Ten Popular Game Shows for Children (and some even for the Young at Heart)

According to Gameshowreview.com the main difference between adult game shows and game shows for children is that the adult game shows are mostly focused on the grand prize (usually big money prizes, trips and brand-new vehicles) and that the game within in the show itself (and certain micro games like say on “The Price Is Right”) is the obstacle. Yes, the games may be fun to play but winning the grand prize is very important to these contestants. Most adult game shows are trivia themed as well, but they have exceptions like Pyramid, TPIR, Let’s Make a Deal, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud. Children’s game shows do have prizes, but those shows are more about the trill of being on the TV Game show itself. Those games are fall into three categories with at least two of the elements combined. Sports, Adventure, and Trivia with certain exceptions as well. Well there are several game shows on this list that fall into the three categories and indeed it is about having fun and gaining bragging rights about being on TV and truly having 15 minutes of fame. For this list, I have excluded game shows for children that were adapted from adult game shows. Meaning, that children’s adaptations of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Pyramid, and even Hollywood Squares do NOT make this list. The games show’s listed here were created with children in mind or the eligibility allow children to play on the show as well. One show on this list I counted as a children’s game show but allowed adults through its entire run on TV. I will talk about that show as soon as I reach it. I also don’t count the game shows sketches within a show like “Square One Television” or even“Vegetable Soup” from the 1970’s (remember “The Big Job Hunt?”) which did really have real child contestants and real prizes and/or trophies. Most of the children’s game shows listed here aired on Nickelodeon but there are few non-Nickelodeon game shows that made the list as well. Now here is my cream of the crop of Game Shows for Children.

10. Make The Grade: This game show for children leaned on trivia more than the others but it had its twist and turns and the occasional physical challenge in the game. In the front game three contestants go up against a 7×7 split-flap game board. There are seven categories that go horizontally and seven grade levels going vertically starting with a consolidated Elementary Level followed by separate rows from 7th to 12th grade levels. Six of the categories are you typical Pre-College subjects followed by an elective category that was always last. The object of MTG, was to answer enough questions to light up every category and grade level on their desk or come close to that goal if time rounds out in the front game. For the most part, the game borrows from Jeopardy!, in which a single contestant picks the category and a buzz in/toss up question is asked.However,there are wild cards along the way. A “Take” would allow the player that uncovered it to steal a square from one of their opponents. The “Lose” card would force the player that uncovered it to give up a square of their choice, which afterwards that chosen square is returned to play as another question or a wild card. The “Free” card gives the contestant the square that they uncovered with this Wild card to simply give them the square without having to answer a question. But the one Wild Card that can be a game changer and effects everyone and I mean ALL THREE PLAYERS is the “Fire Drill” card in which a Fire Drill aka physical challenge is played with all three contestants. The player that comes in first in the drill can actual switch podiums/desks and thus take the score from a leading contestant, while the second-place finisher can take one of the reaming two, leaving third place with the final podium that was open. Fire Drill could take a contestant in third place but won the Fire Drill challenge taking the highest scoring desk and likely winning the game. So, while head knowledge was important a bit of in intelligence and physical ability played an important role as well. Wonder if Merv Griffin was getting ideals from this show when he created his final game show “Crosswords” that went to air after his untimely death. The winner of the front game won $500moved on to the “Honors Round” in which they had 45 seconds to answer one question correctly in all seven subjects. Each question earned the player $100 and depending on the season of the show getting all seven subjects down either won them $1,000 or a trip to Universal Studios Florida which was a big sponsor of Nickelodeon at the time…. also, many Nick shows were shot there during the 1990’s. A University Round was added in the second season of MTG’s run and was played if an episode needed additional time to fill. The contestant would be asked up to five questions in which the contestant could quit at any time. The first question was worth $50, second was $100, third $200, fourth $500 and the fifth and final question was $1,000. Any question missed along the way and player lost all the money expect for the money earned in the previous rounds. This round was played only in the second season. Make The Grade took from Jeopardy!, and Nickelodeon’s sister game shows, but this was the intellectual game that was created for kids in mind.

