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August 8, 2000

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Ultimate Fan Search Is Just Pure Fun

       Even with its flaws, Ultimate Fan Search is a game I purely love. For one thing, I've been a perpetual TV trivia nut (at least in the pre-'90s era). For another, I created a similar game called "So You Think You Know TV?" in my undergraduate days at the University of Georgia.
       No, I'm not about to file a lawsuit against Larry Jones or Dana Calderwood claiming they stole my idea. If a tape still existed of my version, you'd probably agree they would not have wanted to pilfer it.
       Yet, TV trivia is purely fun. You don't get into political arguments. You don't try to solve societal woes. You hopefully don't create massive domestic squabbles. About the worst you deal with is television writers or professors who call your passion for tube history a vat of useless information. Hey, I'm an academician and I can tell you more than half of the seminars we attend which are supposed to make us such brilliant scholars and better educators are deep pits of ego-driven useless information. There! I said it and it's the thing most real people in academia think, unless they're into their own microcosms, but are afraid to express.
       This year's version of the Fan Search is livelier and less complex than last year's single one-hour special. Having a three-week tournament is fresh for August, brings more topical material into the mix, and is allowing us to have a look at our most beloved stars of the past as they are today in the celebrity question spot. Plus, it's nice to see a roster of 36 players going after the top prize.
       Thankfully, Dana Calderwood scrapped that segment from last year which had two players competing at one point against a celebrity. For one thing, poor Barbara Eden---whom I had the delightful pleasure to interview live for an hour in 1986 in Wilmington, N.C.---didn't even remember a number of things about her own I Dream of Jeannie and that element detracted from the "fan" aspect of the game.
       I'm glad Chuck Woolery is back hosting the game. Even if, at times, Chuck appears to have needed more question rehearsal and has stumbled over some of the Lightning Round elements, Woolery represents continuity to the show. Plus, as one whose TV career legitimately began in 1974 on Your Hit Parade, he also represents a mark of TV history in being the launching pad for Wheel of Fortune. The biggest strength Chuck brings to the table here is the ability to translate a good time. He manages to keep the atmosphere light. Nobody's going for $1 million here (even though a new Volkswagen is not chicken feed) and those 32-inch Zenith surround sound color TVs certainly beat Turtle Wax as lovely parting gifts. Chuck doesn't have to treat Fan Search as the last event before Armageddon---and doesn't.
       I loved seeing my kids' expression when the Randolph Mantooth of today popped up to ask a question about the Johnny Gage of Emergency, which has been one of TV Land's most successful revivals. Of course, their Dad enjoys any time his old childhood alter ego, Jerry Mathers, appears (by the way, isn't George on Big Brother looking like The Beav before Jerry lost all of that weight on Jenny Craig?).
       I do think Jones, John Williams and Calderwood---who is going to supervise The History Channel's upcoming History I.Q.---have hit on a winning formula here which ought to be on once a week on TV Land and still culminate in a late summer tournament. One way to expand on the format would be to have a weekly showdown where the questions were themed around one specific show, Andy Griffith one week, I Love Lucy the next, Beaver the next, and use even more of the living celebrities from these shows as guest questioners. I'd go at it 36 weeks on Sunday nights at 10 to draw half the qualifiers, then do another on-the-road search, and in July and August, do a six-week tournament with 72 players next year.
       The other beauty here: Ultimate Fan Search is a prime example of what classic marketers these people are. The game itself markets the entire TV Land and Nick at Nite lineup. Oh, my goodness, what would happen if these folks were running Game Show Network, as I suggested last week. They know how to make classic television work in a way Sony never has demonstrated a solid and consistent ability to do.
       So, how am I doing? I'm beating most of the players but I'm not having to press that buzzer, nor am I under the lights. What I am doing is kicking myself for not going to St. Louis, the closest tryout locale to us, to audition for this thing. Forget the VW Beetle. I want to get my hands on that TV Land classic library. One hour a week with me as your host on Friday afternoons and they wouldn't even have to write my scripts. I'd even have the Museum of Broadcasting send over the one and only episode of Jackie Gleason's You're In the Picture. And that's the name o' that tune!

       POST-GAME NOTES: I'm not crazy about Jean Jordan but she has a point about all of the "reality" games. Whereas we no doubt saw a lot of Jordan's actual personality, you only see what the editors want you to see. That's contrived reality....I may change my mind when I see it but, honest to goodness, The Mole sounds a lot saner from the promos and the preview page at than what we've been treated to so far....Les Moonves may be keeping things under his hat but he says CBS is not going to get into the bidding for any further reality games at the moment....Television Broadcasting magazine reports Big Brother will go through more than 4,000 Betacam broadcast videotapes to edit and produce the show's 75 episodes. That's about $160,000 in tapes alone....We've had a few e-mails on this one: the Virtual Memory teen quiz airs on the TBN network (check your cable or dish listings) Saturdays at 2 p.m. (EDT)....If you live in the New York area, for goodness sakes, e-mail Maria at and get yourself some tickets to 2-Minute Drill. Maria's a nice lady and she'll make sure to put the word "tickets" on your envelope....By the way, while we were on vacation in June, we omitted that week's Plays of the Week. We'll recap that one in a few days but our friend Tom O'Brien of Chicago, who won $500,000 on WWTBAM is that week's Player of the Week....Want to know a show which has plenty of steam: Millionaire. Sunday night's 15.4 was the highest-rated episode of the summer and only the finale in last August's first 13 drew a bigger audience.

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