The YouTube Files – Scrabble USA.

Scrabble (NBC, 1984-1990, 1993)

I thought that it was about time for me to review another American game show, because they’re just so great aren’t they. This one caught my attention because this is based around Scrabble, the word game that people enjoy playing around the world, although this TV version was somewhat different from the traditional board game format.

The host was Chuck Woolery (a veteran who has hosted many game shows over the years). This began with people shouting the name of the show in a similar style to Wheel Of Fortune, and there were also plenty of flashing lights and podiums that turned around for no reason, which is always nice. The format did change, but mostly was something of a cross between Cross Wits and All Clued Up.

Two contestants took part. They were given a cryptic clue to a word that was between five and nine letters long, with only one letter revealed. This would either be horizontal on vertical on the board. They can take two tiles from a choice which is always two more than the letters in the word. They place them in a slot, and then these letters are revealed. They then pick one to put into the word, and they can guess if they like (and there were various bonuses on offer).

But they should beware, because if they pick a letter that isn’t in the word, it is a “stopper” (similar to what would be called a whammy or a stinger in similar shows), and they lose their turn. How annoying. If all three stoppers are played, and the word still hasn’t been guessed, the remaining letters (except one) are revealed. They buzz in if they know, and whoever gets it right wins that round (games would straddle if they ran out of time).

Another round is then played, with the next word connecting with wherever the previous one is on the board. The first to win three rounds, goes through to the bonus game which was the Scrabble Sprint, to play the defending champion. Again, a clue was given to a word with a particular number of letters in it, and after the clock started, they picked various letters (no stoppers at this stage). Buzz in and get it right, and the clock stops.

If their opponent can guess the same amount of words in a shorter time, they win, but if not, there’s a new champion. Contestants could return several times, and some won five-figure sums. There were also special themed weeks, including college students taking part, and even on one occasion, other game shows hosts. Scrabble ran for almost a decade, and confusingly, a board game of this version was released.

Game Show Memories – Hit Me Baby One More Time.

Hit Me Baby One More Time (ITV1, 2005)

When putting more pieces together about some of my favourite pop music memories recently, I was reminded of this show, that featured several pop stars from days gone by. Hit Me Baby One More Time was hosted by Vernon Kay, and this was yet another singing talent show, which was a little similar to Reborn In The USA from a year earlier, although I think this was much better.

In this, various singers and groups from the 70s, 80s, and 90s competed against each other to determine the favourite. Now as this was just before social media came along, this probably would’ve been the first time in a while that these people had been in the spotlight. Now of course it’s possible for them to document what they do all day online, and it’s odd to think that I must’ve seen and read more about some singers who took part in the past few years, then in just about the 90s and 2000s put together.

There were seven shows, featuring five acts each. Now how to pick a winner out of some of these would be a difficult choice, one edition featured Belinda Carlisle and Jaki Graham, who are both great singers, so that would definitely be a group of death. However, neither of them won their show. Also taking part were Howard Jones (or was it Nik Kershaw?), Mica Paris, Hue And Cry, Chesney Hawkes, Princess, and many more. It was great seeing a lot of them again, and they still had plenty of talent and charisma.

After an introduction, along the lines of the usual “they’ve sold 99 million albums worldwide!” fluff to remind us who they were, they performed their most famous song. And in an interesting twist, they would then perform a song by a contemporary act. There really were some surprises in store. So you would get people cover songs in unlikely genres, such as Jaki Graham taking on Will Young, and Belinda Carlisle did Coldplay.

Viewers at home could then vote for their favourite via phone or text, and the winner progressed to the final. The prize for the overall winner was to release a single. I do remember that a lot of the publicity seemed to be describing this as the big comeback for Shakin’ Stevens, and he was indeed the winner. This meant that his cover of Pink’s “Trouble” was released, and this made the Top 20, his first single to do so for 15 years.

But then, very shortly after the end of Hit Me Baby One More Time, there was an American version on NBC, and this was also hosted by Kay, possibly making an attempt to break into American TV. The format was almost the same (a few acts who had been successful on both sides of the Atlantic took part in this version too), but instead of a final, the winner of every show (after a studio audience vote) received $20,000 to donate to a charity of their choice.

And there were five editions, instead of eight like there were in the UK version. Again, some vaguely familiar names featured. And would you believe it, Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons took part in one edition, performing “Words”, and her take on Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”. She lost to PM Dawn though. Both versions only ran for one series.

Game Show Memories – Game Show Stars Bonus Edition Part 2.

