Thursday, January 26, 2012


There's only piece of news right now: this week is NATPE, a trade show run by the National Association Of Television Program Executives (yeah, that's what it stands for). What's important about NATPE (at least in my mind) is that most of the new syndicated shows for the upcoming Fall season are announced there. That's right...Fall 2012 five-day-a-week game shows. I predicted in April 2011 that September 2012 is going to huge...let's see, what wonderful new shows will be on Monday through Friday...


Admittedly, it's too early to call this for sure, but as far as I can tell, there's one new game show being launched in syndication for Fall 2012, and it's Game Show Network's Baggage. Perhaps I shouldn't be as surprised as I am. Again, it's too early to call this for sure, but it looks like a show that combines the game mechanic of The Dating Game (in as much as The Dating Game had a game mechanic) with the gimmick of Deal Or No Deal will soon be coming to your local station. You know, many people are astonished when I tell them Deal Or No Deal was canceled in 2010. Many of the same people are just as astonished when I tell them Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is still on five days a week. 

Jer-ry, Jer-ry, Jer-ry...


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bob Holness 1928 - 2012

One of British television's most legendary game show hosts has died at age 83. Born Robert Wentworth John Holness in South Africa, he will likely be forever best remembered as the host of the original British version of Blockbusters, which ran from 1983 to 1994. Needless to say, that show was a lot more successful in Britain than it was in America - incredibly, it was also played as a kids game show in Britain! Bob also had a lengthy stint as the host of Call My Bluff, as did seemingly everyone else - I've already reported the deaths of two other former Call My Bluff hosts (Peter Wheeler in June 2010 and Robert Robinson in August 2011).

The news of Bob's death comes soon after the report that a new British version of Blockbusters will premiere at some point in 2012. There's no information on who will host it, but let's whoever it is, he\she pays proper tribute to Bob.

A few other pieces of news:

  • Denise Darcel, a French actress who hosted a few game shows in the early years of television, has died at age 87.
  • The new game show It's Not What You Know will premiere on February 23 on BBC Radio 4 with host Miles Jupp. The premise appears to be more or less Celebrity Newlywed Game (or Tattletales, I guess). 
  • Mill Creek Entertainment has pushed back the DVD release of Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? The Complete Series to February 21. As I've said before, Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? was the cartoon on Fox - the game shows on PBS were Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? and Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego?
That's all the news I've seen lately. Let me leave you with one more note - no discussion of the British version of Blockbusters is complete without noting that in the end credits of the Bob Holness version, the audience hand jives to the theme music. I've never embedded a YouTube video before, but this has to be seen to be believed.

If it helps, I verified the above link on the day this was posted.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting Old - In More Ways Than One

It is possible to overestimate Countdown.

It seems to me that a lot of Americans who discover the long-running British game show (actually adapted from an even longer-running show in France) conclude that it's on in primetime, that it's the most popular game show on British TV, and us Americans should be so ashamed of ourselves for watching Wipeout (or whatever game show is a primetime hit in America at the time). The actual fact is closer to The Price Is Right in America - it's a daytime television institution with a very devoted following, but the "general public" looks at it as something you watch when you have nothing better to do.

Like a lot of daytime television institutions - The Price Is Right included - Countdown has (or had, at any rate) a legendary host who did the show for decades - Richard Whiteley, who hosted the show for twenty-three years. For many of those years, Countdown was the show people thought of when they thought of daytime game shows in Britain, and while that's not always a distinction you want to have, at least you're not going to be canceled. When Richard died in 2005 just before taping was to start for the next season, Channel 4 did seriously consider canceling the show. The decision was ultimately made to continue, and new host Des Lynam debuted on October 31, 2005. Unfortunately for Countdown, debuting immediately afterward on Channel 4 was the only daytime game show that could possibly top Countdown - the new British version of Deal Or No Deal, with host Noel Edmonds. Seven years later, guess which one is the show people think of when they think of daytime game shows in Britain?

Perhaps that's the reason Countdown hasn't been able to hold on to a host - new host Nick Hewer, who debuted Monday, is the fourth host to take the job since Richard's death. Countdown isn't really a show that depends on its host anyway, which is a good thing as Nick, who is sixty-eight years old, comes across to me as this senior citizen making the sort of remarks a grandfather would make. Of course, the same complaint could easily be made of Des Lynam and even, from what I've seen of him, Richard Whiteley. None of them were genuinely bad (Des O'Connor, who replaced Des Lynam, was genuinely bad), and this is a good enough game that it can withstand a mediocre host, but Countdown is never going to be "hip" again (if it ever was to begin with) and if we wait a year and a half, Nick will probably be gone too. Maybe it is time to cancel the show (believe me, I feel terrible saying that).

