Monday, August 21, 2023

Cat and Mouse and Superhero Games

Started off the morning with breakfast and shorts from Tom & Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection. Deich's Tom and Jerry shorts are notorious for being a little...well, strange, and I can finally see why. "Switchin' Kitten" has Tom trapped in a mad scientist's lab, where Jerry is guarded by a cat who thinks it's a dog, and a dog who thinks it's a cat. "Down and Outing" and "High Steaks" introduce Tom's new owner, a big guy who doesn't appreciate their cat-and-mouse antics disrupting his fishing trip and barbecue. "It's Greek to Me-Ow!" and "Mouse Into Space" takes their usual antics into ancient Greece and outer space respectively.

Headed out around quarter after 11. I left a little early to get a Propel and money for the bus at WaWa. Picked up the bus to Somerdale on the next block. They were on time, and there were no problems on the road. The bus pulled across the street from the WalMart/movie theater complex around noon.

My first thought for lunch was The Laughing Fox Tavern, which is right there when you get off the bus. Turns out, not only is it closed on Mondays, but it's only opened for dinner on weekdays. Since I didn't feel like pizza again, I ended up at the Applebee's next-door to the movie theater by default. Had a juicy Ranch Bacon Grilled Chicken Sandwich with their nicely seasoned fries and an unsweetened iced tea. Since it was still fairly early, the place was quiet, with only one or two couples chatting near-by.

I still had time before the movie started, so I made a quick stop at Dollar Tree on the other side of the theater next. Considered buying popcorn there, but that lunch was very filling. Just opted for a bottle of Diet Pepsi instead. 

Finally made my way to the theater around 1 for Blue Beetle. Thankfully, they were the first theater on your right as you entered. That place is such a maze. I get lost looking for the bathrooms. I made it just in time for the previews. 

(A little disappointed with the commercials. They were mainly for movies coming out in the next three months. I like Paw Patrol, but not enough to see it on the big screen. Not to mention, I still haven't gotten to their first big movie. Likewise, Trolls Band Together looks cute, but it's not something I need to see right away. I know nothing about Dune, and I'm not looking to jump into another complicated sci-fi franchise after I burned out on Star Wars.)

Once again, no spoilers for the time being, but I really enjoyed Blue Beetle. This is another character I'd only vaguely heard of until recently. My first real encounter with him was in the Cartoon Network show Young Justice. Jaimie's story may be cliched, but his interaction with his big Mexican family and the Brazillian head of Kord Industries Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine) is what really makes the movie. His family is totally hilarious and very realistic. Special kudos to Adriana Barraza as Jamie's totally awesome Nana and George Lopez as his paranoid Uncle Rudy, along with the largely practical effects used for the Blue Beetle suit that look terrific. 

It's too bad this one seems to be lost in the shuffle of comedies and action films that came out this summer.  It's a wild ride with a positive message about the importance of family that deserves a much wider audience.

Stopped at the row of arcade games on my way out and opted to give good ol' Ms. Pac Man a try. I've always been better at her than at her male counterpart, despite her moving three times faster. Maybe it's easier to dodge ghosts who are moving fast than slow. At any rate, I actually made it to the sixth board with the pretzel before my lives and tokens gave out. 

Strolled up the hill to WalMart after leaving the theater. It was certainly a nice day for it. Much hotter, in the lower 90's, but still not very humid, with lots of sunshine. Maybe that's why WalMart was fairly quiet for them. Though I saw the first fall decorations out in the garden center, they're mostly still about back to school. Picked up a pack of dry erase markers, along with tart cherry jam and those Junkless granola bars. 

Rushed to the White Horse Pike to pick up the bus. Turns out running on a hot day wasn't necessary. They were almost 20 minutes late. The traffic bunched up a little around King's Highway. Otherwise, it wasn't bad. I was home by 5 PM. 

Instead of going into writing, I wrote down answers to possible questions at that interview tomorrow. I really hope I do well. I want this job. I need a good job badly...but more to the point, I need a fresh start. Libraries are some of the only places I ever felt really right, and the librarians over the years have always been so good to me. I want to do what I was always really meant to do. 

Broke for dinner at 7 PM. Watched Match Game '79 while I ate. In the first episode, Jon Bauman in "Bowser" greaser mode is joined by several rubber rats who supposedly give him advice. (Not very good advice, as he eventually tosses them away.) Bob Barker talks Brianne Leary of ChIPs into showing off her cartwheel during the start of the second. 

Finished the night on YouTube and the Internet Archive with game shows that debuted in the 1960's. The quiz show scandals in 1957 and 1958 nearly killed off the genre all together. By 1960, only a handful of shows remained. Those that did offered much smaller prizes and far quieter and less intense game play. 

