#151 - Off The Wall
The show should have never left the wall it was contrived on.
Disney Channel (1998)
Text by: Robert Seidelman
The twilight of the 1990s for game shows was a weird one. In Syndication, the last two years were nothing more than revivals of shows. Hollywood Squares in 1998 would last 6 years and Family Feud is going into year 15 in September. In cable, you had kids game shows making a resurgence. Nickelodeon had Figure It Out which would enjoy a nice 4 year run and You're On which would be one of the worst shows ever featured on the site and a revival of Double Dare starting in the new year. Disney saw the potential of game shows again and came up with two of them in September of 1998. The best one of the two was Mad Libs. I credit both Dick Clark and JD Roth for coming up with a show that combined a pretty damned good fad and clever stunts to go along with it. Not only that, the bonus game was really well done too, save for when Rip It was part of the equation. The other one of the two would be one of the more mind-numbingly boring shows out there with no rhyme or reason as to why it would exist. Let's take a look at Off The Wall.
Larry Zeno would be the host for this show. The first thing that truly stands out about him is his hair. To be perfectly honest, only three people in the world can pull off that hairstyle. One of them is writing this article right now, another is the star of Beakman's World and the third was one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. Larry Zeno isn't a genius scientist, a star of a scientific show that was competing against Bill Nye and someone who never liked any science class he was in. We get to his hosting and it's a conundrum. He has a good grip on the game and interacts well with the contestants. However, it is his mannerisms that get me. He just looks like he wandered onto the set one day and started acting like the host.
The format is simplistic enough, albeit not exciting in the slightest. Two teams of three face off against one another in a battle of competitions against each other and pretaped competitors from Disneyland. The first two rounds involve one person from each team picking a person from the video wall of 9 possible players...Oh wait. That's why the show is called Off The Wall. Competing against people off of the video wall in stunts that are supposed to be crazy and loony. Dear god, is that a stretch to come up with a name for a show. But at least it's a much better stretch than Contraption was for the network years ago.
But back to the gameplay. Rounds 1 and 2 have a team representative pick a competitor from the video wall and compete in the same stunt that the video wall person did prior to the show. The object for the contestant is to BEAT the video wall challenger. If they do, they earn 100 points in round one and 200 points in round two. Also on the wall is a secret Double Trouble contestant where if it's selected, the amount of points are doubled. So round 2 could be worth 400 points. One of the nitpicks I have is the fact that they have to BEAT their opponent. On all kids game shows before this, such as Fun House and Think Fast, if there was a tie, both teams got the money/points. In this case, the contestant should have either gotten the 100 points or at least 50 for tying. This has happened so many times during the shows run that watching a tie was just groan-inducing.
Talking about the stunts themselves, they are just mediocre and just a small step above ones that you'd see on Minute To Win It in expense. These are often introduced twice. Once being hinted at by the interviewer of the Disneyland contestant and the other in an over the top way and complicated saying by Larry where they do an extreme close-up of his face. It's not only freaky, it's also annoying and gives us another "How Not To Produce A Game Show" example in Example #27: When you have a stunt or round in the show, DO NOT overcomplicate the title of said stunt or round. The executions of the stunt are ok, I guess. The problem I have with the executions of the stunt is that I'd like to see how the Video Wall contestant is doing without the hassle of the video wall and it's bad quality when being shot at with the studio cameras. How hard is it to do a simple split screen? Hell, I'd even take switching between camera and the footage aside from what they did here. This is just lazy studio production at its worst.
The final round is the Head To Head Challenge where the final two contestants from each team compete against one video challenger. The stunt plays like all the others but the points are different. If you beat your opponent, you get 250 points. If you beat the video challenger, you get 300 points for a possible total of 550 points to be won. This brings us to "How Not To Produce A Game Show" Example #33: DO NOT make the last round make all previous rounds completely pointless. Here's the worst case scenario for this show. The Gold team is blanked and the Blue team wins both challenges with Double Trouble in round 2 for 500 points. Then the final round and the Gold Team's third player beats the Blue Teams player and the video wall for the maximum 550, and the gold team player blanks, making the gold team the winners for doing nothing for two rounds. Yeah, other golden examples of this are Go For It! and to a lesser extent Fun House. Many would claim Shop Til You Drop would fit here, but if you win a stunt, you get a prize as well, so if you do lose at the end, you got some good stuff and the game was still worthwhile, especially if you get that mini-vacation. Here, the losing team gets tickets to Disneyland. The winning team faces off against a contestant picked out of the audience in the Ultimate Showdown, sadly not of Ultimate Destiny.
The ultimate showdown, unfortunately not with good guys, bad guys and explosions, is played like every single round prior. The entire team must compete against the audience player who's backstage and shown via the video wall in one final challenge. If they can beat the audience contestant, they get the grand prize. If they can't, the audience member gets the grand prize. This to me is a copout of a grand prize round because of one simple thing...The challenges aren't harder than before, bringing up "How Not To Produce A Game Show" Example #11: Make the Bonus Game Challenging. Actually, it's easier than the challenges beforehand. The bonus round should have some form of challenge, but this doesn't at all. It's like the producers don't care.
That leads up to my ultimate problem with the show. At the end of the day, it's nothing more than a cash-in of a show. Not just a cash-in of a game show, but all TV shows. I should have known this coming in since the producer of the show is Vin Di Bona. The same guy who hasn't had an original idea in his body since 1990 when America's Funniest Home Videos hit the air. His first production was Animal Crack-Ups. Which was a good show, despite having such a limited scope. Then America's Funniest Home Videos hit, and giving him the distinction of not giving a damn anymore. Think about it, the sister show of this, America's Funniest People was the same damned show, just with another Full House castmember and either a female comedienne (Arlene Sorkin) or a model who's trying to cling on to her 15 minutes of fame after her first show got cancelled (Tawny Kitean). So, the show is cheap, the production is barely above College-level, the stunts are unmemorable and bland, and the show is a cash-in to get on the air with Mad Libs. The only good thing about this show is Larry Zeno, and in some episodes he delves into bad territory. That's basically all I have to say about this show.
This brings us to the last ever Kids Month induction I have to do for this site. Trust me when I say I saved the worst for last. While every single show had some redeeming qualities, I bring you a show that doesn't have any redeeming qualities at all. This show is worthy of all the scorn it deserves, from being super cheap to even enforcing the most negative stereotypes that plague our nations fabric.
In Two weeks, Thousand Dollar Bee.
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