Thursday, October 28, 2010

Well, It Is Better Than Minute To Win It...

"It gets worse, however, when we move from the network to game show fans, who immediately dismissed this show (an American format) as a ripoff of the British series The Cube. Every now and then, a show premieres in some other country that game show fans immediately latch onto, saying that when this show comes to America, it will forever change things. I remember when it was Millionaire (which lived up to the hype)...then The Weakest Link (which burned itself out pretty fast)...then Deal Or No Deal (ditto). I've heard a lot of game show fans say, essentially 'What is this Minute To Win It nonsense? We want the real The Cube!' What difference will it make? From what I've heard, the major difference between Minute To Win It and The Cube is that on The Cube, contestants do the stunts inside the eponymous Plexiglas structure. Is that seriously going to make a difference?" - From my review of Minute To Win It in March

Now that I've seen a couple episodes of The Cube...I guess it's time to try to answer that question.

The bare-bones description of The Cube sounds almost identical to that of Minute To Win It -a contestant starts out with nine lives. If this contestant successfully completes a game, we advance on the money ladder towards 250,000 pounds; if this contestant doesn't succeed, a life is lost. Quitting after successfully completing a game is of course an option, but once you say you want to go for it, you are committed to that game until you win or run out of lives. The contestant also has two lifelines - Simplify (which makes the game a little easier) and Trial Run (which allows you to try out a game once without fear of losing a life).

That's the what makes this show different from Minute To Win It? Well for starters, the games don't seem all that similar to me. From what I've seen of Minute To Win It, it's mostly plain old Beat The Clock-type stunts. There are a few of those on The Cube, but also a lot that don't come close. An average contestant's game might include pushing a button to stop a light in a certain place, stepping over a barrier while wearing a blindfold helmet, and building a certain tower with wooden blocks within twenty seconds. One contestant I saw just had to catch a ball from a pitching machine for something like 10,000 pounds.

Of course, if you said "Just catching a ball for 10,000 pounds? That sounds dumb" you've captured the biggest problem here. The fact is that, while this show is mind-numbingly entertaining, it also contains some of the dumbest games I have ever seen, being played out in the most overdone way imaginable. Host Phillip Schofield talks to the cube. The cube talks to the contestant, addressing him\her by name. The games are demonstrated by "the body" (a woman in a mask who the cube intones is "an expert at all games played within the cube") and frequently shown in slow motion.

The padding is endless. Phillip has to resort to giving the contestant statistics like "on average, it takes 3.2 lives to complete this game, and women are 38% better at it then men" and constantly repeating "next time you walk out of the cube, it will be with X pounds...or nothing." Of course, all this padding has to be there - if they just played these games without it, the show would be fifteen minutes long.

If I'm making this show sound bad, I'm sorry. The fact is that Phillip is excellent and the show is really, really, incredibly fun to watch - way more so than Minute To Win It. While I'd love to see an American version, I'd love even more to see a game show that did something really unique - not follow the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? model.

I usually point to Million Dollar Password as the ultimate proof that Millionaire clones have taken over the genre...well, here's an even bigger example. In March 2009, it was announced that NBC was producing a pilot for an American version of the British topical panel game show Have I Got News For You. The article contained the following sentence: "NBC declined comment on its plans for 'News,' but it seems likely the network will make some changes to the show’s format in order to make it fit with the big 'event' feel seen in most primetime reality shows."

There's your thought for the day.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yes, I Know...

