Today’s From the Console to the TV Station is a very special one, or it is to me, anyway. There is only one show up for discussion, but it is my favorite example of a game-to-TV adaptation in theory and in practice. It’s a show that many people watched as children, and one that people often forget was a game first.
Hit the jump; what’s there may be a pleasant surprise.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?/1991-1996/WGBH
Most kids who grew up playing PC games got a good mix of genres in, but when it came to gaming on the computer, all I had access to were educational games. I suppose my mother figured that if playing games was how I was going to spend all my time, she might as well trick me into learning something through it. The PC has always had more of them than anywhere else. But I didn’t mind; I found a lot of my old educational games just as fun as the non-educational ones I played on my consoles. I had many, but one of my favorites was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?.
In my opinion, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? marks the only time in the history of videogame-themed programming where the TV adaption surpassed the original product. Not to say that WitWiCS was a bad game, but it didn’t give away trips to anywhere in America, have funny sketches, or contain interim music performed by Rockapella. The show was so good that it won a Peabody in 1993, not to mention it would become the longest-running game show series on PBS and the second-longest-running children’s game show ever. Quite a different story than most videogame-to-TV adaptations, wouldn’t you say?
The third round took place in a section of the studio that had a huge map of the world on the floor. The host would read locations aloud, and the contestant would have to mark each one with a large flashing marker. And then, regardless of whether or not the contestant caught Carmen, The Chief (Lynne Thigpen, aka the omnipotent radio DJ from The Warriors, among other things) congratulated them with a rhyme, and then everybody danced.
Great shows always sprout a few spin-offs, and Carmen’s had quite a few since her first. Another game show with a history theme, Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?, was produced from 1996 to 1998. Like Where in the World? before it, it was based on a game — a 1989 sequel to the original that used the successful Carmen Sandiego formula to teach history. The Chief made a glorious return to her post as co-host, but sadly, both Greg Lee and Rockapella were nowhere to be found. While time-traveling Carmen Sandiego had a lot more to teach children, she was not quite as popular as she was during her geography teaching career.
Another spin off was a cartoon called Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?, which aired Saturday mornings on FOX. Brøderbund was very particular about how this show was produced; they did not want for it to contain violence like so many other FOX programs did at the time (X-Men, Spider-Man, Power Rangers). The focus of the show was to remain educational in nature and accessible for all ages. Where on Earth followed the adventures of two junior detectives as they tried to capture Carmen. This all took place in a videogame, with a live-action child actually being behind the controls. This cartoon was another quality videogame adaptation, and it earned the franchise an Emmy.
– Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?: Pilot episode
– Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?: More episodes
– Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?
– Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?
There is so much I could say about these game-themed shows in particular. They educated and entertained me throughout my childhood, and did it well. They also captured the spirit of their source material wonderfully; making a game into a game show was just a brilliant way to go, and though Brøderbund themselves are long gone (they have since been swallowed up by bigger companies), I applaud them for having just the right amount of control over their property so that it wouldn’t be twisted into something the game was not.
But I’ve rambled on enough about this show. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this iteration of FtCttTS as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and reminiscing about this TV show. Nothing else to say but… do it, Rockapella!
As always, a thousand thanks to all those who have recorded and uploaded these programs to the Internet to preserve and share them.