Induction #247 - Free 4 All
Cheap Stone-Stanley Show With All The Flavor Of Rice Cakes


USA (June 27th, 1994 - November 4th, 1994)

You might be asking yourself, "A text induction? Why isn't this uploaded on YouTube in video form?" Well, that's a good question. Mainly it's a mixture of a few things. One of those things is that I have a personal rule where if I put more effort into my 2012 class project at Evergreen than the actual induction, then it will become a text induction. This is such a time. With that being said, let us begin this throwback style induction. 

Some of the inductions you have seen this past year have been from the Family Channel, but we need to talk about USA for this induction. In 1994, USA decided to make their first new game shows since their reboot of Chain Reaction was cancelled in 1991.To do this they paired up with the fine folks at Stone-Stanley and they made two game shows to air in June of 1994. The shows are….a mixed bag.

The first show that debuted was Quicksilver. Hosted and announced by Ron Maestri, three contestants answer a bunch of questions with punny answers already given to them and they have to match them up. It’s a genuinely original concept that I happen to like. I will also give critics that this show is quite cheap. While the prize budget is ok, the set is little more than three buzzer podiums, a monitor and a lighted background. I will also give critics and the late Jim Williams this as well…Ron Maestri is an unlikeable prat. People may have said that Pat Finn came off as robotic on the 1990 version of The Joker’s Wild, well Ron Maestri was a complete robot and sounded like it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Quicksilver will be up for induction in the next Viewers Choice Poll which will take place in May alongside four other worthy contenders. It’s sister show though will not get the same consideration as it’s even worse. Yet, it’s also got the much better host. It’s amazing how this works in game shows. Anyways, I give you Free 4 All.

Free 4 All was the other Stone-Stanley game show that debuted on USA with Quicksilver on June 27th, 1994. In this show, contestants answer questions in a college bowl style in order to win prizes and a few bucks. It doesn’t sound like that bad of a show….for 1954. In 1994, it paled in comparison to its counterpart in Quicksilver. Quicksilver at least had a hook to its show with its somewhat inventive format. Free 4 All had for it’s hook….nothing. If I repeat myself a lot during this induction it’s because the format and the set is as bare bones as you can get. Just a heads up.

After serving as the sidekick/announcer to Pat Finn on Shop Til you Drop, Mark L. Walberg got the call to host and announce this show. Yes that’s right, it’s the same thing that Small Talk did with Wil Shriner. The only difference is that Mark is a pretty good announcer and also a pretty good host, so he can get away with it. But that’s where the positive things about the show end as everything else goes against the show.

The set for starters is really small. It’s like the majority of the show is in a wide shot, to deceive the viewer in making it look bigger than it is. This is a real switch because most shows are actually smaller than they appear on screen. The set for Free 4 All also is rather cheap too. It’s two podiums a bunch of wacky cutout designs as the backdrop and that’s it. I’m of the mind that both Free 4 All and Quicksilver were shot on the same stage at Hollywood Center Studios but because they are both so small in appearance, they could fit on different ends of the studio. It's one way to cut down on costs, but at least make the set look like it costs a bit more than Ms. McGrady's 4th Grade Class Play set.

The actual format for the show is a whole other kettle of fish. Two teams of three compete in this battle of knowledge. The first round has Mark give a toss-up question the likes you’d see from the Shopper’s Challenge Round from Shop Til You Drop. The first person to buzz in with the right answer earns 25 points and a pick from one of four categories. Answering the question correctly in that category earns another 25 points. Answering it wrong gives the other team a shot at the question. This goes on until time runs out. It’s straight-forward, but overall boring and not very exciting. These types of quizzers went out in the 60s when shows had more of a variance to them to get them to sell. Just having someone answer questions is not enough. Look at Quicksilver as an example. The gimmick for that show is that they are given the answers and the questions and have to bring it all together, even if it is repetitive like Free 4 All, but you're left with something. Sure if you're not into puns, you'd be left in the cold, but at least it's something.

The second round is played with the trailing team picking the first category of the round. Mark asks a question and the first person that buzzes in with the right answer wins 50 points and picks the next category. If wrong, then the other team gets to answer the question. This goes on until time runs out for the round. Round three is the speed round where one category is given and all of the answers fit in said category with each right answer being worth 75 points. Team with the most points wins the game and a trio of prizes that total around $750 or so. It's still the same slog that the first two rounds are. Not even the speed round is interesting. If you can't make a speed round interesting, then you know you've failed.

The bonus round has the winning team play against the category board. On the board are 10 categories and one by one the champs pick a category and answer a question on it. A correct answer lights up the category and earns the team $100. An incorrect answer blanks it out. The next person in line picks a different category and it just repeats until 60 seconds run out. After the 60 seconds, the team sees which category is hiding the bonus. If they answered the question correctly in the category with the bonus, they win the grand prize, which varies from a trip in the Shop 'til You Drop Shoppers Special range to sometimes $1,000 in cash.  Yes, that is as cheap as it sounds. In total, the max is around $3,000-$3,500 for the team. I should also make note that all the cash is split between the three players. So that $1,000 amounts to $333.33 cents per person or $33.33 per correct answer in the bonus game. This is bottom of the barrel, even for cable standards. Wink's Interactive Games on Family Channel had a bigger budget, and those games were just as exciting as Free 4 All.

Free 4 All is the nothingburger of game shows, in my eyes. Nothing about it makes it stand out from the crowd at all, there is no hook to it, the set is so barren and cheap that it felt like it was from a cable access show, the format is lifeless and dull, the prizes are dirt cheap and it just makes it feel rushed to air without a cohesive format being put together. It's no wonder that the show was cancelled after 95 episodes. It's this type of blistering mediocrity that makes me appreciative of bad game shows that at least try something different but fail. At least they have something that makes you remember them. Free 4 All doesn't and that makes it one of the worst shows that Stone Stanley ever produced.

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