The big winner among early 60's game shows was Password. It debuted in 1961 on CBS and was an instant sensation. Unlike the panel shows, where contestants and celebrities didn't interact, here, two celebrities offered clues for contestants to guess a word. The first to make 20 points got to one of the first bonus rounds on TV, the Lighting Round. If the person could guess the words in 60 seconds, they'd win $200. 

Password was so simple and addictive, no wonder it remains a much-revived favorite to this day. It was so popular, everyone in New York and Hollywood wanted to get in on the game. In the episode I chose, Ginger Rodgers and a young Orson Bean put two contestants through their paces. Allen Ludden, a former host of G.E College Bowl, was the intellectual master of ceremonies. 

Password also reflects two major trends from this era. The nighttime shows were filmed on videotape, rather than live. That allowed for more flexibility and the ability to edit after the fact. Though it started in New York, subsequent versions would move to Hollywood, as most game shows would by the late 60's to take advantage of the larger and more advanced televisions facilities out there. 

The wild success of Password inspired many imitations. You Don't Say was ABC's version. Here, the celebrities help contestants guess the name of a famous person or character. Tom Kennedy had one of his earliest game show hosting jobs as Betty White and Barry Sullivan help the contestants figure things out.

NBC's version was even simpler. The Match Game began on New Year's Eve 1962. Two contestants and a celebrity each have to write the answer to a simple question, like "name a game show." If they matched each other, they won money. It was too simple at first, as we can see in the pilot episode. The show was saved in 1963 by making the questions a little racier, though apparently it never got as crazy as its 1970's revival did. Gene Rayburn started his long association with the franchise here. 

On the other end of the spectrum from the cerebral Password was the wild Let's Make a Deal. Host and producer Monty Hall started this one in 1963, as audience members were called to play pricing games and trade for larger prizes. Some folks might get something better; others would get "Zonks," comic nonsense prizes. People started wearing costumes to get noticed after a year or so. It went over so well, contestants have dressed in costume on every version of Deal since.  

Jeopardy proved quiz shows could still work, even when no one played for big prizes. Three contestants give answers in the form of a question on subjects seen all in a row on a board. If they get Double Jeopardy, they can double their money or lose everything. Final Jeopardy has everyone betting on whether or not they can come up with the answer to the last subject. Like Password, the game play and tough questions made this a long-running favorite. The emphasis was on seeing what people knew, not what they could win.

The other shows that shook up how games were played in the mid-60's came from the unbridled mind of executive-turned-producer Chuck Barris. I went into more detail on his 1965 hit The Dating Game last week when covering the career of its host Jim Lange. The Newlywed Game followed in 1966 and proved to be even more popular. Four couples try to match each other's spicy tidbits about their married life. Bob Eubanks was the leering host. 

The three big Goodson-Todman panel shows continued to be popular into the mid-60's. I've Got a Secret began in 1956 as another variation on What's My Line. Here, a more jocular panel tries to guess the contestant's wacky secret, then figure out what secret their celebrity guest is hiding. The accent here is firmly on comedy. Garry Moore was the original host. 

For every show in the 60's that became a beloved favorite, three or four barely lasted a year. The Face Is Familiar was a summer replacement show in 1966. Two celebrities help two contestants figure out who a scrambled face on a screen is. This is actually more interesting than its short run would indicate. This show was cutting edge for '66, with its use of split-screen to show both pairs at once and the nifty board that could move parts of photos around. Mel Brooks and Pearl Bailey are the celebrities having fun here. 

Secret, Line, To Tell the Truth, and even Password were swept off the prime-time and daytime schedules by far hipper shows that played better to a faster-paced youth audience.  Hollywood Squares crossed The Match Game with tic tac toe. Nine celebrities on a vast tic tac toe board toss out zingers and ask contestants slightly raunchy questions. If a lucky contestant chooses the secret square, they get an extra prize. Paul Lynde is here, though he wouldn't move to the center square until the next decade. Helping him out are Charley Weaver, Lorne Greene, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Wally Cox, Kaye Ballard, Buddy Hackett, Jan Murray, and Abbey Dalton. Peter Marshall is the bemused host.

Swing from word games to wacky celebrity panels that changed the standards for game shows forever in these pieces of TV history! (The Newlywed Game is colorized, but it also comes with its original commercials, as does Let's Make a Deal. Alas, of the remaining shows, only Face Is Familiar and Hollywood Squares can be found in their original color today. Look for an intro from Peter Marshall on Hollywood Squares!)

No comments: