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Series / Catchphrase

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Game Show from the mid-1980s in which two contestants competed to solve animated picture puzzles drawn by a computer. Some of the puzzles feature the show's mascot: a yellow robot, named Herbie in America and Mr. Chips in the United Kingdom.

Art James was the host of the syndicated American show in 1985-86, and the much more successful British version on ITV had three hosts — Roy Walker (1986–99), Nick Weir (2000-01), and Mark Curry (2002). At its prime, the ITV version was one of the most popular games on British television and one of the cornerstones of Saturday night television. Part of this popularity was the presence of Roy Walker as host, so much so that when he left, the show quickly went downhill and was axed a few years after. A revival of the British version started in 2013 with Stephen Mulhern hosting. The format has also been exported to Australia, Greece, Indonesia, Poland and Vietnam. The Greek and Polish versions had female hosts in 2000: Joyce Evidi and Agenieszka Wróblewska, respectively. Original producer Marty Pasetta tried three times to revive the show in the US (twice in the 80s, once in 2006), but none of the attempts gained traction.

The appeal can be broken down into two parts:

  1. The nature of the game allowed people watching to take part by trying to solve the catchphrases, which were usually rather witty or clever.
  2. Roy Walker, with his friendly personality and having many memorable catchphrases himself.

This show provides examples of:

