Weaver's Week 2007-05-20
'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'
Flying the flag (upside down)
The Union Jack flown upside down is a sign of imminent distress. At the time the picture (right) was taken, the UK had failed to trouble the scorers.
YLE for EBU, BBC1 / Radio 2 / RTÉ Radio 1, 8pm 12 May
Irish state broadcaster RTÉ does not allow its television broadcasts to be seen outside Ireland. It does broadcast the radio commentary via satellite, and with a few technical adjustments (inserting a 2.7 second delay to the sound), it's possible for a determined viewer to watch the presentation from the BBC, and hear the sound as broadcast by RTÉ.
Is the Irish radio commentary team of Larry Grogan and Lucia Proctor better than television's Terry Wogan? Will the best song win? Will there be accusations of "political" voting bandied about, for definitions of "political" that are never given? Will the UK get the zero points all the way to the end? Approximately one of these questions will be answered in the negative.
We begin with the semi-finals, won by Serbia with 38 top-ten places. Hungary came second, and - according to the EBU system, Turkey finished third, though Belarus and Latvia scored more top-ten places. Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Georgia were also clearly through. By measuring the height of the peaks of support, rather than its breadth, the EBU rules put Macedonia (13 top-ten places, one win and four seconds) and Moldova (14 top tens, including three wins) through in the last two places.
Portugal and Norway had attracted support from 15 nations, while Andorra and Poland had 19 countries voting for them. Portugal finished 11th on the EBU list and Andorra 12th, let down by having just one top-three finish - the Spanish winners. Poland was runner-up in Ireland and Andorra, and Norway finished in the top three nowhere. By considering such preferences as have been published, the Condorcet set for the top ten eliminates Moldova and Macedonia, substituting Andorra and Portugal. If there is a systemic bias, it's that the scoring system is not suited for the purpose it is being put; for the second year running, pairwise comparisons exclude Macedonia from the grand final.
So to Saturday night's grand final, and the thought that the entire population of Rovaniemi could probably fit into the Hartswall Areena with something to spare. The settlement has produced Finland's most entertaining artistic export since Sibelius, and Mr. Lordi and his band performed their career-defining hit. A brief word of welcome, and we're away. There's a running skit with Krisse, who turns up as a fairy, is whisked off to the party in Helsinki's Senate Square, and then to the yellow-and-green room to meet some of the performers. The voting was begun by Mr. Santa Claus, interrupting his busy schedule; he also handed over the trophy in the middle of the catwalk, and that didn't work on telly. The interval act - first a song from rockers Apocalyptica, then a bloke escaping from a weather balloon, trapeze artists all over the hall, and someone eating a light fitting - did work, and was probably the best since Lumen.
"Ireland has never finished last at the contest," said Larry Grogan before Dervish's performance. In spite of the tricolour appearing on the catwalk, the meaningful lyrics, and the sense that this was the closest we'll ever get to another Riverdance, it was very difficult to make out the words. Five points from Albania was the lot, and RTÉ's Backchat had plenty of laughs at their fate.
The UK finished 23rd. Wogan was right, we should have sent Cyndi. Scooch delivered an adequate performance, complete with trollies displaying a montage of European flags, but this year was built for soft ballads, not slightly flat double entendres. Seven from Ireland, who kept up their end of the vote-exchange programme, and 12 from those Old Eurovision fans in Malta.
France finished 22nd, level on points with the UK, but having scored from five countries to Britain's two. This was utter bonkersness, three minutes of Richard le Brian's frantic running around the stage spouting nonsense, and including the Busted jump that Andorra didn't master. Eight points came from the principality, but Mr. Mad evidently misdialled across Europe.
Lithuania came in 21st place, 4Fun was a woman on a stool with a screen covering a jazz band behind her. Ten from neighbours Latvia, and top marks from neighbours Ireland. Spain took 8 from Portugal and 12 from Albania, but D'Nash - described by Mrs. Proctor as a Westlife clone, except they sing upbeat numbers - failed to set the world on fire. Nine top-ten finishes and 20th place.
Germany finished 19th on the night, though rise to 15th on a Condorcet count using the top ten. Roger Cicero performed a slinky little big band number, clearly trying to win Eurovision 1947. Twelve countries gave votes, nothing higher than 7s from Switzerland and Austria. Unlike the UK, Sweden did send their best T-Rex impressionist, though the song was a dead ringer for Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, but glam rock wouldn't be the order of the night. Six countries voted for Sweden, five of them sent 7 or more, Norway and Denmark sent top marks.
Breaking slightly with order, Latvian entry Bonaparte.lv came 16th, lowest of the qualifiers. Remember the BBC's Perfect Day video from a decade ago? Zillions of singers coming into view to sing a few words, then vanishing? Bonaparte.lv try to re-create that phenomenon, with six gentlemen in top hats coming on screen, delivering their solo line, then joining forces for what can only be described as light opera. About half-way through the voting, we were having flashbacks to 2003, with Latvia and the UK stuck on the dreaded zero. Eleven votes came in after the break to give a respectable finish, including tens from neighbours Lithuania, Estonia, and Ireland.
