Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Iconic Game Shows #2: Tic Tac Dough

TIC TAC DOUGH (NBC, CBS, Syndication)
July 30, 1956 - October 23, 1959
July 3, 1978 - September 1, 1978
September 18, 1978 - May 23, 1986 (?)
September 10, 1990 - March 8, 1991
Tic Tac Dough is something of a miracle in game show history.  It has its roots in the big-money quiz show heyday of the 1950s, joining the ranks of popularity of shows such as The $64,000 Question and Twenty-One.  The object of the game was simple: a player must complete tic-tac-toe before his or her opponent by answering a trivia question from the subject of their desired box.  If the player did so, their symbol was placed in the box and then their opponent had a turn.  The desired center box had harder questions, so each player was given a little extra time to think about their answers.  The champion, the X player, went first, and then the O player had a turn; after each player had a question, the categories were shuffled and the process began anew.
Each box was worth $100, placed into a jackpot for both players.  The center box was worth $200, as it was more important.  The first person to complete "tic tac dough" won all the money in the pot and, if he or she was the X player, retained their championship.  If the game was drawn, a new game was started with the jackpot carrying over to the new board.  A lot of matches seemed to go on forever, with contestants blatantly aiming for tie games to grow the pot to amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, like Twenty-One, Tic Tac Dough couldn't do without producer Dan Enright rigging the results of the games to increase interest.  In October of 1959, the show was cancelled amidst public backlash and disappeared for nearly two decades.

Fast forward to 1978.
By then, game shows were now regulated to ensure an honest contest and were also a staple on daytime television.  Family Feud, The Price is Right, and Wheel of Fortune were the most popular game shows of the year.  Jack Barry had also made a successful comeback as a host and producer with The Joker's Wild and the show started a new syndicated run in 1977 with an honest Dan Enright back on board.

It was a good time to bring Tic Tac Dough back.

The show was reborn on CBS with Wink Martindale as the new host.  The set featured an inviting wooden panel motif and orange shag carpet.  The game board, now powered by 9 Apple II computer monitors and Altair 8000 system, was innovative for its time.  The gameplay was given a new wrinkle:  after the first turns and board shuffle, a few categories reappeared with black screens instead of blue.  These were now "jump-in" questions where either player could buzz in and earn the box.  When the show went into syndication, that feature was dropped.

The gameplay was the same: center boxes were now worth $300 and the outer boxes netting $200.  Players continued on the show until defeated and if the champion defeated five opponents, he or she won a brand new car.

The biggest change was the addition of a bonus game for a prize package usually valued between three thousand to five thousand dollars.  Behind each screen was an X, an O, or the dreaded Dragon.  The object of the game was to find the tic-tac-toe before the Dragon was uncovered.  For each X or O the player found, $150 was earned and he or she could stop at any time.

The show was dropped by CBS, but continued in syndication, where a new bonus round was created: behind each number now was an amount of money ($100, $150, $250, $300, $400, $500), a "Tic", a "Tac" and the Dragon.  There were two ways to win now: you either accumulated $1,000 or more, or got "Tic" and "Tac".

Gradually, special categories, now designated with red screens, returned to the board, starting with "Secret Category", which doubled the money in the pot if answered correctly.  By the end of the run, three special categories, such as "Auction", "Seesaw" and "Play or Pass",  were featured in every game.  These categories always appeared on the outer boxes and never in the center.

Early in syndication, Tic Tac Dough featured one of the greatest contestants in game show history,  Navy lieutenant Thom McKee.  With his new wife Jenny watching from the audience, he tied one game with champion Barbara Small and then defeated her in the second game to become champion.  McKee then went on an 88-game streak on 46 episodes of the show, winning $312,700 in cash and prizes.  He answered 353 of 385 questions correctly, a 91.69% success rate.  His dominance set records that remained untouched for two decades, making him a game show legend

Martindale continued to host Tic Tac Dough until 1985 when he decided to leave the show and host his own creation, Headline Chasers.  The set was given a dramatic face lift, with lots of gray, and pastels pink, green and blue.  The new host was relative unknown Jim Caldwell.

