Back in the day, local TV stations would offer their own interactive game shows. Those shows were either set in one of two formats – there would be a “Bowling for Dollars” type of program, where a local viewer would randomly have a postcard pulled out of a bin, and that person would win money based on the skills of a local bowler’s score; or there would be “Dialing for Dollars” type of program, where a station would air some old movie and, during the commercial breaks, call people who sent in postcards to ask if they new what the special word of the day was.
And then there was this interactive game show that aired in New York City on WPIX. Now back in the day, WPIX was available as a “Superstation” on my local cable company’s feed – yeah, along with WOR-9 from New York, WNEW-5 from New York, and WSBK-38 from Boston. Well, in addition to their normal 1970’s lineup of New York Yankees games, Honeymooners episodes and the like, WPIX offered this interactive game show called “TV Pixx” to its lineup.
“TV Pixx” was a simple concept. Kids sent in postcards, and a postcard was randomly drawn during WPIX’s daily afternoon cartoon lineup. If the kid received a phone call, they could play an interactive video game right there on the TV screen. If they achieved a decent score, they received a $25 U.S. Savings Bond, which could be doubled to $50 if the kid knew that day’s secret word.
And how did they play this video game over the phone?
Simple. They had to shout “PIXX” into the phone, which caused the video game to either fire a digital missile or throw a digital football or something of that sort. Here’s a video example.
So how did they do it? Had someone at WPIX dseveloped voice-activated sensory controls that could power a video game system – way back in 1979?
Essentially, WPIX hooked up a Mattel Intellivision game system to their broadcast network. The kids who called in were required to shout “PIXX” to activate the controls, but the activation was actually achieved by a studio employee who pressed the Intellivision joystick button upon hearing the caller shout “PIXX.” It’s clever station branding, and as long as nobody knows how the sausage is made, it’s a wowie-gee-whiz moment for the viewers.
The show was a great thing for New York City kids, but us kids upstate couldn’t really play it. See, back in 1979, there were moments when WPIX was actually blacked out in our area – for example, if WPIX aired a TV show that was also being broadcast by our local affiliates, WRGB, WTEN or WAST (the precursor to WNYT), then our local cable company was required to turn off the New York City station’s signal and not air the competing program. Can’t lose those local sponsorship dollars, no sirree…
And with my luck, my post card would have been pulled at the same time that the station was blacked out, and I would have been shouting “PIXX! PIXX! PIXX!” without any idea of what was happening on the TV screen. Flying blind, shall we say.
But man, could you imagine if someone hooked up one of those old Intellivisions to a modern Twitch channel and tried recreating this “TV PIXX” show again?