Once again we find Monday nights have become a veritable cornucopia of quizdom, with University Challenge on BBC2 followed by Only Connect. But before we get on with the really serious business, lets take a look at ITV's The Fuse.
There are times, I hope you'll agree, when you find that you're watching some performance, and you find yourself enjoying it despite yourself. Now, regular readers will know that I'm a fan of the previous incumbent of the ITV 5 - 6pm slot, the Chase. I make no bones about it, I think that the Chase has real potential, and I hope that it does come back. So you can appreciate that I was hoping that The Fuse would be good, but perhaps not too good.
So lets de-construct it all a little to see what makes it tick. So in no particular order, here we go : -
Probably just about right for this time of day. There's little enough which is ever going to give a regular quizzer nightmares - while if you watched The Chase you'll know that there was a real mix of questions, including some real snorters. But then this is a quiz for members of the Great British Public, the have - a - go types who'd be equally at home on a game show where there were no questions involved. That's fine The programme never makes any extravagant claims bout having great quiz players on it.
6 players start as a team. Each in turn picks a category of questions. The team must answer a chain of 6 correct answers, before the fuse, from which the show takes its name, burns out. A la Weakest Link, the time allowed for each round goes down each time. Only if they complete the chain of 6 correct answers, or if the time runs out, do the team find out how much money was in the box. To be honest I found this round just a tiny bit slow, but I'm well aware that I do like my quizzes on the fast side, and so I guess for the teatime audience it was probably just about right.
Then in the next rounds, the team have to fight it out amongst themselves. The two players who answered most right in the first rounds pick two other players to play against in a 3 way fight. Each picks a category from the ones remaining. Then they have to buzz in to answer questions. A correct buzz means you can light an opponent's fuse, or if yours is lit, you can stop it burning. An incorrect buzz means ten seconds of your fuse is extinguished in one go. Once your fuse is burnt out - boom ! Off you go. When only one remains, they go through to the next round, where the last two fight it out in a very similar round.
Finally, the last player has to answer 6 questions in a row. Their prize money is what the whole team earned in round one, plus whatever his or her own category is worth. 50 seconds or less to do it, and the money is tripled.
I'll be honest, I thought the contestant(s) v. contestant rounds were much quicker, and much more exciting - well worth watching in fact, even if the questions in tonight's show were a little on the easy side. The final round was a little anticlimactic, IMHO.
A bit of a catch-all term, this one. But easy enough to pin down. Far less serious than The Chase. Contestants had obviously been encouraged to whoop it up a bit when they succeeded in getting the 6 in a row in any category, and to 'trash talk' to each other at the start of the second round. To be honest, the trash talk was exactly that, and it rang far more true when the beaten contestants wished the winners good luck in the semi final. Mary, my wife actually really liked this, and said that she likes to see people who have a bit of life in them.
The host was, of course, Austin Healey, the Leicester Lip as was. Cards on the table, as an England rugby fan living in Wales I have a soft spot for Austin. He didn't do a bad job either. He looked professional, and seemed to be enjoying himself, which is always a plus. The catchphrase of the show is,
"Do you want to fight the fuse. Then let's light the fuse. " and Austin has to say it 6 times in the first round, which is probably at least 4 times too many, and did get a little grating. The format means that he becomes a little more matey with the contestants than the Chase allowed Bradly Walsh to become, as each contestant got the obligatory 2 minute chat before choosing their category. Its a little dated, this sort of thing, although it did allow Shaun from Swansea to tell us that if he won he could use the money for a dream wedding with his fiancée. Well, win he did, and so that was quite a heart warming moment , especially when he invited Austin to be his best man. Good stuff - its always nice to see a boy from South Wales doing well.
What's my overall verdict, then ? I'll be honest, once you get past the money gathering team round, this is actually a good show. There's something about the second round and the semi finals which really reminds me of another show - yet I can't think which one. I still really like The Chase, and hope it will be back - but I'll be watching the Fuse again during this fortnight.
University Challenge - First round Match 2
Last night's second match of the first round saw The Royal Veterinary College taking on last year's champions Manchester University. Yes, I know that we had all that nonsense about the final, but if you look in the record books, they're the champions. Thankfully Jeremy Paxman didn't mention this at all in his preamble. What he did mention was that being as all of the RVC team were studying veterinary medicine that you'd expect them to be stronger on the Sciences than the Arts. Cue a huge smile from Our Jeremy when RVC took one of the first starters, recognising a quotation from Tennyson.
You'll know by now that we're far from impartial on the Clark sofa, and so being an alumnus of London University myself I was rooting for the RVC, more in hope than expectation. ( If you're wondering, I went to Goldsmith's College - who have never had a team into the televised University Challenge tournament as far as I know ) If we were expecting another close fought contest like last week's, we were to be disappointed. RVC were just a little off the pace throughout most of the contest, and indeed towards the end they could be forgiven for dropping points by buzzing in just a fraction too early on the starters. In the end Manchester ran out comfortable winners by 235 points to RVC's 60.
So what are Manchester's chances of emulating their illustrious immediate predecessors ? On the plus side they all shared out the starters and bonuses pretty well, and its difficult to single out any one of Mr. Whyman, Miss Neiman, Mr. Whitfield and Mr. Daunt as being the 'star' of the team. On the other hand, though, you can't help feeling that they might have scored a few more in this match. Not that it matters. At the moment its about getting through to the second round.
Its unlikely that RVC will progress to the repechage round, a fact to which Jeremy Paxman paid tribute when he commented, "Its not the worst score we've ever seen. " before generously adding, "Far from it " and paying tribute to the fact that they seemed to enjoy it. Bravo. I did too.
Only Connect - BBC4 - First round Heat One
Monday evening. Often fiendish questions. String quartet. Question master not afraid to pour acid upon an ill advised answer. Oxford v. Cambridge. Its University Challenge again, isn't it ? Actually, no, it isn't, its the much awaited return of The Finest Quiz Only To Grace BBC4 - and winner of the Life After Mastermind award (honorary) for the Best New TV Quiz of 2008 - Only Connect.
A big congratulation to the production team for having the good sense to obey a maxim more honoured in the breach than the observance - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Everything you loved about the show first time round - the connections grid - the missing letters round - Victoria Coren - is back.
As for this first round heat, the Cambridge Quiz Society took on the Oxford Librarians in a contest that twisted and turned like a twisty - turny thing ( Blackadder the 2nd c. 1986 ) . To use a phrase much beloved by one of my good quiz friends, the Cambridge boys looked like they were 'out with the washing' at one point, trailing the librarians by 2 points to 8. However it all came good for them with the connections wall, where despite sailing close to the wind with only 2 lives remaining they solved the whole thing, and picked up the full points plus bonuses. The librarians started well with their wall, but were stuck on the last two connections, knowing that one was a group of theatres, but unable to get the right combination. Still they went into the missing letters round with a small lead of 2 points. Last series we saw bigger leads than this overturned in the final round, and you had the feeling after the first minute or so that the Cambridge team were going to do it. They duly did, but only by one point.
Good show. Welcome back, Only Connect - I've missed you.