Tonight is the night Channel Four revives The Crystal Maze, after a 22 year hiatus, with Richard Ayoade stepping in as host. This got me thinking. I wasted a lot of time during my formative years watching endless TV game shows... what if we could bring some more back? Here are fiveI'd like to see revived.
5.) The Movie Game
Ever wondered what John Barrowman did before he turned up in Doctor Who and Torchwood? It never occurred to me to ask either, but would you believe he used to present the Children's BBC show The Movie Game? That's right: the figure at the centre of your hazy memories of the show is none other than Captain Jack himself.
The movie game was essentially a hybrid quiz/challenge game for kids, who would have to answer questions about films and what happens next, and that sort of thing. Check out this complete episode for some of the most awkward on-screen banter you'll ever see during contestant introductions. Amazingly the show was pre-recorded, and that is what they chose to leave in.
What is particularly astonishing about the programme from a modern perspective is just how expensive it must have been to produce, relatively speaking. There was budget to hire a TV studio, with multiple big TV cameras (this was the '90s, long before good cameras were portable), and a number of different sets and on-screen talent who all need paying for.
I'm not sure the format of the show is particularly workable, but it would be fun to bring it back with adult contestants in a TFI Friday-style revival.
4.) Scrapheap Challenge
For eleven series, Scrapheap Challenge had us marvelling at how teams of nerds could turn piles of old junk into functioning machines. Though it only finished in 2010, given the huge changes in technology in that time, maybe it is time to bring it back? Why not expand the rules and have contestants build custom drones and have them race or attempt to out-compete each other? Why not have them repurpose mobile phone components to build crazy new cameras, or have them build robots that use artificial intelligence? Maker Culture is big - let's give them a show to reflect it.
3.) Have I Got News For You
OK, so it is still going, and is on the fringes of what you can call a gameshow, but the satirical news programme has clearly run out of steam. It still gets plenty of viewers, but tuning in now is just a fast-track to feeling a bit sad as Merton and Hislop look like they're going through the motions while showing the viral clips we all saw weeks ago on social media. Satire is dead when the best joke they can come up with is "LOL, Eric Pickles is fat".
Compare HIGNFY to what America manages with The Daily Show four nights a week, or what John Oliver has been doing on HBO and it is despairing.
HIGNFY needs a 21st-century reboot. Dumb up, be smarter, get some younger (but not too young) regulars, and don't go for the lazy gags.
When I was searching for details on Channel 4's Wanted, I was astonished to learn that it was Daily Mail blowhard Richard Littlejohn who presented the first series of the show, in which contestants had to spend a week racing around the country evading capture by a team of trackers.
The people on the run had to follow some simple rules: keep moving, no staying in the same place; no taking routes that would cross over somewhere they had already been; and every day they must complete certain challenges.
During the live weekly show on Sunday evenings (just after ten-year-old me had got back from swimming lessons) the contestants had to hole up in a phone box somewhere in the country, and hope that the trackers don't find them. Members of the public were encouraged to call in if they spot the fugitives. If they survived the full hour, they'd win.
It was a clever and relatively early example of getting the audience involved in a show in a big way. It perhaps wouldn't work today because not only are we able to post photos on social media, making hiding too hard, but there are fewer phoneboxes too. But surely something following the show's clever premise could be revived? Heck, it wouldn't even have to be on TV: perhaps it could be some sort of Google Ingress-style augmented reality game?
1.) The Mole
Weirdly, probably the greatest game show of all time (I'm genuinely not exaggerating) was broadcast on Channel 5 in 2001. The Mole saw ten contestants have to compete in a series of different challenges for differing amounts of prize money. But there was a catch: one of the contestants was working against them. The mole was a plant by producers whose goal was to secretly sabotage as many of the challenges as possible. At the end of each episode the contestants would take a quiz on who they thought the mole was, and the person furthest from the truth would be booted out. At the end of the series the person who guesses the identity of the mole walks home with the cash.
Not only was this premise brilliant, and something that left the audience guessing along at home, but the challenges were properly inventive too. Some were daredevil-type challenges like jumping out of a plane, others involved following clues and hunting for objects.
One particularly memorable challenge involved contestants, after being woken in the middle of the night for the task, being paired up in a hedge maze, with one having to navigate through, and the other watching an overhead monitor to guide them. To make it trickier, there were also "hunters" trying to catch them. Real life Pac-Man, basically.
At the end of the series and after the episode's mole had been revealed, a bonus clip would air explaining how the mole did it, and what sabotages were carried out. By the second of the two series it actually got tricky for producers, as one contestant took to putting down talcum powder outside everyone's hotel room every night, in an attempt to detect any late-night secret meetings between mole and producer. In the production of the show several clues were embedded too, such as the first words said during the introduction of each show adding up to spell out a sentence revealing the Mole's identity, and so on.
It was brilliant. And just imagine how much better it would be now we're in the age of social media, where we could endlessly speculate about the outcome. Basically not bringing it back would be the crazier thing to do.
And yourself? What gameshows from times gone by would you love to see back on the box?
This post originally appeared on 19th June 2015.