Weaver's Week 2013-07-07

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The first week of July, and thoughts naturally turn to overseas. We would discuss the noises coming out of the Netherlands, but our language skills aren't up to it: we don't even know what "deze band zijn geweldig" means. So we look to the west, and ask our Texas correspondent for something worth watching and reviewing. Big Brother? We're having enough difficulty with the UK version at the moment. So let's go for something a bit more simple.



Dare To Pass and 51 Minds (an Endemol company) for ABC (a Disney company), from 23 June

The reality show where people try to find a pretend murderer.

Now, for the United Stations, a clarification. That's a *pretend* murder. Fake. Make-believe. Not real. Acting. A masquerade. A simulation. A sham. A performance. No contestants were harmed during the making of this programme.

No-one is actually murdered.

Only killed on screen. Not in real life.

ABC (Disney) doesn't have a good reputation for airing quality shows. They had the North American rights to Millionaire, and ran celebrity editions for years without inviting the public. They have a show called Bet On Your Baby, which sounds wrong on more levels than Eamonn Holmes talking in an express lift. They had rights to Fame Academy, and pulled it after two shows.

And they have Whodunnit, which is a show about solving a number of gruesome, grisly, and visually interesting deaths. Thirteen people have been invited to Rue Manor. There, they gather fruit in the fields, whistle brief musical motifs, decorate each other with flowers, and see bread fall from the sky on gilded parachutes. No, wrong game.

Giles, the butler.

Thirteen people have been invited to Rue Manor. One of them is a killer. One of them is a staged victim, a hired hand who will be assassinated in the first ten minutes. There, they meet Gildart Jackson, playing the lead acting role as "Giles the butler". You'll remember him as Gideon from Charmed, and Man In The Bowler Hat from Early Edition. Don't think he's ever been in Casualty, so he's not actually famous. Giles the butler speaks in a refined accent, we think trying to be the upper-class nobility from New England. But we could be completely wrong.

To explain how this works, we're going to explore an episode in full. It begins with one of the team taking a jump in the pool. Hang on, this chap is on fire! That can't be terribly healthy.

Oh my word, they killed Kenny! You blighters!

Indeed, we swiftly learn that Kenny is no longer a contestant, on the grounds that he is dead. The other contestants are given the choice of three possible locations. They can examine the crime scene, the place where the body was found. This week, the clues are that some unusual slippers were in the pool, and there was a locket.

They can go to the last place where Kenny was seen alive: here, there's a jewellery box, and there is some charring around the door frame, but none on the rug.

They plaid to win.

Or they can go to the morgue, where a post mortem examination is taking place. The players aren't expected to dissect a corpse, but there may be something useful on the body. Such as, some pyjamas different from those the rest of the guests are wearing. As each player can only visit one place, they must chat with the other contestants, share their knowledge. Of course, this could be partial and inaccurate knowledge, either through innocent omission or deliberate misdirection.

It's about this point that our Texas correspondent got bored and switched off. This is terribly unusual, she watched every single episode of Dawson's Creek. Even the boring ones involving Dawson.

For the remaining viewers, there's a scavenger hunt to watch. Giles the butler brings in a riddle, which leads to a partial clue, which in turn leads to a big clue towards what happened. This is fun, this is exciting, this is mind-taxing. It's five minutes of ace television.

Blether waffle burble rhubarb.

And then the energy is drained from the situation faster than a short-circuiting battery. They've rushed through the treasure hunt, and then get involved in some tedious and utterly zeebsome politicking. "Just go away", says Benny to Kelly. We could say the same about this segment: even though we're watching it via video download, we're wondering where the remote is. The whole show is narrated by the contestants in flashback. It's the fashion in North America, and it's never caught on over here. There's a very good reason why it's never caught on over here. Not that it's as boring as anything, though it is. No, the reason it's never caught on is how it violates the basic principle of story-telling: show, don't tell.

There were cameras following the contestants around, watching them during the puzzle trail. There were cameras during the post-puzzle de-brief, the producers could edited together this footage to demonstrate the story without ramming it down our throats. Just ask the people at Big Brother (UK), where narration has rarely gone beyond the basic and factual. Whodunnit even has a credible Marcus Bentley, they could have Giles the butler giving the occasional voice-over.

By the end of part three, the viewers know how the murder was committed. Short social messages from "Whodunnitkiller" appear on screen, as though they were writing on The One And A Half Million Dollar Drop. The contestants might know how this happened. They sit an examination to test how well they knew their method. But this doesn't make for good television, so they're invited to give a short presentation in the library, pretending to talk to the killer, and suggesting who they currently think is responsible for the deaths. This talk is not so much chopped up as it's made into mincemeat, with half-sentences strung together. We've seen Big Brother, we know how editing is done to guide and influence the viewer.

Lenny has to do it all again next week.

