Jeopardy! is something of an institution in America, running for decades, and being the game show where the contestants have to provide the questions. A lot of viewers seem to consider the sign of a good champion to be their wagering skills along with their general knowledge. This has never really been a success in the UK though, but there has also been an Australian version.
The first version ran in the 70s and had four different hosts, but this piece will concentrate on the revival in the 90s, which was hosted by Tony Barber, who had previously hosted Sale Of The Century (and I plan to review that soon too). This is fairly faithful to the original American version. Three contestants take part, including a defending champion.
The six categories are revealed, and they contain five clues of increasing money values, from $100 to $300, so there is actually a fairly decent amount that can be won. But they must be aware that if they give an incorrect response, they will lose the amount of money on offer. There is also one Daily Double. At this point, the studio audience start insisting how much should be wagered as if they’re on The Price Is Right which is odd.
And then there’s the Double Jeopardy! round, where the values increase from $200 to $1,000 (so that actually isn’t doubling them). And there are also two Daily Doubles on offer. They then take their scores into the Final Jeopardy! round. They make their wager based on the category, and then they have 30 seconds to write down their response in the form of a question.
Whoever ends up with the highest score becomes the champion and wins their total. The defeated players take away some consolation prizes. Contestants can stay for up to five shows before they have to retire undefeated. And I’m sure that all of them had fun. This revival of Jeopardy! was also shown five nights a week, and presumably was planned to have another long run.
However, this didn’t seem to go down that well with viewers and only ran for about six months. To finish off, there was a Super Challenge special, where the best contestants returned to play again. Three decades on, another revival is planned. There is going to be another British version, and the same studio will also be used for the Australian version, featuring expats as contestants.
Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down Five To Go (2014)
When the much acclaimed Monty Python TV series came to an end in 1974, it turned out that this was far from the end of the story. They then had their breakthrough in America, along with some films. Then it all went quiet for a while as they went on to work on separate projects, although there were always plenty of rumours that one day there would be a reunion of some kind.
Because they hadn’t been doing it for years on end, maybe there a chance that there was still some life left in the idea, and they could go through the hits one final time for a big old fancy stage show. So there was a mixture of delight along with some surprise when it was finally announced that the five remaining Pythons would get together again.
This would be a special show that would be staged for ten dates at the O2 Arena in London. Rather unsurprisingly these tickets sold out quickly, thanks to the promise of seeing some extra cheesy parrots. Some people felt that this had been inevitable, but could’ve happened a long time ago (I remember someone describing this as “At Last The 1998 Show”).
It’s fair to say that this was a success overall though. Now of course the idea was that they were going to perform some of their most popular sketches, which went down with the rather pleased crowd who were familiar with the dialogue, meaning that coming on stage and saying “is your wife a bit of a goer?” practically received a standing ovation in itself.
I also remember seeing a lot of comedians of various generations saying that they wanted to attend so they could see their idols doing their thing, which definitely gives the indication that they have been much imitated but never bettered. There were also some guest appearances from famous faces in some sketches including Professor Stephen Thingy and Mike Myers.
For two hours they were at it! And with the reminder that everyone should always look on the bright side of life, leaving people rather satisfied, the curtain finally came down on Monty after all these years, which must’ve hurt. The final show has been released on DVD, and extras include a sneaky look behind the scenes as they meet up again and have to decide what sketches to perform.
This is based on the American game show The Match Game, and launched before the British version, the slightly differently-titled Blankety Blank. As with all of the other versions, there is rather a large amount of comedy, even though there are prizes being played for. The first version in Australia was hosted by Graham Kennedy, and of course he had a rather big microphone.
As always, there was a panel of six celebrities, featuring plenty of people who were famous in Australia at the time. One of the regulars was Ugly Dave Gray, who later went on to host the Australian version of Play Your Cards Right (that I reviewed recently). Two contestants took part (one being a defending champion), and they had to fill in the blank, and hope that some of the panel think similarly to them.