This is the second part looking at Ian Hyland of the Daily Mirror‘s Top 20 list of great game show hosts, and comparing this to my choices…

Robert Robinson. Another one who I don’t really remember, but he hosted Ask The Family on TV, along with Brain Of Britain on the radio for several years, and was admired by many.

Bradley Walsh. Match. Well of course there’s little doubt that he has enhanced The Chase, but he’s done much more beyond that, getting the best out of contestants at the quirkier end, while laughing a lot.

Michael Barrymore. Well I liked Strike It Lucky, actually I really did, but his other game shows are little-remembered now by comparison. He also played an exaggerated version of himself as the bitter host in sitcom Bob Martin.

Mike Reid. This is someone who I wouldn’t think of as a game show host, being more familiar with EastEnders and his stand-up comedy routine. It’s surprising that he is remembered for Runaround considering he didn’t even host every series, and it seemed to be fun but total chaos.

Michael McIntyre. Another one who is more of a comedian, and I must admit I’ve never really watched The Wheel much, so it’s tough for me to rate him. Er… I’m sure that he’s awfully nice though.

Angus Deayton. I didn’t want to include hosts of comedy panel games as they don’t deal with the public, and what they say is mostly scripted. Although Angus has had the chance to rehabilitate his career to some extent, by hosting Bognor Or Bust and Would I Lie To You, he hasn’t reached the heights of Have I Got News For You again, which hasn’t been the same without him.

Victoria Coren. I definitely do enjoy Only Connect, but I don’t know what she is on about half the time, maybe I just don’t get her style of humour.

Dale Winton. As much as I enjoyed Supermarket Sweep (well didn’t everybody), I never liked In It To Win It that much. He always claimed that he knew his strength was game shows and he simply wanted to entertain people and encourage them. He definitely did achieve that.

Mark Lamarr/Simon Amstell. Mark hosted Never Mind The Buzzcocks (another comedy panel game). He did have a deadpan wit at first, but by the end he looked like he hated doing it. His replacement Simon mostly learned his trade on Popworld where he looked at music in an amusingly unusual way, never taking things seriously. So when he became host he tried to be The World’s Most Sarcastic Man, and didn’t fear mocking anyone.

Jim Davidson. No, come back! Jim had two popular long-runners on the go with Big Break and The Generation Game, although they ended around the same time, at which point he dropped out of favour. But that Mr Blobby on The Generation Game? Well if it’s funny the first time, it’ll definitely be funny the 1,000th time I’m sure.

So there aren’t a huge amount of matches with my choices, but it does prove that whether they are cheeky, cheesy, or just plain crazy, there have been a variety of people who have entertained us in all kinds of game shows over the years.

Game Show Memories – Game Show Stars Bonus Edition Part 1.

Having done a large amount of game show reviews, I thought that I would also do some pieces about some of my favourite game show hosts. I planned to make this a Top 20, but this turned out to be a Top 21. Although I have enjoyed many hosts over the years, the criteria to feature included hosting several shows, and always enhancing them with their presence. I wanted to highlight the ones who I thought had longevity, authority, and personality. They were…

Jeremy Beadle, Gordon Burns, Paul Daniels, Noel Edmonds, Bruce Forsyth, Eamonn Holmes, Bob Holness, Matthew Kelly, Bob Monkhouse, Andrew O’Connor, Nicholas Parsons, Shane Richie, Paul Ross, Phillip Schofield, William G Stewart, Chris Tarrant, Tim Vine, Bradley Walsh, Richard Whiteley, Claudia Winkleman, Terry Wogan.

So I was rather interested when I noticed that the Daily Mirror‘s TV critic Ian Hyland recently did an article that revealed his Top 20 (actually 22) game show hosts. Either this is a coincidence, or I am more influential than I realised. I will list his choices, have a think about his views and reveal how many matches there are. These are the first ten.

Chris Tarrant. Match. Well I definitely agree with this one, he was a perfect fit for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. It’s just a shame that almost everything else he has hosted has flopped by comparison, despite his endless enthusiasm.

Magnus Magnusson. This is someone who I didn’t include because he is famous for mostly hosting only one show, although he took charge of Mastermind for 25 years, and always dealt well with the serious business.

Anne Robinson. When I was considering a female host to feature, this is someone who I wouldn’t really have chosen. There’s little doubt that her style on The Weakest Link caused a stir though and hadn’t really been seen before.

Bamber Gascoigne/Jeremy Paxman. These two have both hosted University Challenge for over 25 years. Although I never saw him at the time, I have been greatly impressed of what I have now seen of Bamber, an authoritative figure.

