Next Year In Burbank!!

In Judaism, one of the ultimate acts of intimacy is to invite a stranger, or these days more like a casual acquaitance, into your home for a Passover seder.  For those unfamiliar with one, it’s indeed a religious service that’s segmented by a lengthy, often alcohol-infused meal, but it’s usually lead by the head of the household or a family p/matriarch, and you often learn a lot more about why you were intrigued by your invitee in the first place.  But sometimes even as noble an intention like that can produce some mixed feelings of anxiety and awkwardness.  I personally attended a couple when I first moved to Los Angeles that work colleagues invited me to.  One in particular is still memorable, as it was quite clear that a major argument had occurred just before my arrival and tempers were still inflamed even as the host tried to soldier on.  When the act of spilling drops of wine to signify the Ten Plagues was being conducted, one of the teenage kids audibly mumbled “Mommmmm” and “Daadddd” as the list droned on.

While it wasn’t Passover, it was indeed a celebratory mood that unfolded this weekend at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport Convention Center, minutes from the onetime and current taping locations of many of the shows that drew fans and professionals alike to Fremantle’s inaugual Quiz Show Expo, the culmination to a week that saw the company’s BUZZR channel introduce at long last to its fans a regular schedule of classic PRICE IS RIGHT episodes featuring Bob Barker as host and the proclamation–complete with a ribbon-cutting and a whole lot of “WHEREAS”–of yesterday as NATIONAL GAME SHOW DAY (which just happened to coincide with the multiplatform entity’s 9th anniversary).  It was also the culmination of a personal and professional quest for BUZZR creative services executive Tony Pinizzotto, who spearheaded this ambitious undertaking with the unique combination of fanaticism and savvy.  Turns out he and I share membership in a unique but admittedly uberniche intersection of those that grew up absolutely in love with a form of entertainment who subsequently were able to make a decent living working with its creators, artists and rightsholders to extend both its appeal and, of course, its profitability.

The Expo combined many of the elements that appeal to the kind of uberfan that LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE’s Chris Nichols paid reverence to in a preview piece he wrote late last week:

The first-of-its-kind Quiz Show Expo brings together vintage superstar hosts and celebrity contestants from Hollywood Squares, The Newlywed Game, and Family Feud for meet-and-greets, panel discussions, and actual game play. 

Like Comic-Con, Anime Expo, and all those Star Trek conventions, the gathering of like minds in the merchandise area will likely feature costumes (we’re picturing a sea of custom Price is Right “I heart Drew Carey” T-Shirts) among the superfans.

And those that had either proximity and/or enough savings (or allowance) did show up.  Along with others that Nichols promised:

The cadre of stars that worked the game show circuit is legendary, mixing it up from show to show, with some staying in that universe for years or decades. Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and the first millennials remember growing up watching Vicki Lawrence (The Carol Burnett Show), Jamie Farr and Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H*), and Jm J. Bullock (Too Close For Comfort) competing for their charities on the shows, and legendary host Bob Eubanks smoothly cooing contestants to the big finish. They’ll all be on the floor this weekend (along with Mackenzie Phillips, Mindy Cohn, John O’Hurley, Ruta Lee, and a cavalcade of vintage stars) all encouraging everyone to win! win! win!

And indeed, they and others showed up, some decades removed from both the height of their popularities and peak health.   They literally arrived by planes, canes and automobiles (and a couple of buses and Ubers to boot).  They were there, as is the case at many true -Cons, to make a few shekels by selling current books, vintage photos or even some new business ventures that keep them busy and offer a tad more income that residuals–such that they exist–provide.  Some were gregarious, others were distant and aloof.  Those that are regulars at these sort of events kind of expect that; most subscribe to the belief that one should never want to meet their idols.

