More TV Memories – Sunset Beach.

Sunset Beach (NBC, 1997-1999)

Let’s take yet another look back at the early days of Channel 5. Another genre that they had to have as part of their launch schedule in 1997, was a soap. Now they had their own Family Affairs in primetime, but they wanted one in a daytime slot too. Up to this point, most of the soaps imported to the UK had been either Australian, or American primetime. But they decided to introduce us to the rather unusual world of the American daytime soap.

Sunset Beach was set in California, where the sun always seemed to shine whatever time of day it was, and featured the lives of a young and rather attractive cast. Every episode was about an hour long, but the stories were rather far-fetched and ridiculous. Not much had been seen like it on British TV before, and most critics were initially baffled. Even Night And Day was modest compared to this. This was a place where people coming back to life was almost an everyday occurrence really. vlcsnap-00463

There were a wide range of characters, along with some guest appearances by celebrities including Jerry Springer, and to put it politely, the standard of the acting was rather varied most of the time. I must admit that I didn’t see that many episodes of Sunset Beach at the time, what I remember most about the show is the rather long credit sequence, where the continuity announcer would try to make sense of what happened in the episode. vlcsnap-00464

I also remember that they seemed to comment a lot on a character called Meg, who was one of the protagonists. Don’t forget Annie, either, who was great. This was then expanded to feature comments from viewers as well, plus interviews with cast members, and it was rather unusual to hear an announcer being so sarcastic and mocking about a show that had just featured on their channel. None of this was taken rather seriously. vlcsnap-00465

And there was also a fanpage on Channel 5’s Teletext service which featured further information about stories, and comments from viewers. Don’t forget the omnibus on Saturday afternoon either, that was about three hours long. There were 755 episodes of Sunset Beach packed into barely three years, so plenty happened. And all this attracted a cult following, who were very sorry when this came to an end.vlcsnap-00466

Channel 5 then imported Days Of Our Lives which was another American daytime soap for a short while, but this didn’t do as well, so viewers had to do with only Family Affairs, until it was decided to poach Home And Away and Neighbours. There was then a brief repeat run on ITV2 in 2000, followed by another short run on Five (as it was by then) in 2004. I’m sure that most viewers who saw this still wonder if it was all a dream.

The YouTube Files – Blankety Blank USA.

The Match Game (NBC, 1962-1969, CBS, 1973-1979, ABC, 1990-1991)

This will probably be the final original American version of a game show that later came to the UK that I’ll review, but I might go on to consider reviewing some Irish and Australian versions too because I am just fascinated by the world of game shows and I really enjoy putting the pieces together (and I hope that you’ve found them an interesting read too).

There have been several versions of The Match Game going all the way back to the early-60s. There have also been several versions in the UK of Blankety Blank, and indeed there is another one planned to be shown at Christmas this year. I have decided to review the early-90s version. The host by this point was Ross Shafer, and you’ll be pleased to know that he did indeed have a funny-shaped microphone, or maybe it was just the way he walked. vlcsnap-00086

Of course, there were also the six celebrity panellists. It was good seeing ventriloquist Ronn Lucas along with his friend Scorch The Dragon among them. He also had a show on ITV around this time (that I reviewed a while ago), and it seems that he was popular in America in the early-90s too. I presume that he’s still at it, although three decades on he’s probably gone a little mouldy around the edges, and I hesitate to think what Scorch looks like now too, ha. vlcsnap-00088

Also taking part were the likes of that guy who was in the sitcom Out Of This World (also shown on ITV for a short while), along with cast members of daytime soaps like All My Children. Just like in the UK, The Match Game didn’t take itself too seriously, although the format by this time was a little different. Two contestants took part, including a defending champion. vlcsnap-00087

The sextet are given a clue and they all have to fill in the blank, and write their answers on a piece of paper. Can the contestant get a match? There’s $50 for every one. Then there’s the Match-Up round. The contestant picks a celebrity. There are 30 seconds, and for every match they agree on, they win $50. Then it’s back to another round of the regular game. vlcsnap-00089

Then there’s another Match-Up round, but this time there’s 45 seconds, and $100 for every correct answer. The highest scorer goes on to play the Supermatch Game, but nobody wins a chequebook and pen trophy. This round is about the same as the UK version, where the contestant has to guess one of the top three answers. If they get the top answer, they win $500. vlcsnap-00090

In the final, the amount they won in the Supermatch Game is multiplied by ten. They then spin a wheel to determine which celebrity will play with them in the final. If the wheel stops on a double (like in Name That Tune), they could win a maximum of $10,000, an amount that could never be dreamed of in the UK. The contestant has to simply match their answer with that celebrity to win the money, and they could play for five days before retiring undefeated. It was all rather enjoyable.