9. Wild And Crazy Kids: This game show that lasted for three seasons was strictly a stunt game show. Large teams of children competed in head to head physical challenges. These challenges are based on real life sports and playground games or other games not based on Sports or Playground games. A sport challenge could range from Three-Legged Soccer (playing soccer with a partner tied to their ankles like in a Three-Legged Race)or Donkey Basketball in which the teams played Basketball on…yep donkeys. A Playground Game like Tug of War would pit children against three professional wrestlers. A game that does not fit the above would be something like “Human Battleship” in which beans would be dumped on then if their spaces were called out. The show lasted for three seasons from 1990-92 with a brief revival in 2002. The show was constantly repeated from 1999-2007 Nick and its sister channels. To date only 75 episodes (including the 2002 revival) have been produced…but there is something about watching actual wild and crazy kids.

8. Figure It Out: If there was a game show that mirrored classics like “What’s My Line” and “I’ve Got A Secret” (both classics out of the Mark Goodson library of Game Shows) this one was for the kids. Like “Line” a panel of celebrities (mostly from other Nickelodeon shows) had to ask Yes/No questions regarding a contestant’s talent and like “Line” a question that is answer with a no only helps the contestant get one step closer to winning prizes and maybe the grand prize that being a trip. However, one departure from the classic Goodson game is that you have a game board called Billy the Answer Head or the “It” board in which words or part of a phrase that is connected to the contestant talent if mention is displayed on the board. Regardless if the contestant can truly stump the panel or they finally figure it out…that contestant does demonstrate their skills and talks about it with the host and panelists. Secret Slime Action took the place of the blindfolds on “What’s My Line” and it’s played with a contestant randomly chosen from the audience. I have to say, that it was about time that the kids could have a fun show like the adults that involved a celebrity panel and had contestants in which they tried to stump them as they did back in the Golden Age of TV Game shows. When that kind of game show went out of style, Nickelodeon picked it up and ran with in the late 1990’s. Figure It Out was a children version of a celebrity panel vs. everyday contestant (with a unique skill or occupation and can you guess it) template.

7. Finders Keepers: This Nick Game Show came on the coattails of the successful Double Dare. It some ways Finders Keepers is more Double Dare Lite rather than mocking the “Weeping Losers.” In other ways Finders Keepers is more like the Mark Goodson produced game show “Now You See It” except here you need to find pictures of hidden objects in a bigger picture instead of finding words hidden in a jumble of them. Here is how Finders Keepers is played. Each round in the front game has a “Hidden Pictures” sub-round and a “Searching the House” sub-round. In “Hidden Pictures” the two teams of two players are shown a large picture, the object is finding the hidden objects within the picture by figuring out the clues given to them. If a team sees the object they buzz in and use their light pin on theirtelestrator to circle the hidden object. Later in the show’s run, the team member closer to the picture must run to the picture and pull off the correct plastic laminate sticker on their side of the set to match the object in the picture. Each correct find earns the team $25 in the first round and $75 in the second round plus win the right to search one of the eight rooms in the Finders Keepers house. The Finders Keepers house has a total of eight rooms plus a staircase. Half of the rooms are used in the first round and the other four are used in the second. In the “Searching the House” half, the teams must find an specify object based on the clue given. Once that clue is given, the host gives the signal to “Find It!” The team will have 30 seconds to find that object. If found the team will earn $50 in the first round and $100 in the second round. If they fail to claim the object in question before time is up, the opposing team would score. Finding the object on “Finders Keepers” is the equivalate of making a mess of the house in the process. Normally something that children would get chewed out normally if it was their parents’ home. Should there be a tie after the two rounds, one more Hidden Pictures round would be played with a brand-new picture and a team must find at least two hidden objects in order win the game. The winning team goes on to the “Room to Room Romp” in which they have 90 seconds to find clue cards attached to objects in six of the eight rooms selected for the romp. Again, there are a total of eight rooms so in the end game two always luck out. It should be noted that Wesley Eure (famous for the roles of Michael Horton on “Days of Our Lives” and Will Marshall on “Land of the Lost”) hosted the game show during its run on Nickelodeon while the lesser known Larry Toffler took over when “Finders Keepers” moved to syndication.

