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|Created by||Jane Hewland|
Dominik Diamond (Series 1-2, 4-7)|
Dexter Fletcher (Series 3)
|Starring||Patrick Moore (GamesMaster)|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||7|
|No. of episodes||126|
60mins "Gore Special"
|Original network||Channel 4|
|Original release||7 January 1992- 3 February 1998|
|Related shows||Games World|
GamesMaster began when Jane Hewland, formerly of LWT, who had set up her own production company Hewland International, took an interest in her son's love of video games. She put together a pitch for a show that would translate the excitement of games playing into watchable television. It was Channel 4 that became interested in the concept and green lit the production. However, because it had been pitched as a competitive event programme, the show was always under the jurisdiction of the "sports" department amongst shows such as Football Italia, horse racing and Kabaddi.
Although it featured game reviews, most of the show was about challenges where game players would compete against one another for the title of "GamesMaster Champion". Contestants who were successful at their challenges were rewarded with the coveted "GamesMaster Golden Joystick" trophy. Dominik Diamond usually presented the show with Sir Patrick Moore appearing in pre-recorded inserts as the 'Games Master'. During these challenges, Dominik was joined by a host of commentators. These included Derrick Lynch, Kirk Ewing, Julian Rignall, Rik Henderson, Dave Perry, Tim Boone and Neil West amongst others.
For the third series, Dexter Fletcher became the main presenter; this change was criticised by fans, who saw the new host as over-the-top, and too 'in-your-face'. To balance this, the production company dropped all other co-presenters and gave UK games champion Dave Perry a regular co-presenter slot on every show. Fletcher was better known at the time for having played an American character called "Spike" in the ITV drama series Press Gang.
From the very first episode, GamesMaster included reviews of forthcoming titles. In an attempt to give the show some authority and get the gaming press on their side, as well as eliminate the need for extra staff to review games, the reviews featured a host of magazines journalists from the publishing house EMAP. This meant the show could pool the collective opinions of magazines like Mean Machines, C&VG and ACE.
However, by series 5, it was decided that the reviews would be better presented by two of the show's co-commentators, namely Rik Henderson and Dave Perry. It brought a much-needed stability to the format and some interesting banter between the reviewers. Series 6 also featured Rik, who was now joined by Ed Lomas, while series 7, due to time constraints and Dave Perry having resigned from the show's cast (after complaining on-air about being "set up" during a Super Mario 64 challenge), employed two of its own research staff to present the slot, including Richard Pitt.
Prior to GamesMaster appearing, games companies had very few TV shows on which to have their titles featured. UK broadcasters had shown sporadic interest in the scene, normally confining coverage to segments within Saturday morning children's programming. From time to time, news programmes would report on one of the very successful British games studios, but in contrast to programming involving films and music videos, there was no regular showcase for videogames.
GamesMaster was first broadcast in 1992, during the fourth (16-bit) console generation - after the launch of the Mega Drive, but before the SNES. Sega's success in the early 90s (with both the Master System and Mega Drive, as well as the huge hit game Sonic the Hedgehog) helped cause a video game console boom in 1991, bringing gaming into mainstream UK culture, which would only increase following the arrival of consoles with 3D graphics such as those found on the PlayStation. That GamesMaster regularly drew in audiences in the millions proved that there was a huge and so far untapped audience.
Despite competition with specialist gaming magazines, the show managed to secure several exclusives over the series, showing games that were months or even years away from being finished. Because GamesMaster was largely a challenge-based show, games studios could, for example, present a single level to be used for these competitive segments. Blast Corps is one example of a game that was demonstrated long before it, or even the Nintendo 64 that it played on, were released.
Occasionally, games studios made levels specifically for use on one of the challenges. Shiny Entertainment were one such studio when they put together a special level of Earthworm Jim. Though this worked out well for both game studio and the show, the experience was somewhat soured when this code ended up being leaked on the Internet. It is believed that the only way for this to have happened is that one of the staff on the show must have had links with online ROM crackers. It led to a great deal of embarrassment and likely upset the trust that existed between the producer, Shiny Entertainment and their publisher, Virgin Interactive.
