Archive for October, 2014

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Clips and Contraptiles

October 29, 2014

I’ve been reading Adam Nedeff’s excellent book series chronicling notable dates in game show history. I’m into volume two, and am still enjoying reading things I didn’t know. Imagine my surprise when I read his too brief entry about Disney Channel’s first, and to date only hit game show CONTRAPTION. CONTRAPTION was on the schedule from almost day one, and stayed on almost through the end of the 1980’s. I thought this show deserved more than one page, especially when you take a good look at the show.

The object of the game is simple enough: two teams compete to earn the most scoring “contraptiles” (square pieces of yellow plastic with a hole in the middle) by watching classic Disney clips, and answering questions about them (like SCENE IT?), then compete in mini races for more tiles. The team with the most tiles after four themed rounds wins Disney prizes, as does the other team. Nice touch, nobody walks away empty handed.

Now, don’t be fooled. These questions are not as easy as you might think. The one episode on YouTube had me scratching my head trying to get some answers. It was kid-friendly, but challenging. Detractors would say it was too kiddie because of the cartoonish music package, and the look of the race vehicles. But that would be an unfair assessment. Disney was best known for animation, so the wild look of the vehicles fits, and the music seems to evoke  more 1930’s jazz, plus since the show IS called CONTRAPTION, odd sounds are not out of place. The game stations were absolutely striking to look at, decked out in lights, the screens hidden behind the center of the station, and some set pieces moved at the start of the round. It fit the producer’s idea of this being a life-size board game perfectly.

So, three cheers for CONTRAPTION, and its long life on Disney Channel. Who knows? Maybe a future exec at Disney will ask “Why don’t we bring back CONTRAPTION?”, and a classic will be reborn.

MINI UPDATE:  According to the comments in the first part post on YouTube, CONTRAPTION taped at C.B.S. I’m thinking they used the Bob Barker Studio (stage 33), as it’s the largest studio there.

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Where’s the love for SWITCHEROO?

October 22, 2014

I used to be an active member of a PRICE IS RIGHT discussion forum, and one frequent question used to pop up frequently: why don’t they play SWITCHEROO more often? It’s a good question. SWITCHEROO has all the elements that make a great pricing game: a great red, white and blue color scheme, the classic egg-crate light displays for the timer and number right indicator, push button mechanisms to flip the prize name to the answer, checkmark boxes that light up next to each prize, the contestant gets to use numbered blocks to play, and it’s had three great think cues during its lifetime, with the current cue, THE HEAD CLOWN, still very much in use.

So, the question again, why don’t we see it more often. Allow me to give you this theory. It’s a tough game to set up properly. I don’t mean the car and small prizes. I mean the game itself. First, it’s the largest game on the turntable. I love seeing it spin around, because you don’t think it’s going to clear the rotation. Still, it’s got to be a bear to load on to the turntable. Then there’s the board itself. The board is assembled by using cards from the art department. I did the math, and there are 18 individual cards on the game board: 8 for the known digits in each prize, most for the car, 5 for the prizes’ names, and 5 for their prices, which need to be placed correctly on the flip side of the reveal.

That’s a lot of prep work for a game that’s seen onstage for just one brief segment. Plus the electrical doodads have to be working right. So, maybe that’s why we only see this game about once a month. What do you think? Reply here and share your thoughts.

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Say it Ain’t So, Joe

October 21, 2014

Today at work, I had the good fortune to listen to most of the RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY movie soundtrack on a free MP3 site. I reveled and marveled in the highly polished score, and great vocal performances. On the right side of the screen, I spotted the link for an MP3 for songs for the musical RAG DOLLY, which was a very different adaptation of the movie. Broadway fans already know that though RAG DOLLY was a hit in Russia, it was met with failure in New York. Well, I wanted to hear this for myself. It couldn’t be THAT bad, could it?

It pains me to tell you that it IS that bad. It starts off with a promising prologue which plays on the title song, but dear, oh dear, it falls off the rails in a hurry. To start, Joe’s lyrics keep swinging back and forth between too kid-friendly to too grim and serious. This is not the talented lyricist who gave us BEING GREEN. The music did feature the movie’s two best-known songs, BLUE and the title song, but the rest of Joe’s score is at best unsettled. I just sat there, shaking my head in sad disbelief! I kept asking myself over and over what happened here, and could not come up with anything other than Joe was trying to please two audiences, but just couldn’t make it work. I actually had to stop listening after a few tracks, because I just couldn’t bear any more.

If there’s a lesson to be learned it’s that even the greatest and most talented among us can have a misfire or two. Joe’s still tops in my book, and I choose to continue to cheer his legacy. My only wish is that he had been given another chance to fix RAG DOLLY. I know it would have been so much better.

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Embracing the Silly Side

October 14, 2014

Okay, it’s taken me some time, but I can now call myself a full-fledged Spike Jones fan. I started listening to some tracks at work, to lift my mood, and instantly found some new favorite novelties. First there’s WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE. Just mention the word “feedlebaum”, and watch me break into a silly grin. I won’t spoil the reference here. You have to hear for yourself. Next there’s George Rock singing I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES in his famous little boy falsetto. George is the man who made TWO FRONT TEETH a holiday classic. Here, George turns BUBBLES into a temper tantrum filled plea for gum.

The one that hits me every time is MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, sung by Doodles Weaver. Actually, butchered is a better word, as Doodles mangled the lyrics with hilarious results, and punctuated his one line ad libs with “That’s A Killer!”

Watching Spike and the gang in action gives you a better idea of not only their highly manic slapstick style, but also how hard they worked. Especially Spike. Literally, this guy was constantly moving about to make sure the timings were exact. He moved like an athlete, and I have such admiration for that. If you get the chance, watch his profile on YouTube, and you’ll see. So embrace your silly side with Spike. It’s worth it.

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It Made PICTIONARY look Good

October 6, 2014

Tonight Game Show Network treated us to an episode of ALL STAR SECRETS.  This was a favorite of mine growing up, and seeing it again was a real thrill. As an added bonus, we were given the chance to see an unaired pilot from 1984 called BABBLE.  Tom Kennedy hosted with the great Rod Roddy doing the announcer duties.  The music was the often recycled CELEBRITY CHARADES theme.  The object was for one team of three celebrities to describe a word or phrase as vaguely and as comically as possible.  The contestant had one guess as to what the answer was to win a dream trip.  If the contestant was wrong he/she could win a smaller prize by guessing whether an opposing team of celebrities would guess correctly by asking questions to the first team.

Where do I begin with the problems? I can’t fault Tom Kennedy too much.  He was doing the best he could. I will fault him for not really reigning in the celebrities as well as he could, especially when it came to panelist Marcia Wallace.  She just wanted to take over the whole show, and came off as annoying.  The question segments were way too unstructured. Regularly, a celebrity not being questioned would try to upstage the one being questioned. I lost track of who was doing what.  The set itself was just plain dull.  It looked like it had been grafted on to a talk show setting, with the show’s  logo just glued on to the walls. Thank God NBC went with SCRABBLE.  As pilots go, it made both PICTIONARY and the notoriously bad pilot for BAMBOOZLE tolerable. And that is saying a lot. Tom Kennedy was also lucky to land BODY LANGUAGE, and Rod could go back to PRESS YOUR LUCK.