5 Game Shows That Butchered Family Games in Hilarious Ways
I've been preparing for retirement since I was a little boy, not by saving all my money or starting a 401(k) the second I got my first paper route, but by watching a shitload of game shows. I can't ever find the time to sit through a 90-minute movie, but I will happily plunk myself down on the sofa for a three-hour marathon of The Chase. I'll even watch tripe like Catch-21, where Carlton Banks and company spend five minutes playing blackjack and 25 minutes explaining blackjack to an audience more forgetful than the dude from Memento.
Why, yes, that seven does put you closer to 21. Fancy that.
Of course, just because I watch something like Catch-21 doesn't make it good -- it simply makes me a moron. Their version of blackjack is terrible, as are most attempts to make TV money off of family game night. Attempts like ...
In case you haven't played Yahtzee since the last time your power went out for a week, here's a quick refresher of the rules: roll dice.
And that's it! You score points by rolling certain combinations, but you're still just rolling dice. This works as a televised thing on The Price Is Right because Let 'Em Roll is one of dozens of different mini-games played each week. It doesn't work when given its own show, because it's just dice.
The sad scientists behind 1988's Yahtzee likely realized this, but instead of doing the right thing and pitching a better idea, they simply turned the game into Hollywood Squares Part II: Electric Boogalosers, complete with original Squares host Peter Marshall awkwardly stumbling through his lines while fantasizing about his paycheck.
And every contestant.
Yahtzee further Squared things up by bringing in any F-list actor desperate enough to pick up their dusty, unused phone, sitting their asses in a giant box, and having them answer inane questions like "What should we do to celebrate Richard Nixon's birthday?"
No, you idiot, that's how we celebrate Gerald Ford's birthday.
And, like with Squares, they couldn't just answer the damn question -- they had to engage in endless wacky banter, only now the jokes were so loud, so corny, and so obnoxiously witless that the inventor of the mute button got promoted to sainthood after the first episode. Once they finally shut up, the contestants compared their answers to the celebrities'. Whoever agreed with more obtuse Dennis Miller references won the round.
Poor Jerry Stiller had yet to learn shows about nothing help careers
way more than game shows about nothing.
Winning a round let you play Yahtzee at long last ... barely. After one quick roll of the dice, you'd get rushed back for another round of cutting jabs from Jo Anne Worley about how crazy it is to put mushrooms on rice. This crap went on for about 3,000 rounds, and whoever came closest to an actual Yahtzee (all five dice rolling the same number) got to play the bonus round. There, they finally played Yahtzee for more than 10 seconds, though there's no way to tell how many people stayed awake long enough to actually see this happen. Considering the show lasted only nine months before its contract married Mr. Shredder, I'm guessing the answer is: almost none.
It's honestly amazing they trusted the players enough to roll the dice themselves.
And God forbid they tied and went to sudden death, which meant another celebrity profile question like "Name something that moves very slowly." Seeing Anne Meara in a glowing box shouting anything at that point, even for 10 seconds, was like getting beaten to a bloody, bruised, and quivering pulp, only for your assailant to come back and boop your nose. Harmless it might be, but the damage was already done.
Scrabble lasted over six years, and you can blame me (and perhaps a few others) for this baffling longevity. I watched the shit out of this show instead of flipping to G.I. Joe like a well-adjusted young'un, and looking back ... I have no idea why.
The only way their interpretation of Scrabble could've been any more wrong was if they simply set fire to the studio. They had a Scrabble board, and you formed words with letters from other words like the actual game, but that's where it ended. Every other rule was changed for the worse, thanks to a rare combination of speedballs and pure laziness.
The board would've been bigger, but they had to save room for all that nothing.
You didn't actually "build" a word, like in real Scrabble. Instead, the producers crafted a predetermined word, told you its letter count, offered a ridiculous hint like "Some guys tease women with them" (the answer was "combs," which sounds extraordinarily painful for the poor lady), and the contestant guessed it by calling out letters. They did so by selecting from a whopping two tiles (as opposed to seven in the actual game) and hoping their choice was in the mystery word. So it wasn't just Wheel Of Fortune sans wheel and gorgeous letter-lady who made elementary/high school/college/current me all tingly down there. It was also Wheel Of Fortune sans the entire goddamn alphabet.
