It’s a strange and amazing thought, going to the good thrift store and walking through the selection of electronic organs. It makes you appreciate just how amazing it is that each and every one of these was the consolation gift for some game show contestant in the 1970s. Imagine the tales they could tell about having been photographed for a hurried voice-over at the end of Tic Tac Dough, Card Sharks, Whew!, Lee Trevino’s Golf For Swingers, or How Do You Like Your Eggs?. All those orange-shag-carpeted voices, quiet now, and you have to ask someone to plug them in. How strange is life.
Just got to thinking about a moment we must infer happened sometime in the 70s. The Price Is Right production team was thinking out ways to bring prizes out on-camera. And someone declared, “We shall have a tugboat pull them out!” Were they immediately recognized as wise? Were they laughed at at the time? But stayed confident in their rightness and lived to hear their doubters admit they were wrong? What were the rejected possibilities? Parachutes, obviously. Submarines, too, given the difficulty working out agreements with the show filming the next floor under them. LSTs.
Or am I thinking of it backwards? Did someone originally buy The Price Is Right Tugboat by some complicated mistake, and then go about looking for ways to use it? And every time it’s brought out they thank their lucky stars that it came out okay?
These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.
For today, we’re back to 1960. So I lose another hypothesis about how King Features is bundling these cartoons for YouTube. This is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Ralph Wright and the direction credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Around The World In Eighty Ways.
I grew up in a Golden Age of game shows, in the 70s and 80s. I felt betrayed when the genre’s revival in the late 90/early 2000s turned into reality shows. But shows about competitive stunts weren’t a new mutation; they go back to the game show’s origins. The stunts could be weird, abstract things. Thomas A DeLong’s Quiz Craze tells me one Truth or Consequences contestant who couldn’t say how many English Kings were named Henry received the consequence of “figure out a way to get more pennies in circulation”. (It was World War II; there was a penny shortage. She appealed to viewers to send their pennies in to the show, which would buy War Bonds. I agree this sounds like the joke you would make about World War II publicity stunts. Got 300,000 pennies in a week, though, and I assume Ralph Edwards knew what to do with them.)
What I never liked, as a kid, was game show cartoons, though. The plot logic always seemed to require the contestants not know the way the game worked. I could not imagine going on a show without having an idea what to expect. You would know if you were asked to go to all this trouble for a dollar and ninety-eight cents.
I no longer remember what I thought of this cartoon as a kid. I suspect I would have disbelieved the premise of Popeye and Brutus racing around the world on Wimpy Klinkclatter’s behalf. (Although, back in 2001 Conan O’Brien’s production company did a reality show that dropped a couple people off somewhere in the world, the challenge being to get home with only what they had in their pockets. So the show premise now seems more plausible.) The prize of a barrel full of money is great, but I was a smart enough kid to ask how much that was.
If you are not hindered by my game show nerd rage — and you should not be — then we’ve got a mostly good cartoon here. It’s a long sequence of geography-themed sight gags. Some of them are slight, like Popeye testing the water at the South Pole and finding it chilly. Some of them are gleefully dumb, like Brutus and Popeye running headfirst into the Eastern Seaboard. One of them inspired dread as it started: when they got to, as Popeye called it, “Singing-pore!” (In the comic strip Popeye often mentioned Singapore as one of his favorite places to get into a good brawl.) Mercifully we don’t see any locals, but the music and the background art gets into uncomfortable territory. Also, not to lean too hard on my five years living in Singapore but, really? A rickshaw rather than a trishaw? Someone failed to do the research for a more plausible bit of local color. Anyway, there’s a lot of small scenes, and many have fun bits of side business.
We get another cartoon where someone besides Popeye eats spinach. Popeye doesn’t offer Brutus/Bluto/etc the chance to eat spinach and punch him often; it’s fair Brutus wouldn’t suspect something must be up. It’s an economical way to end the cartoon and get Popeye his win.
There’s a weird production glitch as Wimpy reveals what $1.575,928 lead pazookas are worth. Popeye repeats “lead pazookas”, but it’s Jackson Beck saying the second word. I infer that the script at one point had Popeye and Brutus both get back to the studio. I don’t know why the change. Maybe they found there wasn’t time for Brutus to race back after all? But then why not have Jack Mercer re-record the line? It’s not like they couldn’t get him in the studio. Maybe they figured the line was so short kids wouldn’t notice, especially since they couldn’t rewind and listen to it again.
