It's the oldest form of imitation without
imitation. See something from another country that works... that
something else from that country.
In 1999, the success of "Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire" led to a run on anything from England (bonus if you were "from the
producers of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire... Winning Lines). The whole of
Europe was up for grabs when "Survivor" and "Big Brother" proved to be viable
So what's the latest thing? About half-a-decade
removed from the days of MXC and Iron Chef... Anything Japanese.
Our friends across the Pacific didn't get some
big time game show love until recently, with the hit success of the
Japanese-rooted, American born "Wipeout" becoming this summer's must-see show,
while its network make "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" still has many a person
Regular folk may see this as the start of
something new. Us game show folk... Not so much. Consider the following
Storm the Castle (CBS): this 1993 entry
would be the first major-network game for Michael Burger (who would later go on
to match the stars for a year) and Nely Galan (who would later create the Swan
Institute for Higher... err, Highlights). Unfortunately, the "Takeshi's Castle"
adaptation would only last all of one one-off special.
Iron Chef (Food Network): 1999 would bring
about the first import of a show that up until then only enjoyed cult status
among fringe groups of Asianophiles (guilty), foodies, and residents of San
Francisco. 2001 would bring about the first American adaptation (and thankfully
the only one involving William Shatner). 2004 would bring us something a little
more true to the original.
And it had Alton Brown in it, so nyah.
MXC (Spike TV): not exactly a game show
per se, this "most extreme" rehash of "Takeshi's Castle" (in every sense of the
word) that bowed in 2003 built a while enterprise about the notion that people,
men in particular, will watch anything that has any combination of the
a) BAD (or "bad American dubbing")
b) people falling, faceplanting, or otherwise crashing into things
c) clever writing
And it laid the building blocks for Matt Kunitz
to develop shows like "Fear Factor" and "Wipeout".
Hey! Spring of Trivia (Spike TV): launched
in 2004, this pseudo-game show indulged in our collective fascination with
esoterica... but it didn't last long enough to do something with it. But I did
learn a few things from it. For example... 111,111,111 times 111,111,111 equals
Don't believe me? Do the math. But this bit won
the Golden Brain for the episode (and the melon bread inside that looked like a
Master of Champions (ABC): based on the
"World Records" program, people from all walks of life competed for a coveted
spot on the Wall of Champions by showing off their mastery of a certain skill,
like BMX biking, drift driving, or... things that would eventually wind up on
"America's Got Talent". At least in one case.
Ninja Warrior (G4): the annual "Sasuke"
competitions on Mount Midoryama gave rise to this show, which took the specials,
broke them up into 30-minute episodes, and on G4's count... unleashed hell on
the competitors and spectators alike. But everyone gobbled it up like
gangbusters, giving rise to...
Unbeatable Banzuke (G4): another
man-versus-obstacle-course show, only this time, we throw in an additional
crutch.... or stilt... or pogo... or bike... or skateboard. You get the idea.
Like Ninja Warrior before it, it became a smash with the audience, mostly due to
the failure (and there was enough to go around) of the players to complete the "Kinniku
Banzuke" tasks (even so much that a UK adaptation was commissioned, "Under
Hole in the Wall (Fox... Eventually):
thanks to Youtube, this 2007 spinoff of "Tunnels no minnasan no okage deshita",
dubbed "Human Tetris" by people who couldn't think of anything else to call it,
will soon be on our screens. Once again, our primordial attraction to watching
televised humiliation, combined with network's willingness to take a chance on
anything that works, is in full display.
Which leads us to the present, and to no surprise
that "Wipeout" was going to do well. The only real surprise, other than the
extent of its hit status, is that everyone else is beginning to pay attention to
It takes all kinds, I suppose.
Game Show Alphabet Redux
It's been a while. I had to check up on myself to
find out that we're up to "E", and we head back to 1954 this summer, and "Earn
This show featured Johnny Carson in his national
television debut. The premise... geography equals a holiday. It was a summer
game for CBS primetime that began as a radio series in 1949, predating "Where in
the World is Carmen Sandiego" by about 40 years, "The Amazing Race" by about 50,
and our current stay-cation craze by about 60.
25 Days That Rocked the Game Show World: Day
You want me to talk about the fracas with TPIR.
Much as our world was pretty much wrought asunder that day (or something to that
effect), that's actually going to be part of next week's column, assessing
Drew's first season as TPIR host.
Right now, let's go to the 70s. Much like the
high-definition era that we're living in, these times had to adapt to changing
technology. In this particular case, it was the switchover from black-and-white
to living color (TM, NBC... Heh). And before this particular date, using lights
and neon for a television game show was unheard of. Using sports commentator
Dick Enberg... ALSO unheard of (Okay, not totally... Sports Challenge WAS two
March 26, 1973 - "Baffle" Buzzes Like Neon
Before "Baffle", an updated version of "PDQ",
aired on NBC, most game show sets were bland and uninspired. The holy trinity of
game show historians, Steve Ryan, Fred Wostbrock, and David Schwartz, write...
"Showing color required having color to show.
The creative game show set designers began to add bright carpets, multicolored
podiums, dazzling lights that chased and flashed, and carefully crafted set
pieces that moved and turned to give us that ever changing look. Before the late
1960s and early 70s, set designers had never utilized lights as part of the set
Then came "Baffle", a show that lasted one year
and gave rise to the use of flashing lights to create a Vegas-like atmosphere,
almost suited to the winning attitudes of game shows in general.
Such patterns would continue on from classics
like "The Price Is Right" to sets drowned in a sea of strobes and neon like
"Deal or No Deal".