James R. Caruso
Caruso was the executive producer of STARCADE,
the televised game show where contestants competed by answering
trivia questions about video games and by playing video games.
The show aired on television stations across the US in the
1980's, and featured the hottest video games of that time.
Today, the games of STARCADE are considered the classics of
the video game industry.
Please describe you role and duties as Executive Producer and
Director of the show?
roles of Executive Producers were split between Mavis and myself.
Most of the responsibilities at this level were our efforts were
varied, developing the idea, writing a treatment and then raising
the dollars to produce, talking a station, networks(s) into broadcasting
the show, trying to get a syndicate, getting the set designed
and built, finding studio to shoot in and equipment to shoot with.
Develop the above the line and below the line production budgets.
Selecting the host and other major support personnel. Oh, and
sell commercials and get the prizes donated. And a million other
things that it takes to produce a TV show.
most important is writing the script and Mavis had that responsibility.
She wrote not only all of the words that came out of Geoff and
Kevin's mouths. She wrote all of the V.O. game descriptions, she
had to write all of the prize copy and the Hotlines. During the
actual production she selected all of the prize round games and
double checked that we were following the rules and kept track
of the elapsed time of each act.
Director is GOD, everyone reported to me, the creative staff,
the writer, the performers, the technical crew, the grips, the
gaffers and the goof offs all are the director's responsibility.
The performance of the host and his delivery of the script and
the contestant's performances are the major concerns of the Director.
The overall pacing of the show is a major concern because a half
hour show is only 22min. 38 seconds. The total number is 40-45
people all with ideas on how the show should be produced, written
Director enforced all of the rules and regulations in the Starcade
Bible. These are the rules of the game in order to keep Starcade
fair for all the contestants and the producers out of jail. These
rules also covered all of the Broadcaster's (networks) Standard
and Practices, the rules that they ran their business with.
Starcade consisted of several parts, the introduction, the multiple
choice quiz section, the gameplay contests, the Bonus round, and
the Super Prize Round. Who developed this format, and what other
ideas were considered that were omitted in the end from the final
The first Starcade concept was to have a sport team approach,
because we thought this would appeal to our audience. We went
with the development of this idea and the first pilot was hosted
by Mike ErZZZ. There were 3 teams with 8 players on each team.
Each team played a different video arcade game, Defender, Centipede,
PacMan and the final game was Berzerk played by the team winners.
The high scorer won and got to play our Star Larry Wilcox of Chips.
The Starcade Video Game Champion was David Dyche, he and Larry
played on the very first Donkey Kong Arcade Game. This episode
was broadcast here in San Francisco on KRON, NBC at 6 PM Sunday,
September 13, 1981. It had the highest ratings in the time period,
and we thought we had a winner. The show played on several other
stations in California, but we could not sell it to a major distributor
or a network. It took a while but we finally realized that the
sport team concept was wrong for video arcade games on TV. The
other thing that held us up was all of the bad PR that the games
were getting and believed by most people in the broadcast business,
and most adults were afraid to even try playing one.
and I went back to our original concept and re-developed the format
into about what you see today. We wrote and re-wrote the script
until we were happy with it and started making calls. We landed
a pitch meeting with the NBC VP in charge of all the network owned
and operated stations. Then the networks were only allowed five
stations. Combined the O&O stations covered about 70% of the
country. The top three were located in New York, Los Angeles and
Chicago. If Starcade could have the O&Os it would be easy
to get the rest of the country.
Mark Richards hosted the first thirty-three episodes, and Geoff
Edwards the final one hundred episodes. Both hosts were great,
but is it true that Alex Trebec, of Jeopardy fame, was
almost the original host for Starcade?
We took our script, set model and a lot of enthusiasm to NBC Headquarters
in Burbank. We knew we had the guy high enough in the network
when we sat down and he pushed a button on his desk to close his
office door. From past experience we knew that most pitch meetings
lasted about 38 seconds and you were out the same door that you
just came through. Well, long story short, after two and a half
hours he asked how we got into see him. We told him that we had
called and made an appointment. He said he had a friend in his
waiting room that needed a job, Alex Trebeck. He would buy the
show if the 5 O&O station managers liked it. They didn't even
though we used his friend in the second pilot and had his S&P
VP from New York on the set during production who thought Starcade
would be a winner. NBC passed and I had a NBC t-shirt made that
I wore to most productions. It said, "DUMB AS A PEACOCK."
found a Distributor that knew Sid Pike who was Chairman of The
Board of the fledging Turner Program Services. They had Parker
Bros. willing to sponsor a show, but didn't have one that fit,
until Starcade was presented to them. We negotiated a contract
to produce 24 weekly shows for Turner. Ted met us at NATPE (National
Association of Television Professionals and Executives) in Las
Vegas. Sid introduced Mavis and I and after a little chitchat
Ted asked us if we would strip the show for him and WTBS, that
is make enough so they could show it daily. We shook hands all
around and had a deal, their only demand was that we had to get
a new host and that's when Geoff started hosting. We went into
production and stopped when we had 133 Starcade Episodes. These
Starcade shows were Turner's first syndication shows with WWF.