It is weird that after Brutus drops a bomb on Popeye (and his turtle), Popeye rolls with pretending to be a ghost (or ghosk) to mess with Brutus’s head. It doesn’t feel outside the bounds of a Popeye cartoon for me. It’s just a weird place for a plot that’s “crazy race around the world” to go.
- That “Lash Rambo” episode of The New WKRP In Cincinnati.
- The one where Worf’s Brother saves this village from a planet-wrecking crisis and everybody acts like he’s the jerk.
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Ted Baxter gets a job as a game-show host that he’d be great at, and everyone pressures him to give that up so he can go on being a local-news anchor who’s not any good at it.
- That Aladdin where Iago gets the Genie’s powers, and he makes a mess of things his first day and feels like a total failure, even though, what, you figured you were going to be an expert the first time you tried something? Why is this talking parrot unrealistic about the speed of his ability to master genie powers?
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Evil Admiral built an illegal cloaking device and everybody’s all smugly disdainful of him but they use it anyway because doing without would be a little inconvenient and nobody calls them out for this hypocrisy.
- The Far Out Space Nuts where their Lunar Module got stolen, but the planet has a machine that can duplicate anything, and Chuck McCann gives the thing a picture of the Lunar Module and the machine makes a really big duplicate of the picture, and he and Bob Denver were expecting it to make a new spaceship for them because what were they expecting?
- The 1980s Jetsons where Elroy accidentally stows away on the Space Shuttle.
Also, while I do not remember this at all, Wikipedia claims this was the plot of a 1987-season episode:
George discovers that he has become stressed out lately due to his teeth, so his dentist creates special false teeth to relax him—but end up stressing him out even more.
I assume the episode guide writer is being wry.
So back in the 90s there was this troll on Usenet. I know, shocking. The guy would post to the group alt.tv.game-shows, which was about such TV game shows as had that grunge sound. Also sometimes to the other TV newsgroups. He’d post about the forgotten 1984 Bill Cullen game show Hot Potato.
Anyway, the troll would post, sometimes several times a day, the question: how was Hot Potato played? Did Bill Cullen throw a hot potato at the contestants? That would be funny. And then he’d sit back and wait for the offended corrections to roll in. When the fun of that paled, he would repost, spelling some of the words wrong. You have to understand, this was the 90s. While it was theoretically possible to watch a video online, it couldn’t actually be done. All you could do was spend three hours downloading some program that claimed to be able to show videos, then spend an hour downloading a video, which would be a postage-stamp-sized thing that was mostly black, with occasional green speckles, that would then crash. And while memes were technologically possible, no one believed they could be made practical. We had to do what we could.
So anyway now you can imagine my joy to notice that this got posted last month to alt.tv.mst3k:
how wuz hat putato plaed? did bil kulin tos a putato at thu kuntestintz? tat wuld b a funi.
And doesn’t that just make you feel young again?
For the record, Hot Potato was played by Bill Cullen giving a category, and then the contestants having to name stuff in that category. Very few physical things were ever thrown at anyone during the game, as the referees kept very good game control.
Over twelve of you have noticed this phenomenon. It’s actually over twelve percent of you, but I’m supposing there’s more than a cent of you out there. There will be anyway. But you’ve seen this. You look at a clock. It’s got seconds on it. That second just doesn’t change. It sticks to whatever time it currently is (let’s say … 8:49:46) for a good long while. More than a second, as you figure it. Maybe five seconds. Maybe as long as fourth grade took. Finally as you’re about to get up and give the thing a good nudge it moves again, going back to about one second per second. Even then, though, look away and snap your eyes back and you might get the second frozen there again. What’s going on here, and why are clocks messing with us to see if we’re watching? Well, wouldn’t you mess with people like that, if you were a clock? What else would you have to do?
What’s important her is a fundamental principle of time. We only know time passes because we see something happen. Like, we see the time that a clock shows changing. This is a good one because we’ve put all our time sense into clocks. If we need to rely on ourselves we just guess that the time feels like three-ish, maybe, or that it might be a Thursday but it sure feels like when you’re at the zoo and get some hay or something stuck in your shoe just outside the camel enclosure. We use the clock to let us know that time is even moving.
