Weaver's Week 2007-03-25

Weaver's Week Index

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


Raising the Standard

"The group want to emulate their Eurovision heroes."

A Song for Europe

BBC1, 7.30pm, 17 March

The annual chance to select a song that will do the BBC some credit at the Eurovision Song Contest, to be held in Helsinki next May. Last year's entry from Daz Sampson finished amongst the also-rans on the scoreboard, but votes from ten countries showed that it was more popular than the UK's last three submissions put together.

A new co-host this year: Fearne Cotton is a presenter who follows in the "New Eurovision" school of thinking, begun by Christopher Price, asserting that Eurovision is light entertainment of heavy importance. He co-host tonight is Terry Wogan, a man who epitomises the Old Eurovision mindset, that it's all a load of ridiculous tat, Europe is voting to find the worst song ever recorded, and that everyone south-east of Dover has two heads and is vastly inferior to those with Union Jacks on their passports. Fearne opens proceedings by showing a montage of some of the greatest moments from the last few years, to much derision from Wogan. He is annoying us already, and we're only five minutes in.

Liz McClarnon, one third of Atomic Kitten (big at the start of the decade, but nothing doing for a few years), begins proceedings, performing (Gonna make you) Happy. It's an upbeat song, owing a bit to Son of a Preacher Man, with a decent presentational gimmick of acrobats turning somersaults behind her. John Barrowman, one of the panellists, says that it's not as good as the Brotherhood of Man, showing his age. Mel Giedroyc, the panellist in the more sensible headwear, suggests that the chorus is a killer hook.

Brian Harvey was the singer in nineties boy band East 17, who haven't had a major hit in ten years. He's performing I care, and the song seems to have been composed to exploit the weaknesses in his vocal range. It feels like a song that a soul diva - someone like Beverley Knight - could have done justice to. Not that his rendition was poor, not in the slightest. Barrowman says it's a good radio song, and gets booed as though he were Richard Park; Mel makes a crack about "going from bad lad to ballad."

Song three is from Big Brother. Sorry, it's from Big Brovaz, a group that had half-a-dozen pop-rap hits earlier in the decade, and are now coming back to rescue a failing career. Is anyone spotting a connection here? Their performance of It's a Big Bro Thing is heavy rap, and though there's an upbeat groove, and a decent hook, we can't see this catching on at all. Barrowman says, "they were fresh, young, and modern." Yes, let's send a carbon copy of our 1995 entry. Giedroyc says that this is the future; we disagree, as there was no show worth noting.

This year's show is coming from the old TVS studios at Maidstone, Kent. It's bigger than the shoebox at Television Centre from which so many fans were turned away last year, but it's a shame that they've had to pick a venue that's so distant from many people, and that the crowd is so unenthusiastic. The proceedings are interrupted by a brief run through some of the more unusual entries into this year's contest.

Back to the contest, and the three pre-show favourites have been drawn in the second half of the show. Curious, that. Cyndi is the only one of this year's contestants not to have at least two top ten hits under her belt. Her song owes a lot to traditional tunes Loch Lomond, The Skye Boat Song, and Danny Boy. If the UK wishes to enter tactically, knowing that it's drawn between two showbiz acts, this is the one to go for. Wogan says that he's not heard a ballad like that "for years", evidently forgetting Chiara's entry a couple of years back. Barrowman wants bagpipes, Mel reckons that this is a relaxing number in the steps of Celine Dion. Will the UK actually send a competitor born in France? She'll certainly be able to work the media better than...

Scooch were big at the very end of the last century, and a contemporary song (such as one of their singles) would probably have been exactly right for Eurovision circa 2001. For all the "ba-da-ba-da-da"s, and dance routines with aircraft trolleys, one would expect Flying the flag to be a throwback from the 1980s. It's Old Eurovision through and through. One only has to look at the relative failure of Bosnia's throwback entry in 2005, compared to its great success with an ethnic song last year, to see the limitations of retro. Mel says that it ticks so many Old Eurovision boxes, and picks out that it's the sort she doesn't want anymore. Barrowman applauds the jingoism, evidently not remembering that it didn't work for the UK last year.

Hawkins and Brown is Justin Hawkins of one-joke pretend metallers The Darkness and Beverly Brown, a soul singer. They Don't Make Them Like They Used to Do is an upbeat stomper, albeit one without any semblance of a gimmick. Other than That Bloke From The Darkness hitting higher notes than his singing partner. It's very competently performed. Barrowman appreciated the beefeaters on backing vocals; Mel namedrops entries from the 70s.

Notwithstanding the lack of trust in premium-rate numbers since 0898gate began a month ago, the selection is by a premium-rate line. 25p for each telephone vote, and a reverse charge of 25p for each SMS vote. Up in the gallery is a representative from each of the other 41 competing countries, and they each select their favourite amongst the six acts. Where did they find a representative from Andorra? Wogan suggests that the European jury will be voting for the worst song; the winner is Big Brovaz. The first show comes to a sudden halt, as if they've over-run and are in danger of crashing the lottery show. Can't keep Dudleycoat waiting.

