Weaver's Week 2024-01-21

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They'll be dancing on the tables of Limitless Win!

Limitless Win Unbelievable, Dec!

Congratulations to Helen and Charlie, who scooped £1 MILLION last weekend. There was massive excitement in the studio, capped by Ant McPartlin jumping on the table and giving us a little jig.

Limitless Win Helen and Charlie knew "Country house" was a hit single in 1995.

Limitless Win gives away masses of cash each episode. Another ITV show has been quietly giving away smaller amounts, but thousands here and there can quickly accumulate.

From a desk in the suburbs of Birmingham, this — is Weaver's Week!




Whisper North for ITV, from 1 January

After the quiz show scandals in the 1950s, North American networks were leery of quizzes. It was too easy to give favoured contestants the answers and rig the game, as happened on Twenty-One. So they came up with a novel idea: give everyone the correct answer and make players write their own questions. (OK, not so novel: it had been the conceit of 1941-2 show CBS Television Quiz. But no-one remembered that.)

The original series of Jeopardy! ran on NBC from 1964-75, with a brief revival in 1978. The second revival, which started in 1984, was more successful. Alex Trebek stepped behind the podium, and would not be moved until his death in 2020.

Four decades of Alex Trebek.

What is Jeopardy!?

The basic idea is simple – Jeopardy! is "everyone's favourite answer-and-question show" where they supply the answers, and the players need to give a question – beginning "who is" or "what is" – that leads to the answer. For instance:

A: "4-letter play about 9-lived creatures"
Q: What is Cats?

Answers – or questions – are arranged into categories, and get harder as the value increases. There are points for the correct answer, but the jeopardy is that points are deducted for an incorrect answer. After two boards are completed, they play Double Jeopardy!, where all the points are doubled. The show finishes with Final Jeopardy!, one answer where the players write down their answers, and however much they want to wager. Highest score after this final round wins the cash amount indicated.

The winner of Host Holding a Question Card.

We wrote more about Alex Trebek on Jeopardy! back in 2019, before his death. Back then, we said,

There have been many attempts to bring Jeopardy! to television over here. Channel 4 tried in its early years, and ITV put in a very good effort in the early 1990s, and KYTV gave it all their skills a few years later. None of them caught on, and nobody has tried again since. We've had our own homegrown hit quizzes – Millionaire and Link and Chase and Pointless.

Not that this has stopped the Jeopardy! company, now owned by Sony, from pitching the show again and again. Back in 2022, ITV was interested enough to commission a pilot episode, and precisely interested enough to get Richard Madeley to host it. That'll be the last we hear of it.

Except the story didn't end there. Stephen Fry took over as host, and that proved enough pizazz to get the show over the finish line and onto air. Recorded on the Don't Scare the Hare stage near Trafford, and trailed for last autumn, Jeopardy! finally burst onto our screens on New Year's Day night.

Who is Stephen Fry?

Jeopardy! He's the one on the left.

Stephen Fry is an actor, comedian, writer, and presenter. Educated at Cambridge, he has appeared in various films and tv shows, including A Bit of Fry and Laurie with Hugh Laurie, various pompous characters in Blackadder, Jeeves in Jeeves and Wooster, and Colonel K in the 2015 Danger Mouse reboot. Stephen was a key player on improvisation show Whose Line is it Anyway, and hosted the popular smarty-pants panel game QI for over a decade. He is known for his wit, intelligence, and distinctive voice – like honey melting into hot buttered toast, according to one commentator (hi, mum).

Stephen Fry brings two unique qualities to the show. He's familiar to the grown-ups in the audience; having been in show business for the past four decades, it would be difficult to have avoided him. And Stephen is intelligent and witty and erudite – he knows a lot and doesn't feel like he has to spill everything he knows in the first few minutes.


And Stephen comes across as a gentle and knowledgeable uncle. He is gentle with everyone, warm and welcoming; where he must chide players, he does it regretfully. When a player says "Turpentine, er, what is turpentine", Stephen will congratulate them for remembering the Jeopardy! conceit

Why is a question?