Think back to childhood, if you have one. Remember how experiments like lying on your back seeing if you could breathe just right to make a tennis ball roll into and out of your belly button before a sibling came over and sat on your face? And you had to turn to biting? Remember how you could spend as much as four days straight at that between the last cartoon of the morning and the start of Password Plus on channel 4 and still have time to punch another sibling? Well, the last cartoon finished at 9 am, and Password Plus came on at 10. All that time was squeezed into under a single hour.
As kids we didn’t need clocks. We could just have experiences. The most we needed was the clock in school, and the clock in our parents’ car’s dashboard that was set to the wrong time. We would only feel time accumulating during social studies and while being driven somewhere you don’t want to go, probably in another state on a trip that would be fun if you weren’t stopping at educational spots and scenic overlooks where the picnic tables are all like two inches two high for where the bench seats are.
As adults we fill our lives with more clocks. Clocks on the nightstand, on your watch, on your phone, on your computer, on your other phone, on the wall, on the TV, the thing on the DVR that looks like it’s the time but actually is the channel number, on the toaster oven, on the other end of your computer’s screen, on a web page, on your Internet-connected Smart Towels, and on the car dashboard where it’s satellite-tuned to the right time. Every single one of these things is ticking off seconds and of course they add up. These days you can’t have one second of time pass without it being at least twelve seconds all at once.
If you’ve got a proper modern lifestyle you can get all your clock-ready things going and then notice that as best you can tell, 2010 was at most forty minutes ago. This is a sign that you have too many clocks in your life, multiply-counting all your time and slurping it up before you can tell it’s gone. Try de-clocking your surroundings; see how well you do if you get back to the basics of time, the way you did as a child. Then you had the inaccurate car dashboard clock, and a calendar to make sure you didn’t miss Christmas or your birthday, neither of which could ever happen. Maybe it won’t work, but if you do want to give it a try, I recommend you hurry.
Password Plus was never scheduled to air earlier than 11:30 Eastern/Pacific. You were thinking, believe it or not, of Card Sharks.
The real news, by the way, is that I’ve learned how to make the captions appear outside the wedges with little arrows pointing to them, instead of having to make the text kind of appear more or less on top of a wedge and maybe spill over onto the next wedge and I can’t figure a way to set all the text to be uniformly any color except by fiddling with edge wedge separately, which is stupid. This is a lot nicer to produce even though it’s probably unreadable at the available sizes. Sorry. It did leave me wondering if there’s pie charts then why aren’t there, like, cake charts where you just have easy-to-arrange rectangles of sizes representing portions of stuff and labels that fit on top of those? Except that’s probably how infographics get made, and I don’t know how to do those, because for all that I try to keep intellectually and emotionally youthful what that really means is I play pinball and listen to more New Wave music of the 80s than I ever did in the 80s. Anyway, while I’d like something like that, what’s important is, I found a way to make my computer thing do a thing in a slightly less annoying way than it used to. Ice cream for everyone!
For those wondering: I’m not saying the Nilsson album wasn’t, just saying what the expectations were.
Old-time radio had many genres of show. Many of them still exist, albeit on television. (In the United States, where commercial interests sent them.) Soap operas, famously, still carry on, though nobody would say they’re healthy. Police and detective shows we’ll never be rid of. Medical dramas too. Suspense anthologies … all right, we don’t really have that anymore, although thrillers and crime procedurals nearly cover that gap. Sitcoms — with or without laugh tracks — come and go, but they’re steadily around. Game shows have mutated, but they’re still around.
But there’s one that isn’t really still around, not in United States anyway. I’m not even sure what exactly to call it. It’s the kind of show typefied by The Jack Benny Program. It’s centered around a strong, comic host, and there’s a set of regular supporting cast with clear punchy comic personas. There’s some topic, often drawn from the news, that all the regulars riff on for a while. Then a musical interlude. Then a spoof of something or other. A lot of shows fit this admittedly quite general template. Jack Benny fits it (less perfectly as the show ages and it turns into a semi-sitcom). Fred Allen too. Bob Hope. Red Skelton. Some of these shows are great. Some are agony, at least to my tastes. Depends on whether you like the host.
So here’s an example of that genre. It stars Henry Morgan, a comedian who is reliably described as “caustic”. This episode doesn’t show off anything “caustic”. I would describe it more as “sly”.