"I'd like to buy a plane ticket home."
Oh, and instead of having your own pile of letters like in real Scrabble, you had to share them with your opponent, which made nobody but mom happy. Once one letter got used, contestants would replace it with another by choosing from a pile of mystery tiles that was, again, shared by both. These were the people's letters, on a show created by proud Americans in the middle of the Cold War.
The bonus round was even more watered-down, because every single letter presented was in the mystery word. You simply yelled out letters and decoded the word, and if done fast enough, you won money. The only way to lose was to forget how speech worked.
You know the answer wasn't "cumhunger," because this wasn't the highest-rated show in history.
So why the blue fuck did I like this game? Probably all the funny sounds. At least 90 percent of their budget went to crafting crazy, vaguely futuristic sound effects to trick us into thinking the Martians were coming to probe Chuck Woolery live on the air.
Probably my favorite is the "is the letter there NO" sequence, where we go from SpongeBob sucking on sulfur hexafluoride to a generic "PEWWWWWW" too lame to make the '80s toy laser gun cut. Young, dumb me ate it up, even though all the noise was nothing but a distraction to cover up the show's banal emptiness. And now I understand why used car salesmen yell so much.
I can't fathom how 20 Questions could possibly work as a game show. But if there is a way to make an orgy of yes-or-no questions entertaining, I'm fairly certain it would involve contestants. And perhaps an actual orgy.
The 1949 Twenty Questions certainly didn't agree. Despite being a radio-TV simulcast, its producers cared naught for the TV part, since no contestant actually played in person. Instead, viewers mailed in suggested phrases, and the producers chose their favorites (presumably from whichever envelope they vomited their rich-guy whiskey over the least). The Goofy White Host then tasked a panel of the boss' family to guess the phrase in under 20 questions. If they did, the invisible contestant got a consolation prize. If they failed, the contestant would receive the GRAND PRIZE: an encyclopedia, which was a bullshit prize even back when people cared about encyclopedias.
"Now with 100 percent more colonialist whitewashing!"
That was literally the entire game: successful people playing 20 Questions while contestants sat at home eating their TV dinners and praying a shiny new book was on the way. They played round after round until time was up. And then they did it all again the next week. This went on for six fucking years. Blame grandma.
And blame Mennen. Because the real goal for this show wasn't even partially to entertain (a porcupine quill dildo would be more fun) -- it was to advertise. Sure, that's the point of all TV shows, but in most cases producers make a little effort to engage the audience and isolate or mask the money-making part. Mennen was the official sponsor of Twenty Questions, and barely a minute went by where they didn't remind you of that. They mentioned multiple Mennen products within the first 15 seconds. A pretty girl repeatedly stated how she likes men who use Mennen (don't get excited; she's dead now). The Mennen Scoreboard kept track of the panel's question count (because "Mennen products for men" has 20 letters, you see). That scoreboard, by the way, hung just above the panelist table, which proudly displayed "MENNEN FOR MEN" in giant lettering.
Starring Mr. Mennen, Mrs. Mennen, Mennen Junior, Uncle Mennen, and Celebrity Mennen.
And, of course, that wasn't all. Each consolation prize was loaded with Mennen products, and they reminded us of this every single round. A goddamn "Mennen Mystery Voice" told viewers at home what the secret phrase was. Halfway through, they cut to another Goofy White Dude who endorsed more Mennen. At the end, they directed you to mail phrases not to Twenty Questions, but to Mennen Twenty Questions. And after the show ended, they immediately threw to a commercial ... for Mennen.
This child chose Mennen baby powder over the leading competitor, powdered lead.
Only one episode of this show exists, because DuMont (the first network murdered by ABC, NBC, and CBS) destroyed the footage, as TV people were wont to do back then.
While wiping all physical evidence of a show's existence was usually a sad practice -- denying the future proper historical perspective in order to save time and money right now -- in the case of Twenty Questions, it was absolutely the right thing to do.
In 1975, incredibly bored people briefly stared at a game show called Musical Chairs. It had virtually nothing to do with actual musical chairs, focusing instead on playing part of a song and then having contestants name the next lyric. It never found an audience and faded into the nether-realm after a mere four months.
