Sunday, 30 September 2007

And Now, CCTV footage from Australia that Shows a Clerk's Misunderstanding of a Customer's Request for "Fork Handles"

Through no fault of my own, I ended up watching the slightest bit of Tarrant on TV the other night. Now, you'd have thought with the entire "Why is television lying to us?" scandals that have been happening throughout the television nation that ITV may have tried to tell the truth a lot more often. This wasn't the case.

Chris "I Can Do Stuff Other Than Millionaire" Tarrant introduced a "hilarious advert" that apparently originated from South Africa. Cue an advert for a shampoo designed for pubic hair called "Short and Curlies". Oh what hilarious penis jokes those South Africans have! Such wit.

If only that was the case. You see, the hilarious "advert" was actually a sketch from American Variety Show "Saturday Night Live". One of the actors in the advert was comedian Will Forte. But of course, the British public have no idea what or who this is, and ITV1 know it.

Tarrant on TV seems to have been going on for fifteen years or so now, and I'm surprised that they needed to lie about the context of the advert. Why not introduce the clip as "here's something intentionally funny from America". No. That wouldn't work. It becomes more hilarious if we think the product is real and then we can toss our heads back and laugh merrily and the thought of South African's needing a product for their pubic hair. Ha! Hahaha! Oh, ITV1, you truly are hilarious.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Consumer Activism

On Thursday I was watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (which is excellent by the way), and they put the first commercial break several minutes before the opening titles. This has made me more angry than the relative placement of paid advertisement really has any right to. So in protest against this, I hereby provide a free plug for the direct competitors of More4's sponsors for Studio 60: - the price-comparison website.

The Void You Occupied in the BBC2 Schedule Will Be Allocated to a Show That Was Never Given the Gift of Air-time.

I just read this poorly-written news entry on It makes three main points, which I shall summarise here in a less sanctimonious way:
  • Miramax would have been happy to make a Red Dwarf film some time ago if Doug Naylor had agreed to use a brand new cast, which he didn't.
  • The BBC have opted not to bother with a ninth series and aren't interested in TV rights to the film.
  • There's interest in a stage show based on the movie script.
As a long-time Red Dwarf fan, the news that the BBC don't want to make any more of it makes me very happy. If this seems odd to you, it won't soon: the sixth series wasn't as good as the three before it, the seventh wasn't as good as the sixth, and the eighth wasn't as good as Property Ladder. It wasn't even Red DwarfRed Dwarf is a clever sci-fi comedy about the last human trapped in outer space with a dead man, a cat, and sometimes a robot, whereas Red Dwarf VIII was a ridiculous The IT Crowd-style nonsense show set in the brig of a fully populated spaceship. (I like The IT Crowd, but it's not what Red Dwarf is for.)

Of course, as has been pointed out to me today, the opinions of fans often shouldn't be considered when they disagree with those of the programme makers, but I respond to that by pointing out that when BBC Wiltshire asked Rob Grant (co-creator of Red Dwarf and co-writer of the first six series) what he thought of the eighth, he said that he hadn't watched it because the seventh was so bad. He said it "wasn't what [he] set out to do and ... nothing to do with [him]".

If the BBC change their minds and commission Red Dwarf IX, I won't watch it. Unless Rob Grant comes back and they all start work on Red Dwarf VII, I have no confidence at all that any future Red Dwarf will be at all worthwhile. That the BBC have chosen not to spend my licence fee making it can only be good news.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

An Apology: After I Typed This Post, I Went Back and Changed Bits. Please Forgive Me.

This recent trend for complaining about "faked" things on TV is, I think, getting out of hand. (Luckily it seems to be on its way out, but it's hard to tell with that end of the media these days — I thought the whole "Princess Diana" thing was going to die off as well.) When it was phone-in competitions that you couldn't win or members of the public who were actually production staff, then fair enough, complain. And when you're making it look like the Queen threw a hissy fit then yeah, that's probably not on. But as ever, the more-than-slightly insane media have tried to string it out with a seemingly unending parade of increasingly flimsy 'scandals'. Gordon Ramsay pretending to catch a fish was about the end of the sensible ones. But... noddies? I think it's safe to assume interviewers do nod. Okay, so you're not seeing the specific nod that happened at that time, but it's close enough for jazz, surely?

I've seen TV shows being filmed. All of two of them. That's what they do: if something didn't go right then they reshoot it afterwards. I've seen Jeremy Paxman asking a question on University Challenge after the final scores were announced, and I've seen seven contestants politely wait and let the other one answer because that's what happened the first time round. And it wasn't quite the same, and they showed it anyway. And nobody cared because back then people had better things to do with their lives. Once, I gestured while talking to a camera, and after I was done they had me redo the gesture for a close-up. Then I had to do it again but more slowly. And it was all cut together like some magic two-camera setup. And again, nobody cared. They also showed events out of order to add tension, and I don't think anyone cared about that much either. I mean, technically you're misleading the public, but it's not deception. It's just TV. Nobody ever said it was a 100.00% faithful representation of events. Didn't they teach you anything about primary sources of evidence in history class?

