History of Fremantle Part 2: The Pearson Years
Originally posted: July 19th, 2015
By James Fabiano
Now, we get into the “Pearson/Fremantle Era,” proper…
PEARSON TELEVISION ERA
MATCH GAME ’98 – Ah yes, after tweaking the Tilton pilot, Match Game did make it back to air in 1998, hosted by Michael Burger, a step up in the emcee department. Nonetheless, this is when many of us realized that the magic created by Gene, Charles, Brett, Richard, and others was truly one of a kind. For purists, the sight of a panel of five celebrities, which carried over from 1996, was jarring. Not helping matters was that there was just ONE real revolving seat. The rest were regulars Vicki Lawrence, George Hamilton, Nell Carter, and wait for it…thunder and lightning looming ahead…Judy Tenuta. Show was basically the same format : match as many of the weirdos as you can, the one who does that most often goes to the Super Match to face a survey audience match, then the head-to-head.
But it was the delivery of the format that did the show in. First, there wasn’t enough game. They only played two rounds, everybody plays, 1 point per match, double in the second round. Now, as is the case with Family Feud, I can see how producers would try to give the celebrities’ antics equal time with the actual gameplay, plus there was extra ad time to consider. Still, I saw MG98 games end in 1 ½ rounds, which happened on the CBS series, but at least that wasn’t self-contained like this was. The MGPM format of three rounds, matches take stars out of play, would have been just fine here. Speaking of the CBS series…we were back to the 1973-78 Super Match format, no Star Wheel, top prize of $5,000. It felt like a de-evolution. Now the questions themselves…this was part of why MG98 isn’t remembered fondly. Did you like the Rayburn questions that were about political events, or that goaded players into saying, say, “boobs”? Then you’ll love the ’98 questions, which seemed to fall in two categories: being about the Clinton scandal, or “Please, please, please write ‘penis’ in this BLANK” type questions. It’s the criticism Steve Harvey Family Feud gets today, but at least that route did equal ratings for the show. The pun categories were unnecessary, but I guess Win Ben Stein’s Money did it, so why not? The stars? Like I said, the magic of the ‘70s cast was not there, the rotating seat was usually filled by a soap star or a B-lister who didn’t want to be there, and Tenuta’s schtick was grating to say the least. She was OK on Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, but not so much here. I’ll give a 0.25 good for at least trying, but 0.75 bad for the lackluster execution.
FAMILY FEUD (LOUIE ANDERSON) – Who’d have thought what is now part of the Big Three of syndicated game shows had such auspicious beginnings? Seriously, the current version of Feud is like TNA: it just wouldn’t go away despite not lighting the world on fire. Except Feud finally did hit pay dirt, of course. Truthfully, most of the show itself was inoffensive. OK for a watch. The set and music was updated in an acceptable fashion, and the game was still there…with one minor, yet major change that dealt a blow in that area. Three single rounds were played, then the fourth was triple the points (YAAA- no, not yet…) and played with one strike before the opposing family could steal. Only thing was, the game was no longer played to a specific point goal. Whoever was ahead won. This gave the single rounds a stigma of being warmup fodder for the real deal in the triple round. Plus, the family in the lead could throw the question if they knew there wouldn’t be enough points to get their opponents past them.
Now, a lot of people’s opinions on Feud’s new first chapter lie on the shoulders of Louie Anderson as host. In my opinion, he fluctuated between trying too hard and hardly trying. Most of his run was by the numbers, as you could pretty much predict what Louie was going to say and when, with the different questions and contestants being the only variables. And given my own acceptances of people of all shapes, sizes, and forms, I hate to say this, but…Louie just wasn’t game show host material. Especially when he raised his voice for most of the show. Not a pretty sight…or sound, as it were. Like with Judy Tenuta, a bit too much for a half hour. In general, I’d give Louie’s Feud a half point each way. It did get the show back on the air, after all. 0.5 good, 0.5 bad.
TO TELL THE TRUTH – Of Pearson’s work, TTTT is usually pointed to as the least odious of the bunch. Nothing changed with the game itself, and John O’Hurley was put at the helm, where he became the first Pearson host to really drum up support from the fandom, and for good reason; he did do a good job not really straying from the way a Truth host should be. Kitty Carlisle even made a one-shot appearance on the panel, and they used the audience vote the Bud Collyer version had near the end. BUT…there was one big turnoff, and her name was Paula Poundstone. She just REFUSED TO PLAY THE GAME PROPERLY. EVER. Her segment of questioning would usually be made up of nothing but joke questions. And if I learned anything from Adam Nedeff’s excellent Bill Cullen bio, particularly about his experiences on panel shows like Truth and I’ve Got A Secret, it’s that while it’s OK to be funny, you never, NEVER, let humor overtake playing the game well. Other than that, and besides the addition of racier topics and “tease” lines delivered by each member of the challengers, this was a pretty straight adaption of TTTT. 0.75 good, 0.25 bad.
CARD SHARKS – Oh boy. What hasn’t been said about this reimagining of the ‘70s and ‘80s classic? THIS is what’s held up when one needs one example of why people bash(ed) Pearson/Fremantle/etc. One of the most infamous, if not THE most infamous “in-name-only” example of a game show. Clip Chips! One line of cards, where you can win with just one wrong call from your opponent! WHOOSH! Money Cards is back, but that $2100 you won in the game is NOT yours to keep. And no, Pat Bullard, “I’m a nice guy” did not even come close to joining “Is that your final answer?” in 2000s game show lexicon. About the only nice things I can think of to say about this are: they mention Jim Perry in the premiere, and their charity week after 9/11. Other than that? 1 BIG bad point.
So Pearson’s score = 1.50 good to 2.50 bad. Shockingly close, right?
Grand total so far, however, is 2.75 good, 5.25 bad. Can the Fremantle era save their reputation?
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