Tuesday, 28 July 2009

TV Watch Supplementary - Knowitalls

I do apologise for including this in its own seperate review, but I've only discovered it since writing the UC and OC reviews. Knowitalls, on BBC Two, makes a great play of the fact that its a quiz show with a difference, since there aren't any questions. As such its not a quiz at all. However it is a test of knowledge under pressure, which puts it firmly within the remit of LAM. Last night's University Challenge revealed that Norman Mailer is credited with coining the word 'factoid'. Well, this show is actually the apotheosis of the humble factoid.

The show is presented by Gyles 'Marmite' Brandreth. Actually some of my friends think that Gyles is only half like Marmite because they would say that you either hate him or you hate him. I quite like the feller in small doses. The show is basically a knockout tournament. Two teams of three contestants play against each other for a place in the next round. For each show, there are three nominated subject areas. These tend to be huge, catch-all topics. Last night's were Entertainment, History and Science. In the first round , one by one each contestant comes up and is given a specific subject eg - The Carry On Films - and given a minute or two to talk about it. They face a panel of three experts - one for each subject area. The expert for each area will set three key words or phrases for each subject area, and the contestant has to mention these for five points. Then they are awarded additional points for each relevant fact they mention. The slight problem with this, and its a problem that runs throughout the show, is that it is merely one person's opinion about what the most important facts are. For example, would you really say that one of the three most important facts about Queen Elizabeth Ist was that she had red hair ? The expert did. In the world of Knowitalls all facts are equal, but some are more equal than others, so it seems. Carping aside, I thought that all of the contestants were impressive, particularly the ones who tackled the Norman Invasion, and Queen Elizabeth Ist - who did get the point for mentioning red hair, by the way.

In the second round the teams worked together, and were given a minute to think of the most interesting fact they could about a given topic - eg. Frank Sinatra. The first team revealed that Frank Sinatra was married to Ava Gardner. True, although hardly likely to make anyone drop their TV dinner from their laps in amazement. They might have said that of his other wives, Nancy Barbato was his first wife, and this is why before they were divorced he always ended his set by singing 'Nancy with the Laughing Face' , or that Mia Farrow was younger than his daughters when he married her, or even that his last wife, Barbara, was the widow of Harpo Marx. Sorry, showing off. The second team came up with a beautiful factoid - that members of the Mafia were divided between those who could shake Sinatra's hand, and those who couldn't. Cue Head of Compliance having a near coronary, I'm sure, and the expert explaining that this fact was non verifiable. Ava Gardner thus won the point.

There's a couple of things I'm not clear about. At the start of the show it says that the teams have been given the subjects and then just one hour to pool all they know about them before the show starts. Does this mean that they have been just told - today's categories are History - Entertainment - Science, for the sake of argument, or have they actually been told - today's subjects are Only Fools and Horses , Carry On Films, Queen Elizabeth Ist etc. etc. It makes a difference. Some of the performances were extremely impressive, and it becomes a little more understandable if they had an hour to prepare specific topics, rather than huge subject areas. Still impressive, though.

Still, onto the final round. This reminded me even more strongly of an old show called Password, and to an extent, the section of Richard and Judy's old show where the viewer at home had to use clues to get Richard to say a particular word or phrase. I think the pyramid game used something similar too, although I may be mistaken. In this round, in turns each member of the team would be given a topic, and have to get one of the key words as quickly as possible, or pass. An exciting and fast moving round, but again you might argue that some of the key word choices seemed a little arbitrary. The show was decided on a straightforward tally up of points totals, with the winners progressing to the next round.

A look on the IQAGB website reveals that opinion on this show is rather polarised. For what its worth I have to say I rather enjoyed it. The fact that its a half hour long is a huge bonus. Whatever else you might think about it, the show is fast - moving. I do think there's an issue with regard to the key points. There's a very large proportion of the potential amount of points which come just from identifying the key words and phrases, and this sits a little at odds with the idea of 'knowing it all' for me. Myself, I'm a straightforward question and answer man, but I found that there was quite a bit to enjoy in this. I shall continue to watch with interest.


Another Anne said...

or even that his last wife, Barbara, was the widow of Harpo Marx.

Er ... ZEPPO Marx. Harpo's widow was Susan.

Londinius said...

OOppss!!!Wotta plonka ! Thanks Anne. I will endeavour to keep other such errors to a minimum.