Resurgence Requested: Celebrity Game Shows

NBC’s Hollywood Game Night (where two teams of celebs and their contestant captains play party games, with the winner getting the chance to win $25,000 in a quick-fire, timed bonus round) has just capped off  its successful second season with Jane Lynch nabbing the Emmy award for Outstanding Host (for Reality/Reality Competiton Show), so I can think of no better time to ask for a resurgence of a pop culture favourite from yesteryear – the celebrity game show.

For the uninitiated, way back in the day – in the era before trashy talk shows and group gab-fests took over the daytime airwaves – soap operas reigned supreme and right by their side were game shows. Aside from mainstay classic The Price is Right, the cream of the crop were the celebrity game shows, which allowed viewers to see their favourite stars doing their best to help regular contestants walk away with some fabulous cash and prizes.

The appeal of seeing celebrities just being themselves while playing along with contestants in a variety skill and guessing games could not be understated  – and two of the best of these shows offered this appeal up in their own distinct formats (both of which Hollywood Game Night just happens to employ as well, hmm…coincidence?):

Match Game

There have been a few iterations of Match Game over the years, but the most iconic one would be from the 70’s (originally titled Match Game 73). Perfectly hosted by Gene Rayburn, the joy of watching Match Game came from just seeing celebrities kick back, banter, joke around and goof off. The premise was simple: a panel of six celebrities were given a fill-in-the-blank statement and then  contestants had to offer up an answer they think will match the most of the celebrity responses. Longtime panelists like Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Richard Dawson and Fannie Flagg would be joined by a bevy of rotating semi-regular and guest-panelists ranging from Betty White to Dr. Joyce Brothers to Jamie Lee Curtis . The inneuendo-heavy questions and the laid back attitude that permeated the atmosphere made the show an instant favourite among viewers. Here’s just a sample:

And here’s one with some actual gameplay – notice how even the off-camera crew can’t resist a little goofing around.

The $25,000/$100,000 Pyramid

As with Match Game, there have been many iterations of Pyramid. But again, there’s one version that is the gold standard, and that is the 80’s version superbly hosted by Mr. American Bandstand/New Year’s Eve Rocker himself, the legendary Dick Clark. Again, a simple premise: two celebrities, each paired with a contestant run through two sets of 3-round,  clue-giving/word guessing games. The highest scoring team after each set gets to go the winner’s circle for a 60-second bonus round, this time with topics or phrases to be guessed rather than just words (a contestant’s second visit to the circle would be for $25,000 which was later upped to $100,000).

This is where Pyramid shined – the all-or-nothing minute of truth was downright intense and it was thrilling to watch. Not only when there was a surprising celebrity who gave fantastic clues that just clicked with the contestant and they stormed through the pyramid but also when there was a slightly stumbling, down-to-the-wire, will-they-make-it duo, being urgently pressed on by an offscreen Clark while the clock ticks down. Fortunately, we have two such clips. First up is Barry Jenner (at the time, from Dallas) with a truly exceptional $100,000 round:

And here is the underrated Mary Cadorette (from the Three’s Company successor, Three’s a Crowd) with a tension-building trip to $100K (and I simply LOVE how excited both she and Jenner got for their contestants. So awesome.)

So now that Hollywood Game Night has proved that viewers still love to see celebrities having fun (like on Match Game) and putting their descriptive skills to the time-limited test (a la Pyramid), let’s hope it doesn’t stay the only game (show) in town for too long.

*There were of course, many more celebrity game shows  from this era, so I’d surely be remiss if I didn’t at least give a little shout out to some of them, namely: Hollywood Squares, Super Password,  TattleTales (think The Newlywed Game but with celeb couples) and my own underdog fave Body Language (aka “charades with celebrities”).

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Unexpected Oscar Wins

With this year’s Academy Awards ceremony fast approaching (this Sunday!) it seems to be a night set for few relative surprises (i.e. Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto appear to be a lock in their respective acting categories and Best Picture will most likely go to either Gravity or 12 Years a Slave). However, if there’s one thing that years and years of Oscar ceremonies have proven, it is to expect the unexpected. With that said, let’s take a little peek into the past at some previous unexpected Oscar wins.

