Weaver's Week 2007-05-13
'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'
Peer amid song contests
Mr Babbage could tot up the scores faster than you could say "nul points".
Sony / Flextech for Challenge, 8.30 weeknights
"Why do all the listings mags refer to it as The Pyramid Show With Donny Osmond?" asked Brig Bother at his bar this week. Because that's how it appeared in the syndicated listings distributed by the Press Association, and those listings form the basis of the UKGameshows television guide, the Rusty Old Radio Times, the Black Country guide Whey Hey It's Telly, and such other listings magazines as might be available.
But we digress, and we've not even begun yet. The Pyramid Game, as it's billed on screen, has been around in many incarnations over the past thirty years. Describe words, phrases, and categories to a strict time limit; better team gets to play the centre game for cash. Over the years, rotating wooden boards with cardboard inserts have been replaced by computer monitors, but that's about the extent of the differences.
Our host is the now non-titular Donny Osmond. At least, we think it's hosted by Donny Osmond. Given the tremendous levels of zip, pizzazz, razamatazz, and other words using the letter "z", we may be seeing the first British show hosted by that well-observed parody of game show hosts, Guy Smiley. Mr Smiley - sorry - Mr Osmond is almost completely different from every other game show host on British television. While Anne Robinson pretends to subsist on a diet of lemons, and Noel Edmonds turns from being a friend with no dress sense to a harsh critic with no dress sense at the merest sniff of a deal, Donny Osmond is consistently cheerful and upbeat. Cheerful and upbeat to the point of being quite tiring; we found the half-hour show to both have too much host and be that bit too long. A more relaxed, less frantic host might have helped.
There's a lot of small things to criticise. Too much wooshing and sweeping from the visuals. We don't much like the constant background roar while the categories are being revealed, and have quickly grown to hate the noise at the start of each round. Correct answers are greeted with a very satisfactory bell, invalid clues with an almost-as-satisfactory buzz. Nor are we impressed with the way Mr Smiley perches on the bar of the centre circle, tapping the player on the shoulder just before they begin.
The pacing of the show feels wrong - we suffer a very slow start, with some unfunny jokes (whether it's Richard Easter's script or Mr Osmond's delivery isn't something we'd care to judge) and a long introduction to contestants and celebrities. To make the show come out on time, everything else has to be rush rush rush. And inevitably there's a call-and-lose quiz, with a first prize of a Donny Osmond robe and CD. It's not clear what the second prize is.
All that said, we do rather like the format, and if we can avoid the elongated start, it's actually rather moreish. Skipping past the adverts in the middle of the show leaves about 18 minutes of rapid-fire wordplay, and that can be fun. The celebrities are unusually high-quality for a cable channel - Dave Gorman, Phil Tufnell, Lesley Joseph - and they're all able to play a good game. Get a less in-your-face presenter than Guy Smiley and they'd be really cracking.
YLE for Eurovision, UK airing on BBC3, 8pm Thursday
Ooooh-kay. There are some giant icicles on stage, some nymphs dancing the tango until they do their Bucks Fizz impression, Jill Frost playing the accordion, a man in a very large top hat, and another man bringing in a truckload of jam spoons and talking all over the European National Anthem. Welcome to the surreal spectre of the fifty-second Eurovision Song Contest.
This contest will actually last somewhat longer than fifty seconds - there are 42 songs to get through, ten of them twice, and that'll take about six hours of screen time. Jaana and Miika are our hosts, speaking perfect (if slightly accented) English, and perfect (if slightly accented) French. The hall is huge, perhaps large enough to accommodate all of the participants in the audience. The voting numbers are flashed up on screen in very, very, very small print. Bring your own binoculars.
A slight change to our coverage this year: the semi-final review will only discuss the eighteen songs that don't make it to the Saturday final. The ten that do qualify will be mentioned, but not reviewed.
01 Bulgaria. They went through.
02 Israel. Teapacks are a ska band, singing about the people who would wish to destroy the world, led by a bloke who looks like George Dent's teacher brother. And they sing in English, French, Hebrew, and probably slipped in a few words of Sanomi while we weren't looking. It's an entirely entertaining performance, and if it were last up, would be sure to qualify. As it's second up, not going to happen. A loss.