At dinner, the actual method is explained to the viewers and contenders. Cards are handed out, to determine who is and isn't safe from the next elimination. It's a simple process, but they manage to spin it out for six minutes. Longer than the entire puzzle chase earlier. And, with two ad breaks during the exposition and reveal, it's almost a quarter-hour of people's lives. We could have jumped over almost half of the programme and missed nothing of substance.

That elimination? It's a faked murder, which will be solved in the next episode. At least the losing contestant goes out in style.

Oh my word, they killed Penny! You blighters!

Credit where it's due, we found the last five minutes of episode one to be properly suspenseful. We shared in the contestant's lack of knowledge about who was going. And, er, the spectacular deaths are spectacular.

We can, perhaps, forgive the producers breaking the rule of "show, don't tell". We can't forgive them for breaking the rule of their chosen genre. A good murder mystery misleads on three points: who did it, what did they do, why they did it. In this show, the last point – the motive – is completely ignored.

What the killer did is laid on with a trowel. It's made so blatantly obvious that anyone with half a brain could work it out. Well, we say that, but then we refer back to the opening, where it emerged that some of the viewers thought losing contestants really were going to be really deaded on network television. Trust us, no-one dies on network television, They leave that to minority news channels.

The hottest part of the programme.

Who the killer was? We have nothing to go on. The show is called Whodunnit, and the "who" question is completely left to the background. No direct clues to the contestants, it's difficult to find guilt from the limited interactions, and all the deaths are done by proxy or off camera. We're further hampered by the way the contestants are mostly interchangeable: was it Joey, Jeffy, or Jamie who came out on top this week?

And the pacing is a problem: a quarter of the programme is administrivia, explaining the crime to the hard-of-thinking and determining who might leave. If we were watching in real time, we could tune out at 40 past the hour and come back at 58 past. We'd miss three ad breaks, and the formal answer, and that's it.

Other commentators have noticed some puns, and reported they're very funny. We confess to not noticing these jokes until we went back and looked for them. The opening monologue on any episode of Accumulate! had more and stronger puns. "Dontae's Inferno"? It's no "Whitney Euston".

We're bored, we don't get anything on who's doing it, and we don't actually care who wins. And we're not intellectually stimulated: apart from the murder aspect, these crimes could be solved by the smart twelve-year-olds of children's detective books. It's less CSI than CBBC.

Giles handles our opinion of the show.

Only Connect

Series 7, match 3b: Francophiles v Fell Walkers

One of the Francophiles can order a beer in every major European language. He knows what "deze band zijn geweldig" means. Another of the team has translated 3000 racing terms into French. One of the Fell Walkers is going through all the principal peaks of Yorkshire, another was dropped on his head at his naming ceremony. Walls 313 and 314.

"Missing vowels for five points!" Connections starts that sequence, and the Francophiles think about "Iron ____" things for three points, take "it separated NATO and the Warsaw Pact" for confirmation, and score two. "The Eye of Horus was looking at me in a strange way" says the Fell Walkers. They have: "My toe bleeds, Betty", "Teacher! Teacher!", "Who cooks for you", and having hovered around sitcoms, go for "Foreign translations of UK sitcoms". Good, but not right. "A little bit of bread and no cheese" is the giveaway: transcribed versions of bird calls is a bonus. The Francophiles are asked what birds these are for, and reply, "Tit". We did this joke in series five. 3-0.

Pairs of countries for the Francos: Mali and Guinea, Ireland and Ivory Coast, and there's a similarity in the flags. Victoria is, perhaps, leaned on to accept it: the flags are rotated to get the other. Good three points. For the Fells, it's pictures: Battersea Power Station, a handshake, a brick wall, and that'll be Pink Floyd album covers for two points. 6-2.

Groans from the Francophiles as they find it's music: a couple of old pieces, a show tune, and "Breakfast at Tiffany's". They're going to have to guess: countries in the title? No: none of them has a country in the title. Songs named after movies? No. "Dinner for one", "Supper time", "The ladies who lunch", and the answer is now obvious. For the Fells, it's Associated Press, Ocean Spray, Morning Star, and John Lewis. Yes, the Morning Star is the socialist newspaper, and John Lewis the give-away: it's co-operatives, companies owned by their workers. Francophiles lead, 6-3.

Now, to Sequences. "Eye of Horus" shout the Francos, who see £1050, Quercus genus specimens, Bowler hat in US, and a description of St Leger Day. That's 1000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby, and Two Points. For The Fells: it's 1: Umbrella; 2: Uptown Girl; 3: Do They Know It's Christmas, so (oh gawds) 4 is going to have to be The 'Unchained' Melody. It's records that have been to number 1 in this many versions, and thanks to Simon Cowell's lack of musical taste, that's the answer. We wish it were Bob the Builder, as the Francos suggested. 8-3.