Bob Holness. Match. Best remembered now for Blockbusters, but he also did well on many other shows including Raise The Roof. And most correct answers would be greeted with a cheery “that’s the one, good heavens!”.

Jim Bowen. Again, Jim only missed out as he did little beyond Bullseye. But this is a show that is still frequently repeated, and seeing the mildly shambolic early series for the first time was a treat. His style made it look like he had never seen a game show in his life, and he greeted everything that happened with “marvellous!”. He also used to make gaffs like “and the question’s gone so I can’t ask the category”, but it was left in, because no-one would mind, and they didn’t.

Bob Monkhouse. Match. Well I would be very surprised if anyone didn’t include Bob on their list of favourites. The masterful mirth-maker entertained us for decades.

Henry Kelly. The host for Going For Gold for almost a decade (I didn’t see Game For A Laugh at the time though). If anyone could deal with asking people from Austria if they wanted to answer a general knowledge question in the afternoon, it was him.

William G Stewart. Match. Just made it for me as along with Fifteen-To-One he also hosted Famous People… Famous Places… He asked contestants thousands of tough questions, usually about the shadow cabinet and chemical elements. Had standards and was usually only impressed if someone scored over 300 points, which was rather difficult.

David Coleman. Although he hosted A Question Of Sport for many years, I consider him to be more of a sport host/commentator. Always good to watch though.

The rest will be revealed in part two…

Game Show Memories – Pot Of Gold.

Pot Of Gold (ITV, 1993-1995)

Recently, I had a look back at Des O’Connor Tonight, and this reminded me of some of the game shows that he hosted throughout his long career. There was the popular Take Your Pick, and also this one, which isn’t as well remembered now, although there were two series. Pot Of Gold was an hour-long show that was yet another of those attempts to “bring back variety” to TV.

This was something of a talent show/game show mix in a similar style to Opportunity Knocks and the like. But this one had an exciting twist, and claimed to offer something which was going to be “a British television first”. Host Des O’Connor informed us that this show featured “the biggest jackpot in the history of British television”, which was a huge £25,000!

Now this was way over the maximum amount of cash that could given away on a UK game show at this point, with the restrictions that were still in place, I wonder how they managed to get around that. Soon this much money on offer would be the norm though. Well it’s better than a cuddly toy. Pot Of Gold was also innovative in another way.

There was a tie-in gamecard that you could get if you bought a newspaper (the Daily Star or Daily Mirror, seemingly depending on what series it was), or you could write in for one. As we’ll see, viewers would want the chance to play along at home. Seven acts would take part. They would be the usual mix of dancers, singers, jugglers, and so on, ranging from great, to not-so great.

Afterwards, a panel of judges, consisting of someone famous, such as a comedian or TV critic, along with someone who had been pulled out of the studio audience, give their opinions on how well they think they did, and give a score out of 50. This is then added together to become their total. If this matched the number on their gamecard, the viewer can write win to claim their prize of £50.

There was also a feature called “The Wannabes”. Six acts would come on and perform for 30 seconds each, until the hooter went off. Some of them really were ridiculous. The studio audience then vote for their favourite, and they become one of the main acts to perform their routine in full. The act with the highest total progresses to the grand final.

And there was also the jackpot number. The seven totals were added together, and if this matched the number on your gamecard, there was a real chance to win big. I presume that the overall series winner also won a lot money, or “the pot of gold”. So it wasn’t only the acts who had a chance of becoming rich! And there was also an Australian version that just about followed the same format.

I don’t remember this happening myself, but I’m sure remember reading once that one of the acts had died in an accident before their show was aired, and Des had to record to special introduction to explain this. I must admit that I’m not sure how many of the acts did go on to have some proper fame and fortune, but at least they had a very brief moment on TV.

I think there was an impressionist whose main piece was doing Bob Monkhouse, and about two decades later he turned up in an episode of Toast Of London as Bob so he definitely got some mileage out of that. Who needs Britain’s Got Talent when you’ve got this. About a year after this ended, ITV had yet another attempt at this type of thing with The Big Big Talent Show.

Game Show Memories – Gibberish.

Gibberish (BBC1, 1992)

This is another game show that I only vaguely remember, but as this month is the 30th anniversary of the launch of this one, and someone else somewhere must’ve watched this, I felt this should have a review. Gibberish was shown in a daytime slot on BBC1, so I presume that I only could’ve really seen this during the school holidays (I definitely never bunked off, honest).

