Weaver's Week 2019-10-13

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The Weeks of the 2010s: Cookery | Reality | Quiz | Talent | Crafts and Childrens | Entertainments

The good people at Creamguide note that we're in October 2019, and still no-one has worked out what this decade is to be called. We'll cogitate on that problem as we continue our review of This Decade Without A Name.


Part 3: Quizzes

Everybody likes a smart Alec

When looking at the broadcast quiz, we can arrange shows on a line. At one end, the shows that rely almost entirely on their gimmick; at the other end, shows that are all about brainpower. They're often serious in tone, and rigorous in their questioning.

Only Connect is the darling of this smartie-pants set. First aired in 2008, to audiences in the tens of thousands, the show has grown and grown over the decade. So big that it outgrew BBC4, and was snapped up by BBC2. So clever-clever that they stopped using Greek letters, and indicated clues with Egyptian hieroglyphs. The show's atmosphere arises from some skilfully-written questions, honed into precision missiles by a pack of question editors, each one a loaded bullet balancing entertainment with accuracy.

Only Connect (2) Victoria Coren Mitchell: just another day in the office.

There are two secrets of success for Only Connect. For some viewers, it's "can you beat the teams to the answers", because there's nothing in the world more fulfilling than being able to say "Oh, they're all pictures of C5". And for some viewers, it's being able to understand the answers when they're explained in Victoria Coren Mitchell's witty manner. "Yes, the first is a lion from literature, the second is a witch from TV and film, and the last is a wardrobe from Ikea."

Only Connect (2) Just another brilliant question.

Many quizzes have tried to replicate Only Connect, none have succeeded. After the show left BBC4, the minority channel tried another quiz, Hive Minds, but that was six-sided not-quite-fun. Victoria's louche brother Giles Coren hosted 500 Questions on ITV, a brief series consisting of (er) 200 questions; it was the best international version of a poor format, so nowhere near good enough for a second run.

The CBBC channel's biggest quiz of the decade is Top Class, hosted by Susan Calman. In this contest, primary school children are tested on their knowledge of the standard curriculum for England, and on subjects the teams have nominated themselves. Learning is a team activity, done jointly between pupil and teacher, and the tables are turned in the middle "Test the Teacher" round. Everyone has great fun, someone will (probably) win, and the show is a tremendous hit.

On Top Class today, it's Susan Calman!!!

Older students also have their moment in the sun. The 3rd Degree has been on Radio 4 since 2011, pitting university students against their own lecturers. University Challenge, a contest solely between students, continued on BBC2 almost every week of this decade, but has been blighted by poor questions and inconsistent refereeing. Mastermind has also continued on BBC2, and has gained a breath of air from its recent move to Belfast.

While Mastermind Cymru wasn't been renewed, S4C has still made plenty of quiz shows. Foremost amongst those is Celwydd Noeth, which was also made for STV and TV3 as The Lie. It's a very simple format – spot the barefaced lie amongst some facts on a given subject. The show is helped by how the lies get more subtle with each round, by how the cash prize goes up more and more quickly, and by how the choice of categories shrinks as the game goes on. While most teams take away £1000, the jackpot of ten grand has been won at least twice.

Celwydd Noeth Where's the lie on Formula 1?

Radio 4 has continued with its other quizzes – general knowledge contest Brain of Britain, cryptic crossword teasers on Round Britain Quiz, specialist music knowledge on Counterpoint, and a test of quotations on Quote... Unquote. There were also short series of Wordaholics and Gaby's Talking Pictures. Sadly, the present Radio 4 controller doesn't believe in specialist quizzes, which is a shame: we rather miss the occasional forays into gardening, food, or literature.

The most recent entry to the smartie-pants set: The Family Brain Games. Eight sets of players, drawn from different generations, test their skill and perspicacity against challenges set by the producers. While we're rooting for various teams, and against the people who think "put the blue block above the red block" means "put the red block on top of blue", we're quietly learning about biology and psychology. And it was all done in the greatest atmosphere: host Dara Ó Briain genuinely cared for the competitors, and everyone had their welfare at heart.

The Family Brain Games Congratulations!

Hard but more fun

Shows that are more quiz than entertainment, but not defined by their cleverness.

The prime example: The Chase. Television's most popular quiz has colonised the 5pm hour on ITV like Blockbusters three decades earlier. In each episode, a team of four contestants try to put money on the table by beating a proper quiz deity known as The Chaser. Get caught, and that player is out of the game – and so is their cash. The programme ends with a fast-and-frantic final chase, where the surviving players must answer more questions in two minutes than The Chaser.