There was also the producer who Kennedy referred to as “the moustache twirler”, who would have the final say on if the answer would be determined to be correct or not. There was one point on offer for every correct match. I’m still not entirely sure after all this time how many rounds need to be played to determine the winner, but they got there eventually.
The finalist goes into the Supermatch round. There are three answers, with an increasing money value of $25, $50, and $100. They ask three panellists for their answer, and then they make their choice. Whatever amount they match with, they win. But that’s not much is it. So they play one more game, and if they get a correct match with a panellist in this, they multiply their money by ten, so they can win up to $1,000.
This version of Blankety Blanks was shown five nights a week, and soon became very popular, achieving some unusually high ratings. Kennedy also won a coveted Golden Logie for his work, for being one of the biggest personalities on TV. But this also meant that the idea ran out of steam rather quickly, and this ended after barely a year. For a while, there where then some repeat runs.
And then in 1985, there was the first revival, but on a different channel, and with a new host. Maybe there was still plenty of life in the idea (there have also been several revivals of the American and British versions). And in 1996 there was a second revival, notable for there being bigger cash prizes on offer, and for being as silly as it always had been really.
Around the same time that the original British version of game show Strike It Lucky was coming to an end in Britain (before the relaunch as Strike It Rich), a version launched in Australia. The host was Ronnie Burns. Although the basic idea was the same, there were a few notable changes this version. First of all, Burns had a female co-host, who was Jane Blatchford.
Three teams of two took part. One of them has to answer the questions, while the other has to press the buttons. They can play for two, three, or four moves. And every time a prize is revealed, there is a short puff piece about how terrific it is. They have to decide whether they want to bank these prizes, or risk them on the next screen, which could be concealing a Hot Spot, meaning they’ll lose everything.
There are also some bonuses on offer. If they find a Lucky Strike, they win an instant $100. And if they find a Free Move, they can instantly move on to the next screen. If they can get to the final screen, which usually offers a rather big prize such as a holiday, they have to answer one more question, great it right and they will win the game, and go on to play the final.
However, there is a twist that time can run out before the end. If this happens, whoever is the furthest along wins. But if there is a tie, one question is asked on the buzzer. The final is just about the same as the British version as well. They have to get from one end to the other, by picking the top, middle, or bottom screen, which will be concealing a free move, a question, or a Hot Spot.
If they avoid the Hot Spots and do get to the end, they win even more prizes in addition to the ones that they already have. As far as I am aware, Strike It Lucky wasn’t really a big success in Australia, running for only a short time. What is also notable is that this is played as much less zany as the British version, where all kinds of unusual things could happen.
Hot daytime game show Pass The Buck ran on BBC1 for a couple of years. About a year or two after the end, there was a short-lived Australian version. And would you believe it, once again the host is John Burgess (“Burgo” also hosted the Australian versions of Catchphrase and Wheel Of Fortune that I have reviewed, so he clearly has worked on a lot of game shows).
The opening sequence features some weird yellow floaty head things, almost like emojis before their time. This version had slightly different rules to the original though. Ten contestants took part in what is a test of knowledge and memory, including a defending champion. Who begins the first round is picked at random. There is a question where dozens of answers could be correct.
If they give a correct answer (accompanied by a satisfying “ding” noise), play passes to the next contestant. However, if they give a wrong answer, give no answer at all, or duplicate an answer, the round ends and they are eliminated. The remaining contestants then all take a step down to the next level, and another round is played, with whoever gave the last correct answer beginning.
Instead of a general knowledge question, some rounds feature the Memory Moment, where 18 words are read out, and these have to be recalled instead. One difference in this version is that they don’t go into a round where three incorrect answers see them eliminated. Instead, when four contestants are remaining, they can nominate who has to give the next answer.
