Game Show Memories – TV Scrabble.

TV Scrabble (Challenge, 2001-2003)

Recently I was thinking about various word games, and also board games. Some board games have been successful enough to have been converted into TV shows, one example of this is Cluedo which was on ITV in the 90s, but I was never really a fan of that one, and it was then that I remembered there was another game show based on a board game that I was much more fond of.

I have enjoyed playing Scrabble over the years, and in the 80s Channel 4 launched a TV version of the popular word game. I don’t remember that one, but I do remember that there was a second attempt to bring Scrabble to the screen, which was on Challenge in the early-2000s (this was long before that channel came to Freeview, but it was still being repeated about a decade later fairly late at night, so I did see it for myself eventually). vlcsnap-00412

Also, this was an original show that was made for Challenge (something that they haven’t done for about five years now), and I still have a review of the show from the time, as I do like to collect any game show-related articles from newspapers and magazines. The review wasn’t that positive, but I shall try to be a little kinder. TV Scrabble was originally hosted by Toby Anstis who used to be a presenter on CBBC in the 90s, and this was a trail by tile. vlcsnap-00437

Two contestants took part in an aim to show off their skills, and they would play on a computer-generated 11×11 board that it was claimed cost a fortune. The game would be played twice in the show, with the two winners playing each other in the daily final, who won that then went into the weekly final, with the star prize for the overall series winner being a trip to Las Vegas. But viewers at home were welcome to play along too. vlcsnap-00433

Round one is Duplicate Scrabble. Both contestants receive the same seven letters, and have 20 seconds to make the longest word they can. There’s a bonus for using all their tiles, and watch out for those triple word scores! The highest-scoring word is left on the board, and then this is done a few more times. All the words have to be in the dictionary of course. vlcsnap-00416

Round two is Speed Scrabble, contestants have to simply make as many words as they can in 60 seconds. If they don’t like their tiles they can ask to change them, but only once. And watching people slowly make two-letter words is as exciting as you can imagine. Toby would also offer some terrific observations on their play including “there’s no law against that word”, and “hmm, that’s a nice word”. The two highest scorers then return for the final, with the losers receiving unspecified goodies. vlcsnap-00436

The tension is mounting, as it’s now a battle of the board. The scores from previous rounds are carried over. The finalists take it 30 second turns to play on the board for two minutes, using the same tiles. When time is up, the winner progresses. This was clearly an attempt to attract the Countdown audience, the third and final series was hosted by Eamonn Holmes, and there were some action-packed celebrity specials made too. Why Scrabble has never become an Olympic event is beyond me.

Game Show Memories – The New Sale Of The Century.

Sale Of The Century (Challenge, 1997)

A while ago I wrote about Sale Of The Century, a popular game show that launched on ITV in 1971 and ran for over a decade. It has since been revived twice, firstly in 1989 in the early days of Sky One when it was hosted by Peter Marshall, who was also an announcer on Thames at the time. But this piece will concentrate on the second revival in the late-90s, the ultimate in TV shopping.

When Challenge made some original programming it was hardly ratings-topping stuff, but they did try out a few ideas, one of them being a revival of Sale Of The Century, which was hosted by Keith Chegwin, who around this time was turning up a lot on game shows on various satellite channels, either as the host or as a panellist. So how does this compare to the original? vlcsnap-01026

Well, it’s fairly faithful, beginning with a remix of the original theme music (although there’s no organist here). Also, the announcer was Robin Houston, who was also hosting Channel 5’s game show 100% out-of-vision around the same time. Three contestants (including a defending champion) took part and they had the opportunity to bag some bargains. As always Keith was very enthusiastic and encouraged them all the way through, and he also kept his clothes on. vlcsnap-01031

The contestants begin with £15, and in the first round every correct answer on the buzzer (which made the same noise as the ones on Going For Gold) was worth £1 (or £1 deducted for a wrong answer). Then there is the first Instant Sale, where a prize is shown (breathlessly described by Robin) and if a contestant wants it, they can buzz in and it’s theirs. In the next two rounds, the correct answers are worth £3, with a couple more Instant Sales. vlcsnap-01033

After the break, in the next two rounds it’s £5 for a correct answer, along with two more Instant Sales, although contestants seem to be a little more reluctant to buzz in for them at this point. The last round features 60 seconds of questions, with again £5 on offer as one more chance to bump up those scores. When time is up, the contestant with the most money goes into the final to play for the big prizes. vlcsnap-01032

They have the choice of various prizes, the top ones being a holiday (usually reduced to around £400) or a car (around £500). They have to decide if they will come back on the next edition as the defending champion to try and earn some more money, or buy one of the prizes on offer. Buying the car should take about five or six wins. At this point Keith will start jumping around with over-excitement, whether they take a prize or not. vlcsnap-01037

It seems that this version of Sale Of The Century was shown five days a week on Challenge for a while. The prizes on offer weren’t too bad considering this obviously wasn’t a big budget show and they were at about the same level as the original version, and it was good seeing a host who clearly wanted the contestants to do well and make the most of their time inside the magic rectangle. If only Challenge encouraged more ideas like this now.

Game Show Memories – Defectors.

Defectors (Challenge, 2001-2002)

Challenge is a channel that is dedicated to game shows, along with repeating classics, they’ve also had a go at making some of their own, and this is one of them. Defectors was hosted by Richard Orford, who was previously best-known for various shows in the 90s including The Disney Club and The Big Breakfast. The twist with this show was that one contestant and one studio audience member would win the star prize on offer. d1

Four contestants took part, the first round was First Impressions. The contestants introduced themselves, and then the studio audience of 100 people had to decide who they thought would give the correct answer by pressing the corresponding button on their keypad. The multiple-choice question was then asked (accompanied by a musical sting that is played about 50 times in every edition). If they get it right, the percentage of people who backed them was converted into points, so the more people you could get on your side, the better you could do. After two questions, the audience could vote again and defect to another contestant if they wanted to. d2

The second round was Trust Me. The category is given, and the contestants have ten seconds to explain why people should defect to them. This also produced some of the more unintentionally amusing moments of the show. Firstly, when a contestant is clearly bluffing and insist that they are an expert on a category they have no knowledge about, and secondly, they are cut off when time is up, however long they are into their appeal. d3

The audience then defect again, and three multiple-choice questions are asked on the category. This carries on, until the halfway point when the contestant with the lowest score is eliminated, and Richard says “the audience have defected against you”. Also around this point, Richard reveals which audience member currently has the best chance of winning. Again, this turns out to be a rather amusing moment as their response to suddenly having the spotlight put on them ranges from total disinterest to utter shock. d6

After some more categories and appeals, another contestant is eliminated, and the two remaining to go into the final round which is Quick Defect. The scores are reset to zero, and questions are now on the buzzer. The category is given and the audience have to defect before every question, this carries on until time runs out. The scores are then revealed, and the winning contestant and audience member both receive £1,000. d4

There was also an interactive element to Defectors, as Sky Digital viewers could play along at home by pressing the buttons on their remote control. The first time I remember watching it though was during a repeat run about five years after it originally ended on the now long-gone channel FTN, and until recently it still turned up on Challenge in late-night repeat runs. Not too bad an effort at all really.

Game Show Memories – Timeline.

Timeline (Challenge, 2014)

Challenge is a TV channel that launched in the mid-90s. It shows a lot of classic game shows, but it has also featured some original shows, including a revival of Blockbusters that attracted some publicity. In 2011 Challenge came to Freeview so I was pleased that I could finally some of their shows for myself. When I saw that they were launching another original show I thought that I would give it a try.

