ALL IN THE GAME
Review: The Ultimate Fan Search
For years, I've always wondered why some producer didn't create a purely TV trivia game show (or, better yet, why I never had the guts to pursue So You Think You Know TV?, the show Richard Warner and I did two pilots for at the University of Georgia in the '70s).
From this vantage point, TV Land's Ultimate Fan Search was a good stab and has possibilities---but Sunday night's first effort needed some adjustments.
Chuck Woolery was a fine selection as emcee, particularly considering his quarter-century on the TV landscape as one of the few hosts to ever preside over three long-running games in a career. Yet, even with Chuck's best efforts, a lot of this show had the feeling of "rushed."
The contestants had plenty of contrast. Malcolm Bondon, the eventual champion, was out for blood. Brenda O'Donnell from California was just happy to be there. David Krell, the newsman from New Jersey, was the intense, focused one, who didn't smile and had himself wound tighter than a banjo string.
Yet, while home viewers had a fair chance of playing along, the producers have to find a way around the early buzzer ring-ins. Five of the first nine queries alone had such quick ring-ins, Chuck never could finish the questions. Malcolm and David, in particular, were trying too hard to outpsyche each other by anticipating the questions---and while they were predominantly correct, by the time Chuck finally told the audience the question over the applause, the exchange was almost anti-climactic for the home viewer.
An early-game bonus round, Retromercial Rock, had some potential as Brenda was asked to match five classic advertising slogans with their respective products. Only problem: the board had a cheap look to it and Chuck had to hand Brenda the cards one-by-one.
The middle round has good possibilities. A clip from All in the Family was used to frame a category of questions. TV Land has to liberally use video from its library of classic shows to breathe life into a TV trivia game.
The last two rounds were the most problematic for me. I love Barbara Eden. She was a guest of mine on a talk show in Wilmington, N.C., in 1986. Lovely person. Barbara was a great choice as the first celebrity on Fan Search. The concept of the celebrity round in which Barbara played against Malcolm and David to see who knew the most about Barbara's career may have looked good on paper but actually turned out to be a distraction. For one thing, the focus of the game (which supposed to be a one-on-one battle between Malcolm and David after Brenda was eliminated) shifted to Barbara. The cameras stayed on Barbara during the entire round of questioning, even when the primary contestants were answering. The viewer lost the intensity of the main contest. A better suggestion: let the guest celebrity join Chuck at his desk and ask the questions about his or her own career. You still give the celeb the exposure and keep the focus on the main contest.
Make no mistake, I love rapid-fire final rounds to decide champions, in most instances. I never liked Golden Medley Showdown on The $100,000 Name That Tune because it allowed one contestant to potentially run away with the game and immensely lacked the suspense of pitting one player in the isolation booth against one song for $100k. On the other hand, I still think the old Countdown Round on Tom Kennedy's Split Second was as good as it gets when it comes to end-game tension, particularly with the masterful way Tom would build the drama.
What failed on Ultimate Fan Search was the point values were far too high in the 60-second finale. Thirty points for a correct answer, minus-30 for a wrong one. It all came down to a fast-buzzer talent and what was a 10-point game before the final round became a 220-point runaway. A potential 60-point swing on one question is far too broad a differential. Plus, by the time Malcolm had rolled up five in a row, thirty seconds into the round, David was totally demoralized and the suspense of the finish was long gone. If you lose the tension that early in a finale, you lose all but the winner's family.
A few other ideas: some of the shoot-from-the-floor camera angles when the model was waving at the prizes need to go. Also, I know TVLand is owned by Viacom, which owns MTV. But lose the MTV-style camerawork during the Retromercial round. One cannot even follow the player's answer as dizzying as the camera moves. Someone needs to tell MTV-trained producers merit does exist in occasionally keeping a camera still.
I hope TV Land will go to a series with Ultimate Fan Search because the concept has a tremendous potential with a virtually-unlimited supply of material. However, I hope the producers with fine-tune the product and develop a more cohesive game with more excitement in the end-game scoring system. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. They've only had one shot.
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