I wanted to use the embeddable little radio player that archive.org offers. But it won’t link to the file I want because whoever uploaded this episode in the first place included spaces in the file name. WordPress’s thing for embedding archive.org audio can’t handle that. So I’m afraid I must ask you to download or open in a fresh tab one of these links:
- The Henry Morgan Show, for the 9th of September, 1946, in MP3.
- The Henry Morgan Show, for the 9th of September, 1946, in OGG.
- The Henry Morgan Show, for the 9th of September, 1946, in PNG, which is just a picture of what the audio looks like. It’s kind of cute.
It’s a fast-paced show, with as its first centerpiece a mock-documentary about the discovery of air. I love mock-documentaries. Always have. The form of the factual essay and the content of nonsense tickles me. It ends with a spoof of game shows. Along the way there’s riffs about the other leading radio shows of the day, which was September 1946. It’s a sharp, densely written mix of stuff. I’m sorry the audio gets fuzzy at a few spots mid-show, but I want to feature more of Henry Morgan and this seemed to be a pretty good introduction, all things considered.
I’m over forty years old. I have an advanced degree in mathematics. I have lived in Michigan for four years. I have only just this weekend stopped to wonder: what battle is Battle Creek, Michigan, named after?
My best guess: French explorers named the spot for where they refilled their water stocks. Then when the English poked in they figured ‘Bottle Creek’ must be some crazy moon-man mistaken pronunciation and they fixed it to ‘Battle Creek’ and we’ve been stuck with that since. So, yeah, please lock that in as my answer, won’t you? Thank you.
And according to Wikipedia, it’s actually named for a battle in the winter of 1823-24 in which two of the natives got into a fight with two people from a federal government survey party. In the fight one of the natives was wounded. After the fight the survey party fled. So, yeah, it involved not quite as many people as were needed to play the classic game show Password Plus. Although I guess there is a folk etymology that the river’s native name, Waupakisco, itself is some kind of name meaning “battle creek”, for some battle they dunno when it happened or what over, which makes people who know the language roll their eyes and sigh. So there we go.
It was a thrilling-looking game show starting up in that dream. You could tell just from the introduction of the contestants. One was the returning champion, of course, and one was from a place I had lived. Seeing someone from somewhere you know is always thrilling for absolutely no good reason. And the final contestant was the collective of world-famous architecture by the renowned Hugo Gropius. And I’m sorry that I woke up at that point and couldn’t get the dream back because I was eager to see if it would figure into gameplay at all that there was no such renowned architect. I’d love to know whether it was actually the work of Walter Gropius or of Hugo Grotius. Certainly Gropius’s work would be a formidable contestant in any general-trivia quiz show. Meanwhile, Grotius’s work was more about establishing the foundations of international law and for freedom of the seas, but no body of architectural work of any note I’m aware of. Maybe I can catch the reveal in reruns.
I figure any regular readers here know I sometimes get clear messages of some sort of mischief afoot from the dream world, like when I got in the way of His Majesty, King of the Nuditarians. If you didn’t know that, well, sometimes that happens. Usually there’s a clear message, like I’ve been unintentionally messing up Tina Fay’s costumes and should stop whatever I do that causes that to happen, even if it just seems to be existing. But sometimes I just don’t know what to make of one.
So you know how the world is full of TV shows in which celebrities get into quarrels with people, who are then delighted because they’ve been yelled at by a celebrity? Apparently the dream world has those too, and in one of them a Russian game show consists of getting into insult-matches with a host who looks strikingly like Conan O’Brien, which is plausible since the last fifteen years have taught us the parts of Europe that aren’t Ireland are full of people who look strikingly like Conan O’Brien. And somehow I was there for a taping.
I suppose it’s one of those shows done on the street, because the host was hanging around what looked like a desolate CVS. You know the sort, where there’s several metal shelves empty of everything and you’re not perfectly sure the place didn’t close two weeks ago and they haven’t got rid of everything yet. It can’t have been an ambush, though, because the contestant could see the cameras and us-the-audience hanging around as Russian Game Show Host Conan challenged him.
