Monday, August 9, 2010

Saturday TV - Dollar a Second and Quick as a Flash

Hiya Kiddies! Sorry for the paucity of posts lately, but yer ol' professor has been more than a bit under the weather recently. Still, I'm back today and ready to make up for it with a whole batch of posts. First we'll start with a TV double feature, then the next installment of our Sunday serial, then with a little luck a double posting of new movie features this afternoon. So just kick back and enjoy some vintage programming.

First up today, as I mentioned, is a double feature from the TV archives, and today we're looking at game shows. There was a time when game shows were as ubiquitous and important a part of television programming as "reality" shows are today. Generally quick and cheap to produce compared to scripted programming, they were an easy way for a TV station or network to fill a time slot. They were also, in a time before every second-rate comedian had a late-night talk show a great promotional tool for other shows or for movies, as a star could make a quick appearance as a panelist or contestant on one of these shows and in return they would get a plug for whatever their latest project was. Of course, that also meant that a lot of ideas were tried as programmers often grasped at straws trying to come up with new and varied ideas that would catch on with the audience at home. sometimes these ideas were good, sometimes, well...

Today's shows, while not exactly bad, were not huge successes, either, and I think if you take a look at each episode, it's fairly easy to see why.

First up is Dollar a Second, a game show first produced by the Dumont network, which starred Jan Murray who would also host the first version of Treasure Hunt. Here's Wikipedia's description of the concept of the show:

One pair of contestants (or a solo player) were selected to perform a certain task, which could be anything. They earn one dollar for every second they were on the stage, and, unless they are paying the penalty, may quit out at any time. If at any time one or both players make a mistake, they have to pay a penalty. For example, one player is placed on a slide that goes down towards a small above-ground swimming pool, and the partner has to pick one of five telephone numbers on the list, one of which nobody on the other side will be available to answer. Should someone be there on the other end of the line, the person who dialed the number would say "I've got somebody!" and the penalty is beaten, and they would then resume the previous activity before they were interrupted. If they fail to beat a penalty, the game ends, but they keep whatever money they won at that point, and sometimes also win additional money based on the number of correct answers.
However, while all this is going on, there is something else in the background that can also affect the final outcome of the game. The "outside event" is something that when it has occurred, the game ends and the couple loses all the money they made while playing. (For example, the couple has to pick an envelope that contains the number of round trips a model train can take until it has reached a certain number, but they won't know how many trips that train will have made until that mystery number has been attained.) In such a case, the couple may instead receive a consolation prize based on the number of correct answers they had put together.
Sound complicated? Yeah, it kind of comes across that way on the screen, too. It's obvious that Murray is trying to keep things moving along, but really, he comes across as trying to hard and just seems very hyper. Also, as events and complications keep piling up, it becomes as difficult for the viewer at home to keep up with the proceedings as for the contestant on stage. The show actually bounced around from network to network for a couple of years before finally disappearing from the airwaves. It appears that only two episodes now survive. let's take a look at one of them, shall we?

Our second game show is more along the lines of what was known in the day as a "panel game". Quick as a Flash actually began it's life as a radio show, where it was quite popular, running from 1944 to 1951. When the show finally left the radio airwaves, the producers tried bringing it to television with mixed results. The radio version of the show brought out six contestants from the studio audience. These contestants would then listen to a short skit which somehow dramatized or related to a recent event in the news or pop culture. If one of the contestants thought they knew what the event was, they could buzz in, stop the action, and take a guess. If they were correct, they would win that round. If not, then the action would go on.

For the television version, a couple of changes were made. First off, the panel consisted of two celebrities, each paired with an audience member. More importantly, the sketches now had to be fully dramatised for the television audience. Most likely, it's this dramatisation with its need for costumes and sets which caused the show's downfall. Remember, these shows were supposed to be quick and cheap to produce. Plus, more money having to be spent on the production meant less that could be given away as prizes. Whatever the reason, though, the show lasted less than a year.

What follows is the pilot, which was hosted by game show stalwart Bill Cullen. Cullen only appeared in the pilot, however, and was replaced when the show was picked up by Bobby Sherwood. Later episodes were hosted by radio's Superman, Bud Collyer. The pilot also features Boris Karloff as one of the panelists.

So, there you go, kiddies. Two game shows you've likely never seen before, but which can easily be seen as predecessors for many of the shows that would follow in their footsteps.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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