The Chase One quiz to define the decade? This one.

This very simple format has turned into television gold. It's made stars out of its Chasers, and brought stability to ITV's early evenings after a decade of turmoil. The show is held together by Bradley Walsh. He's clearly on the side of "my team" against The Chaser. The opponent turns into a pantomime villain, it feels good to boo against this smartie-pants, and it's great to see them taken down.

Through familiarity, we learn about each Chaser's strengths and weaknesses – Shaun Wallace knows less about cosmetics than Jenny Ryan, for instance. While contestants are here today and gone today, the Chasers and Bradley provide a regular cast, characters that will grow in a natural way through the weeks and years. That's why The Chase has succeeded, we've seen all of them grow.

We should mention Brightest Family, Anne Hegerty's primetime series of puzzle and lateral thinking challenges. It's all done in a studio, and gave people a chance to shine just for being themselves.

Blockbusters What B is back! Back!! BACK!!!!!?

Digital channel Dave has had a number of quiz shows, most of them with plenty of entertainment and plenty of rigour. We didn't rate Compete for the Meat, though Al Murray made up for it when he hosted Al Murray's Great British Pub Quiz on Quest recently. Alexander Armstrong's Big Ask had comedians researching topics and then talking about them, an idea subsequently re-heated for the non-quiz Comedians Giving Lectures.

Dara Ó Briain did a pair of shows, School of Hard Sums about mathematics, and Go 8 Bit about computer games. He's also hosted a reboot of Blockbusters for Comedy Central, we reckon far superior to Simon Mayo's Blockbusters for the Challenge channel. The specialist game show channel had a few shows of its own, but who now remembers Brian Conley's Timeline, notorious for hiding its Big Final Question behind a promo for the show you're watching. Student television wonder Accumulate! ran into this decade, with witty and playful questions throughout.

Accumulate A crowning moment of awesome.

Back on the main channels, most of the new quiz-ent shows were in daytime. Channel 4 tried to prop up the flagging Deal or No Deal with quiz programmes – we liked the breezy 1001 Things You Should Know, and we're still hoping for a celebrity edition of The Question Jury. In the end, a revival of Fifteen-to-One with Dame Sandi Toksvig proved the most popular, and the show ran in a fourth decade.

Perfection proved a strong performer for BBC daytime. The programme was in trouble before it even began, a whole series had to be scrapped when they found contestants could see the answers to the questions. Perhaps this extended dry run helped Nick Knowles to get his feet under the format, a light and harmonious quiz. While other shows came and went – The Boss, The Link, Decimate – we'd always circle back to Perfection. And to Eggheads, which colonised 6pm for most of the decade.

!mpossible For Rick and the gang, success is not impossible.

All good things come to an end, and so did Perfection. It was replaced in the scheduler's affections by !mpossible, where the object is to get the question right, or at least wrong, and certainly not wrong on both counts. Even if you're not good at quiz, you can watch !mpossible for Rick Edwards' hosting, and interaction with the players, something seen especially clearly on the celebrity series. Whether it's Tony's nails or "Everyone should be like Laura", Rick makes friends with everyone on the panel, and this camaraderie shines through.

Fun with some rigour

Pointless debuted in autumn 2009, and benefited from a little polish over the coming years. By the time it replaced The Weakest Link at teatime in summer 2011, Pointless had found its groove: a chatty little quiz, where the questions and prizes facilitate plenty of good feeling.

As with all long-running shows, we get used to the staff. Host Alexander Armstrong can say so much by the way he repeats the answer: "Ronnie Docherty. Let's see if it's right, and how much it scores," with the implication "if it's up there, I'll give you the money meself." Richard Osman chimes in with something smart, or something relevant, or something resembling a pun.

Pointless Twelve for you to have a go at.

The gimmick on Pointless – the second most viewed quiz on television – is to get the answers no-one else has got. The show has made it important to remember the names of obscure countries (remember when Central African Republic was a reliable pointless answer?) and the new chemical elements (element 126: welldoneifyougotthatatholmium). The show doesn't sell overseas, it's somehow too parochial and mundane, but it entertains lots of people on the BBC.

