Category Archives: news

1995 Philips CD-i Infomercial: A Pothole On The Information Superhighway

The Philips CD-i was a system slightly ahead of its time. It tried to do it all – play top-of-the-line games, play movies in the best quality available, use all of the CD-ROM resources a PC had at its disposal, and also provide casual internet access in the living room. In the early-to-mid ’90s, a device that could do all of this at a reasonable price was a pipe dream. That’s why this thing initially cost $700, with expensive add-ons if you wanted the full capabilities it promised. It was also a “jack of all trades, master of none” as a device, being outperformed in gaming by gaming consoles, outmatched in PC functions by PCs, and so on.

Spoiler alert: it ultimately failed.

Philips made a decent go of trying to get this thing off of the ground, though; a licensing deal with Nintendo (good move) led to the independent non-Nintendo development of some Zelda and Mario titles (bad move).

They banked on non-traiditional, digital media (good move) by developing unique interactive kids content (good move), game shows and workout videos (good move) and interactive music CDs that let you rearrange the music (bad move).

They also advertised on cable (good move) with a full length infomercial (good move) that creates a weird narrative and tries to humorously portray middle-class lifestyles and provide solutions to those exaggerated lifestyles (bad move).

It’s that last one that we’re talking about here, a 30-minute infomercial called “A Day with Sid, Ed and CD-i” that aired in late night cable in the mid 1990s.  There’s a rivalry between a CD-i representative and an electronics repairman that, for some reason that we’re not privy to, exists. Sid, the CD-i guy, listens in on Ed’s repair calls and poaches them, getting there first and giving them a CD-i and a full library of games and peripherals so that they don’t need Ed’s services by the time he gets there.

He gives them the CD-i’s.  Gives.

It’s a pretty clear way of breaking out the CD-i’s advantages in different multimedia scenarios. In the first of three segments, little Timmy’s destroyed the family PC and it’s unrecoverable.  Sid shows up and marches right in. Mom’s okay with this. He hooks a CD-i into the television, telling them they don’t need a computer anymore. Mom’s okay with this.  He suggests kid-friendly games to Timmy. Mom’s okay with this.

In a few short minutes, Sid’s sold Mom and Timmy on the CD-i. Well, not sold.  Again, they didn’t buy anything.  But they now have a CD-i, so I guess that’s a win in a future, attach rate, sense? 

Part two: some believably rad dudes hanging out together playing video games, reading comics, and dancing to rock music on headphones all at the same time, all independent of each other. Headphones dude trips over the video game cable, destroying the console.  A quick call to Ed’s repair results in Sid barging in and, again, giving a CD-i console to the dudes along with a run through of the amazing games available.

Burn:Cycle was a pretty solid game, as are Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, but the rest don’t even look that good by 1990s full-motion-video standards.  Sid hangs out and games with the dudes, then moves on.  Sid’s about $2500 in the hole at this point, considering that he’s given away two consoles and who knows how much software.

Part three: date night.  Peter and Gina are watching a “Forrest Gump” VHS in full daylight when the tape gets eaten by the machine.  Cue Sid and his free CD-i to extol the virtues of digital media.  It’s worth noting that Sid has used “Four Weddings and a Funeral” as a selling point of the CD-i to all three groups at this point. Peter and Gina get more of an overall taste than the other groups do, as a run through the system’s digital board games draws out Gina’s murderous tendencies. Hilarious! I’d be interested in checking that “Clue” title out, though.

The “Feature Presentation” screen, a direct lift of a VHS copy, is the real highlight of this segment.

Ed, throughly defeated at this point, gets on board with CD-i.  He and Sid team up, equal partners in Sid’s unprofitable nightmare of a business.

Each segment is punctuated by wonderful infomercial hard-sells, run-throughs of the system’s features, 800-numbers, and payment plans.

Here it is.  So bad, so good.

 

 

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Friday Followup: Gambit (UK)

While the US was Vegas-ing up its Gambit reboot in 1980, our friends across the pond went with a more traditional approach.  The British version of Gambit is as quaint as you’d expect, with a kicky stop-motion intro.

The set design trades in the Vegas glitz and glamour for… something resembling a Grateful Dead album cover.

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Cash and Prizes: Las Vegas Gambit (1980)


Gambit
, the blackjack-themed game show, has a sort of complicated history. Originally premiering in 1972, Gambit was an instant success, beating out competing shows Sale of the Century and a pre-Trebek Jeopardy! In 1975, though, a hot new show called Wheel of Fortune came on the scene and pretty much obliterated Gambit in the ratings, leading to its cancellation in 1976.