Timeline was a prime-time game show that was hosted by Brian Conley who has hosted various shows that I’ve watched over the years (including a lot of comedy), what would this show have on offer, could Challenge produce anything that would rival what appears on the likes of BBC1 or ITV? Three teams of two take part, and the top prize on offer is £5,000. vlcsnap-00586

The basic idea of Timeline was that the teams had to put various things into the correct order of time (or other things like price). There are three categories on offer. One is picked to reveal five options and five dates. There are 60 seconds on the clock, and the teams have to put the options in the right order on the timeline. They do this by putting their finger on the option and dragging it to where they think it goes, the use of touchscreen technology to play the game was essentially the show’s gimmick. vlcsnap-00587

Once they were satisfied with their answers, they had to press a big button on the screen to stop the clock. One point is scored for every correct answer, and getting a high score could come in useful for the team that makes the final. This was then done again, but this time there were 45 seconds on the clock, and team with the lowest score after the two rounds was eliminated. vlcsnap-00593

In the next round, the two remaining teams are given a choice of three years. They are then given six options. Three happened when stated on the timeline, three didn’t. They have 30 seconds to deselect the three options that they don’t think happened when stated. This time there are two points for every correct answer, with again the lowest scorers leaving, and the remaining team making the final. vlcsnap-00585

In this, the team were given 15 seconds, plus five seconds for every point that they scored. There are six spaces on the timeline, and there are five options. Each option is played one by one and is on a different category. If they place the option on the right place, they win £500. This means that they can win up to £2,500, and then they can decide if they want to take the gamble. vlcsnap-00595

This is where they play one more timeline with 45 seconds on the clock. This time they can have as many goes as they like to get the timeline in the right order, a number onscreen indicates how many they have got right in a similar style to the final on Wipeout. Run out of time, and they lose their money. If they do get the correct order in time though, they double the money that they have won and everyone is really pleased. vlcsnap-00592

I didn’t really have that much of a problem with the actual format of Timeline, but a few other things did frustrate me. Firstly, the show is in an hour-long slot but only comes to about 42 minutes, that’s a lot of adverts (and trails for Sky channels unavailable on Freeview), and most breaks weren’t inbetween the rounds! Also, the show was much hyped by Challenge and it was frequently trailed, but when the series ended after ten editions, it didn’t return.

This didn’t bother me that much as I just presumed that this might give Challenge a chance to try out another original show, but they haven’t made any more since. In recent years Challenge’s schedule has become rather stale, and they now just seem to show The Chase, Pointless and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire endlessly. I know that these are popular shows, but it is very disappointing seeing another channel not willing to try something new or take a risk.

Game Show Memories – Bullseye the revival.

Bullseye (Challenge, 2006)

Bullseye is a fondly thought of long-running game show that was on ITV for 14 years. After it ended in 1995, it was often rumoured that it would return to the screen. In 2005 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of ITV there was a special series called the Game Show Marathon, where each week a classic game show was revived for a one-off edition with celebrities as the contestants.

These included the likes of Blockbusters, and also Bullseye, making it the first new edition for a decade. This was rather well received, so maybe it was finally time for a full series of a revival. And in 2006, game show channel Challenge decided to bring it back! Well, it was what we wanted wasn’t it? This was back in the days when Challenge made some original programming along with showing repeats. Dare I go near this one, as it seems that most fans would rather forget that it happened?

Well firstly, Jim Bowen wasn’t invited back to host. Instead, Dave Spikey hosted the revival. He was best known at the time for appearing in Channel 4 sitcom Phoenix Nights, and he did have some experience in game show presenting, as he was one of the hosts of ITV’s Chain Letters. However, they did bring back scorer Tony Green to join in. I remember one critic saying at the time something like “they brought back Tony Green but not Jim Bowen, the mind boggles”. vlcsnap-00617

The revival begins with the opening sequence which is a reworking of the famous one that was used around the late-80s/early-90s, along with a different version of the theme music that everyone claps along to. It all seems a little cheap compared to the ITV version, although that could be said about just about all the elements of the show. As ever, three teams of two take part to show off their darts skills and general knowledge. vlcsnap-00628

