The YouTube Files – Blockbusters USA.

Blockbusters (NBC, 1980-1982, 1987)

Blockbusters is one of my all-time favourite game shows, it wasn’t until long after I first watched the show on ITV that I discovered that it was based on an American format. I always wondered what that was like, and thanks to the magic of YouTube, I have now been able to see some for myself. The American version of Blockbusters launched in 1980 and was shown on NBC on weekday mornings, replacing The David Letterman Show in the schedules. 

Blockbusters was originally hosted by Bill Cullen, who was a TV presenter veteran in America who hosted a wide variety of game shows throughout his long career. The first thing to notice is that although the basic idea of the game is the same, featuring a team of one taking on a team of two and questions with one-word answers, some notable differences to the British version become clear. First of all, the contestants taking part are adults instead of students. vlcsnap-01130

Also, the 5×4 gameboard (which wasn’t computer generated at first) featured the single team playing with red hexagons, and the double team playing with white hexagons, and it took a while for me to stop thinking that the white team were going the wrong way across the board. Also, there was no money on offer for each correct answer, but teams won a bonus amount of money if they did win a game. vlcsnap-01129

The winning team then went on to the Gold Run (originally called the Gold Rush), and just like the UK version, they had to get from one side of the board to the other in 60 seconds, and if they did, they would win a cash prize, usually $5,000. By the end of the series, contestants could play up to 20 Gold Runs, meaning that they could take part on the show for a very long time and win a lot of money. vlcsnap-01119

Blockbusters wasn’t a big success in America, it ended in 1982 after a couple of years, and launched on ITV a year later where it would run for about a decade, and that’s not including the later revivals. There was also a brief revival of Blockbusters on NBC in 1987. This time Bill Rafferty was the host and a computer-generated board was used. One major change was that the show was now one against one which looks rather odd and if they went to a third deciding game the board was redesigned to be 4×4 to make it a little more equal. vlcsnap-01134

Discovering American versions of classic game shows definitely has been an enjoyable experience for me, it’s always interesting seeing how shows started out and how they developed in other countries, and when I decided to look for other American game shows that would become a bigger success in this country, and I found a couple more that I liked the look of, and I’ll review those here soon too.


Game Show Memories – Blockbusters (the revival).

Yes this is another piece about Blockbusters, but it is one of my favourite game shows, although this is the last piece I have planned about it for now (unless spin-off Champion Blockbusters ever turns up on YouTube). When Blockbusters ended on ITV in 1993, it remained so popular that there were four revivals. The first was on Sky One in 1994 (still with Bob Holness), then there was another on BBC2 in 1997 with Michael Aspel, and then again on Sky One in 2000.

This will be a piece concentrating on the revival on Challenge in 2012. I do feel that alongside repeating various game shows, Challenge should attempt making more original shows and revivals of classics, so when it was announced that they were making an attempt at bringing back Blockbusters lots of people were very pleased by this news. The host for this revival was Simon Mayo, who was as good a choice as anyone really, and someone who I remember enjoying when he hosted the Radio 1 Breakfast Show in the early-90s. vlcsnap-00775

So would Blockbusters work in this decade? It was hotly anticipated by viewers. The title sequence featured a rock-style version of the classic “Quiz Wizard” theme which viewers seemed to like. The gameplay was the same, because it should be really. A team of one played a team of two, although they featured older contestants rather than students. Also, they wore name badges, but they didn’t seem to have any mascots with them unfortunately. And there was still £5 on offer for every correct answer, there’s no change. vlcsnap-00841

Because of advanced technology instead of question cards each question instantly appeared on a screen presumably picked at random from thousands available in a computer. The board was similar to the original version, but it was now 3D and it looked rather good. Eliminated contestants won the consolation prize of a Blockbusters-branded eBook which wasn’t bad, while the winner went on to play the Gold Run of course. vlcsnap-00895

The Gold Run was once again changed back to being played a maximum of five times before a contestant had to retire, and there were some fairly decent prizes on offer including holidays, which you don’t see given away too often on game shows nowadays. Although this version is only really remembered for one contestant who didn’t really seem to know how to play the Gold Run properly and just went all over the place on the board. vlcsnap-01001

