When I was a kid game shows were a key part of my TV viewing experience. Whether it was a sick day from school, vacation or summer break, if I was home during the day I would watch all the game shows I could fit in; The Price is Right, Card Sharks and Press Your Luck were a few of my favorites. And then, sometime in the early 1980’s I stumbled across a game show that would surpass them all!
When my family first got cable in the early 1980’s I was drawn to a station based in Atlanta. Turner Broadcasting Station (SuperStation WTBS) had everything I needed. It aired reruns of Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, The Munsters and it was the home of the Atlanta Braves (which is how a kid from Iowa is a Braves fan). I would turn on WTBS and watch for hours without needing to get up and change the channel.
One day while watching WTBS a new game show came on, but not just any game show. A show different from the ‘grown-up’ game shows on the other channels. It was a show perfect for kids, it even had kid contestants!
This is Starcade!
Starcade was a Arcade Video Game game show where people would play video games for cash and prizes! And the grand prize was your very own video game! What! That beats winning a living room set on The Price is Right any day.
The format was simple, two contestants faced off against each other playing video games. The contestants were matched together based on their playing ability. Sometimes it was adult vs adult or kid vs adult. My favorite episodes were the kid vs kid contests.
Each episode featured five video games, which were introduced at the beginning. One of them was revealed to the home audience as the “mystery game,” if someone picked the “mystery game” they won special prizes, video game cartridges or other video game themed prizes.
The game was split into three rounds. At the start of the game the host would ask a question about a video game. The person with the correct answer picked which of the five games they wanted to play. Each player had 50 seconds to score as many points as possible, while the viewing audience watched the game play. Some people were good, others crashed and burned right away but that never mattered. The cool part was seeing all the different video games available, games I never knew existed. Some of those games I still haven’t played!
Growing up in a small town my first ‘arcade’ was a small mom and pop grocery store. They had a Rally-X cabinet stuffed in the back room next to the mop bucket and cleaning supplies. My friend and I would spend hours playing that game. The occasional trip to the Roller Skating rink with my sisters was heaven. I could play Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and Asteroids in between rounds of skating. When it was a ‘couples-only’ skate I had better access to the games and didn’t have to work my way past the bigger kids to put my quarter up.
In those early years, playing video games was either at gas stations, the roller rink or the pizza parlor. My town didn’t get it’s first real arcade until the mid 1980’s when a place called W.C. Franks opened up. That’s where I discovered Gauntlet for the first time! I have so many memories of that place. But that’s a post for another time…
OK, back to Starcade. Seeing all those video games was amazing. It wasn’t just the main stream games like Pac-Man, Zaxxon or Donkey Kong. They featured games that weren’t at my local gas station; Krull, Bagman, Buck Rodgers, Snake Pit. When Star Wars first showed up on Starcade I lost my mind! I had no idea there was a Star Wars video game. From that point on I was on a quest to find and play the Star Wars video game.
The contestants would continue to answer questions and play video games for three rounds. At the end of the second round the contestant with the highest score would play ‘Name That Game.’ They were shown four video game screens and had to guess the name of the video game. Three correct answers won a prize, four correct won a second prize.
The third round was played the same as the first two and then all the scores were totaled. The player with the highest score from all three rounds won the game, a bonus prize and advanced to the bonus round. In the bonus round the contestant picked from the two remaining games. They had 30 seconds to beat the average score of 20 players for the game they picked. If they beat the score they won the grand prize, a video game!
The shows format was simple, answer some questions, play video games and get the highest score possible. The only real changes to the format during it’s run was changing the amount of time players had on each game. Round One fluctuated from 60 seconds, 40 seconds and 50 seconds.
Starcade had two hosts during its original run. Well, it actually had four different hosts but two of them didn’t make it past the pilot shows. The first pilot featured Olympic hockey player Mike Eruzione, famous for his part in the ‘Miracle on Ice’ match against the Russians in the 1980 Olympics. While that pilot episode scored well in the ratings, it wasn’t picked up by the networks. A second pilot episode was filmed with none other than Alex Trebek, of Jeopardy fame, but again the big networks passed on it.
When the show was finally picked up Trebek was busy hosting Battlestars and unavailable. The first official host of Starcade was Mark Richards, an unknown talent with no love for video games.
I remember watching episodes with Richards, he always seemed uninterested and bored. He didn’t seem to like the games or even know anything about them. He really didn’t add anything to the show. I’m not the only one who noticed. The head of WTBS, Ted Turner noticed as well. He replaced Richards about 20 episodes into the show with Geoff Edwards.
Edwards was 52 when he started hosting Starcade, not exactly the video game playing demographic, but he was the perfect host. He embraced video games, studied the industry and even became an accomplished video game player. Unlike Richards, Edwards would give contestants advice on how to play the game and score higher points. Interesting fact about Geoff Edwards, he started out as a reporter in Dallas, Texas and was present when Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald after the JFK assassination.
During the transition of hosts came a new order from Ted Turner. He wanted the show to air daily and increased the original show order from 13 episodes to 133!
Edwards would host Starcade until the show was cancelled in September 1984. He remained an avid video game player until his death in 2014.
Starcade didn’t just focus on the game show aspect. It offered nice extras during the show. When they cut to a commercial break they featured a trivia question from one of the video games, giving the answer when the commercial break ended.
It also featured the Starcade Hotline, which was a brief news segment on the video game industry and technology used in making video games.
Like other game shows Starcade would occasionally have special episodes, episodes dedicated entirely to one video game, or team episodes. The most popular is probably the Dragon’s Lair episode.
While I love Dragon’s Lair, I find it somewhat boring to watch. But it was one of the most popular games around and having an episode (actually two episodes) dedicated to it makes sense.
Fun Starcade Facts:
- The first pilot, hosted by Mike Eruzione, featured a celebrity contestant, Larry Wilcox from CHiPs
- Alex Trebek received $5,000 to film his pilot episode
- When the first 2 pilots were rejected the creators, James Caruso and Mavis E. Arthur, spent $60,000 of their own money to revamp the show and film another pilot
- To ensure accurate scoring when time expired they connected a camera to a TRS-80 computer that would freeze the tape exactly when time expired
- During the first 20 episodes contestants wore Starcade T-Shirts…I want one so bad!
- Starcade originally aired Saturday mornings on WTBS
- Starcade ran from 1981-1984 with over 300 contestants competing on the show
Other video game shows would follow, Video Power and Nick Arcade are the two that I remember most. None of them captured the lure and excitement of Starcade for me.
Starcade was the first video game game show and is still the best one every made. Just hearing the opening music puts a smile on my face and brings back memories of watching the show as a kid. Did you watch Starcade when it first aired? Or maybe during one of it’s rebroadcasts on the G4 network? You can still watch full episodes on the Official Starcade site. What was your favorite game on the show? Let us know in the comments below.