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VALLEY WEEKEND | CENTERPIECE

Good, Clean Fun Finds a TV Home

Adults and Kids Test Wits for Laughs on New Cable Programs

September 26, 1996|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is an ebb and flow to television that seems to go talk shows, game shows, talk shows, game shows.

The primary fodder for talk shows--sex, drugs, abuse--has never exactly fit with the Family Channel's mission of "positive-values" programming. The cable channel, after all, grew out of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. Its parent company, International Family Entertainment Inc., is run by Tim (son-of-Pat) Robertson, and The Family Channel still runs "The 700 Club" twice a day without commercial interruption.

So when it came time to replace its afternoon lineup of "Highway to Heaven" and "Punky Brewster" reruns with original programming, it made sense that the Family Channel got into game shows in a big way. The new shows debut Monday.

Bob Boden, vice president of daytime programming at the Studio City-based Family Channel, said that game shows were a perfect fit. Not only are they inexpensive to produce, he said, "they are typical family entertainment. Wholesome. Appealing to the whole family."

But if you like your entertainment live instead of over the tube, most of the Family Channel's shows tape in the Valley. Visits to the set of each show over the course of a week gave a glimpse of L.A.'s game-show subculture and revealed just how badly some people want to be on TV.

*

3 p.m.

"The New Shop 'Til You Drop"

Heading into its fifth season, the show got a face-lift and, with host Pat Finn in tow, defected to the Family Channel from Lifetime. It's an odd celebration of consumerism and competition that comes to you from a set that looks like an Encino mini-mall.

Couples take on alternating absurd tasks in order to win, say, a trip to Rome. (Losers get a "parting gift" of a $100 gift certificate to Service Merchandise, which certainly is better than Turtle Wax.) For example, Mark has to describe a logo so his wife, Dee Dee, can find the matching athletic shoe. A blindfolded Deborah has to try to recognize her husband, Bill, by feeling his head, which has pantyhose pulled over it. Though there's no studio audience, recorded giggles and snickers leak eerily from speakers.

At commercial time, the score is tied at zero. They go into a speed round that resembles Jeopardy for the hard-core consumer. What does the ROM stand for in CD-ROM? What company makes Air Jordan shoes? Dee Dee and Mark strut their stuff here (no doubt they've been boning up reading Sharper Image catalogs) and head to the bonus round. Here, they open a gift and decide whether to keep it or exchange it, trying to rack up $2,500 in presents in less than a minute.

And we wonder why Americans owe $450 billion on credit cards.

*

3:30 p.m.

"Shopping Spree"

So what is the "positive value" in shopping? (The family that shops together . . . declares bankruptcy together?)

At least there's an altruistic bent here: contestants shop for each other instead of themselves. The gist of this wacky show is this: You've never met your teammate before, but you have to pick out which gifts he would like. He can't tell you anything about himself, so he wears clues--like tools taped to his body (A handyman? A mechanic?) or a weightlifting belt (He's a bodybuilder? He has a bad back?). Truly, if the women shoppers had any success at this task, it was because they had some taste, not because the clues reflected the gifts these men actually chose.

The funniest part of the show never appears on television. One gimmick of the show is that each will feature a different "product model," chosen from the studio audience, who on the show will always be referred to as Denise (or Dennis) DuJour. Between lame warmup jokes and half-hearted Macarenas, executive producer Jay Wolpert runs the audition. Anyone can try out if they are 18 and not a professional actor or model. (Does SAG know about this?) Wolpert says that back when he was producer of "The Price Is Right," he decided that fondling luggage and stroking vacation posters couldn't be that difficult.

It is.

The audience members who audition include Dave-the-frat-boy-ham to Spencer-the-speechless. Then there is Angela, whose little boy cheers "Go, Mom!" from the back row, and the youthful Natasha in her tank top and low-slung hip-hugger jeans. Another woman, Erica, never volunteers but manages to wind up onstage, sliding from display to display like a pro. (Can you say ringer?)

Wolpert announces his picks over the PA: Angela, Erica (surprise, surprise), and, "If you're 18 and put on a shirt," Natasha.

You'll never again begrudge Vanna White her millions.

*

4 p.m.

"Small Talk"

Don't go up against any grandmas on this one.

An American adaptation of a show that's a prime-time hit in Great Britain, "Small Talk" demands that its three contestants guess how kids, ages 6 to 9, will answer certain questions. It is hosted by Will Shriner--who has moved up the evolutionary chain since his last game show, "That's My Dog."

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