If you were a Canadian TV viewer in the 1960s, 70s or 80s, chances are at some point you found yourself held captive by Front Page Challenge, Definition, Bumper Stumpers, or The Mad Dash.
Those are just a few of the shows featured in new six-part docuseries The Search for Canada’s Game Shows which debuted on GameTV last week.
“The series delves into some of these shows that were really part of the broadcast fabric for Canada. I think people would be surprised at the number of popular, successful game shows,” said Dave Hodgson, the series’ writer, producer and director. “I think the story of these shows isn’t just game shows necessarily, it’s the story of Canadian media and Canadians doing a lot with a little and our outsized impact on entertainment. It’s important to acknowledge how we’ve contributed to entertainment in big ways, sometimes in spite of, and sometimes because we’re in the shadow of Hollywood. This series is for anyone who is interested in the history of broadcasting of Canada or just a fan of these shows and the inner workings of how they came to be.”
The series begins by going back to the roots of Canadian game shows with the debut of legendary current events panel game Front Page Challenge on CBC-TV in 1957, before what Hodgson terms the “razzle dazzle” of American quiz shows arrived on this side of the border as a by-product of the quiz show scandals of the 1950s.
“The creators and producers of those game shows were blacklisted from American game shows, but a lot of them came to Canada in the decade that followed because we didn’t have an issue with that here,” explained Hodgson. “They worked really closely with the first generation of Canadian creators, like Sidney M. Cohen, who learned at the feet of Dan Enright who was part of the game show scandal.”
Jack Barry, the tarnished host of Twenty-One who ran a production company with Enright, also came to Canada in the quiz show scandal aftermath. Hodgson says the series interviews some of the producers who worked with Barry and Enright and why they were pushed to rig shows in the first place.
“It focuses on the human side of that scandal, how it affected the Canadian game show scene and gave it its kickstart,” said Hodgson.
The docuseries then takes viewers through the 1970s and 80s, when Canada became a hotbed of game show production as American producers looked to take advantage of the lower Canadian dollar and cheaper crews.
Wayne Cox, who hosted Vancouver-produced 2nd Honeymoon, Talk About and charades game Acting Crazy, serves as the series narrator.
“I remember going to the audition [for 2nd Honeymoon] and talking to Wink Martindale and Jerry Gilden. Gilden was handling the auditions and we just hit it off. That was the start of that,” recalled Cox.
Talk About, which was broadcast in Canada on CBC, was the most successful of the shows Cox hosted and went on to air in syndication as part of two-hour game show block on Fox in the U.S.
“When we were shooting Talk About, we would do five or six games in one day of shooting,” Cox told Broadcast Dialogue from his home in White Rock, BC. “So we’d shoot Monday to Wednesday, that gave us 15 shows…then I’d get a week off because they’d find new contestants and reset everything. That was a great way to make a living.”
Cox fondly recalls flying to L.A. in Sept. 2000 for a photo shoot for Saturday Night magazine that saw game show hosts of the era brought together, including Alex Trebek and Monty Hall, who are also profiled in the series.
“It’s a funny little fraternity that we have. It’s a small fraternity, let’s put it that way,” said Cox, who was a longtime disc jockey and television personality, before his foray into game shows.
Behind The Search for Canada’s Game Shows was an actual search by the series producers for footage.
Many of the shows were not preserved well or were taped over after their air date because tapes were expensive. Hodgson says using air time on GameTV, producers put out a call to viewers for tapes of their favourite game shows. That resulted in at least 15 to 20 tapes being sent in, many from those who had been contestants on shows.
They also tapped producers and creators, like The Mad Dash creator Sidney M. Cohen, who held onto copies of programs he’d produced. He also allowed the series to use never-before-seen footage from a trip he made to Poland in the 1990s where a revival of The Mad Dash was produced.
Hodgson says response to the series so far has been overwhelming and while reality television has largely replaced game shows as a cost-effective way for networks to achieve audience, he believes a game show revival is afoot.
“I think it would be great to see a truly Canadian game show comeback. Game TV has proven that Canadians still want to watch game shows and audience records show programs like The Mad Dash, that was so Canadian it hurt, got great ratings. If you talk about a show like Definition, if it was brought back, I think it could be successful,” said Hodgson.
The third and fourth instalments of The Search for Canada’s Game Shows are set to air this Thursday on GameTV, with the final two episodes making their broadcast premiere Feb. 13. The series is available to stream now, here.
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