Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brain Drain?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I would not be a game show fan today if it weren't for the various kids game shows I used to watch. If you say the words "kids game show" to just about anybody, they'll inevitably get a mental image of ten-year-olds falling into gloop, while a host who's not much older than them tries way too hard to seem hip.

These people are wrong. That's not to say there aren't any shows that fit this stereotype - I can think of a few - but most kids game shows are actually quite engaging. Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? is the one game show I want revived more than any other; Legends Of The Hidden Temple featured possibly the coolest bonus round of any game show ever. Even the hated Nick Arcade probably would have been fun with a few tweaks and a different host. Besides, I liked them all when I was eight, and isn't that the true test of any kids show?

So we finally get to Brain Surge, which premiered on Nickelodeon yesterday with host Jeff Sutphen. The show begins with six contestants, who are in the first round shown a series of...um...let's call them animated memory tests. Most of them involve picking a certain number out of the cartoon that's shown on the video wall (actually more fun than it sounds). All six contestants type in an answer; the first puzzle is worth ten points, the second twenty points, and so on for five puzzles, after which the sixth puzzle is worth 100 points. The two contestants with the lowest scores are then eliminated, and must leave via a slime slide dubbed "The Brain Drain." Whenever Jeff says that phrase, everyone in the studio, from the audience to the contestants, shouts it along with him.

Round two begins with Jeff reading a "funny" story to the four remaining contestants, after which he asks them each, in turn, a question about some detail of what he just read. If you get it wrong, you are sent to the Brain Drain, and when two contestants are left, they move on to round three. Round three is plain old Concentration with sixteen cards; the first contestant to miss a match goes to the Brain Drain, and the winner plays the (actually really cool) bonus round, in which he\she faces a 4x4 grid spread out across the floor. A sequence of squares on the grid lights up, and the contestant must follow this path across the floor; if successful, the grid expands to 5x5, and if the contestant succeeds again, the grid expands one more time to 6x6. If the contestant completes three grids in one minute and thirty seconds, he\she wins the grand prize.

So...is it any good? Well, I didn't hate it. Yes, there's nothing here we haven't seen before, but the
various games are put together in a feasible way, and I actually wish I had thought of that bonus round. The set is cool (although I've already forgotten what the music sounds like, which is never
a good sign) and Jeff, while far from Greg Lee or Marc Summers, is also far from Kirk Fogg or Phil Moore. So no, I didn't hate it, and going back to the true test of any kids show, if I didn't hate it, an eight-year-old would probably like it a lot. I can't say I'll be a regular viewer of Brain Surge, but it gets safe passage.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Yes, I'm Still Here

There is quite a bit going on right now, and unfortunately I've been way behind. I'm going to at least try to get back into the routine of blogging, starting with the news that I have found a publication date for Daniel Pinkwater's upcoming novel Adventures Of A Cat Whiskered Girl: June 7, 2010 (which is summer, not spring, but there you go).

I'll be back tomorrow with a review of the new Nickelodeon game show Brain Surge.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Eight Days...I Know, I Know

Yes, I am still here. Yesterday marked the season premiere of The Price Is Right and the daytime premiere of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

The Price Is Right, when you actually break it down, hasn't changed that much. The set has been redone a bit, and while parts of it admittedly look flat out stupid, that doesn't change my opinion of the show - it needs a rest. I flat out adore The Price Is Right, but I can't be the only one who thinks it's just past its prime, and has been since long before Bob Barker retired.

Then comes Fifth Grader. Obviously they aren't going to offer a $1,000,000 jackpot in daytime, but not only has the jackpot gone down, the game structure has changed. There still two questions from each grade from first to fifth, but rather than a money ladder, each correct answer adds to your bank. First grade questions are worth $500, second grade $1,000, third grade $2,500, fourth grade $3,500, and fifth grade $5,000. If you get a question wrong, you lose everything, but you have to play all ten questions no matter what. The cheats remain the same, but the number of fifth graders has gone down - only three (beats me how they divide up the questions). If, after ten questions, you have any money left, you can risk it all on the final question, which, if correct, multiplies your bank by ten.