I spent considerable time with many of those peddling their wares, as I count several as personal friends and learned I have surprising connections to those I was previously unaware of.  Swit, as spirited and unapologetically opionated as her iconic Hot Lips Houlihan character on M*A*S*H was even at age 86 (she admitted it, don’t blame me), insisted on sharing emotional stories about a longtime FOX executive she and I both revered, who as it turned out hosted her for many summers at their vacation home in Corsica, and insisted on setting me straight about a writer I’ve known for years who has apparently taken credit for ideas and script over the years in building his own resume that she vehemently denied he ever actually spent a minute doing.  While I reveled in this, a clear uberfan, credit card in hand willing to spend three figures on signed books and M*A*S*H memorabilia, was attempting to shower her with effusive praise for the sheer joy the show, and in particular her character, have brought to her otherwise quiet world as a nurse and homemaker in the Midwest.   The look on this woman’s face was exactly the one I had at that long-ago seder when the Ten Plagues dissing was occurring.

And she was wholly disinterested in the panels that the show put together, which more resembled those one would participate on (and the kind I’ve produced) at industry trade shows.  The admitted challenge a platform like BUZZR has is that its content is now so dated that most of the on-air and chief creative talent that made it are gone; indeed, the phrase “Dead Emcees Society” applies.  And as previously noted, most of those still around were there to make a buck, not necessarily to share any specific memories–if only for the reason that age and distance have dimmed them.  So as a result the majority of participants were from former mid-level staffers offering inside baseball insights and memories of interminable production delays and deals gone bad.   For the narrow niche of us who have lived in those trenches, it was captivating and brought back innumerable warm memories.  But for many of the fans, most of it went over their heads.

I attempted to have dinner with one of them, dressed exactly like the one Nichols described.  Honestly, I was lonely.  But this person politely refused, apparently too shy or disinterested to even want someone to talk to.    I couldn’t avoid another who was clearly autistic who was intent on proving to his heroes he was as knowledgable, if not more so, about the shows he apparently watches for hours on end.   Executives and creators know all too well we need people like them to appreciate and support their work.  But they’re not people we would ever hire.  So all of the specialized panels on how to write promos and write great questions, intriguing as they were, drew sparse crowds primarily made up of those of us who were personal friends.

And after an extremely ambitious live show that featured an array of truly brain-teasing trivia questions, impressive electronics and real prizes (two 75″ TVs were awarded to the top point-scorers), but unfortunately was plagued with the unavoidable pitfalls that go along with staging something live that is often heavily edited on tape) I spent some extended time with someone else who flew in from the Midwest.  He was exhausted and disappointed when he saw how the sausages are made, and what kind of arguments arise when too many chefs get caught in the kitchen.   He also expressed regret that the Expo, being designed around June 1 falling on a Saturday, made his travel schedule more difficult and costly; fewer flight options exist on a weekend.  Most industry conventions he attends in his profession are held over a minimum of three days and virtually every other -Con he’s attended as a fan had sessions that went through Sunday.  As this person observed, it was the worst of both worlds.

I offer these insights as nothing more than anecdotal reactions, but food for thought for Pinizzoto and his team.  It took a tremendous amount of effort, not to mention internal lobbying, to pull this off to this extent.  They are to be lauded for their hard work and tireless toil to coordinate the logistics and availabilities of talent, venue and competing -Cons and -ventions to thread that narrow needle.  Like any first-time effort, you hopefully learn from what went right and what went wrong.  As you can see from some of the pictures I was able to capture, I personally had a blast.  And I saw that a good deal of merch was indeed sold.

And here’s the most encouraging news.  Even the most disquieting Passover seders close with a Hebrew phrase “L’Shana Ha Be’A Bin Yerushalayim”.  Next Year In Jerusalem.  A prayer for everyone that we should do this all again, ideally in an even more edenic venue, no matter how good or bad a time we may have had this time around.

Even our disappointed Midwesterner assured me that when–hopefully not if–National Game Show Day rolls around next year, he’ll be back.  Especially when he realized it will be occurring on a Sunday.

Until next time…


Leave a Comment