Thursday, February 23, 2012

Forget BBC Radio 4...

…I’m in Las Vegas!

Yes, an opportunity came up to go to Sin City, and I happily snapped up tickets to some shows, including The Price Is Right: Live In Las Vegas at Bally’s, a show that’s pretty darn famous among game show nerds. My show-by-show report, which came out to five pages when I typed it up in Word:

February 20, 2012 - Name That Tune: Live In Las Vegas at Imperial Palace
Name That Tune is the only other game show besides The Price Is Right to have a Las Vegas recreation right now. The producers announced it together with The Sing-Off: Live In Las Vegas, but that one is showing no signs of happening.

When I bought my tickets, I found there was a limited time promotion where you could get a guaranteed slot as a contestant. Naturally, I did it. I soon found out why this promotion was happening – after arriving half an hour before showtime for contestant registration and waiting another fifteen minutes to go into the theater, I found that said theater was about half full.

Anyway, the show began with a little video about the history of the TV show Name That Tune, after which announcer and DJ Jimmy Z introduced host Zowie Bowie (no, not Duncan Jones – his real name is Chris Phillips) and assistant Marley Taylor. The pair, apparently veteran Las Vegas entertainers, came on stage singing a terrible lyrical theme song, sang another song after the first two rounds, and occasionally sang bits of whatever song the contestants had just named.

The format then – while the ads I’ve seen for Name That Tune promise anywhere from fifty to one hundred contestants per show, at the show I saw there were “only” thirty, called out of the audience in three groups of ten. The first two groups called onstage play a round in which Jimmy Z plays songs one at a time, and the first player to buzz in with the correct song title gets one point. When you get two points, you move on the next round and leave your podium, and the round continues until three contestants have won. The third group does the same thing, only four contestants move on to the next round instead of three. For the record, I was in the first group and I did get one point. The twenty contestants eliminated in this round win some free tickets to other Las Vegas shows.

After all three groups have played, the ten remaining contestants are split into five pairs. The members of each pair play against each other in…no, not Bid-A-Note…Bid-A-Second. Zowie reads out a clue, after which the two contestants bid on how many seconds of the song they will need to hear to identify it (“I can name that tune in six seconds”, “I can name that tune in four seconds”, etc.). Once one player has challenged the other to name that tune, a correct answer is worth one point, while an incorrect guess awards the point to the other player. The first player to get two points moves on to the next round. The five eliminated contestants get a slightly bigger set of free tickets to other Las Vegas shows.

Once all five pairs have played Bid-A-Second, five giant whiteboard stations are wheeled out for the five remaining contestants to write on. Jimmy Z plays a thirty-second mash-up of snippets from ten songs connected by a common theme (as I was seeing this on President’s Day, the theme was songs about America). The contestants write down their answers while the mash-up is playing, and the player who gets the most songs correct is the winner for the show. The four eliminated players get…yeah, more tickets to other Las Vegas shows. Zowie also invites the audience to play along via pieces of paper and pens on their seats – you get free tickets to another Las Vegas show if you get eight right, which nobody did. The correct answers for this round are revealed via a giant screen that comes down from the ceiling, leading to a lot of jokes about this being the reason The Phantom Of The Opera is closing in Las Vegas. For the record, the real reason Phantom is closing in Las Vegas - at least according to rumor - is to make room for Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark. Honestly, my first thought upon seeing Name That Tune's answer board wasn't The Phantom Of The Opera's chandelier, but rather “The answers will now be revealed to the audience via the incredible Pentium-powered laser display board…”

The day’s winner then plays a bonus round in which you have sixty seconds to identify songs. When you think you know the title, you buzz in and the clock stops while you give your answer. You can also choose to buzz in and use one of your two methods of help – you can pass on one song and poll the audience on another (and by “poll the audience”, I really just mean Zowie turns around and says “Does anybody know it?”) If you give one wrong answer, the round ends immediately; if you get fifteen songs correct in sixty seconds, you win $10,000. This, as far as I can tell, is the only way you can win a prize that isn’t tickets to another Las Vegas show, and let’s face it, it isn’t going to happen (the guy I saw managed nine). I had fun, and being onstage was surreal, but there’s a reason the theater was only half full, and being a contestant would have been a lot more fun if I hadn’t reserved the privilege. 

I ended up walking away with vouchers for two tickets to another performance of Name That Tune (without the guaranteed contestant slot) and two tickets to another show at Imperial Palace, Divas (a show whose tagline is “You won’t believe your eyes because these girls are really guys!”). A $200 value, to be sure, but (A) the Name That Tune voucher turned out to have expired five days before I received it, (B) I couldn’t go to Name That Tune again anyway as it conflicted with shows I had actually paid for and (C) come on…the drag show? 

February 21, 2012 – Mac King at Harrah’s
Mac King is a magician, and he’s touted as one of the best magicians in Las Vegas. They all say that, of course, but Mac opened for Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me when they did a taping in Las Vegas, so he has to be good!

I couldn’t tell you for sure, however, as it turns out this week is Mac's week off, and Dana Daniels is substituting for him. I knew it going in, and decided to just buy the ticket anyway. Yeah, that’s right…I bought a ticket to see a magician substituting for another magician who I wanted to see because he was once the opening act for a game show. Viva Las Vegas! Dana was pretty good though, and I laughed really hard. The theater wasn’t completely full, but a lot more full then the one for Name That Tune.