Good changes? Well...I feel pretty much the same way I did about daytime Deal Or No Deal when I first saw it - everything has changed, and nothing has. As with daytime Deal Or No Deal, the pace feels a lot faster, and the budget feels a lot smaller, even if the set and music are almost identical. All in all, though, I liked primetime Fifth Grader, and I like daytime Fifth Grader. It's certainly the only show to make really good use of the "Do you remember what you learned in school?" motif. Will it last? I've said it before and I'll say it again: I seriously doubt it has a chance. Ah well.

Sorry about the long wait,


Monday, September 14, 2009

Et Tu Alex?

Yes, I'm back - sorry I missed a few days - and yes, Millionaire introduced a new money ladder today...but that's not the big news.

The big news is, an awful gimmick is being introduced on a show I thought was flat out immune to gimmicks. If this has to happen, it means the game show is dying. It's a show I think is overrated, but still...why mess with Jeopardy?

Apparently, the show will be holding a Celebrity Jeopardy $1,000,000 Invitational. Twenty-seven celebrities will be competing for their charities, and the whole thing will be broadcast at the rate of one episode per month. Really.

This is a really, really bad idea. Jeopardy has already had several $1,000,000 tournaments, but come on, a celebrity $1,000,000 tournament? No. Quite a few game shows have tried adding celebrities to save themselves, and it never works. If Jeopardy has to do this, it means they're as desperate as...as...as Millionaire.

I sincerely hope that in September 2010, we have more than just Wheel Of Fortune, The Price Is Right, and Family Feud.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Not Yet...

We've reached the ninth contestant in the current season on Millionaire (the last one leftover from primetime), meaning that if there is a new money ladder, it will be revealed with the next contestant.

I guess I'll have to watch Monday.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Let The Battle Begin...

Well, I now know the time Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? will be airing in my area - it will be competing against The Price Is Right. Considering that it's on the station that had aired Trivial Pursuit, you'd think they'd just give it that slot, but no.

My money's on Drew Carey beating out Jeff Foxworthy.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First Chance To See

Zoologist Mark Carwardine came up with the original idea behind Last Chance To See in the early 1980s - essentially, invite some famous person who had nothing to do with zoology to travel around the world looking for endangered animals. One way or another, this person ended up being Douglas Adams, and the end result was a radio show broadcast in 1989 and a book published in 1990.

I realize that it's sad that people wouldn't notice a book on endangered animals without the presence of a superstar writer, but the fact remains - if Mark Carwardine had written Last Chance To See alone, I would never had heard of it, let alone read it. Truth be told, I actually found the book pretty boring. The other author I keep mentioning - Daniel Pinkwater - said more in a single commentary on traveling in Africa then Douglas Adams did in an entire book. If there was any justice in this world, Daniel Pinkwater would have gotten the job of reviving Last Chance To See, but as I've said, he is barely known in America, let alone Britain.

The job went to British writer\comedian\actor Stephen Fry, whose credits range from hosting the game show QI to reading the British Harry Potter audiobooks. I don't know if he'll be able to make reading about hunting for endangered animals fun, but the first episode of the Last Chance To See TV show (which premiered on Sunday) was, actually, pretty good. I suppose being able to see Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine travel up the Amazon (the river, not the website) in search of a certain species of manatee made all the difference.

I know, I know. It's just a nature documentary that would be getting no attention whatsoever if it hadn't been declared the sequel to Douglas Adams' work. Still, I liked it. I've already placed my order on Amazon (the website, not the river) for the new book. We'll see if it's any good.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More Millionaire!

So I've seen the new season of Millionaire now. No sign of a new money ladder yet, but we're only on the fourth contestant. I'll probably just keep watching until we get to contestant ten.

Then, of course, we reach November's "Tournament Of Ten," which Meredith mentioned almost instantly. It will, it seems, involve the ten players who won the most money from September 7 until November 6. Meredith states that it will guarantee a $1,000,000 payoff to the winner - well, according to what I read (and a disclaimer in the credits), it is not guaranteed, just much more likely. Perhaps even worse is a leaderboard prominently displayed at the end of each episode, making it sound like this tournament is the only way you can win $1,000,000.

In short, this show is getting desperate.


Monday, September 7, 2009

At Last!

Well, after much hype, the new season is here. Family Feud, Deal Or No Deal, and Millionaire all had their premieres today.

Deal Or No Deal: It may be taped on the east coast, but it looks exactly the same to me. I could use this as a springboard to discuss my general opinion on this show, but now is not the time for that.