6. Starcade: Nickelodeon had its own game show based on Arcade Video Games but it paled compared to the real McCoy being Starcade. This is the first of three games shows in the top ten that did not air on Nickelodeon (airing at first on TBS and later broadcast syndication outside of then WTBS Atlanta, GA), and while the eligibility rules allowed adults to compete on Starcade, I shall count this show as a children’s game since most the contestants were children and teens. Also, you didn’t come to Starcade to win big money. You came to play a contest involving arcade games to win prizes and maybe a video arcade game for your own (or a remote-control robot or jukebox instead) …sometimes a vacation (if your part of an invite show). In each show two contestants or two teams competed with each other in video game competitions. To make the game fair the contestants were sized up on how well they played the five featured games collectively. To help decide which of the five arcade games to be played, the contestants are asked questions on video game trivia with a 50/50 multiple choice guess. The contestant that rings in and gets the question correct will be able to pick one of the five games. If they miss then their opponent gets the choose the game. One of the games would be chosen as a “Mystery Game” and if that is chosen during the front game, the contestant/team would win a bonus prize. During video game play the object for the contestants was to score enough points within the given time limit. In most episodes, the time limit was 50 seconds in the first two rounds and 40 seconds in the final round. Once a game is played by both contestants/team; its out of play for the rest of that respected episode. The video game points are cumulative and carry over into the second and third rounds. The contestant that is leading after the second round wins the right to place the mid-bonus game “Name the Game”in which the winning player must guess at least three of the four games (50/50 multiple guess) featured in the four monitors in order to win a prize. After the third round the player/team with the most video game points wins the game itself and earns the privilege to compete for the Grand Prize of the week. To win the grand prize, the contestant must beat the average score of 20 game players on ONE of the remaining games that were not chosen in the front game within 30 second or less. An uphill battle but it could be done. Believe it or not Alex Trebek hosted one of the early pilots of this series. Eventually Mark Richards was chosen to be host. However, Richards was not really interested in the show’s concept and was quickly replaced by Geoff Edwards who hosted such game shows like The New Treasure Hunt and Chain Reaction. Edwards was not into Arcade Games but because he wanted to keep his job he learned about the Arcade Games and he was instantly hooked on them. This helped especially when he did the play by play during the gameplay on show. Edwards would be a fan of arcade game for the rest of his life…long after Starcade ended its original run.

