Did this celebrity have trouble in "POLYMATH" while going to school? If this celebrity met a "GRIMALKIN", would it be love at first sight? When this celebrity sees a "BRUME" does he immediately clean his house? We'll find out the answers to these questions and a lot more, as we play television's funniest new game show...
AIR DATES: December 29, 1986 to September 4, 1987
CREATOR/PACKAGER: Fiedler-Berlin Productions. Rick Ambrose Productions & Scotti Bros.-Syd Vinnedge Television
HOST: Tom Kennedy
WATCH IT HERE: YouTube
There aren't really that may game shows where you actually learn something USEFUL. Oh, sure, you learn some random fact that might get you some points with your trivia team or something you think is interesting but forget about it a few days later. But when has a game show, say, taught you vocabulary lessons that you probably COULD use? Well, that was the point behind "Wordplay". While it was plugged as a "funny" game show, it was also informative. I guess the idea was to have people use words like "denizen", "wanton" and "dingbat" more often. Not only did it work but it had deceptively simple gameplay and, yes, it was fairly humorous...if only for the words used!
HOW WAS IT PLAYED?
Two contestants - including a champion - play a game in trying to figure out what obscure words from Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary. Three celebrities play along.
The champion (or champ-elect) is behind a red podium and chooses one of nine words on a board. Each word is connected to at least on other word by a line. The three celebs then gave a possible definition for the word as well as an anecdote about the definition. The champion then picks which of the three definitions is the correct one. If right, they earn the value of the word - either $25, $50 or $75. If wrong, the opponent (behind a yellow podium) can steal the word and the money by saying which of the two remaining definitions is right. If THEY are wrong, the word becomes a "BLOCK" and all connections to it go away. The challenger then chooses a word and repeats the process. If they're right and their word is connected to any other word(s), they get the value of all connected words.
One word is a "bonus word" and, if the contestant who chose it picks the right definition, they win a trip which is theirs to keep no matter if they win or lose.
Two more rounds are played like this with the values doubled and redoubled before each round. The one with more money after six words is the champion and keeps the cash. In case of a tie, the champ chooses one more word and decides whether to play or pass the word. Whoever gets it right wins (or, if one gets it wrong, the other wins).
BONUS ROUND ("DOUBLE DEFINITIONS")
The champion now faced a 6-by-4 grid of numbers from 1 to 24. Behind each number are two definitions of the same word. The contestant has 45 seconds to connect boxes from the left side of the board to the right side (like "Gold Rush" in "Blockbusters"). Picking a number will expose the two definitions (Card Game For One|Single-Set Diamond). If the champion gets it right ("Solitaire"), a dollar sign is shown. Otherwise, a "BLOCK" is put up and the champ has to work around it. If they connect boxes from left-to-right in 45 seconds or less, they win a jackpot that starts at $5000 and increased by $2500 for each day it isn't won. Otherwise, they get $100 for each dollar sign on the board.
This, much like any other panel show, was all about the celebs. Their ability to make a funny yet convincing argument about what words meant were spot-on. Either they made some pretty good jokes themselves...or the show's writing staff was top-notch. Either way, this WAS a funny show. Maybe not the "funniest" as they say but...pretty good.
And the words used, while relatively well-known today, made the show even funnier. I mean, people in the 80s had no idea about what a "cudgel" was, if "inscrutable" was good or bad...or if "avuncular" was even a word! It was funny to think of how those words were actually used. And a few actually found their way into the vocabulary these days. Maybe not day-to-day...but certainly month-to-month at least.
As stated before, Tom Kennedy is not very good with humor. Fortunately, just like with "Break the Bank", he didn't HAVE to be funny; he just had to react to the celebs making fun of the English language. And he kept the show going relatively smoothly. He certainly LOOKED like he was having fun...and that made all the difference in his delivery.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK?
The one real flaw that I saw was the scoring, so to speak. An opponent can earn the money earned by their opponent as well as by themselves? I know they were trying to make it competitive and strategic but...it just didn't seem fair that the last word can nab up to $800 for just one word and pretty much win the game that way.
Oh, and, as educational as the show may have been for the time, it may not have been the right KIND of show for the 80s. What pre-adult CARED about those words, anyway?
WOULD IT WORK TODAY?
It would be rather laborious to ascertain proper archaisms to use for a rejuvenation of this show. What with the corporality of the internet, any hominid can find the denotation of any word ever delineated. (OK, OK, I'll put the thesaurus away.) Still, I could probably see this as a kids' show...or, better still, maybe use the URBAN Dictionary instead of Webster's, as I doubt too many adults have ANY idea what "fleek" means. Maybe a GSN revival would work for a while but, other than that,...
NEXT TIME: Charades, the game show...
If Chris Wolvie was called a "NIMROD", would he own up to it? (Answer: more than likely) Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at email@example.com.