When I wrote my post last week about Family Game Night and Pictureka, there were quite a few things I wanted to bring up - some related to The Hub and some not - that I left out simply for the sake of a clearer post. Well...I'm going to throw them all at you this week. Without further ado...
  • Yes, I know what the really big piece of news is right now - the five-day-a-week version of 1 vs. 100 will premiere November 15 on Game Show Network. The grand prize is $50,000, and the mob will be recorded separately from the rest of the show. The host is...keep an open mind...Dancing With The Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba.
  • Yes, I know that the Massachusetts Lottery has released the names of the winners from the first The Price Is Right Las Vegas trip drawing...I'm not one of them. I've already bought another ticket and entered it into the second drawing.  It looks like this "special show of The Price Is Right Live" is in February 2011, and isn't just for the Massachusetts Lottery but rather all the state lotteries participating. There's no announcement yet on when the second drawing will be.
  • Yes, I know that Hasbro has found a different way to promote one of it's board games - they have announced that The Hub will at some point premiere a live-action kids mystery series inspired by (or at least named after) the board game Clue. I don't know when this will premiere, and frankly, I don't care. The fact is that Hasbro announced a lot of high-profile shows for The Hub (such as new Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons) that show no signs of premiering.
  • Yes, I know that The Hub began on October 16 to show reruns of Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?, the cartoon that originally ran on Fox. That's not the same, OK? The cartoon has been rerun plenty of times, and it was just announced that a complete series DVD set will be released at some point in 2011; meanwhile, the game show has never resurfaced after leaving PBS.
  • Yes, I know that one of the British kids game shows I mentioned last week, The Slammer, isn't really a kids game show or even, strictly speaking, a game show; however, it is a show that I really, really, want to see. It's a talent show built around the idea that the acts (all adults) are inmates competing for parole in front of an audience of kids. Of course, this is completely fictitious and staged; however the mere fact that in Britain, that's an acceptable concept for a kids show says a lot about America.
  • Finally, yes, I know that Hasbro is preparing a special (or at least I think that's what it is) called Extreme Family Game Night Challenge. The idea: families will submit videos of them playing Hasbro games, and the two that Hasbro likes best will be flown to Orlando to compete in a final televised showdown...on Nickelodeon. The winning family will then be flown to Los Angeles to see the 2011 Kids Choice Awards...which are on Nickelodeon. That's all I know. Come on Hasbro, do you really have that little faith in The Hub?
That's enough for now. I'll get to all these things as they come.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Still Hope For The Hub

I'm going to try to be realistic here.

The Hub is a kids channel, so it's not going to show the game show Scrabble. More than that, The Hub is an American kids channel, so it's not going to show all the British kids game shows I want to see (such as Knightmare or The Slammer). Even more than that, The Hub is an American kids channel owned by Hasbro, so it's not going to show all the kids game shows I remember from my childhood (most notably Carmen Sandiego).What The Hub will do is adapt Hasbro's board games into stereotypical noisy kids game shows...and guess what? They did a pretty good job of it.

In Family Game Night (which had a preview episode on TLC on October 9 before premiering on The Hub on October 10), Todd Newton plays host to two families (parents and two kids). As with Hole In The Wall, we don't learn these families' real last names; they are known throughout the show by the name of one of their kids (the preview episode was Johnny's Family versus Diego's Family). Each family is also introduced via the sort of introduction video you only find on a kids game show - you know, the kind that goes "Hi, I'm Timmy and this is my mom Mary. She's a great cook..."

These two families are there to compete in five games in each episode, inspired, of course, by various Hasbro board games. The family that wins each game gets to pick one of the terribly named Monopoly Crazy Cash Cards, each of which has a money amount attached to it (and before you scoff at the prize budget, you should know that these money amounts are quite high; one card is worth a five-digit number). At the beginning of the show, each family is given one card for free to start. At the end of the show, the cards are put in a reader and we see the money amounts attached to them, and the family with the most money gets the grand prize trip.

So what are the games? Well, perhaps surprisingly, they're pretty creative and cool. Guesstures involves playing charades while in a harness high above the studio; Boggle sees the families jumping from square to square on a floor size letter board. That's not to say all the games are winners - Cranium amounts to little more than a bog standard quiz, and it won't be long before Connect Four (in which the families must toss color-coded balls into a giant version of the namesake game's board) gets old - but the ones that work outweigh the ones that don't (and looking at other game shows with rotating rounds - such as The Price Is Right - do you like every game in rotation?)

The set's quite large and impressive, Todd Newton can host just about anything, and the prize budget is amazing for a brand new kids cable channel; not only do both families keep their money, but the winner of each game gets an extra bonus prize. In short, Hasbro clearly put a lot more effort into this show than you'd expect from the description "Families play mini-games based on various board games." That's still not a great premise for a game show, but if you must go with it, this is about as good as it could be done.