5. Where In The World/Time Is Carmen Sandiego: The first and best game show to air on PBS overall and I would say the best of the two PBS game shows for children to date (“Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman” was the second PBS Kids Game Show to date). Also, I am counting both World and Time as a single show. There are differences but templates are basically the same. Both are a combined Trivia/Adventure game show. The late Lynne Thigpen played the Chief and served as the announcer of both versions of Carmen Sandiego. Otherwise you had different cast players and the cast that were on the longer running World were the best. Greg Lee who was the host (“in charge of new recruits” at Acme Crimenet), and the house band Rockapella who achieved fame in their right afterwards. There was something about the synergy that Lee, Thigpen and Rockapella had on that show. Time might have had Thigpen but was really nothing there. Kevin Shinick was a decent host, and they tried to work an antagonistic angel between Shinick and Thigpen but it’s not as good as the playoff between Lee and Thigpen in the former show, and in end…Time lasted for only two seasons. Now that I have gotten that out of the way. Let us talk about how both versions are played starting with the World Rules.
At the beginning of each show, the Chief briefs the contestants (called Gumshoes) on the crime and which one of Carmen’s Hench people did it. Usually they steal a certain location which by human standards is impractical to do…but since Carmen and her gang are cartoons anyway…why not.So to bring Carmen and company to justice they must answer geography trivia. The gumshoes are given 50 points each (called Acme Crimebucks on the show). Most of clues given are played out in sketches (especially the phone tap sketch done in every episode) or even songs by Rockapella themselves. After these sketches are finished, Lee would give the gumshoes multiple choice options with three choices of a certain area of the world and remind them of the clues in the sketch.The gumshoes would pick their answer that is given to them on cardboard pieces of paper. A correct answer adds 10 Crimebucks to a gumshoes score. During the front game two toss-up/buzz in rounds are played. “The Lighting Round” and “The Chase” (added in season two). The Lighting Round focused on questions based on the last area in which Carmen’s henchperson was seen last while The Chase had the gumshoes following the crook on a consistent path. Each correct answer scored five points for the gumshoe that answered correctly. While “The Lighting Round” allowed rival gumshoes to buzz in if their opponent got it wrong, only one answer would be allowed in “The Chase.” The final sketch clue has the gumshoes wagering their crime bucks score from 0-50 Crimebucks (in increments of 10) and those numbers are given on cardboard paper as well. A correct answer will add while a wrong answer will deduct. For this clue only they are shown a part of the world and three choices were the crook might go too and it will be one of three choices given. After this the top two scoring gumshoes move on to second in which they travel to the “final location” in the front game to find the loot and arrest Carmen’s crook. In reality, the game takes place on what looks like an 1800’s styled railroad platform. On that platform is a gameboard that has 15 landmarks in that respected location. It is basically a “memory” styled game. However, the gumshoe must uncover three things in a SPECIFIC order. The first is to find is the “loot” that was stolen early, then the “Warrant” must be uncovered before finding “The Crook.” Anything else is just footprints and those caused a gumshoe to lose their turn. The gumshoe who can find the Loot, Warrant, and Crook in that very order wins the round and goes on to track down Crime boss Carmen herself. The end game is played on a big floor map, which is a map of either Asia, Europe, Africa, South America or the United States (expanded to North America in season three). The gumshoe must correctly place a marker in which Carman was reported to be in, the contestant has two chances to get the location right, otherwise the contestant moves on to another location with a brand-new marker. If the gumshoe can correctly identify seven locations (later eight) in 45 seconds or less they will win a trip to anywhere in the lower 48 States (or later anywhere in North America).

Time’s gameplay is similar but let me point out the differences. Carmen and the crooks were played in live action rather than animated form. The crooks stole key items that if not restored can alter history forever. The contestants were now called Time Pilots and the front game show set resembles a space time ship called the Chronoskimmer. The Time Pilots start off with 100 “Power Points” instead of 50 points. The show also had sketches and songs with clues packed within them with three possible choice for the time pilots to choose from which is now done electronically instead of cardboard cards. The buzz-in rounds are now called Data-Boost’s and Global Pursuit (similar to The Chase) in which Pilots can score 5 points plus or minus on toss up questions. Since we are dealing with Time the questions are more history focused than geography focused although Global Pursuit does have the geography element. After the first round is over the top two scoring players move on to the second round in which they take back the stolen item back from the crook of the day. The crook dishes out a mocking remark and escapes, but the top priority now for the remaining time pilots is to save history and restore the loot to its key point in time. The chief downloads a flight plan of eight events in which the pilot must but in order of the most recent event to the least recent event. The pilot who can navigate the events correctly will win the game. However, a mistake only the way will reset the game and their opponent will have a shot to win. This too is a memory game since have to start with the recent event and the least recent event in a single turn. The winning Time Pilot goes to the “Trail of Time” to capture Carman and her henchperson. The Trail of Time set consists of time portals that are shaped like various arches from different time periods. The pilot has 90 seconds to have pass all six portals in order to capture Carman Sandiego herself (the henchperson as capture in the middle of the game and always gets captured) and win a personal computer.At each portal, there is a gate and once the pilot reaches a respected gate and presses the button Carman herself will tell them the year they are in follows it up with a 50/50 multiple guess historical question. If the pilot gets the question correct the gate will automatically open, but an incorrect answer forces the pilot to operate a device of the portal in order to open the gate and that eats up precious time, and giving Carman a better chance to escape.Neither game show is being revived anytime soon, but a second scripted animated series involving Carman Sandiego is set to premiere in 2019 on Netflix.

