"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 25 June 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Come On Down



There's a new twist to the stale

TV game show formula: the

contestants' pasts. Oh, sure,

there's always been that timeout

after the first commercial

break, when we learn about their

jobs, their kids' names, and an

"unusual fact" a la "I collect

Paul Revere and the Raiders

memorabilia," but the sordid

details of their lives have

always remained off limits (at

least since Queen For A Day went

off the air). But then came

Debt. A bold rip-off of

Jeopardy!, this gloriously

contemptible Buena Vista/Disney

venture on the Lifetime channel

dredges up three hapless

contestants and their real-life

debts. The monetary amount of

red ink is totaled and averaged,

and each contestant starts out,

say, $7,000 in the hole. They

then choose subjects from the

board ("I'll take Gap-Toothed

Celebs for minus $50, please")

in an attempt to climb back to a

zero balance.



Debt's MC is the ever-affable and

very well-preserved Wink

Martindale, whose

grim-reaper-in-a-tux visage

looms over the show's

nightmarish set. While the

viewers at home may be one or

two paychecks away from

scavenging recyclables, the

contestants on Debt can, at

least, lick their wounds and

count their blessings after

losing the first round. Wink

mercifully permits them to slink

away with a shred of dignity and

a Debt piggy bank as their

parting gifts. One can only

assume they wouldn't have much

use for another home version of

the game.



Partial blame for the lingering

decline of TV game shows could

be placed at the feet of

benevolent undertaker

Martindale, but it's hard to pin

the tail on just one fall guy.

Some prefer to scapegoat The

Gong Show and The 1.98 Beauty

Contest for abruptly informing

us that all those drugs we took

in the '70s and '80s did not

leave us unscathed - our good

judgment must've been thrown out

with the bongwater. But like a

bad mescaline trip, we don't

fight it, man. When all else

fails, we lower our standards.


[Wheel of Fortune]

The first piece of evidence:

Chuck Barris. Exhibit B: Wheel

Of Fortune (featuring Angelyne

role-model Vanna) and Bob

Barker's PETA-preaching,

model-shtupping persona on The

Price Is Right. We rest our

case. (Singled Out's

transcendentally ghastly Jenny

McCarthy is evidence of

something far more sinister,

we're sure...)



It's old news: the Web virtually

resembles a near-infinite,

Medusa-follicled Gong Show. The

proliferation of irredeemably

exorable home pages, over the

past year alone, qualifies your

(very) basic (below) average

HTML jockey for the Big Mallet -

before he even embeds his first

blinking tickertape banner.

We're thinking of those

especially self-hating types who

find it necessary to repeatedly

remind you that, home page-wise,

they suck and they know it.

Unfortunately, self-consciousness is

only a symptom, not an excuse.


The parallels between Debt

contestants' unabashed

desperation and the


broom-pushers bringing up the

rear of the Sartrean home page

parade are uncanny: both jump at

the chance to stand out from the

pack, to grab the limelight (yet

acknowledge - nay, exalt - in

their sub-mediocrity), to

eagerly demonstrate a keen grasp

of trivia, and to experience the

instant buzz from a fleeting,

ambivalent taste of fame.



Why we are willing spectators is

an even easier answer - watching

game show lemmings and unedited

home page squirrels making

self-effacing fools of

themselves in public is just the

icing on the gruel. It's more

voyeuristic than vicarious - in

both cases it's "better them

than me." The distinction

between shame and pride is an

even tougher call. Ever bragged

about the size of your hangover?

Yawn. Nowadays people strut

their credit problems. It's not

enough to one-up your date on

your respective VISA limits -

why red-line your debtor's

braggadocio at the non-virtual

small talk level when you can

document a depressing lack of

budgeting prowess on your home

page? Who else to blame for the

rise of credit counseling sites

with introductory questionnaires

that suspiciously resemble a

perverse co-mingling of 12-step

self-examination and




The 100,000 Dollar Pyramid,

Password, and What's My Line?

are, for now, extinct, having

gone the way of The Love Boat

and Fantasy Island. Curious,

what with the current celebrity

glut. The mortifyingly low

quality and high quantity of

zombified "stars" endlessly

paraded before us on E! evokes

the image of some sort of

on-high retribution - the ilk of

which hasn't been seen since,

um, we stopped doing all those

drugs in the '80s. Perhaps the

inevitable CD-ROM versions will

reanimate Dicks Cullen and Clark

- no word whether the

resuscitated TV version of Match

Game '96 will attempt to thaw

out leering automaton Gene



[Family Feud]

The recent dearth of show-biz

quiz vehicles has been

disheartening for smirking fans

of the so-bad-it's-good.

Bet-hedging players on irony's

morning line do not bemoan Talk

TV's sudden (and long overdue)

oversaturation and the daytime

soap opera industry's continued

downsizing. Such programming

tidal shifts can only make room

for the comeback of

celebrity-laden game shows -

giving the restless pod people

of the idle "personality" pack

something to do and someplace to

be seen - be it the vast daytime

wasteland or the less-downmarket

neighborhood of primetime



[Sylvester and Arnold]

Still - and this is thinking out

loud - we gotta jazz up the

tired celeb/nonentity, pro/am

angle of the ghost of game shows

past. Why settle for mere

promotional fees and

sponsorships when we can

cross-promote? And we need a


No! Wait! A Theme Franchise With

Built-In Global Name

Recognition!!... Hold that

thought. It's a vision. A creaky

neon scaffolding folded up and

stored behind the back lot...

dusted off... propped up...

fresh long-stems for the

ladies... T-shirt tie-ins...

premieres at strategic




Yes. Roseanne Barr and Sony

Television have combined their

considerable resources to

(re)develop the mutha of all

star-fucking game shows: on

Planet Hollywood Squares, there

are no bad vibes. Only a glib,

tanned, bleached-toothed MC,

eager, personable contestants,

and, of course, stars and

starlets - or, at very least,

good-natured has-beens. There

shall be no shortage of human

tic-tac-toe fodder. After all,

the whole idea behind becoming

famous is to make so much money

you don't really have to DO

anything - except retain a

manager clever and

well-connected enough to

compensate for your lack of

talent (and

inversely-proportionate skill at

self-promotion). When tax time

rolls around, why not justify

your latest cosmetic surgery by

occupying the square that gets

the X? And when the self-hating

contingent of the personal home

page brigade rallies behind

affirmative action for the

wretchedly boring, you can bet

they're writing off online

bills, scanners, and FrontPage

software on their '96 returns.



One particularly repellent "white

pride" home-pager recently

crowed that a single mention on

Mirsky's "Worst Of The Web"

caused his hits to spike from

double to quadruple digits

overnight. Hey, as long as they

get your URL right, who cares?

There's no such thing as a bad

link, kid, and get yourself an

agent. As regressive and eager

sucklings at the game show teat,

why look forward to asking

"whatever happened to..." when

we could kick ourselves for

paying attention in the first

place? That's Hollywood: if they

develop it, we will come. And as

long as you continue to

acknowledge that you do, indeed,

suck, you're forgiven - and you

shall be delivered from ever

having to be, y'know, good at


courtesy of P. Aerable