He Got Game Shows

Since the dawn of man, men in bad suits have stood before blazing hot lights in crowded studios whilst the middle class majority of Americans went through arcane rituals in the name of catching a break and clawing their way up from financial mediocrity. If I'm exaggerating, may you buy a vowel, use a lifeline, make it a true daily double, guess as close to the correct dollar amount without going over, and for goodness sake pray that there's a small amount when you open the next case. If none of this makes sense, go ahead and pick JM J. Bullock to block while I list ”(me) favorite TV game shows of all time and why?”

Wikipedia lists all forms of game shows, from reality to celebrity shows, and while I got a lot of laughs out of Whose Line is it Anyway? and a lot of useful information out of Blind Date, I'm not going to count those as game shows. To me, a game show is exactly what I describe up above. Maybe some if not all are scripted or fixed in some way, though not edited to the degree of reality shows. But I like to think the regular ordinary everyday struggling people like myself really do get a break, get their fifteen minutes to win some money, through luck, intellect, or a combination of the two. I'm not a sports guy, but I think my behavior has at times mirrored sports fans when watching a game show, especially when someone does something unbelievably stupid. I will yell at the television.

Double Dare is going to be the only children's program on my list, something I watched faithfully in the late ‘80s while my mom decried the waste of food. The novelty did quickly wear off, as contestants fished through multicolored slime or spoiled food to find flags when they couldn't answer questions. Today, those children are probably eating animal genitalia or insects on Fear Factor, a show whose novelty wore off even quicker as the disgusting deeds outnumbered genuine stunts and facing of fears.

Wheel of Fortune bothered me. Vanna White was a draw, certainly, but it was one of those frustrating shows where I knew the answer before the contestants. It was a long time before I grasped the fact that the more letters they chose, the more money they'd win from the wheel, so solving the puzzle quickly wasn't always the best course of action, even when the answer was painfully obvious. If it's on one of the televisions in my gym I'll watch, and yell at the contestants in my head when I know the answer. My favorite puzzles are the “Before & After” ones, in which the phrase merges two unrelated sayings, like “A Bird in the Hand Grenade” or “Another Brick in the Wall Flower”.

I referenced Hollywood Squares earlier, specifically the John Davidson incarnation from the 80s with the aforementioned JM J. Bullock among the regular celebrities. It was tic tac toe with a revolving door of celebrities past their prime, as such a wonderful exercise in nostalgia. I'd laugh at the banter, and be on the edge of my seat when the winner chose one of five keys and turned them in the ignition of the car, hoping it was the right one and the car started. I can't say I cared for the Tom Bergeron/Whoopi Goldberg revival, which sparked the question, “What the hell is Bruce Vilanch?” No, seriously, what the hell was that thing?

Who among us hasn't watched Family Feud? Richard Dawson kissed more women each week, and it was always a treat when the panels turned over to reveal that the survey agreed with the answer I was shouting at my television, as though the contestants could hear me. It was my first experience with a show changing hosts, and Ray Combs felt like an imperfect clone of Dawson. Something just wasn't right. I gave it another chance when Louie Anderson took over, but there was something really depressing about his hosting style. In a stand-up routine I could accept his demeanor as part of his act, but as a host I suddenly felt really, really sad for his life. I've never seen the Richard Karn version, though I imagine he infused in some of the energy lost during the Anderson years.

I can't imagine The Price is Right with any host besides Bob Barker. It's the show that was always there, and when I'd be home from school in the Summer or had a vacation day, in an age before DVDs and the internet, it would be the only alternative to soap operas at 11 AM. I could tune in, and never see the same game twice. It really is an hour-long commercial for the products on there, but cleverly disguised. Barker recently announced he's retiring, so I don't know who will remind people to spay and neuter their pets after June of 2007. I wonder what The Villanch is doing these days...?

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is another game show whose popularity hinged on the charisma of its host. The energy and humor of Regis Philbin made it fun to watch, and I liked that it was a genuine game of intelligence rather than chance. Unlike Fear Factor, there were no disgusting deeds for a paltry $50,000. Here you earned a million if you could answer all of the multiple choice questions. I was hesitant to include it since it was something of a fad and I was surprised to read that there's even a daytime version still running. Still, I think it had more of an impact than its contemporary, the American version of Weakest Link, which said “goodbye” much quicker.

Deal or No Deal may prove to be another fad, but it has a simple yet addictive concept, and it's a great study into human nature and greed. Should they take the $100,000 offered by the banker, or keep opening cases? More often than not, they want to keep opening cases, hoping for a higher offer. More often than not, they open a case with a higher dollar amount, which knocks down the original offer. When I recently saw the ‘fro and goatee Howie Mandel was sporting on a classic episode of Lois and Clark, I realized the shaved head and radical change to his look could only improve his career. He's a great host, and has fun teasing the contestants as well as the audience, often making them wait until after a commercial or even until the next episode to find out what the banker is offering or how much money is in a certain case. I couldn't even tell you when the show is on; I just seem to find it while flipping through channels between other shows, or on nights when nothing else is on. It's a nice no-commitment game show that can be watched for a few minutes at any given time.

Finally, there's Jeopardy!, which I knew as soon as Janet asked the question would be at the top of my list. I started watching the Alex Trebek version with my parents during the ‘80s, and it became something of a family tradition, gathering in front of the television before or during dinner. As I got older, I found I knew more and more answers, and my mom used to tell me I should go on the show. Of course, you never know what categories will appear in the game of answers and questions, and I'd probably wind up with sports or history rather than comic books, movies, or the bible. I guess it was four years ago that I decided to give my brain a rest and join a gym so I could work on the parts of me girls could see, so the tradition of watching with my folks ended as I don't get home until about eight o'clock. Occasionally it will be playing in the gym, but I don't hook up headphones when I run so without sound, I have no idea if the answers I'm guessing are correct. Maybe it will make me a better lip reader. In any case, I think I prefer a game of skill over a game of chance, and Jeopardy! is probably the greatest of them all.



Blogger Natsthename said...

I forgot about Family Fued..but it would HAVE to be with Richard Dawson. OTher hosts have been "ehhh." Loved the Art Fleming Jeopardy myself.

12/07/2006 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Jeff (aka neolithic) said...

Jeopardy rocks as always, though I lost a little interest after the Ken Jennings bit went on, and on, and on... and so forth. Though I am surprised you picked Deal or No Deal, but not Let's Make a Deal.


12/09/2006 11:32 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

Game show hosts like Richard Dawson used to get away with being SO creepy. Could you imagine that today? What was up with that anyway?

And speaking of creepy, whatever happened to the likes of John Davidson? That man looked like a wax figure of himself!

Love the little game show references you have buried in this post too, and of course, the title.:)

12/09/2006 1:42 PM  

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