Richard Osman has branched out into his own House of Games (3), where celebrities are asked trivial questions in an entertaining and amusing way. Which one word should you change to make this statement correct: "Belinda Carlisle's biggest hit was 'Scunthorpe is a place on earth'"? It's proven more popular than the other BBC daytime shows that were more gimmick than quiz: we think of Nick Hancock's Breakaway, the wonderful Jake Humphrey on Beat the Pack, and John Barrowman's Pressure Pad.

House of Games (3) Four of Richard's many friends.

For most of the decade, the National Lottery Corporation had an advert on BBC1 every week, and there was often a prize show wrapped around the draw. Many of the programmes were interesting and fun – we have a particular admiration for Secret Fortune, which did great business in Switzerland for six years. In It to Win It was a very long-running programme, and it couldn't have survived the passing of host Dale Winton.

Other Lottery shows have continued on air. Win Your Wish List invited players to name their prizes, and quiz each other for them – this show has since moved to Channel 5 on a Bosman freebie. Who Dares Wins has remained on the BBC's list of programmes, and bookended the decade by using lists provided by this very website. Another long-running show – Who Wants to be a Millionaire – finally came off air in 2014, when host Chris Tarrant gave his final final answer. A show of the same name with Jeremy Clarkson began in 2018.

Tenable Warwick Davis' quiz brightens up ITV daytimes.

Unlike its opposition, ITV occasionally tries other shows while The Chase takes a holiday. Most of them don't work: Babushka proved to be an empty Russian doll, Alphabetical took us at breakneck speed from A to zzzzzzz, and we pay tribute to anyone who watched Take on the Twisters. Cash Trapped had a couple of series, and could yet become a breakout hit. The most recent quiz hit from ITV is Tenable, a team game with Warwick Davis and five contestants who try to complete top ten lists; this show works because it's always clear what we're doing, and we get to know something of the players as the hour progresses.

The gimmick and the quiz

Another show that ITV tried during the summer break was Tipping Point. It's turned into a massive success. Take one of those penny falls machines from the seaside arcades, the ones that push a shelf forward and hope to get out more coins than you put in. Have it pay out large amounts of cash, potentially £10,000 in an hour. Keep the questions simple, so we have plenty of action in the machine. And have the programme hosted by Ben Shepherd, the nicest man on daytime television.

Tipping Point A slider?

There's something in this show for all ages, and Ben has developed a vocabulary for the regular viewer. "Ooh, a ghost drop, is it a rider? No, that's flat (phew!) but can we get the lateral on the mystery? Will anything get over the edge?" With its easy questions, we don't watch Tipping Point for the quiz. We watch it for the eternal battle: man versus machine, with Ben willing on humanity over the infernal contraption.

More recently, 5 Gold Rings has turned into a joyous hit. Phillip Schofield, the best broadcaster on television, asks people to put real gold rings on a giant LED floor. The aim is to answer picture questions. What's missing from this flag? Who in this picture would go on to be president? Where is Sheffield? Viewers play along by app, and by literally sticking their fingers on the television screen. Because it's Schofe, it's fun for all the family.

The Million Pound Drop Live Time is never on your side.

Play along by app was popularised by The Million Pound Drop Live at the start of the decade, a quiz where Davina McCall asked difficult questions with a few answers, and wanted people to keep their money. It burned brightly for a few series, then simmered along for some years, before coming back to daytime television as The 100K Drop for slightly smaller prizes.

Other quizzes based on gimmicks didn't quite gel. Hardball on BBC1 was perhaps two changes away from brilliance, but the competitive daytime market meant it didn't get a second series – a similar fate befell quiz-detective hybrid Chase the Case. Bowls was the subject of The Edge, the problem here was that there was too much quiz to determine who plays where, and nowhere near enough ball-on-ground action.

Ejector Seat Andi Peters and chairs they didn't get from Ikea.

ITV had its share of failures. Rebound was based on the bleep test, but proved just too complex for the daytime audience. If they can take the best bits of this and of Hardball, there's a winning format to be had. Andi Peters hosted Ejector Seat, a programme where losing contestants were literally tipped out of their chair. That's the gimmick, folks, and it doesn't entertain for more than a few episodes.

Primetime ITV had a few attempts to make shows, too. High Stakes had a video plasma floor that went up, and down, and had some numbers on it. The contestants were to avoid one of the numbers each time, and had a limited number of clues to use. Most players used their ten clues on the first ten answers, and walked away with £25,000; only the bravest went for the next level of £100,000. And only the bravest applied, knowing that the host was the oily, unctuous, sanctimonious, other words we can't put down in print Jeremy Kyle.

