Weaver's Week 2021-01-10

The Week of the Year | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

January 1: Maybe this year will be better than the last. Maybe.

January 7: "We haven't had a lockdown for a while, have we?" Richard Osman on Pointless, moved to BBC2 for the second time this week.

Let's look back at some of the shows we've watched in the Christmas break.

Blankety Blank


Blankety Blank

Thames (part of Fremantle) for BBC1, 25 December

You know how some television shows squander 10% of their running time with a long and boring preamble? Blankety Blank gets straight to the point. All we need is the Blankety Blank choir singing their lines of plainsong and blank verse. In the first minute here, we also meet the celebrity panel, we're wished a merry Christmas, and see Bradley Walsh come out of an exploding Christmas present.

Blankety Blank Weaver's Week said this show is a load of BLANK.

Talk about starting with a bang.

Bradley slips in his own tribute to the masters of the game.

Blankety Blank Don't tell him, Georgie!

Blankety Blank remains a very simple game. Here is the setup to a joke. Can you supply the punchline? Or which punchline will you choose from two or three options. It's smutty, in a way that won't make too much sense to the youngest children.

Blankety Blank The panel is star-studded.

Emilia Fox, a proper actor from The Pianist and Silent Witness.
Amir Khan, boxer.
Sue Perkins, comedian and panel show host.
Jimmy Carr, wearing the Terry Wogan Memorial Toupee.
Anita Rani, token sensible person, from Countryfile.
Danny Jones, from Bungalow house band McFly and The Voice.

Now, there's a slight problem with this lineup. It's the right people, but not necessarily in the right places. Jimmy Carr was the funnyman on the show, the one who thought he should be hosting, just as Kenny Everett did to Terry Wogan. Should have been front-and-centre. Sue Perkins is the other comedian, needs to be as far away from Jimmy as possible, so top middle.

Blankety Blank Bradley checks Amir's spelling.

Amir Khan needed to be top right, as seat three is where they put the nice-but-inept player. How inept was Amir? Had to be reminded that "poop" ends with an extra "p", and doesn't start with an "s". We'd have put Emilia bottom left, which leaves Anita in the bottom right seat, and Danny in the daft-as-a-brush top left.

We also have a problem with the prizes. Back in the 1970s, winners might walk out of the studio with the teasmade (£7.50 from British Home Stores), or a new Raleigh bike (£25 from Shoppers World). Losers get the consolation prize of a Blankety Blank cheque book and pen (£80 from BBC Props).

Blankety Blank A 2020 Blankety Blank cheque book and pen.

These days, winners might walk out with a cheque for £500 or £750, or a hot tub and accessories. The star prize was a popcorn maker, widescreen tv, and cinema seats. That's … actually quite expensive. They've (gasp!) only gone and given this show a budget! Terry Wogan would be turning in his grave, or is that the board?

Blankety Blank Prizes people might want? That's a load of BLANK.

For all that they've changed the show by giving it a budget, it's still the same Blankety Blank at heart. It's light, undemanding, frothy, silly, and moves fast enough to never outstay its welcome. And when a contestant tries to compete a limerick by rhyming "Flo", "snow", and "melt", the whole panel wills him to lose. So did six million viewers.

Would we want a series? Perhaps not: we enjoyed it as a one-off, we watched it as a one-off, but wouldn't make time for a whole series. Will the BBC commission a series? 6.3 million viewers, fifth on Christmas Day (behind Call the Midwife, The Queen, Strictly, and Coronation Street), there's an audience for this programme.

Blankety Blank Bradley and the panel.

Miranda's Games With Showbiz Names

Miranda's Games With Showbiz Names

Monkey for BBC1, 24 December

Miranda Hart and some famous faces are on an internet call. Over the next 25 minutes, Miranda will give the people some silly things to do. She'll dish out points, and the couple with the most points at the end of the show will win a prize of tremendous – well, tremendous something.

Miranda's Games With Showbiz Names Top: Miranda, the Jenases.
Bottom: Ballas and Taylor, Williams and Brazil.

A show like this has three main points of failure: the host, the guests, and the challenges. It's possible that something could go wrong with the technology, but this didn't happen (or if it did, they edited around it well). The guests were familiar names – Jermaine Jenas and his wife Ellie, Robbie Williams and his bandmate Karl Brazil, Shirley Ballas and her romantic partner Danny Taylor. Given that it's Christmas Eve, and it's pushing 10pm, we can forgive them for not pushing the envelope with unknown names.

