classic game shows

Nostalgic Game Shows

When I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV. More than I probably should have watched and more than my kids watch (because the remote controls are so complicated). But that’s fine, because media is changing, and you’re just as likely to get your A/V fill on an iPod, computer, or sumsuch. The more things change the more they stay the same.

But people don’t give enough credit to daytime TV in the eighties. Sure, there were lots of thinly disguised toy commercials, trashy talk shows, but there were also game shows.

Ah, game shows. They weren’t like today’s contests which are based on high stakes and empty tension. My game shows were fun because the audience could play along. Not like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” where you get one question every ten minutes.

This was the first game my child learned how to play (although her box calls it “Memory”). Also one of the easiest. Simply flip two cards, and if they match, you keep them.

This game added a few twists. One is that each card represented a prize. If you matched the cards, you got the prize. When I was a kid, this seemed like an abbodanza of riches. Big screen TVs, bikes, entertainment centers, jewelry, sailboats (and occasional sewing machines and electric shavers — they can’t all be winners).

TrophyNest SkirtInkScale?

But below the cards was a rebus. You don’t see those anymore. Must’ve been an 80s thing. But to a kid, at least me, these were awesome. If you solved the rebus, you won the game, much like Wheel of Fortune.

This is where the audience participation comes in. First, you can tell if the player is choosing the right cards, adding tension. Second, you’ve got the rebus to solve, which adds fun puzzle-solving.

The endgame consisted of a smaller faster concentration game with one-unmatched square. Each pair represented a car, with the unmatched square being the car you won if you matched everything in time. (Hope it’s not a sucky car).

Being a small boy, these shows were my least favorite. Not only because they were all about girl stuff, but adult stuff. I didn’t understand any of it. Especially Love Connection. Man, that was boring. And it ALWAYS seemed to be on. And all they did was talk. Talk, talk, talk. Who wants to watch that? It took years for “Blind Date” to rectify that.

The Dating Game was moderately interesting. These days, any spoof involves a lot of double entendres, but I don’t remember it being that naughty. Unless they all rolled off my six-year-old brain. And it was fun to judge the guys and girls. The problem was that the stakes just didn’t seem to be enough. Why would you play a game where the prize is some girl? Yuck.

The Newlywed Game wasn’t that bad. The problem was that only half the game was entertaining, when they the answers became revealed to their partners and there was either kissing, laughing, yelling, or abject disappointment. Even I can understand that.

This game was as schizophrenic as Sesame Street, which of course means I loved it. First, Rowd Roddy (was that his name? Bob Barker’s diction was never great.) selected his Chosen One and told him or her to “Come on down!”. Then the camera would search through the crowd, adding a measure of tension, because even the show didn’t know who it would be.

Then they’d all play the bidding game, which I never really understood. Maybe because I’m a bad estimator or bad auctionee. I guess you have to come the closest to the “actual retail price” without going over, but then some people bid one dollar higher. But then sometimes everyone overbids. I didn’t really care. It wasn’t my favorite part.

My favorite part was the mini-games. Especially Plinko. They should have played that one more often. There’s something that’s fantastically random about the plinko chip as it falls down. Next was the Cliff Hanger one, with a little yodeling mountain climber (mostly for cuteness). Then the dice game (because big fuzzy dice are fun). Hi-Lo seemed the easiest — 50% chance. And Punch-a-Bunch had punching.

And I hated that game where you have to put the numbers of a car price in correct order. What a fucking trick to play on a contestant — that game is statistically impossible — one number out of order and you lose. Seriously, that’s the game they pick when they hate you. That’s the game you play with the Grim Reaper.

Goddamn, was this show fun to watch. Oh, not because the game was good or anything. Half the time you’re answering trivia questions to earn “spins”. You use your spins on a rather slow moving video “roulette” wheel. The roulette wheel randomly (or not so random) highlighted prizes or money. You “stopped” the wheel when it landed where you wanted. Except these weren’t all prizes. Some were Whammys.

Hitting a Whammy meant you lose your turn and your winnings, like Bankrupt in Wheel of Fortune. But that wasn’t all. A cheaply-made cartoon of an adorable little red devil creature with a mask and cape would appear. One way or another, he would dance onto the screen and swipe your money away (really the cartoon played while the money blinked away from the podium box — this was the eighties, after all). The thing was, every cartoon was different.

Just about every time I watched, I don’t remember seeing the same cartoon twice. I read that eighty cartoons were made for its three year run, which I consider an incredible amount of creativity for a game show. I kept rooting for the player to hit the whammy rather than any kind of prize.

If you got four whammies, you were out of the game entirely — a nice little ticking clock to add tension. I don’t remember anyone ever actually hitting four whammies, but the pendulum doesn’t always have to drop to add something.

To this day I often find myself saying “Big bucks! Big bucks! No whammies! Stop!”

Fuck the Tom Bergeron version. This was probably the most entertaining game show on TV because it was part trivia questions and part comedy. Two of my favorite things.

True, a lot of the jokes flew over my head, and I only recognized half the celebrities. But I understood enough of it to laugh and enjoy it. However, I watched this show for one reason and one reason only.

When Alf was on.

I’ll probably write about my obsession with Alf at some point in the future, but you only need to know that it predated Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters for me. Alf was damn funny, and I loved how the world kinda treated him as a real person. He was a commentator for the Thanksgiving Day Parade, he guest hosted the Tonight Show. It was probably a pain in the ass to deal with his handler, but it paid off in entertainment value.

Alf fit great in Hollywood Squares, with his wise-cracking, sarcastic humor that I quickly absorbed at that impressionable young age. It doesn’t get the credit it deserves for being a geek show, combining witty, acerbic humor with real knowledge.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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