought of this idea and rejected it. They did know this, didn't they?

Anyway, after the judges give their marks, the couple goes off to be interviewed by Mr The Gopher. Skate, judge, repeat until all have performed and the only ice is in the drinks. Then, and only then, do the telephone lines open for the viewers at home to cast their ballots. At 50p a throw it's eye-wateringly expensive to support any of these people, unless you've won big on Millionaire. There's about 70 minutes to vote, and then they add together the rankings given by the judges and by the public. The two skaters with the worst combined rank must skate once more. The elimination mechanic - all tremendously long pauses and "you're safe" in no particular order - is amazingly similar to that used on ITV's autumn banker X-Factor, right down to the "We'll find out the last safe couple ... after the break." Whoever performs the worst in the skate-off leaves the show, everyone else comes back the following week to do it all again until we have a winner.

Great bits about this show? It's great to see that Mr Schofield and Mr The Gopher have put their past differences behind them and are working on a completely innovative project. The staging area, where the hosts stand and where the couples are judged, is an entertaining patchwork of hexagons, as if that part of the show is being presented from inside a ginormous football - it's good to see that the set designers avoided the snowflakes clich&eamp;.

Because all the music is played in from disk, the programme has to credit a "Grams Operator", of which there are far too few around. Paul Farrer's music is almost exactly what one would expect for the show, rhythmical for the opening and closing, tense for the judging, almost invisible elsewhere. Trivia buffs will wish to note that Dancing on Ice is performed live in Elstree; during the recent run of Celebrity Big Brother, both ITV and Channel 4 were broadcasting live from the studio complex.

In terms of publicity, the timing couldn't be better - Dancing on Ice will run through the Winter Olympics, an event forever associated with coaches Ms Torvill and Mr Dean. It's just a shame that the programme has been so long in development that the BBC has independently come up with the ballroom-based Strictly Come Dancing, and the two programmes have so many similarities.

University Challenge

Second Round, Match 3: St John's Oxford v Imperial College Medicine.

It's the repechage final, and the third time we've seen these sides in two months.

There is someone in the audience cheering loudly. Please don't, otherwise we shall have to reach through the television and subject you to a Galloway-style grilling. Thumper mentioned how ICM didn't know anything about novels, only for the team to get their first two bonuses correct. They're on, er, the opening of novels. St John's say "Cultural Revolution" to the wrong question, and don't stick with the answer when it's right.

No-one knows the definition of "Heir Apparent", which is either an indication of latent student republicanism, or that no-one studies such things any more. Imperial Medics get the first visual clues, on types of surfboards, and lead 65-30.

How many actors have a poet laureate as their father? ICM don't know about Daniel and Cecil Day-Lewis, costing them a bonus. St John's gets Beatrix Potter from the first four lines of a potted biography. Well, more of a set-of-pots biography. St John's briefly pulls within 10, but then the Medics get a set of bonuses on the human skeleton. That'll be safe points.

Our listener response matchbox was overflowing this week, as a correspondent suggested a starter about Kafka was unfair because it said he was German, even though he was born in Prague. This column suggests that this was a fair question; the main clue was the quote, and Herr Kafka wrote in the German language, fitting in with "Which German writer". The audio round is on classical music requiems, and ICM's lead is back up to 125-80. This starter entertained us:

Q: Kuznetsov in Russian, Kowalski in Polish, and Lefevre in French are equivalent in meaning with which common English surname?

St John's only knows one racehorse, Shergar, who never ran in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Still, St John's is briefly within five points, but though ICM don't know anything about the Canadian province of New Brunswick - they might think it's a street near the lecture hall - they do get the second visual bonuses, on tree leaves. 145-120 is their advantage.

The lack of an arts student tells against St John's as they can't get any Booker winners from their novels. But the Oxford side is the one in form on the buzzers, taking the lead, extending through a good set of bonuses. Then there's a long set of starters that beat the entire panel - neither side picks up a missignal, but the Medics are 30 down and need two starters to win. St John's makes a missignal, but ICM drops a full set of bonuses to remain 15 adrift. They're lucky to get a question on biology, and then on scientific measurements. The Medics have a 175-170 lead, and that's where the gong goes.

Edmund Dickinson again led for St John's, buzzing for 63; the side made 11/36 bonuses with that one late missignal. Richard Hutchinson again led ICM from the front with 90, his side made 13/33 bonuses.

Next match: 27 February. Teams to be confirmed.

Junior Mastermind

Heat 3 of 5

Facing old little head tonight is Josh from Berkshire, who will tell us about the History of the Space Shuttle. Some very odd questions, there's no clear explanation of the link between the X-15 flights and the shuttle. Josh scores 8 (5).