1968 – Best Actress (Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn)

What was unexpected about this was not that Barbra Streisand or Katharine Hepburn was bestowed with the Best Actress honour Oscars_barbraof 1968, but that it was tie, and both were bestowed with that title. It was the second of only two ties (so far) ever awarded in an acting category, but even more astonishing is that of the two, it was the only “real” tie (previously, the rules had allowed for nominees within 3 votes of the winning nominee to be named as a tie winner – which was how Frederic March was able to be named 1932’s Best Actor along with highest vote-getter Wallace Beery). Bonus trivia – there was a bit of controversy because of a bending of the rules that allowed for Streisand to be admitted as a member of the Academy before her first movie – the movie she won for, Funny Girl – had even been released. It goes to reason then, that – being an eligible voting member, -she would have voted for herself. Meaning that this little “bending of the rules” resulted in Streisand not only becoming a member of the Academy earlier than usual, but also in becoming an Oscar winner.

1992 – Best Supporting Actress (Marisa Tomei)

There were a few reasons why this was an unexpected win. To start with, the film Tomei won for, My Cousin Vinny, was a broad comedy – and comedic performances tend to get oscars_tomei_bigoverlooked by the generally stuffy Academy. Furthermore, Tomei wasn’t just the relative newcomer in her category (her most notable prior work had been a season on the Cosby Show spinoff A Different World) but the other nominees – Vanessa Redgrave, Judy Davis, Joan Plowright and Miranda Richardson were all respected and seasoned British actresses with a bevy stage & screen credits as well as numerous prior acting awards and accolades shared among them. So, it was indeed quite shocking when the young and relatively inexperienced Tomei was called up to the podium that night. In fact, many in the media started snarkily speculating that presenter Jack Palance had somehow read the wrong name. Of course, that was just untrue, since the Academy would never have let a mistake like that, no matter how embarrassing, go without correction. And, as Tomei has demonstrated via her work since then (including two more Oscar-nominated performances) she is definitely an actress worthy of her win.

2011 – Best Actress (Meryl Streep)

Of course, it’s not unexpected that Meryl Streep – the record holder for most acting nominations (18 and counting!) should win an Oscar. But, what is unexpected is that she finally won her third Oscar (for The Iron Lady) 29 years and 12 nominations after her previous Oscar win. After scoring two Oscars early in her career (Best Supporting Actress for 1979’s Kramer vs Kramer and Best Actress for 1982’s Sophie’s Choice), it seemed that the Academy was content to let Streep become the Susan Lucci of film and rack up a string of record-breaking consecutive nominations without a win. But in 2012, her vivid portrayal of Margaret Thatcher and was able to sway voters away from strong contender Viola Davis (nominated for The Help) and make them disregard the “Oh, Meryl gets nominated for anything” notion to see that she truly did give the performance of the year, and awarded her, rightly so.

 Oscars_meryl

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this year we’ll see some more unexpected wins – like perhaps last year’s Best Actress winner, Jennifer Lawrence winning again this year – but this time for Supporting Actress (there hasn’t been a back-to-back acting winner since Tom Hanks 20 years ago). Could happen…and time (will soon) tell.

Pop Star to Movie Star

PROBLEM: Two singing sensations are ready to make the leap from pop princess to silver screen starlet. However, the project choice is crucial. The right role could be sweet as candy and open up doors to a whole new career, the wrong one could be toxic and only open doors that lead right back into the recording studio.

CASE STUDIES: Britney Spears and Mandy Moore

When Britney Spears burst on the pop music scene in 1998, her instant success had every record label in town scrambling to sign their own teen queen. Many of these hopefuls came and went without leaving much of an impression, but a few managed to click with audiences of their own. One such performer was Mandy Moore. By 2001, Spears and Moore had both racked up multi-platinum record sales (or rather, in Spears’ case, multi-multi-MULTI-multi-platinum) and each had the burgeoning fan bases to prove they weren’t just flash-in-the-pan successes. It was no surprise then when it was announced that both singers would be headlining movies the following year. Neither girl was hardly a stranger to acting (two seasons of  The New Mickey Mouse Club and a stint on Broadway for Spears and a supporting turn in 2001’s The Princess Diaries for Moore),  but this would be the first time each would be carrying a major motion picture. So what types of films would be chosen to herald their hopefully breakout performances?

SOLUTION: Target that fan base – it’s (teen) chick-flick time!

The choice was wisely made in both camps to find films that would resonate with their core audience – teen girls. Figuring that out was the easy part. Executing it was a little more difficult.

