Remember that episode of “The Critic”, where he excitedly goes to show his family his college indie film and then has to conclude: “It stinks.”? Yeah, “Pop Quiz, Hot Shot” from Channel Awesome felt like that. I’ve been a big fan of the Nostalgia Critic and other Channel Awesome shows. I was “lucky” enough to be a contestant. I was not in the pilot episode. I am, I believe, one of the contestants in one of the other five episodes they’ve recorded. As it has been over a month since the pilot was released, there’s a good chance my episode never sees the light of day. I wanted to give some insight into what I saw as a contestant and some general thoughts.
I Enjoyed the Experience
Let’s start with the following. I did not contribute to the Indiegogo campaign. I did not expect to win any prizes by agreeing to be on the show and was more excited about the experience. I live in Wisconsin. I have friends in Chicago. I enjoyed taking a day trip up to Chicago. I got to see the Nostalgia Critic’s studio. I got to meet and talk with Doug, Rob, and Barnie Walker in depth. Tamara showed up to record her scenes, and it was great to meet her as well.
In spite of some of the issues surrounding Channel Awesome lately, I’ve still been a fan for a while. It was fun to meet the crew. And the “game show” was fun as well. It was akin to getting a chance to play Trivial Pursuit with a TV personality you like. My excitement at the experience of that probably clouded what should have been some obvious issues with the show itself.
Background the Show Story
The show attempts to use a narrative to explain the show. A tactic that doesn’t quite hit the mark. But let’s review it.
Brad Jones, a Channel Awesome personality, wanted to host a game show. After being turned down by the Nostalgia Critic, he decided to make his own game show. With the help of his henchman General Anaesthetic, he kidnaps Ms. Stockholm to be his lovely assistant. He now kidnaps various contestants to be on his show. If they win, they get fabulous prizes! If they lose, they die!
Background the Show Format
The show consists of five rounds. The pilot did a horrible job of explaining the rules of scoring. Hopefully, this helps.
Round one is a “physical challenge.” In the pilot, this was a game of Hasbro’s “Let’s go Fishin’” and in the episode I was on, it was a game of Hasbro’s “Don’t Break the Ice.” The winner of this round gets four points. Again, this was never explained on the show that aired. And we’ll get back to some more issues with it later.
Round two is a trivia round. Each correct response is worth a point. Each incorrect answer costs you a point. For the show I was on, the theme was 80s trivia.
Round three is another “physical challenge.” In the pilot, the contestants had to solve a giant maze. In the episode I was on, we had to spell the names of a bunch of actors from their pictures — the hook being all of the actors had hard to spell names. Also, spoiler, I did horrible at this! The winner of this round gets four points.
Round four is another trivia round. The same rules apply, a correct answer is worth a point, an incorrect answer costs you a point. For the show I was on, the theme was 90s trivia.
The person with the most points after the four rounds gets to face the Nostalgia Critic head to head! Brad asks the Critic and the contestant six quickfire questions. In the pilot, it was Disney love songs. In my episode, it was cartoon theme songs.
If the contestant beats the Critic, they get a $100 gift card. In theory, this prize rolls over if the competitor loses. By the time I filmed, they weren’t sure. Spoiler, the Critic won, so we never found out.
One note, for our taping in the trivia round, we were told we had to wait until Brad finished reading the question before buzzing in. As we saw in the Pilot episode, there was an issue with one contestant spamming the buzzer. Also, the negative point for an incorrect answer was added. Again, this was to help alleviate the issue of just spamming in and guessing.
With all the background, let’s get to some of the issues with the show. Fish in a barrel, I know.
I listened to a podcast with some former Channel Awesome employees. They had some hope that maybe the quality of the show would improve, as the pilot was a disorganized mess. The sad news that it hasn’t.
It appears a major issue for the show has been scheduling conflicts. Malcolm Ray was not around to shoot when we were there. I believe this is why Fard Muhammad was brought in to play General Anaesthetic. Except, he too had some scheduling conflicts. Barney Walker wasn’t sure Fard would be around for filming, so he purchased a “Dictator” costume so he could fill in if need be.
This is who Barney is supposed to be.
Barney then took the name of Colonel Klink, a character from Hogan’s Heroes and spoke with a German accent. Of course, Fard was able to make filming, so both are inexplicably filmed, to the confusion of everyone!
I answered a casting call that Doug put on the tail-end of one of his episodes on Avatar. I was told to arrive for filming at 12:30pm. I then spent a lot of time waiting. As I mentioned, I didn’t hate this too much as I got to hang out in the Channel Awesome studio. But it was still somewhat troubling that a scheduled recording took quite a while to get going.
I also know both weather and sickness have caused some scheduling issues of previous episodes. But the big takeaway should be that even several episodes in, they hadn’t gotten to the point of being able to schedule a taping. Somewhat troubling given their goal is forty episodes.
The show itself still had some organization issues. Remember the physical challenges? Well, neither myself or the other contestant had ever played “Don’t Break the Ice.” but they just started the timer and away we went! We played it incorrectly it turns out. I’ve also heard the contestants aren’t playing “Let’s Go Fishin'” with the correct rules either.
I mentioned the trivia rounds were broken into two categories, 80s and 90s. Well, it turns out that the cards got shuffled up and some of the 90s trivia made it into round one! Oh well!
