Thursday, June 24, 2010

Three In One!

This could be a while, as I am going to give you three game show-related things this week. First, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue returned on June 21 with the first of six new episodes hosted by Jack Dee. Here is my recap of the June 21 show:

Opening: “We present I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, the antidote to panel games. At the piano is Colin Sell, and your chairman is Jack Dee.”

Recorded At: The Centaur, Cheltenham

Panelists: On Jack’s left, Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden. On Jack’s right, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Jeremy Hardy.

Scorer: “And hopeful for a good score this evening, please welcome the delightful Samantha.”

Game One: Movie Prequels That Have Disappeared From Cinema History
“Apocalypse Soon” “Sapling Gump”, “The Land That Time Put In A Safe Place”…you get the idea. Oh, and we get “Bring Me Someone Who Knows Alfredo Garcia”.

Game Two: One Song To The Tune Of Another
Jack: “Listeners will be interested to learn that Colin recently spent the last week producing Eminem…and what a tedious game of Scrabble it was”… “Barry Cryer, listening to you sing reminds me of music hall…and why we don’t have it anymore”…Tim sings the words of Rehab to the tune of When I’m Sixty-Four…Jeremy sings the words of the Scooby-Doo theme (the most famous one, anyway) to the tune of Bridge Over Troubled Water…I really miss the lengthy explanations.

Game Three: Sausages
The panelists can ask Jack any question they’d like, and he must always answer “Sausages.” Jack says the goal is to not laugh for as long as possible, but everyone cracks up pretty quickly. It’s a game I remember playing at summer camp, even if Jack claims it’s a tribute to the TV show That’s Life.

Game Four: One pair of panelists are promoting a movie\book\radio show\TV show that they don’t know the name of, and must figure out what it is via the other pair’s questions about it. Naturally, the titles are shown to the audience via the laser display board.

Game Five: The panelists are continuity announcers introducing shows picked solely on the basis of a catchy title.

Game Six: Tim and Jeremy must alternate words of a letter from Boudica to Julius Caesar; Barry and Graeme must alternate words of the reply.

Game Seven: Hairdressers Songbook

Closing: “Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Jeremy Hardy were being given silly things to do by Jack Dee, with Colin Sell setting some of them to music. The program consultant was Iain Pattinson, and the producer was Jon Naismith.”

That's episode one...I must say, I wasn't really feeling it this time...moving on...

It's either the next Russian Roulette or the lamest idea for a game show ever: a game show set on top of a skyscraper, with a contestant playing for money that, if not won, is dropped over the edge. That's the premise of Downfall, which premiered June 22 with host Chris Jericho. Let's try to piece this together...

First things first: My initial mental image of a contestant and a host standing on top of a building alone with a suitcase full of money turned out to be about as wrong as you can get. This show actually constructed a full-scale game show set, complete with an audience, on top of some unknown skyscraper in Los Angeles. It's quite a sight, and I'm sure in ten years people will be asking me "What was that game show with the big conveyor belt on top of a building?" The question, of course, is whether the show has a good game to back that striking image up.

It comes close. To win $1,000,000, the contestant must pass seven levels of play, worth increasingly more money (in other words, it's a money ladder show). On each level, the contestant picks one of nine categories on the board for his\her game. Each category contains ten questions, and as you move up the money ladder, the number of questions you can miss goes down. For $5,000, you have to get four questions out of ten right; however for $10,000 it's five questions out of ten, and so on until for $1,000,000, you have to get ten out of ten. Each round contains not only the money, but also an array of fabulous prizes, replicas of which are placed on the conveyor belt in the center of the set. Of course, the set's on top of an LA skyscraper...if you haven't figured it out, the way you pass each level is by answering the required number of questions before everything you're trying to win hits the street. The contestant is also given two panics (not to be confused with lifelines, cheats, backups or helps) which are activated by hitting a button and which essentially allow you to try the round over with a different category.

If that description sounds totally unoriginal and gimmicky...well, yeah, but I thought it was fun. The image of a new car slamming into the Los Angeles sidewalk is not one I will soon forget. Chris Jericho is not the next Bob Barker or anything, but he impressed me with his performance here. I found myself shouting answers at the TV and holding my breath as each prize approached the edge...and really, what more could you ask for from a game show? If it takes a gimmick to get your attention, then so be it.

