TV Review: The New “It’s A Knockout” Sucks

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th November 2011.

On Sunday night, one of my favourite eighties TV shows was resurrected. With minimal fanfare, It’s a Knockout returned after a twenty four year absence.

Originally airing from 1985 – 1987, It’s a Knockout was hosted by Fiona McDonald and Billy J Smith. At the beginning of each episode they would enter the stadium in a golf cart and introduce a series of ridiculous challenges which pitted teams representing four Australian states against each other.

A guest referee would oversee the proceedings. Minor celebrities at the time filled this role, including Grant Kenny, Ricky May and Jon English, as well as Network Ten contracted talent such as Jason Donovan and Cameron Daddo.

The program was recorded just up the road from my childhood home, at Englefield Soccer Stadium in Dural. Surprisingly, I never attended a taping but remember being amazed by the stories from my school friends who went along. I recall being outraged at the time that audience members were split into groups and forced to barrack onscreen for a particular state.

I was particularly impressed that one of my next door neighbours was a cheerleader for the show. I ran into her several years ago. She is now the nursing manager for the intensive care unit of a major Sydney hospital. I bet she doesn’t have the It’s a Knockout gig on her CV.

The latest incarnation of It’s a Knockout is hosted by HG Nelson, Brad McEwan and Charli Robinson. The latter’s job is to interview the contestants and generally make everything seem so much more fun and hilarious than it actually is. Nelson and McEwan have a reasonable chemistry but their banter seems quite disconnected from the rest of the show, as if their segments were shot on a different day to the competition.

This is reminiscent of the similarly themed Wipeout show, which also featured two wise cracking hosts who were very obviously standing in front of a green screen in a studio far away from the stadium.

Both Wipeout and It’s a Knockout are filmed offshore, allegedly to take advantage of less stringent insurance regulations and contain costs. Wipeout and its various international editions, including Wipeout Australia, are shot in Argentina. Kuala Lumpur is home to the new It’s a Knockout, which is interesting, because when I think of whacky game shows, I definitely do not think of Malaysia.

The rebooted It’s a Knockout focuses less on the contestants and more on the action than the original incarnation. For me, this is counterproductive as it’s the human element which draws you in. Without some level of connection to the teams, the players just become Japanese game show cannon fodder for trips, spills and falls.

Gone also is the live audience split into four state groups. In its place is a small but excitable audience in a tiny grandstand. Presumably tourists who don’t care about whether NSW wins or not, the audience claps and cheers at the right times but based on the wide shots of the stadium, anyone in the grandstand would probably not be able to see the majority of the events. It is quite possible that the audience wasn’t even there for the games. With some clever editing, you would just need to shoot a couple of minutes of crowd reactions and send them home.

The continuous spruiking of a certain fast food brand was also annoying. Call me old fashioned but I prefer my ads in the ad breaks.

I know that It’s a Knockout is just another zany TV show but I’m being particularly critical because this one was a childhood favourite. The failed resurrection of Hey, Hey It’s Saturday last year and the imminent relaunch of Young Talent Time in 2012 prove that the TV networks are desperately running out of new ideas.

The problem with brushing the dust off old eighties programming such as It’s a Knockout is that its intended audience, nostalgic Gen Xers such as me, may have adored the show twenty five years ago but have now grown up. I’m no longer interested in Plucka Duck, precocious kids lip synching badly and people dressed up in ostrich costumes riding bikes. If the networks must go back to the eighties well, bring back the original shows as late night reruns.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:16  Leave a Comment  
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Eighties remakes suck…but if you really have to, remake these

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 1st November 2011.

There’s nothing new under the sun. This year has seen the release of eighties remakes, Footloose and Fright Night. Both films have enjoyed moderate box office success and mixed critical reviews, but ultimately, one has to wonder why a remake was necessary.

With a prequel to the 1980 classic The Thing also hitting screens this month, plus a troubled reworking of Red Dawn likely to finally see the light of day this year, it seems all bets are off.

