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.
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 Connection, Scrabble, The 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 Deal, Press 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
What if you had a silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you had an idea for a second, unrelated-yet-just-as-silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you just re-used props and sets from the first silly TV show for the second silly TV show and crossed your fingers that nobody would notice? That’s pretty much Sherwood Schwartz’s approach to It’s About Time, the second silly TV show to Gilligan’s Island‘s first silly TV show.
He actually probably didn’t cross his fingers that nobody would notice. He probably just didn’t care.
It’s About Time follows the adventures of two astronauts, Mac McKenzie and Hector Canfield, who get sent back in time to caveman days and end up living with caveman family Gronk and Shad, . Gronk is played by Joe E. Ross. essentially a caveman version of his Gunther Toody character from Car 54 Where Are You? Shad is played by the lovely Imogene Coca.
The cavemen speak in broken-but-very-very-passable modern English. The rest of the tribe are suspicious of the astronauts, but are eloquently suspicious. The plot lines revolve around either the astronauts bringing modern civilization to the cavemen, or trying to adjust to/reconcile their worldview with the cavemen’s.
Now here’s the interesting part – the show was retooled 2/3 of the way through the season to address the sagging ratings. They basically flip the premise, where the astronauts find a way to return to the present and bring the cavemen with them. The episodes then revolve around the cavemen’s acclimation to 20th Century life. That’s a courtesy the Gilligan gang didn’t get until their TV movie finale!
It didn’t help. It’s About Time was cancelled after the first season. While it’s definitely not up to par with Schwartz’s stronger efforts like Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch, there’s still something special here. There’s just a lot of other stuff weighing it down. Here’s a few episodes.
1980 Coleco Catalog
There is so much to love about this 1980 Coleco Games and Toys catalog. So much to love! This Holly Hobbie oven looks like something out of a haunted house. And how about that plaid stroller?
1987 Train Ride to Coney Island
This is a pretty great snapshot of New York City in the late 1980s. Those kids need to jump into a pool of Purell after laying around on the seats of that train, though .
Goonies Famicom Commercials
The Goonies, as a movie, couldn’t be more American in how the kids act, what motivates them, and the nature of their reward. The beautiful insanity of the Goonies videogames, however, we’re just not capable of that. Kudos to Konami for taking a solid foundation and launching it into the stars. These ads for both Goonies games really hammer that insanity home. I’ll also take this opportunity to repeat the fact that Goonies II is one of the greatest video games of all time.
U2’s First TV Appearance
This 1980 TV appearance is a completely different band.
Nintendo Fun Club – April 1988 – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
I played the new Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, for about an hour this morning. I didn’t have a ton of time to play, so I didn’t want to get into anything too big. Instead I just collected some food and cooked it, went to a few camps to farm arrows from some scrub mobs, scouted and unlocked a lookout tower while dodging laser beams from ancient robots, and stumbled across a giant one-eyed monster called Hinox and figured out how to defeat him. Then I looked back at the past hour and marvelled at how far the series (and really, gaming in general) has come since 1986 and 1988’s Zelda and Zelda II games. Then I remembered the Nintendo Fun Club issue that came out in April of 1988 covering Zelda II, and I found it again on Archive.org.
Amazing ’80s font work aside, the cover art pales a bit in comparison to the cover for the original Zelda, but by itself that’s forgivable. The original cover is pretty amazing. What’s less forgivable is that this design sort of leans into the character design of the CD-i Zelda games, which are legendary for their awfulness. It’s gotta be a coincidence, though – this cover is cartoony but still not that bad.
It’s no ‘cooking food’, but the addition of the winged boots, thunder spell, fairy transformation and, you know, towns, were pretty significant upgrades.
Apart from Zelda, there’s some other really fun stuff here. The pros offer some Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! tips – it’s the least they could do, since the game itself advertises the Fun Club pretty blatantly:
Some user-submitted reviews and Metroid artwork are pretty adorable:
And, of course, some epic-looking game ads. Nintendo’s own ads are always a significant cut above the rest:
It’s times like this that I’m thankful for sites like archive.org, that can collect and keep these pieces of history. Stuff like this could have easily been lost, otherwise, and it’s such an important part of pop culture history. Consider throwing them a few dollars if you haven’t already. It’s good work!
How to Send an E-Mail (1984)
I had to continually convince myself that this 1984 “Database” feature on modems, bulletin boards, and email was not a parody or a segment of Look Around You. The enthusiasm these folks display about this technology is really pure, encouraging, and charming.
That’s definitely not Jermaine Clement travelled back to the past to be on a BBC Program, right? Definitely not. Right?
Day In The Life of a 1950s Small Town
Richard’s town’s got a lot going on! Movies AND bowling? This is actually a really good slice of life of the ’50s.
