Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lingo, why it was such a good game show and why it absolutely sucks now.

Alright, it's about time I blogged something again. I wanted to do a whole thing about game shows and how much I love them and how disappointed I am there are next to no good ones on television anymore. I guess a little blurb on that before I continue, a little background for people who are less game show inclined.

First and foremost: I love game shows. Period. They are or can be fun little distractions that are or can be better than you can have fun and test your own knowledge while having fun, more so than having a story presented in its entirety for you, and it's miles ahead of what reality shows give you. But lately, it's been really bad. For some reason, people aren't watching when great game shows come on, like Million Dollar Password, and still tuning in for mediocre ones like Minute to Win It. GSN, Game Show Network, the place where you would expect some serious reliability on quality game shows had the worst offense if you ask me. It's summer line-up for prime time consisted of The Newlywed Game, which I've never minded so much; Drew Carey's Improv-a-ganza, which isn't a game show and certainly wasn't Whose Line is it Anyway?; Baggage, which is a complete joke and is nothing next to The Dating Game, Love Triangle, which I will never watch a single episode of as it glorifies all the sorts of things I find as attributing to the decay of modern society; and the newly revived Lingo.

Now, Lingo used to be a great show. back in the day when GSN made a grand total of three unique game shows and played nothing but classics otherwise, Lingo was the big one. Now, GSN has never been big on production value, which doesn't mean the sets are cheap or anything, but it's been obvious that they were filmed in little studios instead of large ones. And considering what Lingo was, it was nice and cozy, an intimate playing space.

Now, Lingo was played in two teams of two, and the object is to figure out a five-letter word presented to you. One team has control of the board and are presented to first letter of a word. The team then spells a word and are given indication of which letters are correct and whether or not they are in the right space. They use these clues to figure out the word. If they fail to spell a word in time, find the right word in five guesses, or misspell a word, control shifts to the other team and they are presented with a bonus letter, (unless you had four letters in the right spot). Once you solve a word, you receive points and can then reach into a pit of balls with numbers on them and use them to essentially play Bingo. Get a Lingo, (Oh, I get it. It's like Bingo, but it's Lingo, as in linguistics and language!) and you get more points and control shifts to the other team. After two rounds, the team with the most points wins and goes to Bonus Lingo. ( I can only remember one time where I saw Sudden Death Lingo, so that's not important.) Bonus Lingo was a massive speed round of Lingo where the team was presented with a string of five-letter words and are given two letters initially. They solve as many words as they can within the time limit. If they get stuck, they can use Bonus Letters they received during the game, one for winning and one for each Lingo they got. The team then gets one more Lingo Board and pulls the number of balls equal to the number of words they found during Bonus Lingo. Get the Lingo and win $5,000. Woo!

But of course, a game show needs to be judged by the person we can rely on seeing again and again: our Game Show Host. Lingo was hosted by Chuck Woolery, a man with much experience in game shows, He's hosted old, old stuff like Love Connection, The Dating Game, and a game I enjoyed as a kid, Greed. Woolery was the man to host this as he has a charismatic charm that welcomes you to his show and the casualness that let you in and made you want to be his friend. He also did one thing I think is quintessential to hosting a game show: he PLAYED THE GAME. I've been watching shows long enough to tell when a host is told information beforehand or if they send him in blind OR if the host really doesn't give a shit, (and in a future blog, I'm gonna harp on some of the worst offenders of this). Woolery was sent in blind and would briefly give two bits to words contestants guessed that showed he was thinking about the words, too, but never hinting at the word or guiding the players thought process.

Somewhere down the line, it got a little upgrade. The set expanded, a jackpot was added, (where if you managed to get a Lingo in one pull, you would receive $10,000, and this amount increased incrementally for each episode the jackpot was not won) and Chuck got a co-host. The co-host was always an attractive, young female and I expected it to add nothing to the show, but the people in charge had their heads in the right place by making it look like she was in control of the boards and words. She also held a (fake) research position to clarify on the definition of a word when it was one no one had heard of before or when an incorrect spelling was given. That, along with the dynamic chemistry and interaction she ended up having with Woolery, added to the overall atmosphere of the show. And it was good.

2007, and Lingo ceased to be, but it was still rerun every damn day because it was great. Don't ask me why they stopped. maybe they were bored or something. But the reruns still brought in viewers so they decided to do something about it.

2011 and Lingo returns in all its glory! Wait, no, I'm wrong. What is this? This set is enormous! All I'm doing is spelling five-letter words, not putting on The Scottish Play! And You! You're not Chuck Woolery, you're Bill Engvall, the redneck comedian that was never all that funny. Well, let's still give it a try; it's still Lingo after all. Okay, so every time a show is revived, there comes some changes, and actually a lot of the game play changes are really good. For one, there are now Prize Balls you could pull, instead of numbers for your board; I don't think it's an improvement, but I don't mind it so much. Second of all, the points teams receive is in dollar amounts and ensures to winning team doesn't leave with a piss-poor $200 consolation. Bonus Lingo is barely reminiscent of its former self. It still has a time limit, but is now a set of five words you must solve; for each word you solve, you double the money you've already won, and if you solve five words, the grand prize of $100,000 is bequeathed to you. However, not all the changes are good. In fact, some of them are outright degrading. The small irk I've noticed is the contestant screening which is clearly pulling some of the most rock-brained yokels out of the contestant pool I've seen since Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader. Bonus Lingo should be easy; five words? by the end of Woolery's run contestant were getting seven or eight on average! but so far we've been lucky to get one damn word solved by these idiots! I could go on this show with my mom and win that money like it was eating cake or something of equivalent ease. What really grinds my gears, though, are hints. Each word is accompanied by a hint. Yeah, because these morons I've been talking about need them. However, there's still a glaring flaw about these hints, more often than not they're not helpful at all! When they are, I'll solve a word in one or two tries, but when they aren't it's just better to ignore them and figure it out classic Lingo-style. Only then, after you've solved it, do you understand the hint and find out the hint was a joke, a literal joke; actually, it was the punch line to a joke and your word was the joke. What makes this grate-your-face-off aggravating is that every word then applies to this joke and instead of thinking, we're laughing at something that wasn't even that funny, or at least the people on the show are because I certainly am not.

On to Engvall, who at this point should stay as far away from me as possible because I'm likely to throttle him if I ever see him. Of the three types of hosts I listed earlier, he's the first kind, the ones who are given their information beforehand. He's clearly not thinking, and therefore not empathizing, with the contestants. He's. Just. There. And he makes sure you know it because he doesn't shut the hell up; between every single guess the players make he chimes in reminding them about the hint or cracking a joke at the last guess instead of letting them THINK.

Luckily for me, reruns of Woolery's Lingo are on during the day, and it's really a breath of fresh air compared to the rancid fart Engvall has turned the show into. I mean, there shouldn't be anything so wrong with such a simple game, right? Five-letter words. That's all it is, all it ever needed to be, and it was fun. But alas, it's just one more thing this world has taken away from me.

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