Wayne Cox, come on down.
Earlier this year, a new documentary series exploring an intriguing but not-particularly well-known aspect of Canadian television history, The Search for Canada’s Game Shows, launched on cable channel GameTV – while also streaming online – and Cox, a Semiahmoo Peninsula resident, serves as the series’ narrator.
He is well-qualified for such a role. While most people are likely familiar with Cox, or at least his famous Hawaiian shirts, from his decades on local radio and television newscasts – he was a news anchor, host and weatherman on CKVU and Global B.C. from the early 1980s until retiring from Global’s News Hour in 2012 – he is also the former host of three different Canadian game shows. These are explored in the latter episodes of the six-part series, which began airing in early January and wraps up in the middle of next month.
“I guess I’m one of only a few Canadian game-show hosts, and they were doing this series, so I was interviewed by the producer (as part of the documentary),” Cox told Peace Arch News. “Then a few weeks after that interview, he called me and asked if I would like to be the narrator.
“Being the narrator… it’s not much – just adding some vocal links between clips. But it was fun to do, and even though I was involved in some of the shows, I learned a lot about the other shows over the years.”
The series includes interviews with everyone from Howie Mandel to famed U.S. disc jockey, game-show host and television producer Wink Martindale – as well as a slew of others involved in game-show production through the years – and, as Cox points out, “starts right at the beginning” of game shows’ rise to popularity on North American television.
The series starts with an exploration of Canada’s Front Page Challenge, and includes episodes dedicated to the U.S. quiz-show scandal of the 1950s – in which games were rigged to make for more exciting T.V., and which drove black-listed American show producers to Canada as a result.
From there, other shows – from the standard trivia-style to the downright wacky – are explored, including one episode focused on Talk About, a Cox-hosted show that ran for 175 episodes on CBC, and on Fox in the United States, from 1988 until 1990. It also includes profiles on two of the most famous game-show hosts in T.V. history, Sudbury, Ont.-born Alex Trebek and Monty Hall, who was born in Winnipeg.
Talk About – described as having similarities to the board game Outburst – saw two teams of two players apiece vying for prizes. Contestants had to get their playing partners to say as many of the listed words as they could, without saying the word itself.
The show ended up being broadcast in half a dozen other countries – each with their own local host – and also spawned a video game and a board game, or the “home version” of the game that show announcers would often award contestants as a consolation prize.
The relatively straightforward game play is what endeared itself to viewers, which, Cox points out, today is the key to any good game show.
“I like to call it ‘play-along-a-bility,’” he said. “Now, I don’t think that’s a word, but it’s essential. If people at home are playing along, you know you’ve got yourself a hit.”
Aside from Talk About, from 1987-88 Cox also hosted Second Honeymoon, a Martindale-produced show in which children tried to win a second honeymoon for their parents by matching up answers to questions, similar to The Newlywed Game.
“It was a clever show in that it took the greed out of game shows, because the kids weren’t playing to win prizes themselves, they were trying to win a prize for mom and dad,” Cox explained.
Cox also hosted a third show, Acting Crazy, a charades-based game show that ran for 130 episodes in Canada for three years in the early 1990s.
Usually, he was hosting the game shows while still working his regular radio and television news gigs.
“The beauty of game shows is you would usually tape five shows in one day. You’d usually do three days in a row, so you’d get 15 shows – three weeks’ worth of games – done in three days,” he explained.
“So you’d work hard for a few days and then get a week or two off, so that was great.”
Narrating The Search for Canada’s Game Shows rekindled a lot of memories, Cox said, though he admits many things have been lost to time – either because he’s forgotten or because old show tapes were recorded over, which was common in the television industry prior to the digital age.
“A lot of memories popped up, but a lot of these shows, it was 30 years ago, so some of the weird little stories are forgotten,” he said. “I really should have been writing them down at the time, but it’s like anything – while it’s happening, you don’t think about that stuff.
“You just say, ‘Oh, well that was funny,’ and you go on to the next thing. But the other thing that did pop up in my memory bank was those tapes… you’d tape a show, but after a while, it just became a storage issue. You have all this tape and what are you going to do with it? Well, we need extra tape, so you record over it.
“It’s a shame, because especially with those early game shows, a lot of material has been lost because of that.”
The lost-footage aspect of the old game-shows – or old television in general – plays a key role in the docu-series, as producers are, quite literally, hunting for information and footage. A note on the series’ official website originally included a call out to people who may have old show footage they’d be willing to share.
As the series shifts from shows such as Front Page Challenge and moves into the late 1970s and ’80s – the ‘heyday’ of game shows – it becomes apparent how the genre has morphed through the years.
“Over the years, a new show would come along and it would borrow one or two things from games that had already been,” Cox said. “Wheel of Fortune is just the old game of Hangman, right?
“Everything tends to borrow from something else. Even Howie Mandel’s (Deal or No Deal), it kind of borrowed from Monty Hall… and in the documentary, they explained that Monty Hall’s (Let’s Make a Deal) borrowed from an old parlour game.”
Borrowed or otherwise, Cox – who said he’s more of a news and sports watcher these days, but will watch a game show from time to time – reiterated that a game show’s success relies on a relatively basic premise.
“It’s a matter of making it appealing to the public, and making the want to tune in – that’s what it’s all about.”