Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Top 14 Game Shows of All Time - Part II - Big Bucks, No Whammys and...........Stop!

Here we go with Part II of the 14 Top Game Shows.. And as promised.. We lead off with what is the controversial #9 pick.. A pick even Chuck Barris’s mother wouldn’t agree with!

9. THE GONG SHOW - How many game shows had a movie made about it? Not only that, it was just so insane that you couldn’t not watch it. Hosted by Chuck Barris because nobody else could really capture the essence of the show the way he did (although Laugh In announcer Gary Owens briefly hosted the nighttime syndicated version)... 3 celebrities sat in cheap ruffled 70s tuxes and evening gowns and held a long stick just inches from a gong that would instantly end the talent show participant's performances dead in their tracks. The show also gave us cultural icons such as Gene Gene the Dancing Machine and The Unknown Comic. Is it really a game show? Heck, why not?

American Idol is really the Gong Show without the Gong... and frankly watching the national tour of auditions all it needs is Arte Johnson, Jaye P Morgan and Jamie Farr and it really is the Gong Show. I think that considering the trend that game shows continue to recycle themselves with inferior remakes.. (there have been 2 remakes that didnt last long), one day in the future kids watching yet another new Gong Show will hear their parents tell them that its just like this old show they used to watch as kids called American Idol.

Speaking of American Idol.. can you believe the irony of how it spanked The Grammys in the Nielsen ratings last week? Singers go on AI to reach the ultimate reward of a Grammy... yet while AI alumnus Kelly Clarkson won a Grammy.,... nobody saw it because they were watching American Idol! I watched the first hour of the Grammys before wandering over to Lost and I briefly considered writing about the awards.. but they just didnt seem relevant to me. Too much of that hippity hop music, plus an opening where Madonna was singing with cartoon characters.. I almost thought Bob Hoskins would jump in and sing... "A shave and a haircut... 2 bits" like he did in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

Flash back to the late 80s... when the Grammys were relevant... in '88, I actually went to them... as a "worker".... kind of like the indentured servant on Sunday night's Desperate Housewives. I was at Montclair State at the time and a bunch of us got hired to work at the awards. Not only did we do it for free... but we had to pay for our own tuxedoes and our own transportation. A bunch of us hired a limo to take us in because we had to shlep a bunch of stuff to the City and it was too much to take on a bus or train, and as I recall we had to be at Radio City Music Hall at some ungodly hour in the morning.

It was fun.. no doubt about it. Watching the rehearsals were even more fun than the awards themselves. Billy Crystal hosted that year and there was an amazing performance of "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson...(which shows up on virtually every Google reference of the ’88 Grammys) plus a great opening number by Whitney Houston and a salute to NY with Billy Joel. We also got to hang out with Buster Pointdexter who was actually a nice guy. My job.. .a talent escort. My responsibility... to escort my "talent" around Radio City so they wouldn’t be lost when it was time to go on stage. And boy did I get a big star...The Lou Reed Singers... yep.. not even the original ones.. but new ones who had been recently hired by Lou. Remember the song.. "Take a Walk on the Wild Side"... Lou Reed has a line where the "colored girls go...(and the girls would then sing) doo doo doo dooo dooo....".... So all day long.. all I got to hear was doo doo doo to that song. Eventually I was fit to be tied but I kept a big smile on my face as they kept practicing doo doo dooing.. I actually asked them if they could doo doo to another song like "A shave and a haircut .. 2 bits".. and I think I ticked off Lou Reed.

By the way... after the Grammy's ended... our big party... we went to the late and lamented Clairmont Diner on Route 3. And since it was Purim… the next morning, just hours after seeing U2 not win with the classic “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For“…I got up early and went to my old synagogue in Linden for Purim services.. And since it wasn‘t due back till the afternoon I wore my tux there. It was one of only 2 times in my life I walked into that building wearing a tuxedo... the second time was my wedding day…. where I had already found what I was looking for!

8. WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE - Not since ABC had prime time Suzanne Somers Family Feud jiggle fests did Neilsen see a game show crack the top of the ratings charts. Millionaire ruled the Nielsens in the summer of 99 and became an instant ratings hit., First it ran as a special event and then ABC brought it back in the fall to plug in every hole in its rather lame lineup. The ratings started to slip and the show soon died of overexposure.. but not before selling it off to syndication where that hot babe Meredith Viera continues to host it. It ranks high on the watchability factor... you just can't turn away when a contestant approaches the 100,000 dollar question.

Heres a trivia fact... when I worked in radio we had an intern who bore an uncanny resemblance to Chuck Scarborough. We used to call him "Young Chuck". One day I’m watching the Regis version and there is Young Chuck sitting in Contestant's Row. He got the fastest finger question right and came on whereas he promptly bombed out on the first question. Little did he know I was watching as was every other radio alumnus I could contact once he was seen on Contestant Row, and we all saw his horrific outing. Im sure hes thrilled that this story is now on my blog to be read by millions, so if you ever see someone walking down the street who looks like Chuck Scarborough, ask him how he did on Who Wants to be a Millionaire!

