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.


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