Simply the Best
Back in 1962, some French guys named Pierre Brive and Guy Lux nicked some bits from fifties BBC radio variety competition show Top Town and a pinch of Italian show Campanile Sera, threw in some ideas of their own and came up with knockabout intertown competition Intervilles (Thanks to JSFnetuk for this brilliant information incidentally). Intervilles begat Jeux Sans Frontieres in 1965 , a pan European version of the show which was a big hit. When they suggested that Britain should enter teams, It's a Knockout was born and the series' first series champions, Bridlington, went on to represent Britain in 1967. It's a Knockout was a phenomenally successful programme which was axed as a regular show in 1982 after a 17 year knock. This wasn't the last that was seen of it, however, as Channel 5 bought it back for two series hosted by Keith Chegwin. Despite the opening episode pulling in a very respectable 2.2million for the channel - at the time it's highest ratings for a regular programme - the novelty wore off very quickly, dropping out of the Channel's top 30 by episode four.
Meanwhile, Jeux Sans Frontieres finished in 1982 thanks to rising costs. BUT! It came back, and so did Intervilles.France didn't last long in the All New Jeux Sans Frontieres, but Intervilles was back and now they had a live bull running around the arena during the games knocking things down, and the games lasted about six years.
But never mind, because now ITV are having a go with the Intervilles format only without a live bull and in Jersey and not called It's a Knockout . Each week, two teams representing two of fourteen different cities around the country battle it out playing silly games in a specially built arena whilst being jeered on by King of the Jungle Phil Tufnell and Kirsty Gallagher. Paul "Durks" Durkin is the Premiership referee turned panto-esque rules stickler ref here and is accompanied by boos from the crowd (but no thunderstorm effect, which would be the correct thing to do of course). Radio newsreader Howard Hughes provides commentary.
Each team seems to consist of six civilians from each city and two celebrities. Each team aims to earn as many points as possible, and what to points make? Yes! Notches on the Champions Wall at the end. Each game has a three point prize. What of the games though?
Well, those of you who watched Chegwin era Knockout will feel instantly at home as many of the games are exactly the same. In episode one we have 'Liferaft' - slide down a slope on a dinghy and then stand on a liftraft carrying your dinghy. Try and fit as many people on as you can in 2:30. "Airkick" is new, players sit on catapults and are catapulted into the air whilst throwing a ball - other players on the ground try to catch the ball in nets whilst wearing flip flops. "The Human Runway" is the carry buckets of water across a bridge whilst the other team kick the bridge fast from underneath game. "Powerpoint" was the guide your blindfolded human plugs to the plugholes by shouting. Some games are blessed with a 15 second on screen countdown at the end, some are not. We've never liked shows that decide to put a clock on at the end of the game, but this is just us I suspect.
The main difference between this and Channel 5 Knockout is that there's "kicking" music playing in the background and flashing lights. Howard Hughes as the commentator lacks the humour and charisma of John Sachs on Gladiators or even the motormouth bounciness of Cheggers. Bit of a baffling choice really.
More of a nod to Intervilles are the quiz rounds where the celebrities answer questions whilst on a rollercoster (the 60 Second Screamer. Very Hold Tight) or whilst playing a game of balloon explosion based chicken (Beat the Balloon). All the questions are super easy for one reason or another (namely because they're riding Blackpool's The Big One). In Intervilles the quiz was a fairly straight affair played at the end of the game. These quiz rounds are much more knockabout and sre integrated into the show. Each game is worth three points (equating to six notches on the Champion's Wall)
It's not all fun and games though, as two or three musical acts promote their new single or whatever on the main stages, and there's an obligatory look round the towns as the locals give their reasons as to why there town is (yes) Simply The Best.
At the end of the day though, the evening's winners are decided by the physical punishment of the Champion's Wall. Each point won means the first player starts higher up it. The aim is using the stick and the grooves in the sides to rapidly propel yourself up. When you get to the top, slide down and then your teammate has to climb to the top. When they get to the top they slide down and the final bloke climbs up to the top. Whoever wins this race wins the entire program, and whichever two teams throughout the series do the best (and it's not entirely clear if this refers to the the time it takes to climb or the final points they had) get to come back at the end to play for £50,000 for community projects for their city. Lovely.
In Intervilles, this activity is played several times during the show between bigger games for points. To make it the grand end game centrepiece is a bit rubbish to be honest, especially in its current "the rest of the rather long show you've just watched didn't mean very much really" guise.
Have we mentioned this all fits into ninety minutes? Well I say "fit", I actually mean "stretched out way past its welcome". Inside this 90 minute show is a 60 minute show bursting to make itself known. As it is, we sort of lost patience with it towards the end. And there's no live bull.
It's good of ITV to try out some proper and new (-esque) family entertainment on Saturday evenings and there's a reasonable show here based on decent foundations. The big worry is whether there's actually an audience for it - the nostalgia kick that shot the remake of It's a Knockout to to Channel 5 ratings heaven quickly dissapated, and all this is an overlong version of that with dance music really. Some blokes might watch for Kirsty Gallagher, and the young might find the games quite fun, but all the attempts to make the show "cool" will count for naught. We gather that the first episode only got three million viewers and we're not sure we can see it building.on that.
EDIT - we have to be fair, we have been enjoying it more since the first episode. There are now what seems like two or three added games in the ninety minutes (although one of them is reprise of Beat the Balloon), Hughes is a bit better as commentator, and they've stopped using so many games lifted directly from Channel 5's It's a Knockout. Good work we say.