Countdown Queen Rachel Riley Boosts Ratings

It may have a cult following, but 25-year-old Channel 4 show Countdown can hardly be viewed as particularly relevant to 2009. But over the last couple of days there’s been a surge of interest in the long-running quiz programme in the press. And it’s not been due to conundrums or number puzzles.

For the last three days, Carol Vorderman replacement presenter Rachel Riley has worn what the Daily Mail calls “some truly eye-popping numbers” in reference to a series of short, tight dresses. The sequence started on Monday with a pink minidress, followed by what the Daily Telegraph described as a “scarlet outfit which barely reached her thighs” on Tuesday (pictured below), and another skintight monochrome number on Wednesday.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, disregarding the fact that Countdown is a daytime show that airs in the afternoon, viewing figures have plummeted this year since Riley and Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling took over the reigns in January. At its height, 1.3 million people regularly tuned in for a daily fix of word and number games, but latest figures show that this has dropped by 50% to just 650,000. So is the minidress series a simple PR stunt by producers to boost the ratings?

23-year-old Oxford graduate Riley has come under fire for her performances on the show, and will undoubtedly hope that vamping it up in revealing outfits will defer some of that criticism. And very short, very tight dresses can hardly be bad for viewing figures. And if it is a pre-determined publicity stunt, it’s certainly done the trick and grabbed the press’ attention. As well, I suspect, as that of many of the male students who avidly watch the programme.

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