The host was Miranda Hart, and this column has never found Miranda funny. It's in the delivery, the way she seems to telegraph a joke before she delivers it, thus giving us a gap between getting the punchline and hearing the punchline. This is our problem, our loss. But because Miranda is the glue holding this show together, a problem with the host becomes a problem right through the programme.

Miranda's Games With Showbiz Names What a waste of Brussels sprouts. And we absolutely detest sprouts.

However, they could turn around the show with some excellent challenges. (SPOILER: they didn't turn around the show with some excellent challenges.) For the first challenge, one of each pair is to stuff large sprouts into their mouth, and try to communicate some phrases. It's a gross challenge, and seems to be quite wasteful of sprouts – why supply a bowl of 20 when they're only going to use four? The round also suffers from rotten planning: if they didn't want Robbie Williams to sing, why give his team songs and not tv shows?

Miranda's Games With Showbiz Names Hands on heads.

Round two asks contestants to ring in and answer questions about the famous people. Bells have been provided, they're on the top of hats. While one player wears the hat, the other has a hand on a long stick with which to ring the bell. Rather than any particular competition, it's an excuse to find out mildly amusing and somewhat gross anecdotes about the other panellists. Do we need to know who farted while having a massage?

Craig Revel-Horwood takes a few minutes off from Strictly Come Dancing while he judges a dancing round. While one player watches and describes internet meme dances, the other tries to recreate them from the descriptions. "Arms out left and right like you're punching, then your leg to follow."

Miranda's Games With Showbiz Names Make these moves your own.

Then one team makes a call while another gives them words to get their caller to say. It's like that game on In for a Penny where you try to get your mother to say "Pudding" without using "sweet, Christmas, dessert", except that you don't know the word in advance and there are no banned words. So not much like Stephen Mulhern's game at all, really. Especially because the words are a little smutty, "shag" and "thrust".

Miranda's Games With Showbiz Names The show ended with a deep philosophical tussle about these.

Finally, the task is to find some items in your house and bring them back. The round degenerates into an argument about the ontological definition of a "pillow", whether there is a substantial difference from a "cushion". After all of this, a winner is declared, Miranda has the prize delivered, and leaves us with a brief homily.

Frankly, this wasn't at all to our taste. The good news: Miranda didn't dominate the show, to the extent that it felt like it could have used a firmer hand on the tiller. But the challenges themselves struck a false note, too much smut, as if they're covering up for a lack of other ideas. Where's the game we can re-create at home? Have one player stick a party hat on their head, and have the other throw some small balls, and try to throw them into the hat.

As demonstrated on Play Away. Before most of these contenders were born.

And we've seen this whole idea done before, and we've seen it done much better. Remember Remotely Funny? Of course you won't, it was on the CBBC channel, and the flagship BBC1 doesn't dare admit that it's consistently being beaten by the kids. Saara Forsberg and her players kept the energy levels up, kept the game moving at a good pace, and had more laughs in three minutes than Miranda's Games With Showbiz Names generated in its half hour.

In the four years since they recorded Remotely Funny, technology has come on in leaps and bounds. A high-definition webcam is consumer equipment these days, and we've all become used to people living solely on our screens. It's just a shame that, along the way, they've lost the charm and the fun.

Other shows we watched

Poker Face Back?

A couple of clips shows brightened up our festive period. Bradley Walsh's How to Win a Game Show offered tips on, er, how to win a game show. The game show in question, oddly, was Poker Face, a two-series wonder from the mid-aughts. It's the story of the first series final, and pantomime baddy Julian almost bluffing his way to the jackpot. Are young Ant and Dec testing the ground for a revival? They're also plugging Friends Like These, a Family Fortunes game with some proper variety.

There were also discussions on Stephen Mulhern's Catchphrase with Stephen Mulhern with Stephen Mulhern, The Chase and Ninja Warrior, a flashback to Gladiators and Pets Win Prizes, a brief history of Blankety Blank, Brucie on Play Your Cards Right, and the complexity of Tipping Point. There was a quick look at Pointless and The Weakest Link, winners and losers on Deal or No Deal, and Stephen Mulhern's new Rolling in It. Lots of stories from individual contestants, a very ITV way to personalise a brief roundup of the genre.

The Price is Right Bruce's Price is Right.

