For a good long time I was feverishly recording all kinds of stuff off VHS, just in the off-chance I have something interesting to remember by. Most of these were game shows, since that was my favorite thing for a long while (and still is!). Eventually I stopped recording things regularly, and had amassed over 80 VHS tapes of different things recorded from 1992-2007.
From then on, those tapes sat on shelves in my room, collecting dust. While hanging out with a few friends on Discord, I had mentioned I was casually watching game shows, which spurred the idea of watching said shows with friends. After mentioning I had these tapes, I was encouraged to finally tackle one of my passion projects: Converting the tapes to digital files.
In April I bought a simple capture device – an Elgato video capture – and later, a better VCR – a JVC HR-S3800U to replace my Panasonic VCR/DVD-R combo unit – and got to work converting some of the tapes. The following month in May, I started phase two of this project: Putting this stuff on YouTube. That’s where the Secret Area Vault comes in.
The Vault’s premise is simple: Preserving bits and bobs of TV ephemera I’ve accumulated from these tapes. Since I’m a game show junkie, About 90% of the content will be random episodes of classic game shows. Some of these shows, such as the 1980s revival of Hollywood Squares hosted by John Davidson, and a game show based on the board game Scrabble, haven’t been aired on television in nearly 30 years. Other times, it’ll be episodes of shows not readily available else, like Family Feud and The Newlywed Game.
In addition to the game shows, I’ve also been compiling other interesting bits from my VHS collection that I think is worth showing off, such as commercials. As far as I know, most of this stuff hasn’t been seen on YouTube, and I think these are just as important to highlight as much as the game shows.
You’re probably wondering why I still have all these tapes. Well, keep in mind that before the days of streaming services and DVRs, it was entirely possible a show may never run again, even if it’s a rerun of a show from 30 years ago. Even these days, I’ve been finding the stuff that isn’t readily available online, and the Vault is a good repository for TV preservation.
Before I get started, I’d like to thank maple mavica syrup for giving me inspiration to start this VHS project in earnest; and Matt of Dinosaur Dracula fame, who’s done similar commercial montages on his blogs, and his site was a minor influence on the Secret Area’s humble beginnings. That being said, let’s get started.
Nyquil advertisement circa 1993 (with Nathan Lane!)
What better way to start off this compilation but with a now fairly notable actor shilling cold medicine?
Granted, Nathan Lane is a fairly ubiquitous actor nowadays – the voice of Timon in Disney’s The Lion King films, The Birdcage, a supporting role on Modern Family, The Producers on Broadway – but in the early 90s, he was much like any other struggling actor, doing any gig that’ll give him work and money.
The premise is a bit silly: Lane’s character is feeling sick, so he starts asking his neighbors for Nyquil, constantly getting shut out until… a guardian angel appears with a full bottle? I can’t tell if he’s having a fever dream or they didn’t want to shoot a scene of him walking to the corner store in his pajamas to grab a bottle. He eventually feels triumphant, getting his cold medicine so he can properly sleep.
Surprisingly Nathan Lane did at least one more Nyquil commercial, which is already online elsewhere. But I thought this one was more surreal than that one.
I’m honestly glad I have this one recorded. At the time young me didn’t understand preserving stuff very well, so I often over-recorded over shows on the same tape. One time I accidentally hit record while the TV was on a show called Street Justice, a police procedural starring Carl Weathers that aired for two seasons in syndication. This commercial comes from that accidental over-record session. Granted that meant I lost some USA Network game shows, but getting a commercial like this was worth the over-record.
Paragon Cable/Nickelodeon KidsMeet ‘93 contest promo
Now this is probably a treat for the Nickelodeon fans out there.
Paragon Cable was a cable television provider initially based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, but eventually branched out to other parts of the United States. In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, Paragon Cable alongside TCI were the big cable companies in that city. Nowadays they got swallowed up by the xfinity/Comcast monster around the early 2000s and things haven’t been the same since.
This commercial is for a contest for kids to enter and get a chance to visit Nickelodeon Studios in Florida, which was still a fancy cool new place for Nickelodeon at the time. To do some of the bumpers for this KidsMeet ‘93 contest, they got Phil Moore, the host of Nick Arcade, while behind the set of some sitcom – Clarissa Explains It All, I think? – to promote it.
Now, I think Nick Arcade is a technical marvel but a mediocre game show, and it took me a while to get used to Phil Moore’s particularly goofy, lighthearted attitude on that show. But honestly, for a commercial like this, getting someone with a lot of pep in their step was the right move here.
I don’t know if there were similar contests in other parts of the US, or if they shot similar promos with other Nickelodeon personalities, but I figure this is a nice bit of nostalgia that Nickelodeon fans of the 90s might think is pretty cool.
Ameritrade ad, 1999
Speaking of “notable actors shilling things,” this one’s a bit more of a deep cut compared to the rest.
Ameritrade – now known as TD Ameritrade – is a broker company for stock trading. Honestly I don’t like the stock market, but Ameritrade was promoting something that starting to make waves in the late 1990s: Online stock trading. There were a handful of companies getting on this during the peak of the dot-com bubble, and this one was no exception.
Honestly I would’ve ignored this commercial had I not noticed who was playing the dad. He’s not super-famous like Nathan Lane, but if you’re like me and remember him watching a lot of game shows, he should be instantly recognizable:
Yeah, it’s Peter Tomarken, host of Press Your Luck and a handful of other game shows. Turns out that game show hosting was more of a side-hustle, as Tomarken has been found doing commercials for dozens of different products over the past couple of decades: Promoting the Chevrolet Chevette in the 1970s. Being impressed by Sanka coffee in the mid-1980s. Playing a Jerry Springer-esque host for Frosted Mini-Wheats in the early 2000s. And of course, this Ameritrade ad.
For the record, many game show hosts do commercials for products over the years. Some of those hosting skills can occasionally translate to being pretty good infomercial hosts. But Tomarken is one of the few I’ve seen who just played an actor more than just representing himself in a TV commercial. The only other personality I can think of who did this a lot was Supermarket Sweep’s David Ruprecht. (Here’s hoping I find a commercial featuring him sometime.)
Tragically, Tomarken died in a plane crash in 2006. He is still missed by fans and friends alike. He definitely seems like the kind of person who would’ve kept doing commercials for as long as he was able to. Nowadays the only game show hosts I see do these kind of commercials is Wink Martindale, or Michael Burger from the short-lived 1998 revival of Match Game, and they’re just playing the venerable game show host rather than a specific role.
You could definitely compile a good list of commercials featuring a venerable who’s-who of game show hosts. Those are just as cool as seeing a famous actor pre-fame advertising a product.
Well, that’s all I wanted to write about for this. I’m not sure if I’ll make this a regular series, but I did enjoy nerding out about something on this site, as I always do.
You can check out the Secret Area Vault here, which has the stuff I mentioned and a bunch of game shows for your perusal. I don’t have a set schedule planned for when I’ll upload things, so do that thing that all the YouTubers ask you do: Hit that subscribe button, ring that bell for notifications, and tell your friends that there’s yet another place on YouTube for TV nostalgia.
(I will have a post available on the Patreon in the near future. Thought I’d give a free post for this month, as some promotion.)