I will leave you with one final thought - according to legend if nothing else, when the decision was made to continue after Richard Whiteley died, Noel Edmonds was offered the Countdown job, which he turned down to host Deal Or No Deal. He has hosted Deal Or No Deal ever since, and shows no signs of stopping. Make of that what you will.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Counting Down To A Countdown Special

"On January 2, 2012, Channel 4 will air a crossover special between Countdown and their comedy panel game show 8 Out Of 10 Cats. 8 Out Of 10 Cats host Jimmy Carr will host a game of Countdown between 8 Out Of 10 Cats team captains Sean Lock and Jon Richardson." - From my post on December 8, 2011.

I got more than I bargained for - the special turned out to be part of a much larger event called The Channel 4 Mashup, featuring crossovers between various Channel 4 shows. As I didn't know where in the Mashup the Countdown special would be, I went ahead and watched the whole thing.

The Channel 4 Mashup was hosted by Derren Brown and Mary Portas, who introduced "episodes" of five Channel 4 shows. I put episodes in quotes because several of them were split into multiple parts and spread throughout the event (which ran a total of three and a half hours). Two of these shows were not game shows of any kind, but I sat through them, so here we go in the order each show started:
  • The Million Pound Drop: Yeah, that's right - it's the British version of Million Dollar Money Drop. For the Mashup episode, normal host Davina McCall played the game alongside her father, while Phil Spencer guest hosted. This is probably not the best episode to judge the show by, but from what I could tell, The Million Pound Drop is ten times better than Million Dollar Money Drop despite having almost identical gameplay. It's still generic, but it's worth a look.
  • Come Dine With Me: A cooking competition show that I had vaguely heard of but never seen; the Mashup episode was a crossover with Made In Chelsea (a reality show). The premise: four contestants (in this case, four cast members from Made In Chelsea) each have a dinner party, with the other three attending. After each party, the three "guests" rate the "host" on a scale of one to ten, making the maximum possible score thirty points. After all four parties, the contestant with the most points wins 1,000 pounds. Narrator Dave Lamb provides a snarky voiceover throughout (it frankly gets pretty annoying by the end). Again, an episode featuring reality show cast members is probably not the best one to judge the show by (they all seem pretty obnoxious), but from what I could tell, this is pretty good if you like that sort of thing. Really, though, what's to stop contestants from giving each other low numbers just so they have a better chance of winning themselves?
  • Location Location Location: A show in which hosts Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer help buyers find the perfect house. As Phil Spencer was hosting The Million Pound Drop, Channel 4 talk show host Alan Carr substituted for the Mashup. It all bored me pretty heavily, but I'm the wrong person to ask.
  • River Cottage: A reality show about a farm - only for the Mashup, the Channel 4 news anchors are stopping by! Yay! Yeah, it was as dumb as it sounds.
  • Countdown: At last, the part I had come for (well over two hours into the event). Jimmy Carr hosted Sean Lock and Jon Richardson playing Countdown. They only played seven rounds (Letters, Letters, Numbers, Letters, Letters, Numbers, Conundrum), but that's just as well given all the comedy they fit in. Suffice to say this was the filthiest episode of Countdown I've ever seen, and while I wouldn't want Jimmy as the regular host of Countdown, as a one-off event it was great. I should also note that the studio audience appeared to be double the size of the audience for any other episode of Countdown I've seen.
There you go - my review of three and a half hours of The Channel 4 Mashup. This whole thing is supposedly taking place as the start of Channel 4's thirtieth anniversary celebration (the channel began in 1982), and I certainly hope it's not the end. I know exactly what I want to see (aside from the obvious Countdown specials) - two of Channel 4's early hits are almost universally considered two of the best British game shows ever made. This really should come as no surprise if you know your British game shows:
  • Treasure Hunt - Ran from 1982 - 1989. An incredibly entertaining helicopter scavenger hunt show. For the record, it has nothing to do with the American game show of the same name.
  • The Crystal Maze - Stunt show that ran from 1990 - 1995. Officially a British version of Fort Boyard, it was conceived of because the Fort was booked up when Channel 4 was ready to film there. The resulting show puts every version of Fort Boyard I've seen to shame.
Wouldn't it be awesome if they brought these two shows back for one night? Wouldn't it? Yes, I know it's not going to happen.

I'll have more from Channel 4 next week - specifically, Countdown with new host Nick Hewer!