It's No Contest: Visitors Jump at Free Chance to Play Along

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For 21 points, can you name the television game shows that are hidden in this article?

Being an out-of-towner unschooled in Hollywood trivia, North Dakota tourist Rob Volden probably can't. But then he didn't count on becoming a game show contestant, either, when he stopped to look at stars' footprints embedded in those Hollywood squares at Mann's Chinese Theatre.

That was before Mike Wood approached him and said, "Let's make a deal."

"Free tickets to a Hollywood show!" Wood promised Volden and other visitors milling about the courtyard. Take a chance, climb on the free bus and get in on "a live television taping," he urged.

Game shows are as old as television. But of the 450 or so shows that have hit the airwaves since 1945, only a few have been blockbusters. Many have trouble attracting a viewing audience, much less a studio audience.

That's where Wood comes in. He helps recruit studio audiences for more than a dozen television shows being produced in Hollywood. To give the shows an all-American look, producers like to fill their studios with out-of-towners. And the catch phrase for most budget-conscious tourists is "free tickets."

Wood's gambit worked the other day with Volden and 40 other tourists.

Volden, 22, a recent college graduate who is looking for a job, is not one of those high rollers. So instead of buying a tour bus ticket to see the stars' homes in Beverly Hills as he had planned, he took one of Wood's.

"The price is right," he joked after climbing aboard the studio bus for a short ride to CBS Television City.

At the studio, the visitors were met by veteran television producer-director Marty Pasetta. He explained they would have the chance of a lifetime to help test a new quiz show called "Everybody's Equal" that CBS has imported from England and plans to broadcast this fall.

The game uses computerized answer buttons that are wired to every seat in the studio. That makes everyone in the place a player--unlike other game shows that carefully prescreen contestants, Pasetta said. Everyone in the audience would have a chance to strike it rich by winning the top $10,000 game prize, he said.

The button pushing began once all audience members' names were entered into the computer. At first, all they had to do was beat the clock by selecting the correct answer within 10 seconds.

Soon, though, the computer began measuring audience members' response times to the split second as they answered such questions as, "What day of the week are American presidential elections held?"

Veronica Lau, a tourist from Melbourne, Australia, immediately tumbled into that trivia trap. Saturdays, when voters are off work, make more sense than Tuesdays for elections, she decided.

"This is fun," she said. But to tell the truth, "I wouldn't watch this show at home. I mostly watch documentaries."

Louise Kilmurray of Bath, England, predicted CBS will hit the jackpot by picking up the British show. "I like it," she said. "Our shows are usually copied from America, not the other way around."

Georgia Reynolds from Horseheads, N.Y., made a similar snap judgment. "I think it might be a hit," she said. "The show was fun. You don't get to do this on the East Coast."

Visitor Aaron Medlock of Boston said free game show tickets let tourists have fun without putting their travel budget in jeopardy. "I'm finding out there are a lot of no-expense things to do in L.A.," he said. "This was complete fun."

The producers of "Everybody's Equal" hope that network executives get the message. Nearly two-dozen stony faced officials in business suits filed into the studio during the show's test run and sat down in front of Volden to watch.

But they never cheered or applauded. And they stood up as a group and marched silently out of the studio before the show ended. There was no give-and-take between them and the rest of the audience.

It's anybody's guess what they thought about the show.

ANSWERS

"21," premiered 1956; "Hollywood Squares," 1966; "Let's Make a Deal," 1963; "Take a Chance," 1950; "Blockbusters," 1980; "Catch Phrase," 1985; "Gambit," 1972; "High Rollers," 1974; "The Price is Right," 1956; "Chance of a Lifetime," 1950; "Strike It Rich," 1951; "Beat the Clock," 1950; "Split Second," 1972; "Trivia Trap," 1984; "To Tell the Truth," 1956; "Jackpot," 1974; "Snap Judgment," 1967; "Jeopardy," 1964; "Get the Message," 1964; "Give and Take," 1952; "It's Anybody's Guess," 1977.

--Source: The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows.

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