History of Fremantle Part 1: The All-American Years
Originally posted: July 10th, 2015
By James Fabiano
June 1st, 2015 was a major day in the game show world, as Fremantle’s Buzzr network made its debut. Not unlike subchannels such as Antenna TV, Cozi TV, and MeTV, Buzzr is available in certain local markets, and features reruns of game shows from the Fremantle library…particularly from the Goodson/Todman archives. This is super news for fans who have been disappointed in GSN’s shoving a token block of classics into the corner in the morning. Buzzr’s coming, as well as Fremantle embracing online media sources like YouTube, has earned the company a great deal of respect. But it wasn’t always this way.
Flash back to a bit over two decades earlier. Mark Goodson Productions was purchased by All-American Television, which was absorbed by Pearson Television, which in turn would be absorbed into FremantleMedia. Under the penultimate company, revivals of several Goodson properties would begin in the late ‘90s, with the 1998 version of Match Game being the first to make air. It was also the first show to fall under heavy scrutiny at the time from the Internet game show community for its faults and failure to live up to Gene Rayburn’s (or even Ross Shafer’s!) version. Subsequent shows to find new life under Pearson/Fremantle included Family Feud, To Tell the Truth, Card Sharks and Sale of the Century, all of which had varying success and merit, and plenty of nits for fans to pick either way. As a result, for a time Pearson and Fremantle became infamous for screwing up classic formats, and would be referred to as “DismantleMedia” or “Pierce and Dismantle” (when the purchase of Pearson was happening), among other mocking nicknames.
Nowadays, Fremantle isn’t quite seen as the failures people saw them as in the ‘90s and 2000s. Despite an occasional hiccup or two, it has kept The Price is Right fairly quality amidst a change of host and more. Also, Feud has enjoyed its highest ratings in this incarnation, and they produced a minor daytime game show revival on CBS by bringing back Let’s Make a Deal. And now we have an alternative for classic game show fans.
That all said, the question is, looking back…what DID Fremantle get wrong? And what wasn’t that bad? Did they deserve their vilification back in the day, or not? This is what I look to analyze here.
(As a quick sidenote, I never really watched the following: 100%, GSN I’ve Got A Secret, PAX Beat the Clock, nor Celebrity Family Feud with Al Roker. So I will not be counting them. Feel free to add your opinions about them if you’d like, as well as anything I may have forgotten.)
Not the “critical” era(s) per se, but I feel it sets the tone. This would include All-American’s syndication of Family Feud, the end of Ray Combs’ run and the Richard Dawson comeback. There’s also a revival of the syndicated/nighttime Price is Right, starring Doug Davidson, to consider, as well as All-American’s unsold pilots to Match Game and Card Sharks.
Basically, Combs Feud ended with the Bullseye era, which is considered a shark jump that rushed the show, not unlike $400+ to win in the end of the original Dawson run. The classic look and feel were still there, however, and Ray was still trying. Then came his firing in 1994 to make way for the Dawson comeback version of the show. Considering where this led to, this is a definite black eye, in my opinion. However, I, like others, have mellowed out on Dawson Comeback Feud. There were changes that were very jarring at the time, such as the CGI board, the “darker” version of the set (I feel they got what they were going for here right with the O’Hurley/Harvey versions), and scaling back to the show when it comes to payoffs and the size of the families, which dropped from 5 to 4 members. Plus the Bullseye (now Bankroll) format was still in place. But it wasn’t that bad. Richard was not in his prime, but he himself mellowed out after becoming a family man and was more like the host of the earlier years of Feud, albeit a kinder and gentler version. So I can see why it was/is considered a black sheep of the Feud family, but can still be entertained by it. Let’s say 0.5 point for Good, 0.5 for Bad.
As for The New Price is Right, you can repeat a lot of my comments about Dawson Comeback…different host, not-as-colorful set, and moreso here, the change in format. Now, the half hour consisted of nothing but pricing games, until you got to their version of the Showcase Showdown, a Contestants’ Row auction on retro items called “The Price WAS Right” (after running out of classic commercials to use, they went back to the Big Wheel from the daytime show). The Showcase here was one player and was a souped-up version of the Range Game. Video walls and CGI displays started to appear often, whereas the daytime PIR remained “traditional.” The show didn’t last long and was even buried on the daytime show by Bob Barker, on more than one occasion.
