Thursday, December 8, 2016

You Had the Time Of Your Life 40 Years Ago... Now What?

We all have our happy places and fond, cherished memories.  For many, it's taking part in a unique experience or getting distinctive recognition.  For some, it's the time they peaked in life.  And for still others, it's when you won something big on a game show (or at least got to go up and kiss Bob Barker).  And for a select few people, maybe all of these honors happened at once!

Whatever the case may be, I would argue that if you didn't have a good time on a game show, you're doing it wrong -- and as such, most people want to relive the adrenaline rush of what it was like to be a contestant, recall that question that set them on their nerves, and that big moment when the payoff landed or it all went bust.  And as the years go by, we all look younger and younger as we watch ourselves on TV through recordings.

As someone who owns a game show website featuring a whole lot of clips, accounts, and details, I often get written by contestants and their relatives asking how they can obtain copies of their appearance on TV.  But let's step back for a bit: I want to go more into the website and how all that got started.


Geekdom Started At a Young Age


Quick aside: As I like to say, "hone your craft".  The best start when they are young, and in my youth, that mostly meant you would practice at sports all the time to be the next great athlete, though some would take up musical instruments and become virtuosos.  Well I started in computers from a very young age, and look where I am now: writing about game shows on an otherwise geeky blog. :-P

I'd been dabbling with HTML and JavaScript since probably 1998 or 1999.  It was simple stuff I'd run off my own computer until I figured out how to get free hosting from places like 50megs (holy ****, this one still exists?!) and 100megsfree (pretty much gone the way of GeoCities).  I became friends in middle school with another Internet-savvy person, and he helped me get proper paid hosting and even bought me domain names for my birthday (including the one I just linked to, which just marked off 12 years a couple weeks ago).  Even still, I turn to him (well, really, now her) for advice on Web hosting matters, which now basically reflects preferences for which cloud hosting provider, which stack, and which security services -- much different than what paid hosting used to be!

The website really began in earnest in January or February 2005, shortly after receiving my first tape trade.  By this point, the other predominant website (tpir.tv, at the time owned by Tony Harrison) was starting to diminish in updates and wasn't really being maintained with the times.  I sought to correct all that by putting up clips in my own website in a similar format to how he listed his, but with more modernities like stylistic updates, content management systems for clip organization and comments, databases, possibly Silverlight to play videos right from the browser, etc. (Remember it was only 2009 by then and people were starting to get real sick of Flash but Silverlight was pretty much the only alternative as people awaited the HTML5 video spec.)


Where does this have you now?


My biggest year of tape trading had to have been in 2007.


Wait, back up again... tape trading is a thing?


Yes, this is a thing (see #15 in this link) that happens among fans of obscure television shows.  Since there are very few outlets that provide reruns of game shows since GSN pretty much only shows Steve Harvey's Family Feud plus their own original content anymore, and Buzzr only shows like the same eight episodes of $ale of the Century, it's kind of up to ourselves to steward the "library of our own amusement" among ourselves.  Tape trading is legal as long as you don't receive remuneration for anything, and while once upon a time I tried to search the Library of Congress to see what shows had lapsed into the public domain so I could sell it, ultimately it seemed like a lot of effort in order to tap into a very small market of people who probably already had what I had to offer anyway, unless I wanted to spend years of hapless hours sitting in dark basements of television stations watching all their aircheck footage from over the years hoping for some kind of relevant gem (though believe it or not, this is how the original 1972-1975 run of The Joker's Wild was found).



It's 2016, but my tape stash is very much alive and well.  I'm guessing this is the largest collection of VHS in the neighborhood, but there's several Betamax tapes in there for good mix too, with working players for all this stuff sitting right across the room from this shelf.

For real this time... Where does this have you now?


I haven't really traded much since 2013 when the entrepreneurial & startup & DIY/maker bug hit me, but by 2009, I'd amassed enough stuff cataloged online that I guess I started to get good page rankings on Google.  People from out of the woodwork started hitting me up for copies of episodes that they or their family members appeared on.  It's always gratifying to receive these types of requests from people because from watching game shows, I know they bring out a lot of true emotion in people (almost always happy ones) and I believe everyone needs to be able to relive that.

The first such request I can recall came to me in August of 2007 from a fellow named Brian, who appeared on The Price Is Right back in 1992 and somehow caught wind that my copy of the episode might be in slightly better shape than his, so he wrote me to see if he could get a copy.  As a matter of fact, there are a series of episodes from 1992 on a couple tapes that my mom actually recorded for me back then when they were originally broadcast, and almost 25 years later, they still exist in all their glory with original commercials and not much worse for wear despite that they're on VHS.  (If you don't believe that VHS tapes can stay good that long, check out how well J-Shea's early 1980s TPIR episodes have aged.  Those videos were mostly published online in the mid-late 2000s, so those recordings were pushing 20 to 30 years old themselves.)  Anyway, apparently I really was impressed by Brian when I saw this episode as a youngster, since I wrote a bunch of notes on the tape about what he did.  Years later, when I dug this up out of my own archives, I made a page devoted to his episode, and he was impressed (or possibly a little weirded out) when I showed it to him.  Nevertheless, he was gracious enough to answer at length all the interview questions I asked him; I really appreciated the level of detail he went into on his experiences with the show, the taping, his prizes, and how life in general has been up to that point.  I hope he's still out there somewhere doing well.


