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.

CBBC Memories – Alvin And The Chipmunks.

Alvin And The Chipmunks (NBC, 1983-1990)

This is a review of another memorable cartoon that is of American origin. Until recently, I didn’t realise that the characters of The Chipmunks had been around for much longer than when this show launched in the 80s. They were created in the 50s by Ross Bagdasarian who made some novelty records under the alias David Seville where he used a high-pitched voice effect that were rather big hits.

After a while, it was determined that the voices on the records were provided by Chipmunks, and by the early-60s they had become popular enough to appear in their own TV cartoon series The Alvin Show as well as various adverts, along with some more records, but there was a long gap until the version of their show that I remember watching came along. vlcsnap-00707

Alvin And The Chipmunks (not to be confused with Disney’s similar Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers that I plan to review soon) was a cartoon that was based around the adventures of a trio of chipmunk characters. They were the hat-wearing Alvin, Simon (bid again, Simon!), and Theodore. David was their adoptive father (I suppose it would be rather weird if he was their actual father), and he was also a songwriter. vlcsnap-00571

This meant that just about every episode featured a musical interlude where the Chipmunks would sing a classic pop single in their now familiar vocal style. They would also get into lots of mishaps that would frustrate David. After a few series, a trio of female Chipmunks were introduced to the show who were Brittany, Eleanor, and Jeanette, and they also sang. The later series had a change of format, and the Chipmunks would feature in film parodies. vlcsnap-00566

I remember that in at least one episode the Chipmunks interacted with their original black-and-white 60s selves, I thought that it was just a quirky idea, I didn’t realise that they had actually been going for that long. And oh listen, is that all of those silly cartoon sound effects being overused again? I also enjoyed the opening and closing sequences that changed a few times throughout the series, including one where episodes would end with Alvin rather enthusiastically playing the guitar. vlcsnap-00546

It seems that Alvin And The Chipmunks was first shown in this country on CBBC in 1990, and it was repeated for about a decade. I also remember that the show was repeated in the early days of Channel 5 in 1997 as part of their morning children’s shows strand, as I set the video for some episodes, and it has gone on to be shown on many other channels including Cartoon Network. Some episodes were also released on VHS. vlcsnap-00593

When the TV series ended after 102 episodes, there were some films made that were a big success. Then in 2015, after another long gap, our favourites returned to the screen again for a new series (the rather oddly-titled ALVIN!!! And The Chipmunks), featuring all the familiar characters, but this time they are all computer-generated and don’t sing so much, hopefully a new generations of fans are fond of them.

The YouTube Files – Concentration USA.

Classic Concentration (NBC, 1987-1991)

Here’s a look at another original version of an American game show that later came to the UK. Concentration was originally on American TV for 20 years from 1958-1978, and there was a British version as early as 1959. This piece will focus on the revival (which was renamed Classic Concentration) that launched in 1987, a British version of this version launched on ITV in 1988 and ran for two series. There are plenty of editions on YouTube, so let’s do a comparison.

Classic Concentration was a daytime game show (the ITV version was in primetime) hosted by Alex Trebek, who is best known for hosting Jeopardy! for 35 years. I didn’t realise that Trebek had hosted so many other game shows over the years, but his style was more relaxed than on Jeopardy! and there weren’t so many difficult questions (or indeed, answers) for contestants to face. There was also some marvellous knitwear on display and the glamorous assistant Marjorie was available to show off some of the prizes. vlcsnap-00990

Two contestants took part and they had to match the pairs on the 5×5 board (which was identical to the one used on the British version) that would reveal the famous phrase hidden behind the squares. The show was a test of memory. There were also plenty of prizes on offer, but were they better than the British version? The prizes included fridges, pool tables, cameras, holidays, not too bad really. vlcsnap-00997

Contestants picked two squares, if they found a match, they won the prize, the squares were removed, and they could have another go. Also hidden on the board were Wild squares. If they find one of the three of those along with a prize, the other square with the prize is removed. If they match two Wild squares, they win a bonus of $500 and can have another pick. The odds of finding all three Wild squares is very small, but a contestant did that with their very first pick on the very first edition! vlcsnap-00992

A further twist was that there were also green and red Take squares hidden. Find those and you could steal one of your opponent’s prizes. If a contestant thought that they knew the answer, they often would say “I’d like to solve the puzzle, Alex” (I thought that was a phrase used on another game show?). If they are right, they keep their prizes. It’s a best-of-three, if it goes to a third and deciding game, the puzzle is revealed square-by-square from top to bottom. Whoever buzzes in first with the correct answer goes into the final. vlcsnap-00994

In the final, the contestant must make seven matches from the 15 squares in 35 seconds to win the car, the leftover square being the make of car that they win. If they don’t succeed, they can return as a defending champion, and are also given an extra five seconds if they make the final again to give them a better chance of winning. There were also themed editions including college students and a tournament of champions. vlcsnap-00996

There were over 1,000 editions of Classic Concentration made, it was repeated in this country on satellite channels Lifestyle and Sky One, and there was also a board game and a book released. It was fairly similar to the British version, with one big difference being the deciding round, and the prizes on offer were better as this was long before cars and huge cash prizes could constantly be given away on game shows in the UK.

The Comedy Vault – Scrubs.

Scrubs (NBC, 2001-2008, ABC, 2009-2010)

As I have said before on here, I’m not really that big a fan of many American sitcoms, but this is one that I have enjoyed. Scrubs is a sitcom that is set at the Sacred Heart Hospital, and the main character is Dr “JD” Dorian (played by Zach Braff, who would go on to direct some episodes), and most of the stories in the episodes are told from his perspective. We also hear most of his inner thoughts, and most of the episode titles begin with the word “my” (“My First Day”, “My Mentor”, and so on). vlcsnap-00690

Other members of the cast include JD’s fellow doctors Turk and Elliot, and they become good friends. There was also Carla the nurse, the rather short-tempered Dr Cox, and the veteran Dr Kelso who didn’t really enjoy his job and often has run-ins with the others. Also stealing many scenes was the rather mysterious janitor. As the episodes progress, we see the young doctors interact with a variety of patients and prove just how tough a job it can be. vlcsnap-00672

And yes, one of the things that attracted to me to Scrubs (and seemed to turn some people away from it) were the fantasy sequences, where JD’s imagination would go off on a rather odd tangent, which was soon making me say “that’s so funny!”. We also get to see some of what JD gets up to in his spare time, including a complicated love life. And I do try and avoid “do you remember the theme music?”-type comments on here, but “Superman” definitely stuck in my mind. vlcsnap-00673

I suppose that Scrubs can be compared with the British sitcom Green Wing that I reviewed on here recently. I remember saying that although I enjoyed that show, I never really felt that the cast great as they were came across as doctors, when compared to Dr Kelso for example who I felt did convincingly come across as a grumpy old doctor as well as a funny character. At least one thing that Green Wing didn’t do was have some rather sentimental moments which American sitcoms can be known for their fair share of. And well, JD definitely learned a lot of lessons about life that day. vlcsnap-00687

Scrubs was first shown in the UK on Sky One in 2002, before moving to Channel 4, and then it seemed to be shown on E4 endlessly for a while. Scrubs eventually ran for nine series and almost 200 episodes which have all been released on DVD (with plenty of enjoyable extras), but I don’t have the final one, as by that point most of the main cast had left and been replaced by newcomers, and some people including me felt by then it was a little past its best.

The YouTube Files – Play Your Cards Right USA.

Card Sharks (NBC, 1978-1981)

This is another game show that launched in America before it came to the UK as Play Your Cards Right in 1980, but unlike most of the others that I’ve reviewed recently, this one was fairly successful in its original format, running for almost 2,000 editions over a decade. Card Sharks was hosted by Jim Perry alongside his female co-hosts. Although the basic idea of the gameplay was the same, there were a few notable differences from the UK version. vlcsnap-00012

The main difference was that two single players competed against one another (as was the case in the first series of Play Your Cards Right, before it was changed to the more familiar two teams of two, usually married couples). The contestants were given a question that 100 people in a particular profession had been surveyed on. One contestant gives a number that they think was the amount of people who gave a particular response. vlcsnap-00276

The other contestant then says if they thought the figure was higher or lower. The actual number is then revealed, and whoever was closest gains control of the game (with a bonus on offer for anyone who got the exact number). This was the familiar situation of there being five playing cards (and being able to change the opening card), and having to guess if the next card would have a higher or lower value (and at this point I noticed that this version was much lighter on catchphrases than the UK, with Bruce Forsyth’s famous “you get nothing for a pair” or “didn’t they do well” and so on not being used here). vlcsnap-00336

Winning a game earned a $100 bonus, and the first contestant to win two games went into the final called Money Cards. Again, this was just about the same as the UK version, with the contestant making a bet on whether the next card was higher or lower. However, in this version, money was at stake (contestants in the UK didn’t play for money in this round until the 90s revival), and somewhat unsurprisingly, if they managed to get to the top level they could win a large amount of money and get rather overexcited. vlcsnap-00344

Another thing that was different was that contestants would then stay on to play another opponent, and they could play up to seven games before retiring undefeated (every show in the UK version was self-contained, with no returning winners), and games also straddled into the next edition if they were uncompleted. After Card Sharks ended on NBC in 1981, it was revived by CBS and ran from 1986-1989 (with a few format changes), and there was one more revival in the 2000s. As ever, it was great seeing how a game show that I was very fond of watching in the 90s started out. vlcsnap-00408

The YouTube Files – Lucky Ladders USA.