So here are my picks for eighties classics to be remade, even though I think it’s a bad idea.

Number 5 is alive! Despite starring Steve Guttenberg and having a shameful Indian stereotype character played by white actor Fisher Stevens (Birdy Num Nums anyone?), Short Circuit (1986) is great fun. Johnny 5, a military prototype robot, gets struck by lightning and develops self awareness. Permanently stuck is wise cracking mode, Johnny learns about life as he goes on the run from the bad guys with charisma vacuum Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy in tow. A poor sequel was produced in 1988 with only Fisher Stevens and Number 5 returning.

Have you ever left a yogurt in the fridge for so long that it becomes an evil entity that wants to take over your body? That is pretty much the premise of The Stuff (1985). Miners discover sweet tasting goo seeping out of the ground and decide to mass market it as a dessert (as you do). Of course, the goo is alive and has the power to turn the good folk of America into zombies. Only an industrial espionage expert hired by a rival ice cream company can save the day. I know it’s not exactly Hamlet but conceptually The Stuff is pretty good, er, stuff.

John Cusack was a staple in eighties teen comedies and two of his classics deserve a reboot. The Sure Thing (1985) stars Cusack as a young man who embarks on a road trip across America to hook up with a bikini clad blonde. Bad luck pairs him with uptight classmate Allison (Daphne Zuniga). Chaos ensues. Will he get to meet the girl of his dreams or will the mismatched travelling couple fall in love? I’m sure you can guess.

Better Off Dead (1985), also stars Cusack as a teen who loses his fickle girlfriend to a fellow skiing rival. Depressed, he tries unsuccessfully to kill himself. Pursued throughout the film by a paperboy (I want my two dollars!) and two very funny Asian revheads who seem to be waiting to race him at every traffic light, Cusack has to get his skiing mojo back as he falls for the pretty foreign exchange student next door.

In the eighties, two-for-one vouchers could often be found on promotional bottles of a particular brand of cordial (the one my dad picks the fruit for). These vouchers were only good for whatever film was being pushed at the time, and this is how I got to see my final pick, The Boy Who Could Fly (1986).

Teenager Milly meet Eric, an autistic boy. Both have lost a parent or parents and they soon become friends. After a series of strange events, Milly comes to the conclusion that Eric might have strange powers. Can Eric really fly? Have you read the title of the film?

On paper, none of these films sound worthy of a remake. However, like the original Footloose and Fright Night, they each contain a particular energy, attitude and innocence unique to the eighties and this cannot be replicated by CGI, 3D or any Kevin Bacon wannabe. But if we must disturb the graves of classic eighties cinema, you could do far worse.

Rewind Festival Wound Up

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th October 2011.

A few weeks ago I penned a column about the upcoming Rewind Festival, a two day music festival featuring an array of eighties acts planned for this coming weekend. Last Monday came the announcement that the event had been cancelled. There’s no doubt that this decision was due to poor ticket sales. This is bad news for the few who had purchased tickets and now have to scramble for refunds, and whilst the notion of a retro festival appears attractive, there are plenty of reasons why Rewind was doomed to fail from the beginning.

Firstly, the planned event location was too far from a major city to be viable. Bluescope Field in Kembla Range, near Wollongong, may have been an acceptable site for campers, however, for day ticket holders, who would have been the majority of attendees, the distance to travel was too great.

As the event date drew closer, an attempt was made to shift Rewind to the Hordern Pavilion. This is a good indication of how much the promoter’s expectations fell as ticket sales stalled. Bluescope Field has a maximum capacity of 30000 compared to the Hordern’s 5500. A promotion for two tickets for the price of one a month before the event was another ominous sign that sales were not going well.

I decided not to attend the festival as I didn’t fancy camping out in the elements, particularly if rain turned the grounds to mud. Perhaps my thoughts were indicative of the majority of Rewind’s demographic, Generation X’ers. I now find it difficult to stand through a regular two hour or so concert. There’s no way my knees would make it through a two day festival. Bring on the comfortable chairs and hotel rooms.