Next up is William from London, taking English Test Cricket Since 2000, and by the way he slides into the chair, you might think he owned it. Not quite the perfect round, but 12 (1) doesn't leave much room to tilt at.

Luke from Greater Manchester is wearing a really bright orange shirt, and has been swotting up on the Dambusters. Luke visibly tenses up during his round, but 8 (2) keeps him in contention.

Ayla from Cambridgeshire is taking the Harry Potter books. Six of them, compared to the two films accepted for the adult show in 2003. While the questions are all Greek to this column, Ayla is fluent in the language, scoring a remarkable 18 (1).

Josh launches into a heartfelt plea to sort out this planet before even thinking about damaging other ones. He falls rather short on the pop culture questions, and asks for two questions to be repeated; the finishing score of 14 (10) isn't a winner.

Luke has brought a small piece of one of the disused dams blown up for practice for good luck, and Small Egg-head quizzes him about his transfer of allegiance from Bolton Wanderers to Rangers. He tries hard, but his nerves haven't settled, and 18 (4) doesn't look like a winner.

William extols the virtues of 20/20 cricket - the variety that's complete in three hours - and of Duncan Fletcher's coaching skills. 28 points will put him in pole position for the runner-up position, but he finishes on 24 (2).

Ayla has "only" read the sixth Potter book twice, compared to at least half-a-dozen reads through the first. She races through the answers she needs, but then comes to a bit of a halt, finishing on 28 (3). This is one strong contender for the final.

This Week And Next

The BBC will continue to show the weekly Lottery Corp draws until 2009. The Corp beat off a competitive tender from ITV. The Lottery Corp's spokesball, Martyn Fox, said, "We felt that the BBC put together an excellent package with a firm commitment to expand its coverage, both in programming hours and the number of channels." Peter Fincham, the controller of BBC-1, said, "Our audiences can look forward to lots of exciting new formats which will deliver the very best entertainment." So any chance of a return for Winning Lines, then?

The premium-rate telephone operator ICSTIS has released a "Statement of Expectations for Call TV Quiz Services". It's a grandiose title for an entirely level-headed document. As suggested last year, operators of television call-and-lose programmes will have to be licensed by ICSTIS. The price of each call must be displayed clearly, at least once per minute. Both screen display and presenter must make clear that every call is charged, even the unsuccessful ones.

The most significant changes - the contact information displayed on screen must include a helpline number or a postal address. A website alone is not enough. Television watchdog OFCOM will ensure that the competitions themselves are fair and accurate. Further guidance will follow shortly.

If you know when this guidance will follow, our Spoof Call and Lose Number - 0990 485 6242 - is for you. All calls charged at £2, whether successful or not. Closest guess will win the star prize of one new penny.

In the week to 29 January, the most-watched game show was ITV's Dancing on Ice. 8.7 million people tuned in to the Saturday night programme. The previous evening, only 7.3 million saw Celebrity Big Brother conclude. The Millionaire programmes picked up their usual audiences - over 6 million for ITV's quiz, just over 5 million for BBC's Manor. Question of Sport (4.7m on Friday) is just joined in the top thirty by Junior Mastermind, 4m on Thursday.

The teatime trial of strength is still just in the BBC's favour - though Deal or No Deal peaked at 3.7 million viewers, just ahead of Link's 3.6 million, the Anne Robinson show won three nights. For the first time, Saturday's Deal proved more popular than a weekday edition. For BBC2, University Challenge had its usual 2.8 million, joined by 2.3m seeing the Masterchef weekly final, 2.2m for Old News, and 2.1m for Ready Steady Cook.

BBC4's fourth most viewed programme was QI, which had 160,000 tuning in at 11.30 at night. E4 picked up one of its highest ever audiences, 1.46m saw Celeb Big Brother's Big Mouth after the C4 transmission ended. The success of CBB meant that ITV2's American Idol transmission was more seen on Sunday (561,000) than Friday (548,000). Four episodes of Deal made More4's top ten, the show looks like it's pulling in six-figure audiences as a matter of course.

Some pieces of international news this week. In Australia, Millionaire host Eddie "Lock it in" McGuire has moved to the executive suite, and will succeed Kerry Packer as chief executive of Nine Network. In the Philippines, 71 people were killed in a stampede outside a recording of Wowowee, a big-money quiz; police are investigating the tragedy. ABC television in the US has belatedly bought the Star Academy format, probably to air over the summer. And NBC has bought the concept of Eurovision, and will run it state-by-state.

The Winter Olympics occupy most of BBC-2's schedule this week, but there's still some time to play. Petrolheads runs at 10.10 tonight, and Friday night sees Old News and new Mock the Week go back-to-back from 9.30. On Wednesday, the first in a new series of X Marks the Spot begins (1.30 Radio 4).

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