Almost Anything Goes

Designed as a short-term replacement series to substitute for the Thursday night ABC Network situation comedies, The Odd Couple and Barney Miller, Almost Anything Goes was the surprise American TV hit in the summer of 1975. Based on the BBC's It's A Knockout, Almost Anything Goes was a weekly one-hour primetime show taped in locations across America, where members of the American public represented their home town against teams from around the USA in a series of bizarre and often mildly humiliating games. After nigh on a decade of the competitions in Europe, audiences there were familiar with the 'games without frontiers', but although the lighthearted, often surreal contests in Almost Anything Goes were quite new to Stateside audiences, they took to them like ducks to water.

Almost Anything Goes debuted on ABC at 8.00pm on Thursday 31st July 1975. The first edition featured a number of games that wouldn't have been at all out of place on It's A Knockout. In one game, a team member had to negotiate an obstacle course in a golf buggy - while balancing an egg on their head... Water was another popular focus, with many games designed around swimming pools or water tanks, which competitors would be made to traverse on a greasy log or dive into to reach a platform in the middle, where they would have to perform an awkward task.

The programmes were produced by Bob Banner and Robert Stigwood. Banner was an American television producer of many years standing who had worked on Candid Camera and with such luminaries Liberace, Julie Andrews and Perry Como. He had been presented with an Emmy Award for his direction of The Dinah Shore Variety Hour in 1958. Stigwood, on the other hand, is an Australian probably best known for his work in music, having launch the careers of many globally reknowned acts via his RSO record label, most notably those of The Bee Gees and Cream. On the presenting and commentating side, the show was fronted by Charlie Jones and Lynn Shackleford, with Los Angeles radio personality Dick Whittington wielding the microphone as announcer and on-the-field interviewer. Travelling around the USA, the show commenced with heats to find the regional winners in the North, West, South and East of the country, with the fifth edition being a final between the four regional champions.

The initial five-week run of Almost Anything Goes was acknowledged as an unexpected success, causing the ABC Network to commission a longer-run series starting in January 1976. The personnel remained much the same as in the first run, the only change being the departure of Dick Whittington, his interviewer role taken by a young Regis Philbin (pictured working on Almost Anything Goes, left), who has become a major US television celebrity in subsequent years.

Unfortunately, in its second season, AAG had a much tougher task ahead of it than in its summer replacement slot. Rightly or wrongly, ABC elected to schedule Almost Anything Goes in a Saturday 8pm primetime slot, where it was up against big hitter opposition in the form of CBS' The Jeffersons and Emergency on NBC. Back in the summer of '75 when AAG had made its mark, those other channels had mostly been airing repeats. Almost Anything Goes rated modestly compared to the other networks and when it was laid to rest in April 1976, it was no great shock. There was also the suggestion that the bizarre scoring system of the second series may potentially have alienated audiences. Probably intended as a way of keeping the tension going until the very end of the programme, the last game to be played was scored in such a way that it rendered the results of the prior events pretty much meaningless - a team winning the last game would earn twenty points, second and third earning five points and no points respectively. This was more than the combined total of the points available in the previous games, so all a team had to do to win the competition was make sure it won the last game. Very odd...

Despite the promise of the first run, Almost Anything Goes never quite made it to the Hall of Fame of American Television, and today is forgotten and rarely spoken about. The exploits of Boulder City, Nevada, who won both seasons' competitions, have passed into distant memory where they might have passed into legend. It was not to be, it seems.

Banner and Stigwood were not giving up however, and went on to produce a further series of AAG programmes for children. Junior Almost Anything Goes was a half-hour Saturday morning version of the primetime programme, which was hosted by Soupy Sales and had sports reporter, Eddie Alexander on commentary duty. Games varied on a weekly basis, and featured children competing rather than adults. The series erred more towards 'gunge' and slapstick than its forebear, Almost Anything Goes, covering its enthusiastic competitors in anything that looked vaguely unpleasant on screen - grease, foam and eggs and other food. The series premiered on Saturday 11th September 1976 at midday and ran for twenty-one weeks, making its final appearance on Saturday 22nd January 1977. The competitions started off as local events, leading to regional and ultimately national finals.

The story didn't end there, either... Shortly after the demise of the junior version of Almost Anything Goes, Banner and Stigwood breathed life into the format one last time, and managed to sell All-Star Anything Goes, presented by Bill Boggs, into first-run syndication in 1977. These programmes were contested by two teams of celebrities, normally representing TV series they had appeared in. There was a famous head-to-head battle between The Brady Bunch and The DeFranco Family (then famous for their song, Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat), which was heavily reported on in the teen press in the States. Other teams appearing included The Mouse (featuring the young stars of Mickey Mouse's New Mouseketeers - one of whom, Allison Fonte, is pictured here in her All-Star Anything Goes appearance) and the casts of The Waltons and The Little House on the Prairie. Strangest team line-up almost certainly goes to Hugh Hefner, who was joined by three of his Playboy Playmates. The fun was short-lived once more, however. As with the junior incarnation, this didn't get beyond the first series and closed for business in mid-1978.

Although hardly a success story, Almost Anything Goes did survive on American television in one form or another for nearly three years, which is not an easy call. It is also credited as being heavily influential on the Australian version of It's A Knockout that ran from 1985-1987.

by Alan Hayes
with thanks to Curt Alliaume and Brad Cooper