"Well, she sneaks around the world from Kiev to CarolinaWhere in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? is an Educational Game Show based on the Carmen Sandiego computer games by Brøderbund, which ran for five seasons (295 episodes; 65 episodes each in Seasons 1-3 and 50 episodes each in Seasons 4-5) on PBS from September 30, 1991 to December 22, 1995 (with reruns airing until October 4, 1996). The series was a co-production between WGBH Boston and WQED Pittsburgh. Three children answered multiple-choice geography questions while pursuing a member of Carmen's gang, who had stolen a famous landmark.Instead of playing for cash, the young "detectives" played for points, here called "Acme Crime Bucks". Halfway through the show, the lowest scorer was eliminated. The two remaining children played a game akin to Concentration, looking for the loot, the warrant and the crook, in that order. The winner of that round played the end game, placing markers on a large floor map, hoping to arrest Carmen herself and win the grand prize of a trip anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States. In the second season, this was expanded to all of North America; presumably, Hawaii was never an option.Much of the show's memorability can be attributed to the terrific cast: host Greg Lee, Lynne Thigpen as Da Chief and "house band" Rockapella, who provided an a-cappella soundtrack (including the famous theme song, not to mention all the wacky sound effects).In the successor series, Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego (1996-97), the focus shifted from geography to history, and Kevin Shinick succeeded Lee as quizmaster. Lynne Thigpen was the only regular cast member in both versions.
She's a sticky-fingered filcher from Berlin down to Belize
She'll take you for a ride on a slow boat to China
Tell me, where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?"
She's a sticky-fingered filcher from Berlin down to Belize
She'll take you for a ride on a slow boat to China
Tell me, where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?"
— Theme song, by Rockapella
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Big Win Sirens: A standard police siren sounded every time a match was successful. Winning the bonus round resulted in the siren speeding up and various bells and horns accompanying it. Then the newspaper headline covered reads (Gumshoe's name) Captures Carmen! From Season 4 (1992) And beyond that point, The headline illustration will have Carmen behind bars.
- Blue and Orange Morality: Kneemoi. At one point she found the experience of prison so fascinating that she ratted Carmen out so she could experience it as well.
- Bonus Round: Here's a map of a country or continent. Place these markers on seven (later eight) locations within 45 seconds (60 seconds on the Asia map in Season 1) and win a trip. If it's correct, The sirens will sound. If it's incorrect, The buzzer will sound. If the contestant places the markers in the incorrect place twice, Another location will be read.
- Confetti Drop: When the crook was captured (thus winning the main game), and not if Carmen was captured in the bonus round.
- Consolation Prize
- Golden Snitch:
- The final clue of each round was sometimes this. Earlier clues and games awarded 5 or 10 Crime Bucks per answer, but in the final round contestants could risk, in increments of 10, up to 50. Often this resulted in the final clue being the sole determiner of the finishing order of the contestants.
- The Concentration-esque memory game. The points from the trivia rounds no longer mattered. It was just a matter of luck and memory as far as who made it to the Bonus Round, making everything leading up to this game almost meaningless. (All that it did was to determine who was the first to choose in that second round.)
- Home Game: Inverted; the game show was based off the home computer game.
- Home Participation Sweepstakes: Viewers were asked to send in lists of what was stolen and where it was stolen from for four successive days. 5 winners were chosen at random each day to get a T-shirt.
- Think Music: Two songs, both performed by Rockapella - "How much you wanna risk?" during the wagering portion of the game, and "Where do you wanna go?" as the winning contestant wrote down his desired trip destination if he captured Carmen. They're the same melody, though.
- Whammy: In Jailtime Challenge, There are Shoeprints (which means Nothing there) and their turn is over. Also, since the rules of Jailtime Challenge require that the loot, the warrant, and the crook must be found in that order, finding them out of order is just as much a whammy, since that generally meant the gumshoe would have to deliberately trigger the shoeprints to avoid revealing another piece of the puzzle for the other player's benefit.
Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? provides examples of the following tropes:
- Acme Products: The sleuths worked for the Acme Detective Agency, the agency the player of the computer games works for. Played for Laughs during the clue segments, especially when they involved guest stars. Scott Weinger was said to have come from "Acme Voice of Aladdin Net", James Avery came from "Acme Shredder Net", and Katie Couric from "Acme 'Don't Call Me Perky' Net".
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Chief was fond of this. Some episode titles had it, like "The Heinous Hockey Heist."