03 Cyprus. Attention is focussed on a young lady in a silver dress and slightly damaged arms; her backing band has a drummer, bloke on keyboard, and guitarist with an entertaining haircut. There are also two backing vocalists in the shadows created by a blue-and-white video field. All this visual description (wind machine! Smoke bombs!) is to hide the fact that there's almost no song here, just a lot of chanting. And in French, for no obvious reason, or benefit. Scores from the semi have not been released, but we're sure that Cyprus has at least a dozen points to its name.
04 Belarus. Qualified.
05 Iceland. Good grief! It's Sebastian Bach of early 90s hair rockers Skid Row! Er, no, it's Eirikur Hauksson performing a mid-Atlantic rock song that seems to have spent the past decade-and-a-half under the waves. It's anthemic and epic, but any song that goes, "Rock 'n' roll can heal your soul" is not going to be coming back.
06 Georgia. They went through.
Six down, forty-six to go. Jaana and Miika talk about the new countries, and share a joke in Finnish with the crowd. We're just pleased that the heart logo has finally been retired from the screen (though not from the CD) after three years, replaced by a water-drop. It was really getting old. The staging included a wrap-around video projection wall covering at least two-thirds of the circle, the almost inevitable video floor stretching into the backdrop and - via a steep drop - well into the audience, and an arch that spirals off into the Haartwell arena ceiling.
07 Montenegro. Last year, the selection process for the ESC exposed the fault lines between Montenegro and Serbia, paving the way for the two countries to go their separate ways. Steven Faddy has replaced perpetual Montenegrin nominees No Name, and dressing everyone in whites and pale browns is very 2004. Steven and his backing band put their energy into the song, not least when the drummer tries to smash his borrowed kit. Never looked likely to progress.
08 Switzerland. DJ Bobo and his (uncredited) female singer manage to get past the six-people-on-stage rule by the clever ruse of employing some tailor's dummies. The song is rather reminiscent of every Eurodisco hit of the late 1990s, which is hardly surprising when one remembers DJ Bobo's commercial success in the late 1990s with Eurodisco hits. The performance is one part the menace of Lordi to two parts synchronised dancing, with more false endings than Tony Blair's career. The Swiss are quite clearly going for the emo-goth-kids-in-black-nail-polish vote. But they'll already be tempted by the mysterious and faintly menacing Georgians, and the entry from Slovenia in about 80 minutes time will drain the last blood from the Swiss challenge. It's not the worst song of the night, and (for our money) did just enough to progress.
09 Moldova. Progressing.
We'll take the first commercial break, during which Paddy talks to the Israeli and Belarus entries, and appeals for viewers to email in their comments. And quickly discuss the camera-work - lots of close-ups, lots of shots from the edge of the stage, a fair few showing the empty seats at the back of the hall. There are relatively few shots showing the group but not the whole stage, which is a bit of a shame.
10 Netherlands. Edsila Rombley came fourth in 1998, when the contest was last staged in the UK. Two years ago, Chiara (third in 1998) came second in the main contest, but Selma (runner-up in 1999) fell in the semi-final. The latter fate awaits Edsila, who has brought her own podium, four backing dancers, and gives her best shot to a song that was never a contender. Even the late arrival of a break-dancing Beckham and a key change won't save her.
11 Albania. Frederik Nocci (and an uncredited female vocalist) are clearly dropping in en route to a night at the opera. "Take me home again", he sings about 30 seconds in, and who are we to refuse. "A frocky horror show," says Sarah Cawood.
12 Denmark. DQ is a drag queen, clearly trying to emulate the very moderate success of Lou (Germany 03). Eurovision has clearly moved past disco balls, feather boas, and levels of camp last seen at the Dale Winton impressionist convention. We're actually rather pleased that this didn't progress, it's a pale imitation of Dana International (Israel 98) and cynically aimed at the gay male Eurovision fan stereotype. How very Old Eurovision.
13 Croatia. Dragonfly crank the tempo back down again, with a gnarly old bloke performing a piece of light rock. It's utterly inoffensive, utterly bland, and almost the most refreshing thing we've heard in the first hour of competition. Shame we can't remember it five minutes later.
14 Poland. The Jet Set is telling us that it's time to party. Three gentlemen trying to be Tanal and/or Dave (Estonia 01), three ladies spend the first 30 seconds in a cage. Rather than give us a straightforward song, it throws itself into what we reckon is 5/8 time for the chorus, then back to 4/4 for the verses. Bonus marks for musical theory, though we hope this doesn't inspire a song in 11/16 time next year.
