Weaver's Week 2006-05-07

Weaver's Week Index

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


The Category's Still There

7 May 2006

Coming up, reviews of two productions for cable channels.


Granada / Flextech for Challenge, 8.30 weekdays

For the purposes of this review, let us assume that everyone is familiar with the basic outline of the game. There's a review on the website for those who aren't, and we've previously looked at Bullseye 1984 style.

In the twenty-two years since, a lot has changed. For starters, production companies don't get to promote themselves before the show starts; instead, we launch into the title sequence, complete with the Bully mascot clinging to the flight-tails of a dart. Dave Spikey is the new host, he's a mature northern comic, and enters through the doors that will eventually reveal the star prize. He doesn't come through the audience, as the previous host did.

Contestants no longer introduce themselves by ITV region, for there are no ITV regions any more, at least for most of us. The categories board retains most of its old subjects - the complete list is Books, History, Showbiz, Science, Faces, World, Places, Britain, Spelling, and Words. It's still 30-50-100 for the outer segments, but a bull's-eye in the opening round is only worth £150, rather than the £200 of the eighties. Is this the first recorded case of prize deflation?

Three rounds of questioning are punctuated by a harsh electronic sound whenever anyone misses a category. It could well be the same note that jarred when Antan Dec played the game last year. More interestingly, there's not a peep from the audience during the entire quiz section. Has someone borrowed a cue-card from Millionaire and advised them to remain as quiet as little mice?

Next up is the pounds-for-points section, played by all three teams. Because broadcaster Challenge puts their logo permanently at the top-right corner, the scores move down to the bottom of the screen; thanks to the camera angles, one of the scores neatly obscures a good proportion of the dart board. The cash still racks up at one pound per point.

When this section is over, Dave invites the two losing players to come over. Their consolation prizes are: a Bendy Bully, tankards (no goblets for the ladies any more), darts, a t-shirt, a jumper, and a copy of the game on DVD. Oh, and the cash the teams have won. Dave links to the break by telling us what's coming up afterwards.

During the break in the middle of the programme, there are some adverts. And some promotions for upcoming programmes on the extended Flextech network. Including, on at least two occasions, a plug for the programme we're watching. Really good, that.

Immediately after the ads, celebrities or darts players (sometimes celebrity darts players) are throwing for charity. Back in the day, celebs got a £60 head-start towards scoring 301 or more in the charity double. No longer is there this act of generosity.

The prize board is still full of bad puns, good prizes, and poor prizes. On at least one episode, Dave's spiel is completely obliterated by tittering coming from the audience. This does, at least, serve to drown out the plugs for sponsors that are inserted into every description. Sometimes they fit naturally, sometimes the plug is just rammed home in a most ugly fashion, like the Bash Street Kid.

The end gamble is still all or nothing, and even prizes that aren't won are wheeled out to disappoint still further. Union regulations haven't changed in twenty years, eh.

It's a little hard to see what Dave Spikey brings to the game; he is a very good comedian, but he just doesn't seem to gel well with the game. Partly, this is down to a complete lack of atmosphere - the audience is silent during the opening round, which really doesn't help. It feels like many of the crowd noises are inserted in post-production - there are markedly different volume levels, and the cries of "gamble" seem to be the same every night. The lighting is also a little strange, an odd blue halo surrounds everyone when they're seen against the audience. Overall, the programme seems to operate in a vacuum.

On the upside, Dave does bring a couple of gems to the table - the players are the "throwers" and "knowers", and his summary of the end-game is "you've had a grand day out, but you leave wi' nowt."

Knowing what to change, and what to leave, from Bullseye was never going to be easy. This show is a worthwhile exercise - and one that Challenge can justly feel proud of - but it lacks atmosphere compared with the original. It's over a decade since original episodes of Jim Bowen's quiz were last on our screens, and that was Event Television. This programme has not raised its aspirations in line with our higher expectations of game shows these days, and is now just small-t television.