- Black Boss Lady: Lynne Thigpen, of course.
- Bowdlerize: Later in-series performances of "Zombie Jamboree" were subjected to this on account of profanity.
- Brick Joke: The intro for the "Chase" round often contained an element from another sketch earlier on. Also, during the "Training Exercise" where the contestants had to race to dig a clue card out of a trash can (first to finish got first shot over the question for 10 points), Greg's can often contained either a gag from earlier in the show or a camera (cue cut to the camera in the can).
- Call a Point a Smeerp: Acme Crime Bucks.
- Call a Contestant a Gumshoe: Or a Sleuth if they made to the bonus round, regardless of whether or not they won said bonus round.
- Canon Immigrant: Prior to the game show, the Chief was either never seen or was a white male, but Lynne Thigpen's version of the Chief proved to be so popular that she eventually made it into newer editions of the computer games. As a result, it also meant the games and game show were no longer separate entities; the cartoon, on the other hand...
- Cardboard Prison: Done to such an absurd extent, you wonder why the kids even bothered arresting the criminals.
- Carried by the Host: The goofy Greg Lee's chemistry with the straight-faced Chief, along with Rockapella's musical accompaniment. Without them, it would've been just another dull edutainment show.
- "I salute you!"
- "Do it, Rockapella!"
- "Now, the boys down at the ACME Photo Reconsecration Bureau have put together a few slides!"
- "All these people want to know: Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?"
- "Not bad!"
- "He's / she's / I'm okay!" (Generally followed some sort of amusing injury.)
- "Go away!" (used by the Chief to get Greg out of her office)
- Cluster F-Bomb: Taken as far as any PBS Kids program was willing to dare at the end of some episodes of season 1—specifically, if the program ran too short, kids could expect to hear the line "I don't give a damn" being sung several times in the span of just two or three minutes. And then the radar caught it...
- Cool Old Lady: Nana Raps.
- Corpsing: Rockapella's Round 2 snarkery (see below) would sometimes make Greg have to stifle his laughter as he would continue to move the round along.
- Credits Gag: The credits sequence has the various villains of the series actually stealing the credits.
- Dance Party Ending: Every episode ended with the audience joining Greg and Rockapella on the giant map for a dance.
- Deadpan Snarker: Rockapella would snark in song if Round 2 started dragging.
- "Tension's mounting!"
- "Pressure building!"
- "Any day now!"
- Carmen sometimes falls into this as well, such as with her response, "I'd settle for a human being," when Top Grunge promised on a phone call to be an angel.
- Didn't Think This Through: Not finding the loot, warrant and crook in the correct order during the Jailtime challenge, particularly when at least one clue has already been uncovered.
- In "The Time Bandit", one gumshoe managed to locate both the loot and warrant on the same turn. On the very next turn, the second gumshoe disregarded this information and chose another location, uncovering Robocrook. If he had actually selected the loot and warrant beforehand, he would have won, but this mistake cost him the game.
- Downer Ending:
- A failure in the last round is indicated by a newspaper graphic with Carmen on the front page and the headline "Carmen Escapes Again!" In Season 4 (1992) and beyond that point, The headline photo will disappear, and leaving with just a white shadow.
- There is at least one episode where the gumshoe hits the last mark in the Map Round just after time runs out.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Some gems.
- During Pilot #1, Rockapella wearing modern street clothes rather than 1940s fashions.
- Greg spending entire episodes with his hat on.
- The Chief in a green and yellow suit.
- Different sound effects, mostly from Double Dare (appropriate, given that Greg Lee had worked on that show as well).
- Getting answers right actually results in gumshoes losing Crime Bucks. (However, getting answers wrong costs more - the idea is that the Crime Bucks are spent on the costs of getting to that location, and if you're wrong, you have to spend more to get to the right one.)
- The second round did not require gumshoes to find the Loot, Warrant, and Crook in that order.
- A map that was United States only, and the markers contained state flags instead of police lights, which the gumshoes had to match with their respective states.
- No rhyme by The Chief at the end, and no "Do it, Rockapella!"
- 60 seconds for the bonus round instead of 45.
- In season 1, only a single white gator and one clouded leopard got stolen. Starting the very next season, the crooks didn't just stop at one specimen when stealing animals, but instead took all of a given species. Similarly, season 1 saw only the paws of the Spinx being stolen and only Lincoln's nose being taken of Mount Rushmore. In later seasons, the respective crooks involved in those cases would have taken the whole thing.