15 Serbia. What's Belgrade like at this time of year?
16 Czechia. Kabat is another hoary 80s metal band, more in the tradition of Iron Maiden and getting drunk on cheap cider than anything mildly glamorous. At least they have an excuse, they've been going for a quarter of a century. It's the first entry for the Czech Republic, and let's hope that they send something a little more contemporary next time.
17 Portugal. Sabrina is trying to end the longest losing streak in Eurovision history with the assistance of dancers with fans that turn into umbrellas, and two competitors and the theme from Strictly Come Prancing. And, to the surprise of no-one, the streak continues.
18 Macedonia. Did enough to go through.
During the second commercial break, Sarah Cawood (who has acquitted herself well tonight) talks to DJ Bobo.
19 Norway. Guri Schanke, her very short dress and two backing dancers are trying to out-flamenco Portugal, and achieve their goal with very little difficulty. It's another song owing a lot to Strictly Come Brucie, not least because the singer came second in the Norwegian contest, but also has some disappearing frocks.
20 Malta. Olivia Lewis is trying to avoid becoming the first Maltese entry not to get past the semi-final. Oh. There's a topless bloke banging a gong, dancers in the same shade of teal as the Serbians, and Olivia herself in canary yellow. The song is epic, with a certain Oriental feel, but requires her to squeeze in more syllables per line than is sensible. And rhymes "vertigo" with "indigo" in a move that would make Des'ree blush. Valetta, we know, is nice at this time of year, but not next year.
21 Andorra. Anonymous are the best British hope for success this year, reminding us of Busted. No jumps at the end of the choruses, but a key change is present and correct. Two things went wrong with their performance: the lyrics flipped from Catalan to English and back; keeping one language throughout (yes, even Catalan) would help. And the guys really turned in a poor performance - they didn't come close to nailing it. Judging from the good reports in rehearsals, it's quite possible that they peaked too soon. Even without seeing the scoreboard, they're certain to have returned Andorra's best result ever (fifth from bottom.)
22 Hungary. See you on Saturday.
23 Estonia. Gerli Padar is the sister of Tanel, the 2001 winner. She's made a complex song, and one that just doesn't feel like it's going to go anywhere. A has put through some very rum songs in the past, but not this one.
24 Belgium. The KMGs are fronted by a cross between Mika and Huggy Bear, according to Paddy O'Connell. Give yourself a jam spoon, that's a spot-on description. The song is brassy disco, complete with saxophone and trumpet, and a drummer in a trilby. It's like 1982 never ended, which is probably why it's not making the 2007 final.
25 Slovenia. Ear-tugging to Saturday.
26 Turkey. The diaspora did their usual trick; they're through.
27 Austria. Eric Papilaya emerges from a bizarre fabric contraption that also houses four red-clad dancers. His song is inoffensive and uninspiring. Middle-of-the-road, which may be enough from second-last.
28 Latvia. The last in the semi always qualifies, except when they don't.
During the voting, Sarah Cawood talked to DQ (Denmark) and the lead singer of the Serbian entry. Voting was extended to 15 minutes, from the traditional ten. There were two recaps of the songs, which neatly neutralises our request for a reverse recap. After that came a preview of the fourteen automatic qualifiers, then there was a modern dance performance. That's except for viewers in Britain, who were treated to Paddy talking with three-quarters of Scooch. Bet that they won't be showing the marching band during the Cup Final, either.
A quick word about Scooch, who have been promoting the song like practiced professionals. Britain has decided not to be clever, but if they're very lucky the British just might be celebrating their best result in the last five years. It's a testament to how far the UK's expectations have fallen over the past decade that fifteenth place would be the best result in five years.
It is a fact that all the qualifiers come from east of the Iron Curtain; it is a fact that, with the exception of Turkey, all of the qualifiers spent decades under Stalinist control. It is difficult to see this as a grand conspiracy against the western part of Europe. If there is a problem, it's that it feels as though the plethora of new countries in the east are voting for themselves. This is, of course, nonsense, and we've crunched the numbers in the past two years to disprove the allegation.
The EBU's voting structure does leave a lot to be desired, though. It was designed to find a single winner from 22 or so entries, and performs that task brilliantly. As an almost unintentional corollary, it successfully identifies the very worst songs. However, the system was not designed to accurately discriminate between the tenth and eleventh most popular songs in a field of 28. The 12-point ranking is absolutely fine, but it is being twisted to purposes beyond its design. The current system rewards countries with a few pockets of deep support ahead of those that are broadly popular, and those few pockets can prove the difference between qualification and going home. It's certainly a valid way of doing things, but it's not the only method to determine a winner.
