Gamechangers

Alex Trebek hosts a documentary about television game shows featuring interviews with a number of game show hosts and producers.

Who doesn’t love Alex Trebek? The immediately-recognizable face behind one of America’s most beloved game shows, Jeopardy!, Trebek has been hosting shows since the 1960s, including The Wizard of Odds, Double Dare and To Tell the Truth, among many others. A true stalwart then, whose pleasant demeanor and poise continues to resonate with millions of viewers. It was only a matter of time before someone made a documentary about the legend; even more fitting is a doc hosted by the man himself, in which he details the history of game shows and what makes them so popular. While not particularly inventive in its presentation, and not especially insightful, J. Craig Thompson’s Game Changers provides an entertaining 90-minute diversion, bound to resonate with avid game show fans.

“Taking a journey to revisit the roots of our game shows past,” Trebek proves to be as charming and eloquent a documentary host as he is that of game shows. In quirky asides—of which there are unfortunately too little—Trebek makes Regis Philbin a sandwich for relaxing him, then warns him not to eat it, or buys out a comedy club to “fool” Drew Carey into an interview. Trebek’s own biography is examined lovingly, albeit all-too-briefly: we learn that he holds the Guinness Record for most game show episodes hosted by the same presenter, yet we never really get to see the man behind the public persona.

“…only a matter of time before someone made a documentary about the legend; even more fitting…hosted by the man himself…”

The same sentiment applies to the impressive roster of presenters interviewed in Game Changers.Although it turns nostalgic/wistful and articulate, the film avoids delving too deep into the nitty-gritty of being always in the spotlight and the impact it has had on their lives. They don’t discuss behind-the-scenes controversies nor examine humanity’s need for escapist entertainment to distract from life’s ugly realities. America’s proneness to gambling, which partially forms the foundation of this great country (whose president used to be a game show host himself, his politics increasingly resembling a childish game) isn’t examined. The role of women (or lack thereof) on game shows is touched upon but not scrutinized, a relevant theme in the #MeToo era that the doc sadly skirts around. “Games are hard-wired into our DNA”, says Gary Dawson, the executive producer of Family Feud – and that’s about as deep as it gets.

Those gripes aside, there’s plenty left to enjoy. Just look at the legends on screen: Bob Eubanks (host of The Newlywed Game), Richard Karn (host of Family Feud), Mark Summers (host of Double Dare), Wink Martindale (host of Tic-Tac-Dough), Chuck Woolery, Pat Sajak and Vanna White (hosts of Wheel of Fortune), Tom Kennedy (host of Name That Tune), Howie Mandel (host of Deal or no Deal) and Monty Hall (host of Let’s Make a Deal, who passed away before this doc got released). From the first-ever game show aired on television, “Truth or Consequences” (which has been immortalized by having a town in New Mexico named after it) and Groucho Marx’s comedy quiz show “You Bet Your Life” to “Deal or No Deal,” Game Changers does a formidable job of patiently tracing the history of game shows from their very inception to the current deluge of such shows on TV.

“…does a formidable job of patiently tracing the history of game shows…”

“We are a conduit between the contestants and the audience,” Trebek states while chatting with Bob Eubanks. “We’re facilitators, that’s all we are,” Bob agrees. Self-congratulatory? Yes. For a good reason? Well, also yes. “Game shows are the best kind of reality television,” Alex says emotionally at another point, “We make people feel better.” That’s the prevailing spirit of the doc, that of warmth and reverence, with nary a hint of negativity to be found. “People are not tuning in [to Jeopardy!] to see the insides of Alex Trebek,” says Ken Jennings, Jeopardy! champion—and the same philosophy can be applied to this feature. Don’t tune in expecting to see a warts-and-all behind-the-scenes portrayal of the history of game shows. For $500, what is a pleasantly fluffy documentary about the history of game shows? The answer is Game Changers.

Game Changers (2018) Written and Directed by J. Craig Thompson. Featuring Alex Trebek, Alan Thicke, Monty Hall, Bob Eubanks, Wink Martindale, Howie Mandel, Drew Carey, Vanna White, and Regis Philbin.

6 out of 10

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