There was a real buzz around this revival, but when the run of 40 editions came to an end, Challenge didn’t make any more, although they have repeated them often and they even made an extra hour-long celebrity special, but it didn’t linger long in the memory. Because of this I remember someone saying about a year ago jokingly “isn’t it about time there was another Blockbusters revival?”. vlcsnap-01002

It really is difficult to tell why the revivals aren’t as fondly thought of as the original when the gameplay is the same. Maybe it’s the scheduling, the choice of host and their interaction with the contestants, or how much people want to play along at home. I will always be a fan though and I hope that one day though even if there are no more Blockbusters revivals Challenge do make some more original programming, I’m sure there is a demand for it.

Game Show Memories – Blockbusters first and final series comparison.

Blockbusters is one of my all-time favourite game shows, and now that repeats of both the first series in 1983 and the final series in 1994 have been shown on Challenge, I thought I’d compare the two to discover how the show evolved into a much-loved classic.

Scheduling. First series. The way Blockbusters was scheduled varied for each ITV region, and it was rather erratic, but it was usually shown on weekdays before the 5:45 news. Final series. After ITV dropped the show, which Bob called “a terrible decision”, Sky One picked it up for another series which was shown on weekdays at 7pm, before moving it to 6:30, and four ITV regions then repeated this series in 1995. It was still produced by Central.

Title sequence. First series. The opening featured a nice animation of floating hexagons featuring pictures of various topics that would be featured in the questions, and this was accompanied by the terrific theme music “Quiz Wizard” by Ed Welch. Final series. The famous titles introduced around 1987 were still used, although the end was changed to feature a shot of the studio. Oddly though, a much inferior version of the theme was used which sounded rather cheap and as if it was being played on a clapped-out keyboard. bb1

Set design. First series. The set already featured the signs of famous figures, although the background featured odd-looking purple and orange blinds, and the colour would change a lot over the years. There was also a monitor on the front of the desk. Also, the white team’s buzzer was low-pitched, and the blue team’s was high-pitched. Final series. The set still featured the famous figures and was now the more familiar blue background, and under the scoreboard were some lights indicating how many Gold Runs the teams had done. The monitor had long-since gone and the buzzer noises had swapped round too. bb3

Bob Holness. First series. In the first series Bob’s presentation was a little dry, his conversations with the contestants were a little stilted, and he hadn’t developed his catchphrases, with the much less memorable “that’s the connection” being said at the end of every game. Also, Bob didn’t wear his glasses for the whole of the show, and there was much speculation by people as to whether he was hosting sat down or stood up. Final series. Bob had now very much settled into his role, talking to the contestants about their interests, laughing even when they asked for a “P” for the 1,000th time, and ending every game by saying the much catchier “that’s Blockbusters!”. bb2

Contestants. First series. The contestants were sixth formers so they were all aged 16-18, although many of them looked a lot older, and some of them wore their school uniform as well, although that didn’t last long. Final series. Fashions change of course and lots of contestants in this series seemed to have long hair in a ponytail, and they all enjoyed taking lots of mascots along with them, and Bob always seemed to be amused by the amount of furry friends who appeared. The famous hand jive introduced in 1986 was also regularly seen. bb4

Gameplay. First series. Because computer technology wasn’t advanced enough for the time, the gameboard was created by seemingly having about 38 slide projectors all stacked on top of one another. There was also £5 for each correct answer. Final series. The board design was the same, although it was slightly zoomed in compared to before. Games also remained the best of three. There was also a bonus question introduced on a gold card which was indicated by a cash till noise where if the contestant got it right they won an extra £5. Bob reprimanded himself in one edition after he referred to it as “a fiver”, gosh, how vulgar. bb5