Finally, I promised you something special...on Saturday, June 19, I went to an open casting call for The Price Is Right. Yes, I can hear you saying "An open casting call for The Price Is Right? I thought they took contestants out of the audience." That's what they did for decades, and for the most part that's what they still do...but they are now also taking a few preselected contestants, a move that has no doubt been called sacrilege by some. Here's how it works: in every city they visit, two people will be selected and flown to Los Angeles. Those two people will get reserved seats at the show, and one of them will be guaranteed to be picked.

So I filled out my application form and went down to the audition, which was being held in..get this...a tent in the parking lot of BJ's Wholesale Club in Revere, Massachusetts. The line was supposed to form at 10AM for an 11AM start. I think I arrived around 10:20. There were a few hundred people there. That may sound like a lot. It isn't. When I went to an open casting call for Deal Or No Deal in June 2009, there were thousands of people in line for blocks.

However the auditions did indeed not start until 11, meaning I must have waited in line forty minutes for the auditions to start, then another half hour after that. While I waited, staff members explained the rules...namely, that you will have thirty seconds to answer the question "Why do you want to be on The Price Is Right?" Seriously. They base it entirely on thirty seconds. They also gave us hot dogs and tried to get us to become BJ's members. Finally I reached the front of the line, stood on a X facing a camera, was handed a microphone, and got my thirty second audition. I think I froze up halfway through, and I won't find out for months either way...well, it was worth a try.

If you're wondering what I think you're wondering...yes, many of the people in line were wearing T-shirts relating to the show or the audition. Myself included - I wore the shirt and show name tag I wore when I went to a taping of The Price Is Right in Los Angeles in 2007.

That's another post, OK?

More ISIHAC next week,


Thursday, June 17, 2010

I'm Not Lying: This Isn't Funny

Let me give a little background.

There have only been a few times when I've watched a new game show and seen something so inappropriate and disgusting that I could barely bring myself to finish watching the premiere. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two: Game Show Network's 2006 revival of I've Got A Secret (which may have had an excellent host in Bill Dwyer, but the panel were about as disgusting as you can get) and Comedy Central's 2008 revival of The Gong Show (hosted by Dave I really need to say any more?) Those were the only two times I can think of when I came in expecting a good clean game show and got something you'd have to be drunk to enjoy.

Now the opposite has happened.

Late Night Liars is on at 11PM. The set is supposed to look like it has a bar in the back. The show opens with a sketch in which puppets are drinking backstage. In short, this is trying to do for game shows what Avenue Q did for Broadway musicals. It fails.

The show is hosted by Larry Miller, who presides over a panel of celebrity puppets. Let me clarify that statement a bit. These aren't actual celebrity puppets - as I've said, the producers reportedly couldn't afford to license the classic Muppet characters. These aren't puppets representing real-life celebrities - that would get the show sued. These are puppets representing celebrity stereotypes - specifically, a Joan Rivers parody (Shelly Oceans), a closet homosexual (William A. Mummy), a record executive (Sir Sebastian Simian), and one I can't even figure out (Cashmere Ramada). All four are treated throughout the show as if they were actual celebrities - Larry greets them by shouting "Hello stars!" ala Hollywood Squares, and they make frequent jokes about their show business exploits.

After greeting the "panel" Larry introduces two contestants, who are there to play a game that, as I predicted, is essentially the Bluff The Listener game from Wait Wait Don't Tell Me blown up to a whole format. In round one, Larry gives a Wait Wait Don't Tell Me - style bizarre category, after which each puppet gives a fact in that category - two are true, two are false. The contestants lock in which puppet they think is lying by means of buttons in their podium. A correct guess is worth...well, it's worth money, but the amount of money is apparently randomly determined and revealed at the start of the round by the announcer (a puppet called the Weasel). In round two, three of the puppets are telling the truth, and finding the liar gets you a different (but equally random) money amount. In round three, Larry gives a category and each contestant in turn picks a puppet. That puppet states a fact, and if the contestant correctly determines if that fact is true or not, he\she gets an amount of money determined by stopping a randomizer with a button on his\her podium. The contestant with the most money after this plays a bonus round in which two of the puppets are assigned categories (not silly ones this time) and alternate giving facts in their category; the contestant must state whether each fact is true or false, and eight right in forty-three seconds wins $10,000.

