Series: Starcade


In the early 1980s, Video Games were huge...and so were Game Shows. In 1981, JM Productions got the great idea to merge the two. The result was Starcade, which originally ran from 1982-83 on WTBS and 1983-84 in syndication. Unlike most game shows, this show was recorded in San Francisco, California, the centerpiece for technology and video games in America.

Two contestants (sometimes two teams of two) played three rounds. Each round began with a toss-up question about a video game, such as "The first event in Alpine Ski is A) Downhill Ski or B) The Slalom Race" note . The person/team who got the question right picked which of the five arcade games they would face off on. The players then got anywhere from 40-60 seconds to score as many points as possible. After three rounds, the player/team with the higher score advanced to the final round.

In the final round, the contestant picked one of the two remaining games and had 30 seconds to beat the average score of 20 players who played the same game for 30 seconds. If successful, the contestant won either an arcade game or the 2-XL home robot.

The prizes were related to video games. Aside from the grand prize, runner-up and bonus prizes consisted of Colecovision consoles, home computers, Pac-Man wall clocks, handheld games, and the like.

All in all, Starcade was the first of its kind: a pioneering game show centered on video games (as announcer Kevin McMahon put it, "a game show for today") that managed to survive The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 and inspire such shows as Video Power and Nick Arcade. USA Network was in talks about a revival in 2006, but never picked it up...thankfully, since "They Changed It, Now It Sucks" would definitely have been heard among the Starcade community.

Years later, the G4TV cable network (before its merger with the now-defunct Tech TV) picked up the show for repeats; despite being much older than the rest of the lineup, Starcade fit in perfectly and served to plug the then-new official Web site made by the show's staff, filled with information and many full episodes plus clips of the unaired pilots. Not only does it continue to be updated from time to time, but episodes and clips are also on YouTube.

Thanks to the Web site and the reruns on G4, Starcade has become popular as not only a good game show, but also a sizable chunk of 1980s gaming nostalgia for those who remember the era (and a fun history lesson for those who don't). And of course, there's always MAME.

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • Bonus Space: To a certain extent, "Name the Game", played after the second and third games. The player in the lead stood before a board which had four television screens on it; each one had footage of an arcade game, and the player/team had to identify the games one at a time (e.g., "Is this from Donkey Kong or Congo Bongo?" "Donkey Kong." "You're right!"). A prize was awarded for getting three right, and another for all four right.
  • Consolation Prize: "Some of our contestants, and some of the members of the studio audience, will receive..."
  • Golden Snitch: If a player decided to play a high-scoring game after playing a low-scoring one, the balance of power could switch very quickly.
  • Home Game: Life-sized arcade game for the grand prize? Sounds like the best way possible!
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Kevin McMahon.
    • Game Show Host: The original 1981 pilot was helmed by Mike Eruzione (captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Men's Ice Hockey team), while the next three (1982) were hosted by Alex Trebek. Mark Richards was host when the series landed, but he was quickly replaced by Geoff Edwards.
  • Product Placement: Each of the five games up for play that episode was lovingly described, and kids in the 1980s were thrilled to get a peek at the Next Big Thing in the arcades.
    • This trope is actually hard to avoid when you're dealing with a game show based around video games. Of note are special "showcase" shows featuring a brand-new game, which unsurprisingly was in all five positions - Star Wars (which didn't have a video game until 1983), Dragon's Lair, and Cliff Hanger all had one each.
    • The Starcade Hotline, a regular segment which looked at various things about either video games or the show itself. Within the latter category were such items as a look at a school play based on the show.
  • Show The Folks At Home: One of the five games was designated the Mystery Game. If it was among the first three games chosen, the player or team who chose it won a special prize.

This show provides examples of:

  • Audience Participation: When the player is down to five seconds while playing a game. "FIVE... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE...!" (buzzer)
  • Opening Narration: "This is Starcade, TV's first video arcade game show! Starring your favorite video games! And some brand-new ones being introduced to the public for the first time anywhere! And now, here's your host for Starcade, Mark Richards/Geoff Edwards!"
  • Pilot: No fewer than four, although the first was somewhat different from the eventual format.
  • Revival:
    • As before, one was talked about for the USA Network. The new Starcade would've featured completely different, tournament-style rules had it been picked up.
    • Aside from that, the original producers are very much working on and hopeful for a new revival, with the tentative title Starcade 2000.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • The Video Game (1984-85), another JM-produced game show centered on video games which replaced Starcade in syndication.
    • Video Power, which for Season 2 (1991-92) changed gears from a subpar cartoon to a subpar game show about playing NES games.
    • Nick Arcade (1992-93), although the emphasis on playing actual video games (now including the Genesis and Neo-Geo) was shrunk down to being an optional diversion. Still, there was one very notable example where it kept the Starcade tradition of introducing new games "for the first time anywhere" an extremely early prototype of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.