Brutal fact of life: Gaming will never, ever be as cool as it was in the late 80s/early 90s. Why? Several factors contribute to it: 80s/90s hairstyles, general inability to see how much we would laugh at ourselves in the future, etc. But the biggest thing that made the time so awesome was that it was all so new. Sure, games had been around for over a decade at that point. But after the video game crash in ’84, the future of gaming was mostly relegated to being bulletpoint features on shitty home computers from Radioshack. Then came the NES, and everything exploded. Gaming, as it turned out, was the real deal. And it wasn’t going anywhere. Suddenly the entire subculture of video games went mainstream, and few people were ready for it — especially the people that quickly saw they could make a boatload of money from them.
Magazines based solely on games literally sprung up over night. The two most prominent being Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Gamepro. Immediately out of the gate, Gamepro seemed to be the far more “color by the numbers” magazine created by people who had no clue what to do with a game magazine, and were just throwing stuff together in a way they thought would look cool to kids. Featuring blindingly bright layouts (I still can only see in shades of neon pink thanks to Gamepro), giant cartoony art, and a general mishmash of coverage more suited for an ADHD-addled chimp.
Gamepro quickly garnered a reputation as being that one kid who would always scream for attention on the playground, but no one would ever come close to him for fear that he would never leave you alone again. That didn’t stop Gamepro from making money though, since this was a time when you could put out anything game-related and kids would choke it down as fast as possible. Gamepro quickly saw that their aberration of a magazine was making gobs of money, so decided to take the next logical step and made a TV show.
Yes, a TV show about games for kids. The idea was too amazing to not work. The show itself was a solid idea: Take a couple of guys, put them on camera, and showcase game previews, cheats, and reviews on a weekly basis in a time slot around 4pm: the perfect slot for kids that just got out of school, and needed something else to watch that wasn’t four hour blocks of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Ducktales. It was a recipe for success that would take some sort of act of God to fuck up.
But then you see the finished product:
After ten minutes, it’s almost impossible to sit through more, for both mental and physical reasons. It’s an absolute mess of a show that would have been more at home on the public access channel, rather than national TV. So what went wrong? How does such an amazing idea crash and burn so hard? Most obviously, by casting the real life Goofus and Gallant to host it.
JD and the “Nan”
A TV show can live and die by its hosts, and Gamepro’s first sin against humanity was to pick two of the worst people you could ever use as hosts for their show. J.D. Roth — who already seemed resigned to the fact that he would probably be hosting shitty kids game shows for the rest of his life — was doing his best “cool 90’s dude” impression coming off his stint of hosting Fun House. Decked out in bleached jeans from head to toe and the largest high top sneakers allowed by law to purchase, J.D. was the show’s main host. He hosted most of the segments, and generally carried the show throughout its run. While I can’t fault him too much for what he was being asked to do, it was his stilted dialogue that came off as the fakest shit you’ve ever heard someone attempt to say that really ruined it. This was only made worse by his constant referral to most games as “his favorite” or ending almost every other sentence with “like I did,” all while having a look on his face that screamed, “I fucking HATE this game, but I have to smile and say this shit or they’ll stop paying me and I’ll have to move back in with Mom.”
In the other corner was a different beast entirely. Someone at Gamepro headquarters must have heard that Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a hit with the kids, so it was obvious that J.D.’s sidekick had to be a completely over the top surfer guy. Brennan was to be the Yang to J.D’s Yin. Spouting off many, many “DUDE!” and “RADICAL!” lines that J.D.’s character seemed incapable of saying due to whatever dignity he had left, Brennan didn’t seem to mind that he mostly ended up just being a sideshow unto his own. To his credit, Brennan was the only mildly entertaining thing about Gamepro TV. Not that he was good (Jesus no). But because he was so completely bad at being the fake surfer guy, that any time he was on screen was like watching the most awkward train-wreck in history take place. It doesn’t help that he overacted almost every damn line he had, absolutely exploding with catastrophic acting energy after anything J.D, said. Still, it made for the lone parts of entertainment that the show was likely to provide even if it was completely unintentional.
So Gamepro somehow managed to cast the two worst people possible to host their video game show for kids. Things could still have been saved if the content of the show was still great, right? After all, kids don’t watch things like this for quality acting. We just wanted to see some sweet ass games! What? They fucked that up too? Oh yeah.
The Rest Of The Show
Like I mentioned before, the idea for what Gamepro TV should have been was a solid idea. Showing kids previews of games months before they came out — in motion, even — should have been the best thing to happen to a generation of kids that didn’t have the Internet. But they still somehow managed to fuck it all up. Maybe we’ll better understand how Gamepro could manage to screw up that much potential by taking a look at each section of the show, what it was, and how it all went wrong.
What It Was: Swatpro was the section of the show where J.D. showed various cheats and codes for a selection of games. This was a solid idea, as the only way to find out cheats from that time was from magazines you were probably reading in the grocery store and couldn’t afford. Nothing is harder than trying to remember a NES code while your Mom is screaming at you from the tampon aisle.
Why It Didn’t Work: Because it took up almost 70% of the entire runtime of the show. Apparently Gamepro thought this was the bread and butter of the show (or at least saw that it took up a lot of time with the bare minimum needed for production), and would spend massive amounts of time showcasing each game. It also took forever because good ol’ J.D. had to repeat every code twice JUST IN CASE you didn’t get it the first time. Understandable, I guess. But when he had to repeat a twenty character code for something like The Rocketeer, it became a lesson in endurance.
