Monday, January 15, 2018

Robot Vanna and the law

Google has endured more than its share of bad news lately, with public airings of some pretty dirty laundry at the Web behemoth.

But the site is still good for tracking down odds and ends of game show history. Like the gory details of White v. Samsung, a 1992 lawsuit that spawned large amounts of legal wrangling. The linked article rambles for dozens of pages about this dispute between Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White and the Sumsung Corporation. I unearthed this ancient tale because a Google search of recent game show articles turned up a passing reference to the case.

It all started when Samsung used a robot Vanna in an early 1990s ad. The android Vanna didn't show up in 2012 as the ad promised. But the human Vanna got (in my opinion, rightfully) p.o.ed that Samsung didn't pay her a dime for an obvious use of her personality.

After endless decisions and appeals, Vanna won four hundred grand from the corporation, and everybody went on with their lives. The moral of the story? Don't use a robot in your ads that looks too much like a real person, unless you've paid the real person for the privilege.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The greatest solve

I just watched GSN's new documentary on Michael Larson's solution to his money problems. Which was, of course, the cracking of Press Your Luck in 1984.

By and large, the show was a solid, workmanlike effort, a little more serious than GSN's 2003 special on Larson. The older show was more of a promo for GSN's PYL remake Whammy. By contrast, this new show might as well have turned up on PBS.

The new documentary did use some footage from the old show, like the comments from PYL host Peter Tomarken. A new interview with Tomarken was sadly impossible due to his fatal plane crash in 2006. GSN did land some new people for interviews, most notably Michael Larson's daughter. Her comments on her strained relationship with her father may have been the most affecting part of the entire documentary.

If you don't know Michael Larson's story after Press Your Luck, Wikipedia can fill in the sad details. GSN didn't fudge Larson's downfall and legal troubles, which kept him on the run until his death in 1999. But for a few hours in an LA studio, Michael Larson really was the king of the game show world.

UPDATE: To nobody's surprise the oldies boards are dumping on the documentary. Typical trashings are here and here. The only way GSN could please the older-is-better crowd is to get rid of Harvey Feud and run all-day marathons of Whew.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Stay clean, kids

John Cena makes a nice living as a fake wrestler, but he's now branching out. He's becoming a bigwig at Nickelodeon, and one of his projects is a new game show called Keep It Spotless, due "later this year."

Web wiseacres have dubbed the project the anti-Double Dare. Instead of getting sloppy and slimy, kids will do paint-filled stunts while trying to stay as clean as possible. We all like clean children, no?

It doesn't look like Cena will host the show. He'll just be a behind-the-scenes showrunner. Maybe he'll help clean kids who emerge less than spotless from the stunts.

Yes, I'm sounding a little cynical here, but I keep remembering that scene in Quiz Show when the supposed hero watches pro wrestling on TV. Everybody knows pro wrestling is fake, the movie seems to say, so why do people get so upset about fake game shows? Still, I assume that Keep It Spotless will not prearrange outcomes. There's a federal law on the subject.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A so-so whammy

With not much to write about today, I once again tried the random page button on U.S. Game Shows Wiki.

The result led me on a tour of some interesting and long forgotten parts of the game show Interwebs. The random page was "Lightning Bolt," which had nothing to do with the weather. Instead, it was a one-sentence article: The Lightning Bolt is the bad element from the 1975 unsold pilot of Beat the Odds.

The sentence linked to the wiki's article on Beat the Odds, but I started hunting for the actual pilot. Which does exist in a couple different forms on YouTube. (Video quality is quite poor, as you can see from the screenshot.)

Sure enough, the lightning bolt showed up as a blah whammy - much less entertaining than the later Press Your Luck critter - to penalize an unlucky contestant. The attempted 1975 reboot of an old '60s format wasn't a terrible effort overall. Beat the Odds was an okay word game, and I'm a sucker for word games. But the lightning bolt was pretty humdrum, even with a goofy sound effect.

Game Show Pilot Light gives the unsold pilot a tepid review. Like moi, the site is not enthusiastic about the whammy.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


The things I go through for you, my loyal readers. I even endure cheap Internet game shows, and sometimes I live to tell the tale.

