Quite often, as has been the case with so many things from our past, Hollywood gets the idea of trotting out a popular TV show or movie franchise, putting some fresh paint on it, and presenting it to a new audience. Sometimes it works, like the latest version of the British animated series, Dangermouse. Other times, it's met with a mix of love and scorn, like J.J. Abrahms' Star Trek. And then there are others that miss the mark completely - which is the case more often than not and not worth mentioning here.
When I heard ABC was bringing back Match Game and Pyramid after the success of Family Feud, I was seriously concerned that these two shows were going to fall into the category of "missing the mark completely." Previous attempts to capture the magic of what made those shows work didn't succeed as they didn't know how to work that magic. Add to that, Family Feud, while hosted by the best host since Richard Dawson - Steve Harvey, is just a running sex joke of questions and I was concerned that maybe the other two shows were going that route.
Pyramid already has me worried when I see questions like, "Name these things you do while on your knees."
And then you come to Match Game, which was the king when it came to double entendres of a sexual nature. But that was its magic. The jokes came organically as a result of the situations that they set up that danced on the line of proper behavior. It wasn't blunt like we see now on Family Feud. Match Game doesn't need that to be good.
So, it was with a very nervous heart and stomach that I entered the studios of ABC television in New York yesterday to watch a morning taping of the show.
I was impressed as I entered the studio. It's a small set, but it works as it looks modern with a nostalgic nod to the 70s set, right down to the rotating platform for the contestants' seats and the bonus round board. At first, it looked like my wife and I were going to have some bad seats and have to watch most of the show on the monitor, but the seats for the VIPs weren't filled so we were shifted. I had a direct view of the celebs section.
Since we were the first taping of the day, the contestant coordinator was going through the motions of the game with the contestants who were going to be participating that day. It was fun to see and it was good to know that the sound effects were the same from the 70s show.
The set was a bevy of activity as the coordinator was working with the contestants, technicians were working on the rotating panel and celebrity area, there were more audience members being seated and all the while, a warm-up comedian whose name escapes me was making jokes and instructing the audience on how to perform during the show. It was fascinating to watch.
And then the time came for the celebrities to take their place. This had me concerned as well as these days we have a very loose idea of what constitutes a celebrity. I was half expecting a Kardashian, a Dancing with the Stars dancer, and perhaps the Chewbacca woman to be among those in the panel. I was wrong. For my show, the panel was made up of Tituss Burgess, Rosie O'Donnell, Michael Ian Black, Debra Messing, JB Smoove, and Sutton Foster.
I was a little surprised that host Alex Baldwin didn't come out and say a few words himself before the start of the show, but the show kicked in and there was that familiar theme song from the 70s. As with the old show, there was a large MATCH GAME sign hanging that parted when Baldwin took the stage.
I won't get into the details of the episode so as not to spoil it, but I will comment on some things that caught my attention. Overall, I loved it. Alec Baldwin makes a fantastic host, the questions offered still play that line of hinting at naughtiness without being as blunt as we see in games today like FAMILY FEUD. Save for the final pay out of the bonus game, the gameplay is exactly like the 70s version and the panelists had a great chemistry, playing off each other.
My only concern, and it's a minor one, is Baldwin's nervous energy - it's obvious. He doesn't sit still when he needs to and when he has an opportunity to work it off, like say moving among the panelists during a question like original host Gene Rayburn did in the 70s, he doesn't do it. Also, Baldwin is better when he ad-libs as his writers aren't that funny and he doesn't deliver the weak material very well. It was cute for the promos, but it sounds forced during the course of the game.
I was also surprised that Rosie was as subdued as she was, but that was my misconception. She sits in what was 70s Brett Sommers' seat and I was expecting her to play the part. She's not Brett Sommers. She's more Richard Dawson as contestants turn to her for help in the bonus round. I'm hoping she's in all the episodes though as a regular like Dawson and Sommers were.
In the end, this is a definite winner. I'm so looking forward to this summer and watching the series. The only real disappointment to me was when it was over, it was over. I wanted to go back and sit in the audience for more.