1989 Canon Superman Commercial
Not sure how much more on the nose you can be with your subject matter without actually being on the nose.
1978 Taco Bell Commercial
The Enchirito cameo makes this 1978 Taco Bell commercial an easy share. Miss that guy. The man about to eat them looks a bit ogre-ish for such a refined dish.
This 1989 NBC show features a married couple who die in an accident, yet their ghosts live on in their house and they have to live with/around the living family that moved into their house after they died and only one member of the family can see them and it’s not Beetlejuice and somehow they still got away with it.
In the spirit of fairness, there are a few adjustments to the formula. Ghost Husband Grant (played by Eric Idle) was a professor in life, and his hoity-toity ways conflict with Living Husband Mike who’s an unrefined plumber.
The person who can see the ghost family is not the youngest member of the family (Derek, the super cool teenage babe-hound) but the oldest – curmudgeonly Grandpa Jack.
Jack hates Living Husband Mike, too, so he and Grant have some common ground. Also the Ghost couple can apparently leave the house without being devoured by sandworms.
Nearly Departed lasted all of four episodes before being cancelled. Two went unaired. Perhaps it was the too-obvious Beetlejuice draft, but I doubt it. It also directly claimed inspiration from the 1937 Cary Grant film Topper, so there’s at least some admission of its derivative nature. Instead, I think it’s that it just wasn’t very good. Eric Idle’s fine in it, and there are some good bits, but it’s just not very unique in any aspect. The plot lines are typical sitcom tropes and the premise doesn’t do anything to elevate the stories.
Also, why would this family have a bed that fit four people and cram into one side of it if they weren’t aware that there was a ghost family next to them? And why would Mike hug Grant and find something tangible at all?
Here’s an episode where Grandpa is tasked with babysitting babe-hound Derek, but instead goes off to play poker and leaves the ghosts in charge… hilarity!
This 1979 PSA instructs kids how to make a quick breakfast – a “quick fast”, if you will. I’m on board with the idea, but toast with cheese AND peanut butter? That’s weird, right?
Also, where does that bowling part fit in to all of this?
Pink Panther Flakes (1971)
I’ll take a piece of toast with cheese and peanut butter over whatever this garbage is supposed to be. It’s pretty bad when the commercial won’t even show you the cereal.
The vocal on the verse is pretty amazing, though.
Silent Running Trailer
They don’t make trailers like this any more. There’s something charming about the combination of the uneventful font, the deadpan narration, the blatant ‘this is what the movie is’ nature of the clips and the progression of the trailer’s narrative, and the circus-ringleader copy playing up the robots and Joan Baez.
MST3k Season 2 Promos
In honor of the recent release of Mystery Science Theater 3000 season 11(!) on Netflix, here are some promos announcing season 2. It’s pretty neat to see the promos reference TV’s Frank as the “new villain”. It’s also neat to see some of the Comedy Channel’s look and feel.
It’s 1982. Pac Man’s a pretty big deal. So big that they didn’t just make a Pac-Man cartoon, NBC centered its 1982 Saturday Morning Preview Special around it.
Pac-Man is the carrot that Dick Clark dangles for forty five minutes through this awful special, held on the set of American Bandstand. Like the free movie tickets that come at the end of a Timeshare presentation, you have to through clip after clip of unoriginal, derivative cartoons based on existing properties. When you’re not doing that, you’re watching Dick Clark have a hamfisted time around some children. Seriously – he doesn’t know what to do with these kids. Not 90 seconds into the special, Clark is admonishing a child for talking when he’s talking. On mic. To the camera.
The special tries to be interesting – ventriloquist Willie Taylor does a solid three minute set.
Scooby and Scrappy-Doo costumed characters show up for a clunky appearance.
Henry Winkler and Frank Welker do a table read of a scene from the Laverne and Shirley cartoon. Kids love seeing voice actors!
After a ten-minute long “clip” of The Lil’ Rascals cartoon we finally get about a forty-five minute preview of Pac-Man! Then we’re sent out of the special with a rockin’ dance party.
Seriously, there’s so little effort here. Give me a sloppy narrative or a musical act or some actual star power! At the very least, I guess it’s heartening to see a studio full of disappointed kids make the best of things. Here’s the special.
Ward’s 1971 Microwave Oven
Love that dinosaur puppet! The flaming arrow into the conestoga, not so much…
FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Watch a cowboy with dementia peddle a cereal based on stale waffles to a couple of overacting kids!
The Long Walk Artwork
“The Long Walk” is one of my favorite short stories by Stephen King. This promotional artwork really catches the story, from the illustration to the red background to the font choice. Beautiful.