Not content to leave the Internet arena to bored millennials, McDonald's is trying their own game show 1-2-3 That's a Meal. I'll confess up front that I've been known to scarf a Big Mac (or even a fish sandwich) at the golden arches. The Dow 30 member did rustle up Alfonso Ribeiro and Wink Martindale for the show. In fact, the only redeeming entertainment value of the effort was Wink's return to the genre, or at least something close to the genre.

I managed to sit through ten minutes of the show, which covered the first stunt. Four wildly enthusiastic contestants (sarcasm alert) got their ankles tied together and then hopped around the stage while doing something or other. One of them didn't do it so well, so there were only three contestants left. That's when I left.

Believe it or not, Internet game shows can be enjoyable. I liked the Buzzr miniatures of classic formats like Password and Family Feud, for instance. But McDonald's should just serve fast food and make money for the shareholders. Game shows ain't for them.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ratings: no holiday cheer for the soulmates

Pat and Vanna and Alex did not get many jollies from Christmas week. Holiday preemptions in the access hour might have taken a toll. Meanwhile, there was some movement for a show that hasn't gone anywhere for a long time. TV News Check has the household ratings for December 25-31...

Family Feud 6.8 - up a couple ticks to open a good-sized lead
Jeopardy 6.0 - down five ticks
Wheel of Fortune 5.9 - also down five ticks in sympathy with the soulmate
Millionaire 1.7 - flat, what else is new?
Funny You Should Ask 0.6 - up a tick, it actually moved!

GSN continued to enjoy the cold weather, with its highest total day number in a while. 418K/315K viewers prime time/total day for the January 1-7 week. The network ranked 40th and 35th in the windows. By the way, GSN ranked 33rd and 28th in household ratings, if you wanted to know.

Our little game show network even got more than 100K 25-54 viewers in prime time, which is a good showing for the old-skewing GSN.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Full disclosure

This blog is strictly nonprofit. That's what I deserve for the stuff I post here. But I once did get a bottle of wine from GSN as a Christmas present. And now I've gotten my second bit of ill-gotten gains: a poster and a CD from Buzzr.

A while back Buzzr wanted my home address. This gave me nightmare visions of Fremantle execs laying siege to my house until I said nice things about Sale of the Century. Luckily, Buzzr just wanted my address so they could send me a glossy 12"x18" poster of Alex Trebek on their Game Changers documentary (see screenshot). They also included a CD of the show, plus a piece of paper that said: "We are grateful for your continued support of Buzzr."

The funny thing is that I gave a not-so-great review to the documentary. The first part about pre-1980 game shows was okay, but Buzzr really bollixed up the post-1980 stuff, in my sour opinion. They completely overlooked cable game shows (and, not so incidentally, GSN) and seemed to think we were still back in the dark ages of three broadcasters and syndication and nothing else.

But enough of my cranky opinions. The Game Changers poster came in a very nice frame with scary instructions for hanging it on the wall. You're supposed to drill holes and do other mechanical things that look iffy to me. Maybe I'll try hanging the poster with some of the stickum stuff I've seen on those direct response ads on Buzzr.

SLIGHTLY RELATED UPDATE: Speaking of things from game show networks, GSN finally sent out the pdf schedules for the January 8-14 and January 15-21 weeks. The Saturday night oldies block gets trimmed to three hours, with Let's Make a Deal departing. I assume the numbers weren't so hot. As suspected, the January 21 William Shatner special is just a rerun of the 1984 show TV's Funniest Game Show Moments.

Nobody got too excited in the good old days

Rambling through Golden Road, I saw this thread about things which people just hate when they happen on The Price is Right.

The comment I agree with? When a player gets all 5 Plinko chips, and yet wins very little money. Yeah, that stinks. NBC made it even worse on The Wall with red balls that take away money which the poor contestant has already won. At least that can't happen on TPiR.

But what really struck me about the thread is how it wanders off into another good-old-days rhapsody. For a TPiR board, this particular lament for olden times is really loopy...

