Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Ladies Let's Salsa!"

I can’t help wondering if William Shatner – back when he was doing Romeo And Juliet at Stratford – ever thought that he’d end up as the over the top host of a cheesy game show. Maybe. Back in those days the Canadian acting community was small, it was a buyer’s market, and there were a lot of people who were willing to just about any job – Shatner did one week on the Canadian version of Howdy Doody because James Doohan’s agent couldn’t agree with the CBC on a contract for his client and the guy who got the gig couldn’t start until a week after the series was supposed to start. In the 1950s actors in Canada had one rule: “Show me the money.” Which coincidentally is the name of the cheesy new game show that Shatner is the over the top host of.

People writing about Television, and indeed pitching shows, tend to look for something known to compare the shows to. Maybe it’s the whole mindset that “imitation is the sincerest form of television.” The quote is from the legendary radio comedian Fred Allen, although I suspect that at least one of the people who used the quote with regard to Show Me The Money has no idea who Fred Allen was. More than one reviewer compared to Show Me The Money to Deal Or No Deal although I’m not absolutely clear on the reasoning for this. I mean sure, there are similarities. Prize amounts are revealed by extremely attractive young women; thirteen dancing girls to be precise although why they had to be dancing girls is beyond me. I can imagine the pitch meeting though: “Imagine thirteen, count’em, thirteen beautiful dancing girls.” Almost makes me think of those girly shows at the fair when I was too young to get into them. That’s where the similarity stops. In Deal Or No Deal you pick a briefcase and then spend the rest of your time deciding which case to pick next and answering offers from the Banker. Show me the money is more complex.

It may in fact be too complex. Players are given a “header” which is the first word or word of three questions, A, B, or C. The player then picks a question to answer but has the option to pass on the question twice on each header. They must provide an answer for one question in each category. Once the player has answered a question, but usually before the player is told whether the answer is right or wrong, the player must pick a dancer who will reveal the prize amount by opening a scroll placed in a holder in front of them. If the answer is correct that amount will be added to the player’s prize pool; if the answer is wrong that amount will be subtracted from the pool. The game ends when the player has either answered six questions correctly (+) or incorrectly (-). There are twelve prize amounts ranging – in $20,000 increments – from $20,000 to $250,000. One dancer has the “killer card”. If the player’s answer was correct there’s no penalty and neither a + or a – is added to the players list. If the answer was wrong however, the player is then asked a “sudden death” question. Again if the player answers correctly there is no change in status. If the answer is incorrect the player loses everything that has been won and the game ends immediately. And from time to time, for no apparent reason, everybody dances. Including Shatner, who dances like a 75 year-old man trying desperately to look hip.

The first, 90 minute, episode featured two contestants and surprisingly both finished their games. The first contestant on the show was perhaps the gayest human being ever to come out of the state of Oklahoma. He carried a “man purse” or “Murse” which contained some lip balm and his prized Shania Twain ticket. He claims to be a huge fan and amazingly enough it came into play during the game – he passed on a question where the correct answer was Shania Twain. He played the game quite well, getting his first four questions correct and at one point looking like a contender for a prize of over a million dollars before his luck turned slightly and he ended up with just over $500,000. Still he managed to show the quality of the Oklahoma educational system by informing us that Amsterdam is in Denmark. The next contestant wasn’t so lucky. He was a Commander in the US Navy, a fighter pilot stationed at “Top Gun” (because picking a pilot who flew off of the USS Enterprise would be just too much of a coincidence). He had a rough time of it, starting in a slight hole but recovering and building up a small pot…which he proceeded to lose on one question. He built his money up again until he ran into “the killer card.” He was forced to face the “sudden death question” and it was better suited to the guy with the “murse” – What was the name of the man who became known as “Mr. Liza Minelli” after he married her? He lost the money but probably reassured a whole lot of people by not knowing the answer to that one.

I’m not sure if this show would have gotten on the air if it weren’t for the presence of William Shatner, and I’m not sure whether or not that qualifies as a good thing. The rules are complicated but there is the germ of a good idea here. The questions are for the most part challenging unless you’re a geeky know it all (hand raises slowly). But it’s the sheer insanity of people suddenly starting to dance for no more reason than Shatner shouting something like “Ladies, let’s Salsa!” A lot of how you feel about this show will depend on how you feel about Shatner – my mother managed about 5 minutes of the show. The over the top personality he adopts for this show is even more extreme than the personality he used for the abortive UPN attempt at bringing Iron Chef to the United States. This isn’t (I sincerely hope) the “real” William Shatner but rather a parody of a parody. In the end I’m not sure how watchable this show will be regardless of how much you like William Shatner. Definitely not my cup of Earl Grey.

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