Unfortunately, both shows were cancelled by the end of the 1985-86 television season.

Tic Tac Dough returned to the airwaves in 1990 with Patrick Wayne, son of film legend John Wayne, as host, and Henry Mancini, composer of the "Pink Panther" theme, as creator of the show's music.  Wayne quickly gained a reputation as being overly enthusiastic to positive outcomes for the contestant.

Only two red categories were on the game board now, and players manually buzzed in to stop the board after each shuffle.  The boxes were now worth $500 for the outer boxes and $1,000 for the center.  The amount of the boxes doubled after each tie game, but the pot was reset to zero as well, which gave the show a slight air of cheapness.

The bonus round returned to the 1978 CBS version, with Xs and Os, and the Dragon.  .  The player first picked a symbol to find, and then earned $500 for each one of the symbol they found.  If the Dragon was found, all the money and prizes were lost.  If the new Dragon Slayer was found, he gave the contestant an automatic win and doubled the bonus money accumulated.  Sometimes he would be the only way for the contestant to win.  I don't mind this version of the bonus round: it's an attempt to jazz up the first bonus round, and there was nothing more nice to see than a Dragon Slayer win.

In an odd attempt to insert humor late in the run, the Dragon and Dragon Slayer performed rap-style poems before the bonus round began, like so:

Dragon: You'll lose your money, you'll lose your prize / Don't pick the Dragon square, 'cause that ain't wise!

Dragon Slayer: Tic Tac Dough is the show / Just find the Dragon Slayer and I'll double your dough!

It was things like this that made this version last only six months, thanks in part to the Great Game Show Purge of 1991.

Tic Tac Dough has a special place in my heart because the 1980s wooden set is one of my earliest game show memories.  I remember the beeps and blips of the "modern" game board and being scared by the Dragon's roar, hoping the contestant wouldn't pick the bonus square with the scary lizard hiding behind it. 

It may seem blasphemous to say this, but I have very fond memories of the 1990 version as well.  I watched it on USA Network reruns and I was too young to realize that Wayne was a poor presenter.  I only cared about the game, presentation and sound effects, and the show had much to offer in those regards.

I'm not sure if we'll see a revival of the show in the future, but anything is possible as long as the simple strategy game of tic-tac-toe exists.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Iconic Game Shows #1: Concentration

A disclaimer: this is not about the top game shows in history in order. It's a series of posts about game shows that are, in my humble opinion, part of what define the genre.

August 25, 1958 - March 23, 1973
September 10, 1973 - September 8, 1978
May 4, 1987 - September 20, 1991
 Concentration was a unique two-part game.  For the first part, you had to match prizes hidden on the board between 30 numbered squares.  If you did, you earned it.  Then, the second part came into play.  Behind the prizes are parts of a rebus puzzle, a group of connected letters and pictures that represent a person, place, thing or well-known phrase.  The contestant that guessed the rebus first won all the prizes on their board.  Other squares, like Wild Cards, Take 1 Gift and Forfeit 1 Gift, helped or hindered the contestants on their quest to solve the rebus.

The show, hosted by Hugh Downs, Ed McMahon (yes, that Ed McMahon) and Bob Clayton, graced the NBC daytime lineup for 14 years and 7 months, making it the longest-running daytime game show until The Price is Right unseated it in 1987.

The show was brainy, yet light-hearted, with booby prizes on the board and contestants and host Hugh Downs occasionally dressing up in costumes.  On Christmas shows, two celebrities would play for charity both dressed up as Santa Claus.  Bonuses included the Envelope and It's Mysterious Contents, and the $100,000 Shower of Money, where winners had one minute to collect swirling dollar bills in a fan booth.