Hosts Finland came 17th, Hanna was the winner of Pop Idle Finland, and abducted some commuters from the 7.46 to Liverpool Street to play guitar. She looked and sounded almost exactly like Amy Lee from goth band Evanescence. Slovenia finished 15th after qualifying in seventh place; on ear-tugging duties this year was Alenka Gotar, a woman who sounded like the singer from Nightwish, the most famous Finnish metal band until this time last year. Slovenia won out for a particularly nifty effect involving hand paint, and if this were the Eurovision Goth Contest, we'd be off to Ljublijana. Ten countries voted for Finland, top marks from Sweden and Iceland; fifteen favoured Slovenia, none more than the 8 from Montenegro.
Macedonia was, again, lucky to get through the qualifiers, sending their 2002 entrant Karolina for a second shot, and gave her a teal green dress. It looked as though one of her backing dancers had dyed her hair in the exact same shade, but it's a hair band - far less impressive. The song didn't really go anywhere until she broke into English and used the rhythm and lyrics (well, "na na na") from Wild Dances. Assent from 12 countries, including four second places, secured 14th place.
Romania's folksy accelerando came 13th, with performers from Macedonia and Ukraine, and was the second song of the night sung at least partly in Italian. It felt like a dark horse, and started well - Spain and Moldova voted early and voted this top. Later countries were less generous, and 16 votes left Romania heading for the qualifiers.
Sopho was the first performer for Georgia, coming eighth in the semis, and turned in a bizarre performance, warbling on seemingly indifferent to four men in grey jackets twirling around her in a seemingly random fashion, before pulling out their long pointy swords for a bit of metal-sharpening. 22 countries voted this into their top ten, including top marks from Lithuania. Only four top-four finishes hurt, and 12th place ensures they're not coming back.
Eleventh place of doom for Bosnia-Herzegovina, who sent Maria, who opened the competition with a work of fragile beauty, with sea nymphs and a balalaika. If it were last up, they'd be back. Seventeen countries sent votes, Turkey and Hungary ten of them.
Moldova is this year's lucky country, sneaking through the qualifiers because of the structure, and taking the last automatic place in next year's final. Natalia Barau, her two backing singers, and three flag-waving backing dancers were all dressed in small leather outfits, and spend a tedious three minutes singing about something or other. Maybe it's our television set, but that orange backdrop really didn't work. The low-cut trousers evidently did, as 24 countries sent something, and Romania sent the lot.
Ninth place for Hungary. Former Pop Idle winner Magdi Ruzsa performed a faux-blues number while hugging a Bus Stop sign. "Why did you leave me?" she bellowed at the top of her shout. Because she sung for ten minutes and only three had passed? Because she looked like K. T. Tunstall? The song was better second time around - they'd finished a distant second in the semi - and picked up dribs and drabs from 22 countries, but only one top mark - from Serbia.
Eighth place for Armenia, Hayko had a tree in a howling gale, bringing out a power ballad, and planting a red stain on his shirt at the end of the song. Drawn last-but-one helped, as did top marks from Turkey and Georgia. Only eighteen countries voted for Armenia, and the Condorcet count yields their automatic place to Georgia.
Seventh place on the night for Greece, in what we reckon is the first time since 2003 that they've not been tipped as possible winners. Sarbel, a London Cypriot who looked as though he might buy a drink and letch for a night, danced with four girls wearing their modesty, a belt that would stretch into ribbons, and precious little else. Top scores from Bulgaria and (in the night's greatest shock) Cyprus, ten from the UK, and 25 votes in all.
Belarus finished sixth in the final, after fourth in the qualifiers. The stage for this year's contest was based on a pike's mouth, so things not naturally found there had to be added. The UK had to bring its own mental detectors, Sweden its own roundabout, Lithuania its own curtains, and Belarus had to bring their own doors. Koldun entered through them, and they later spun round to reveal two backing dancers. The song did nothing for this column, but 24 countries did give the points, top marks from Ukraine, Russia, and Israel.
Fifth place for Bulgaria, a one-place improvement from the semi, and proving that "Water" is an element of every successful Eurosong. Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan Yankoulov had clearly been doing their homework, and ditched the metal chain-link shirts from the semi-final to look even more like the White Stripes. It's a male-female duo, and the performance is a lot of screeching, a lot of drumming, very high tempo, but precious little song. 27 votes, and they were in contention until half-way through.
Turkey polarised opinion. Kenan Dogulu implored us to shake it like a 2004 Greek entry. Third place in the semi translated into fourth overall, with 23 votes including top marks from the UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, and Belgium. Does anyone sniff a diaspora vote?
Russia sent girls in school uniforms and came third. More echoes of 2003, not helped by the racing techno beat and mildly suggestive lyrics. However, there was nothing more dangerous than a flash of thigh, and the effect was pure Britney Spears. 36 countries liked this kind of thing, with Armenia, Belarus, and Estonia giving top marks.