Cut to 1980. Failed daytime talk show experiment The David Letterman Show was pulled off of the air and the idea was to revive Gambit to take its place. The Gambit 2.0 twist came in the form of a live show from the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and Las Vegas Gambit was born.

And then died again a year later, but whatever.

Wink Martindale hosted both iterations of Gambit.  Is Wink Martindale the poor man’s Chuck Woolery, or is it the other way around? Wink’s game show career started earlier, making him the incumbent. However, Woolery’s first game show gig, the aforementioned Wheel of Fortune, spelled the original Gambit’s demise.  Woolery’s got the more impressive resume: while Wink had some solid shows including Tic Tac Dough! and Debt, Chuck’s got Love ConnectionScrabbleThe Dating Game, and (a personal favorite) Lingo.  Personally, I’m going to give the point to Chuck.  Wink’s got an unsettling way of talking to the audience, to his contestants, and to women in particular. I’m not saying he’s our reality’s Randall Flagg, I’m just pointing out that he’s never been in the same room as Randall Flagg.

There are a few things about Las Vegas Gambit that are special – first of all, the set is a fantastic tribute to Vegas-style gaudiness.  Covered in gold and rich in font treatments, the first part of each Gambit match is a trivia round with correct answers rewarding cards which are then built into a blackjack hand.  Two teams compete, the first team to reach as close to twenty-one as possible without busting moves on to the final round.

The final round, the Gambit Galaxy is some sort of casino from the (1980s) future, boasting a wall of screens and a single craps table.  The contestants roll oversized dice, using the resulting numbers to clear out the screens. If they can do so, they win it all.

The other noteworthy thing about Las Vegas Gambit is the enthusiasm. Part of this is thanks to the era; these were the days of Let’s Make a DealPress Your Luck, and the original The Price Is Right, and contestants in general were just generally more amped-up than they are these days. Still, though, it comes down to whoever’s job it is to pick contestants picking good contestants, and Las Vegas Gambit got that part right.  In the below episode, this lady’s life changes.  That’s significant.

Speaking of this episode, it’s a real roller coaster. I recommend watching the whole thing.

By the way, Las Vegas Gambit had awful ratings and was cancelled in 1981.  Sorry, Wink.  Speak more considerately to all genders next time.

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Friday Followup – 1982 Parker Brothers Game Catalog

Here’s Parker Brothers’ 1982 announcement of their entry into the videogame market.  You can tell they’re proud of their Star Wars license, and they should be! Their Empire Strikes Back game was really solid. But outside of four minutes spent on Star Wars and one minute spent on…Frogger… there’s not much else here to announce.

It’s interesting that the video makes the case that the videogame market has “barely been scratched”. In 1982. A year before the massive videogame crash in North America in 1983. Still, you’ve got to appreciate the confidence. And they came out with some good stuff!

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The Gentle Persuaders – Vintage Hair Care Ads

As much as layout and design trends change, beauty care ads are usually consistently crisp across eras.  Case in point: these amazing magazine ads for hair care products, from the 1960s to the 1980s.

This gentle 1969 ad for what is no doubt a painfully savage hair dye goes a little out there with the font choice, but stays minimal and lets the eruption of blonde hair do most of the talking.

 

The Lady Norelco home hair dryer takes a space-age approach at selling an experience that could probably never happen, unless that phone is hooked up to an amplifier and/or the hair dryer is turned off. It’s an interesting choice to underline the headline, and the black space in the back really gives it a classy future-feel.

 

That font, that font, that font.  Also that’s a huge “on the go” hair care package.

 

This one is the busiest of this batch, but the reflective pool against the white space on the top half of the ad gives the whole thing a very clean feel.  I think this one is my favorite.

Wait, this one may be my favorite. The copy makes a neat point about using this thing to dry your fingernails, but I can’t imagine anyone made it that far.

 

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The Hang Glider Corps – Star Wars: Ewok Adventure (Atari 2600)

Focusing on the worst Star Wars characters that side of Jar Jar, Star Wars: Ewok Adventure places the player in the shoes of the warlike teddy-bears who aid the Rebels in their fight against the Empire in the closing third of Return of the Jedi.


(image courtesy Atarimania)

Or rather, it would have been had it not been cancelled. The controls were allegedly too complex, though it’s hard to see what was so prohibitive about the experience when watching the gameplay. The game’s sort of a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up, with a few cool mechanics. You can ascend or descend in the glider, pick up rocks to drop on enemies, and even comandeer an AT-ST!

(image courtesy Atarimania)

Alas, the game was not meant to be and only one physical copy was produced. Which was then given to someone and then sold for $1600. It’s difficult to understand how they couldn’t make this game work as a retail release, given the ‘THIS WILL PRINT MONEY FOR YOU” nature of all Star Wars merchandise in the 1980s.  Perhaps Parker Brothers didn’t want another E.T. on their hands and had understandably cold feet. Anyway, the game exists and is playable on archive.org.  It’s worth a look; if nothing else, the color palate is on point.