When two contestants are remaining, they play against each other in the final, which is just about the same. They are given 90 seconds, and various questions. Play passes between the two, and there is one point for every correct answer. Whoever is the highest scorer is declared the winner, and then plays the bonus round, which isn’t in the original version.
In this, they are shown ten prizes. They are then given 30 seconds to recall as many as they can. Each prize they do recall they win (a little like the conveyor belt round on The Generation Game). They then return as the defending champion. If they win five shows in a row, they retire undefeated, and win the star prize of a car. This version of Pass The Buck only lasted for one series though.
When Motormouth launched as the new CITV Saturday Morning show in 1988, there were going to be some changes from the shows that had previously been in this slot. Well in a way there wasn’t, as to some extent this was going to be the usual mix of cartoons, music videos, and general silliness. But one of the features was an attempt at a sitcom, that would appear in every edition of the first series.
Spin-Off was supposedly set in a motel that was near the main TV studio. And of course it was chaos there. The general manager was Hilary Rolls (or “Bog” as he was known in the dressing room rather unsurprisingly), who obviously wore a syrup. And there was also his assistant Francesco who was rather useless. The rest of the team weren’t much better.
Also featuring was Lucinda the manageress, and Jimmy the rather young and enthusiastic bellhop. There were all kinds of bizarre moments, including what seemed to be the same people walking around in the background. I don’t know if this was a joke or not, or if they really couldn’t afford that many extras. There were a few familiar names among the cast though.
These included Roger Sloman, Richard “he’s dead silly” Waites, Joe “Spatz” Greco, and even Wendy “Wizadora II” van der Plank made some appearances. Spin-Off eventually ran for 28 episodes that were all about ten minutes long, but viewers seemed to be fed up with all of this by the end, and the mix of silly comedy and soap, and this didn’t return for the second series.
There was a similar idea that was tried out in the fourth and final series of Motormouth though. This wasn’t really a sitcom, but what seemed like half of every edition featured a look at what was going on behind the scenes with a regular cast playing the staff, and we saw them interact with the various guests for that week’s edition as they entered and left the studio.
There have been various versions of the successful game show Pointless around the world. The American version only got as far as an unaired pilot, but the Australian version, which launched about a decade after the original, did a little better. The trails for the launch insisted viewers were going to find this “crazily addictive”, but I’m not sure if that was right really.
The host was Mark Humphries, and assisting him with all of the facts and figures was Andrew Rochford. The set design was practically identical to the British version (the opening sequence and music were recycled too). There were some changes elsewhere though. Firstly, this was in a half-an-hour slot. This meant that two teams of three took part, not four. There were also three rounds played instead of four.
These did include the familiar rounds though such as lists, pictures, questions, and so on. But as always, the main quest is to find those pointless answers. The jackpot begins at $2,000. For every pointless answer that is found before the final, a bonus $500 is added. The final is rather similar too. The finalists receive a fancy trophy (whether they want one or not).
They have to pick from a choice of two categories, the questions is revealed, and then they have 30 seconds to confer on what their two answers will be. If just one of them is pointless, they win the jackpot (there was no bonus for both answers being pointless). If they don’t win though, the jackpot rolls over to the next edition with another $2,000 added. The biggest ever win was $24,000.
One interesting thing about being able to watch some editions of this version is seeing the questions of specific Australian culture mixed in with the more general ones. There were only two series, which ran for less than a year in total, before being replaced in the schedule. Maybe this never was going to be as “crazily addictive” as was originally promised, but it was still a decent remake.
David Baddiel is a comedian who has been popular over the years, but his career had reached a difficult point. He had previously had success in a double-act with Rob Newman, and they were at the forefront of the “comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll” movement, even appearing on the cover of music magazines, where the rock stars once used to be. He then went into a double-act with Frank Skinner that also did well.
But those days are now behind him. One day when he is at home, he walks into his front room, and there are some people sat on his sofa who he doesn’t recognise. There is a posh Englishman called Peter, along with the American Ethan. There is also Eva, who is from Slovenia or Latvia or some such country, who knows. He is just trying to live an ordinary life, including spending a lot of time in his local pub, but he has become trapped in a world full of zany comic actors.