After Bulgaria dropped away, the voting fell into a two-horse race. Ukraine came second, Verka Serduchka was one of six Christmas-tree decorations giving faux-ethnic noodlings over a techno beat. We tuned out after 30 seconds. Forty countries gave this something, top marks from Portugal, Poland, Latvia, Czechia, and Andorra; only the jury from Albania wondered if the emperor really was wearing a tree.
Though the contest was technically up for grabs until the second-last vote completed, it was clear from half-way through that Serbia had won. Marija Serifovic looked like Joe Pasquale or Harry Potter, performed on a carpet of red, and was slowly joined by five female backing performers. Just when we thought they're going to do the Riverdance trick - boring opening, lively finish - they do the other Riverdance trick, by going all ethnic on us. A very simple song, the first one in the semi-final that actually sounded like it could be a winner, and it turned out to be so. 36 countries gave something, with nothings from Andorra, Estonia, Lithuania, Turkey, and the UK.
It's the first time since 1998 that a song in a language other than English has won, and the first time that a really slow song has triumphed since Eimer Quinn's The Voice in 1996. More interestingly, it's the first time since 2000, and only the fourth time in the last sixteen events, that a country in the Central European time zone has won.
With the centre of gravity in this year's contest lying somewhere between Prague and Munich, it's not entirely surprising that the Western half of the continent has been having an almighty huff. "It's all political voting," screamed the BBC television commentator. "It's boring, these people haven't voted for quality songs like ours," said Ken Bruce on the radio. Richard Younger-Ross won the Peter Luff Award for Overreacting after tabling a motion in the Commons about bias in Eurovision.
This is, of course, sour grapes of the highest order. If we only look at the votes of Finland, Germany, Austria, Italy (er...) and countries to the west (so including Malta), we find that Portugal, Iceland, Poland, and Denmark make the final at the expense of Moldova, Macedonia, Georgia, and Belarus. Serbia still goes on to win the final, by just seven points from Turkey. Belarus and Moldova (again) miss the top ten, replaced by Bosnia and Sweden, for all of their 51 points came from the West.
It is a fact that only one of the eleven Euro-zone countries that could compete in the semi has avoided it, and well done to Greece for that feat. Whether this is a problem depends on whether you view winning Eurovision as a right - as the vast majority of Old Eurovision countries still do - or a privilege, as is the approach east of the rusted remains of the Iron Curtain.
Next week, we'll be looking into the rest of the voting, including the annual review of which countries like each other the most.
This Week And Next
Endemol Productions, the makers of Deal or No Deal, Big Brother, and just about everything else on Channel 4 these days, has been sold to a consortium led by Italian media company Mediaset. The group includes John de Mol, the founder of Endemol, who sold out to Telefonica in 2000. The main gainer appears to be Silvio Berlusconi, the majority stakeholder in Mediaset, and who is currently standing trial in Italy on fraud charges.
Blue Peter editor Richard Marson has stepped down, in a move not entirely unrelated to the programme's entry into 0898gate. Mr. Marson has taken a new role as an executive producer at CBBC.
The BBC has moved the final of Any Dream Will Do back by one week, to 9 June. By a fantastic coincidence, this is the same night as ITV will end the misery that is Grease is the Word. Even the show's credited creator, Simon Cowell, says the critics have been right to slaughter it.
The shuffle at the top of BBC1 continued in the week to 6 May, with The Apprentice (5.7m) beating out Any Dream Will Do (5.65m) by the narrowest margin. HIGNFY finished in a respectable third place, 5.05m tuning in. Question of Sport had 3.7m earlier in the evening. ITV's Saturday primetime shows continued to suffer, 4.15m for Grease Is The Word, 4.05m as Game Show Marathon did Name That Tune, and 3.55m for Millionaire.
Deal or No Deal's best result came on Friday, when 2.6m tuned in. It finished in a dead heat with that night's Great British Menu. The Apprentice You're Fired had 2.45m on Wednesday night, Monday's Eggheads tickled 1.95m viewers, and the Saturday repeat of HIGNFY appealed to 1.45m.
Pop Idle on ITV2 had 645,000 tuning in; Deal on More4 had 215,000. On G2, both Dragons' Den and QI pulled in 135,000. Challenge's most-seen show was the 6.30 Sunday edition of Bullseye, attracting 79,000.
Highlights of next week include Quote... Unquote (Radio 4, 1.30 Wednesday), and a Big Brother double preview (E4, from 10pm Friday), which contains Russell Brand and so should not be seen by anyone. It's the grand final of Great British Menu (BBC2, 6.30 Friday), the show providing an entertaining alternative to the news. Graham Le Saux and Michael Le Vell battle in the Game Show Marathon final (ITV, 6.50 Saturday), and BBC4 says Goodbye Children Everywhere (7.40 Saturday), an examination of how children's television has suffered death by a thousand cuts.
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