Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Quote Chuck Woolery...

"I kept telling them ‘Look, find someone else to do it, it will be a huge hit. Look what happened to Wheel!’”
- on the final episode of Scrabble in 1990

Let's take that quote in parts. First, what happened to Wheel - Wheel Of Fortune's "Vanna For A Day" episode aired on March 24, and naturally my local station (a CBS station) bumped it to the middle of the night to make room for March Madness basketball. Between my DVR and YouTube, I was able to see the full episode, and let's just say this is certainly not an early attempt by Sony to phase out Pat Sajak and Vanna White - Katie Cantrell was "Vanna" for all of two puzzles. I guess she seemed like she was having a good time.

Going to the other part of Chuck's wisecrack...they found someone else, and I get the feeling I'm about to get a lesson in being careful what I wish for. In its 2011 upfront presentation, Hasbro's The Hub channel announced two new game shows, and one of them is Scrabble Showdown, to be hosted by Justin Willman. Alas, the other new show isn't Dungeons And Dragons - incredibly, it's The Game Of Life, and even more incredibly, it's going to be hosted by Frank Nicotero off Street Smarts. I'm not sure what to make of that one. The Hub also announced a new season of Family Game Night and, perhaps surprisingly, that they will begin showing reruns of the just-canceled Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? Pictureka, as far as I can tell, is done. I should also note that, despite what some people are saying, the Clue TV show The Hub announced is a scripted kids mystery series, not a game show of any sort.

There's no word on when any of this will start; my personal theory is that between Scrabble Showdown, The Game Of Life, On The Spot, and Nickelodeon's upcoming Family Brain Surge, I'll have a few new kids shows to look forward to on Labor Day - even if none of them could possibly top The Slammer.

OK, OK, no more "The British are better than us..."


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maybe I Shouldn't Be Counting Down Those Days

It's official: we're not smarter than a fifth grader, and we've forgotten the lyrics. Both Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? and Don't Forget The Lyrics will end in September. Remember when game shows started out as five-day-a-week daytime shows and got bigger-money primetime versions once they were successful? Now, of course, it's the other way around.

Fifth Grader...I remember when it started, I resisted it for a while. I heard the title Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? and that the host was going to be Jeff Foxworthy and thought "it's going to be awful." Hearing the theme song online didn't help either (all together now: "Are you smarter than a fifth graderrrrrrr...cause there's gonna be a test laterrrrrrr..."). The show premiered, and everyone told me I needed to see this hilarious new game show. I watched and I liked what I saw - yes, it's a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? clone, but so are half the game shows that premiered since Millionaire. I even grew to like that theme song (hey, at least it isn't a generic post-Millionaire theme). I have pretty much the same story for Don't Forget The Lyrics - I resisted it for a while, eventually watched, and found it a lot better then some of the other Millionaire clones I've seen.

Good shows that they might be, it's no surprise that they're canceled. The ratings for these shows have been minuscule. What is surprising is that nothing has been announced to take their place. Baggage finished its syndication test run on March 4, and beyond a once-a-week kids game show called On The Spot, there's been nothing announced for Fall 2011 syndication.Yes, I've heard the mumblings of a possible syndicated version of Wipeout, but I don't believe it just yet. It seriously looks like we'll be down to seven five-day-a-week shows in the fall, and have nothing new to look forward to in September. There's five months, one week, and five days until Labor Day - but I may be stuck watching the Jerry Lewis telethon.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Yep - Another British Show

Every year, for far longer than is probably healthy, I count down the days until the start of the new five-day-a-week shows on Labor Day - and pretty much every year, I have to wait a little longer for some of them because of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon. I wouldn't complain about that nearly as much if that telethon were more like the BBC's 24 Hour Panel People.

Now here's an idea: to raise money for British charity Comic Relief, comedian David Walliams takes on the challenge of appearing on twenty game shows in twenty-four hours. That's not to say he was driving from studio to studio; all the shows were done in the same studio, with stagehands changing the set to match each show and a bucketload of other talent drifting in and out as hosts, panelists, contestants, and guests. The whole thing was, naturally, streamed live on the Internet; for whatever reason, I didn't watch. I did, however, watch the five half-hour episodes of highlights shown on BBC3.

First things first: the full list of shows, hosts, panelists, etc. is on and I'm not wasting space repeating it here. Needless to say, most of them were comedy panel game shows of one form or another, but a few others did slip in. I should note that a lot of the participants (for want of a better word) said a lot of things you should never, ever say on a charity telethon - the most blatent example being during Mock The Week, when one of the categories the panelists had to provide examples of was...well, things you should never, ever say on a charity telethon. I'll leave it to your imagination; however, it was thankfully balanced out by breaks in each show for plugs about Comic Relief's work around the world.