Finally, the main event…

February 22, 2012 – The Price Is Right: Live In Las Vegas at Bally’s
This show is pretty beloved among game show nuts, but after seeing the half-full theater for Name That Tune and the only slightly bigger crowd for Mac King, I wasn’t expecting a huge turnout.

I was wrong.

Upon arriving at Bally’s, I headed to the Box Office to pick up my tickets, and found a massive line. After waiting for about twenty minutes, I got my tickets and was told to go to another line by the theater for contestant registration to have a chance at coming on down. After waiting for a good twenty-five minutes in that line, I registered and had my picture taken in front of a green screen over which the Big Wheel would be superimposed (the picture was emailed to me after the show). I was then able to spend some time eating lunch before getting in line again and waiting fifteen minutes to go into the theater. It appeared to be double the size of either of the theaters I had seen before…and within a few minutes every seat was filled.

While waiting in line for contestant registration, I saw a sign that read “Today’s contestants will be selected by the producers”. It’s not too hard to deduce what that means, but I asked anyway, and the person behind the desk confirmed that contestant will be selected based on how excited they seem in line or whatever criteria the show uses. Naturally, this means I wasn’t picked.

As the vast crowd waited for the show to start, video screens were showing a slideshow of little facts and trivia questions about The Price Is Right. At long last, the show started with a little video about the history of The Price Is Right on TV, after which an…um…secondary announcer introduced our announcer, Andy Martello. Andy’s warm-up consisted mostly of coaching the audience on how to clap and scream and go “OOOOH!” when each prize shows up, as well as showing a few clips. Finally, Andy revealed what I had already known going in – the host would be Joey Fatone.

This announcement was followed by a video of highlights of Joey’s career, including his only game show hosting role on The Singing Bee. Having read online when I bought the tickets that Joey would be hosting, I was hoping for a game show mainstay as the announcer, but instead we got Andy, whom the secondary announcer introduced as having been on Last Comic Standing. As far as I can tell, he was never a host, judge, or contestant on that show - I guess he might have performed once. The curtain then finally parted to reveal a nice little recreation of The Price Is Right’s set, with two big doors painted to resemble the thirtieth anniversary big doors from 2002, and we were on our way. There were two models in addition to Joey and Andy.

The format – the show I saw had a total of twenty-five contestants. We started off with three pricing games, with a completely new set of four contestants being called to come on down before each game. After three games, the curtain was closed so the Big Wheel could be set up, with the time being filled by a video of classic clips from The Price Is Right. The Showcase Showdown featured a completely new set of three contestants, who could win $500 if they spun $1 and $1,000 if they spun $1 again in the bonus spin. The player who won the Showcase Showdown, and on the television show would have advanced to the Showcase, won $250.

The Showcase Showdown was followed by two more pricing games, after which two completely new contestants were called to come on down for the Showcase. These contestants went backstage, the curtain was closed again, and another little video was shown, this one featuring “classic clips from all your favorite game shows”, which turned out to mean The Price Is Right, Family Feud, and Match Game.

It was then time for the Showcase – just one showcase, with the two contestants writing down their bids. Whoever came closest to the actual retail price of the showcase without going over won one prize from said showcase, and not the biggest one at that; if you came with in $100 of the actual retail price of the showcase, you won the whole thing (neither of them did it). Throughout the whole show, contestants who didn’t win anything got a T-shirt, with the sole exception being the Showcase runner-up, who won a copy of The Price Is Right DVD game. 

After each pricing game (but not after the Showcase Showdown), five instant winners from the audience were announced, who each won 1,000 free Bally’s casino credits. At the end of the show, two more instant winners each got 2,500 casino credits. When the whole thing was over, you could pay another $20 for a T-shirt and a picture with Joey, Andy and the models . I did it, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

The pricing games used:
  • ·      Any Number, with a four-digit prize at the top of the board. After the contestant won the three-digit prize, Joey offered her a chance to give up said prize and continue the game in the hope of winning the four-digit prize. She did it, and ended up with the piggy bank.
  • ·      Cliff Hangers, played exactly as it is on television.
  • ·      Hole In One Or Two – not for a car, and as far as I could tell there was no cash bonus for getting the grocery items in exactly the right order.
  • ·      Shell Game – instead of four small prizes on stage, four clips were shown of The Price Is Right from the year 1975, with a price being shown for the prize in the clip. The contestant had to guess whether said price was true or false based on the 1975 episodes used, and getting it correct won a chip. As far as I could tell, there was no cash bonus for getting all four chips.
  • ·      Plinko, with $500 in the center slot.

This of course is quite scaled down from the show on television, but it’s also clear that a lot of effort has been put into it. All the actual show music is used, and look at it this way – a lot more is given away here then in the Name That Tune show down the street. I personally had a great time, and my throat ended up hurting a lot from all the shouting the audience is expected to do.

There you have it - my over 2,000-word report on my trip to Las Vegas, and I had a great time. I will have the promised reviews of Wordaholics and It’s Not What You Know next week.

No, I didn’t go to the drag show. Were you seriously expecting me to?


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