There’s some big news for game show nerds, and no, it has nothing to do with the next host of Jeopardy! A wacky yet woefully short-lived Carter-era quizzer called Whew! is headed back to TV next month, ending a more than 40-year absence from the airwaves. Vulture has learned that retro network Buzzr has struck a deal to air original episodes of the Tom Kennedy-hosted series, which is fondly—or at least vaguely— remembered by a sliver of Gen Xers drawn in by an animated opening credits sequence designed by Hanna-Barbera as well as a bizarro bonus round which featured a collection of cardboard cutout “villains” with names such as Count Nibbleneck and Kid Rotten. Yes, TV was weirder back then.
Despite some popularity among kids watching over summer vacation or while home sick from school, Whew! was likely doomed in part by a nearly unpronounceable title and a perhaps overly complicated format (more on that ahead). Producers tried to turn things around a few months into the run by adding celebrity players to the mix, but CBS canceled the show in May 1980, a little more than a year after it premiered. While nearly 250 episodes were taped, that wasn’t enough back then to earn Whew! reruns a syndication afterlife on local TV stations or cable, and so the series basically disappeared from public view for decades. A few episodes and clips have popped up on YouTube over the past ten years or so, but for the most part, Whew! has existed mostly in the memory of those who saw it when the episodes were first broadcast.
Thankfully for fans, some of the folks who still remember Whew! include Buzzr general manager Mark Deetjen, who has made unearthing “lost” game shows part of the mandate at the Fremantle-owned network. Over the years, staffers at Buzzr have also suggested Whew! to Deetjen as have some of the network’s viewers. “Every once in a while, we’d see fans on social media say, ‘Hey, have you guys ever thought about Whew!?’,” Deetjen says. (Full disclosure: Your correspondent is one such viewer.) But according to Deetjen, it was a “chance meeting” with gameshow producer and judge John Ricci Jr. (The $100,000 Pyramid) which helped turn those internal discussions into a concerted effort to get Whew! on Buzzr. Turns out Ricci Jr. and gameshow hosting legend Wink Martindale (Tic Tac Dough) had signed on to represent series creator Jay Wolpert and producer Burt Sugarman (The Midnight Special), who still control rights to the original episodes and were trying to get them back in front of viewers. “This is a show that had been sitting on the shelf, and it fit what we needed,” Deetjen says. “It was an opportunity for us to bring back a show that’s kind of a cult classic that really fits with kind of the Buzzr mantra of, “Hey, we’re not going to just give you everything that you think you’re going to get.’…We were able to strike a very good agreement.”
As noted earlier, the format for Whew! is…a lot. In the first half of each episode, the series has two players competing against each other in a trivia contest where the questions are given in the form of an answer, much like Jeopardy! Those answers, however, all contain a “blooper,” like so: “At the 1976 Republican Convention, Gerald Ford was nominated and Ronald McDonald came in second.” The correct “answer” here would be “Reagan.” But Whew! adds several layers of drama to the mix. Contestants either play as “blockers” or “chargers,” with chargers given 60 seconds to answer six questions, and blockers afforded a chance to set traps on the chargers’ game board. If a charger chooses a square that has been blocked, they have to wait five seconds, then choose another question. The blocker, meanwhile, collects the cash which would have gone to the charger had the charger been able to answer the blocked question. Confusing? On paper, yes. But once you watch an episode or two, the format of Whew! actually becomes relatively straightforward and fun. The bonus round, known as the Gauntlet of Villains, is simpler: A player has to answer 10 questions in about a minute, with the amount of time they get to finish slightly boosted based on how much they won in the earlier rounds. (If you want to go deeper into the particulars, this game show wiki site has a complete run-down.)
Because there aren’t thousands of episodes of Whew!, Buzzr won’t be scheduling multiple half-hours throughout its schedule the way it does with many of its most popular shows. After a mini-marathon of six episodes on Sunday, Sept. 5 from 4 to 7 p.m., the network will air one “new” (i.e. previously unaired) episode of the series every weekday at 4:30 p.m. ET, with two half-hours also airing Sunday nights from 7 to 8 p.m. ET. Initial episodes will be from the original “civilian” version of Whew!, but there are plans to eventually begin airing the celebrity remix, which featured appearances by Marcia Wallace, Robert Vaughn, Gary Collins and other stars of the era. And if you’re wondering how to watch Buzzr, the live feed of the network is now on multiple free streaming platforms, including Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, IMDb TV, STIRR, Distro TV, Samsung TV+, Vizio WatchFree+. It can also be found via over-the-air broadcast TV in many cities, as well as on the Dish satellite service.