Starcade! was TV's first arcade game show. Tell us about your
attempt at a second videogame related show.
Yes, after we finished the run of 133 Starcade episodes, we produced
and syndicated The Video Game. It covered about 80 % of
the US. It was a hard show to do and we dropped it after 26 episodes.
Yes, and both shows were precursors and the basis for the early
90's "Nickelodean Arcade."
The contestants ranged from age five to sixty-five, with the average
age being fourteen. Were there any unfortunate events concerning
the contestants or live studio audience. You know, like arguments
or fistfights, or other nonsense not witnessed watching the show
that happened behind closed studio doors? Any sour losers? Come
on, spill the beans!
only had one incident with a contestant and his father was a Beverly
Hills Lawyer. He thought he had won the Grand Prize when he saw
his score on the screen of the game he was playing when the time
was up. It was more than needed to win. It was close, but the
score was below that needed when the computer said time had really
expired and he lost. He and his father stayed overnight in San
Francisco so they could be at the studio first thing the next
morning and register their protest. We pulled the videotape, played
it and it showed that when the timer sounded the score was actually
below that needed to win, that was the end of that. Close, but
no video game. We explained that the games kept scoring when the
time ended and that we froze the screen on video at the exact
end of the time period.
had a Contestant ride the bus from Washington DC to San Francisco
during a bus strike to try out. He arrived a day late with his
grandmother and knocked on the office door about 8PM Sunday night,
the day after the try outs and told us his story. They would have
been here on time but a picket line in Chicago had prevented the
bus from leaving for two days. We got them a free Hotel room and
free food because they didn't look like they had much money and
let him try out the next day. Of course he was a good player so
he made it. He had a dream of winning a Video Arcade Game so he
could put it in a location and make enough money to go to college.
When he came back for the show he beat his opponent, but did not
score enough points to win the Grand Prize.
we had a great group of contestant's as you can see from those
that have checked in the Contestant's Gallery.
Were there any mishaps concerning the set? Mechanical or technical
issues that plagued or haunted the show?
To get the show on we had three cameras on the floor, two on the
games and about 6000 miles of cable feeding to the switcher and
then to the videotape machines. The biggest problem that we had
to solve on set was when we decided that neon would look great,
it did. But, it caused static in the audio and the video and I
swear the doorknobs. It was everywhere. We finally grounded everything
to get rid of it. In the beginning there were so many problems
with the games it was unbelievable. We finally got a great crew
of game wranglers and a lot of help from the Manufactures, particularly
Starcade was a weekly Syndicated show during the peak years of
the arcade, 1983 and 1984. Was the looming video game crash responsible
for the demise of the show, or is there more to the story?
We never saw the video game crash. Video games have continued
on in one form or another since the 80's. We did see video arcades
crash and many deserved to. Because it was mostly a cash business
many of the operators, manufactures and the people that ran some
of the companies got too greedy. They quit developing good arcade
games that were fun to play and a challenge to the players. They
were not fulfilling as they became more violent. The developers
started putting the emphasis on home games and the manufactures
started competing with themselves. Video games today are as big
or even bigger today that they were in the 80's, just most aren't
as much fun to play as a real video arcade game.
Several games made their debut on "Starcade" before
being shipped to video arcades. What were some of the titles that
Starcade premiered first?
Most video arcade games premiered on Starcade so it's difficult
to pick out a few. Take a look at www.starcade.tv
to see what we mean.
What now sits upon the once proud studios of KPIX-TV, the original
home of Starcade in San Francisco?
The Archdiocese of San Francisco owned the studio and I don't
know what is there now or if they still own the building.
Starcade had some great sponsors and contestant prizes. What were
some of your favorites then and now?
I think some of my favorite prizes were The Bionic Chair, Mr.
Disc (no bigger than a man's shoe) White's Metal Detector. Sponsors
Yes, the idea of Mr. Disc, a portable record player seems very
laughable by todays standards! Thanks James!