Millionaire - Bumped in my area for the Jerry Lewis telethon; I'll have my review tomorrow.

Family Feud - OK, so here's how it goes now. Each family starts with $15,000 in their bank. In the Bullseye round, one member of each family comes to the podium, and the first one to buzz in with the number one answer adds to their bank. The first question is worth $1,000, the second $2,000, and so on for five questions, meaning if one family got all five, their bank would be $30,000. The main game then has only four rounds - Single, Double, Triple, Sudden Death. The first team to reach 300 points plays Fast Money for the amount in their bank. Any team that wins five games in a row wins a new car (which is prominently displayed on the set).

So...is it any good? Well, as I've said, this was a stroke of genius on Fremantle's part, allowing them to advertise a higher jackpot while giving away even less then they already were (and in a world where $100,000 is considered a relatively low game show win, Family Feud is nothing short of a relic). Yet...I don't know, the pace feels a lot faster to me, and this is a show that's supposed to be focused as much on the host joking with the families as the game. Making matters even worse, each family is now introduced via an awful, awful introduction video that looks like it was taped in the studio parking lot. I won't go as far as to say the show is bad or totally ruined - it isn't. It's still a good game show. With this low a payout, the show will probably continue several more years, and that's a good thing.

See you tomorrow,


I'm Probably The Only Person Who's Looking Forward To Labor Day

It's Labor Day, and I have a few notes:

  • It turns out that Family Feud is being shown in my area today, albeit at a different time. I'll have my review soon, as well as my review of the new season of Deal Or No Deal. Millionaire, however, is still bumped for the Jerry Lewis telethon.

  • Episode ninety-five of the Pinkwater Podcast has now been corrected.

See you soon!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Adams! Pinkwater!

The Pinkwater Podcast, a new episode of which is released each Sunday, is usually one of the best things on the Internet - but today, in episode ninety-five, producer\host Ed Weiss managed to make a pretty big mistake. He started a serialization of Daniel Pinkwater's novel Dead End Dada, but somehow managed to skip the entire first chapter!

The Last Chance To See TV show premiered today - I should have my review of the first episode within a few days.

New season tomorrow,


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Yep - More British Radio

It appears that after Just A Minute finishes its season on September 28, its slot will be taken over by The Unbelievable Truth. By my estimate, if I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue is going to have another run in 2009 at all, it will be on November 16. The Museum Of Curiosity isn't coming back until 2010.

Two more days!


Friday, September 4, 2009

A Few More Days...

A few notes on the upcoming season:

  • I will indeed have to wait until September 8 to see the new season of Family Feud, as my local station (an NBC station) is showing PGA Tour golf.
  • Millionaire apparently is making some changes for the new season, in addition to the November tournament of champions. If you don't remember, the first nine contestants on the new season will be the nine contestants who didn't make the hot seat on primetime night eleven. Well, apparently after all nine of those contestants have played, a new money ladder will be introduced with the tenth contestant. Most of the questions will actually have their values increased; the first question will be worth $500. I would start watching on Labor Day to figure this out, but my local station (an ABC station) will be showing the Jerry Lewis telethon.
  • In short, Tuesday is going to be an even bigger day for me than Labor Day.

    See you soon,


    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    In Brief: The Movie Was Better

    "I have been arrested. For winning a quiz show."

    So begins Q And A, the 2005 novel by Vikas Swarup that, while I suppose successful in its own right, will forever be overshadowed by the 2008 movie ostensibly based on it: Slumdog Millionaire. My paperback copy was even titled Slumdog Millionaire: Originally Published As Q And A.

    I think everyone knows the movie. With the possible - but only possible - exception of John Carpenter, the image of Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel) sitting on the set of Millionaire is certainly more famous than that of anyone who has actually appeared on Millionaire, and I wouldn't be surprised if it went down in cinematic history. The book, on the other hand, didn't have anyone named Jamal in it. Its central character and narrator had the unlikely name of Ram Mohammad Thomas (I won't repeat the book's explanation for why he's called that, but do beware of potential spoilers in this review). He is a contestant on a fictional game show actually described as a potential competitor to Millionaire: Who Will Win A Billion? The grand prize, in case you didn't guess, is 1,000,000,000 rupees, and the contestant has the assistance of two lifeboats: Friendly Tip (Phone A Friend) and Half And Half (50\50).