Sitcom Showdown

UMTV for UK Gold, 6.01 Saturday

It's off to Danny Baker's flat for this programme, where two teams of three are sat on comfortable sofas. The teams aren't just any old Joes who have walked in off the street, no, these are Sitcom Superfans. People who know a lot about their chosen situation comedy. They know the dates of recording, the dates of transmission, can recite the scripts verbatim, could point out the error from the Ceefax subtitlers just over 18 minutes into episode 4. The people who don't consult the BBC's online INFAX catalogue for revision, no, these are the people who wrote it.

Well, two of the team are Sitcom Superfans. The third is a moderately well-known celebrity; this is cable television, and the budget doesn't stretch to the brains of Jade Goody, and let us be thankful for small mercies. Sue Perkins and Geoff Lloyd were on last week's episode, and other guests include Ian Lavender, Linda Robson, and Jenny Powell. The opening round is a set of home questions, about the show the team is advocating. We see a clip, then there are couple of general questions about the show in general, and an observation question from the clip just played. So far, so banal.

But it does get better. Round two is a version of Call My Bluff, only played with sitcoms. Was there really a 1986 BBC2 broadcast pilot called Ahoy Campers, in which an Edwardian squire drove round a fifties holiday camp in a converted ice cream van shouting through a loudhailer at the visitors? No, it's something we've just made up, and the teams are rewarded if they can spot the thorn amongst the roses.

Following the commercial messages, and we note that there's no little puzzle for viewers to think about during the break, the show takes a line from The Generation Game, in a round called Reg Could Do Better, for reasons that will make complete sense to anyone who knows Danny Baker's work. And no sense to anyone else. The lead Superfan is invited to re-enact a well-known sketch from their chosen sitcom, with assistance from a guest - an actor, a dancer, a banjo-player, the only limit is the production staff's imagination. And budget, but we don't notice the small amount of money, the show's that good. Some thought has gone into the choice of activities, as this semi-improvised comedy round provides many memorably surreal moments.

Round four is a quickie, with the titles of one sitcom shown to the theme music of another. Name the two shows, and sing the missing tune, and wonder if this could be Pick Up One Sitcom Song To The Tune Of Another. Finally, there's a quick fire round, alternating between "home" questions, on the chosen sitcom, and "away" questions on any other comedy. The team with the most points at the end wins, and gets to have an episode of their comedy played out immediately after the show.

This prize seriously limits the repeat opportunities available to the quiz, and that's most unfortunate. Combining five existing quiz show formats in a half-hour slot - the whole setup is designed to mimic Telly Addicts - is good going, but to make it entertaining and worth watching is the mark of a true professional. Danny Baker is in his element here, being slightly surreal while paying tribute to popular culture.

It may have been almost ten years between UK Gold quiz show commissions, but with this and Les Dennis's Classic Comeback, the channel has made the wait worth while. Note also that Sitcom Showdown is made by UMTV, the production company owned by Chris Evans, and responsible for such sure-fire cancellations as Boys and Girls and Live With Chris Moyles. Came right in the end.


Heat 5, 5 May

Andy Cobley brings us back from our short break; he's Mountaineering in the UK. Bit of a portmanteau round, as evidenced by the lack of a Wikipedia entry. Some of the answers - "Faith, Hope, and Charity", and "Adam and Eve" - were guessable, but this is perhaps a too large subject. 7 (2).

Norman McGregor Edwards is taking US Military Aircraft of World War II. This column knows nothing about the topic, Mr McGregor Edwards does, scoring 10 (0).

Paula Keaveney has the Rebus novels of Ian Rankin. Again, we know nothing of these books, but do note that Gayanne Potter - the voice of the Riddle Book on Raven - also played Siobhan on the telly version. 11 (3) is Ms Keaveney's score.

Eliot Wilson will take Michael Schumacher. In last year's Junior Mastermind, Trystan took the same subject and scored 11. Mr Wilson does almost as well, finishing on 10 (1).