4. Legends of The Hidden Temple: With a dramatized made for TV movie that aired on Nickelodeon last year reprising the roles of Kurt Fogg (as himself) and Dee Bradley Baker as the talking Olmec, this game show proves that it’s a Legend in its own right. Can you name any other movie that was based on game other…than let’s say…The Gong Show? Didn’t think so. This game show is anadventure game hands down with just a spice of trivia. This game starts with six teams of two kids (one boy/one girl) and while the contestants change with each episode the colors and the animal mascots always stay the same (Red Jaguars, Blue Barracudas, Green Monkeys, Orange Iguanas, Purple Parrots, and Silver Snakes). All six teams play the first round that deals with “The Moat.” There is always a mandatory way to cross the moat and it changes from episode to episode. Only the first four teams that can successfully cross the moat in the prescribed manner and press a button on a pedestal to ring a gong can move on to the “Steps of Knowledge” round. Steps of Knowledge takes a page from Jay Wolpert’s short lived gameshow “Hit Man” and does its own pop quiz of sorts plus Steps does mirror Hit Man’s first round a tad bit. Olmec talk about the day’s featured artifact thus giving the players the answers but in the form of narrative/story. After the story is finished Olmec reviles the room in which the artifact was placed in. Then Olmec begins the quiz, the teams can buzz in by pressing the Olmec markings in front of them with their feet. If a team gets the question correct they move down a step, but miss and the three remaining teams can attempt to answer. It takes three correct answers to move on to the “Temple Games” and only two of the four teams can move on to that round. The “Temple Games” consists of three physical challenges that are connected to the episode legend theme. The object is collect enough pieces of Pendants of Life than their opponents not only to win the Temple Games but to protect themselves in the Temple. In case of tie, a tie breaking question will be asked by Olmec himself to determine the winner. The winning team will get to go into the temple for a three minute “Temple Run.”The temple itself consists of 12 different rooms and each room has its own theme. Among the Temple’s famous rooms are; Throne Room, the King’s Storeroom, the Observatory, the Shrine of the Silver Monkey, the Heart Room to name a few. Each room had a puzzle task that the contestant had to complete. To complicate matters three rooms are guarded by Temple Guards (resembling Mayan Sentinels) and thus the need for the Pendants of Life. Only a full pendant given to the guard will call them off, and getting caught without a full pendant gets the contestant removed from the Temple and forcing the second team mate to make a Temple Run or if that second contestant gets caught by a guard without a pendant it ends the game itself. On top of that the Dark Forest contained a tree that was inhabited by a temple guard spirit and as long they don’t get caught they are fine. Should they reach the room in which the artifact was placed and gabbed by any contestant, any remaining temple guards would disappear and all the doors are unlocked giving the contestant a clear shot of escaping the temple. If they escape before three minutes are up, they will win the day’s grand prize. The team wins prizes for successfully grabbing the artifact and making it to the Temple Run as well. I would to see this show return as a game show and not as a scripted movie or TV series…this kids game truly rocks.