There's also been a change to the results show. Rather than have voting split into various regions, all the votes are added together, and the song with the most votes wins. Except, before that, the leader and runner-up will perform again, and there will be a final burst of 0898 jiggery-pokery. And, of course, because they've got a 30 minute slot and only 27 minutes of material, there has to be a huge pause between the announcement of which acts will not progress. Why do they have to name the acts who don't progress one by one, as this just leads to bad feeling (witness Justin Darkness's glares), and a suspicion that the show is about finding losers, not winners. (Checks recent results.) Yes, well...

That final pair is Cyndi's ballad and Scooch's hooks. The UK is in a unique position of selecting a song knowing full well where it is in the draw, and what its near neighbours will be. Scooch would risk getting lost in the middle of three trivial songs; Cyndi has enough to stand out from the crowd. So, which are the numbers to call. You are going to put up the numbers to call, aren't you? No? Oh.

The sound mix has been highly dubious all night, and finally falls to complete pieces during the performance of "Hard rock hallelujah" by Rovanemi's second-finest export and last year's winners, Lordi.

So, the big moment has arrived. After another interminable pause, the hosts count down.

Wogan: Going to Helsinki will be (three, two, one)
Fearne: Scooch!
Wogan: Cyndi!

That just about sums up the evening, doesn't it. A bunch of workmanlike songs, performed by people whose career highlights are behind them. Presentation by someone who may have been the face of light entertainment in the late eighties, but whose style and attitude is stuck resolutely in his glory days of twenty years ago. Maybe we're projecting a little here, but Fearne Cotton appeared unhappy with many of the xenophobic cracks from her co-host. The unseen hand behind all this is the "support" of a music business that is after a fast buck, and only ever offers the British public a choice of dreck or more dreck. Is it necessary to involve the music biz? Indeed, is it necessary to involve the public? Could the UK do worse than to have a jury of one or more people to make the choice?

Scooch were eventually declared winners of the show. We don't know if this is yet another entry for the 0898gate litany of premium rate incompetence, or yet another entry for the 0898-page long list of reasons why Mr. Wogan should be steered to Radio 2's very late evening schedule, perhaps in a direct swap for Alex Lester. This column will be very surprised if Scooch can manage to score more than the couple of dozen points that Daz Sampson got last year, or get anything from countries that don't border the Baltic or North Sea, or place above as many as two qualifiers. By watching the show on video, we heard their song three times in not much more than an hour, and that's quite enough for the year.

Now, can we arrange for Mr. Wogan to be unavoidably detained while transiting Copenhagen airport, and for Miss Cotton to be promoted to solo commentator..?

Post-scripts: It emerged on Tuesday that in addition to the performers on the stage, Scooch had two singers in the wings helping them to hit the high notes. The BBC insisted that the band had won fair-and-square, and we have noticed such performers standing in the shadows of the stage previously. Justin Hawkins accused the Grate British Public of racism in not backing him or the Big Brothers, but rather ruined his own argument by laying into David Sneddon, one of the most under-rated songwriters in the country, and far better than Mr. Hawkins.

University Challenge

Quarter-final: UCL v York

The full quarter-final draw is as follows:

  • Manchester beat Wadham Oxford
  • Durham bt Edinburgh
  • UCL v York
  • Warwick v Aberystwyth

York carry the albatross of highest scorers in the opening two rounds; UCL of having the shortest name in the contest. We'll begin with Hidden Transmission Indicator of the week.

Q: What annual event was conceived by the Frenchman Marcel Baison in Monaco in 1955? Based on the Festival of San Remo, it was regarded both as a part of the healing process of post-war Europe, and as an exploitation of the new...
UCL, James Doeser: The Eurovision Song Contest.

It had to be, really. A starter each to begin with, but we really have no idea how this happened:

Q: Referring to its ability to suck out the contents of an egg leaving only the shell, which mammal's name is also a verb meaning to make words ambiguous or to deliberately make statements evasive or misleading?
York, Nicholas Duvall: A duck-billed platypus.

"Weasel" is the answer. Best not to show Antan Dec this bit, otherwise they'll be talking about people getting duck-billed platypussed out of the game. The visual round is on car logos, and though UCL has three starters to York's two, the York side has the lead, 45-35.

UCL gets a couple of starters, but somehow manages not to know that the largest city in New Mexico is Albuquerque. Did they not watch any Bugs Bunny cartoons while growing up? Don't they know that, in any navigation, it is necessary to make a left turn there? No wonder the side is getting lost: six starters yield just four bonuses. However, getting the starters right does stop York from picking up points, allowing UCL to lead 95-60 at the audio round. And this week, it is a proper audio round, featuring extracts from talks by scientists.

