My picture

My picture

Welcome to my mind

Here's the deal. I can be "opinionated". If you like what you see, please come back from time to time. If you don't like what you see, you can come back too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The day I met Dick Clark

How many people do you know who were on a game show?  If you know me, the answer is one.  I was on the $25,000 Pyramid.  Which is the first thing I thought of this afternoon when I heard that Dick Clark had died.  Which might make me the only person whose first thought wasn’t New Year’s Eve or American Bandstand.
I’m sure you want to know what it was like….being on an actual game show, and meeting a legend like Dick Clark.  So I’ll tell you.  Even if you don’t want to know.  I just like telling the story.  Sometimes I just tell it to strangers.
It was January of 1986.  I lived in Philly at the time, and was going to California for my cousin Ava’s wedding in Los Angeles, and to visit my sister, who had just moved to Orange County.  I decided I wanted to try to be on a game show.  And not just any one….I wanted to be on Pyramid.  I loved the show….I used to watch it all the time.  Plus, you could win some serious cash.
I wrote to the show, and got an audition.  Then a second one two days later.  At which point they told me I’d be on the show “sometime in the next year”.   But then they called me the next day and asked me if I could come to the studio the day after that.
Which brings me to the actual game show experience.
I was one of 10 contestants….and since they rarely need more than six for a week’s worth of shows (which they tape in one day) I knew there was no guarantee that I’d actually get on the show.
They put us in the green room….which really was green.  We played some practice games, and they kept telling us that if we got onto the show, be sure to smile.  Don’t be nervous, even if we were either going to win lots of money or humiliate ourselves in front of millions of people.
They kept us all together at all times…no chance for us to cheat.  If one person had to go to the bathroom, the whole group went.
Finally, they took us into the studio and onto the stage.  They showed us the desks and the monitors and told us how everything would work….while the audience watched us in envy.
Then they put us in a roped-off section in the front row.  Then the returning champion from the previous show was brought up to the stage.  Then they picked one of us.  But not me, they chose a woman named Cheryl.
Next thing you know, there’s Dick Clark on stage.  He comes out before the taping to talk to the contestants, make sure he’s pronouncing their names correctly, and ask them a few questions.
Then, it was show time.  The open, featuring a montage of people celebrating their wins.  The familiar music.  Then the celebrities came out.  Now if you remember Pyramid, they had great celebrities.  Vicky Lawrence!   Patty Duke!  Betty White!  Soupy Sales!  Not to mention the crown prince of game show celebrities….Nipsey Russell!   But not this week.  Not my week.  We had the B-list.  Constance McCashin from Knots Landing and Henry Polic II from Webster.  But I didn’t care who the celebrities were as long as I actually made it onto the show.
So they played Monday’s game.  And Cheryl, the new player, gets to the pyramid and wins $10,000.  So she becomes the returning champion, and the previous champ is sent away with her winnings and her consolation prizes.  Rice-a-Roni, Lee Press-on-Nails, things like that.
She leaves and the rest of us go back to the green room so the celebrities can change their clothes and everything can be set up for Tuesday.  Which was an hour after Monday.
So they take us back into the studio and put us back in the roped-off area and put Cheryl up on stage, and come back down and look at the rest of us…..and they say “Bruce, are you ready?”
Holy cow!  I’m on the show!  I’m a game show contestant!
They take me up on stage and get me situated at the challenger’s desk, which fortunately is covered with felt because my palms were starting to get really clammy.
And then “he” came out.
Dick Clark.
Standing just a few feet away from me.
And when you saw him in person, he looked just like he did on TV.  And he was nice, too.
He welcomed me to the show, confirmed the pronunciation of my name, and started to read my bio.  Then he got excited.  Because I was from Philly….which is of course where Bandstand started.   Then it got really cool.  He saw that I worked in television.  He asked me which station.  I told him Channel 6.  Then he got really excited.  Because that’s the station where Bandstand started.  Now he’s asking me about all the longtime studio engineers at the station….many of whom still worked there.  He remembered all their names.  It was amazing.  He was having a ball.
So then he leaves the stage and next thing you know, they’re playing the open and I’m hearing the music and my stomach is in my throat and I’m more nervous than I’ve ever been in my life.
The celebrities come out, and we start playing the game.  I’m with Constance, Cheryl is with Henry.  Round one.  I get seven out of seven.  So does Cheryl.  Round two.  Same thing.  Round three.  Same thing again.  So it’s a 21-21 tie, which means not only does the winner go to the winner’s circle, they win a $5,000 bonus.  Unfortunately, Cheryl won it.  Fortunately, she didn’t do well in the winner’s circle.
They take a commercial break, we switch celebrities, and we play the second half.  Once again, a perfect round one.  But then…I finally catch a break.  She misses one.  If I get all seven in round three, I go to the winner’s circle.  The category: music makers.  People.  The hardest category on that show.  I still remember some of my clues.  “The singer with the really big chest”.   (Dolly Parton)  “He plays the piano, has lots of teeth”.  (Liberace)  Now I’m on the seventh name, and I say “He writes the songs that make the whole world sing”.  Henry says Barry Manilow.  Dick Clark says “You got it!” and the music plays and the audience cheers and I’m heading to the winner’s circle.
During the commercial break, Dick gives me his famous back rub….and now we’re ready to go.
The first item flips over, Henry starts giving clues, and I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.  The first thing he says is “The Golden Door”.  Which was a famous spa in California.  The category was vacation resorts.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I guessed it….but by then I thought I was dead.  However….we caught fire.  We zipped through the next four items.  He’d give one clue and I’d guess it right away.
Now we’re on the last one.  Get it right and win 10 grand.  He says “coupons”.  I say “things you clip”.  He says “savings stamps”.  I say “things you redeem”.  He says “Yes!!!!” and jumps up….and the music plays and the audience cheers and I jump up and we hug and we jump up and down and we hug again and we jump up and down some more and Dick Clark shakes my hand and I’ve just won $10,000!
The only downside was my sister couldn't get the day off from work to be there.  So you know how when someone wins, and their relatives and friends rush up from the stage to celebrate with them?  It was just me, Henry, and Dick.
So they say goodbye to Cheryl and the rest of us go to the green room for lunch (they always eat lunch between Tuesday and Wednesday) and I can barely take a bite because I’m on cloud nine.
And then we go back to the studio for Wednesday’s show and I’m the returning champion.  And the new player gets seven out of seven in the first round, and I get a whopping three out of seven.  That’s right, three.  Remember the “humiliate yourself in front of millions of people” thing I mentioned earlier?  Yep, that was me.  But then she collapses and I catch fire and we go to a tiebreaker and I win the tiebreaker and suddenly I’m in the winner’s circle despite a three-point round.  Dick tells America that I’m an inspiration to everyone who fails.  Which is what I did in the winner’s circle.  I won a couple hundred dollars and in the second half my opponent wins and she goes to the winner’s circle and she wins $10,000… they say goodbye to me and send me off with my money and my consolation prizes.  A year’s worth of Shake & Bake, Little Debbie snack cakes, and Bayer Aspirin.   No Rice-a-Roni for me.  But at least I didn’t get the press-on-nails.
So that was the day I met Dick Clark.  Who seemed really nice.  Just like he seemed on TV.  And with everything we hear about celebrities, it’s nice to be able to say that.
So for now….Dick Clark, so long.