The YouTube Files – Catchphrase USA.

Catchphrase (1985-1986)

Here’s a review of another game show was short-lived in America but became popular in the UK. Catchphrase began on American TV in 1985 and it was hosted by Art James. The basic idea of the show was the same, two contestants having to determine what the famous phrases are that are being animated on the screen to win prizes, although there were a few differences to the rules, as I discovered when I watched some editions on YouTube. vlcsnap-01153

The contestants had to solve the computer-generated puzzles, I don’t know whether any of these were recycled for the UK version but it could be possible. They had to wait for the bell and then buzz in (different buzzer noise!) to determine the phrase. There was one flaw in the rules though. When a contestant got a phrase right, they didn’t win any money, it went into the bonus bank, meaning that you only won the money by solving the bonus. This meant that a contestant could get eight out of nine phrases right and not win any money, thankfully this was changed for the UK version. vlcsnap-01154

There is no Ready Money Round as such, but the money on offer does increase for every round, and there was much more money on offer than the UK version. Another thing that is notable is the host who although he moved the show along well enough doesn’t say anything like “say what you see”, and the contestants seem to be much more excitable. vlcsnap-01158

One more thing that I noticed was that the famous Catchphrase mascot Mr Chips does appear, but in this version he is called Herbie, and hearing the host say “there’s Herbie” is a little odd too. When the main game is over, the contestant with the most money goes into the final. This is just about the same as the UK version, where contestants have to get five clues in a row right on a 5×5 grid in 60 seconds, but the US version had a reigning champion format, meaning that they could return the next day to play for even more money, and they could appear up to five times before having to retire, meaning they could win as much as $75,000 if they did well. vlcsnap-01152

Catchphrase had a very short run in the US, it was syndicated, shown five days a week, and ran for 65 editions, or the equivalent of 13 weeks, and apart from a failed attempt of a revival in 2006, it hasn’t been seen in that country again. About one week after the American version ended, Catchphrase came to the UK where it was much more successful, and indeed it’s still on ITV after over three decades. This was another game show variation that I enjoyed seeing, and I’ll be looking at another one soon.

Game Show Memories – Family Catchphrase.

Family Catchphrase (The Family Channel, 1993-1994) vlcsnap-00309Family Catchphrase was a mid-90s spin-off from the classic game show Catchphrase, but instead of single contestants taking part, it featured related teams. Curiously, it was not shown on ITV and it wasn’t hosted by Roy Walker, but instead Andrew O’Connor who is one of my favourites hosted so he was a decent substitute, and it was shown on The Family Channel, which over the years would eventually evolve into the channel now known as Challenge. vlcsnap-00323

Two teams of two took part, usually consisting of a teenager alongside an older relative such as a parent or an aunt or uncle. The rules were slightly different to the original version of Catchphrase. First of all, teams played for points instead of money, and various rounds were played as a team or individually. Just say what you see! vlcsnap-00321

The first round was the same as regular Catchphrase, with teams having to wait for the bell before they answered. The bonus Catchphrase was also the same with its nine squares to pick from, and this is the first version where the value of the bonus decreased each time it was incorrectly guessed, and this rule was introduced to the ITV series in 1994. vlcsnap-00606

Then there was a round where the teams played individually and there was no conferring, so this was the only time where youngsters weren’t encouraged to listen to their elders. The final round was similar to the Ready Money Round as the bell had been taken out and teams could buzz as many times as they wanted until they got it right, but because there was no money on offer it was renamed Fast And Furious. 