Just when UCL looks like it might be buzzing its way to the last four, York gets a starter. But only one, UCL has two, and the game is already beginning to look like a done deal. The second visual round is back to Eurovision, or a vision of Europe, with the old standby, Name That River. UCL's lead is 170-95.

UCL gets a starter on the composer Shostakovitch, in what must be the only week this year when Radio 3 isn't giving at least one concert by the Russian. York misses another Finnish win, in the Most Environmentally Sustainable County category. Thumper is, perhaps, a little generous to allow "Tax Free Day" for "Tax Freedom Day", but with UCL up by almost 100, and only three minutes in the game, it's not swinging the game. In the end, York stages a short comeback, but is still beaten, 220-145.

James Doeser was the top buzzer for UCL, picking up ten (count 'em!) starters en route to 127 points. UCL had 14 starters in total, and 16/42 bonuses. For York, Matthew Lacey's six starters were worth 78 points; the side had 11/25 bonuses. No missignals by either side this week.

This Week And Next

ITV re-instated the last of its premium-rate lines on Monday; the BBC said that it would have to look very carefully at the way it uses phone lines. ITV subsequently confirmed that it managed to lose a number of votes in last Saturday's edition of Celebrities Dancing On Ice. Viewers are assured that this example of utter incompetence did not alter the result. It does show that we cannot trust the broadcasters to manage a simple phone-in vote correctly, and that they need to stop ripping off their viewers by pretending they can.

Andy Duncan, the chief executive of Channel 4, says that part of the blame for 0898gate comes from producers treating viewers as a commodity. If viewers are just a number on a ratings sheet, then it's easier to dismiss them. It's far harder to isolate people who correspond with the programme, who feel they are part of a club.

Richard Ayre will be the chairman of OFCOM's inquiry into 0898gate. Mr. Ayre, previously a senior manager for BBC News, will investigate if there is - to quote OFCOM - a "systematic compliance failure on the part of a number of broadcasters, whose actions appear to contravene existing consumer protection rules." Refreshingly, Mr. Ayre's committee will also examine if the existing rules reflect viewers' expectations.

Tessa Jowell has said that if OFCOM and ICSTIS weren't able to take "satisfactory action" against the 0898gate offenders, she would give them more powers. Mrs. Mills, who has a history of not watching programmes before criticising them, said, "There is clearly a problem that has been growing."

Other news: OFCOM has approved a variation in ITV's license, allowing it to reduce its children's output to a mere five hours per week. At the start of 2005, ITV was committed to airing 16 hours per week, not per month.

In slightly less depressing news, ITV has confirmed that it won't be bringing back Celebrity Love Island. The show has been completely eclipsed by the very minor success of Channel 4's Shipwrecked.

Before introducing the verb "to duck-billed platypus", Antan Dec will be heading to North America, hosting a version of Wetten Dass?

Connie Fisher, winner of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, has reduced her workload from eight performances a week to six. It's on doctor's orders to save her voice, and her replacement will be Aoife from the programme.

This year's William G. Stewart Memorial Campaign to restore the Parthenon / Elgin Marbles to Greece is headed by Edward O'Hara and Andrew George. William G. is appearing on BBC1's new show The People's Quiz, which we'll review after Easter, when the game proper is under way.

BARB ratings for the week to 10 March gave Dancing on Ice (8.05m) the win - the low score because they were up against a high-profile football match. Afterwards, Celebrity Star Ac took 5.95m, with Millionaire on 5.65m. TV Burp (4.55m) beat Friday's Castaway (4.25m).

On the minor channels, Masterchef stretched its lead, picking up 3.85m, and only beaten on BBC2 by Crufts. Dragons' Den had 3.55m, Link 3.4m, and UC 3.3m. Deal or No Deal is losing viewers at a rate of knots, down to 3.1m. Eggheads had 2.35m, an unscheduled Masterchef summary after Monday's UC took 2.25m, and Ready Steady Cook 1.9m.

Castaway on BBC3 had 515,000, putting a serious dent into Pop Idle US, down to 555,000. ITV2's Dancing on Ice also had 515,000. Raven on CBBC had 260,000, and beat Deal on More4, a mere 225,000. CITV enters the ratings this week, and Jungle Run had 195,000 viewers on Monday. Challenge's top programme was Saturday night Bullseye, 85,000 tuning in.

Highlights this week include a new series of The Apprentice, replacing the last two winners, who have both left Amstrad. Alan Sugar says this is the best series yet, which raised our hopes that he had given up the show and found something less obnoxious to do. 9pm Wednesday, BBC2 in Scotland, BBC1 everywhere else. Channel 5 celebrates its tenth birthday with I Blame the Spice Girls (8.30 Friday), and this column will reflect on what the fifth channel has brought us in a week's time. By then, we'll have seen the beginning of Any Dream Will Do (BBC1 Saturday). UKGameshows site founder Chris Dickson will be celebrating his marriage to Meg next Saturday; our very best wishes for a long and happy life together.

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