7. PRESS YOUR LUCK - Hosted by Peter Tomarken, the game show that introduced “big bucks no whammys…and stop” to our everyday vocabulary, it is one of only 2 shows to premiere after 1980! What a dry spell for game show producers! Players answered easy questions to earn a “spin” and then spun their way on a big board to get the most cash and prizes… but once you hit the whammy… that was the end of the moolah. It was similar in principle to the devil on The Jokers Wild and Tic Tac Dough….but… on those games you could quit while you were ahead… Here, no such luck. A player with extra earned spins was allowed to pass them to an opponent, and the passed spin often wreaked havoc on players when it ended up on the whammy. I‘m amazed some of these players didn‘t get into fistfights over those passed spins..

One guy named Michael Larson was clever beyond belief since in the early VCR/Beta days he watched the patterns on the board and figured out where the cash and a spin spots would land and where the whammy would not.. And ultimately knew how to time out his hitting of the stopper to avoid that dastardly whammy so he would always land on a spot that gave him cash plus a spin. He went on the show and won more than 100,000 bucks as he continuously avoided the whammy spin after spin after spin. He spun 45 consecutive times, and of course the producers quickly figured out what was going on, since strategically…(and how many game shows employ strategy?) it would have made sense to pass his extra spins. He finally ended up with 2 or 3 spins which he passed to the next opponent who was stuck on 50 bucks. His incredible game took 2 episodes to finish and has been replayed on a GSN documentary about his “cheating”. The poor guy died broke several years later.. Amazingly he lost half the money in a real estate scam and the other half he kept at home in cash…. And of course his home was ultimately burglarized….so ultimately it seems like he did hit the whammy after all. But when it came to sheer excitement.. It was hard to beat Press Your Luck.

6. THE PYRAMIDS THAT HAD DOLLAR NUMBERS IN THE TITLE - Nothing against Donny Osmond but they modernized the show a bit much in its recent revival. The old versions mostly hosted by Dick Clark (but also Bill Cullen and John Davidson) had a dollar number in the title that was a huge amount of moolah for that time. The early versions in the early 70s was for a measly 10k… but later versions played for 100k. This game also had a high excitement level… as the seconds loudly ticked ominously in the background… almost like that clock on 24. It was fun to watched stressed out celebrities try to get people to say phrases like “Things George Bush says in a hot tub”….with clues like “Where are those bubbles coming from Condoleeza?”

5. JEOPARDY - Another Merv Griffin production…. And the most cerebral game show of our time. Simple format.. Answer in the form of a question. Use strategy to pick your dollar wagers on the Daily Doubles and final Jeopardy questions. Originally a daytime NBC game show in the 60s and 70s with Art Fleming, it came back with Alex Trebek in the 80s with a different set… and sharper look, yet stayed true to the format. Having Ken Jennings win a gazillion consecutive games in 2004 also helped give the show a big boost in the ratings not seen since Trebek shaved his moustache. Its always fun to play along and feel inferior to the NY Times Crossword Puzzle aficionados that excel in this game night after night. At this pace it could run forever, since they will never run out of questions, or smart people to play the game. Strangely enough, it could be the one show identified with a particular host that may have the most replaceable host. By the way Rock and Roll Jeopardy with Jeff Probst does not count on this list.. Although it too was a fun game show to watch. I always thought CBS was looking at Probst as a possible replacement for Bob Barker on The Price is Right.. But after his success on Survivor.. It looks like he will be gainfully employed for years to come.

Hey what does an award snubbed rich musician write in a telegram… Big Bucks… No Grammys… and Stop!

NEXT ; The final 4. More excitement than Dick Vitale could imagine!.. Will it be all Mark Goodson shows? Or will somebody else crack the list. And who is no. 1? No. 2? Stay tuned to find out!


Dumpstrapamus said...

Yeah, but there was always something unfair, it seemed, when the likes of an untenured history professor from Kingsborough Community College put so much sweat and effort into beating the ordeal of Final Jeopardy ("What is the Heiligenstadt Testament?"), only to walk away at the end with a mere $3,000 to cover his round-trip airfare to go back to his overpriced studio apartment in Bensonhurst... whereas a half-hour later, some doofus spins a wheel and ogles Vanna White and guesses a phrase like "Cheese Doodles", and goes home with 25 grand, a mahogany breakfront.... and A BRAND NEW CAR! But hey, it very much mirrors the injustices of life, doesn't it? You win some, you lose some, you raise a family and start to pay back some loans.... and, STOP! Game over....

Nate said...

Well put!! But, its not always about the shekels. A lot of people go on a game show just for the fun and/or prestige. Imagine winning money on the big money super match and getting a chance to hug Charles Nelson Reilly. Who can put a price tag on that? (Notice Hollywood Squares contestants werent allowed to run up to Paul Lynde to give him a hug for a secret square win!!)

belchie said...

Actually "Young Chuck" bombed out on the third question, I believe, after using Ask the Audience on his 2nd question and 50/50 on the 3rd.

But... then he got a second chance months later on the "Return of the $0 Winners" episode and this time he won big ($32,000)! So he might not be so upset to talk about his Millionaire experience after all.

Nate said...

Are you 100% sure about that? Not to doubt your amazing memory, but I thought he bombed out on his first question... and then he came back on the tournament of losers...

I think you win 100 bucks automatically for getting the first question right, even if you mess up on the 2nd.. I rarely pay attention to the game when its that early on.. except of course when young chuck played!

And with the 32k he won his 2nd go round, it would have taken him 3 yrs of salary at that cheapie radio station to earn that amount!!