Chain Reaction (NBC, 1980)

It’s time to look back at another original American version of a game show that would later come to British TV. One of my favourite game shows that was shown in the 9:25am weekday slot on ITV was Lucky Ladders. I wonder how many people know that it was based on an American show called Chain Reaction. There have been several versions of this show in America, but I’ll concentrate on the original one that was shown on NBC back in 1980.

Chain Reaction (“the show where one word leads to another”) was hosted by Bill Cullen, who hosted a lot of US game shows over the years, including the original version of Blockbusters around the same time which I also reviewed as part of this series. Although the basic idea of word association was the same, there were several differences to Lucky Ladders. Firstly, two teams of three (not two teams of two) took part, and they consisted of one non-celebrity along with two celebrities. vlcsnap-00695

In the first round, the word ladder (or “chain” as it was called here) with the top and bottom word filled in appeared (consisting of eight words instead of seven), and the contestants had to guess the linking words inbetween. Unlike Lucky Ladders the same contestant chooses what letter they want and then they have to guess the word. If they get it right, the team keeps control of the chain and play passes to the next contestant in line. Get it wrong and play passes to the other team. One thing the two versions did have in common is that there were a lot of somewhat embarrassing incorrect guesses. vlcsnap-00694

The scoring system was also different. Teams scored one point per letter for each word that they solved, and words on the chain that featured a “+” sign meant that they were worth double points. Play carried on until a team reached 50 points, at which point the contestant won $250 and then their team would go on to play the bonus round, which was completely different from Lucky Ladders and called Instant Reaction (not the more familiar Jackpot Ladder, which wasn’t introduced until the first revival in 1986). This was the chance to win $10,000 in 90 seconds! That’s something of a contrast to the UK version which had no cash prizes on offer. vlcsnap-00691

The two celebrities had to describe something against the clock, but they could only give one word at a time and alternated, sort of a more intense The Pyramid Game. A bell would then ring and the contestant had to answer. If they got it right, they would win some money, all the way up to $10,000 for ten correct answers. They would then stay on to play another game against a new contestant, and they could play up to ten games. vlcsnap-00690

This version of Chain Reaction didn’t do very well and it only lasted for about six months in a daytime slot on American TV, although it was revived in more recent years with a few rule changes. I must admit that after watching this I prefer Lucky Ladders (which ran for almost five years on ITV), but it was still rather interesting to discover where the idea originally came from. vlcsnap-00687

The YouTube Files – Blockbusters USA.

Blockbusters (NBC, 1980-1982, 1987)

Blockbusters is one of my all-time favourite game shows, it wasn’t until long after I first watched the show on ITV that I discovered that it was based on an American format. I always wondered what that was like, and thanks to the magic of YouTube, I have now been able to see some for myself. The American version of Blockbusters launched in 1980 and was shown on NBC on weekday mornings, replacing The David Letterman Show in the schedules. 

Blockbusters was originally hosted by Bill Cullen, who was a TV presenter veteran in America who hosted a wide variety of game shows throughout his long career. The first thing to notice is that although the basic idea of the game is the same, featuring a team of one taking on a team of two and questions with one-word answers, some notable differences to the British version become clear. First of all, the contestants taking part are adults instead of students. vlcsnap-01130

Also, the 5×4 gameboard (which wasn’t computer generated at first) featured the single team playing with red hexagons, and the double team playing with white hexagons, and it took a while for me to stop thinking that the white team were going the wrong way across the board. Also, there was no money on offer for each correct answer, but teams won a bonus amount of money if they did win a game. vlcsnap-01129

The winning team then went on to the Gold Run (originally called the Gold Rush), and just like the UK version, they had to get from one side of the board to the other in 60 seconds, and if they did, they would win a cash prize, usually $5,000. By the end of the series, contestants could play up to 20 Gold Runs, meaning that they could take part on the show for a very long time and win a lot of money. vlcsnap-01119

Blockbusters wasn’t a big success in America, it ended in 1982 after a couple of years, and launched on ITV a year later where it would run for about a decade, and that’s not including the later revivals. There was also a brief revival of Blockbusters on NBC in 1987. This time Bill Rafferty was the host and a computer-generated board was used. One major change was that the show was now one against one which looks rather odd and if they went to a third deciding game the board was redesigned to be 4×4 to make it a little more equal. vlcsnap-01134

Discovering American versions of classic game shows definitely has been an enjoyable experience for me, it’s always interesting seeing how shows started out and how they developed in other countries, and when I decided to look for other American game shows that would become a bigger success in this country, and I found a couple more that I liked the look of, and I’ll review those here soon too.