Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Truth be Told

I feel sorry for those who never got a chance to see "Truth or Consequences."

I don't mean the town in New Mexico, either.

I'm thinking of "T or C" this morning amid the news that host Bob Barker is in the hospital after a fall near his Southern California home.

"Truth" didn't give Barker, 91, his start in broadcasting, but it put him on television for the first time. And there Bob stayed for some 51 years.

It was game show---and reality TV, if you want to know the truth---pioneer Ralph Edwards who passed the torch of "Truth" to Barker, in 1956.

Edwards created "Truth" on the radio in 1940. The premise was wacky yet simple.

The show was among the first "audience participation" offerings of the day.

Regular folks would have to answer an obscure trivia question---always designed for the contestant to fail---and when the answer was wrong, there would be consequences. These usually came in the form of wild stunts that were often embarrassing.

But the people ate it up and to be a "victim" on the show became desirable.

As Edwards said, "Most of the American people are pretty darned good sports."

The mad success of "Truth" in the non-visual medium of radio is a testament to Edwards' ability to use sound effects, audience microphones and his own vivid descriptions to give the listener a ringside seat to the raucous action.

Ralph Edwards didn't paint pictures with his radio show, he made mental movies---as any good radio program did in the medium's heyday.

Edwards moved "Truth" to TV in 1950, once he saw the potential of television and how it fit his stunt show like a glove.

Edwards stepped off camera in 1954, devoting his time to running his production company, which produced "Truth."

After a couple of years with new host Jack Bailey, Edwards turned "Truth" over to Barker, who Edwards had heard doing an audience participation show on Los Angeles radio.

That was in 1956, and Barker continued hosting "Truth" until 1974.

I started watching "Truth" in the late-1960s and now that I think about it, the show is at the tip top of today's family tree when it comes to wackiness on television. Pretty much every show you see on television today that involves crazy physical tasks by its contestants can have its roots traced to "Truth."

"Truth" also spawned similar shows in the days of early TV such as "Beat the Clock."

Before "Truth," nothing on television really came close to capturing the notion of asking regular people to do things that they would never consider doing---even with a few drinks in them.

"Candid Camera" had its niche, but that show preyed on the unsuspecting. "Truth" made no bones about it with its participants: you're going to do something weird and embarrassing. And you're going to do it willingly, and it will be seen by millions of people across the country. Period.

And people fell all over themselves---sometimes literally---to be on "Truth." Everyone wanted Bob Barker to embarrass them on national TV.

Ralph Edwards was right---most of the American people were, indeed, pretty darned good sports.

I was drawn to "Truth" as a young boy because each episode was different. The stunts were creative and slapstick and frankly, it wasn't boring.

Then there was "Barker's Box."

Maybe this is what I liked about "Truth" the most.

At the end of every show, a box was brought down to the studio audience. It had four drawers---three had money in them and the fourth was empty, or had a booby prize in it, such as a phony snake that would pop out. If the selected audience member chose the three money drawers before choosing the empty one, he/she would win the money. That's it. Simple but fun.

"Truth" signed off for the last time in 1974. Barker didn't go hungry. He went on to host something called "The Price is Right."

An effort to revive "Truth" occurred in 1977 but it died a quick death with host Bob Hilton.

I had great fun watching "Truth" as a young lad. Liked it a helluva lot more than "The Price is Right," that's for damn sure.

Bob Barker made a living on radio and TV for over six decades by engaging with audiences. For 18 years on "Truth," those audiences would do pretty much anything Bob asked them to do.

THAT'S some power.

Get well soon, Bob. As you said after every show in your "Truth" days, "Hoping all your consequences are happy ones."

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Great Pumpkin

I do believe that this country has gone out of its gourd with pumpkin.

It's the biggest food takeover in America since the Italians introduced pizza to an unsuspecting public in the late-19th century.

Pumpkin spiced coffee. Pumpkin scented candles. Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin pies.

OK, that last one doesn't count.

Somewhere, in some board room in corporate America, it was determined that pumpkin spice should be sprinkled, mixed, folded, encased and saturated into every possible food stuff we consume.

The ironic thing is that pumpkin, by itself, certainly must taste pretty nasty. It's only edible because of what is added to it.

If you plan on buying a pumpkin for Halloween with the intent of carving it, scrape out a portion and eat it, raw with no helpers.

I dare ya.

Pumpkin isn't invading our food supply, it's the spices added to it that are working their way into our digestive tracts with virulent speed.

Starbucks, for example, only started putting real pumpkin in its pumpkin spiced drinks in 2015---and those drinks debuted in 2003.

Pumpkin is literally the flavor of the day.

But again, the irony is that we're not hooked on pumpkin, per se; we're loving the allure of allspice, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and Lord knows what else is being added to pumpkin to make it palatable.

Still, it's all being served up using the p-word.

Pumpkin (spice) is in our beer. It's in our tea, in our coffee. I haven't looked, but I'm sure there's a pumpkin spiced chewing gum, too.

So how did the pumpkin craze start, anyway?

Well, it didn't start with a spike in pumpkin sales.

Every year since 2010, we've been buying fewer and fewer pumpkins---the actual fruit/gourd.

Yet we're inundated with pumpkin this, pumpkin that.

According to the market research company The NPD Group, sales of pumpkin-flavored items continue to soar, rising 11.6 percent to $361 million for the year ended July 25.

No hard data is available on how much of those items' content actually contains real pumpkin versus some witches' brew of spices and flavorings---natural or artificial.

Here's a non-surprising fact, thanks to Neilsen.

"While 50 percent of U.S. consumers are actively trying to lose weight, they're overlooking fresh pumpkin to satisfy their craving, instead opting for indulgent treats like baked goods, dips and sweets, where sales have steadily increased," the company said in a statement.

The key word, of course, is "fresh."