10 Classic Game Shows for Children

According to Gameshowreview.com the main difference between adult game shows and game shows for children is that the adult game shows are mostly focused on the grand prize (usually big money prizes, trips and brand-new vehicles) and that the game within in the show itself (and certain micro games like say on “The Price Is Right”) is the obstacle. Yes, the games may be fun to play but winning the grand prize is very important to these contestants. Most adult game shows are trivia themed as well, but they have exceptions like Pyramid, TPIR, Let’s Make a Deal, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud. Children’s game shows do have prizes, but those shows are more about the trill of being on the TV Game show itself. Those games are fall into three categories with at least two of the elements combined. Sports, Adventure, and Trivia with certain exceptions as well. Well there are several game shows on this list that fall into the three categories and indeed it is about having fun and gaining bragging rights about being on TV and truly having 15 minutes of fame. For this list, I have excluded game shows for children that were adapted from adult game shows. Meaning, that children’s adaptations of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Pyramid, and even Hollywood Squares do NOT make this list. The games show’s listed here were created with children in mind or the eligibility allow children to play on the show as well. One show on this list I counted as a children’s game show but allowed adults through its entire run on TV. I will talk about that show as soon as I reach it. I also don’t count the game shows sketches within a show like “Square One Television” or even “Vegetable Soup” from the 1970’s (remember “The Big Job Hunt?”) which did really have real child contestants and real prizes and/or trophies. Most of the children’s game shows listed here aired on Nickelodeon but there are few non-Nickelodeon game shows that made the list as well. Now here is my cream of the crop of Game Shows for Children.

10. Make The Grade: This game show for children leaned on trivia more than the others but it had its twist and turns and the occasional physical challenge in the game. In the front game three contestants go up against a 7×7 split-flap game board. There are seven categories that go horizontally and seven grade levels going vertically starting with a consolidated Elementary Level followed by separate rows from 7th to 12th grade levels. Six of the categories are you typical Pre-College subjects followed by an elective category that was always last. The object of MTG, was to answer enough questions to light up every category and grade level on their desk or come close to that goal if time rounds out in the front game. For the most part, the game borrows from Jeopardy!, in which a single contestant picks the category and a buzz in/toss up question is asked. However, there are wild cards along the way. A “Take” would allow the player that uncovered it to steal a square from one of their opponents. The “Lose” card would force the player that uncovered it to give up a square of their choice, which afterwards that chosen square is returned to play as another question or a wild card. The “Free” card gives the contestant the square that they uncovered with this Wild card to simply give them the square without having to answer a question. But the one Wild Card that can be a game changer and effects everyone and I mean ALL THREE PLAYERS is the “Fire Drill” card in which a Fire Drill aka physical challenge is played with all three contestants. The player that comes in first in the drill can actual switch podiums/desks and thus take the score from a leading contestant, while the second-place finisher can take one of the reaming two, leaving third place with the final podium that was open. Fire Drill could take a contestant in third place but won the Fire Drill challenge taking the highest scoring desk and likely winning the game. So, while head knowledge was important a bit of in intelligence and physical ability played an important role as well. Wonder if Merv Griffin was getting ideals from this show when he created his final game show “Crosswords” that went to air after his untimely death. The winner of the front game won $500 moved on to the “Honors Round” in which they had 45 seconds to answer one question correctly in all seven subjects. Each question earned the player $100 and depending on the season of the show getting all seven subjects down either won them $1,000 or a trip to Universal Studios Florida which was a big sponsor of Nickelodeon at the time…. also, many Nick shows were shot there during the 1990’s. A University Round was added in the second season of MTG’s run and was played if an episode needed additional time to fill. The contestant would be asked up to five questions in which the contestant could quit at any time. The first question was worth $50, second was $100, third $200, fourth $500 and the fifth and final question was $1,000. Any question missed along the way and player lost all the money expect for the money earned in the previous rounds. This round was played only in the second season. Make The Grade took from Jeopardy!, and Nickelodeon’s sister game shows, but this was the intellectual game that was created for kids in mind.

9. Wild And Crazy Kids: This game show that lasted for three seasons was strictly a stunt game show. Large teams of children competed in head to head physical challenges. These challenges are based on real life sports and playground games or other games not based on Sports or Playground games. A sport challenge could range from Three-Legged Soccer (playing soccer with a partner tied to their ankles like in a Three-Legged Race) or Donkey Basketball in which the teams played Basketball on…yep donkeys. A Playground Game like Tug of War would pit children against three professional wrestlers. A game that does not fit the above would be something like “Human Battleship” in which beans would be dumped on then if their spaces were called out. The show lasted for three seasons from 1990-92 with a brief revival in 2002. The show was constantly repeated from 1999-2007 Nick and its sister channels. To date only 75 episodes (including the 2002 revival) have been produced…but there is something about watching actual wild and crazy kids.