The YouTube Files – Celebrity Squares USA.

Hollywood Squares (NBC, 1966-1980, 1983-1984, syndicated, 1971-1981, 1986-1989, 1998-2004)

As my review of Celebrity Squares is one of the most-viewed blog pieces of the year, I thought that I’d take a look at the original American version too. Hollywood Squares began in the mid-60s, but I’ll concentrate on the version that was shown in the mid-80s, as this was rather similar to the format that was used when the show was revived in the UK in 1993. The host by this point was John Davidson.

The set design was rather similar to the UK 90s version too, featuring a big flashing sign of the show’s title, and also several cars on stage, just like “The Monkhouse Motor Show” (and it’ll become clear why soon). Hollywood Squares was of course essentially oversized Noughts And Crosses (or “Tic-Tac-Toe” as it’s called in America), which featured stars and cars. vlcsnap-00068

All nine squares featured someone famous (although I’m not really sure what was classed as a celebrity on TV in the mid-80s), but a lot of people who were in daytime soaps took part, along with various comedians (well they claimed they were comedians). Sometimes there were double acts in a square, meaning that 11 or even 12 people actually took part, who would get up to all kinds of things. And they really were stacked on top of each other, and had to climb a lot of rather scary-looking stairs to get to the top row. vlcsnap-00069

Two contestants set at a desk that seemed to be very high up in the air. They would pick a square (usually beginning with the centre one), and then the celebrity would be asked a question. After making a rather embarrassing joke, they would then give their answer, and the contestant had to say if they agreed or disagreed with their choice. Get it right and they win the square, but get it wrong, and their opponent does. vlcsnap-00070

If the contestant gets one wrong that would give their opponent the game, they don’t get the square, they have to give a correct answer themselves to win. Whoever makes three in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, wins the round and $500. This is then played again, but with the Secret Square Surprise added. Pick the square and get the question right, and a bonus prize is also won, which was usually a holiday. The winner of this round gets $1,000. There usually isn’t time for another full game, so contestants are given $100 for every correct answer before time runs out. vlcsnap-00071

The highest-scorer goes into the final. Unlike the 90s UK final (where answers had to given against the clock to win a car), the contestant picked from a set of keys, and they would also pick a celebrity to give them good luck (or all of them if they wanted). If the key started the car they wanted, they won it. If it didn’t, as the defending champion, if they won again, they could pick another key, meaning if they got as far as their fifth appearance and still hadn’t found the key, they were guaranteed the win. There was also a board game, and the late-90s revival was briefly shown on Sky One.

The YouTube Files – Gambit USA.

Gambit (CBS, 1972-1976)/Las Vegas Gambit (NBC, 1980-1981)

This is the original American version of the game show that ran for about a decade in this country. And well, whadda you know, Wink Martindale is out host again. Wink has had a very long career in TV and radio hosting, and he even had a hit single himself in the UK in 1959 with “Deck Of Cards” (although I’m not really sure that he’s a crooner), which makes him an appropriate choice to host this game show based around Pontoon, which featured oversized playing cards like Card Sharks/Play Your Cards Right.

The British version of Gambit was grandly described as “an Olympics of the mind”, this version was slightly more modest about the format. After the original run ended in the 70s, the show returned (following a channel switch) in the early-80s as Las Vegas Gambit, and now took place on a stage at a hotel in Las Vegas. The cards would be dealt by a female co-host, who unlike the UK version never took the chance to upstage our very suave host. vlcsnap-00054

Two married couples took part. They are asked a question and have to buzz in. Get it right, and they can play or pass the card on offer. The couple that gets the closest to scoring 21 wins the round and $100, and if they get exactly 21, they win a bonus cash prize that increases by $500 for every round that it’s not won. Hopefully the luck will be on their side. Make sure not to go bust, will you. Winning two games meant a chance to play the bonus round. vlcsnap-00052

Originally there was the Gambit Board. There were 18 squares, each contained a prize, such as money, a holiday, and so on. They are given a card and they can then choose the number. But once again, if they go bust, they’ll lose all the prizes, so they have to stop at the best moment. Behind some squares are some extra games such as Stop Or Go, where even more prizes can be won. vlcsnap-00053

This was later changed to the Gambit Galaxy. Instead of cards, this bonus game involved dice, and the idea was a little similar to High Rollers (a game show that I don’t think there’s been a British version of). Roll the dice, get the right combinations, and win the money and prizes on offer. For every time it wasn’t won, the prizes roll over to the next game, with even more added. One couple managed to win over $50,000 worth of prizes, and they were rather pleased about that. vlcsnap-00051

After this, the couple can play another game as defending champions, and things could get rather exciting. When the bell goes though, wherever they are, that means it’s the end of the show, so games could straddle. Wink then goes off to try and shake everyone in the studio audience’s hands. After Las Vegas Gambit ended in 1981, there have been no further revivals of the format in America.