Apparently there’s topics in competitive insulting these days, which shows how out of touch I am. I know insulting from being with my siblings, where you just tried to hurt the other’s feelings, and if that didn’t work, you dropped an empty glass cake pan on their heads. (Um, also, sorry about that. But I won.) Maybe it’s just the game show does that to keep the contest challenging. Anyway, the topic got to be insulting one another about the weather, even though most people aren’t responsible for that, what with the historically low turnout for weather-board elections.
The contestant I thought gave a pretty good go at it, especially when Russian Game Show Conan pounced on some kind of issue with the way the contestant had used the word “glacier”, which didn’t seem to be getting anywhere but was causing a small, perfectly formed, pillar of ice about the radius of a manhole cover to rise up from the Desolate CVS floor and push into the display shelves. I must conclude that insult-based game shows are filmed on magic-realist sets these days. But Russian Game Show Conan’s turn ended without his getting to the actual point of all this definition-quibbling and very-localized pillar-of-ice raising. I thought it was going to be a walkover.
The audience was having a good time of it, though, and I guess I was too, laughing pretty dramatically and smiling widely and all that, which I guessed look good on camera because one of the production associates waved me over to the aisle where Desolate CVS stores the stuff left over from no precisely identifiable holiday. I figured she was having me sign a release because I’d been caught on camera saying something too good to pass up, although when I looked at the card I realized she was writing in my name as a team captain.
At this point I woke up, which is probably for the best. I’m not really in form for insult contests these days and who knows if Desolate CVS stores even carry glass cake pans, and I was distracted by the whole pillar-of-ice thing which seemed more important to me than anyone else.
Still, there’s the problem of what message I should draw from this dream. It’s clearly not something simple, like, get out of important nude people’s way or apologize. That I should be wary of Russian insult-based game shows is apparent, but hardly seems like a lesson I needed to learn, given my preference for parlor-game and trivia-based game shows. I guess there’s something about being aware of where glass cake pans are at all times. Any ideas, readers?
I admit normally my dreams seem to contain warnings about how to practically navigate various life scenarios. This one seems different. I’m pretty sure that this dream is telling of the next big fad in indoor mall-based entertainments, and it’s obviously got to be acted on soon because indoor malls have maybe four years left before the last one closes down.
Anyway, according to my dream, the next big fad especially among fraternity brother-model young males, is going to be renting these cheap but surprisingly well-crafted My Little Pony costumes and wandering around the mall just looking like the one that’s a kind of dusty grey. I don’t know why this would suddenly be a fad, much less how you could make these surprisingly flexible foam costumes, which are seamless except for the zipper up front, wearable for only five bucks an hour, but I have to admit, I love seeing the ordinary crowd wandering around a shopping mall with a surprising number of grey My Little Ponies puttering around silently.
This may be because along the way, all the vacant stores in shopping malls are apparently turning into unattended arcades, with another big attraction being a two-person replica of the contestants booths from Hollywood Squares, I’m guessing so people can play their own version of the game against a video monitor and recorded answers and all that. As a game show fan from way back, I approve, even if I never much cared for Hollywood Squares. It’s all a step towards getting Card Sharks back on the air.
Since people are curious, here are the things I know about Kurt Cobain or Vitamin B-12:
- Intentionally struck out so as to not have to play little league.
- Was discovered by Mary Shaw Shorb, in the University of Maryland’s Poultry Science Department, who was investigating a concentrated liver juice product on a $400 grant.
- Had a great-uncle, Delbert, a tenor who appeared in the 1930 film King of Jazz.
- Can treat both pernicious anemia and cyanide poisoning.
- As a child, could, and did, accurately draw Aquaman.
- Developed the game show I’ve Got A Secret for Mark Goodson and Bill Todman in 1952, who instead of paying him for it made him one of the show’s producers.
- Is commonly known as riboflavin by people who’ve mistaken it for Vitamin B-2.
Now that I’ve seen an episode of The Magnificent Marble Machine I know finally what Sid and Marty Krofft’s Password Plus would have been like.
I like how the game show really captures the essence of what makes pinball great: sluggish play by a pair of amateurs on giant board with a handful of targets, for up to a whole sixty seconds, that you get to only after twenty minutes of puttering around watching people try to guess whether “President’s Pad” might be a clue to naming “The White House”.
Now I’m sure the world feels better that I’ve made fun of a forgotten short-lived mid-70s game show. At least the world except the people who made it in the first place, so, I’m sorry about that.