8. Figure It Out: If there was a game show that mirrored classics like “What’s My Line” and “I’ve Got A Secret” (both classics out of the Mark Goodson library of Game Shows) this one was for the kids. Like “Line” a panel of celebrities (mostly from other Nickelodeon shows) had to ask Yes/No questions regarding a contestant’s talent and like “Line” a question that is answer with a no only helps the contestant get one step closer to winning prizes and maybe the grand prize that being a trip. However, one departure from the classic Goodson game is that you have a game board called Billy the Answer Head or the “It” board in which words or part of a phrase that is connected to the contestant talent if mention is displayed on the board. Regardless if the contestant can truly stump the panel or they finally figure it out…that contestant does demonstrate their skills and talks about it with the host and panelists. Secret Slime Action took the place of the blindfolds on “What’s My Line” and it’s played with a contestant randomly chosen from the audience. I have to say, that it was about time that the kids could have a fun show like the adults that involved a celebrity panel and had contestants in which they tried to stump them as they did back in the Golden Age of TV Game shows. When that kind of game show went out of style, Nickelodeon picked it up and ran with in the late 1990’s. Figure It Out was a children version of a celebrity panel vs. everyday contestant (with a unique skill or occupation and can you guess it) template.

7. Finders Keepers: This Nick Game Show came on the coattails of the successful Double Dare. It some ways Finders Keepers is more Double Dare Lite rather than mocking the “Weeping Losers.” In other ways Finders Keepers is more like the Mark Goodson produced game show “Now You See It” except here you need to find pictures of hidden objects in a bigger picture instead of finding words hidden in a jumble of them. Here is how Finders Keepers is played. Each round in the front game has a “Hidden Pictures” sub-round and a “Searching the House” sub-round. In “Hidden Pictures” the two teams of two players are shown a large picture, the object is finding the hidden objects within the picture by figuring out the clues given to them. If a team sees the object they buzz in and use their light pin on their telestrator to circle the hidden object. Later in the show’s run, the team member closer to the picture must run to the picture and pull off the correct plastic laminate sticker on their side of the set to match the object in the picture. Each correct find earns the team $25 in the first round and $75 in the second round plus win the right to search one of the eight rooms in the Finders Keepers house. The Finders Keepers house has a total of eight rooms plus a staircase. Half of the rooms are used in the first round and the other four are used in the second. In the “Searching the House” half, the teams must find an specify object based on the clue given. Once that clue is given, the host gives the signal to “Find It!” The team will have 30 seconds to find that object. If found the team will earn $50 in the first round and $100 in the second round. If they fail to claim the object in question before time is up, the opposing team would score. Finding the object on “Finders Keepers” is the equivalate of making a mess of the house in the process. Normally something that children would get chewed out normally if it was their parents’ home. Should there be a tie after the two rounds, one more Hidden Pictures round would be played with a brand-new picture and a team must find at least two hidden objects in order win the game. The winning team goes on to the “Room to Room Romp” in which they have 90 seconds to find clue cards attached to objects in six of the eight rooms selected for the romp. Again, there are a total of eight rooms so in the end game two always luck out. It should be noted that Wesley Eure (famous for the roles of Michael Horton on “Days of Our Lives” and Will Marshall on “Land of the Lost”) hosted the game show during its run on Nickelodeon while the lesser known Larry Toffler took over when “Finders Keepers” moved to syndication.

6. Starcade: Nickelodeon had its own game show based on Arcade Video Games but it paled compared to the real McCoy being Starcade. This is the first of three games shows in the top ten that did not air on Nickelodeon (airing at first on TBS and later broadcast syndication outside of then WTBS Atlanta, GA), and while the eligibility rules allowed adults to compete on Starcade, I shall count this show as a children’s game since most the contestants were children and teens. Also, you didn’t come to Starcade to win big money. You came to play a contest involving arcade games to win prizes and maybe a video arcade game for your own (or a remote-control robot or jukebox instead) …sometimes a vacation (if your part of an invite show). In each show two contestants or two teams competed with each other in video game competitions. To make the game fair the contestants were sized up on how well they played the five featured games collectively. To help decide which of the five arcade games to be played, the contestants are asked questions on video game trivia with a 50/50 multiple choice guess. The contestant that rings in and gets the question correct will be able to pick one of the five games. If they miss then their opponent gets the choose the game. One of the games would be chosen as a “Mystery Game” and if that is chosen during the front game, the contestant/team would win a bonus prize. During video game play the object for the contestants was to score enough points within the given time limit. In most episodes, the time limit was 50 seconds in the first two rounds and 40 seconds in the final round. Once a game is played by both contestants/team; its out of play for the rest of that respected episode. The video game points are cumulative and carry over into the second and third rounds. The contestant that is leading after the second round wins the right to place the mid-bonus game “Name the Game” in which the winning player must guess at least three of the four games (50/50 multiple guess) featured in the four monitors in order to win a prize. After the third round the player/team with the most video game points wins the game itself and earns the privilege to compete for the Grand Prize of the week. To win the grand prize, the contestant must beat the average score of 20 game players on ONE of the remaining games that were not chosen in the front game within 30 second or less. An uphill battle but it could be done. Believe it or not Alex Trebek hosted one of the early pilots of this series. Eventually Mark Richards was chosen to be host. However, Richards was not really interested in the show’s concept and was quickly replaced by Geoff Edwards who hosted such game shows like The New Treasure Hunt and Chain Reaction. Edwards was not into Arcade Games but because he wanted to keep his job he learned about the Arcade Games and he was instantly hooked on them. This helped especially when he did the play by play during the gameplay on show. Edwards would be a fan of arcade game for the rest of his life…long after Starcade ended its original run.