- In season 2 (1992), After finishing round 2 ("Jailtime Challenge"), Greg would use a shoe as a telephone (A reference to the shoephone from Get Smart).
- The very first episode to be shown ended with the regular CPB/Viewers Like You tag which had been in use until the end of the previous June (and the funding credits prefaced with the generic "This program was made possible by..." instead of the more familiar "This program was bankrolled by..."), and at first there were no corporate sponsors. Even the first few weeks with any corporate sponsor simply had the sponsor's name zoom in against the custom funding credits background as Lynne Thigpen said, "Corporate bucks provided by Toyota."
- Educational Song: Some of Rockapella's full-length songs used when the show ran short. There was one about the five largest islands in the world.
- Epic Fail:
- The episode "She Took the Notes Right Out of My Mouth" had one gumshoe answer every single question in round one wrong, including the final question of the round which she risked all 50 of her Crime Bucks.
- On three occasions, a gumshoe got zero correct marks on the map.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: As hinted by the "MOM" tattoo on Top Grunge's arm.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Wonder Rat and Carmen do not think too highly of racial and gender discrimination in universities
- Evolving Credits/Evolving Music: Czechoslovakia's 1992 split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic necessitated a change to the TV-edit of the theme song (specifically substituting in the second bridge from the full song).
- Filming For Easy Dub:
- The only times the animated villains speak during the show are in the phone tap skit and when the captured crook calls to rat out Carmen. In both cases, they budget-savingly hold the phone over their mouths, allowing the same animation to be used with different dialogue in other episodes.
- During the transition to the Map Round, The Chief doesn't start naming potential locations until the map appears on screen.
- Finishing Each Other's Sentences: One episode featured a sketch about Greg doing this to The Chief, complaining that she was becoming too predictable.Chief: [slow burn] Greg—
Greg: Go away. [flees the office]
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Carmen and Wonder Rat express their disgust in the concept of discrimination in university admissions, a black, female gumshoe can be seen nodding in agreement.
- Fun with Subtitles: During the World Band Radio clue, They would use English Subtitles since the announcer on the radio speaks in foreign language.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: One of the first taped episodes featured Rockapella singing a song called "Zombie Jamboree" at the end instead of the theme song...complete with the line "I don't give a damn." On a PBS kids' show.
- This was bowdlerized to "dang" in repeats, so apparently the radar caught on.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up: Due to the show being recorded during a time when maps were changing rapidly thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union, they ended up adding the following disclaimer to the show: "All geographic information was accurate as of the date this program was recorded."
- He's Okay:
- A few sketches involved Rockapella or some other informant taking a really nasty hit. Greg would assure the audience that nobody was hurt by saying this.
- Inverted in the unaired "Auld Lang Gone".
- Hurricane of Puns:
- The ending theme. Seriously.
- The Chief used quite a few of these, as well.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Idiosyncratic Episode Naming aside, this show went nuts with this trope!
- Large Ham: Both Rockapella and Greg Lee to some degree. The Chief has shades of this, too.
- Leitmotif: Not a musical version, but every member of the Rogues Gallery had Rockapella perform a unique version of singing their name whenever they were revealed as the villain of the episode.
- Limited Animation: All animated segments, involving the villains or otherwise, were done very cheaply. But, of course, we kids were too caught up in the antics of Greg, the Chief, Rockapella, - oh yes, and learning geography- to really notice or care all that much.
- List Song: This ties into Crowning Music of Awesome.
- Location Song: The Theme Song lists countries throughout the world where Carmen has been spotted.
- Luck-Based Mission: The concentration game they played as Round 2.
- Monumental Theft: On the low end, Carmen and her crew took things like the Titanic, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Great Wall of China. Watch the show to see the high-end Monumental Thefts.
- Mook–Face Turn: Immediately following Round 2, the winning gumshoe got a phone call from the apprehended crook which revealed where (i.e., on which map/continent) the winner would be searching for Carmen.
- Nice Hat: Greg and the contestants usually came in wearing some cool hats. Hats and detectives just go together.
- Nintendo Hard: The Surprise Difficulty was in the bonus game, where the contestant carried around posts and marked off countries on a giant floor map — starting from the north side, which made the map appear upside-down to the contestant. Even if you knew all the answers, the fact that they needed exact placement (seriously, the posts didn't work if they weren't perfectly on top of the target), the actual shuttle running and keeping the things from falling over, coupled with a brutal time limit, made it extremely hard to win. Usually, one double-miss meant Carmen could safely escape.
- And also when they changed it from seven to eight markers necessary to win. One of the reasons was apparently that PBS, being PBS, really couldn't afford to keep paying for many grand prize wins.
- The Africa map in particular is generally believed to be the hardest of the maps, due both to its high country tally, and the fact that many kids are simply not that familiar with its geography compared to the other continents. Victories on the Africa map did happen, but they were rare.
- No Budget: The show was not expensive to make, and it shows at times. Occasionally joked about by Rockapella when there was a board malfunction during the Concentration-style segment.
- No Honor Among Thieves: The Mook–Face Turn phone call that preceded the Bonus Round. The Contessa even references this trope by name.Contessa: Honor among thieves? Surely you jest! If I'm going to prison, I'm taking Carmen with me!
- Non-Lethal Warfare
- Noodle Incident: Greg is forbidden from playing practical jokes on the Chief after an unexplained incident involving a hair dryer and nine ferrets. It still makes them shudder just thinking about it (whatever it is).
- Opening Narration:Chief: All these people want to know...Rockapella: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
- Out of Order: The two pilots aired during Season 1, albeit not out of the starting gate. Both were preceded by a disclaimer stating that the scoring was different but the game wasn't and would air much later in the season.
- Painting the Medium: On one episode, the Chief showed Greg a camera-switching device. When Greg started playing with it, he switched to a shot so wide it exposed the studio surrounding the office set.
- Phrase-Catcher: Indeed. "Do it, Rockapella!"
- Precision F-Strike: In early episodes, Rockapella would sometimes sing "Zombie Jamboree" as filler, which resulted in a rare situation where a PBS Kids program used profanity uncensored for at least some time before the radar caught on and forced bowdlerization in later in-series performances.Back to back, belly to belly
Well, I don't give a damn 'cause I'm stone dead already
- Punny Name
- Recycled Title Two Season 1 episodes fall victim to this. The first one was "The Taking of the Tower", in which The Contessa stole the Eiffel Tower. The second was "The Taking of the Towers", in which Double Trouble made off with the Twin Towers.
- Reset Button: No doubt a result of the Cardboard Prison.
- Rhymes on a Dime: The Chief.The Chief: This is Double Trouble.
Rockapella: Double Trouble!
The Chief: They're not too bright, but full of tricks. Their IQs, total: 36.
- The Chief on Wonder Rat: "His cape is lame, his ears are fake. His criminal career is a big mistake."
- Roger Rabbit Effect: As Lampshaded by Greg Lee's "father" in "Mining Crime Station":Gus Lee: Listen, son, I've been meaning to talk to. Are you aware that this, uh, "Carmine Santiago" lady you've been chasing around is...she's a cartoon, son. She's not a real person. You're aware of that.
Greg: Dad, that's how the show works.
Gus: As a matter of fact, all the crooks are cartoons! And to put them in jail, you just pull on a chain that's connected to nothing! That is ridiculous!
- Rogues Gallery featuring:
- Affably Evil: Patty Larceny
- Amusing Alien: Kneemoi. Learned Kneemoi, From the planet Roddenberry. Talk about a Parental Bonus!
- Aristocrats Are Evil: (The) Contessa
- Dumb Muscle: Eartha Brute
- Evil Twin: Double Trouble
- Idol Singer: Sarah Nade
- Robo Speak: Robocrook
- Rummage Sale Rejects: Vic the Slick
- Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness: The appropriately named Top Grunge
- You Dirty Rat! / Brought to You by the Letter "S": WONDER RAAAAAT!
- "Sesame Street" Cred: Back when he was a senator, Joe Biden called Greg in a 1993 episode.
Rockapella: Warp factor 8, Captain!
- One gumshoe did the Arsenio Hall "woof" hand motion when introduced.
- The episode title "Mining Crime Station" refers to Shining Time Station, which ran concurrently as a PBS neighbor. Amusingly, Lynne Thigpen previously appeared in the Broadway musical Working alongside Bobo Lewis, who had a recurring role on Shining Time Station as socialite and town gossip Midge Smoot.
- In the episode "Minnehaha: The Filching of the Falls", Toni DiBuono and Joe Howard appear in character as Pat Tuesday and George Frankly, their roles from the Mathnet segments on Square One TV. In real life, theme song co-composer David Yazbek was formerly a writer for Square One TV during the show's first and second seasons.
- In the episode The Case of the Lifted Lines, a clue was given by X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat from The Neighborhood of Make-Believe segment on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In real life, both shows were co-produced by Pittsburgh PBS station WQED.