The point, though, is that... what, you thought that was all real? Do you have any idea how difficult it would be to make an entire programme without making any mistakes? How many cameras and microphones you'd have to run to make sure you didn't miss anything or get any unusable shots? How bad a programme would look if you just showed the first take of everything, the raw, unedited, not-'faked' footage?

Well, I don't. And I like it that way. So quit complaining about it in case they stop doing it.

Oh, Grow Up

One of the most upsetting moments of my life occurred this week after I sat through an episode of Grown-ups. During the end credits, I realised that more than one person worked on the show. It was actually written, produced and directed by different people. How come not a single one of the seventy-or-so cast and crew members realised that the show they were working on was pure concentrated awful? It's times like these I wonder why I don't have my own show.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Ask The (Dwindling) Audience

According to The Sun (four words that form an inauspicious start to any blog entry,) the idiot bosses of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? are creating a spin-off quiz show based on - get this - the show's '50:50' lifeline. In the show, contestants will be presented with four answers to a question, and will have to pick the two most obviously wrong ones while claiming it to be a random choice. No, only joking. In fact, according to what "an insider" told the "newspaper":

“The couples will be asked a question and then given an answer.

“They can either accept that answer or gamble on another one.

“It’s quite a tense game as the first answer will often sound like the right one.”
Now, this all sounds like a relatively sensible idea, were it not for the facts that a) there's already been a game show called 50:50; and b) the precise format of the suggested show has already been done. Now, to be fair to them, Take It or Leave It is on a relatively obscure channel (Challenge on Sky Digital and maybe Virgin Media or something) and it's possible that 2waytraffic have simply bought the rights to the format. Or already own the format and in fact produced Take It or Leave It and are simply retitling it and flogging it to ITV. (Don't think I've researched this blog.)

Anyway, since it may be heading to an inferior mainstream channel near you sometime, maybe I should explain a bit about the show. Take It or Leave It is a show themed around the idea of deciding between taking what is on offer or rejecting it in favour of an unseen alternative (I know! I had that idea in 2002. It's so obvious!) and more importantly, shoehorning in the question "do you want to take it... or leave it?" as many times as humanly possible. So to begin with, one of the competing couples (couples - how quiantly early-nineties) sees a little video of another couple, and decide whether to take them as their opponents or leave them for an unseen couple. The main section of the game is incredibly dull, and takes ages to explain, but suffice to say it boils down to a true or false quiz and some Deal or No Deal-ey guessing. At the end of it, one couple wins, and goes through to the final round to play for the money they accumulated in the main game - likely ten grand or so.

The final, thankfully, is very clever and quite fun to watch (so if you see the show in the listings - it lasts an hour - only watch it for the last twenty minutes or so). The couple see five questions, each of which comes with a suggested answer, which they either take if they beleive it to be correct, or leave it in favour of the alternative answer which they haven't seen. Now, when this happens in the main game they're then told whether their answer is correct straight away, so all this taking-or-leaving business is just dressing up a true or false question. But here it works a bit differently. They answer the five questions without being told which (if any) are correct. Six safes are presented, one of which contains the prize. The contestants can guess at a safe, or else try to eliminate empty safes with their questions. The five questions are randomly re-ordered, under the condition that the questions that were answered correctly come first, followed by the ones they got wrong. After being presented with each question, they can decide whether to play the question with the answer they came up with, or stop and guess a safe. Playing a correctly-answered question removes an empty safe; playing an incorrectly-answered one ends the game and the prize is forfeit. So if you're confident of a question that hasn't come up yet, you can breeze through all the ones that come up before it, since you must still be on the questions you got right. But if you get right to the end, and the last question you're not quite sure of, it gets trickier. Do you take the 50:50 chance on the questions, or on the two safes remaining? You probably reckon you're more than 50% sure your answer is right. But what would have been the odds you got all five correct, and then they happened to put the slightly dodgy one last? It's all good tense fun.

So, if this show does come to ITV, what do you think they'll do? Come up with a better main game to bring it up to the standard of the final? Or just make the whole thing a sub-Deal guessing game with a few true-or-false questions? If you answer after lines have closed, your entry will not be counted but you will still be charged.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Identity Crisis

I haven't had that much time to watch TV recently. It's mainly because I've moved in with some mates in Newcastle, and the television priorities mainly lie with Film 4 or whichever Rugby match is showing. Talking of which, I've really started getting into Rugby. It's amazing how you can get a score as astonishing as 97-3 in less than ninety minutes.