5. Where In The World/Time Is Carmen Sandiego: The first and best game show to air on PBS overall and I would say the best of the two PBS game shows for children to date (“Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman” was the second PBS Kids Game Show to date). Also, I am counting both World and Time as a single show. There are differences but templates are basically the same. Both are a combined Trivia/Adventure game show. The late Lynne Thigpen played the Chief and served as the announcer of both versions of Carmen Sandiego. Otherwise you had different cast players and the cast that were on the longer running World were the best. Greg Lee who was the host (“in charge of new recruits” at Acme Crimenet), and the house band Rockapella who achieved fame in their right afterwards. There was something about the synergy that Lee, Thigpen and Rockapella had on that show. Time might have had Thigpen but was really nothing there. Kevin Shinick was a decent host, and they tried to work an antagonistic angel between Shinick and Thigpen but it’s not as good as the playoff between Lee and Thigpen in the former show, and in end…Time lasted for only two seasons. Now that I have gotten that out of the way. Let us talk about how both versions are played starting with the World Rules.

At the beginning of each show, the Chief briefs the contestants (called Gumshoes) on the crime and which one of Carmen’s Hench people did it. Usually they steal a certain location which by human standards is impractical to do…but since Carmen and her gang are cartoons anyway…why not. So to bring Carmen and company to justice they must answer geography trivia. The gumshoes are given 50 points each (called Acme Crimebucks on the show). Most of clues given are played out in sketches (especially the phone tap sketch done in every episode) or even songs by Rockapella themselves. After these sketches are finished, Lee would give the gumshoes multiple choice options with three choices of a certain area of the world and remind them of the clues in the sketch. The gumshoes would pick their answer that is given to them on cardboard pieces of paper. A correct answer adds 10 Crimebucks to a gumshoes score. During the front game two toss-up/buzz in rounds are played. “The Lighting Round” and “The Chase” (added in season two). The Lighting Round focused on questions based on the last area in which Carmen’s henchperson was seen last while The Chase had the gumshoes following the crook on a consistent path. Each correct answer scored five points for the gumshoe that answered correctly. While “The Lighting Round” allowed rival gumshoes to buzz in if their opponent got it wrong, only one answer would be allowed in “The Chase.” The final sketch clue has the gumshoes wagering their crime bucks score from 0-50 Crimebucks (in increments of 10) and those numbers are given on cardboard paper as well. A correct answer will add while a wrong answer will deduct. For this clue only they are shown a part of the world and three choices were the crook might go too and it will be one of three choices given. After this the top two scoring gumshoes move on to second in which they travel to the “final location” in the front game to find the loot and arrest Carmen’s crook. In reality, the game takes place on what looks like an 1800’s styled railroad platform. On that platform is a gameboard that has 15 landmarks in that respected location. It is basically a “memory” styled game. However, the gumshoe must uncover three things in a SPECIFIC order. The first is to find is the “loot” that was stolen early, then the “Warrant” must be uncovered before finding “The Crook.” Anything else is just footprints and those caused a gumshoe to lose their turn. The gumshoe who can find the Loot, Warrant, and Crook in that very order wins the round and goes on to track down Crime boss Carmen herself. The end game is played on a big floor map, which is a map of either Asia, Europe, Africa, South America or the United States (expanded to North America in season three). The gumshoe must correctly place a marker in which Carman was reported to be in, the contestant has two chances to get the location right, otherwise the contestant moves on to another location with a brand-new marker. If the gumshoe can correctly identify seven locations (later eight) in 45 seconds or less they will win a trip to anywhere in the lower 48 States (or later anywhere in North America).

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