This was hosted by Kenny Everett, following on from Brainstorm. Although his own TV comedy show had ended by this point, he could still be seen on various game shows and chat shows, where he was very entertaining and would always guarantee a giggle. Two teams of three celebrities took part, and they had to play improvised word games.

Some people felt that this came across as a cross between I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and Whose Line Is It Anyway, with the combination of all of the silly rounds. All of the information I have found makes it seem that the same six celebrities took part in every edition (and there were 40, the equivalent of eight weeks). Maybe they were rather cheap to get hold of.

They were Danny Baker, Barry Cryer, Steve Punt, Jessica Martin, Jan Ravens, and Carol Vorderman. Let’s hope that they were ready to be put through their paces. The rounds included Opening Letter, where the team were given a letter each and have to form a sentence. And there was Reveal Your Identity, where there was a phone conversation and they had to guess who the other person is supposed to be.

This would explain why the panellists all had telephones in front of them. I also noticed that Kenny had a bell, presumably it was rang when he’d had enough and the round ended (or maybe wanted his dinner). There were probably some points awarded, but once again, this was a show where creating the biggest laughs was the priority. Although this wasn’t groundbreaking, it was definitely amusing.

Also notable about Gibberish is that this was produced by Celador, which went on to produce the very successful Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, making everyone at the company themselves millionaires (probably). There was only one series which was just about Kenny’s final TV work. After this, he continued on radio station Capital Gold for a while, and died in 1995, ending the career of a true original.

Game Show Memories – Champion Blockbusters.

Champion Blockbusters (ITV, 1987-1990)

Blockbusters is one of my favourite game shows, so I thought that I would do a piece on yet another variation (this means that I will have reviewed every variation apart from the revival on Comedy Central, because I haven’t seen that one). Now I don’t really want to go down the road of nostalgic cliché, but there is one thing I associate with watching this when I was a boy.

This is one of those shows that I only really remember watching at my nan’s house rather than at home, and not only that, it was really was on a black-and-white TV (I think I’ll leave the area of “eccentricities of relatives at least two generations above you in the family” for now). The memory is a little hazy on this one, but I think that this was the basic idea.

Champion Blockbusters was a spin-off from the daytime show, hosted by Bob Holness as always. Blockbusters, but shown in a 45 minute primetime slot on Saturday Night ITV? That’ll do me. This featured contestants who has appeared in previous series, who had reached the fifth and final Gold Run. The famous opening sequence was also revived to feature pictures of contestants on the hexagons.

This meant that some of the then-students were now in their early-20s by this point. And there would be a clip from the archive shown of their original appearances, which wasn’t embarrassing at all I’m sure. They would also tell us what they were up to nowadays, and it turns out that they’ve all come good, just like we knew they would.

The basic idea of the game was the same really, with £5 for every correct answer, there’s still no change. The money that they won went to charity though. And there was also “the mystery letter”, and if this was found, there was a bonus amount of money on offer. Whoever won would make the Gold Run again, and they would win some prizes related to the line of work that they were now in.

I must admit that I can’t remember how many Gold Runs the teams could stay on for in this version, but it was definitely a good idea, and the contestants seemed to be pleased to have returned. There were four series of Champion Blockbusters featuring six editions each, and I did enjoy what I saw of this as much as any other variation, even if it wasn’t in colour.

Game Show Memories – Demolition.

Demolition (Five, 2002-2003)

This is a game show that was on Five around the same time as Swapheads and Topranko!, when there had recently been a relaunch, and they were trying out a few new quirky ideas. One of the things that attracted me to Demolition was that the host was Emily Booth. This was about a year or two after Bits had ended, which was the computer games show that she co-hosted on Channel 4, and I was pleased to see her on TV again.

She only really appeared at the beginning and end though, as the game was the main focus. Demolition was made on location in Australia, and was described as “the show that brings you crazed destruction on a grand scale”. Two teams of three took part, with names like The Blue Panthers and The Barroom Brits. They had to take an item, and break it all down, so it managed to fit in a much smaller area, against the clock.

One example was having to take the contents of a barroom and condense this into as small pieces as possible so all of this could fit into three barrels. I also remember one game where the pieces had to be small enough to be pushed through the door of a letterbox. There were various tools available to do this, including saws and hammers.

There were also some referees who looked out for health and safety, so if someone was using the wrong equipment, had forgotten to put protective things like goggles or gloves on, or held their hammer the wrong way up, they would be penalised by rather theatrically having a red card shown to them, and they would have to sit out ten minutes.