Jeopardy! Categories are: Island hopping, Quiz shows, Name the year Olympics, Things that make you say "aw", Geographical surnames, and Portmanteau words.

A successful television quiz needs two things: a question and a gimmick. Jeopardy! has a simple gimmick: the traditional question and answer are reversed, so the contestant supplies the question to match the answer. Except it's not always a full reverse, the "answer" displayed on screen will often give extra information beyond the simple definition.

An example, from the American show, in category "Pop music-podge":

She earned our respect by singing "Respect" during her "American Idol" days before having her own hit with "Behind These Hazel Eyes".

The response: "Who is Kelly Clarkson?".

Now, we woke up our autocomplete bot (it'll review Wheel of Fortune for us next week) and asked, "who is Kelly Clarkson?". The bot said,

Kelly Clarkson is a talented American singer, songwriter, and television personality.

This is true, but we could apply it to so many other people. Jeopardy! uniquely defines its answer in a few words: "she", "Respect", "American Idol", "Behind these hazel eyes". If you know the hit, it's easy; if you only know one winner of Pop Idle over there, it's probably Kelly.

We asked the autocomplete bot for a picture of Kelly Clarkson. The results dismayed us. Going for Gold

Although they couldn't bring over the clues, Whisper have brought over the spirit of Jeopardy! in its questions and answers. It's a game of precision, but also of some fun. Jeopardy! has a certain droll humour, it's where geeky people go to play and show off their smarts. No surprise to find crossovers with Only Connect (2) and House of Games (3), if we've got our question setters right. Some of the categories are familiar ideas from House of Games – there are Answer Smashes, and Hidden In Plain Sight where the answer is concealed within the question.

Categories might include the prosaic "Sports Abbreviations & Acronyms", the interesting "Historical Coincidences" where we'll learn something, wordplay in "Warning! Contains 'Nut'". And there are boards where they must have started with the six categories and gone on to work out how they'll get questions.

Jeopardy! Baby, Sporty, Ginger, Posh, Sporty, Spices (and herbs).

Every question is precise, and fits the category. Jeopardy! is a game of rigour, and they've been sure that every clue will lead inexorably to the right response. The rigour extends to Stephen Fry's adjudications – firm, sometimes harsh, but always fair.

Although we do get picture clues, this series hasn't given us any video or audio clues, not even as a Daily Double. We suspect that these would follow if Jeopardy! is picked up for more shows.

Jeopardy! A sample answer, perhaps a nod to another gig.

Where is a carbon copy?

Jeopardy! has been running Stateside for forty years. It's become an institution, part of the culture. For this version, Whisper tv (part-owned by Sony, which also owns Jeopardy!) has taken the format, stuck it in layers of bubble wrap, transported it over the Atlantic, and reassembled it over here. Only the host, the questions, and the currency amounts have changed.

It's a remarkable facsimile, right down to the opening sequence. Perhaps too close a facsimile. "From the Alex Trebek Stage at Sony Pictures Studios" honours the show's legacy and owners; it's cool and aspirational. "From the Dock Ten studios in Salford" brings to mind scared hares and matchstalk men. Stephen Fry is superimposed into some of the shots from a recent title sequence, and the theme music is present.

Jeopardy! The set is very familiar.

The set is exactly the same – a bank of monitors to display the clues on the left, three contestants at distanced podia on the right, the host's desk in the middle. The carbon copy continues with Jeopardy's messy use of typefaces. Why use one font when you could show six:

  • a simple Helvetica for the categories and values,
  • the somewhat thicker Univers for the player's scores,
  • a version of Futura for the "Daily Double" and "Final Jeopardy!" captions,
  • Optima when they're displaying the Final Jeopardy! question as players think and write,
  • Anonymous for the show title, stretching the top stroke of the letters to ludicrous proportions,
  • Korinna for the clues. It's an ugly typeface, ornamental and over-fussy, and set in all capitals to further hurt legibility.