In their own question, classical music epochs going backwards, ending with "Renaissance" and two points. Over to the Fells, where 1 » 8, 8 » 10, and 10 » 19. Obviously. "We have no idea" say the Fells. We have no idea, either. It's neither 19 » 21 nor 28. "It's as nasty as standing on a plug," according to our host. Last letter of one is the first of another. OnE EighT TeN NineteeN Ninety. 10-3.

Pictures for the Francos: a flower, Holly Willoughby, some apples. The Francos are spending time thinking about it, and eventually come up with "Fifi Trixabelle". It's daughters of Paula Yates: Tiger Lily, and it's actually Pixie Lott. Two points. Over to the Fells, who have F: pale yellow, then Cl: yellow-green, Br: dark red. Chemical elements and their colour: it's not Na bright orange, nor I and brown, but I and purple. Colours of the halogens, and the Francos need convincing that brown is not purple. Never mind, they're 12-3 ahead.

The Francophiles (Ian Clark, Mark Walton, Sam Goodyear) stand in front of a brown background.

On the walls, the Fell Walkers kick off with sounds that bells make. Then they reckon they're in cattle-raising territory. And then they get the wall solved, we're not entirely sure what the links are. Films isn't enough: Brat Pack isn't right. Sean Penn, the link between those movies. Last group: words that can be spelled differently and sound the same? Homophones of British prime ministers? Ah, go on. Seven points!

"Le mur de l'eau", as they generally don't say in French. Terms in chess, governors of the Bank of England, members of The X Men. "Chess and X Men, right up my blind spot," notes Victoria. What's the fourth group? Plays by Samuel Beckett. Ten points!

So, at the start of the missing vowels, the Francophiles have a 22-10 lead. Looks impenetrable. Presidents of Footlights is the first group, including our own Sue Perkins, and some bloke called David Mitchell, You can see him on BBC3 right now, if you must. 2-2. Things a publican might say, that goes to the Fell Walkers by 2-(-1). They make up in Former Spanish Colonies, a 4-0 whitewash. Fashion tropes is more up the Fell Walkers' avenue, they get both points. It's nowhere near enough, the Francophiles have won by 27-16.

The Francophiles go into match L, the Fell Walkers come earlier in the alphabet.

This Week And Next

Elton John has said The Voice of Holland of UK is failing to find people who have hit records. According to Mr. John, "Nobody on The Voice in England has had a hit record – they're nonentities." Mr. John, whose last appearance on Top of the Pops was in 1977, somewhat undermined his position by saying he'd never watched a television talent show.

Besides, The Voice of Holland of UK has had plenty of hit records. Danny and will.i.am had a chart-topper, Jessie J has sold buckets of albums, and Tom Jones Tom Jones has a piece of kryptonite against the BBC Light Entertainment department saying, "You're Welsh and appeared on TOTP in 1987, how's about a one-way ticket to Eurovision?" We have no idea why Mr. Kettle John is calling any of these people "nonentities".

We're sorry to report the death of Bernie Nolan. She'll be best remembered as part of singing group The Nolans, or as Sheelagh Murphy on Thames Television's The Bill. She also competed in Channel 4's The Games, performed on Popstar to Operastar, and was part of impressionist / smut-writer / singer / other-bloke comedy show On the Waterfront. As in, "The Flashing Blade". Ooh, 'eck!

Tom Scott from The Internet has found out for himself just how hard it can be to get 21 Questions Wrong, as he tackled television's toughest quiz not actually on television.

BARB ratings for the week to 23 June, when The Voice finished, and BBC1 had the top three game shows. The Voice (7.95m), The Apprentice (7.5m), and a Pointless Celebrities repeat (4.5m). ITV's top was All Star Mr and Mrs (3.6m), BBC2 led with The Apprentice You're Fired (2.4m), Channel 4 with The Million Pound Drop (1.45m), and Channel 5 with the Big Brother eviction (2.1m). Mock the Week lost a million viewers in one week; at this rate, the last viewer will turn off their set at 10.21 next Thursday evening. Tipping Point Lucky Stars is on the way up, a half-million better at 3.3m.

Top digital game show Only Connect (810,000) didn't quite beat Big Brother's Little Brother (950,000), but did exceed the week's two editions of Deal or No Deal (less than 770,000). The Roux Scholarship brought 210,000 to UKTV Watch; spin-off shows demonstrating the cookery on Good Food had about 40,000 viewers. Big Brother streaming on 5* had similar figures, which isn't really the best use of digital telly space.

Coming up, we've Junior Masterchef Australia on Watch (11am Sun), It's Not What You Know is back (R4, 6.30 Tue), All-Star Mr and Mrs moves to Sunday (ITV, 8pm), and The Apprentice nears its merciful conclusion by spreading itself all over the schedules. Room 101 gets a spin on BBC1 next Saturday teatime (5.10), not that anyone will be watching, because Fort Boyard 2012 comes to TV5. Tu as les temps! (5.25)

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