After the show was over, my wife and I went and grabbed some food nearby. We ran into both Barney and Fard from the show. We were actually told our episode had recorded the quickest they’d seen yet. Not the best sign.
I should note, this was recorded in October! I sent an email to the Channel Awesome Game Show email account when I was done to ask about airtime. I never heard back.
I can’t speak to the audio/visual quality of our episode. But as far as I can tell, no new camera or microphones were added between the pilot and our episode. So, if they continue to air the episodes, it’s unlikely they’ll get any better. There were no updates to the set either, so don’t hold your breath there.
There was some hope that things improved since the pilot. I believe I was in the third or fourth round of taping. So, unless they scrapped all their initial episodes and went back to the drawing board, don’t hold your breath.
The Show Doesn’t Know What it Wants to Be
Alright, one of the big issues with this show is it has no idea what it wants to be. The trivia rounds are essentially “Jeopardy”. The physical challenges are supposed to be reminiscent of “Double Dare”. The final round with the Nostalgia Critic is meant to be like “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” Ms. Stockholm, I think is supposed to be a joke Vanna White or Bob Barker assistant. The show’s set is “Saved by the Bell” themed. The Brad Jones background story is supposed to be something. But in the end, none of it works together. Tack on the editing in the final cut of the first show, and it does, unfortunately, come out a big mess.
I’m really conflicted here. The biggest complaint I hear about the show, repeatedly, is “Ninety thousand dollars! Can you believe they stole ninety thousand dollars?” I’m going to try and be a little nice to Channel Awesome for a second. But just to avoid any anger while you read the next few paragraphs, I have to be clear. After reviewing the Indiegogo campaign, and observing the state of things first hand, there is no way to say Channel Awesome hasn’t royally screwed up here.
I’ve found in the age of Patreon, Kickstarter, etc. that many people take on the role of shareholder when they find out how much a creator collected. Except, most of these collection techniques aren’t the same as owning stock in something. Additionally, many people that don’t contribute, take it upon themselves to explain what the creators owe.
And, in general, I find people don’t get finances. Things like Kickstarter take a cut of the profits. What’s more, some pledges don’t pay. And many reward tiers do require some cost to fulfill. Then, of course, there are taxes, etc. to be considered. So I find people think there’s a bigger stack of money than there is.
Now, even with all of that said….this ended up a major cluster. Let’s be clear about a few things. First, their initial budget was absurdly stupid from the get go. At the amount they reached ($89K and change) they promised:
- 40 episodes of the Pop Quiz, Hot Shot game show.
- 52 Episodes of a Comic Book Show
- 40 Episodes of a “Gaming Gauntlet Show”
That’s 132 episodes! Even if they had the full budget, that’s $681 an episode! As of the pilot release they said they’d spent $47,767.67 of the funds they’d collected. In the same notes they said they’d filmed ten episodes of Pop Quiz Hot Shot — that’s assuming they count the five test episodes.
Now, I have no idea of the communication Channel Awesome has had with their backers. As per Indiegogo’s FAQ, transactions are non-refundable once a project is successfully backed. You are allowed to contact the seller directly – see their FAQ here.
The basic thesis of Doug’s initial video was essentially that with the money Channel Awesome would:
- Improve the quality of their equipment for recording.
- Build more sets. Note, I had not seen any built when I visited in October.
- Use the new equipment and sets to make new shows.
- Produce new content quicker and with better quality.
The reality is that almost two years after the campaign finished, they are over halfway through their budget and less than ten percent of the way to their goal. And that’s ignoring the whole improved quality issue as well. A lot of the criticism of the show is the poor quality of the set, recording, and editing.
The truly rough part about this is that, in theory, they should have been able to do better. A big reason I’m sure many people gave money was because of how quickly shows like Nostalgia Critic were released with mostly good quality. The number of mistakes that have been made are hard to take. Especially, as in the original video, Doug talks about many of them. You can’t say, for instance, you want to improve the quality of your recording equipment and then have issues with soundproofing.
On the one hand, I can kind of sympathize. I’ve definitely decided to take on a project, invest in some equipment and then never go anywhere. The issue is, I did this with my own money. I have absolutely no idea the best way forward here for Channel Awesome. They need new sets, and a faster turnaround. But that’s what they said two years and $50,000 ago! Is it likely with less time and less money they’ll actually accomplish it?
They’ve burned a lot of goodwill. In short, I’m sorry if you contributed money. The show is every bit the trainwreck you imagined. That said, I had a fun day playing trivia with a guy that makes funny videos on the net. Since then, it’s been sad to realize that Channel Awesome has a lot of issues that make it not-so-awesome.
A Sad P.S.
The Giddy Owl has a fun rundown of the pilot episode. They also posted a mini-update from Rob Walker about the show. First, the update promises corrections and fixes. Second, it mentions an episode with Fard as host should be coming out “this month”, which refers to April. Finally, they say Brad should be filming four new episodes in the first week of May. The show with Fard as the host, to my knowledge, did not appear in April. If they are filming new shows then I’d say it’s fair to say they scrapped the other episodes, which means that Channel Awesome is back to square one. Again, I’m sorry to all the Indiegogo backers.