The YouTube Files – Sale Of The Century USA.

Sale Of The Century (NBC, 1969-1973, 1983-1989)

I have already done three pieces taking a look back at the UK versions of Sale Of The Century, which were the original on ITV, along with the revivals on Sky One and Challenge. And I’m sure that you’ve all been waiting for a fourth piece, so I thought that I would review the original American version too. Although this was another one that launched in the late-60s, I’ll look at the format that had been established by the mid-80s.

The host by this point was Jim Perry, who we have previously come across when he was host of Card Sharks (the American version of Play Your Cards Right), accompanied by far too many co-hosts. Three contestants including a defending champion took part, and their aim was to answer the questions and bag those bargains. Jim had a multicoloured display on the front of his desk that went green for correct answers, and red for incorrect ones. vlcsnap-00041

The contestants all begin with $20, and whatever round it is, they get $5 for every correct answer, with $5 deducted for an incorrect one. And there are also the Instant Bargains. An item is shown to the contestant with the highest score. If they like what they see, they buzz in, and the price is deducted from their score. If they are unsure, the host will occasionally take the price down even further, to as little as $5 sometimes, making it almost impossible to turn down. vlcsnap-00042

There was also The Fame Game that was played three times in a show. A question about a famous person or thing is read. Buzz in and get it right, and they can choose from one of nine squares on the board. Some concealed money values which increased in every round, up to $25, so if that was found it could make all the difference. vlcsnap-00044

The game ends with the 60 seconds speed round, which is the final chance to make some money. The contestant with the highest score progresses to the Winners Board. This features 20 squares, and behind them are various prizes. If the contestant finds a match, they win the prize. If they found a square that said “WIN”, they instantly won what was behind the next square they chose. vlcsnap-00043

Winners could come back until they had won everything that was on offer on the board, and this included a car, lots of money, and many other fancy things, meaning that they could win over $100,000 in cash and prizes, not bad at all. Once again it’s fairly clear that the prizes on offer were much more valuable than in the UK version, and this format continued successfully into the late-80s.

The YouTube Files – Win, Lose Or Draw USA.

Win, Lose Or Draw (NBC, 1987-1989)

Win, Lose Or Draw was the quick-draw game show that brightened the ITV daytime schedule for eight years in the 90s, but the original American version of the show launched in 1987. There was a version on NBC, and also a syndicated version, but this piece will concentrate on the NBC version. Firstly, did you know that the co-creator of the format was none other than Burt Reynolds, the set design was based on his own front room, and his production company co-produced the show.

The host was Vicki Lawrence, and two teams of three took part, one all-male, and one all-female. Two celebrities (well what passed for celebrities on American TV at this time, and it seems that a lot of people who were in sitcoms or daytime soaps about a decade earlier took part), along with a non-famous player. Their name badges were in the shape of an easel, in the UK it was a pencil (why do I notice these things). vlcsnap-00073

The show began with a caricature of all the celebrities taking part that day on the board, along with the host. There weren’t too many differences in the format to what we saw in the UK. The opening sequence was the same too, although the music was different. The teams simply have to guess the famous phrases that are being drawn, so hopefully they can communicate this in time. Remember to sit on the floor.vlcsnap-00017

In the first three rounds, every contestant has one go. They had a minute to draw the clue, and if their teammates got it right, they won $200. If they hadn’t got it with 30 seconds remaining, a doorbell sounded, and they could swap with a teammate, but the money went down to $100. In the UK version, only the money would go down. If they didn’t get it though, it was passed over to the other team for a chance to steal the money.vlcsnap-00014

Then there was the speed round. One of the team is nominated to play, and they have to draw as many clues as they can in 90 seconds for $100 each, and they can only pass on two. The winning team then received a bonus of $1,000, meaning that a contestant could win around $2,000 on average. And if they have any leftover time, someone is pulled out of the studio audience to play a round, for a chance to win $100 themselves and get on TV, much to their delight. vlcsnap-00015

The NBC version ran until 1989, while the syndicated version ran until 1990. There were also some special editions made on location around America. And there was a spin-off series for teenagers that ran for a few years (there was a British version of this that was shown on GMTV). At least there wasn’t a late-night spin-off in America! There was also a board game and computer game version, and along with the UK, there were also versions of Win, Lose Or Draw in various other countries including Canada and France.