Despite its failure, this was the best possible setup for musical chairs played for cash and prizes. The 2012 show Oh Sit! meanwhile, was absolutely the worst. Naming the show after a pun too juvenile for a third-grader was bad enough, but then they decided to actually play musical chairs on TV. You might recognize "watching people walk around furniture for a half-hour" as the single most boring idea you've ever heard, and The CW realized that too. So they turned it into extreme musical chairs, with crazy obstacles, ice-cold water, and tons of almost-edgy snark to help everyone involved cope with being on The CW.
And, of course, all the giant balls you could sink your teeth into.
In lieu of trivia questions, guessing games, or literally anything else that encouraged viewer participation (which, as we've mentioned before, is the entire point of game shows), Oh Sit! simply had contestants run around a giant circle and traverse Wipeout-style obstacles, beating the living sit out of one another the whole way through, because ATTITUDE. Besides, they had to vent their frustration over Family Feud rejecting their applications somehow.
And, like real musical chairs, players ran around to music -- in this case, out-of-tune covers of terrible pop-rock songs, generously supplied by the hit house band, Our Mothers Are Ashamed. Once they mercifully stopped jamming, players crawled over yet another zany obstacle to reach the ludicrously named Chair Island. If they made it to a chair, they were punished by remaining in the game. If they didn't, they were rewarded with elimination.
Not quite the worst chair anyone's ever sat on, but close.
So why didn't these geniuses just stand in place until OMAA quit butchering already-butchered music? Simple -- they accumulated money for each obstacle they successfully didn't die on. Naturally, they died on most of them, which wasn't nearly as humiliating as having host Jamie Kennedy laugh at them for doing so. Read that back and recognize the true legacy of this stupid show: The Son Of The Mask guy was mocking people for failing.
Unless your house rules are "give up and watch Maury once someone hits Free Parking," Monopoly takes a fucklong time to complete. A faithful TV translation would be near impossible, not that they didn't try. In 1987, Marc Summers took a break from slime-covered children to host a Monopoly pilot, with endless rules meant to emulate the board game as closely as possible. This page lists them all, and honestly it's easier to decipher the Tax Code.
That pilot mercifully failed, but in 1990, they tried again. This time, the rules were way simpler, and mostly useless. The first round, in fact, might have been the most useless period in human history. Contestants simply marched around the properties in a neat, orderly fashion, answering crossword clues like "Stephen King's killer canine," with the first letter spotted to drive the difficulty level down to "subterranean." If they got it right, they won money. If they answered all of a property's questions correctly, they won a "monopoly" and double money. If nobody guessed correctly, they simply got an easier clue. This went on until they circled the board exactly once, and the player with the lowest amount ... kept playing.
"Everybody gets a trophy," not just for Kids These Days anymore.
The second half -- long after people stopped paying attention -- was as close to televised Monopoly as anyone can hope for, and that includes whatever the fuck the new game's supposed to be. They finally broke out the dice and let players buy hotels for their monopolies. If they landed on their monopoly, they'd answer more crossword clues and win the rent. Yep, instead of robbing the dumb sucker who wandered into their territory, they won their own rent money. Still, they briefly flashed the cards on screen, so that's at least kind of authentic.
Even though showing an old man's ass with "$2,000" over the hole would've been just as effective.
When time was up, everybody sold their hotels (for the same amount they paid, rendering the whole exercise completely pointless), and the biggest money-maker played a bonus round where if they circled the board without going to jail, they won. Only this time, there were five Jail spaces instead of one, the perfect setup for an NYPD-themed Monopoly board. Especially if you add about a dozen "Beaten Senseless" spaces as well.
"You can't breathe. Go back three spaces."
Stupid as this show was, it could have been saved by a charismatic host like, say, Wink Martindale. That guy could take Tic-Tac-Fuck-Toe and make it something I'd still watch today. But nooooo -- they settled on Michael Reilly, a former Jeopardy contestant (not even a champion) who was likely hired due to being generically handsome enough to place second in a beauty contest. Predictably, he and the rest of the crew went directly to the unemployment line just 12 episodes later.
Following Jason on Facebook and Twitter won't keep you out of jail or help you collect $200. But he never yaks about Mennen, so you'll have that going for you.
For more from Jason, check out 5 Insane Children's Books That Will Ruin Your Child and The 6 Most Humiliating Public Failures by Celebrity Psychics.
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