Film and TV

Top Five: Game Shows In Need of Resurrection

Pick a number. Now another number. You sure about that? Only two numbers left--choose wisely. Ugh, somebody, please ease us back off the edge of our seats.

What passes for American game shows nowadays is pretty pathetic. But there were times in the not-too-distant past when game shows were original, inspired and/or didn't pander to the lowest common contestant. The following five represent such programming. Bring 'em back!

5. Scrabble (1984-1990)

This glorification of the wordsmith's favorite board game, with its lame double-entendres, wasn't terribly noteworthy. It did, however, have one thing going for it--sound. The faint, delightful clunking sound made by contestants when they entered tiles into their podiums was a pleasant result of pre-overblown-technology-television game shows. The sounds of Chuck Woolery's voice and hosting abilities were worth triple points when compared to the many painful-to-watch hosts of late.

4. Street Smarts (2000-2005)

Feeling less-than-brilliant? To feel better, you could simply walk down the street and eavesdrop on any number of ordinary conversations in public. But why leave your air-conditioned confines when you could just as easily turn on Street Smarts. The concept was simple, but at the same time, kinda effed-up: Decide which video-recorded "street savant" will and will not know the answers to 6th grade-pop quiz questions, while basing your choices merely on the savant's appearance and caricature. Yay for ostensible profiling! The silly-yet-entertaining syndicated show was improved by the presence of its ever-endearing host, Frank Nicotero.

3. Press Your Luck (1983-1986)

Did the word "whammy" ever exist prior to this program? The quintessential snapshot of 80s-era production value, "Press Your Luck" was all about up-close, contestant reaction and avoiding the sinister, myriad-animated Whammy. Shoulder pad and corduroy-clad contestants uttered the phrase "no Whammy" with the same vehemence as they would "no pneumonia." In 1984, the polyester-proliferated show was given a Quiz Show-style edge when it was discovered that a contestant, Michael Larson, single-handily orchestrated a pattern-memorization scheme to win over $110,000 in one day. Adjusted for inflation, this would be roughly $230,000. That's like 12 questions on "Millionaire"!

2. Beat the Geeks (2001-2002)

Name all six National Lampoon films. Which one did not star Chevy Chase? As the title so lewdly suggested (though inadvertently, I'm sure), this program was a veritable wet dream for eggheads everywhere. Challenging a panel of hair-neglected aficionados of film, music and TV, as well as specializing guest-geeks, competitors were awarded for their knowledge of pop-culture minutae. However, the obscurity-obsessed home viewers were the ones who felt like the real winners while blurting out esoteric answers and matching wits with the guru pantheon. Today, Netflix, and Pandora have helped spawn legions of MENSA-level geeks. The Arrested Development geek. The YouTube geek. Perhaps even the Twilight geek (shudder).

1. Win Ben Stein's Money (1997-2003)

"Famous Chinese Rappers Other Than the Notorious MSG." The copiously clever categories featured on Comedy Central's general-knowledge gem was just one of many reasons to watch. Even if you railed against Ben Stein's republican rhetoric and ruminations, he was delectable as the aridly enunciating, seemingly omniscient co-host. Furthermore, when could you ever assemble the words "enjoyable", "Jimmy Kimmel" and "Emmy-award-winning" into a sentence based in reality and sanity. When the show graduated the broadcast classroom in 2003, viewers were left to ponder, "Stein? Stein?"

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Anthony Nguyen
Contact: Anthony Nguyen