That's the format, and let's face it, it's awful. With one category in each round, there just plain isn't much game here, and the randomly determined money amounts don't help; to borrow a phrase from, the scoring is not silly enough to be entertaining or accurate enough to be fair. The bonus round, while an improvement over the main game, has a problem in that the puppets' main "strategy" for tricking the contestant is to state a fact that makes you think of the other puppet's category. In the premiere, one puppet's category was Kristie Alley (the actress); the other puppet's category was Jupiter (the planet). The clock starts. The first puppet, whose category is Kristie Alley, says "Can be seen by the naked eye, even when it's light out." The contestant shouts "True!" - correct for $500. Um...

Of course, that's missing the point - the game isn't supposed to be the attraction here. What's supposed to be fun about this show is hearing puppets say incredibly inappropriate things. I came into the show expecting a lot of puppet sex jokes and censor bleeps. Perhaps if I had got what I expected, I would have enjoyed it - after all, when I went to Avenue Q expecting the same thing, I got it and laughed my head off. None of the puppets on Late Night Liars, however, say anything particularly shocking or funny. I can't think of a single good joke from this show's premiere - indeed, I can't even remember most of the jokes from this show's premiere. Admittedly, this would have been even less funny had the panel been composed of human celebrities or comedians, but that's also the problem - the fact that these are puppets is supposed to be funny in and of itself. The puppets even appear in sketches bookending commercial breaks, and what's supposed to be funny is that they're puppets. Larry, while not great, is more engaging then they are and easily the best thing about the show. Could this format be done right?

I suppose we'll find out when (and if) Trust Me I'm A Game Show Host premieres.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Peter Wheeler 1935 - 2010

The veteran British broadcaster and game show host has died at age 75, and as with Ray Alan, I just don't know enough about the guy to write an obituary. I do have a few bits and pieces of news:
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue will return for Series 53 on June 21, with Jack Dee hosting. I'll recap this series as I did the previous one, but I sincerely hope that by Series 54, the BBC will bow to the inevitable and announce that Jack is the permanent host. I don't want to keep recapping ISIHAC forever!
  • The host of Downfall (premiering June 22) has been named as former professional wrestler Chris Jericho.
  • The Hub has announced another game show for its October 10 launch; an adaptation of the board game Pictureka to be hosted by Cory Almeida.
  • Late Night Liars premieres tonight at 11PM (Eastern Time) on Game Show Network. As I'm just not up that late, I'll have my review next week.

That might be it at the moment. As I said, I will have my review of Late Night Liars next week; if all goes according to plan, I will have a three-in-one post on June 24 containing an ISIHAC recap, a review of Downfall, and something special!


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Art Linkletter 1912 - 2010

"I was Oprah before there was Oprah" - Art Linkletter

That, of course, is debatable - but there's no debating that Art Linkletter was a television legend, and he has died at age 97. This will be my first attempt at an obituary, so please bear with me...

Art was born Gordon Arthur Kelly in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. His name was changed to Arthur Gordon Linkletter when he was adopted after his birth parents abandoned him. His career in broadcasting involved everything from quiz shows to talent shows to guest hosting The Tonight Show. One of his most popular shows in its time was a stunt show called People Are Funny, which he may not have been the first host of (that was Art Baker) but he quickly became the one people associated with the show. Art hosted that show on radio and television for seventeen years (1943 to 1960) - but it still wasn't the show that made him a legend. That was House Party, which he hosted on radio and television from 1945 to 1969. It was there that he developed the schtick that will forever be associated with him - "Kids Say The Darndest Things."

Oh, come must of at least heard that phrase!

Seriously, if you've never heard of any of this - well, I can't say I'm surprised. Art was one of those old-time television personalities who may have had a career going back to early radio, but who nobody today could possibly know who he is. If I were not a hardcore game show fan, I probably would never have heard of Art myself. The version of House Party that I grew up watching was the one hosted by Bill Cosby from 1998 to 2000, on which Art appeared occasionally as a guest showing clips from his old show. There was probably little more to the show than Bill asking kids questions and getting "cute" answers, and I wasn't much older than some of the kids myself - but I was a regular viewer for a while, and nearly saw the show live (emphasis on nearly - I heard on the radio that the show was going to do some tapings in Boston, but never figured out how to get tickets).

Still, the fact that Art Linkletter came up with this idea, hosted it for twenty-four years on radio and television, and twenty-nine years after that it was still held in high enough regard that Bill Cosby, who had a hit sitcom at the time, agreed to host a revival? That's saying something - and as if that wasn't enough, Art was the father of Jack Linkletter, who was a game show host in his own right.

Jack Linkletter died of cancer in 2007. Now, his father has joined him.

May they rest in peace.