The Comedy Vault – 3rd Rock From The Sun.

3rd Rock From The Sun (NBC, 1996-2001)

This is one of the few American sitcoms to have caught my interest over the years. 3rd Rock From The Sun had a science-fiction twist, and took the opportunity to go off in some unusual areas that most other sitcoms couldn’t. The idea is that four aliens assume human form and arrive on Earth, a planet and its people that they are keen to learn more about, and they realise how strange things can be.

This consists of Dick, along with Tommy, Harry, and Sally, known as the Solomons. They soon enter regular human life, and Dick decides to become a professor at a university. Of course, none of them must give away that they are aliens, but it is likely that most people wouldn’t believe them anyway, and their superior is always keeping a keen eye on them from their home planet.

But what is clear to people that they meet including Dr Albright who works at the university with Dick is that they soon realise that there is something a little different about how they respond to various situations. Dick was prone to some unexpected outbursts, Harry would often receive incoming transmissions, Tommy struggled to deal with his changing teenage body, and Sally liked to flirt boldly with everyone and everything.

Most episodes would end with the Solomons sat on their roof trying to make sense of the latest things that they have learned about life. 3rd Rock From The Sun was fairly well received in this country, all of the episodes in the six series have been shown on BBC2 (they all contain “Dick” somewhere in the episode title too). I got into this a little later though when there was a repeat run on the Paramount Comedy Channel.

I do remember watching the special episode where some parts were in 3D, which was very ambitious and enjoyable, and little like anything else that I have seen in a sitcom. In the final episode, they finally returned to their home planet. This has gone on to be repeated on even more channels since, including ITV2, and episodes can be seen on Channel 4 to this day. All of the episodes have been released on DVD too.

The YouTube Files – You Again?

You Again? (NBC, 1986-1987)

This is the American version of the British sitcom Home To Roost, which is definitely one of the better ITV sitcoms of its era, and I was pleased to find some clips of this on YouTube. You Again? starred Jack Klugman (best remembered by viewers in Quincy) as Henry Willows (in the British version he was called, er, Henry Willows, and played by John Thaw).

John Stamos was Matthew (Reece Dinsdale was Matthew in the British version), who about a year or two after this would go on to appear in the more successful American sitcom Full House, which I do remember was shown on Sky One for a while, and he had a terrific mullet too. And rather curiously, Enid was played by Elizabeth Bennett, who also played Enid in the British version.

This seems to be the only occasion when someone has played the same character in both British and American versions of a sitcom. The premise was the same though. Henry is a businessman who gets a divorce, and does enjoy the single life without the rest of his family. But then his son returns home unexpectedly, and this is of course where the comedy comes in.

Some British episodes were recycled. The very first one in America was “All You Need Is Love”, a remake of the one that I was particularly amused by as this featured the 80s punk-type character who only ever seemed to appear in sitcoms, and it was interesting to see the American equivalent of this (although I could only find a trail online for now). They clearly peaked too soon.

There were also some episodes that were specially written for this version, including one where The Beach Boys (or what passed for them by that point) turned up for no particular reason. And as for the episode with uncle Randy? Hey… that guy! You Again? did just well enough with viewers to earn a second series, but this was also the last, and there were 26 episodes (compared with 29 for the British version).

Viewers did find it hard to believe that Klugman and Stamos were father and son, when the age gap between them was over 40 years (more than twice the age gap between Thaw and Dinsdale), but there were still some good moments. Every episode of You Again? has been shown in this country, on Channel 5 in the late-90s at about 5am, presumably when they had run out of episodes of Throb.

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.

CBBC Memories – Secret Squirrel.

Secret Squirrel (NBC, 1965-1966)

This is yet another memorable Hanna-Barbera cartoon that I first saw many years after being originally shown in this country (and there are a few more to come after this). And it’s another one that I saw for the first time during The CBBC Breakfast Show strand back in 1997, seemingly when they had run out of episodes of Help! It’s The Hair Bear Bunch.

This is another “putting a talking animal into an unusual situation” cartoon. In more recent years, a lot of squirrels have turned up near where I live, they are always running around, or climbing up walls or over fences, and it does always amuse me to see them. But did you know that squirrels can also be spies? Well, yes they can it seems.

Secret Squirrel was always ready to take part in some “bushy-tailed espionage” (as it was memorably described). And this was another one that had a great opening theme (watching a few bits again recently must’ve been the first time that I had seen this when it wasn’t around 7:30am and I was half-asleep), and they also made the most of the silly sound effects that were available.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00031.jpg

This was essentially a parody of spy films, as our hero Agent 000 (who seemed to wear his hat over his eyes somehow) would be given his latest mission by the International Sneaky Service. But even he couldn’t do it all by himself, and he would often be assisted by his sidekick Morocco Mole. He would take on several villains, using the gadgets that he had been provided with, just like, er, Inspector Gadget.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00033.jpg

There’s no doubt that he was the furriest secret agent around. Another notable thing is that Secret Squirrel was voiced by Mel Blanc, who was famous for voicing some of the most popular cartoon characters of this era (including most of the Looney Tunes), and this explains why he does sound a little like Sylvester The Cat. There were 26 episodes in two series in the mid-60s.

And unlike some of the other cartoons that I have reviewed recently, there eventually was a revival of this in 1993 for one series, which was renamed Super Secret Secret Squirrel, although I haven’t seen that. The repeats on CBBC continued until as late as 1999 (so they clearly got their money’s worth), along with later turning up on other channels including Boomerang.

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.