History of Fremantle Part 3: The Fremantle Years (2002-2007)
Originally posted: July 26th, 2015
By James Fabiano
FAMILY FEUD (RICHARD KARN ERA) – Richard Karn is maligned unfairly, in my opinion, for what he would become by the end of his run on Feud. When in truth, his era of the show was where it started to change back into something resembling its classic form. The set update can be seen almost like it was morphing between the ’99 version and something traditional, as it was redone with blues and browns, and the family name screens got bigger. They even used a remix of the classic theme (and unlike today’s Feud, they had a separate faceoff cue even!). More importantly, Karn’s second season brought back the 300-point goal and a double point round between the first two single rounds and the final triple round. Not to mention, returning champions. At the time, it was a breath of fresh air. So what happened? First, Karn fell into the same trap of being a bit too routine (you knew he’d call the first round’s win “drawing first blood” every time) and trying too hard to be funny (best seen in his attempt to go to commercial making some crack based on the previous survey). Second, the crowd was put on uppers and encouraged to cheer any mention of the prize money, as well as what this era is “best” known for, mentions of the point values being doubled/tripled. Richard hamming this part up did not help matters. Other than that, it was still the Feud for the most part, and as I said, a lot of the changes really helped the atmosphere and the game. We’ll go 0.75 good, 0.25 bad.
WHAMMY! – The return of cult favorite Press Your Luck joined the GSN schedule in 2002, as part of one of Rich Cronin’s early pushes to use new or dormant material on the network (this one included an influx of other originals such as Friend or Foe?, and a package of episodes from the original Hollywood Squares). Despite getting a pilot, Peter Tomarken was passed on returning to PYL in favor of Todd Newton, previously of then-PAX’s Hollywood Showdown, which was seen on GSN as well. The big board and Whammy animations had updated technology…yet surrounded with leftover pieces of Card Sharks ‘01’s set. And oddly enough, Whammy! did what that show attempted to do; that is, make what everyone liked/remembered the best from the original show more the star of the new one. Or can’t you tell by the new name? Anyway, what I mean is that the Q&A portions were downplayed to put the Big Board and the Whammies in the limelight. One question round was deleted in place of a variant on the BB where contestants played with unlimited spins until they froze or Whammied. There were other tweaks put in place on the show, some good, some not so good. These include the Double Whammies, “interactive” Whammy animations that ended up in a Nickelodeon-style mess; the Big Bank of the second season, where a correct answer on one question could earn you everything the Whammy took from contestants; and chances at earning a car by collecting a key in Wheel of Fortune fashion.
Now it wasn’t a total disgrace of a revival, and in fact had some good ideas and moments. The “playing chicken” first round wasn’t the worst way to modify the format, and the Big Bank was even more creative. Though what the pilot did, giving the contestants a number of free spins and playing traditional Press Your Luck, may have been a bit better. Todd was decent as host, which is no surprise as he is one who is a host first and foremost, a dying breed in the “let’s hire a former sitcom star or standup comedian” world we live in now. But I don’t know…something always seemed a little off. Since it was a cable show, after all, the budget would not be anything like the original series; as a result, you’d see more Whammies on the board, less money, and unimpressive prizes. So the game had less urgency. As for the Whammies themselves, the cartoon shorts were all right…but was anyone else bothered by the fact that the Whammy barely did any slapstick/got destroyed in the end? And I can see how people would consider Double Whammies unnecessary too. Still, it wasn’t a waste of a show like past revivals, and always had the potential to get better. 0.75 good, 0.25 bad.
GAMESHOW MARATHON – Now was Fremantle’s chance to right a lot of wrongs from its past, if only for one shot. They imported a UK idea of having a weekly tournament of classic game shows, which in our version included: The Price is Right, Let’s Make A Deal (its first appearance under Fremantle ownership), Beat the Clock, Match Game, Card Sharks, Press Your Luck, and the finals played on Family Feud. All of the players were celebrities, and would play for charity as well as prizes for home viewers. The shows were pretty much all retro yet updated, borrowing or downright copying the classic sets and theme songs, but upping the ante along with some minor rule tweaks here and there. For instance, the PYL episode was what Whammy! could have been, in my opinion. ($10,000 and a spin being the top dollar value in round two) And while Card Sharks was based on the Perry version visually, its Money Cards was inspired by the Eubanks/Rafferty rules, along with a car game played on a survey question, not unlike Eubanks car game #2.
Sounds pretty good so far, right? Well hold your horses, and hide your weird, kinky secrets or surprise relatives, cause here comes Ricki Lake. Yes, the big hiccup in the format was hiring Lake, who oddly enough was part of the talk show movement that ran game shows out of fashion in the ‘90s. She…wasn’t very good. And to rub salt in the wound, Todd Newton was part of the presentation…as the delivery man for the home players’ prizes. Never mind that like I said, he is one of the few dedicated hosts right now. And furthermore, he had experience with more than one of the formats, both on TV and on stage. The celebrities were B-or-under, but I’ve come to expect that nowadays…this isn’t the 60s or 70s, when stars didn’t think they were too good to be on a game show. Other than that, the formats were done right for the most part, but let us not even get into the confusing way they tried for a half-sized TPIR, and how they hit a major hiccup in the Big Wheel. Say it with me… 0.75 good, 0.25 bad.
FAMILY FEUD (JOHN O’HURLEY ERA) – Here is where the current version of Feud finally hit its stride, with its first real all-around capable host and a flair for the retro, as the set was redesigned to look like an updated version of the classic. The game was consistent as always, though some would bring up John’s version going out with a whimper known as the Bullseye format. But even that didn’t feel as cumbersome as the Ray Combs version, though still rushed. Déjà vu time again…0.75 good, 0.25 bad.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT (POST-BARKER) – And what a roller coaster ride this was and to a degree continues to be. Bob Barker had retired at the end of the 35th season of the show, and CBS chose comedian Drew Carey as his replacement, based on his hosting duties of their prime time game, “Power of 10.” These last almost 8 years have included some new games, set changes and updates at last, changes in announcers, but more than that, regular attempts to run a lot of things up a flagpole and see what people salute. Some have worked (certain themed episodes, set updates), others not so much (the “Drewcases”, other themed episodes like Plinko Day…). Drew is not quite as spontaneous as Bob was, but still is competent and more often entertaining than not. The show still has its basic premise and format down, which is a very good thing of course. This dollar will be made up of (you guessed it) 0.75 good, 0.25 bad.
TEMPTATION – The other infamous flop in the history of A-A/Pearson/Fremantle. Though not as in-name-only as Card Sharks was 6 years earlier, this attempt at reviving $ale of the Century was almost as much of a major disappointment. First there was lazy host casting (hey, Rossi Moreale was on “Temptation Island!” He’s a perfect fit!). Then sexist contestant casting ($OTC had shopping elements, and only girls and gay men like to shop!). Watered down material (instead of general knowledge questions, they were almost all pop culture). Just answering questions is “boring,” so let’s rip off at least two other formats and make all straight questioning speed rounds. (to be fair, they may have had to keep the show moving due to ad time, hence the timed/quick rounds) Stupid catchphrases like “Temptation Dollars” and “Lots of Love.” Oh and no lot wins! Fact is, when you earned the Temptation price (now I am doing it too…) for the most expensive prize, you could buy that and ONLY that, or something else. Watered-down, dumb, sexist…oh, did I mention that the show itself was a big vehicle for an online home-shopping service? After this, only time I saw Rossi working was on a Progressive commercial, and even he wasn’t good enough to hang with Flo for long. (but she DOES have a regular sidekick named “Jamie,” just saying…) 1 bad point.
Join us next week as James wraps up the History of Fremantle!
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