House of Games (3) The greatest captions on telly, we reckon.

Anonymous and Korinna are unusual fonts these days, but both were popular and available when the programme began in 1984, and the producers have never felt the need to change them. Are they the typefaces we'd expect to see for a 2024 production? No. Do they do the job? We wouldn't use that font for the clues, perhaps something as gorgeously legible as Keep Calm like they use on House of Games. Are these typefaces part of the Jeopardy! look? Absolutely.

How is the show localised?

The big change Whisper has made: the show is longer. Jeopardy! over there is in a half-hour block, with about 20 minutes of actual programme content, almost all of which is game. Over here, Jeopardy! goes out in a full hour slot, which requires about 46 minutes of programme. They've extended things by adding an extra round – rather than going Single-Double-Final, our version goes Single-Single-Double-Final – with ad breaks after the two Single rounds and halfway through the Double round.

Because the show is twice as long, and only asks one-and-a-half times as many questions, it is less frenetic. In our metric based on pure quiz 100%, North American Jeopardy! is 71% quiz – as fast and frenetic as Zoe Lyons' Lightning. Stephen Fry's Jeopardy! is 47% quiz, there are anecdotes and fact points after most of questions, and a recap just before the third round. Why is there a recap before the third round? BBC1 changes its programme at 4.30, and some people are going to zap over at this point, and they can welcome these new viewers without disrupting the flow of the game.

Jeopardy! Stephen begins part two with a chat to the contestants.

Stephen Fry excels in his role as the font of all knowledge. He's contributed something to the Jeopardy! lexicon, "bottom-feeding" for the tactic of taking the biggest values first, rather than the traditional ploy of the small values at the top. Stephen sounds convincing when giving factoids, it's what we expect from a polymath like him. Whether that's accurate or acting is irrelevant, Stephen works excellently on screen, and it's great that he's able to have some intellectual banter with the players. Carry on at this rate, and he'll be as good as Victoria Coren Mitchell on Only Connect.

Jeopardy! on ITV is made for ITV viewers, for whom Jeopardy! is the latest in a long line of daytime quizzes. And it fits well into ITV's lineup. Stephen Fry lives up to his reputation, he's a familiar name and an excellent host. The pace is sensible – neither too fast nor too slow. The questions have that "ah!" factor, you can feel a bit smug when you get one, and because players can't buzz in until Stephen's finished there's time to work it out.

Jeopardy! Sally buzzes in, and a timer starts.

The contestants are amongst the cream of the quizzing crop, familiar faces from Mastermind and University Challenge have won games, and the reigning champion of People's Quiz was in a heat. Perhaps the contestants are too good – Jeopardy! awards a prize every day, and while Whisper may have budgeted for £5000 each show (that's the Tipping Point average), some contestants (waves at quintochamp Michael Hutchinson) have been pushing five figure wins every day. There are, apparently, also prizes for contestants who don't win their game, with a bigger one for losing in second than in third. As is standard practice on game shows over here (but isn't over there) all contestants have their expenses paid to and from the studio.

It's clear that ITV has finally cracked what Jeopardy! should be. The only question is whether the viewing figures can justify the relatively large prize – and that might need to be evaluated after a second series, and very possibly some celebrity editions.

Jeopardy! The lights go down for the last question.

And we expect a second series, though we're not sure of it. Viewing figures have stabilised at about 1.4 million viewers, which is a snidge below Tipping Point. We don't know if these are more valuable viewers for ITV, people who wouldn't otherwise watch the channel. And we don't know if Jeopardy! comes in a two-for-one deal with Sony's other format Wheel of Fortune, which we'll look at next week.

In other news

Any other week, Dominic Wood would have our headline. Dom, the brash one from Dick and Dom, decided to go big or go home on The Chase. Dom brought back £90,000, and delivered a heartfelt message to Anne Hegerty in the upper chair. Regrettably, the team failed to beat her in the final chase.

Gladiators Awooga!