- In the episode, The Unfair Exchange/Shell Shock, Pac-Man appears, giving out a clue about the National Coin-Op and Video Arcade museum.
- One of the locations during the second round is the Sulu Sea.
- Greg occasionally gets info from a roach (OK, a guy in a roach suit) in a roach hotel (it's a lot fancier than a roach motel). The roach's name? Kafka.
- Signing Off Catch Phrase:
- "DO IT, ROCKAPELLA!"
- After a consequential Real Life geographical shift during the first season: "All geographic information was accurate as of the date this program was recorded."
- Spell My Name with a "The": Subverted with Contessa. While everyone else just called her Contessa, Greg had a habit of adding "The". It makes sense, since contessa is Italian for "countess" instead of being a real name.
- Stock Footage: Footage of unusual ways of travel were used in Seasons 3-4 as a transition from ACME HQ to the final round.
- Stock Sound Effect: The foghorn sound is used when a gumshoe who won the 2nd round pulls the chain to put that villain into jail.
- Taking Her With Me: Often, the Mook–Face Turn of the criminal is because they don't want to go to jail while Carmen Sandiego gets off scot-free. See No Honor Among Thieves above for an example.
- The Password Is Always "Swordfish": In "Scrolldies but Goodies", Greg needs a password to unlock a trash can (which is protected by the "Garbage Club"). He doesn't know what the password is, but everyone else does...and it's actually "swordfish".
- Timed Mission:
- The map.
- The memory game they played as the second round: when it came to a player's turn, they were on a 10-second shot clock before losing their turn. Subverted, though, since it didn't come into play much, and the round continued until someone won.
- Title Theme Tune: "Do it, Rockapella!"
- Transatlantic Equivalent:
- A French-Canadian version debuted in 1995 (right around the time the PBS series left first-run) and ran until 1998. It pretty much copied the PBS series, including a localized version of the main theme done by their own version of Rockapella and all the same animation (therefore the same items were stolen by the same- albeit renamed- crooks as in the original); just watching the credits will provide the bittersweet proof that PBS couldn't keep a good show down.
- Malaysia also had its iteration of the game, with a whole different story. Di Mana Joe Jambul (Where Is Pompadour Joe) is about the titular Lupin the Third Expy (with a pompadour, too) and his cohorts who do regular crimes instead of stealing landmarks. Two teams of three kids help the detective (and her police badge mascot) hunt down the goons. Most of the WitWICS gaming elements are there, including the map-marking bonus round, each episode featuring a different continent/region of Earth.
- Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: The run of this show on PBS coincided with a period of extremely-short map shelf life, which made the Asia and Europe maps in the final round particularly difficult ("Turkmenistan! Tajikistan!") and forced the Chief to end the show with a disclaimer that "All geographical information was correct as of the date this program was recorded!" (along with the recording date, very rare for a game show to air on purpose) in case some other former Yugoslav republic declared independence while the episode was in the cutting room. In fact, it's been said that the first season wasn't rerun at all because of it, though it has yet to be proven as a fact.
Czechoslovakia was actually named in the theme song. It ceased to exist during the show's run, necessitating a change from "Chicago to Czechoslovakia and back!" to "Chicago to Czech and Slovakia and back!" (emphasis ours). And in later seasons, the whole verse was changed to "Botswana to Thailand, Milan via Amsterdam, Mali to Bali, Ohio, and back!" Rockapella used both the outdated verse and the new one in an extended version whenever they performed the song live and on albums.
The second round (the part with the Concentration game) of "The Spot Lifter" took place in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. By the time the episode aired, the city had been renamed St. Petersburg for three months. In fairness, the U.S.S.R. itself did still exist when the episode aired... but just barely — the episode aired on a Monday (December 23, 1991), while the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist that Thursday (December 26).
- One almost has to wonder if part of the reason the show's focus switched from geography to history for Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego had something to do with this, since history, being history, is much less vulnerable to stuff like this.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Since it was always performed live the ending theme would sometimes change subtly while still fitting with the geography theme. It's particularly noticeable in early episodes where the Added Alliterative Appeal lyrics would alternate between "She's a double-dealing diva/with a taste for thievery" and "She's a double-dealing diva/with a lust for larceny."
- World of Ham: Amusingly enough. Every episode was Greg vs. The Chief vs. Rockapella.
- World of Pun: ...What, too easy?
Do it, Rockapella!