That said, when you get by the cosmetic changes, which were different and not terrible, TNPIR was not a bad show either. Robert Seidelman has a video also explaining how it had its ups and downs. You still saw your favorite games, mostly played the same way. Doug Davidson and Burton Richardson were a decent combination of host and announcer, and in fact some people wonder “what if?” as far as Davidson getting the post-Barker daytime job in 2007 (I believe he had an audition). You could say they bucked tradition by de-emphasizing the one-bids, a part of the show back to the original Bill Cullen version, to the point of not existing on some episodes. Which is a minus. But I think that may have been the result of trying to have a Showcase Showdown in there instead of what the other syndie PIRs and the original 30-minute CBS version did (one-bid/pricing game, repeat thrice, two highest total winners go to the Showcase). I’d actually go 0.75 Good, 0.25 Bad.
Now we have stormy seas ahead, as I must mention the pilots All-American did in the mid ‘90s. Here is where you can tell something was up. As you’ll see in a bit, many game show fans detest what was “done” to Match Game and Card Sharks a couple years later. But what we could have had was just as bad, if not WORSE. Shortly after Dawson Comeback Feud and TNPIR went off the air, in 1996 All-American had pilots shot of these two shows, and both would display many of the faults that did make it to air years later…and then some. For starters, there was Card Sharks with ESPN’s Tom Green. Most of the tropes to be seen in the 2001 series were in place from this point : one set of cards for both players? Check. Video clips to predict? Check. Oh yeah, about those clips. While the “Clip Chip” concept did not make it into the main game this time around, the ENTIRE Money Cards format was eliminated in the bonus game in favor of a game where contestants had to predict a celebrity’s answer to a question to earn choices in another set of cards, hoping to find the $5,000 Ace of Spades. Kind of like mixing the Clip Chips with the first car game in Eubanks/Rafferty CS. Speaking of which, survey questions were all now the “audience poll” style groups of ten questions from the 1986-89 series, apparently. Just like a later entry in this article, it appeared as if All-American mixed elements of the Card Sharks of the past and randomly threw ones out on their stage, while looking into the future and tossing in some from the version that would be seen 5 years later. If nothing else, at least it was a speck closer to the classic.
But that couldn’t top Match Game with host…Charlene Tilton. CHARLENE TILTON. WHY?!!!?! This is taking what I think was part of the logic behind having Jon Bauman as the co-host of the Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour, and turning it down to the negative elevens. That is, I believe Bauman was chosen partially because appeared semi-often on the Rayburn version and thus could host Squares while being a competent MG panelist. Which is all well and good, and while I will go down as one of the biggest Jon Bauman and MG/HS defenders in the world, it still was an unconventional choice; moreso since Peter Marshall was RIGHT THERE and just had his show on the same network in the same timeslot cancelled. AND he made numerous appearances on Gene’s MG. But that’s another story for another day, right?
Regardless, CHARLENE TILTON?!!? At least Bauman could be entertaining at times as “Bowzer” on MG, and as himself on MG/HS. Tilton was the Seat #4 girl; a soap star or model who was not on the panel for being a comedienne. If a former panelist was what they wanted, call Charles Nelson Reilly, Bill Daily, McLean Stevenson, Richard Dawson again, Betty White, Fannie Flagg, Joyce Bulifant…there’s HUNDREDS OF NAMES I’d think of before Charlene Tilton! And on top of that, you had a series of unneeded changes, such as having the stars give their answers and THEN the contestant gives theirs. The Super Match here was reformatted to have the Audience Match come second, following what can be described as a ripoff of Hollywood Connection, Barry & Enright’s Match Game ripoff, of all things. 2 bad points, easily, for both pilots.
So we start off 1.25 good, 2.75 bad. Actually, if you only count what made it to air, the race is a bit closer and in the company’s favor. But those pilots are bad enough to include as a cautionary tale as to what’s to come.
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