And there were also some hard hat-wearing women who would occasionally check the progress of the teams. Whoever was determined to be ahead would receive some bonus tools. All of this was accompanied by some breathless commentary that seemed more suitable for wrestling coverage or something like that. At least nobody accidentally sliced their head off.

I’m pretty sure that the team that demolished the most won a trophy, and I don’t think this was a knockout tournament. There was only one series of Demolition, which didn’t seem to get that much of a positive response from critics, who seemed to think that this was all rather noisy and absurd. This was shown on Five in primetime, but in the quiet post-Christmas/pre-New Year slot. I think that some editions might have also been shown on satellite channel Bravo too.

Game Show Memories – Quiz Bowl.

Quiz Bowl (Channel 4, 1991-1992)

This is another game show that I remember watching rather a long time ago now. There seems to be very little about this online, but I always like any excuse to review them. If anyone can fill in any of the gaps of the rules though, then they are welcome to comment. Around the late-80s/early-90s, the popularity of football in the UK was faltering.

People were trying to find alternatives, and get into other sports, until The Premier League came to the rescue. Among these was American Football, which was regularly shown on Channel 4 at this point, which was committed to coverage of less mainstream sports, and even they probably weren’t expecting the increase in interest. The decision was made to turn this into a game show format.

Quiz Bowl was shown on Friday evenings, and the host was Will Buckley, who wore a black-and-white striped shirt just like what the referees did. Two teams of three took part, all and they were all sports writers representing various national newspapers, so for example, a game could be News Of The World v Today, I wonder if there was a rivalry between them.

In the middle of the studio there was a big screen that featured an American Football grid, showing exactly where the ball was at that stage. Various questions would be asked, but this wasn’t how points were scored. The questions were of varying difficulty, and would be worth yards, including 10, 30, all the way up to 70, which is rather a lot.

The American Football scoring system was used, so if they did manage to score, it was a “TOUCHDOWN”, and this was be accompanied by suitable noises and applause. They didn’t do a little song and dance like in that episode of Family Guy though. But they did score six points. Various other rules were adapted, and this carried on until the full-time whistle was blown.

I’m fairly sure that Quiz Bowl was a knockout tournament, with various games being played, until the climax of the grand final to determine the overall series champions, which I’m sure would get the cheerleaders excited. There would only be one series of this, but this was a rather interesting twist, and we found out what the writers really knew about sport.

CITV Memories – It’s Torture!/Gunge ‘Em In The Dungeon.

It’s Torture!/Gunge ‘Em In The Dungeon (CITV, 1989-1990)

As part of the second series of the CITV Saturday Morning show Motormouth (or Motormouth 2 as it was indeed called) there was a game show segment, and this was the nearest equivalent to Double Dare that would’ve been on CBBC’s Going Live! at the same time. The host was the rather excitable Steve Johnson. This was a game that was played in various parts.

In It’s Torture! there were three games, and four teams of two took part in all of these, do they know what have they let themselves in for. In the first game, there were contestants stood on the top and the bottom (the ones on top wore a big helmet with a light on top). The questions alternated between being asked to the ones on the top and the bottom.

Get it right, and their opponents are pushed one step closer to the edge, but get it wrong, and they get pushed closer instead. Whoever gets pushed over the edge is out of the game, and is never seen again either. The winning team make the final and get to play the bonus game, The Hot Seat. They are both asked the same multiple-choice question. If they both give the same answer, they win a nice prize.

This is then done again, but the second game featured contestants placed under a crusher that they would be pushed further into, and in the third a box’s lid would slowly close on them, with again the winners going through to play The Hot Seat. The three winning teams would all then go into the final, which was Gunge ‘Em In The Dungeon.

There were more questions asked, and some weights would be moved depending on a right or wrong answer. If a team had all of their weights removed, then well you can guess what happens… and this also results in their elimination. The overall winners win some more prizes and go into the grand final. The winners of this received the star prize which was a signed Brother Beyond album or something like that.

After deciding that pushing children to their oblivion probably wasn’t a great idea, in the second half of the series, this was restructured to only play Gunge ‘Em In The Dungeon, with different rules. The star of this show though was Steve, injecting a remarkable madcap energy into hosting that would’ve probably surprised even the award-winning Peter Simon.

I also remember that one week Steve hilariously (?) got his comeuppance, but this seemed to coincide with a technical fault, so you could hear all the commotion as he went in himself, but this was accompanied by a blank screen, I couldn’t believe it. In the next series of Motormouth, Steve returned to host the rather different but equally enjoyable game Mouse Trap.