I also think that the night time is the right time for concerts. Darkness adds a ferly atmosphere to a gig and many of the Rewind acts were unfortunately scheduled to play under the sun.

The Rewind Festival has previously been a success in the UK. Of course, they have a much bigger population and a longer tradition of music festivals. In Australia, the festival scene is highly competitive. With The Big Day Out, Homebake and Splendour by the Grass soaking up the majority of festival dollars, smaller festivals have to virtually sell out to be feasible.

A strong Aussie dollar compared to the greenback also makes Australia more attractive to overseas based acts. Defunct eighties and nineties performers are reforming to cash in on an increasing demand and interest in all things retro. The successful Day on the Green franchise proves that Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers will pay top dollar to see quality retro acts alongside contemporary artists. Of course, most of these retro performers have a deep back catalogue of hits, which is more than could be said for most of the artists on the Rewind Festival bill.

The rise of MTV in the eighties led to many iconic music videos. These classic clips have been on constant rotation on TV ever since. Why would I want to see a much older Bananarama lip synch their way on a sparse stage through their biggest hit, Venus, when I can watch a much spunkier and younger group from the comfort of my living room?

So another music festival bites the dust. It’s a pity really. I would suggest to the promoters that an arena tour of the capital cities with a rapid fire format similar to the Countdown Spectacular concerts in 2006/07 would have been a much better choice.

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 01:26  Comments (2)  
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Eighties pop stars acting badly

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Where do eighties teen pop stars go to die? The answer at the moment seems to be the video store. After twenty years or so in the wilderness, US one hit wonder Tiffany, has reappeared in, not one, but three low budget films. I guess she’s finally been allowed out of the shopping mall. Unfortunately, she’s still stuck in retail.

Tiffany Renee Darwish, known to her fans as Tiffany, first came to prominence with her single I Think We’re Alone Now which made a minor dent in the Australian charts, peaking at 46 in 1987. The video for the song famously depicts a sixteen year old Tiffany entertaining an over enthusiastic crowd at a shopping mall. It was actually extensive shopping mall tours that formed the basis of Tiffany’s marketing and promotions in the early stages of her career.

A cover of The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There, with the “her” replaced with a “him” fared better in the Australian charts, making it to number 10 in 1988. The music video featured Tiffany performing in front of a screaming live crowd.

Following a turn voicing Judy Jetson in the epic historical drama Jetsons: The Movie (1990), Tiffany disappeared from the Australian pop culture consciousness, perhaps forever.

Tiffany returned to the shopping mall when her career stalled. Sadly, it was as a cleaner. Only kidding, after being dropped by her record label, she continued to record albums as an independent artist and make plans for a comeback. Unfortunately, the plans consisted of rerecording her hits for a disco album, participating in reality shows featuring other eighties has-beens, attempting a career as a country singer and posing nude for Playboy. None of which worked.

After rival eighties teen queen Debbie Gibson successfully appeared in the direct to video adaption of Jane Austen’s Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, Tiffany was approached to make her feature film debut in the psychological thriller Blood Snow (2009). With a cast of relative unknowns, Tiffany stars opposite James Kyson Lee (Heroes) as a woman trapped in a cabin with friends during a blizzard. The DVD cover for this masterpiece is quite hilarious.  Whilst all of her co-stars have their film credits listed next to their names, poor Tiffany has the words, “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Next for Tiffany was a “mockbuster” from The Asylum. I’ve written a column about this low budget production company. They make direct to video movies that are similarly titled to major cinema releases, such as The Transmorphers, Snakes on a Train and Sunday School Musical.

Mega Piranha (2010), a mockbuster of Piranha 3D, stars Tiffany alongside Barry Williams (Greg from The Brady Bunch). She plays a Professor (I’m not sure of what, perhaps shopping malls) who must stop a school of genetically modified piranha from attacking Florida. In the climax of the film, Professor Tiffany destroys the mega piranha by making them eat each other, presumably by forcing them to listen to her music.

