Sunday, August 28, 2022

Alphabet Games

Started off the morning with breakfast and doing a few things on the computer. Listened to the soundtrack from Grease 2 while I worked. The soundtrack is as hit-or-miss as the film it comes from. I still love the opening number "Back to School Again," think the comic sex-ed number "Reproduction" is hilarious, and get a kick out of the Pink Ladies' chorus routine "Girl for All Seasons." However, many of the other numbers have awkward or stiff lyrics, the two ballads are syrupy and dull, and as gorgeous as Maxwell Caulifield is, he can't sing (and sounds awful on "Charades"). I get a kick out of it, but I like the movie, too. If you also enjoy the film, get the soundtrack, too. If you don't, this won't change your mind.

Work was on-and-off steady. It could have been worse on a Sunday...and it's good that we generally weren't that busy. For some reason, our system went down shortly after I arrived. While we could use credit and debit cards again right away after the registers rebooted, it took the food stamp card system nearly four hours to be fixed. On one hand, I only had two food-stamp orders at that time...but they were both huge orders (one amounted to over $450!), and both families had no other method of payment and had to leave their food behind.

Went straight home and into writing after all that. Tom Kennedy, the frog footman who sat outside Duchess Marcia's door in Wonderland, greets everyone here, too...and he's just as reluctant to let them in. It takes a lot of convincing from Orson, Brett, and Charles to point out Brett's newfound royalty status and get him to let them through.

Broke for dinner at 7. Match Game PM featured Bob Barker and Eva Gabor helping out with the questions. Eva made Bob very happy when she claimed he was considered a sex symbol during his run hosting Truth or Consequences in the 60's. Meanwhile, Richard tries to figure out "__ It Away" in the Head-to-Head.

Finished out the night with game shows that ran on ABC. The US Alphabet network actually began as the NBC Blue Network in the early 30's. It was reworked into ABC in 1945 and began TV broadcasting in 1948. (Indeed, Philadelphia station WFIL, now WPVI, was its first major affiliate.) They got a later start than the other two networks and for many years remained a perennial third in the ratings.

They tended to pick up game shows other stations dropped. Chance of a Lifetime started as a general trivia show on radio and during its first run in the early 50's. By 1955, it morphed into an early proto-American Idol, only here, the audience judges professional performers. Dennis James, one of the first TV game show hosts, presided here. Check out the tap dancer and his amazing moves, especially his wild splits in his second routine!

Dr. IQ started life as one of the earliest game shows on the Blue Network. It turned up on TV off and on through the 50's, ending as ABC's contribution to the big money quiz show fad. In the 1958 version, a very young Tom Kennedy reads questions to audience members, who get silver dollars for each correct answer.

The original Price Is Right with Bill Cullen moved to ABC in 1963 after NBC saw declining ratings and dropped it. Cullen's version is very different from the one still running on CBS. No pricing games, no wheels, not even a "Come on down!" Four contestants (or occasionally, as in the episode I have here, three contestants and a celebrity) bid on increasingly large items. The fun was in the prizes, which included items that would be considered luxurious even by modern standards, like a sports car, two pedigreed poodles, or a home in Florida.

Even winning a home in Florida seemed tame compared to the goofy innuendo frequently going on in Chuck Barris' shows. The Dating Game debuted in 1965 and quickly became a sensation for its seemingly-randy game play. A bachelor or bachelorette asks three men or women questions. At the end of the question-and-answer period, they choose which person they want to go on a date with. Winners get an all-expenses-paid date package at some exotic nightclub or resort. 

Many of the bachelors who showed up later became famous in their own right. John Ritter is among the guys looking to date a gorgeous blonde in the second half of this episode...and he's as lovably awkward as he would be in his later career. He even trips going to talk to the girl as the show ends. 

With the success of Match Game on CBS in 1973, ABC dusted off You Don't Say! This had originally been their Password imitation in the 1960's. By 1975, we had a panel of four (probably intoxicated) celebrities helping contestants figure out what a name or phrase is by using other words for it. Tom Kennedy does what he can with the lunacy here.

Match Game also spun off one of ABC's biggest hit game shows, Family Feud. Richard Dawson was tired of tossing out randy answers to silly questions and begged to host. Two families guess answers to a survey given on the board. The ones who get the most answers and the most points goes on to the Fast Money round. There, two family members quickly guess the top answers for a series of survey questions. If they get 200 points, they win big cash. 

The show and Dawson proved to be such a sensation, it continued to dominate the ratings, even as game shows in general declined in the late 70's and early 80's. The episode I chose here seems to be fairly emblematic of the early episodes as a whole, including a big Fast Money win.

By the mid-80's, game shows started to make a comeback...but ABC never really got back into the genre, especially after Family Feud petered out in 1985. Trivia Trap joined it on the schedule briefly in 1984 and '85. This generational war pit older people against young adults answering questions and eliminating subjects based on the other generation's knowledge. Not a bad idea (it somewhat resembles the current ABC game show Generation Gap), but a bit awkward in the execution. The show switched to an all-celebrity format and didn't even last a year.

Too bad they didn't really give Match Game '90 a fair shake. They dumped it at noon, when many affiliates (including WPVI) ran local news instead. I'd much rather watch Ross Schaffer lead Charles Nelson Reilly, Bill Kirkenbauer, and Vicki Lawrence through randy questions. 

ABC dropped game shows all together after the failure of Match Game (and haven't done another daytime game show since). They didn't really get into the genre again until Who Wants to Be a Millionaire became a sensation on prime-time in 2000. In the US version of a British hit, Regis Philibin asks contestants from the audience a series of increasingly difficult questions. They can choose to continue answering questions for larger and larger amounts, or quit and keep what they have. The show offered several "Lifelines" to help with their decisions, like asking the audience or calling a family member for advice.

I remember when this was the biggest thing on television during my last few years in college. It was on everyone's lips; you couldn't go anywhere in 2000 or 2001 without hearing Philibin's catchphrase "Is that the final answer?" Unfortunately, ABC burned out their golden cash cow, running it five days a week by 2001. Not to mention, every game show on TV imitated its intense game play and dark, neon-lit sets. It proved far more viable as a syndicated series that started in 2002 and continues to run with various hosts to this day. 

America's watching wild celebrities, terrific tappers, wacky families, generational trivia wars, and final answers! (Watch out for a bad tape on Family Feud...but 70's daytime episodes of that show tend to be rare. Several shows also come with either their original commercials or the ones from their Game Show Network run.) 

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