Mr Cobley gives a plug to the Mountain Rescue service, a vital lifeline for the community. His general knowledge round finishes on 15 (5), which doesn't feel like a winning score.

Mr McGregor Edwards notes that the UK never actually paid for the aircraft - the US donated them on the Lend-Lease scheme. His general knowledge round never really gets rolling, finishing on 15 (4).

Mr Wilson was captain of the St Andrews team on University Challenge 2004; they fell in the semi-finals to Magdalen Oxford, and he scored over 300 points for the side and was our nominated Best Buzzer for the tournament. Not quite as many tonight, but he does finish on a challenging 23 (5). You don't reach the UC semis without being decent, or from Magdalen.

Ms Keaveney is a councillor in Liverpool, though not standing on this election day. She does put forward a plug for Liverpool the City of Culture. We link to her website for completeness, and note that it is very yellow. Like Mr Wilson, INFAX says this is her fifth television appearance; she won't make a sixth later this series, for her final score is 20 (9).

This Week And Next

To Montreux, for the Golden Rose television awards, only to find they moved away a few years ago.

To Lucerne, then, for the Rose d'Or awards. British winners were all around - the team from Look Around You (Thames) won best comedy, Extras (BBC) took the best sitcom, an episode of the Friday Night Project (Princess) was the best variety show on the planet. And there's more. The Reality award went to The Apprentice (Mark Burnett / Thames), and the Greatest Game Show On the Planet Today went to Deal or No Deal (Endemol West).

Some other companies bought and sold shows. ITV seems to be grabbing every Endemol format they can, clearly forgetting the clear success that was 24 Hour Quiz. For the Rest of Your Life will provide a prize every month for the remainder of the winner's life; it's not immediately clear if the winner will then take part in a quail shoot with The Banker. Show Me the Money will award a prize by a mechanism that may or may not be in the player's control. This is Endemol's stock-in-trade, isn't it, shows that may or may not be fair. We also learn that ITV's home-grown success Cash Cab will be back for a new series at the very end of June. This column is pushing for an early evening slot, such as 7.30 on Wednesday.

Jonathan Friedland wrote in the Guardian this week about the lessons that The Apprentice brings to life. The 60-minute commercial for Alan Sugar and his company is still occupying huge chunks of prime-time BBC2, with no end to the tedium in sight, and Mr Friedland reckons it's the single best summary of contemporary society. "The show serves up plenty of reality TV's drug of choice: stand-up rows and full-throated conflict... Four-letter swearing is now entirely routine; an hour of BBC television given over to an unending stream of it without a bleep to be heard... The programme rests on, and reinforces, the ideological assumption that has underpinned politics since the 1980s - that the only goal that really matters is profit." The piece doesn't mention Mr Sugar's notorious appearance on a Labour election commercial last year.

With Jet Set resting for the week ending 22 April, Strictly Dance Fever's 5.8 million viewers made it the top game show of the week, bettering Millionaire by half a million. The Apprentice continues to place third, 4.8 million tuned in for this week's lesson in Sugarism. Deal lagged a full million behind, and Saturday's episode (opposite the football) was less viewed than Easter Monday's University Challenge. Link and Eggheads had just under 2.5 million, Mastermind came back well with 2.3m, the same as is-it-a-game-show Great British Menu scored.

Eight showings of New Bullseye dominate Challenge's ratings, picking up six-figure crowds twice a night is a fantastic result for the channel. Pop Idle US seems to be stuck at around 650,000, roughly twice More 4's Deal repeats. That'll Test 'Em had 270,000. Annoyingly, no scores are available for UK Gold.

Highlights for next week include Joe Pasquale hosting The Price is Right (ITV, 5pm weekdays, also 12 noon Monday). The erratic scheduling of University Challenge continues, both semi-finals go out from 8pm Monday, and the BBC2 scheduler can have this rocket with our complements. Both of those will feature in the next Week, but a review of BBC4's Never Mind the Full Stops (10.30 Thursday) will not be with you for some weeks.

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