David looked like he was going to collapse by the end, but did manage to complete nineteen shows - due to time constraints, Room 101 had to dropped from the schedule at the last minute. Most Americans would probably have never heard of most of the shows used; still, as a hardcore game show fan, I found this to be terrific entertainment.

I would promise to write about Wheel Of Fortune's Vanna For A Day episode next week, but my local station (a CBS station) is bumping it to the middle of the night to make room for March Madness basketball. I'll hopefully be able to discuss it on March 31.

If you're wondering - five months, two weeks, and five days until Labor Day.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

There's No Real News...

...but I think it is worth it to bring one thing up: that bastion of game show information, BuzzerBlog, has posted a report of the rules of Million Dollar Mind Game, a long-awaited show that shows no sign of actually reaching television. Just to remind you, this is the American version of the Russian show What? Where? When?; it was originally known as The Six, then Six Minds, then Million Dollar Mind Game. The host for the episodes that were taped (and which, as I said, will probably never reach television) was veteran British game show host Vernon Kay.

This is a show I've been waiting for for a long time; I said May 20, 2010 (and that gives you an idea as to how long) that "if this works, it could lead to some genuinely intelligent and tough American game shows; if it doesn't, at least we can't say the Americans didn't take a risk." Well...

The show, as reported by BuzzerBlog, features a team of six people. They are asked a question and have sixty seconds to think about it, after which the team captain (who is different for each question) gives an answer. If correct, we advance on the money ladder towards $1,000,000. There are three lifelines: one gives the team another thirty seconds of thinking time, the second is Switch The Question, and the third allows the team to give a different answer than the one decided on by the team captain. After each step on the money ladder, the team is given the option of quitting; however, the decision must be unanimous or the game will continue.

In other words, the Americans didn't take a risk. This is Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? with tougher questions. I somehow get the feeling that it looks and sounds like every other big money primetime game show, something that's surprising only when you remember that the original Russian show is an no-prize show in the vein of, say, Countdown or Only Connect. I've been hoping for years for a show like that to reach America.

If Million Dollar Mind Game does reach television, I'm guessing it will be a lesson in being careful what you wish for.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let's Get Some News Out Of The Way First...

  • Wheel Of Fortune's "Vanna For A Day" contest has been won by Katie C. from Savannah, Georgia. Yes, they aren't telling us her last name. The episode featuring her will air on March 24.
  • Bill Nimmo, a former sidekick to Johnny Carson and host of a few game shows in the early years of television, has died at age 93.
Now, since I don't have much to say about either of those, I'm going to finally review that CBBC show that I said on January 27 was "even more 'out there' than The Slammer." The show is called Trapped, and if I were to describe it in terms of other shows, it would be the game play mechanic of The Mole (a show I adore) crossed with the fantasy atmosphere of Knightmare. Yes, it's every bit as bizarre - and in my book, as awesome - as that makes it sound.

The premise, as relayed to us by the Caretaker (played by Simon Greenall): six kids wearing earpieces start out on the top floor of a tower (think Rapunzel). They are being held prisoner by the Voice (played by Faith Brown), an evil witch that the viewers never see clearly. On each floor, the kids are set a challenge that they must work as a team to the start of each game, one kid is told via that goofy looking earpiece that he\she must try to sabotage. Unlike most shows of this sort, the viewer can hear everything the Voice is saying through those earpieces; thus, not only do we know who the saboteur is, we can hear all the inside information the Voice is feeding him\her.

If the team wins their challenge, the saboteur failed to do his\her job and is thus eliminated, trapped presumably forever on that floor of the tower. If the team fails, they must vote on who they thought the saboteur was, and whoever gets the most votes is trapped, regardless of whether or not he\she was the saboteur (and even if the saboteur is not eliminated, a different kid is the saboteur on the next floor). When only two kids are left on the bottom floor of the tower, they play a quiz of questions about the rest of the game - who was the saboteur on this floor, did you win or lose on that floor, you get it. The loser of this quiz is trapped, and the winning kid is shown walking out of the tower over the credits. There are, as far as I can tell, no actual prizes.

As with Knightmare and The Slammer, this is quite a brave concept for a kids show - the sort that doesn't come along often in Britain and would probably never get on television in America. It's pretty clear that a lot of kids would find this too much, but I thought it was great and I like to think an eight-year-old me would have agreed. Yep, British kids get Trapped and The Slammer, and American kids are stuck with Hole In The Wall and Pictureka. Maybe I should just concede that the British are better than us.