So we come to Pictureka, which premiered October 11. The show opens with an animated opening sequence and a pretty bad lyrical theme song -something like "Pictureka...Find It Fast...Find It First..." Cory Almeida (a comedian, as far as I can tell) plays host to two families (one parent and two kids). Yet again, we don't learn these families' real last names; they are known on this show simply by team colors (the premiere was the green team versus the yellow team). Each family is introduced via an incomprehensible animation that is apparently supposed to represent their interests. They are there to play what essentially amounts to a hidden picture game - Cory starts at the start of the show that the object is to collect fish to feed the show's penguin mascot, but this theming doesn't seem to extend beyond referring to each family's score, for the entire show, as being in "fish points." At the beginning of the show, in one of the dumbest opening rounds you can possibly imagine, the families are given fifteen seconds to just run around grabbing fish point coupons from the hands of audience members.

Fortunately, the show improves from there. One round features the families searching block pyramids for different pictures; another has each family tied together as they run around the set looking for pictures. At the end of the show, the family with the most fish points plays a bonus round in which they are shown, for ten seconds, a grid of nine pictures; they then have one minute thirty seconds to find those pictures and place them in the appropriate squares. If they get the correct picture in the bonus square on the grid, they win the grand prize trip.

It's not bad. It's not great, but the set is impressive and while Cory does fall a little into the kids game show "try to be hip" trap, at least he isn't Teck Holmes. I have seen game shows -and, indeed, kids game shows - that are much worse than this.

I'm not delusional. These aren't the greatest game shows ever or even the greatest kids game shows ever, and I know they exist mostly to promote Hasbro board games. Still, I thought these shows were fun, and an eight-year-old me would have loved them. As I said, I'm going to try to be realistic. The Hub isn't going to do any of the shows I hoped it would do, but I hope the shows it does succeed.


Thursday, October 7, 2010


Let me start by saying this: I never saw the Fox version of Hole In The Wall, so I can't compare it to the version that premiered last night on Cartoon Network. By all accounts, the primetime version was awful, but I'm going to try to judge the kids version on its own merits, OK?

Here's my judgement: it's a disaster.

Teck Holmes, who screams most of what he says, plays host to two families (each composed of a parent and two of that parent's children). We don't learn these families' real last names; they are known throughout the show by team names. To use the premiere as an example, it's not the Jones family versus the Smith family; it's "The Good, The Bad, And The Stepdad" versus "Mama Trucker And The Mudflaps". These two families walk onstage in bizarre silver jumpsuits and color-coded helmets. They also trash talk each other a lot, which sounds dumb - but believe me, that's about the only thing you can do to pad out this game. The premise of this globally exported format: the host screams out "Let's see the HOLE IN THE WALL!". The audience counts down three seconds. A wall comes at you. There is a hole in it. If you get through the hole, you get points; if you don't, you fall into a pool.

In round one, all three members of each family try to get through the wall; they get ten points for each family member who succeeds. In round two, one member of each family puts on a blindfold helmet and must be directed on how to get through the wall by their teammates (cue the parents standing motionless while their kids are screaming instructions); they get ten points if they succeed. In round three only two members of each family face the wall; they again get ten points for each member who doesn't fall into the pool. In round four, two members of each family are spun around by the opposing family, so they are supposedly dizzy when the wall comes at them; they get twenty points for each family member who gets through. The family with the most points then gets a Hole In The Wall trophy (and nothing else) and plays the final Impossiwall (no, really) for a place on the Wall Of Fame (and nothing else) if all three family members get through.

If that format sounds flat out is, and that's not even the worst part. I could go on for a while here: no prizes, bland music, endless replays of each fall, an audience that appears to have been told to be as loud as possible...get the idea? Going back to my review of Downfall in June, this is what that show would have been if they hadn't come up with an entertaining game and a decent host to back up their gimmick. I suppose it fits in better on Cartoon Network that it would have in primetime, and an eight-year-old me probably would have thought it was fun...but I think the fact that, while this is a Japanese format, it's a five-minute segment on a variety show in Japan says a lot.

I'll have reviews of The Hub's new kids game shows (Family Game Night and Pictureka) next week.