For Series 2, the show began originally as in Series 1, except for it was "plagued" by numerous apparent "technical faults" (a ruse on the producer's part, the "Please do not adjust your set" warning that appeared is a hint to this), with the first challenge being an as yet un-shown Marble Madness challenge (the contestant's name and town are partly obscured over a technical fault, meaning this was also part of the joke). As the challenger was coming to the podium, the program "crashed", "rebooted" with the new series opener, and a Street Fighter II challenge, the cast acting like the short segment preceding the new challenge had not happened.
Every series following Series 2 had the original series' closing moments portrayed in the series itself as the previous "set" being deconstructed in some manner. In the final series, the set was literally dismantled and the studio closed down over Dominik's final words.
Each location the series was set in, a plot device occurred after Auntie Marisha blew up the newly pine-fitted kitchen at the end of series 2, causing the oilrig to be evacuated. Dominik Diamond was later revealed to be burnt to death while trying to escape, giving way to Dexter Fletcher to present series 3, when in reality Diamond left the show. Diamond would later return in series 4 onwards in Hell and then in Heaven for series 5, continuing on from his whereabouts after his death in series 2 (although the opening title sequence of the fifth series offers an alternative "death", with Diamond being run over by a bus and flat-lining while in hospital). He then fell from Heaven in the opening credits to series 6 continuing a bit of continuity there, but that was dropped for the series 7 titles where Diamond traveled to the island setting of series 7 during a dream sequence.
Prior to GamesMaster leaving UK television, there had been a crisis of confidence in games television over at rival channel ITV. Their children's department had commissioned another videogames show T.I.G.S. to accompany Bad Influence!. Then, one series later, they pulled the plug on both shows, deciding that there was no demand for games coverage on their channel.
GamesMaster was not affected and continued with success. In 1998, towards the end of production for the 7th series, the show was looking set to be re-commissioned; viewing figures were still strong, and the show was finding a new audience, benefiting from the emerging PlayStation culture with the success of Sony's console bringing gaming into the mainstream. The production was also more oriented towards actual games players than the first few series, which had been decidedly light in feature content, and no longer poked fun at 'nerds' and 'geeks', as it was young adults and not children and teenagers who appeared on the show; indeed, they and the publicity-seeking celebrities were now the subject of jokes.
It is believed that Dominik Diamond, along with the show's producers, wanted to make a more adult programme that would air in a late night, more mainstream time slot. (Series 8 was going to be set on a pirate ship with buxom wenches as the Golden Joystick assistants.) There was also talk of a spin-off show being made that would seek to emulate the US talk shows of the time. Whether this would have meant a programme that focused far less on games is unknown. No confirmation exists that any pilots of this concept were ever made; Channel 4 did not see the potential of a gaming show for an older, adult viewers.
However, changes in senior staff at Channel 4 were responsible for taking the show off the air. The new head of Channel 4 was Michael Jackson who had worked at LWT at the same time as Jane Hewland; the two never saw eye-to-eye. Alternatively, having been the head of BBC Two, Jackson may have wanted less entertainment programming on Channel 4.
The first series of the show was repeated on Challenge in 2003, but no further episodes have been shown. Challenge thought the show was "too dated" and "the games being played wouldn't stand up today".
Several gaming shows were commissioned by Sky One in 1993 from Hewland International (one of which was Games World). Due to this close relationship with BSkyB, Hewland International were even successful in convincing them to launch a whole new channel dedicated to gaming, computers, the internet and technology. The Computer Channel launched in 1996 for only BSkyB subscribers, appearing for just two hours every night. Originally, the only gaming show was Game Over, made by some of the same production team as Gamesmaster and Games World. When The Computer Channel was relaunched as .tv in 1998, other shows began to start covering the gaming scene. These included Gear, Roadtest, ExMachina and also Games Republic.