Game Shows Then and Now was a Channel 5 clip show. It was a brief history of the genre, with some howling inaccuracies (a clip of Play Your Cards Right was labelled as Bruce's Price is Right, and Treasure Hunt was labelled "Friday night" rather than "8.30 Thursday") and some quibblesome conclusions. They claim that television's Spelling Bee (1) was "a damp squib", watched by "less than a thousand viewers". In 1938, that's a 50% share! In 2020, that's more than some Channel 5 shows we could mention! A talk about Goodson-Todman's pioneering formats leads to Blankety Blank, which is Goodson-Todman's "crowning glory". Family Fortunes and The Price is Right might beg to differ. Cash prizes were, apparently, introduced "to raise spirits after the war", a remarkable claim that needs remarkable evidence. Charles Ingram's described as an "ingenious mastermind", 'scuse us there's some dust in our throat.

A segment on the brilliance of Brucie and Bob turns into a discussion of women in game shows, and suggest that Carol Vorderman and Anneka Rice broke barriers. We agree with Anneka that the Millionaire revival needed a different host, we agree with Brian Pearce that his work on Millionaire wrote the book on excellent lighting design. And there are chats with Fred Housego, the most famous Mastermind winner of all; and Judith Keppel of Millionaire.

Have I Got News for You A tub of lard.

BBC1 had a documentary marking 30 Years of Have I Got News for You. The programme disclaimed all responsibility for the rise of Alexander "Boris" Johnson. This is hogwash, and cast doubt on everything else the docudrama said. When Johnson first appeared on HIGNFY, he was the editor of an obscure right-wing fanzine; by the time he left the show, he was an MP and on the fringe of the shadow cabinet, and millions knew him as that straw-haired goon off the telly. HIGNFY raised Johnson's profile more than any other work he did, and established his public image as a blithering buffoon. We can understand why HIGNFY wants to distance itself from Johnson: one is establishment propaganda masquerading as satire, the other has over 80,000 excess deaths on its watch. But we can't accept the denials from HIGNFY; we rank Johnson as the second biggest gainer from the show, behind only Bruce Forsyth.

A couple of pleasantly good profiles on Channel 5, about Bob Monkhouse and Jimmy Tarbuck. Bob was mostly clips from his own career, and mercifully short on talking heads. Jimmy's profile – to which he contributed – talked a lot about his comedy work, and that does make the bulk of his career.

BBC2 had a four-part Landmark Documentary series about Celebrity in the 21st Century. We've not been able to commit to watching it, the show lies on our DVR for a snowy weekend. We have heard The Archers Anniversary Quiz, the closest Radio 4 will ever come to a Big Fat Quiz in their charming and genteel way.

In other news

File:Square Channel 4 retro.jpg

The death of Martin Lambie-Nairn. He didn't have much to do with game shows, but he was tremendously important to how television looks and feels. Martin was a graphic designer, and he came up with many of the ways television channels brand themselves. The Channel 4 blocks, the BBC2 "2"s, BBC1's balloons, the BBC News, and much more.

Lambie-Nairn's work is the foundation of a channel, it sums up a whole network in a few moments. The "2"s told us that BBC2 was a bit quirky and might be more fun than its austere reputation. Channel 4 made a bold, firm statement: "programmes assemble", it's a diverse and unpredictable channel. BBC1 was a shared world, something for everyone.

Britain's Got Talent The stars we want to see.

Got no talent? ITV, Thames, and Syco have delayed filming for the new series of Got Talent. Originally scheduled for late January, the "audition" stage has been postponed indefinitely. Frankly, this is right decision, and the only sensible one to take. It's only a television show, it doesn't need to kill anyone. Got Talent needs to be spectacular and huge and massive and about as subtle as a sledgehammer. The only bad taste we want is Simon Cowell's wardrobe.

Channel 4 is doing something practical with its newly-found time, we've new series of The Great Pottery Throw Down (Sun) and Junior Bake Off (weeknights). They've also got new episodes of Catsdown (Thu). The first in a new run of RuPaul's Drag Race (BBC3 online, Thu). On another tack, The Unbelievable Truth (R4, Mon).

Next Saturday's got a celebrity Catchpoint (BBC1), the return of Mastermind and Pointless celebrity editions, and ITV's juggernauts roll on. Next week's Week intends to review The Wheel with Michael McIntyre.

Photo credits: Thames (part of Fremantle), Monkey, BBC, ITV Studios, LWT, BBC Manchester, Channel 4.

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