Now we were in the era of big money game shows, it is something of a surprise to discover that the money on offer actually went down in this version, with £150 for hitting a bullseye in the first round instead of £200. All other money values stayed the same. This was followed by the Pounds For Points round, although usually the round’s highest score was around 41, there weren’t many 180s on display here. vlcsnap-00620

At the end of this round, the lowest-scoring teams were eliminated, but don’t worry, they did get their bendy Bullys along with plenty of other consolation prizes. After the break, it was time for the charity throw, but just like in some of the early series of the original version, the shows alternated between a professional darts player such as Phil Taylor and a celebrity taking part. vlcsnap-00622

Then it was time for Bully’s Prize Board. There were nine prizes on offer as ever, but some of them seemed to get laughs from the studio audience which was a little harsh, the prizes weren’t that bad were they. Then it was time for the gamble, to score 101 or more in six darts to win the star prize, maybe it could be a fancy new car, just as long as it’s not another speedboat! vlcsnap-00626

The revival of Bullseye lasted for 30 editions in one series, although it is still repeated on Challenge all these years later, but usually at around 2am, and there have been no plans for another revival. This version wasn’t as popular as the original series and overall it was a little disappointing, the format was 25-years-old by this point, maybe its moment had passed, but if ITV had given it a go and it had a bigger budget it possibly could have done a lot better. Maybe that could still happen one day.

Game Show Memories – Trivial Pursuit.

Trivial Pursuit (The Family Channel, 1993-1994)

Over the years I’ve enjoyed playing a lot of board games, including Trivial Pursuit, seen by many as the ultimate general knowledge game to play. This meant that it seemed a fairly obvious choice to convert into a TV game show. There was one attempt on BBC1 in the early-90s, but this piece will concentrate on the second version which was another Action Time production, it was shown on The Family Channel which would evolve into Challenge TV by 1997, and it was hosted by Tony Slattery who was appearing on TV very regularly at the time. vlcsnap-00940

Three contestants took part and the idea was that they had to fill their all 12 slices of their pie by answering the questions on the six categories available, essentially getting two correct answers for every colour available. In the first round the six traditional categories from the board game were used with one question per category. Contestants picked a category, and then they were given the question, but if they got it wrong, it went on offer for the other two to steal. vlcsnap-00945

In the second round, the six categories were changed so that they were all related to entertainment in some way. There was also a bonus on offer where a news clip from the archive would be shown and the question would be based on it. If they got it right they would win the slice, and then they would be asked a second question where if they got that right they could remove an opponent’s slice. vlcsnap-00946

In third round the categories changed again. This time a contestant could play for a category, and then nominate who faces the next question. The final round was against the clock reverting to the traditional six categories. Whoever buzzed in could choose the next category and carried on until they got one wrong. If a contestant completed all 12 slices of their pie they went into the final, and the two remaining contestants played until time ran out for the runner-up prize of a glass bowl. However, if no-one had completed their pie by the end, the contestant who had the most slices when time was up was the winner, with the other two receiving consolation prizes of a The Family Channel T-shirt and a deluxe edition of the board game. vlcsnap-00961

In the final, the remaining contestant also won an extra prize of a VHS looking back at the news in the year that they were born, and they played for the star prize. They simply had to get six questions right, one in each category, in 60 seconds to win a holiday. I get the feeling that they could’ve been a little more imaginative with the rules for this final but either way there were a lot of winners. vlcsnap-00944

One curious thing about Trivial Pursuit was that it seemed to have some mistakes left in such as contestants picking categories that had already gone and Tony fluffing some questions. Also, The Family Channel must have had a very small audience in those days so it should be commended for making some original shows along with the repeats of classics, and Trivial Pursuit itself was repeated well into the Challenge years.

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 – 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. 

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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 – 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.