Guys, I don’t think this conversation actually happened, but I love the layout of this ad.
Tom Hanks’ first movie role wasn’t a comedy, like you’d think. It was barely a drama. His movie debut took form in the role of Human Robbie/Cleric Pardieu in the 1982 TV Movie Dungeons & Dragons Scare-Film called Mazes and Monsters, a movie based on a hastily written book loosely based on inaccurate facts about the disappearance of a teenager who was interested in D&D.
The movie starts out with a flash-forward to a crime scene – someone’s in trouble and we don’t know who. We’re told that the incident involved a role-playing game called Mazes and Monsters and not much more.
Flashing back to the true start of the movie, we’re introduced to a bunch of priveleged kids who attend school together. There’s JJ, the eccentric party boy who wears a rotating lineup of goofy hats.
Then there’s Kate, the beautiful collegiate who is way-too-fashionable to be a Dungeons and Dragons fan in the 1980s.
Boring Daniel wants to be a videogame designer, but doesn’t have his parents support.
And finally Robbie, played by Tom Hanks. Kicked out of one school as a result of his obsession with Mazes and Monsters, he transfers to the school that JJ, Kate, and Daniel attend with the promise that he won’t play again.
That promise lasts about five minutes, as Robbie falls in with the gang and the foursome become best friends over sessions of Mazes and Monsters. Turns out Robbie’s got a pretty rad character from his obsessive other-college campaign.
Robbie and Kate become an item. Robbie confides to Kate that his little brother ran away when he was younger and he hasn’t seen him since, a strange thing to bring up. JJ gets isolated from the group due to their relationship, and plans his suicide in a nearby cavern. He then quickly changes his mind on this plan, for some reason, and decides to create a Mazes and Monsters campaign in the caverns for his friends to enjoy instead.
The group goes out for their first session in the cavern and have a pretty good time. Robbie, however, has an episode where fiction and reality become blurred, and a switch ‘flips’ inside of him. He sees an actual monster, and fights it.
From that point on Robbie more or less becomes his character, the healer Pardieu. He abruptly breaks off his relationship with Kate, has dreams of his missing younger brother, designs elaborate maps referencing “The Two Towers” and “The Great Hall”, and eventually disappears completely.
While the gang tries to find details of his whereabouts, the police get involved as well. The police learn that Robbie had a history with Mazes and Monsters, and the gang hides their involvement so as not to be implicated. The police somehow learn of the cavern campaign, and a detective poses to Daniel the theory that one of Robbie’s fellow gamers killed him in the cavern.
Daniel says, “That’s pretty far out.”
The detective replies, “Mazes and Monsters is a far out game.”
The gang realizes that Robbie’s mentions of “The Great Hall” are referring not to a place but to his missing brother who was also named Hall. We see Robbie in New York City, still in character, looking for The Great Hall. He’s chased by some local toughs and ends up in an alleyway. Reality and Fiction fall on top of each other and he accidentally kills one of them.
He calls Kate in a panic, who tells him to head to JJ’s family’s house in the City to wait for them. Robbie doesn’t follow this advice and continues to amble around. The friends arrive in New York and quickly realize that “The Two Towers” refers to the World Trade Center, and that Robbie is heading there to jump off and join his brother, “The Great Hall”.
They all run into each other on the roof of the World Trade Center and, in character, talk Robbie down. JJ uses his authority as dungeon master to convince Robbie that this is a game, and Robbie snaps back to reality. And gives the first of what will be many classic Tom Hanks sad faces.
Epilogue: three months later. Kate is basically writing Mazes and Monsters: the book of the TV Movie. The gang visits Robbie at his family’s house, where he is taking time off of school to get his head straight. They meet him in the backyard and prepare for a special reunion….only to learn that Robbie is still trapped in his character. They play the game one last time.
This whole movie seems like it was written by somebody who read the sensationalist headlines of the day regarding the dangers of Dungeons and Dragons and not much more. It’s an interesting interpretation of the form that someone’s concerns about losing a child to D&D might have taken in the 1980s. It’s also interesting because, despite the hokey story, Tom Hanks is actually pretty good in this. He makes it worth watching.
Roll for initiative and see for yourself.
SEGA Game Gear Commercials
How do you sell your superior handheld device if you’re not Nintendo? Throw a bunch of jabs at Nintendo! These ’90s SEGA Game Gear commercials are quick to push their full color and game library, but don’t necessarily bring up their four-minute battery life.
An alien race called the Moonbeams are mining moonstones from our Moon. The Moonbums are trying to steal the recipe for the moonstones. Do you need recipes for things that are mined? This is a really complicated cereal.
Watch Out For The Munchies
I could use this ’80s anti-snacking PSA’s reminders on a half-hourly basis.