Showoffs

Last Update: July 5, 2000 -- photo added.

Airing: 12-12:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, June 30-December 26, ABC.

Personnel: Bobby Van, host; Gene Wood, announcer. A Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Production. Taped in Los Angeles.

Description: Charades.

Game Play: Two teams competed, made up of two celebrities and one contestant. Teams wore turtleneck sweaters with their names on the front, in either red or blue to designate which team they were on. Speaking from experience, however, this wasn’t helpful to those watching on black-and-white sets – something the producers acknowledged later in the run by adding "Reds" and "Blues" to the sweater fronts.

One team was designated to play first, while the other went into a soundproof booth. The first team had 60 seconds to pantomime as many words as possible to the team member guessing the words (which could be either the contestant or one of the celebrities). After the first team took its turn, the second team returned, using the same words as the first team. The team with the most words guessed correctly at the end won the round, and two rounds won took the match. In case of a tie, a three-word playoff was used, with the team using the least amount of time (30 second maximum) winning the game. Later in the series, a different scoring system was put into effect, with a total number of words needed to win the game instead of best two-out-of-three.

The winner of the match received a $1,000 prize package and moved on to the end game.

End Game: All four celebrities pantomimed words in 60 seconds for $1 a word. After that, the contestant was given 30 seconds more to guess three more words, with a payoff of ten times the original amount won if they got one word, 100 times the amount for two, and 1,000 times the amount for all three words.

Later in the run, a different end game was introduced which allowed the celebrities a given amount of time to go for $1,000 on the first word, $2,000 on the second word, and $5,000 on the third and final word, with the caveat the player would lose half their accumulated money if they didn’t guess correctly.

Background: Showoffs was a go before the pilot was even made – that’s how much clout Goodson-Todman had at the time. Goodson picked Larry Blyden, who had just finished a three-year run as host of the syndicated What’s My Line?, to run the show. The pilot was taped in late May in Los Angeles as Blyden, who was based on the East Coast, withdrew from a Broadway show he was appearing in at the time, Absurd Person Singular, to take the job. Blyden watched and watched as Goodson went through the whole creative process, driving Blyden up the wall (as described in producer Gil Fates’ book What’s My Line?, Blyden had a phobia about wasting time). After the pilot taped on May 24, Blyden went on a short vacation to Morocco, and on a driving trip to Tan-Tan to look at native jewelry, his rental car went off the road and overturned. Blyden was unconscious in a hospital in Agadir for several days, with doctors there unable to communicate with his family because Blyden was traveling without identification. He died June 5.

At this point, somebody – Mark Goodson, or a Goodson-Todman executive, or producer Howard Felsher, or someone with a thread of common sense – should have stopped and said, "Wait a minute. We have what is going to be a wonderful game here, and have tragically lost our host. We have just three and a half weeks before we go on the air, and we have to make an important decision about who will run this show, not to mention our production company is in a state of shock and is in no shape to do this program well. Let’s stop and think about what’s the smartest thing to do – hurry and try to make our opening date regardless of the trouble we might have, or put something else on for awhile." If I had been in Mark Goodson’s shoes, I would have gone to the network and said, "Please put something else on for 13 weeks. We’ll make 13 more weeks of Password [which was being replaced by Showoffs]. You can rerun 13 weeks of Password. Heck, you can put a different show on by somebody else for 13 weeks. [Wouldn’t this have been a nice break for Split Second or The Big Showdown, either of which would have been miles better than NBC’s The Magnificent Marble Machine?] But we’re not ready to go to air. To the best of my knowledge, no game show has ever had its host pass away between the pilot and the series, and I don’t want to have this first occurrence ruin a perfectly fine premise."

If anybody said any of those things, however, it didn’t come to pass. Goodson selected Bobby Van, a singer and actor who had never run a game show before, as Blyden’s replacement. Commercials promoting Showoffs and using the pilot episode were carefully edited so Blyden was neither seen nor heard, and Showoffs made its June 30 premiere date.

Shutoff: If you don’t believe me about what the Showoffs set was like, here’s Gene Wood, in a 1996 interview with David Hammett: "That was such a strange situation; the program has so much sadness attached to it." With an exciting theme song, a fabulous set, and a good concept, Showoffs had lots going for it, and Van wasn’t bad given his lack of preparation time. But the 12 noon time slot and CBS’s The Young and the Restless worked against it. Showoffs was dropped by ABC six months later, with Let’s Make a Deal moving to the 12 noon time slot. Van would host The Fun Factory for NBC in 1976 and Make Me Laugh (syndicated, 1979), before succumbing to cancer in the early 1980s, adding to the sadness Wood referred to.

The Home Game: None. Ironically, however, Milton Bradley released a Lucille Ball-endorsed game in late 1975 with game play very similar to Showoffs. The title? Body Language (see below for irony).

Reruns: ABC destroyed most of their game episodes from the ‘70s (probably without G-T’s permission). There’s just one episode still making the rounds on the taping circuit, in which Dr. Joyce Brothers injures herself.

Revivals: Goodson didn’t give up on the charades premise, and introduced Body Language in 1984 on CBS, with Tom Kennedy at the helm. Combining the charades element with a Password Plus-like puzzle at the end of each round, the game lasted for a year and a half. Charades have been part of television since the very early days (Mike Stokey’s Pantomime Quiz was a Los Angeles mainstay from 1947 on), and there’s always a chance for a new version.

Curt Alliaume, Executive Producer: The reasons Showoffs failed had little to do with the game and much to do with circumstances beyond the producers’ control. I’d give it another shot with virtually the same format. One must remember that I feel some remorse at Showoffs’ demise; I feel as if I had watched this show regularly instead of hoping The Magnificent Marble Machine would get better, I might have saved it. (Very, very doubtful.)

My Grade: B.

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Showoffs is a copyrighted title of Mark Goodson Productions/Pearson Television. This page is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Mark Goodson Productions, Pearson Television, their subsidiaries, affiliates, or successor organizations. No challenge to their ownership is implied. Photo originally appeared on eBay.