Series: Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Well, she sneaks around the world from Kiev to Carolina 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
is an Educational Game Show
based on the Carmen Sandiego
computer games by Brøderbund, which ran for five seasons (295 episodes) on PBS
from September 30, 1991 to December 22, 1995 (with reruns airing until October 4, 1996). 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 4 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.
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.
- 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.
- Canon Immigrant: The Chief was created for the game show, but she 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. Adding to the frustration is the show's closing Credits Gag.
- 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.
- Catch Phrase:
- 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: Oh, no! The Mooks are out already! They're stealing the credits! Back to work...
- 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.
- 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), They the headline photo will disappear, and leaving with just a white shadow.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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]
: Go away. [flees the office]
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Phrase Catcher: Indeed. "Do it, Rockapella!"
- 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.
- Punny Name
- Reset Button: No doubt a result of the Cardboard Prison.
- Rhymes on a Dime: 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":
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:
- Sesame Street Cred: Back when he was a senator, Joe Biden called Greg in a 1993 episode.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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; just watching the credits will provide the bittersweet proof that PBS couldn't keep a good show down.
- 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.
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), while the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist that Thursday (December 26).
- 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?
- You Dirty Rat: Wonder Rat.
Do it, Rockapella!