They talk in unnatural ways and do rather bizarre things, only taking a break for a brief musical sting accompanied by a shot of a staircase between scenes. He begins to feel rather uncomfortable about all of this, so he decides to do the decent thing, and go and talk to someone about it. #britaingettalking His therapist is unseen, but is voiced by Stephen Fry (not that I am suggesting that he was probably too in-demand to appear in person, so he probably dashed off all of his dialogue in one session, even though I am).
What eventually becomes clear in these conversations is that David had a nice person from Sky One go up to him and wave a cheque with a rather big number on it, in the hope that he would write and appear in a sitcom for that satellite channel, following on from their other home-made comedy shows, including The Strangerers, Time Gentlemen Please, and Harry Enfield’s Big Load Of Nonsense (I think that’s what it was called).
Well he is very happy to oblige, and comes up with this 13 episode sitcom, which really does come across as an uncomfortable mix of Baddiel’s deadpan style and everyone else carrying on like a fifth-rate George Costanza. Oh, and Dave Lee Travis made a guest appearance in the first episode, and everything went downhill from there really.
He didn’t do it all by himself though, other writers included his brother Ivor and Jonathan Ross. Despite all of this, it’s fair to say that the response to Baddiel’s Syndrome was mixed. One critic whined “I’m truly angered by the effrontery of it all”. After this effort, Sky One practically gave up on making comedy, and went back to the tried and trusted imports in the schedule.
You might think that I am now beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel with these game show reviews, as this one was shown on a satellite channel and can’t have been seen by many viewers at the time (I definitely didn’t see this myself), but there is a reason why I know about this one and wanted to do a review. A while ago, I used to read Victor Lewis-Smith’s TV column in the Evening Standard.
I kept some of the reviews, including the one for this show, because he ripped into this one even by his standards, in an amusing way. So imagine my delight (if “delight” is the correct word in this case) when I managed to track down an edition of this (even if it isn’t the specific one from the review), so I could finally see this for myself and determine if this really was as awful as was being made out.
The Heat Is On was yet another example of what could be called a “culinary challenge”, which fell somewhere between Can’t Cook Won’t Cook and Ready Steady Cook (which was being repeated on UK Living at this time). The studio audience consisted of about four people, and the host was Keith Chegwin. Now it would be rather fair to say that VLS was not a fan of the rather enthusiastic hosting style of the late “Cheggers”.
He described him as “spouting a centimetre of meaning for every kilometre of noise”, and claimed that his “mouth and arms were working at a frantic pace” while he spoke “fluent garble”, before suffering a “profound cortical malfunction”. Two teams of two took part, along with a celebrity chef that some viewers might have even heard of.
I think that the most high-profile coverage this show ever got was when an outtake appeared on It’ll Be Alright On The Night or some such show when Anthony Worrall-Thompson came on and promptly fell over, making Cheggers break down in hysterics. They have to take some ingredients, and then create a meal as quickly as they can, meaning that there was something of a “can you beat a professional?” element to this.
Then after much hard work and sweating, came the taste test. The winning team won some wine, which was nice. VLS was unhappy because this show “reduced the subtle art of gastronomy to a sub-parlour game, I once produced The Restaurant Awards for ITV you know!” (well he didn’t say the last bit). He might not have liked The Heat Is On, but it was marvellous really.
And remember that recipes are available on Living Text page 669.
