Saturday, 17 September 2016

Jim Perry: Game show host for the ‘80s

Jim Perry hosting "Definition"
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s in Canada and watched CTV, would certainly remember the face, if not the name. It was an era when game shows were on in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Two mainstays on CTV, or Channel 13 on the peasant vision dial, were “Definition” and “Headline Hunters”.

I was not surprised to find recently, when I heard Jim Perry died, that no one recognized the name – until I followed that with “Do you remember ‘Definition’? ‘Headline Hunters’?” Then everyone remembered.

Every week day on Channel 13, “Definition” would air around noon. It pitted two contestants against each other, each one paired with a guest, sometimes celebrities and sometimes not. The winner of a match would then change sides and play with the other partner. A contestant could win a maximum of five games, I believe, before they retired.

The game was a precursor to "Wheel of Fortune" and like that old pen-and-paper classic, "Hangman". The teams would take turns guessing letters in a phrase for which a pun as a clue. One player on a team would give a letter away they did not think was in the puzzle. If that letter was in the puzzle, the other team got an automatic chance to solve the puzzle. If the letter was not in the puzzle, the other player on that same team got to take a letter. If there was one or more letters in the puzzle, they got a chance to guess. Then the other team got the chance to give a letter then take a letter. They alternated until someone solved the puzzle.

Watching these video clips reminded me of a few other things too. The prizes were very Canadian, with things like pen and pencil sets and luggage. People could also send in their own puzzles. Jim Perry would read the puzzles on air, who sent them in, and where they were from. And, Dave Devall was the announcer, reading the puzzles, and introducing Perry at the opening of the show. The two of them would carry on a game-show partnership for years.

Another thing I will always remember is the theme music for the show, which was made popular when it appeared in the “Austin Powers” movies. It turns out Mike Myers grew up watching "Definition" and he was paying tribute by using the song, which is actually called, "Soul Bossa Nova".

Perry would host “Definition” from 1975 to 1989.

Headline Hunters
“Headline Hunters” was a night-time game show that appeared once a week on Channel 13. I liked this show much more than “Definition”. There were three contestants who had to guess a subject. They would be given a headline and a chance to guess for a certain number of points. If no one knew the answer, another headline would be read, and the number of points would be reduced. This went on for five headlines, but by the last one the headline was so easy someone almost always got it.

Jim Perry hosting "Headline Hunters"
It reminded me a little bit of “Front Page Challenge” on CBC, in that on “Headline Hunters” they also interviewed one of the newsmakers who was the subject of the game. That newsmaker even read the headlines describing him or her.

What I always remember about “Headline Hunters” was it was sponsored by Tilden Rent-a-Car, and that Dave Devall was the announcer for this show as well.

It would occupy a time slot on CTV, Channel 13, from 1972 to 1983.

Play along at home
I always recall how fun it was to play along. When I watched the clips embedded here, I found myself playing along once more. Could I get the answer before the contestants? It was the magic of the game show – being interactive even before that word existed. It was even more fun when I was watching "Definition" with my cousins, because we all competed with each other to guess the answers too.

Jim Perry was actually American. Over time when I had the rare chance to watch cable TV in the 1980s at either my Cousin Carl’s in Lethbridge, or my Cousin Fred and Henry’s in Brooks, I discovered Jim Perry hosting two other game shows on NBC – “Card Sharks”, which he hosted from 1978 to 1981, and “Sale of the Century”, which he hosted from 1983 to 1989. I did not watch enough episodes for either one of them to really stick with me.

Jim Perry was also the first to host game shows concurrently in Canada and the U.S. with “Definition”; “Headline Hunters”; and “Card Sharks”.

It’s a beauty
The other job Jim Perry did, was host the Miss Canada Pageant from 1967 to 1990. It just seemed to be another uniquely Canadian thing.

Parting thoughts
Hearing Jim Perry died just reminded me how different TV is now. If I was home during the day, whether because I was sick, or it was summer, game shows were always on TV. It really was a golden age for them in the 1980s.

Now, the only one on is “The Price is Right” which seems to be the last game show standing in day time. At night, you have the durable duo of “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”, with a sprinkling of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. But for the most part, game shows are gone.

I find that particularly ironic, because in the 1,000-channel universe, there is at least one channel I know of devoted to game shows.

Hearing about the passing of Jim Perry reminded me of an era where there were uniquely Canadian game shows, not just American ones simulcast in Canada. They had their own unique qualities, whether it was the cheesey prizes or the actual Canadian content.

It is another part of our culture that just quietly faded away.

It took the death of Jim Perry to remind me.

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