Highlight: Watching J.D. try his best to act his way through Swatpro’s various terrible green screen scenes. It never gets old, even today.
What It Was: This was the section of the show where J.D. and Brennan would review a couple of games, while they tried their best to act like they actually played them.
Why It Didn’t Work: What was presented on the show wasn’t a review. Instead, the entire pro review was spent reading the shit from the back of the game’s box, and then quickly providing a happy face-like ratings rundown for graphics, music, etc. They barely commented on why the game was getting the rating it was getting, and only rarely gave any sort of personal opinion. Also in the entire time the show ran, I don’t believe any game ever received a score lower than a 3.0 (the max being 5.0), which made even terrible games seem halfway decent. In that regard, I guess Gamepro TV was essentially the early nineties version of Game Informer magazine.
Highlights: Brennan’s vicious diss of the original Wolverine game on the NES: “And if you liked the original Wolverine… well… who did?”
What It Was: The time in the show where J.D. and Brennan would flail in excitement at the newest in arcades, and/or latest technology in gaming.
Why It Didn’t Work: Too much time was spent with technology or arcades no one gave a shit about. Try as you might, it was damn hard to muster up any real excitement for Dragon’s Lair 2, or some shitty off-road racing game from Atari. Also the closest the show came to getting people excited in showcasing new tech was an early preview of the Sega CD. Well, it would have gotten people excited if the Sega CD hadn’t already been released by the time the show aired. Perfect.
Highlight: Watching J.D. feign excitement while he told us about virtual reality machines. It was at this point the title “Dactyl Nightmare” became an Internet meme ten years before anyone even knew what the Internet was.
What It Was: At various points in the show, there would be a brief showcase of gamers and their top scores. Viewers were also encouraged to send in videos asking questions for games they were stuck in, while the rest of us laughed at how big of a nerd they all were.
Why It Didn’t Work: What kid gave a shit about another kid’s score in Time Lord? Also, none were actually being verified. Any kid could just write in and say they scored six billion points in Wall Street Kid and call it a day. Gamepro would then proudly tout their awesome scores while the rest of us sneered. The video questions were worse, as I think Gamepro would only take questions from the most severely impaired of gamers. Very rarely would they ever pick a question for a game that required real coaching to get through. Instead, we were shown how to get through basic parts of a game that were clearly spelled out for anyone with half a brain. Needed help getting through The Haunting? Sorry kid. Instead, have a five minute long video showing how to score a touchdown in Madden.
Highlight: J.D. explained the notes on a keyboard some kid needed to use in Star Island that came out on screen as “DO ME SO FAR DO ME.”
What It Was: Small parts in the show where J.D. and Brennan were allowed to showcase their amazing chemistry together with small comical skits.
Why It Didn’t Work: Read the above again and try to figure it out. Putting these two together and making them act was like trying to jam two opposite sides of a magnet together over and over again. Nothing about J.D. was humorous in the least, while Brennan’s idea of humor was to yell words and push his chest out while making facial expressions that seemed to perfectly frame the term “I pooped” over and over again.
Highlights: One of the game lab people apparently died from an overload of work, while J.D. and Brennan looked on, appearing to try to hold in every fart they’ve had since fifth grade.
So with all of the above, maybe you can see where things crashed and burned. With such awesome content, it’s amazing the show lasted the thirteen or so episodes it ran. A damn shame.
So What Happened To It?
After a quick run on network TV, Gamepro decided to do a few more episodes to see if maybe it would magically catch on. Obviously, there were enough things that could have been improved, so what did they decide to do? They cut Brennan out entirely, while the rest of the show stayed the same. So whatever mild entertainment the show had before was suddenly lost to the ether. Now you were forced to sit through an entire show of just J.D.’s fake, overly happy ramblings, with nothing else to distract you from how bad it all was. Not too surprisingly, the show did not catch on its new format.
After that, Gamepro TV decided it would try its hand at turning the show into an infomercial for Gamepro magazine. While the show kept the same Brennan-less format from above, it opted to put a 1-800 number at the bottom of the screen for the entire show. At this point you just kinda felt bad for J.D., as he had to realize he was on a ship that had sunk through the Earth’s crust months ago, and anything he was currently doing on this show was more akin to necrophilia. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Gamepro decided to mercy kill Gamepro TV, ending what could have been the best thing on TV for kids. As for what happened to the show’s cast, J.D. was sent back into the wilds where he could once again be with his game show host species. He has since hosted almost every game show for kids and teens since 1990. Brennan managed to somehow become a director, and produced at least three films. He also did the voice for Cooler in the Pound Puppies cartoon. I do not have solid confirmation if he said “dude” in any of those movies, though.
As for Gamepro, they consistently remained the worst game magazine for upwards of three decades, finally shuttering in 2011 after realizing no one had actually read an issue of Gamepro Magazine since 2001.
I guess if we can take anything away from Gamepro TV, it’s that they laid the blueprint for what could be done in far more capable hands down the road. Sadly though, no matter how good we get at building off of Gamepro TV’s legacy, we must accept that we can never, ever be as awesome as this guy: