September 1998
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Canadian Content Part III: The Game Shows


By John Hansen

Canadian television excels at two things: producing some truly surreal game shows and exporting game show hosts. We're a country that has only recently acquired a third network and for many years, if you didn't have cable beaming American TV into your home, you were stuck with two channels: CBC and CTV. Both networks, knowing the popularity of game shows both as a means to draw viewers as well as provide additional publicity for sponsors, attempted to recreate the success of our U.S. counterparts to mostly disasterous results. Here then, is a grand history of the Canadian game show presented in convenient, easy-to-read highlight form:

Definition: In the 1970's, Jim Perry hosted this early prototype of "Wheel of Fortune," only without the wheel. What it did feature were bored housewives from Hamilton, Ontario who were teamed with Canadian film and television celebrities to solve a puzzle. The celebrities, of course, weren't too huge. You might get Martin Short, if you were lucky. The grand prizes awarded on the show were a Schaeffer pen set and a vacuum cleaner. What most people remember about the show was its jazzy little theme, which was actually composed by Quincy Jones in the 1960's. The theme was heard in later years as a sample on the Canuck rap group Dream Warriors' hit single "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style." It was also heard over the titles in the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, which may explain why it was a bigger hit in Canada than in the U.S. Jim Perry, meanwhile, went on to the states to host "Sale of the Century," in which a contestant broke a record by winning more cash and prizes than anyone else in game show history.

This is the Law: Contestants match minds against each other to see who can remember the most obscure local bi-laws. If you know how high you can legally put up a fence in Regina, you can win a Schaeffer pen set.

Just Like Mom: Moms are asked a series of questions determined to see which Mother-Child duo has had the most thoroughly functional family relationships. The children are then asked to make chocolate chip cookies but are given completely inappropriate ingredients such as tabasco sauce, sour cream and curry. The moms are then blindfolded and are forced to guess which inedible cookies were made by their children. The winners are then taken to the big wheel of prizes where they can win anything from a pair a bicycles to a trip to Epcot. Not surprisingly, the wheel usually landed on the bikes.

Reach for the Top: High schools are pitted against each other to win scholarships. The questions made "Jeopardy" look like a cake walk. The show's host, Alex Trebek, went on to host the aforementioned "Jeopardy."

Front Page Challenge: The granddaddy of all Canadian game shows, the program ran for over 35 years on the CBC. A panel of newspaper columnists and other moderately known celebs are to guess the identity of that week's news maker. If they fail, the guest wins cash. Past mystery newsmakers have included Malcolm X, who stumped the panel, Pierre Trudeau, Vanessa Redgrave, and of course, the young actors from Degrassi Junior High. The show was cancelled in 1995 bringing cries of outrage from the aged and shrugs from anyone under the age of sixty.

It was with the cancellation of the show that more and more game shows disappeared from our screens. Today, only one game show remains: "Time Chase" on History Television. Of course, I watch it religiously.

Mr. Hansen forgot to mention that Monty Hall, host of "Let's Make a Deal," is Canadian.

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