After Concentration was axed in 1973 during NBC vice president Lin Bolen's daytime shakeup, a new version was launched for syndication by game show gurus Mark Goodson and Bill Todman.  Jack Narz became the new host and Johnny Olson of The New Price is Right and Match Game '73 announced.  The new set was beautifully colored and the new theme was very fitting for the 1970s.  The rebuses were now in full color, but didn't lose any of their challenge.  The gameplay remained mostly the same to start, although in the middle of the run, more special spaces, like Bonus and Free Look were added, and a contestant could choose three numbers instead of two.

This version featured a new bonus round called "Double Play" where a contestant had to solve two fully-revealed rebuses in 10 seconds.  If they did that, they won a new car, or, later in the run, whatever prize they earned in a small matching game.

The syndicated version fell by the wayside in 1978, and a pilot was tried out in 1985 with Orson Bean as host, and a new matching format.  In that one, the two contestants linked words instead of matching prizes, which was saved for the new bonus round.  The pilot wasn't picked up, but this did lead to the revival of the program two years later under the name Classic Concentration.  Veteran game show host Alex Trebek was tabbed to lead Concentration back to its roots.

The gameplay returned to matching prizes with two selections and Wild! cards as aids.  The "Take 1 Gift" was added through the four-year run of the show as red and green "TAKE!" squares.  The game board was now electronically run with computer-generated numbers and prizes.  The rebuses were drawn and colored on poster board, set up on a blue screen and revealed as the game went along.

However, they kept the bonus round from the pilot.  There were 15 numbered squares and seven pairs of the eight cars displayed majestically in the studio.  Of course that meant one car was a red herring, not meant to be won.  If the contestant could match all seven pairs within the time given, they'd win the last car they matched.  This led to a lot of exciting finishes, as there were always two bonus rounds in a show.

This is the version I grew up with, and like so many other game shows, I was mesmerized by it.  It had everything I liked: numbers, a matching game, cool sound effects, colorful hidden rebuses and an exciting bonus round.  I may not have been able to solve much of the puzzles at the tender age of nine, my nose pressed near the TV screen to make out the show behind the snow and static Papa's old TV displayed.  Still, it was a beloved show that I worked not to miss, even though by then the show was in reruns.

The dearth of game show deaths in 1991 didn't spare Classic Concentration and no new version has been made in 21 years.  Who knows: maybe someday, Americans will want to sit down, match prizes and solve rebuses again.  I'll wait patiently until then. :)

EDIT 1: Moved the third logo at the top up a space.

EDIT 2: I decided to remove the moment and the picture in the middle.  I could use the moment in another post or series of them later.  I moved the logos on the top around a little as well.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Pyramid is Back... And Here To Stay

THE PYRAMID (GSN, premiered 9/3/2012)
The venerable game show series created by Bob Stewart, a franchise that has been around nearly as long as The New Price is Right, has finally returned to the air.
It's great to have it back.
This new run, the first since a syndicated run in 2002-03, returns closer to its roots with a present that keeps tradition alive and adds wrinkles that keep the show fresh.  The format returned to naming 7 subjects in 30 seconds for each round.  There are no returning champions or 7-11 and Mystery 7 bonus categories.  So to compensate, players are awarded $500 and a Winner's Circle bank increase of $5,000 for each perfect round.  This means the maximum payout for a contestant is $53,000; a tad unlikely to be won for now, but that will just make it more exciting if a player gets that opportunity.
Mike Richards, the much-maligned executive producer of The Price is Right, hosts a traditional game show after a stint on Beauty and the Geek in the mid-2000s.  Despite being a bit wooden due to inexperience, he lets the game carry the load.  Richards should easily make Pyramid his own.
The first two celebrities, Community stars Yvette Nicole Brown and Danny Puri, were the week's first guests.  Yvette was the stronger player, with Danny having some very weak rounds.  He did redeem himself with a Winner's Circle victory.
The set, a golden motif with white and red triangles for trim and white podiums which lit up with appropriate soft colors, was clearly inspired by the 1980s in terms of props.  The pyramids for the categories and the Winner's Circle are both computer-generated displays, but simulate the trilons from the old Pyramids.  This adds that element of comfortable familiarity that is needed for a game show such as this.  The big Pyramid loses a small bit of its luster due to the lack of a crown design.  However, that's a trifle, as the pyramid is large enough to be the appealing destination for the endgame.
The camera shots use the basic techniques that made Pyramid an appealing show to watch.  I don't mind the near-constant zooming in to categories and/or Mike.  It's a little jarring, but something anyone can get used to seeing.  The category writing is fine as well.  The writers can pick whatever subject they want to; as long as it's conveyed well by the players, any one of them can go 7-for-7, even movie-themed ones.
Perhaps most importantly, they kept the camera angles and setup of one of the most iconic bonus rounds in game show history.  This is something Pyramid's last run strayed from and it cost them in terms of a legacy.
GSN has a winner on its hands.  Here's to many more players trying to climb the Pyramid!
EDIT 1: Finished the last sentence of the third paragraph.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Welcome! - A Reboot