However, yesterday we were all able to catch a bemusing new quiz show. "Identity" on BBC2 showcases the latest notch of Donny Osmond's career. The rule of the game involves a middle-aged person trying to guess what twelve people did for a living. The occupations listed as choices varied from proper jobs (such as "Magistrate" and "Club Dancer") to just simple facts about about a person (including "Doctor Who Fan" and "Had a Hair Transplant")

If this didn't sound bemusing enough, the twelve people are basically dressed up for their jobs. It came as no surprise to see that the guy in the leotard was the gymnast, and the guy dressed as Doctor Who was the damn Doctor Who fan.

Another pointless gameshow with no questions. Deal or No Deal has ruined a generation of quiz shows.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

These Four People are Amongst the Greatest Quiz Players in Britain, and CJ is Among The Greatest Quiz Players in Britain

Eggheads is getting ridiculous now. I drew this a while ago and it's just getting more and more relevant:

(I didn't upload it right away, not least because it very quickly reminded me of an old Far Side cartoon which used the same exact premise, although didn't make a point about Eggheads, possibly because Eggheads hadn't been invented then.)

It's what, fifty-eight shows in a row now that the Eggheads have won? It's hard, sometimes, to imagine that it isn't rigged, when there are questions assigned, supposedly at random, that are anywhere from blatantly unanswerable to the downright simplistic, and the same team wins every week. I don't care how smart they are, you'd think random question assignment would have done for them by now.

This is made worse by the format: I have done a Monte Carlo simulation (oh, yes) of 10,000 games of a slightly simplified version of Eggheads and 10,000 games of a more straightforward game. I've assumed that all Eggheads know 90% of all answers and all players know 60% of all answers. If the players went one-on-one for 15 questions and the team with most correct answers won, the Eggheads ought to win 98.66% of all games. Under the current rules, the Eggheads should only win 94.25% of games. That's still a lot, obviously, but there's a 96.77% chance that they should lose at least one game out of any random fifty-eight game sequence. Especially since for every ludicrously easy question (that any team would know) and every ludicrously hard question (that even Eggheads don't know) the balance between my guesses of 90% and 60% get nearer and nearer together. If it was all questions like that, the challengers ought win every other show.

So can we have a win for the challengers soon, please? If not, I may end up genuinely believing the show is actively being rigged. And nobody wants that.

Another thing about Eggheads is that the general knowledge questions in the last round are often very easy (I can tell because even I can answer a lot of them), and the sudden death games are almost unwinnable. You can answer all fifteen multiple choice questions correctly, and still lose out just because of one ludicrously difficult sudden death round.

It's almost as if the show is designed to make the Eggheads look better than they are: the several-round mechanic and the contestants-pick-of-competitors mechanic ought to put the Eggheads at a disadvantage, but when you get down to it, the whole game boils down to one round at the end, and that round is very hard for the Eggheads to lose: the questions are mostly of a level that no self-respecting Egghead should ever get wrong, and the challengers can't win unless they do get them wrong. The head-to-dead questions are very difficult, allowing a lucky team to knock out many Eggheads, but then the difficulty level of the questions is suddenly dropped, meaning the remaining Eggheads are still probably going to win. A conspiracy theorist would suggest that this was deliberate.

I don't see why they'd do that, though. Personally, I'd think the show a lot more exciting if the Eggheads lost sometimes. This isn't Takeshi's Castle. Even Knightmare and The Crystal Maze didn't go fifty-eight weeks without a win.

Monday, 3 September 2007

The Factor of X

I've been working with a mathematical theory recently. It's nothing too taxing, it's just my mind tends to wander when my C:\Drive explodes leaving me with no internet to rant about television with. Basically, I've been watching The X Factor recently and have realised how formulaic the show is. Not the show itself, we all know that's formulaic as hell. I'm on about the actual episodes themselves.

Dermot O' Leary introduces the city we're in. We see 4-5 rubbish auditions. The judges voice their concerns about how this city is rubbish for singing ability. Then, we get a good singer, followed by 6-7 good singers all being accepted into "boot camp".

We then get a couple of weird people. Dermot interviews one of these weird people whilst stifling his giggles through clenched teeth. We then see their hilarious bad audition.

Ad break. We're introduced to a new city. Repeat previous formula until the last audition we get to see which includes some heart-tugging back story about how the person trying out for the competition was inspired by their dead mother who has no legs, but also had to sell their dog on eBay just for the bus fare to get to the audition. They then sing, and the judges are wowed.

Every. Single. Bloody. Episode.