From the telephone and SMS voting, the EBU has a ranking of all countries, in order, from position 1 down to position 28. It's only using the top ten positions, only using 55 of the 351 pairs of rankings. Losing five-sixths of the available information, measuring popularity by its peaks rather than its breadth, seems to be contributing to a groundswell of discontentment. As is traditional, we shall be analysing the semi-final (and final) results once they're published, and noting any apparent changes to the qualification positions.
This Week And Next
OFCOM's fortnightly complaints document is out, and it's The X Factor getting it in the neck. Not for being a piece of derivative nonsense, and not for messing up the phone bills - that comes at a later date. No, this complaint about Simon Cowell's programme comes from the use of a particular brand of mobile telephone in a "comedy" sketch on the show. The same brand of mobile telephone that sponsored the show. OFCOM decided that this could be interpreted as product placement, and deemed the programme guilty. After this piece of bad publicity, the mobile telephone makers flounced off and finished their relationship with the show.
More from the complaints department, and ICSTIS is investigating Deal or No Deal. No, the premium-rate telephone regulator hasn't branched out into vile shirts, but has been contacted by a number of people confused by how the show's 0898 competition works. Because the show is pre-recorded, the producers know whether the prize is for something good (like £70,000) or something comparatively rubbish (say, £500). The ICSTIS spokey said, "How can the producers say you can win three different amounts, if they already know which box has been selected? Obviously if only the minor prize is remaining, you can't advertise the bigger prize. That's misleading. We also need to know whether the winner's name is determined while the show is on or before it goes out."
A rather bored Channel 4 spokesnumber replied, "It's not beyond the wit of man to do that. Three staff are on hand at Channel 4 presentation to type in the name of the winner." No response to the substantive point - the prize is already known, and it's arguably false advertising to claim it's not. Waiting in the wings is Shaun Woodward, previously best-known for his defection from Conservative to Labour in 1999. He's now a broadcasting minister, and muttered something about the government imposing an outright ban on premium-rate phone-ins if broadcasters failed to clean up their act. We'll see it if it happens.
I'm A Celebrity veteran Uri Geller has been in London, raising publicity for his forthcoming talent show, provisionally entitled The Successor. He's looking for an astonishing performer, rather than someone to bend spoons.
Any Dream Will Do returned to the top of the viewing pile for the week to 29 April. 5.65 million saw the performances, and a similar number the endgame. HIGNFY attracted 5.55m, muscling ahead of The Apprentice on 5.45m. The People's Quiz had 5.05m tuning in for the draws, but fewer than 3.75m saw the main quiz three-and-a-half hours earlier. The Panorama investigation into rip-off phone quizzes had 4m viewers, and Question of Sport 3.8m.
Just to rub it in, it's Panorama 3, ITV 0. The commercial channel's entire Saturday night entertainment line-up was less popular than the BBC's current affairs warhorse. Grease is the Word had 3.85 million for the performances, Millionaire held on to 3.75m, and Gameshow Marathon (Golden Shot) 3.5m. Deal or No Deal peaked on Tuesday with 2.85m. With no Link, and no UC, Great British Menu was BBC2's top-rated game show, a season-best 2.4m saw the Tuesday edition. The final of The Underdog Show had 2.3m, and a part-networked QI 2.25m. Monday's Eggheads pulled 2.1m, and Adrian Chiles's Apprentice Fired show had 1.9m.
On the digital tier, Pop Idle US continues to play out to just shy of 600,000 viewers. Last in the series of WAGs's Boutique attracted 345,000 people on Tuesday, and Thursday's Deadline 340,000, making it a good week for ITV2. Deal or No Deal could only put one episode into the More4 weekly top ten, 250,000 there. QI on G2 had 115,000, and Challenge's most-viewed show was Friday night's Take It or Leave It, 75,000 tuned in.
The annual Rose d'Or awards were handed out this week. Best Reality Show On The Planet went to Secret Millionaire, the almost-game-show from Channel 4. Best Entertainment Show On The Planet went to Croatia, and The Pyramid, in which three well-known people try to win the audience vote by arguing about topical issues from within a perspex pyramid. Sounds like a sort of competitive Fighting Talk.
Highlights of next week: the Eurovision Song Contest final is tonight at 8pm (BBC1, Radio 2, RTE1, RTE Radio 1, and half-a-dozen satellite channels.) Another week, another new show on Challenge - this time, That's the Question (3pm weekdays).
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