The Gold Run. First series. In the Gold Run contestants had 60 seconds to get from one end to the other, with £10 for each correct answer if they didn’t make it. They could play a maximum of five Gold Runs, although this was later reduced to three. Final series. This part of the show never really changed, except that for this series the number of Gold Runs that could be played was increased to five again. I also noticed that Bob said that one relived contestant who completed their Gold Run just in time was “puffing like a grampus” which is a new one on me. bb6

Prizes. First series. Defeated contestants took away consolation prizes of a sweatshirt and gold-embossed dictionary which both had “Blockbusters 1983” written on them. There was also a bonus prize on offer for the schools that they represented indicated by a sound effect borrowed from Family Fortunes, and some of the Gold Run prizes available included computers which were fancy for the time. Final series. The consolation prizes were still a sweatshirt and dictionary, the schools prizes were still on offer too, but some of the Gold Run prizes seemed a little smaller, maybe this could have been down to budget cuts, but most of what was on offer still impressed. bb7

Game Show Memories – Blockbusters.

Blockbusters (ITV, 1983-1993) block0001

Another one of the classics, Blockbusters is one of my all-time favourite game shows, and I must have watched dozens over the years. It’s not a show that needs much explanation really, it still has lots of fans, it is of course the game where two teams of contestants answer general knowledge questions to get across a board of hexagons. The board was not computer-generated in the earliest series so it was a major feat of engineering, seemingly consisting of 40 slide-projectors sat on top of one another and some lightbulbs. vlcsnap-00930

The show is based on an American format that ran from 1980-1982, with a short revival in 1987. However it was more popular in this country, and there are a few reasons for that. First of all, there was the host Bob Holness, who really was terrific, and watching old episodes again I am struck by how authoritative he is, and I also enjoy his old-fashioned exclamations when the contestants got the right answers including “that’s the one, good heavens!”. He also spawned some memorable catchphrases too. vlcsnap-00931

There was also the decision to make the contestants sixth-formers from across the country, playing to win prizes for themselves and the schools that they represented. A lot of the contestants on the show were very charismatic and enjoyable to watch with their cuddly mascots, and the show was always played in the right spirit, with lots of people winning some very impressive prizes, plus lots of consolation prizes including sweatshirts and dictionaries. And don’t forget that there was £5 for every correct answer too! And they all did a dance at the end. vlcsnap-00932

Blockbusters was produced by Central and first appeared on ITV in 1983, becoming the first UK game show to be shown five days a week. The first series was recently repeated on Challenge and again it was rather odd seeing the show before it became properly defined, but the idea was great from the start. The scheduling of the show varied in each ITV region, and it was shown in every slot from Saturday afternoons to Friday evenings, but it did gain a lot of popularity across the country. vlcsnap-00933

I became a big fan of Blockbusters from practically the very first moment I saw it on TV when I was very young, I just thought it was great and enjoyed watching as much as I could, enjoying the creative title sequence, the brilliant music, and watching the contestants show off their knowledge long before I knew any of the answers myself. There were a few changes to the format over the years, such as reducing the number of Gold Runs played to win the star prize from five to three because so many people wanted to appear and get a chance to stand on the Hot Spot. vlcsnap-00934

Blockbusters ran for about a decade on ITV and there was even a Saturday Night primetime spin-off called Champion Blockbusters where winning contestants returned to play for more prizes. There was also a lot of merchandise released including quiz books, board games, an interactive DVD, and computer games. The show only ended because when Carlton came along in 1993 they moved the show from a primetime to a daytime slot, meaning that ratings fell and they could no longer justify giving away big prizes, it was a shame seeing the show leave the screens, but it wasn’t over yet. vlcsnap-00935

The format of Blockbusters is so endearing that there have been four revivals. Sky One revived the show in 1994 with Bob Holness still hosting, and this version was repeated in a few ITV regions. In 1997 there was a short-lived afternoon version with Michael Aspel where this time adult contestants could take part. In 2000 the show went to Sky One again with Liza Tarbuck now hosting and only sixth-formers taking part again. Finally, Challenge themselves tried a version after a successful repeat run with Simon Mayo hosting and adult contestants again. And yet all these years later it’s still £5 for every correct answer. There’s no change.