Tiffany and Debbie Gibson will finally come head to head on the small screen this year, co-starring in Mega Python Versus Gatoroid, another monster disaster film from The Asylum. After battling it out in the charts during the eighties, both stars fight each other in a hair pulling, cake throwing melee that has to be seen to be believed. This scene is available online as a sneak peek.

Although Tiffany may not be a threat to the cinema box office or the music charts again, it is nice to know that she’s found herself a niche, even if it is the “gigantic steroid enhanced reptiles fighting each other” movie niche.

Blood Snow and Mega Piranha are available to rent now, and are well worth a chuckle on cheap Tuesday.

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 07:25  Leave a Comment  
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After-school ABC TV in the eighties rules

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 16th November 2010.

Growing up in the eighties, I have vivid memories of racing home from the school bus every afternoon to make sure that I didn’t miss a moment of the ABC’s early evening programming. Now this was well before pay TV where kids (and stoners) have access to cartoons all day every day. There was only one timeslot each day for the latest Japanese anime series followed by an endlessly repeated BBC show.

I recently attempted to revisit some of my childhood favourites to see if they still held appeal. The results were disappointingly mixed. Perhaps I should’ve left my rose coloured glasses on.

At four thirty, my afternoon TV fest usually started with a dubbed Japanese cartoon. My favourite was Star Blazers, a space opera that focused on the journey of the starship Argo and its crew to Iscandar, a planet with the resources to save Earth from the evil blue skinned Gamilons. Star Blazers was one of the first animated series to have major storyline arcs and an episodic structure. In my head, the show ran for months and months. In reality there were three seasons with a total of seventy seven episodes.

I bought the season one box set this year. I made it through two episodes before the box was put on the shelf for eternity. The show is humourless and overly dramatic with terrible voice acting. Just add Kate Ritchie and you’d have Cops LAC.

Other animated shows from that timeslot include Astro Boy and Voltron. The latter was a daily toy commercial and it certainly worked on me. Between my brother and I, we had the complete set of lions that joined together to form Voltron, a giant robot warrior. If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t try to prevent JFK’s assassination, I’d go back and tell my ten year old self to keep those Voltron (and Star Wars) toys in their boxes. Mint toys from that era are worth a fortune.

At around five o’clock, the BBC shows would start. Metal Mickey was a sitcom that starred a man in a giant robot costume. Every episode would end with a “hilarious” disaster where the very clumsy robot would accidentally smash through Styrofoam walls to blatantly canned laughter whilst the catchy theme jingle played. The show is available on DVD in the UK but after catching a few clips on YouTube, I decided against paying big bucks to watch an expressionless robot who occasionally says something funny. Insert your own Kate Ritchie joke here.

Doctor Who was on perpetual repeats in this slot too, usually from the Tom Baker era and in my mind, usually The Ark in Space story. You know, the one with the dodgy giant space caterpillars. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to sit through that one, but I’ll never look at bright green sleeping bags the same way again. I really enjoy the new Who, but I probably could live without another journey to the alien planet where the balsa wood walls shake every time you walk past them.

The Goodies and The Kenny Everett Video Show also usually aired just before Peter Russell-Clark’s Come and Get It, a five minute cooking show that signified the end of the kiddie programming for the evening. I still adore Tim, Graeme and Bill. I own several Goodies DVDs and could probably watch their exploits on repeat and find something new to laugh about each time. I’ll also perform the Funky Gibbon song on request.

The Kenny Everett show was an interesting choice. It’s a racy sketch comedy starring a gay comedian featuring the sexy and nubile Hot Gossip dancers. What perfect programming for kids. Actually, that might explain an awful lot about my sense of humour, and my dancing. I look forward to putting a few Kenny Everett DVDs on my Christmas wish list.

OK, so my tastes have changed a lot since then but at the time, these shows caught my imagination and probably influenced my growth, or lack of, somehow.