    When the novel opens, Ram has already taped his 1,000,000,000 rupee win, but it hasn't aired yet. This is possibly the only thing the book did better than the movie. In the movie, the show was broadcast live, leading to a predictable race through the streets of Mumbai to get to the studio - well, real game shows are taped months in advance of their airdate. Anyway, Ram has taped his appearance, been declared a cheater by the producers, and sent to a jail cell. A lawyer offers to help defend him, and most of the book consists of what he tells her as he explains, question by question, how he knew the answers.

    That doesn't sound that different from the movie, right? Well, it was. The movie was primarily focused on the love story between Jamal and Latika, as well as the relationship between Jamal and his brother Salim. Well...Ram is an only child. The closest character to the movie's Salim is also named Salim, but he is merely a friend of Ram's who (SPOILER!) doesn't go anywhere near becoming a gangster, let alone dying just as Ram wins an enormous game show jackpot. The closest character to Latika is a young prostitute named Nita, with whom Ram instantly falls in love. In the end, he gets the girl after using his game show money to buy her freedom from her pimp...except that Nita isn't even introduced until the last chapter. Since we've only known her for a short time, how are we supposed to care if Ram gets the girl?

    The book is divided into one chapter for each question, but in all honesty, while the movie seamlessly integrated the game show plot with Jamal's past, the different chapters of the book feel more like individual short stories, with the cut to the game show at the end of each chapter existing only as a not particularly good framing device. As if that wasn't enough, Ram's explanations of each question come from different points in his life, and they aren't in order. So in one story - excuse me, chapter - Ram's a fourteen year old working for an ageing Bollywood star; the next, he's a nine year old in a corrupt juvenile home, something that just confused me to no end.

    Of course this is supposed to be a novel and not a set of loosely connected stories, and the epilogue makes that clear by tying things up...a little too neatly. All the bad guys, from the juvenile home owner to the sadistic game show host, have died or been brought to justice one way or another; all the "good" guys (the only ones we care about are Ram and Salim) get to achieve their dreams and live happily ever after. Even the lawyer who Ram has supposedly been telling this whole thing to reveals herself to be someone he knew years ago. So in brief: you don't really care about the characters, the different stories aren't integrated together well, and it all comes to way too happy an ending. Maybe we should be happy the movie didn't stay faithful to the book.

    The BBC Radio show, however, did stay faithful to the book, and I'll be listening to it next.

    I'll have my review as soon as I'm finished.


    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Yes, There Are Other Ones Besides Double Dare

    The news just broke that on September 28, Nickelodeon will premiere a new kids game show called Brain Surge.

    Now, I don't watch every new game show, but I probably will check this out, if only because I'll applaud any attempt at a new kids game show. That's what made me a game show fan, and there aren't any left. I credit Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? with being the show that hooked me on game shows for life, but that's probably only because I didn't have cable for several years. The undisputed master of the kids game show is Nickelodeon.

    That being said, however, not all their game shows were winners - Nick Arcade, anyone? - and their most recent attempt, My Family's Got GUTS, didn't click with me. There were just two events before the AggroCrag, and the nice simple scoring system of the original series was replaced by something so complicated they actually had to flash on the screen "Go to nick.com for complete scoring information." The biggest gripe, however, went to Ben Lyons, whose monotone rambling would be bad enough on a game show for adults. His attempt at the show's signature signoff (all together now: "No if, ands, or buts...these kids got GUTS...DO...YOU...HAVE ITTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!") can only be compared to one thing: Drew Carey attempting to signoff on The Price Is Right. No, that's not a compliment.

    New season starts Monday,


    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    It's September!

    Things that are confirmed:
    • Bob Barker will indeed be the guest host of WWE Raw on Labor Day.
    • Deal Or No Deal is moving in my area from a high-power independent station (it was UPN) to a low-power MyTV station. If that doesn't mean the show's dying, I don't know what does.

    Things that are not confirmed yet:

    • It's unclear whether my local station for Family Feud (an NBC station) will be showing PGA Tour golf on Labor Day. If they are, I'll have to wait until September 8 to see the new format.
    • I have no idea whatsoever what time Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? will be on in my area. It has apparently been picked up by my local Fox station. As that station showed Trivial Pursuit (and still does until Friday), it may seem safe to assume it will take that slot, but that raises the question of what they'll show for two weeks.

    It all starts Monday!