The YouTube Files – The Weakest Link USA.

The Weakest Link (NBC, 2001-2002)

When The Weakest Link launched in the UK in the summer of 2000, it very quickly became a success. Beginning rather quietly on BBC2, by the end of the year there were celebrity specials on BBC1. This was mostly down to the hosting of Anne Robinson, whose rather cold style surprised viewers, along with the gameplay element of openly declaring what contestant you didn’t think was doing well and deserved to be eliminated.

Less than a year after the launch, The Weakest Link came to America on NBC, and again Robinson would be the host, just what would viewers make of her style. The rules were just about the same, but eight contestants took part instead of nine, and $125,000 could be banked in every round (with the money doubled in the final round), meaning the top prize was a million dollars, much more than the £10,000 on offer in the British daytime version, but only if the team helped each other out. This was followed by the shoot-out at the end for all the money. vlcsnap-00002

The British contestants quietly dealt with Robinson’s comments most of the time, and after being told that they were the weakest, they often tried to take it on the chin. The average American was far less reserved about the situation though, definitely making their feelings known, and there was much more at stake, so they better make the right decision, and hope that their opponents will be taking the dreaded “walk of shame”. There were also celebrity specials, and they could definitely hold their own against anything that Robinson said. vlcsnap-00005

Just like in the UK, Robinson became a big hit for her rather uncompromising and emotionless style, and many people wondered if she was a robot whose batteries were on the blink. It was a big deal. And by now in the UK you could buy a tape featuring the best exits, or even play the game yourself at home on the PlayStation. But if fads come and go quickly in this country, then that counts for double in America, which is the toughest TV market in the world. vlcsnap-00004

Robinson’s run as host came to an end in 2002, the final editions were unaired by NBC, and around this time Family Guy even did a joke about Robinson’s famous catchphrases being rather dated cultural references. Despite this, there was also a syndicated version (not hosted by Robinson) that ran until 2003 but with less money on offer, although the British version continued for about another decade. vlcsnap-00006

The American version was also briefly shown in the UK in 2001 on BBC2, a rare occurrence of a non-British game show being shown in this country. There was also a documentary about Robinson’s experience hosting the new version. But very recently there was a revival of the show in America on NBC with a new host, meaning that someone must clearly think there’s still some potential in the format.

More TV Memories – ALF.

ALF (NBC, 1986-1990)

Who would’ve thought that one of the most popular personalities on American TV in the late-80s would be some furry puppet thing? But that’s exactly what happened with this sitcom which was full of science-fiction silliness. Firstly, ALF isn’t the main character’s name, it’s because he is an Alien Life Form, his real name is Gordon (and he is definitely the second-best sitcom character called Gordon after Gordon Brittas).

The Tanners are a very ordinary family, not one who could sustain a sitcom on their own, but all that changes when one day a spaceship crashlands in their garage, and they are fairly surprised to see him to put it mildly, because ALF has arrived from the planet Melmac. Life is not boring now! But he is soon welcomed into their home, because he is a 229-year-old with attitude, and naturally has a smart comment for every situation. vlcsnap-01101

ALF does eventually adjust to life on Earth, even if he does struggle to understand it. The next-door neighbours aren’t aware of the situation, although it is clear to them that something rather strange is happening. Someone who doesn’t befriend ALF though is Lucky the cat, as he likes to eat such things, and his wiggles his ears with excitement upon seeing one. If he can’t eat a cat though, a huge sandwich often makes up for it. vlcsnap-01098

The original run of the show ended with ALF finally leaving Earth like so many unpopular animated baseball-cap wearing canines. There were 102 episodes of ALF in four series (every episode title was taken from a pop song). But would he do it all again? Well yes, because there were two cartoon spin-off series, along with a film. And of course, they made a few quid with the merchandise, including toys that were advertised rather frequently, everybody wanted to hug him. vlcsnap-01102

ALF did fairly well in the UK too. Although it wasn’t ever shown on CITV, the show was considered to some extent to be a children’s sitcom in this country, and it was usually shown in the afternoon on LWT, before moving to Sky One. ALF did make a few guest appearances on CITV though, and he also had the honour of some Lookin covers, which was his aim when he arrived on this planet I’m sure. vlcsnap-01100

Looking back now I suppose it’s rather obvious why viewers fell for ALF’s charms. I don’t think that there has been a DVD release in this country though which is disappointing, because it would definitely be a good move. And I got through doing this piece without making the usual “the puppet had more charisma and personality than the human actors” joke. Well, nearly.