  • The Announcer: John Harlan. Dean Goss announced the Puzzle Roulette pilots. The British version went through seven different announcers.
  • Art Evolution:
    • The catchphrase graphics of the first few ITV series looked like contemporary micro games, using many of the graphical techniques used then to draw the catchphrases (the US version utilized similar graphics). The last few series had graphics rivalling cartoons.
    • The 2013 British revival shifted to 3D graphics.
  • Audience Participation:
    • Roy Walker would usually ask the audience to shout out answers to catchphrases the players could not get in the first few series, as well as encouraging the audience to guess the third catchphrase from the intro. This, especially the latter, was ditched after series 2, and the (new) voiceover would just announce the answer as the animation appears.
    • In the 2013 revival, the audience would "ooh" when the £50,000 is first mentioned or the bonus prize sound goes off; as well as applaud when Mr. Chips first appears.
  • Bonus Round:
    • Referred to in the British version as Super Catchphrase — here's a 5×5 board filled with catchphrases. Make a line horizontally, vertically or diagonally and win a prize package; make a line that includes the center box (containing what we think is the most difficult puzzle of the group), win the prize package and a great bonus. (Basically Catchphrase Bingo.)
    • During the Nick Weir/Mark Curry era, the format was changed to a Blockbusters-esque "get from one side of the board to the other without getting blocked" style, with contestants no longer able to come back to catchphrases they passed on.
    • The 2013 revival changes it to a 5-level, 15-space pyramid (15 at the top). Solve one catchphrase per level, win from £2,500 to £50,000. Solve #11, win a bonus prize (or double the amount of the two other guests on celebrity specials).
  • Bonus Space:
    • An ongoing feature was first introduced in the Nick Weir era: if a sound played after a correct catchphrase answer, whoever gave that answer would, in addition to the money, win a spot prize, which would usually be a trip or a gift certificate.
      • 2001 onwards: The sound would be played before its accompanying catchphrase is shown.
    • In Weir's last series, instead, one catchphrase in the first game half was also worth a 'Travel Bonus' prize, which was generally a weekend/short break away in a European city.
  • Carried by the Host: Roy Walker. When he was axed, the show's popularity went with him, eventually getting axed itself.
  • Catchphrase: Of course a game show named Catchphrase would have catchphrases to go along with it!
    • Roy Walker has given out some timeless ones, including the famous "Say what you see" (popular enough by the late '90s to be used as a catchphrase on the programme), "It's good but it's not right" (or sometimes "not the one"), and "Keep pressing and guessing." The most iconic one, of course, is "(You're) right!".
    • Nick Weir had quite a good amount of his own, too. For example, he tended to describe the Cash Countdown round as "The quicker you are, the richer you are!"
    • Mark Curry, on the other hand, had a Running Gag where in every episode he made up his Catchphrases because he didn't have one to use.
    • On the topic of Roy's catchphrases, they are that associated with him that Stephen Mulhern refuses to use them. Instead, Mulhern came up with his own, such as "The clue's on the screen but what does it mean?", "Remove the square, and say what's there!" and "Will the middle solve the riddle?"
    • Art James, meanwhile, tended to remind viewers at the top of the show that players could "win up to $75,000" on the show.
  • Clip Show: The first episode of Season 12 had a small introduction featuring clips of four previous Super Catchphrase winners from the prior season.
  • Creator Cameo: Stephen Radosh once showed up on an episode of ''Family Catchphrase''.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The first series of the British version never featured the Ready Money Round. All series between 1987 and 1993 featured it, but it was only played once after the commercial break, after which if there was still time to play, it'd go back to the normal format.
    • To people more familiar with the UK series, the US version can come off as this—simpler intro, increased cash amounts and bigger prizes, different set and music, weird-looking logo, Mr. Chips is named Herbie, etc.
    • The first taped (but not aired) week of the US version had a slightly different format; losing the bonus round meant you won prizes hidden behind each square you did claim.
  • Game Show Host:
    • Basketball star Rick Barry hosted one of the American pilots, but Art James helmed the second pilot and the series. Jim Lange hosted the Puzzle Roulette and Puzzle Game pilots; Todd Newton emceed the 2006 attempt.
    • Roy Walker, Nick Weir, Mark Curry, Stephen Mulhern and Andrew O'Connor hosted in the United Kingdom.
    • John Burgess was the Australian host; his version was titled Burgo's Catch Phrase.
    • David Chalik was the host of Indonesia's version, Tebak Gambar, from 2001 to 2003.
    • Agenieszka Wróblewska was the host of the Polish version, O co chodzi?, in 2000.
    • The Greek version, Vres ti Frasi (Find the Words), had two hosts: Miltos Makridis from 1998 to 2000, succeeded by Joyce Evidi.
    • The Vietnamese version, Duoi hinh Bat Chu (Chasing Pictures and Catching Words), has had three hosts: Xuan Bac on Hanoi Radio Television from 2005 to 2019, and Si Tien and Thu Huong jointly from 2004 to 2005.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: On the American version, a champ retired after winning five games. The champion was also given an additional prize (first a car, then later $10,000 in cash, then still later a speedboat).
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: The bonus round timer in the UK, accompanied by beeps that start to ascend after 20 seconds have passed. It was changed in Series 10 (albeit keeping the same principle) to have the beeps ascending every 8 seconds, increasing to every 4 seconds after 40 seconds have passed.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: The UK episode with the Snake Charmer is infamous in this regard.note  The graphic by itself is innocent, but the planets must have aligned so that the squares that gradually open up revealing what the catchphrase is make it look way worse than it actually is. Mr. Chips seems to be masturbating — the more panels open, the worse the graphic looks, Mr. Chips appears to be sexually aroused, and the audience is having a riot. Then it reveals he's doing it with a snake. Everyone laughs at the spectacle, and Roy who has remained professional throughout can no longer restrain himself and lets out a full belly-laugh.
  • Home Game: Some (awkward-playing) board games have been released in the UK; more recently, mobile apps have also been put out.
  • Home Participation Sweepstakes: Viewers were invited to submit puzzles; if one’s puzzle was used on the show, the viewer would receive a Catchphrase T-shirt.
  • Inconsistent Spelling: The space in the title can vary—the American version had it, but the British version (and the 2006 US pilots) doesn't, so that's how we've spelled it here.
  • Losing Horns: Present in the TVS era in the UK as the time's-up buzzer in the Bonus Round, in what can only be described as a cross between a fart and a slide whistle. Series 10 and 11 replaced it with a video-game-style descending "bleep" sound of some sort. Series 12 didn't have one, and Series 13 went for a fairly low-tech sounding "buzz" noise. Series 14 to 17 used a series of "zap" sounds. The British revival instead has alarm-esque beeping noises to signal that time is up.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: The British version changed the rules involving cash awards from each toss-up adding money to a pot for the Super Catchphrase in the US version to each toss-up directly awarding the cash and a separate pot for the Bonus Catchphrase.
  • Progressive Jackpot: In the original US run, every catchphrase solved would add money to a bank for the Super Catchphrasenote  (the amount depended on whatever dollar amount was hit before the round started); whoever managed to solve the Super Catchphrase won the amount in the bank. Inverted in the Carlton era in the UK, where the Bonus Catchphrase's value went down by £10 for every square revealed.
  • Race Against the Clock: Every catchphrase was timed, along with the main game itself, but this trope was most prominent in the Cash Countdown of Nick Weir's run, where the time limit was represented by the cash value of the catchphrase going down.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Stephen Mulhern's revival of the British version has "Will the middle solve the riddle?"
  • Spin-Off:
    • Family Catchphrase, which aired on The Family Channel in 1994, and was hosted by Andrew O'Connor. It was played with two teams of two, each consisting of a parent and their child.
      • As The Family Channel had only recently launched at the time of its broadcast, the series was produced on a low budget, which meant the contestants played for points instead of pounds, and the prize for winning the Super Catchphrase, if the winning team reached the M square, was always a mystery. It was normally a trip to a theme park (mainly Thorpe Park or Alton Towers) or a game console (like a Sega Master System).
      • There was a special of the regular Roy Walker-hosted series produced before TVS went under that featured two groups of families playing, each consisting of four players instead of two like on the Family Channel series.
    • A parody of the show ran as a phone-in game on BBC Radio 1's The Chris Moyles Show, known as Car Park Catchphrase. It requires contestants to phone in and buzz for answers using their car horns. Roy Walker is involved by use of several recorded soundclips.
  • Tiebreaker Round: In the UK version, if the players failed to answer the Bonus Catchphrase when it was fully visible, they were shown one more and whoever got it won the round. If they didn't get that either, they continued playing sudden death until someone got one. (This did not apply to the US version; the money in the bank simply carried over to the next round.)
  • Title Drop: "Catchphrase" was used as a catchphrase in Series 12 Episode 12. The animation for that particular puzzle was almost a literal title drop.
  • Visual Pun: The show practically ran on them, particularly when the graphics improved enough to draw things as opposed to words. In fact, it was the first game show to make use of computer animation, which generated thousands of puzzles.