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TV Notes: 3/15/03

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Contestant did more than press his luck

Cheaters never prosper, except when the system isn't foolproof. That's the lesson of "Big Bucks: The 'Press Your Luck' Scandal," a documentary premiering at 9 p.m. tomorrow on cable's Game Show Network.

It's a fascinating two-hour look at a 1984 incident on the CBS game show "Press Your Luck." Michael Larson, an out-of-work ice cream truck driver from near Cincinnati, found a way to beat the system, winning $110,237 in cash and prizes, the show's largest pay-out ever.

"Big Bucks" deconstructs how Larson did it by way of cheesy re-enactments (they're mercifully few in number) and by replaying the two episodes of the game show with scenes slowed to explain his strategy.

The "Press Your Luck" game board comprised 18 squares, with each one featuring cash, prizes or an animated character named "Whammy." Each square lit up briefly, but if players buzzed in when a Whammy was lit, they'd lose all money accumulated.

Larson videotaped "Press Your Luck" episodes, watched them on freeze frame and discovered the games' Achilles' heel: There were only five patterns in which the squares lit up in sequence, and the Whammy never landed on two squares. Understanding this, Larson was able to legitimately take CBS for quite a ride.

Knowing the outcome in advance, watching the two "Press Your Luck" episodes gets boring -- I'd suggest taping the documentary and fast-forwarding through much of the game show itself -- but the explanations of how Larson beat the system are revealing.

Peter Tomarken, host of the original "Press Your Luck," returns to host this special, which includes commentary from network and show executives of the time, as well as the two contestants who faced off against Larson, who died in 1999.

Larson's competitors get a second chance on Monday's second-season premiere of GSN's "Press Your Luck" remake, "Whammy!" as they compete against Larson's brother.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

WQED adds Iraq programs

WQED is bumping one of its pledge specials Monday night to accommodate two special reports about the crisis in Iraq. At 10 p.m., it will pre-empt "Rick Steves' Ireland" to air "The Long Road to War: A Frontline Special Report" and, at midnight, "What's Next With Iraq: Now With Bill Moyers Special Edition."

The two-hour "Frontline," drawing on its archive of 12 years of reporting on Iraq, will provide a history of the U.S. confrontation with Saddam Hussein. The other special, an hour long, will include satellite interviews from the Middle East examining possible scenarios for Iraq's future and the responsibility of the media in an increasingly ratings-driven atmosphere.

The pre-empted Ireland special will air at a later date. WQED will, however, still air "Daniel O'Donnell & Friends" at 8 p.m.

(Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer)

Dear Rita

WBGN-TV will air Rita Rudner's new syndicated talk show, "Ask Rita," described as a TV version of "Dear Abby" with a comedic twist.

Rudner and equally unqualified Hollywood friends and comedians will attempt to answer questions from viewers. "You ask your friends for advice and they don't know anything," says Rudner. "Why not ask me? I have a TV show."

"Ask Rita" will be seen weeknights at 10:30 starting March 31. Rudner, who recently completed her third book, performs regularly in Las Vegas and periodically pops up on television.


Amos on WYEP

Tori Amos will perform at Club Cafe tomorrow afternoon for a sold-out private event prior to her evening concert at Palumbo Center. But fans can catch her Club Cafe performance live on WYEP-FM (91.3), starting at 1 p.m. tomorrow. The broadcast is also being streamed on the station Web site (wyep.org).

Amos will perform music from the new release "Scarlet's Walk," and will talk to WYEP host Rosemary Welsch.

(By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer)

'Light Brigade' on location

WYEP's "Saturday Light Brigade" is broadcasting live today from the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Both are celebrating an anniversary -- the center's 58th and the show's 25th.

In addition to the live broadcast, the event features family art workshops and music by Tracy Drach and David Bennett, the Keystone Harmonizers Barbershop Quartet, and Paula Purnell.

The broadcast runs from 6 to 10 a.m. and the other activities are from 6 a.m. to noon in the Studio Arts Building at 1047 Shady Ave., which is located near the main gallery at Fifth and Shady.


Guest stars galore

"Friends" star Matthew Perry will appear on the April 23 and 30 episodes of "The West Wing" as a promising candidate for the job of White House associate counsel, the job previously held by fellow Republican Ainsley Hayes. ... Elsewhere on NBC, Macaulay Culkin will appear in an episode of "Will & Grace" titled "May Divorce Be With You." The former "Home Alone" star will play a seemingly immature young man hired by Karen (Megan Mullally) to argue for her divorce against the more seasoned Will (Eric McCormack). NBC has not announced a date for the show.


'Fear' notches win

"Fear Factor" achieved a new ratings high Monday, in the process becoming the first NBC program to beat an original episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" in nearly four years.

A 90-minute episode set in Las Vegas averaged 18.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, building to more than 20 million in the final half-hour to edge out "Raymond," which NBC hasn't done since the miniseries "Noah's Ark" aired in May 1999.

But to underscore the hit-miss nature of unscripted programs, Fox's "Married by America" slipped to 6.9 million viewers Monday, a 23 percent drop compared with its premiere.

ABC's drama lineup continues to struggle, with "The Practice's" 9 million viewers surpassing the new dramas that preceded and followed it, "Veritas: The Quest" and "Miracles," each by more than 3 million.

(Brian Lowry, Los Angeles Times)

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