High Stakes Remember when Jeremy Kyle existed?

The Exit List asked players to remember all of the right answers to questions they'd faced – and all the wrong answers to questions they'd missed – in order to win a huge prize. The players were split up, and offered a contract to end the game cheaply, or play on for six-figure winnings. The star of this show was The Memory Maze, a set of 26 rooms. But ITV put it out in their No Confidence Hour, 8pm on Tuesday, and it sank without trace.

There were greater quiz failures this decade, all on Channel 4. Rory Bremner brought us Face the Clock, where the player being asked a question when time expires is out of the game. Quiz chicken, the prize jackpot can go down as well as up, and questions remain at a similar level throughout the show. The prizes tended to the puny, if not the downright insulting. And there was no clock in the studio to face, thus making the show's title a celwydd noeth.

Benchmark How many people are watching this show right now?

Worse was to come. Benchmark with Paddy McGuinness asked contestants to try and work out whether the actual answer was higher or lower than the average of guesses from other contestants around the pool. The format required Paddy to belittle and berate players for being wrong, rather than congratulate them for being right, and every successful show this decade has congratulated players for being right. There were no live reaction shots, no turnover of players, Paddy prattled on, and viewers thought "Stuff this, I'm off to watch Tipping Point on the other side." Benchmark drifted from 4pm to 12.10pm, and the final episodes were chucked out in the contractually-obliged repeats slot around 4 in the morning where they could be replaced by the speaking clock and no-one would notice.

If only no-one had noticed The Bank Job, eh. Fresh from the success of The Million Pound Drop, Endemol and Channel 4 had another live quiz game with real cash, this time set in a disused bank vault. George Lamb asks questions, a right answer lets you open a deposit box and take out what's inside, and then you've the chance to leave. Last person in, or lowest amount banked, is out of the game. There were inconsistent rules, host George Lamb had persistent technical difficulties, and all of this was needlessly exposed because they made The Bank Job a completely live show.

The Bank Job Turn off and get out.

The Million Pound Drop Live works live because it's in a television studio, and it's hosted by the unflappable Davina McCall. The Bank Job was done in a converted bank building, by a host who wasn't as experienced at live television. While the core game was brilliant – and we're surprised it's not come back since – the execution was atrocious. The series began with a Technical Fault caption, and ended by running over time and putting up the Test Card of Doom.

And those were the quizzes of This Decade Without A Name. At the start of next month, we hope to look at plenty of talent.

The Weeks of the 2010s: Cookery | Reality | Quiz | Talent | Crafts and Childrens | Entertainments

This Week and Next

BARB ratings in the week to 28 September.

  1. Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1, Sat, 9.4m) remains the top show on telly, inches ahead of Bake Off (C4, Tue, 9.25m). Coronation Street is the biggest non-competition show (ITV, Mon, 6.85m).
  2. Got Talent The Champions had its final heat (ITV, Sat, 5.15m). Celebrity Masterchef had its final heats (BBC1, Mon, 4.25m). The Chase (ITV, Fri, 3.55m), Who Wants to be a Millionaire (ITV, Sun, 3.2m), and Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, Sat, 3.15m) all scored high ratings.
  3. Only Connect (BBC2, Mon, 2.3m) beat off University Challenge (2.27m). The Circle launched its new series (C4, Tue, 1.95m), and Taskmaster continued (Dave, Wed, 1.12m).
  4. Other shows of note: A League of Their Own (The Satellite Channel, Thu, 605,000), Comedians Giving Lectures (Dave, Wed, 465,000), Countdown (C4, Fri, 460,000). New Supermarket Sweep peaked at 440,000 (ITV2, Mon).

A new series of Celebrity Hunted kicks off (Channel 4). For viewers on Ireland, Go Gasta sounds like knockout television (TG4). There's a new series of Tenable (ITV, weekdays).

Would I Lie to You? returns for Friday (BBC1), as does Breaking the News (Radio Scotland). It's the last in the present run of The Circle (Channel 4). Next Saturday features food and drink on Pointless Celebrities (BBC1), Sam and Mark on The Chase With Celebrities (ITV) – but also notorious bigot Ann Widdecombe, so we wouldn't bother.

Photo credits: Parasol / RDF, ITV Studios, Cwmni Da, Label One, Thames, RU:ON, Mighty Productions, Remarkable Television (an Endemol company), Remarkable Television (an Endemol Shine company), Initial (part of Endemol Shine), RDF Media, Victory Television Scotland.

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