Big news: I’ve finally identified the name of an old children’s game show that’s been on the tip of my tongue for over thirty years.
It was called I’m Telling. (Properly stylized with an exclamation point at the end, but I hate it when titles do that.)
According to its Wikipedia entry, the series premiered in September of ‘87 and only made it to the following March. It was one of those weird, low-fi game shows that aired directly after Saturday morning cartoons, when most kids were already outside trading bikes or arm-wrestling lizards or whatever the hell kids did out there.
Naturally, I was still inside, clinging to the last bits of kid-targeted programming before every network switched over to five hours of boring bullshit.
I’m Telling was hosted by Laurie Faso, who even by then was an accomplished voice actor. This guy did half of the Sectaurs, a bunch of Decepticons and even Raphael from The Secret of the Ooze. That isn’t the kind of resume that gets you quick tables at The Four Seasons, but if I saw Laurie inflating tires at a 7-Eleven, I’d definitely scream “AUTOGRAPH” over the noisy air pump.
Wikipedia compares I’m Telling to a mutant Newlywed Game. That’s pretty accurate. You had three teams of siblings — a brother and sister, usually — seated on what looked like Candyland’s answer to the Temple of Gozer.
The siblings needed to guess each other’s answers to various personal questions. Laurie Faso might’ve asked the boys to name their sisters’ favorite colors, and if they got it right, they’d score points. I’m simplifying things a bit, but that was the idea.
Those question rounds covered 3/4ths of the show, and the contestants were obviously encouraged to “get wordy” and play up any sibling rivalries. If Faso asked them to pick between pizza and ice cream, they would, but only after two-minute preambles.
It was fine, but I wouldn’t be writing about I’m Telling if that was all it had going for it. No, the real reason I’m here is THE PICK-A-PRIZE ARCADE.
I cannot overstate how taken I was with the Pick-a-Prize Arcade. I used to have dreams about it. Dreams so good that I’d try to mentally claw myself back to sleep, just for another thirty seconds of imaginary prizes.
After one team of siblings scored enough points, they’d get to run through an insane maze of prizes. It isn’t easy to describe that maze, but picture the set of American Gladiators crashing into a Toys “R” Us.
Here’s how it worked:
Assume I’m playing, and I’m teaming with my sister. I secretly tell Laurie Faso which six prizes my sister would want the most. The audience can see my picks, but my sister can’t.
Lauie lets her zip around the maze picking any six prizes she wants, but she only gets to keep the ones I guessed she’d pick. Then we rinse and repeat the process, only with me now running through the maze, praying that my sister knew how much I wanted that sweet Tomy Omnibot.
If you’re having trouble following this, the particulars aren’t important. Just picture kids running around a pastel otter enclosure, selecting high-priced toys to go home with. Imagine how that might’ve affected you. I watched shows where contestants walked off with a hundred grand, but only the prizes on I’m Telling made my skin burn with raging envy.
The spreads changed from episode to episode. Kids had a shot at everything from Nintendos to VCRs to trips to Disneyland. Whenever a sibling made a matching pick, a light-up siren stationed next to the prize would flash and screech. I loved that siren enough to blow all of my Wildwood casino arcade points on a really shitty version of one, back in the summer of ‘87.
I went ahead and uploaded an entire episode of I’m Telling, because no amount of complimentary adjectives compares to seeing the Pick-a-Prize Arcade in action. Though the series ended its NBC run in 1988, reruns have made scattered appearances in the years since. This one aired on WWOR-TV in 1994, and has the commercials to prove it.
I’m so glad to have finally put a name to those torturously fragmented memories. I’m Telling ruled, and I hope I’ve done it justice. Laurie Faso would’ve been great on Perfect Strangers if Mark Linn-Baker wasn’t interested.