More TV Memories – The Pink Panther.

The Pink Panther (NBC, 1969-1978, ABC, 1979-1980)

It’s time for another cartoon review. This is another show whose history goes back over 50 years. A long time ago there was a series of successful comedy films called The Pink Panther, and this character was then taken and given its own show on American TV that launched in 1969. The opening sequence was live action apart from The Pink Panther who was shown along with various other characters going around in a car.

Every edition normally featured three stories. One would begin with The Pink Panther having a smoke which seems a little odd now, and they didn’t look much like they did in the actual cartoon. Every edition was also just about dialogue-free (apart from the occasional groan, I don’t think that there were any words), and The Pink Panther as far as I remember never actually spoke at all. This was all accompanied by the famous theme music, and some canned laughter too. vlcsnap-00883

Every edition was also about six or seven minutes long, and every title contained the word “pink”. There were plenty of other characters who featured in their own stories too. These included Inspector Clouseau, who also appeared in the films. But the one that I remember most though was The Ant And The Aardvark. This was where a blue aardvark tried to eat a small red ant called Charlie. vlcsnap-00886

He always failed though, but he constantly tried in a Wile E Coyote style, even though everyone knew that he was never going to succeed and he shouldn’t have been bothering really. Then we would have another story from The Pink Panther, who most of the time was rather easy-going, although one thing that would get them flustered was doing the old painting a pole the same time as someone else so they constantly had to go round and round routine. vlcsnap-00885

There were 11 series of The Pink Panther, although the actual title changed rather regularly, and it even moved channels by the end of its run. Its basic idea remained the same though. This was another cartoon that I don’t think was ever shown on the main CBBC afternoon strand, instead it was in various slots. I remember watching on BBC1 on Sunday afternoons around the late-80s/early-90s, by which point most of the editions were about 20 years old. vlcsnap-00887

The Pink Panther remained popular enough for there to be several repeat runs, and then there were some specials and a few revivals, and it seems that one of these was shown in the 90s on Channel 4. There were also plenty of computer games and VHS releases, as there always are with these type of shows. Our pink hero was also used in an advertising campaign for fibreglass for some reason.

More TV Memories – The Smurfs.

The Smurfs (NBC, 1981-1989)

The Smurfs are characters of Belgian origin who have appeared in various forms including comics since the late-50s. They began to become famous in this country when in the mid-70s they were turned into pop stars and had some hit singles, a little like what was done with The Wombles. But the thing I remember them for most is this long-running cartoon.

By the early-80s, it was decided to try and introduce these characters to an American audience, so this cartoon was launched, it was produced by Hanna-Barbera, and there’s no doubt that it was a success. The Smurfs were rather distinctive blue things, they were rather small and wore white hats. They all lived in a village, and they all had individual skills where they always tried to help each other. This was accompanied by lots of nice music too. vlcsnap-00350

The only one who wore a red hat was Papa Smurf, the oldest (and I would consider being over 500 years old to be rather old myself) and wisest of them all. There was also the female Smurfette who stood out by having rather long blonde hair. They liked to smurf all the day through and they had personality written all over them. Now there had to be a baddie of course, and it was Gargamel, just about the only human who regularly appeared in the show, along with his grumpy ginger cat Azreal. vlcsnap-00546

He would do anything to try and capture them, and bring an end to their happy world. I noticed that his voice sounded rather similar to another famous cartoon villain from about a decade earlier, who was Dick Dastardly from Wacky Races (that I reviewed recently), and that’s probably because he was voiced by the same actor, Paul Winchell. Still, being able to do an effective villainous-type voice came in useful it seems. vlcsnap-00547

The Smurfs did do well, there were over 250 episodes in nine series that featured over 400 different stories, and these included specials at Christmas, Easter, or just whenever they fancied them really. I can’t recall the show ever being on CITV though. I don’t know about any other ITV region, but I remember that it was shown on LWT usually on Sunday afternoons, and I did look forward to it because it was always something nice to look at during an otherwise sleepy weekend. vlcsnap-00511

There was also a regular comic strip in Lookin for a while. There were also computer games, books, toys, just about everything that you can think of. There have also been plenty of episodes released on DVD. After the cartoon ended, and about two decades on from their first wave of hits, in the mid-90s The Smurfs had some more hit singles, and in more recent years there were some films that were computer-generated, but the 80s cartoon will always be my favourite thing associated with these characters.