This week sees the first instalment in my latest three-part series of patented How To Win Game Shows Behind-The-Scenes Reminiscences (TM).
Or HTWGSBTSR (TM). Catchy, eh?
And this time around, I’m talking about the 1999 game show All-Star Squares. This was a short-lived adventure for me as a game show question writer, given that the show only lasted for about six months…
All-Star Squares was essentially a reboot and re-branding of the classic game show The Hollywood Squares (known in some territories as Celebrity Squares, and in Japan as 3 TIMES 3 IS QUIZ! Seriously.) This show had been on Australian TV before, back in late sixties, and again in 1981… and then in 1999 The Powers That Be at Channel Seven decided it was time for a reboot.
I must have heard about it through the grapevine in late 1998. At that stage, I’d just finished my first year as a full-time professional TV writer on the daily afternoon show Denise and had also served time as a gag writer for In Melbourne Tonight, which was my second professional TV writing gig, after submitting sketches and jokes for Full Frontal.
Anyway, the point is, that the word went around that this new game show was looking for gag writers who could also write general knowledge questions. Although I was writing for BackBerner at the time, I figured this was part-time, and I could fit it in too, so I jumped at the chance. Among others, I found myself working with my long-time writing colleague and best friend Vin Hedger, and Adam Richard, both of whom I’ve interviewed for this site.
I remember that, in attempts to make each other laugh, Adam and I would often rework the opening lyrics to the All Star Squares theme song. As you can hear here, the original is;
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! The fun and the laughter, forget all your cares!”
But Adam and I came up with alternative versions, including, but not limited to;
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Some folks like straight trousers, but others wear flares!”
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Male horses are stallions, and females are mares!”
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! You can’t catch the train if you don’t pay your fares!”
And various others that I’m not able to repeat here on a family-friendly blog.
All-Star Squares was a unique gig for a joke writer, not to mention a question writer. If you’re unfamiliar with the format of the show, it’s essentially Noughts & Crosses (or Tic-Tac-Toe)… In order to score a point, the contestant chooses one of 9 celebrities, and the host asks that celebrity a general knowledge question. When the celebrity answers, the contestant decides whether the celebrity is right or wrong. If the contestant decides correctly, they score a point.
We writers were asked to submit questions for the show in batches; I think there might have been 20 questions per batch. And for each of those 20 questions, we had to provide:
- The question,
- The correct answer to the question,
- One incorrect (but potentially convincing) answer to the question,
- One joke answer to the question,
- And two solid references to verify the accuracy of the question and its correct answer.
If memory serves, they paid us less than $5 a question for all that. Coming up with a fresh, interesting, usable question – and all of those other elements particularly a joke answer that would work, given the restrictions of the show (family audience, 5:30 time-slot, celebrities with varying degrees of comic ability, conservative network execs, etc, etc) – would often take one to two hours. They’d never get away with paying us so poorly now, and I’m not sure why we all said “Yes” to the deal back then.
Young and hungry for work, I suppose.
Next week, as this HTWGSBTSR (TM) continues, I’ll take you through the pre-show process of prepping the celebrities in the Green Room. This was the weekly ritual before they all ventured out onto the studio floor and climbed up into their nine individual, hermetically sealed celebrity cells…
Until then, please do try to forget all your cares.