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A Most Excellent Cereal

Bill & Ted was the franchise that kept on giving; it spawned not only a theatrical sequel but a pretty good computer game, a mediocre NES game, a short-lived live action series, and a cartoon which then spun off its own cereal.

It’s Lucky Charms, but with musical notes as the marshmallows.  And cinnamon.  That sounds pretty great, right? Well, if you believe Wikipedia (WHO WOULDN’T), the box and potentially the cereal itself were stolen from an art student’s final project in 1990. Is that true, or was some college kid looking to cash in on a hundred-dollar idea? Who knows!

Here’s Arsenio Hall and Alex Winter discussing the cereal in 1991 on The Arsenio Hall Show. 1:45 in.

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You’re In Showbiz! – Showbiz Pizza Training Videos

Showbiz Pizza Place was the Pepsi to Chuck E. Cheese’s Coke. The video game pizza parlor  boasted a superior band with the Rockafire Explosion and an inferior everything else. Chuck eventually absorbed Showbiz to create a grand unified theory of mediocre food and semi-operational robotics, but before that happened they were engaged in a brutal war to get you, your family, and your softball coach’s quarters.   We’ve all wondered whether we had what it took to be a Showbiz Pizza staff member, and it’s time to get some answers to that question with these training videos.

This 1981 video, Operation: Promotion explores the role of the Showbiz Program Director, that lucky person responsible for arranging in-restaurant events and out-in-the-world promotions. She also dresses in a ridiculous white outfit and top hat that she wears even when she’s by herself, in her office, on the phone.

She’s the one who drags an in-costume Billy Bob to every car dealership or gas station opening within a ten mile radius.  I’m pretty sure, however, that BiIlly Bob doesn’t ride to these things in-costume on the back of a motorcycle.

The Program Director also schmoozes the guests at the restaurant, aggressively pushing all of the potential functions that their Showbiz could perform for these people.  Best line: “Mom, ‘The Young and The Restless’ is on in the Sports Room if you’d like to watch that.”

Exhausting job, that of the Program Director.

Probably 90% of Showbiz’ business had to have been birthday parties.  Here’s a stiff, poorly produced video with mono audio that trains employees on…how to answer the phone to book a party. A whole video for this? A jester and a clown at your birthday party, and the “surprise” is a hug from Billy Bob? This arrangment makes no sense.

The sloppy production on this video makes Operation: Promotion come off like Citizen Kane.

It’s hard to know what to make of this one, Operation: Entertainment.  It’s a stream of consciousness riff on generally how to be “fun” as a waiter at Showbiz Pizza.  One take, one set, 8 minutes, aimed at people who were determined to be in need of fun lessons.

I can’t tell if he’s an employee of Showbiz Corporate or just some local comedian hired to riff.  Either way, it’s something special.

I think we’re all fully trained Showbiz employees at this point. See you at work tomorrow. And thanks, Brenda, for washing the uniform every night.

 

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Five Things – 5.29.17 – A Swinging New Way To Spend The Summer

Meet Us In September

“Meet Us In September” was the slogan for the ABC Network’s Fall 1969 lineup. These sizzle reels capture all of the programming news of the 1969 season. There’s so much to love about this campaign! The font choice and graphic work is fantastic, both in the overall face of the campaign and the show-specific stuff:

Not sure what to make of this Johnny Cash segment.

 

Here’s a compilation. The Bewitched promo is interesting, too – really assumes you already know what the whole show is about. Which, I guess, in a three-network world in 1969, is a pretty safe assumption.

 

 

Dynamix 1989 Video Catalog

This reel of upcoming games from the small-ish (bigger now that they were acquired by Sierra) game company Dynamix is earnest and sweet.  A-10 Tank Killer was on a heavy rotation in my house. David Wolf: Secret Agent looks like something right out of Decker.

 

Pennywise – Microwave Cooking (1985)

There are few things more comfortingly charming than seeing these two British women in 1985 discussing the merits of the microwave. Using “units consumed” as an indicator of value, no less! Is this an alternate reality?

Luna (1965)

I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure what I’m watching here – particularly in the first half without subtitles.  When you imagine the Soviet side of the Space Race presented to children, though, I doubt you imagine something this beautiful, colorful, and hopeful.  The second half presents an inspiring vision of our future in space.  Imagine where we’d be if we’d worked together on this back then.

 

The Cure’s First TV Appearance

Robert! Put on your long hair!

Is there any time that a live performance of “A Forest” isn’t a contender for the best part of your day?