A while ago, I did a second piece taking a look back at the rather remarkable career of Danielle Dax, who did a lot of interesting things in the 80s and 90s, although she was never that successful. I decided to put a list together of all of her TV appearances and releases because I thought this was worth chronicling, and I have been rather surprised by how popular this has been. You might remember that I said one thing that I really wanted to see was when she appeared on BBC2’s Home Front in 1997. Well the good news is that this has finally turned up on YouTube, and I am very pleased about that. But before then, here’s a quick update with a few other things that I have discovered about her since my last piece…
The earliest a picture of Danielle appeared in a music magazine as far as I know was in Sounds when she was still in Lemon Kittens in 1980. Yes, as long ago as that. In 1981, Lemon Kittens had a namecheck in Smash Hits. Well, it was only in a wordsearch puzzle with animal-related band names, but it’s still more than I expected. In 1984 Danielle appeared in horror film The Company Of Wolves, which in recent years has been repeated on London Live and TalkingPictures TV. I was disappointed that she never appeared on the cover of a music weekly, but then I was looking at some old Time Out covers, and is that who I think it is???
I think I neglected to say that in 1985 her debut single was “Yummer Yummer Man”, although there was no video for this, and this was followed in 1986 by “Bad Miss ‘M'” which again had no video. In 1987 she made some appearances on Japanese TV. In 1988 she was interviewed on Channel 4 music show APB by the two women in Voice Of The Beehive. In 1989 her Star Test interview was repeated in a late-night slot. In 1990 she did appear on BBC2’s Juke Box Jury when her single was reviewed. In 1992 her Star Test was repeated yet again. In 1994 her concert (first shown on ITV in 1987 and also released on VHS and DVD) was repeated on Cue The Music. In 1996 “Flashback” (which did have a video) was used as the theme to BBC2’s coverage of Crufts. And in 1997, she appeared in the Evening Standard in an article at her home. I think that’s everything, now on to the main piece…
Home Front (BBC2, 1997)
In the late-90s there was a boom in home makeover shows, with lots filling the schedule, Home Front being one of them. I am particularly interested in the edition shown on 28 May 1997, which featured the final of the Home Front Amateur Decorator Of The Year competition (this was shown at the same time as the Champions League Final was live on ITV, I hope this didn’t affect the ratings). The three finalists were Dax from Aberdeen, Victoria from Bristol… and some woman called Danielle.
Their challenge was to decorate an empty front room in a house on an estate in Nottingham. They have 48 hours, a budget of £300, and four of their favourite items that they can decorate the room with. A panel of judges must determine the winner, including Kevin McCloud and Anne McKevitt, who said “I’ll be looking for someone who is courageous with bold and original designs and ideas”. Well I think I know someone who can do that.
As they all had a teammate to help them, they all wore colour-coded shirts with name badges, and they were all competing against the clock to win a prize, I suppose that this is the closest that we will get to Danielle appearing on a game show! Who will have what it takes? Everyone is also given a sofa that they have to customise. So what is Danielle’s look going to be exactly?
Well of course it’s going to be Gardeners’ World meets outer space. We also get a lot of close-ups of tins of paint of rather garish colours being opened accompanied by some smooth jazz. It’s time to get the sludge green-coloured paint and felt tips out. And you won’t believe what she can do with a tree trunk either. But will there be enough time? With one day gone, there is still a lot to do…
But things eventually take shape. Comments from the judges included “totally different, like nothing I have ever seen before”, “it’s like a mint Aero”, “it’s totally outrageous”, and “I am knocked out by it in many ways”. Who will the trophy? It is a very close decision, but the winner is… Danielle! They were hugely impressed by her originality. She must’ve won more awards for her design work than her music. Two questions, I wonder if she went professional after this, and I wonder if she won the phone vote, where viewers were invited to choose their favourites?
I believe that Danielle has appeared on a few other home makeover shows since. And in more recent years, she has done a few other things. She now seems to have hair like Marge Simpson, and she contributed to a podcast where she spoke about her career, the documentary And You Thought You Were Normal about strange musician Nash The Slash, and she even released her first music for over 25 years. The only radio station where you’d hear any of her songs now is BBC 6 Music. I also had to get the book featuring lots of pictures of her on stage in the 80s. Anybody who has any more information to share is welcome.