3. Fun House: This is the third game show in the top ten that is not a Nick Game show. Rather it aired first in syndication and later on Fox Kids. It would also be the very first game show for a then very young 19-year-old J.D. Roth. This game was a combination of stunts and trivia and two teams of one boy and one girl were pitting against each other. Both competed for a chance to go into the Fun House and win the prizes hidden inside. While it might have been a knockoff of Double Dare on the surface, the rewards were much greater. A winning team could walk away with up to $5,000 in cash and prizes on Fun House while on Double Dare a team could win up to $2,000-$3,000 in cash in prizes. Funny thing is, in Fun House’s front game you played for points while on Double Dare and even Finders Keepers the front game was played for money.

2. Nickelodeon GUTS: This was a weekly Sports themed game show that pitting three kids or teens against each other in five different extreme sports events. The first four events are in in four different means (Elastic/Aerial, Gym/Field, Water Pool, and Track). Usually one of every discipline is featured in the show and in not always in a set order. What is in a given order is the last event of the show and it’s called The Crag, which is a fabricated mountain in which the contestants had an identical side of the mountain to climb. They could not cross into another opponents’ path or block their progress. Along the way to the top of Crag they must activate several “actuators” or buttons. If they miss any along the way they must backtrack and push the respected buttons. The contestants also must deal with strobe lights, foam avalanches and glitter/confetti snow on their climb to the top. The one who finishes the Crag gets the most points and a possible win if they rack up the most points in the previous events of the broadcast. You don’t win any prizes hear, just metals (Gold plus a piece of the Crag, Silver, or Bronze) but it is still one of Nick’s best Game Shows for Kids.

1. Double Dare (Nickelodeon): I put Nickelodeon in parentheses just in case you remember the Jay Wolpert “Double Dare” from 1976 that he created for Mark Goodson-Bill Todman. Totally different games although Edd Kalehoff of Score Productions did compose the music for both shows. However, the more successful Double Dare is in the Viacom camp (parent company of Nickelodeon) and not the FremantleMedia camp (FremantleMedia owns the Mark Goodson library of game owns that he owned in his lifetime including the Wolpert Double Dare). Double Dare was the show that made TV game shows for children cool. Marc Summers had the looks of a young man and was the perfect choice to host a children’s game show. In fact, Double Dare made Summers an honest to goodness star in this own right. The front game of Double Dare beginning with a Physical Challenge Toss Up that started at the very beginning and I mean the very beginning of the show. Two teams of kids must be the first to complete the challenge in order to win first amount of money scored and control of the game. The team that is in control of the game will be asked questions which they can answer one by one. If a question is asked in which they don’t know the answer or think their other team does not know themselves they can “Dare” them to ask the question for double the money. They can answer the question and take control of the game or Double Dare the opposing team for 4x the amount of money. The original daring team must either answer the question or take a physical challenge which involved very messy stunts and must be completed within a given time limit (usually 30, 20 or even 15 or 10 seconds). If they fail the challenge, the oppose team wins free money to their score and take control of the game. Any incorrect answer forfeits control to the oppose team and only a free money/score is rewarded if a Dare or Double Dare was made prior to a Physical Challenge. A question starting at the base amount will only be rewarded to the team in control. In Round one, questions start at $10, Dare makes it a $20, and Double Dare or Physical Challenge makes it a $40 value. In Round Two, questions start at $20, Dare makes it a $40, and Double Dare/Physical Challenge makes it a $80 value. All teams keep the money they have won and its split equally among the teammates. However, the winning team gets to take on Double Dare’s endgame; “The Obstacle Course” in which the winning team must get through eight different obstacles in 60 seconds in order to win all the prizes on the line. Now each obstacle that a team member overcomes by grabbing the red triangle flags at each obstacle either hidden or in plain view wins them a prize and getting all eight wins them either a go-car or a trip. There is also a Family version of Double Dare in which two siblings play with their parents for greater amounts of cash and even a new family car (real as diamonds), but the basic game template stayed the same. This show was so popular that it had runs on both Nick and broadcast syndication at the same time.

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