Other notable requests I've received:


In 2009, a prominent TV meteorologist from the NBC network wrote me to obtain copies of when her grandmother was on The Price Is Right.  It just so happens that her grandmother was on the nighttime version of the show back in 1963 (during its original format) and won over $70,000 in prizes over 6 episodes.

Also in 2009, the grandson of Stanley Skeens wrote me to request a copy of Stanley's appearance on the $64,000 Question, hosted by Hal March, from around 1955.  I was extremely intrigued by this one, as there aren't many people still around who participated in a show related to the Quiz Show Scandals.  I tried to prepare a list of questions for Stanley, but his grandson said unfortunately Stanley's health was failing and was doing badly from COPD thanks to years of coal mining.  Sadly, Stanley passed away on April 15, 2012, as did his own recollections of his experience.

In 2011, a lady who was on an early 1973 episode of The Price is Right wrote me for a copy of her episode.  I had a studio master copy of it, which was particularly exciting.  We had a good conversation about the memories and eventually I convinced her to return to The Price is Right for another shot at a big prize sometime shortly thereafter, but alas she didn't have such luck again with making it into Contestants' Row.

As you can tell, I enjoy living vicariously through these people's accounts of their episodes.  I can't totally relate, because I haven't been a contestant on a show yet (whaaaaaatttttttt????) but from the aspect of the game show nerd getting to meet people who have done such cool things, I love getting to know the back story on to how all these great things transpired.  Nevertheless, some requests take a really long time for me to process, or can possibly be left hanging, because either there's not enough information to get the date or else I don't have a copy of that particular show. For instance:

In 2014, another lady wrote me who played Make Your Move on The Price Is Right back in 1989 for a car.  Only 12 people have ever played Make Your Move for a car in the history of The Price Is Right, so it was great that I could have the privilege to get to know her story.  As it turns out, I did not have this episode, so this one was put on hold until later that summer when I found out who to contact for copies of these shows.  I emailed her right away, but by then, she ended up finding it her own stash, and was gracious enough to send me a copy of her tape (on a DVD of course) for my time & effort.  She was rather unimpressed with the quality of her VHS tape, but I told her it actually looked better than most other original-broadcast shows I have from the same era.


Ok, but 2009 is kind of a long time ago, and 2014 isn't that recent... what about *now* now?


Now that I have this contact, who happens to be an archivist for a major production company, I have almost exclusively helping people track down the exact airdate of their episode and helping them make the contact with the archivist.  Most folks, given the chance to see a pristine studio master (SM) copy of an episode versus some 2nd-generation VHS or DVD recording of the show from over the air, are going to want that studio master, unless the OTA recording was recorded from their own hometown, which is highly unlikely.  And even then, they might prefer the SM copy anyway.  I'll generally take it however I can get it, and would even double it up if it's of particular interest.  Highest quality and completeness are both important to me when I'm collecting episodes, so there are several cases where I have multiple copies of the same show.  But even still, that's not how most people work.  In fact, a vast majority of the people I write back with this information usually just say "Thanks" and leave it at that.  A small percentage of folks follow up once they've received the SM copy, thus indicating about how long it takes to receive the episode once they've asked.  Usually the archivists are pretty fast (about a 1-week turnaround) unless you catch them while they're on vacation, and then you could be waiting several weeks.

Just once in all this time have I ever had someone write me back to offer me a copy of something they got from the archivist, and it was something that doesn't even exist in the trading circuit as yet.  The episode would happen to have quite a bit of significance on its own due to one of the games that was played, but even a hard-core fan would overlook such trivia when they see what Bob was up to with one of the contestants before Act 5:


"You didn't have any place to put your name tag, Leslie?  Well, I could think of, heh, a couple places to put it, heh heh, Leslie!"


The Importance Of This Stuff


As fellow trader Chris Powney told me, not many people in his home country of Australia gave much thought to salvaging these old reruns of game shows.  There is evidently quite a bit of material that even the networks themselves didn't keep copies of, and as a central repository, Chris has even been involved with helping produce retrospective shows, documentaries on game show scandals, and so forth by providing the footage that would go into the new show or documentary.  I can't possibly imagine how this turns out, since the vast majority of my tape collection confuses people as to why it looks so bad (read: not totally pristine broadcast quality, not to mention mostly in 480p these days rather than in any semblance of HD).

But as for me, I still get contacted by random people around the country at least once a month to help them track down episodes they themselves or their relatives appeared on.  These interactions I get do nothing but bring joy to both parties -- you as the contestant and me as a big fan.  As such, this is why I haven't included the information on how to get a hold of these archivists directly.  I want you to contact me first!  Then maybe I can learn more about your story and get a chance to enjoy it more deeply than simply watching it play out in the recording.

Missed my contact info?  Get it from my Website: http://stev-o.us

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