Gladiators came back last weekend, and people tuned in. Over six million people saw the opening edition of the muscles-and-sport series. That's a huge audience, more than the viewers of opening edition on ITV back in 1992. We'll have a full look at Gladiators in February or March.

In the interim, we'll be working on a pitch for the next 1990s show they ought to revive – Only Connectors, a spectacularly incomprehensible panel game that even Radio 4 found too insufferable and dull.

We've caught up with Celebrity Mastermind, and hats off to Ruth Davidson. A score of 23 points is sufficient to win quite a few civilian editions, and although the celeb version is easier, she had much less time to run up the score. We wonder if the retired politician would care to apply for the main series: we wouldn't like to be up against someone that good.

Quizzy Monday

Only Connect was decided by a single point. Also Rans beat the Mercians by 22-21. The key moment came on the first question of Sequences, when the Also Rans buzzed in for five points. Did they know the first woman to win the Nobel physical prize? Of course they did; knowing the fourth was key. Mercians had done well with facts about the Bermuda Triangle and descriptions of Switzerland, but Also Rans had hit back with sheet music they'd play on Radio 4. Also Rans dropped a group on the wall so the Mercians took a one point lead into Vowels, only to be beaten on lines from famous poems. The Mercians' buzz to solve "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold" was just a little late, and by such small margins is this quiz won.

Julie Ashcroft won Mastermind, taking the life of Thomas Hardy, and scoring a total of 26 points – that's enough to be a serious challenge in the semi-finals. Credit also to Edison Hipkin, who gave a pass just before the buzzer, got the extra question, turned it into a point; with a few years' more general knowledge, the young quizzer will absolutely slay the opposition.

University Challenge moved into its Group Phase with Manchester The Team That Everyone Wants To Beat up against Birkbeck. Manchester won it, 160-95, but we may have found the ceiling for both sides – Manchester were not convincing on their bonuses, and Birkbeck were consistently beaten to the buzzer. Because it's the group phase, nobody goes home just yet.

Are the questions on Counterpoint becoming easier, or is this column's musical knowledge getting better? Twice in the current series, we've thought that one of the specialist rounds was surprisingly easy – as the contestant demonstrated. James Bingham finished on top in this week's show.

Quiz digest

A miscellany of trivia and nuggets we've learned from watching game shows recently.

  • On Pointless, we learned about J Fred Muggs, a monkey who turned around the fortunes of The Today Show in the 1950s. There's nothing like being woken up by a creature that looks cute but cannot speak a word of English, and can tell the time better than Jack De Manio.
  • From House of Games, we learn that H From Steps has sold 22 million discs. That's a massive criminal record!
  • Pointless also told us that Tom Selleck had to turn down the role of Indiana Jones, because he was in contract to Magnum PI. Our headcanon has gone past irrational, and was last seen on the train to transcendental.
  • "Haribo" gets is name from its founder (Hans Riegel) and its hometown (Bonn). If other confectionery companies followed the same convention, Mars would be "Frmaha", Lindt becomes "Daspzu", and Rowntrees would be "Joroyo". (Jeopardy!)
  • Imagine going to see Steps in concert, and having Britney Spears as the opening act. H remembered when that happened in the late 90s. He didn't win much on House of Games, Chris Hoy and Rosie Jones ran away with a fun week.
  • "Romeo & Duet, the best answer up there." A sentence they can only get away with on Pointless, which also sums up ITV's show where lovers serenade each other from a COVID-safe distance.

Another run round the islands on Great Local Menu (BBC2, from Tue). RTÉ lets its viewers select its song for Eurovision: decide in The Late Late Show (RTÉ1, Fri).

Can Harry get away with it? Will Ross extract revenge? Has anybody cracked the code of Claudia's fringe? The Traitors concludes (BBC1, from Wed; final on Fri).

Pictures: Hello Dolly and Mitre Studios, Whisper North, Merv Griffin Enterprises / Kingworld / Sony Pictures Television, Reg Grundy Productions, K-Types, Hungry Bear Media and MGM Alternative.

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