The latter show was closest in style and tone to Gamesmaster, featured a themed studio set, studio challenges and the irreverent presenters Trevor and Simon. Though the show did not include any features or VT content, as it was a question based game show based on video games, it was produced by Gamesmaster and When Games Attack Producer Johnny Ffinch. The series unfortunately came under fire from fans after several questions asked in the show had incorrect answers, infuriating several contestants over the series. (For example, poorly researched questions about the Dreamcast's online capabilities, and characters from Tekken).
Dominik Diamond returned to games television first as an interviewee in the 1999 documentary Games Wars, in which he commented that boys getting turned on by Lara Croft was tragic and "desperately sad". He then returned to presenting in 2004 with a show on Bravo, called When Games Attack. This programme was largely feature-based and contained plenty of Dominik's trademark humour. Prior to its broadcast, Dominik featured in a sizable Edge interview, with his longtime producer Johnny Ffinch. Both of them were quite vocal in stating their contempt for other shows about video games that were doing a bad job.
Though it did also feature minor celebrity challenges (mainly football players and glamour models), there were never any head-to-head competitions. To date, Bravo has yet to show a second series. However, in November 2007, a repeat of the only series to date was aired.
In 1999, the BBC filmed two pilot episodes of a new TV show franchise dedicated to video games titled Bleeding Thumbs - with Gamesmaster's Rik Henderson as assistant producer and initial commentator. The series would have run between 1999 and 2000 alternating with the hugely successful "Robot Wars", hoping to emulate the success GamesMaster achieved in the process. Two pilots were filmed and were hosted by Dermot O'Leary and Kate Thornton, and then Terry Alderton accompanying Thornton, the commissioning editor decommissioned the show claiming that "People want to play games, not watch them".
GamesMaster was also the first UK show to feature the sport of robot fighting in a news item, which at the time was on Local Public-access television in the US. Hewland International worked for several years to translate the sport into something for UK viewers. Though they never succeeded, another production company, Mentorn, were able to get their show concept Robot Wars picked up by BBC Two.
In 1993, Future Publishing began a tie-in magazine, also called GamesMaster, which as of today is still published, (unlike the official website for the show which shut down a few weeks after the show ended) headed up by its editor-in-chief Robin Alway. In the May issue of 2010, Alway announced that Future Publishing were 'looking into' reintroducing the programme to British television, and promised that he would keep the readers of the magazine informed of any future details.
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes||Air time||Setting||Servant|
|1||7 January 1992||10 March 1992||10||Tuesdays at 6:30pm||Church (St Paul's Church, Dock Street, London)||Monk - Dave Perry|
|2||1 October 1992||25 March 1993||26||Thursdays at 6:30pm||Oil rig (Sunbury Pumphouse, London) *||Diver - Sarah Whisker|
|3||9 September 1993||1 March 1994||26||Thursdays then Tuesdays at 6:30pm||First Half: Games Academy (Oxford Prison)
Second Half: Team Championship (London Dungeon)
|Caretaker - Richard Baynham|
|4||20 September 1994||14 January 1995||18||Tuesdays at 6:30pm||Hell (St Paul's Church, Dock Street, London)||Goblins - Mark Lyle, Rob Umm, Richard Wright, Natalie McCloskey, Elizabeth Hyde, Victoria Hyde and Tim Colman|
|5||21 September 1995||18 January 1996||18||Thursdays at 6:30pm||Heaven (Hewland International's TV studio in Brixton)||Angels - Helena Tepper and Tanya Kecskes|
|6||24 October 1996||27 February 1997||18||Thursdays at 6:00pm||Atlantis (St Paul's Church, Dock Street, London)||Mermaids - Theresa Tilley and Leigh-Ann Woodall|
|7||19 November 1997||3 February 1998||10||Wednesdays then Tuesdays at 6:00pm||Desert island (Hewland International's TV studio in Brixton)||Castaways - Helena Tepper and Leigh-Ann Woodall|
(* This was the same set as used in the Red Dwarf episode 'Justice', and the final episode of the 1992 television series remake of The Tomorrow People, in which the main star Kristian Schmid was also a challenger on this series of GamesMaster.)