One thing about the show years ago -- if a contestant was excited, it was genuine and made for great TV. If they were shocked, or surprised upon winning, it looked and felt genuine and not forced. Seems totally different these days. It's just cringe-worthy.

Sure enough, everybody then starts dumping on the current TPiR (and other modern-day game shows) for overexcited contestants. To which I say, give me a break. Ever since The Price is Right launched on CBS in 1972, people have been laughing about the mega-hyped players. Gary Burghoff even did a memorable parody on Match Game (see screenshot).

Sometimes the good old days were pretty much the same as the supposedly bad new days.

Monday, January 8, 2018

More princess stuff

GSN has put the schedule for January 15-21 on their web site. What many suspected is true: Cover Story is a continuing series, not just a Press Your Luck one-off.

The episode for Sunday January 21 is Meghan Markle: the Prince and the Game Show Model. Yeah, it's the same thing People magazine and the rest of the celeb media have been yapping about for months. Kind of a disappointment to me, but at least GSN has lots of Deal or No Deal footage of the pre-prince Meghan.

This isn't exactly a scandal - and even less of a mystery - though I suspect GSN will try to make a lot of the royal family's reported trepidations over Meghan's past. I would have preferred something more about game shows, but I can't blame the network for doing the same thing that the rest of the entertainment media is doing.

Ms. Markle has said some less than flattering things about her time on Deal or No Deal. For honesty's sake, I hope GSN mentions her not-so-high opinion of the show.

By the way, the schedule lists a "miscellaneous title" - whatever that means - after the princess special on Sunday. William Shatner hosts a look back at some of the funniest moments in game show history, including favorite clips and personal interviews with some of the genre’s key players. Will they show the chair toss from Pyramid? Sad to say, it's probably just a rerun of this old clip show.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Commentary on commentary

I've been pretty rough on Game Show Garbage, because the site tends to go ballistic, bonkers and bananas on game shows that were mediocre at worst.

They've got to live up to their name, after all. But once in a while, the site comments in a more evenhanded manner on game show developments. For instance, GSG has posted a fair-minded commentary on Buzzr's recent programming moves.

The site waxes very enthusiastic about the addition of Supermarket Sweep. It's a nice plus for the schedule, though I'm personally more interested in the refresh of the diginet's B&W offerings (original Password, original Beat the Clock and The Name's the Same). GSG also likes how Buzzr is taking some of the massive age off its schedule with more recent shows on Friday night.

The site dumps on Temptation, one of the more "modern" shows coming to the lineup. This seems a requirement for the game show Interwebs, though I'll maintain my heresy that Temptation was no worse (or better) than the original Sale of the Century. Game Show Garbage hopes that Buzzr will quickly replace Temptation with something like John O'Hurley's To Tell the Truth.

That's always a possibility, though I think the real test will come with Steve Harvey's Family Feud. Could Mr. Harvey be just around the corner for Buzzr? Stay tuned, oldies fans.

UPDATE: Buzzr sends out a press release with a few more details on the programming changes. The diginet will run Supermarket Sweep eps from both the 1990s and 2000s.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Kids say the darndest things

Just watched the debut of ABC's Child Support.

I've seen a few less than complimentary advance reviews of the show. The problem is that everybody sees the show as a 5th Grader knockoff - which it obviously is - and they find it wanting compared to the original. I dunno, Child Support is a passable way to spend an hour, if you allow that knockoffs have been happening as long as game shows have been happening.

There's the usual money tree with a max of only two hundred grand in today's diminished broadcast world. Adult contestants venture up the tree as they fend off questions that are heavy on pop culture. The usual group of five cute kids can bail out the grownups if any one of them gets the question right.

Exec producer Ricky Gervais does okay with the kids, even if the sugar content runs a little high sometimes. Meanwhile, Fred Savage has the more thankless task of guiding the adults though the quizzer. The pace is not sprightly but this show is about the kids, not the speed. And as The Who once observed, the kids are alright.

UPDATE: By current Friday standards on broadcast TV, Child Support turns in passable numbers. 4.4M viewers and a 0.9 18-49 rating. It was ABC's highest rated show for the night.