Unfortunately for Spears, it seemed that everyone involved with her film debut figured that once they had a poster with “Britney Spears” above the title they could call it a day. And while that may have gotten people into the theatres to see Crossroads, it didn’t do them any favours once they were in their seats. A dull, vapid coming-of-age road trip film (a quick scan of the  film’s review synopses on Metacritic show a high prominence of the word “lame”) with a star devoid of any of the exuberance she normally demonstrates on stage didn’t exactly convert anyone to the “Britney Spears – ACTRESS” camp. In fact, Spears spends her  time on-screen pretty much  looking and acting just like how I’d imagine her on a typical tour rehearsal day – singin’ a few songs, trying on various midriff-baring outfits, carrying on half-hearted conversations – all the while looking like she’s thinking “Dang, y’all – I really need to go on a Cheetos run. Are we done with this boring stuff yet?”

Thankfully Moore fared a bit better, since some apparent thought went into finding her a proper vehicle. Her film was A Walk To Remember – a sweet, heartbreaking teen romance based a well-loved Nicholas Sparks novel. And while it was squarely aimed at her teen girl fan base, the Mandy Moore on-screen was different from the one they knew. Playing a shy, plain girl with brunette locks was a far cry from the bubbly, blond, MTV-ready Moore that audiences were used to, but her charm and chemistry with costar Shane West still managed to successfully pluck at their little heartstrings. Not all critics were on board with the film (admittedly, it does get a little schmaltzy), but it nonetheless showed them and other viewers that Moore was at least serious about acting and her earnest performance showed she was willing to get invested in a role and try things outside her comfort zone.

RESULTS: Well, if you caught my sly lyric references in the beginning of this post, you may know where this is headed.

The films, which both had similar production budgets of around $12 million, also had similar (moderate) box office success. Domestically, Crossroads pulled in $37 million while A Walk To Remember netted $41 million*. But audience attendance and audience reaction are two different things, and in that respect, Remember has walked all over Crossroads. The  imdb.com pages for these films show that Crossroads has a cringe-worthy average user rating of 3/10 while A Walk To Remember is nestled nicely at 7.2/10.

It’s no shocker then that Crossroads is (so far) the one-and-done for the silver screen adventures of Britney Spears and she’s since focused on what she does best – churning out hit music. On the other hand, Mandy Moore has seen her singing career take a backseat to her ever-growing acting career a number of times since A Walk to Remember first resonated with movie-goers. In the past 10 years she has managed to carve out a consistent and respectable acting career for herself, appearing in such films as How to Deal, Chasing Liberty, Saved! and Because I Said So as well as providing the voice of Rapunzel in Disney’s 2010 blockbuster, Tangled.

*(source: Box Office Mojo)

The Best Worst Actress

PROBLEM: A likeable  A-list star is the odds-on favourite for the Best Actress Oscar at the upcoming Academy Awards. However, she also appears to be the front-runner for the Worst Actress award, to be given out at the Razzie Awards on the night before the Oscar ceremony. Even more dubious, she could become the first performer to win an Oscar and a Razzie in the same year.

CASE STUDY: Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock was on a hot streak in 2009 with her summer hit  The Proposal and her fall smash The Blind Side. The latter film was also earning her some of the best accolades of her career. Nothing could stop her momentum as she became the one to beat for that year’s Best Actress Oscar.

Well, almost nothing. Released in between her two hits was another Bullock film – All About Steve. The oddball comedy didn’t catch on with critics or moviegoers. It did, however, grab the attention of the Golden Raspberry Foundation, who “dishonour” the worst in films each year with their Razzie Awards. And thus, on the eve of winning the Oscar for Best Actress,  Bullock was bestowed with the Razzie for Worst Actress.

 Awkward.

SOLUTION: Be a good sport. Like, a REALLY good sport.

Understandably, Razzie recipients very rarely show up to receive their awards in person. So imagine how the heads turned when Bullock not only showed up to the ceremony to claim her award, but did so while pulling a wagon full of All About Steve dvds to give out to the audience. And just to show how game she was, Bullock brought along the shooting script for the film and offered to do line readings from the awards podium.

RESULT: Award-worthy success. Bullock’s appearance was PR gold and her good-natured handling of the situation only seemed to reinforce what so many people like about her – which Razzie founder John Wilson summed up pretty well after Bullock’s appearance:

 “If you are going to win a Razzie, then that’s the way to do it and have fun with it. I wish there were more people with that combination of self-deprecation and guts.”