The highest-scoring team go through to the Super Catchphrase. This is just about the same as in the main version, with the idea of getting five phrases right in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally in 60 seconds still the same, only the prizes on offer were on a smaller scale, such as the main prize for going through the M square being a trip to Alton Towers or a games console. vlcsnap-00335

I didn’t see Family Catchphrase the first time round, but in recent years I have seen a few editions thanks to the endless repeats on Challenge and YouTube. There were a couple of memorable moments. First of all, in a clue which had a worm protruding from the planet Earth, a boy buzzed in and said “The Worm From Earth”. The look on Andrew’s face. Also, a pre-fame Simon Amstell took part with his aunt and they ended up winning some nice prizes. vlcsnap-00312

I also noticed that Family Catchphrase used the title sequence introduced in 1986, but featured the set design introduced for the 1994 relaunch on ITV, which made it an odd mix of 80s and 90s visually. Overall though I did think that this was a fun variation on the idea, and I enjoyed watching it more than the post-Roy Walker revivals on ITV.

Game Show Memories – Catchphrase.

Catchphrase (ITV, 1986-2002)

The game show where it was always advisable to “say what you see” because that was how you won. Catchphrase was based on an American format, but although it didn’t run for very long in that country it was certainly a much bigger success here. The original host was Roy Walker who was also appearing regularly on TV as a comedian at the time.

Every week two contestants took part and all they had to do was identify the everyday well-known phrases and sayings that were being portrayed on the screen. The show also had a popular mascot called Mr Chips (in the American version he was called Herbie) and he would often appear in the animations. vlcsnap-01063

In the first round the animation would appear and contestants would have to wait for the bell before they buzzed in. If they got it right they then had a chance to have a go at the bonus. They removed one of the nine squares and then had to have a guess. If they got it right they would win lots of money. In later series the money amount decreased with every square removed so it was worth guessing early. vlcsnap-01064

But later on in the show the bell was removed as it became fast and furious for the Ready Money Round. Contestants could now buzz in as many times as they liked to guess and there was a lot more money on offer, at which point Roy would say “keep pressing and keep guessing!”. Whoever had the highest score when time was up went on to play the Super Catchphrase. vlcsnap-01065

There was a 5×5 board and all the contestants had to do was solve five catchphrases correctly in 60 seconds to win the star prize which was usually a holiday. If they failed though they would win some consolation prizes for every clue that was solved correctly. vlcsnap-01066

When Roy Walker hosted Catchphrase it was popular with viewers including myself for many years, and pleasingly the show spawned a lot of now-famous catchphrases itself, such as Roy’s reassuring “it’s good but it’s not right” every time a contestant gave a wrong answer, however absurd it was, and rather unnervingly shouting “right!” every time someone solved the bonus. Roy was a great host, apart from that time when he forgot what was doing and insisted that every catchphrase was “Columbo”. There were also some impressive computer graphics for the time and these improved on the show as the years advanced. It mustn’t be forgotten just how good the music and sound effects were too. vlcsnap-01068

As well as all this, there were a couple of celebrity specials and a family special too which gained a spin-off which was hosted by Andrew O’Connor. There was also some merchandise released including a board game that I used to have and an interactive DVD. However, by the end of Roy’s run in 1999 the show was started to look a little old fashioned as it was still using its none-more-80s pink and blue neon lights set and ratings were beginning to fall, so like with a lot of things in that year someone took the decision to relaunch the show to bring it into the new millennium.

This meant the show was given a complete overhaul, right down to Roy being pensioned off and a young newcomer host taking over who was Nick Weir, but he wasn’t a huge success with viewers, and he was replaced by Mark Curry, by which point the show just like those other ITV long-runners Wheel Of Fortune and Family Fortunes had been relegated to daytime as it was no longer the talk of viewers in the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire era, and there were much smaller cash prizes on offer, and the show was no longer made in front of a studio audience. However, the Walker era of the show remains the most repeated on Challenge, although they now only repeat the later episodes due to the TVS paperwork nightmare situation.

The show finally ended in 2002, but was revived in 2013 with Stephen Mulhern as host. Again, the rules were changed around with three contestants now taking part. Although there are a few good things about this version such as up-to-date graphics, big cash prizes and Stephen trying to create his own catchphrase by constantly saying “it’s on the screen, but what does it mean?”, the Walker era is still the most fondly thought of.