(This is a reboot of the blog. I'm going to try to post something on a regular basis. I didn't want to leave it sitting there for nearly a year without posting anything.)

Hi! I'm SamtheBravesFan and welcome to a little corner of my world where there are tests of skill, knowledge and wit! Merriment abounds and big big prizes are given away!

I'm talking, of course, about the game show.

I'd like to begin this blog by listing the game shows in United States television history that have had first-runs on the air for at least 10 years:

1. The Price is Right
CBS Daytime, September 4, 1972 - present (40 years)

2. Wheel of Fortune
Syndicated, September 19, 1983 - present (29 years)

3. Jeopardy!
Syndicated, September 17, 1984 - present (28 years)

4. What's My Line?
CBS Primetime, February 2, 1950 - September 3, 1967 (17 years, 7 months)

5. Wheel of Fortune
NBC/CBS Daytime, January 6, 1975 - January 11, 1991 (16 years, 9 months)

6. I've Got A Secret
CBS Primetime, Jun 19, 1952 - April 3, 1967 (14 years, 10 months)

7. Concentration
NBC Daytime, August 25, 1958 - March 23, 1973 (14 years, 7 months)

8. The Hollywood Squares
NBC Daytime, October 17, 1966 - June 20, 1980 (13 years, 8 months)

9. Let's Make A Deal
NBC/ABC Daytime, Decemeber 30, 1963 - July 9, 1976 (12 years, 6 months)

10. G.E. College Bowl
CBS/NBC Weekend (serial), January 4, 1959 - June 14, 1970 (11 years, 5 months)

11. Love Connection
Syndicated, September 19, 1983 - September 1994 (11 years)

12. You Bet Your Life
NBC Primeitme, October 5, 1950 - September 3, 1961 (11 years)

13. Jeopardy!
NBC Daytime, March 30, 1964 - January 3, 1975 (10 years, 9 months)

14. To Tell The Truth
CBS Primetime, December 18, 1956 - September 25, 1966 (10 years, 5 months)

Each of these twelve shows stayed on the air for so long based on four reasons:

  • Personable hosts
  • Contestants people want to root for
  • Engaging gameplay or format
  • Colorful sets

TV personalities ranging from Groucho Marx to Richard Dawson, Bill Cullen to Alex Trebek made the shows come alive for the viewers at home with wit, humor, and a flair for the dramatic. The contestants were just everyday people looking to win nice things, especially cash and new cars, and they became just as important as the rest of the program.

The games that they played were probably the most important element, as those were the reason the shows exist. People watch game shows to be entertained. If they can play along at home, they would be more engaged and apt to watch.

The last entry on the list became much more of a factor in the 1970s with the color television becoming more commonplace. Game shows took that to a new level with big, attractive sets with a large, diverse array of colors.

I love game shows mostly for the gameplay. Interesting sets and good hosts add much to the experience. The aim of this blog will be to highlight the best and worst, the good and the bad, the worthy and unworthy of this great television genre. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing about it! :)