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with Chris Wolvie
From the Basement of Whooping Cough Lane to a Basement in Hollywood
July 27

AIR DATES: December 3, 2001 to Sometime in 2002
CREATOR: Diplomatic Productions; Greengrass Productions; Jellyvision Games
HOST: Ken Ober f/Lisa Dergan
WATCH IT HERE: DailyMotion


For several years, it was "his basement, his rules, his game show". But even a thirty-year-old "Star Search" champion pretending to be in his early-20s has to move on. Once "Remote Control" was closed for good, Ken Ober got himself a a part on a short-lived TV version of the Steve Martin film "Parenthood", was Blues Traveler's version of John Ratzenberger as he appeared in practically EVERY video they made, was in a remake of "Make Me Laugh" on Comedy Central and, eventually, found his groove as writer and producer on "Mind of Mencia" before dying of strange causes in 2009. But the last time we saw Ken in front of the camera on a regular basis was on the USA Network show "(smush)", a unique show from the same people who made the game "You Don't Know Jack". And, much like YDKJ, it was more about humor than about trivia. Already, you see the problem: "USA Network game show" meant bupkis after "Jackpot!" reruns stopped. Add to that the fact that it was all-but-immediately bumped to late-night and you can see why it was a premature end to Ober's on-screen career.

Four contestants played a show in a basement party atmosphere. The main object was to "smush" words and/or phrases together. For example: "the capital of Denmark + a brand of high-end ice-cream" would net the answer "CopenHaagen-Dazs" (Copenhagen + Haagen-Dazs). Spelling didn't have to match; as long as the sounds match, you're good.

ROUNDS 1 & 2
In Round 1, the host rattles off "smush"es of two clues apiece. First contestant to buzz-in and give the right "smush" earns a point (scored by former Playmate Lisa Dergan at the bar). No penalty for a wrong answer, but the opponents get to try to answer as well. At the end of the round is a "lightning round" where the "smushes" are done with pictures instead of words. The contestant with the least number of points is eliminated (a tiebreaker "smush" is asked if need be). The second round uses "Smush Tris", meaning THREE clues must be "smush"ed at a time for two points apiece. Sometimes during the round, a small sketch or a visual "smush" is shown. The final "smush" of the round is the "Smush Quad", with FOUR clues to be "smush"ed for THREE points. Again, the one with the least amount of points is eliminated.

The two remaining contestants must now complete a "Smush Chain" of seven clues, spoken one at a time by the host. For instance, the first clue would be "year with 366 days in it" and the contestant that buzzes-in with "Leap year" gets one point. Then the host says, "what can burst and cause loss of hearing". The contestant must buzz-in and answer "Leap year drum" ("Leap year" + "ear drum") for two points. Next would be "the leader of a marching band" and contestant would say, "Leap year drum major" ("Leap year" + "ear drum" + "drum major") for three points. And so forth until getting the entire chain nets you seven points. The contestant with more points at the end of the chain is the champion and goes to the bonus game.

On a mirror, Lisa writes a word or phrase that acts as the "root" for this round. The champion is given 45 seconds to make five "smushes" given clues the host gives out and putting them either before or after the "root". For instance, if the "root" is "RED CROSS" and the host says, "a child produced by cousins", the answer would be "Inbred Cross"; if the host says, "when you look at your nose", the answer would be "Red Cross-eyed". A wrong answer throws the clue and "smush" out; a player CAN pass and come back to the "smush" if there's time. Each correct "smush" gets the champ $1000. If all five "smushes" are answered right within 45 seconds, the champ gets $8000.

When I first saw it, I wasn't much for the set. But, the more I watched, the more it kinda made sense. This WAS, after all, a party-like a basement party sounds like the right place to play it. And the actual playset for the first two rounds was perfect, too; all the players at a table opposite the host using what looked like thrown-together buzzers. The coolest part, though, was that Lisa kept track of the scores with block-numbers behind the bar instead of an electronic scoreboard. It all said, "low budget and don't give a damn about it"...and damn if it didn't work.

Ken didn't change much since "Remote Control". He still looked young enough to LOOK innocent but mature enough to throw in a naughty suggestion from time to time. He didn't look like he knew ALL of what he was doing...but it didn't seem to bother him that much. Yeah, he was a fair bit like Drew Carey in that way...but, for some reason, I didn't expect as much out of Ken Ober. This was his "character" and he played it well.

The gameplay was both complex and simple at the same time. Yeah, that SOUNDS contradictory but all you had to do was figure out the phrases and then find out how they come together. It's the SECOND part that's complex, especially with the "Smush Chain". It's a lot like YDKJ, really; in that one, you "smush"Ed"high culture and pop culture" while, in THIS one, you just "smush"Ed phrases. If one can work, why not the other? And it did.

The only problem I really had in retrospect is that the "audience" seemed like TOO much of a "party crowd" and would applaud right answers a little too long. It's not like they were answering a "Daily Double" on Jeopardy!, for crying out loud. A few more questions could've been asked if the audience just contained themselves a bit...and if Ken didn't wait for all the clapping to die down before moving on.


It's a cute, simple, funny little game. I don't know what comedian could possibly make it as entertaining as Ober did but...I suppose it's possible. GSN...Buzzr...hell, maybe even Comedy Central could give it a whack. This show was never really given a chance; I'd like to see someone give it the shot it deserved.

NEXT TIME: true "tournament of champions"...

A weird game show reviewer + Hugo Weaving movie about a future Guy Fawkes = Chris Wolvie for Vendetta. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at