By Whitney McIntosh
There are little things that can age television shows in an instant when going back to watch them. Easy giveaways are the clothing, pop culture references, hairstyles, set design. This works for all shows too, not just game shows. Sitcoms from the 80’s are hard to dive into because the patterns on the clothing alone are too much to handle without cracking up, while any 90’s drama is betrayed by the political standing of the country at the time. One big giveaway that doesn’t get talked about quite as often however is the political incorrectness that is allowed on shows that are more than a decade or so old. Outside of subscription networks and online content, so many shows today are dictated by Standards and Practices and the PTC that rarely, if at all, do audiences see off-color subject matter or premises that rely on even remotely touchy viewpoints.
One of my favorite parts about looking back at game shows from 10, 20, even 30 years ago is that most of them fall into the categories of dated clothing and sets, sure, but most of them also contain glaring political incorrectness. This isn’t a bad thing by any measure, as long as the show doesn’t veer too far into insulting and awful territory everyone can laugh at how things used to be. The off-color remarks that we can laugh at now specifically because they seemed so normal at the time clearly wouldn’t be tolerated but they’re funny to look back on and think about the hypersensitivity of society (to a point) today. Shows such as Match Game had a lot of off-color material during their time but very rarely if ever did they dip into outright insensitive comments.
Which is why this month we visit a Canadian import that lasted three seasons both North of the border and in the US with a premise that falls on just the wrong side of the sexist line. I really can’t imagine a show of this style being produced today on a broadcast network, but between 1971 and 1974 CTV aired Anything You Can Do, while it appeared weekly in syndication in the United States. The bones of Anything You Can Do consist of two teams of gender-divided threesomes competing against each other to win prizes. Which isn’t even the sexist part of the show in reality. Battle of the Sexes style competitions have been done forever in all different forms, on mainstream channels as well as MTV, GSN, etc. The iffyness comes in to the picture because the actual game play consists of each side having to compete against the other by reenacting stunts related to jobs that stereotypically belong to the opposite sex. The team with the lowest cumulative time after they have completed all the stunts wins. In one of the only episodes available online, the objectification of one sex over another is so apparent as to be painful at some points.
Sexism is apparent right off the bat, as the contestants are introduced and it is abundantly clear that casting equality wasn’t a high priority for the producers. Out of the three women competing, two are housewives and the remaining one is an operator while two out of the three men have more white collar jobs such as a business analyst with the remaining one a hair stylist working out of a hair salon in Peachtree city GA. You could argue that these six people are simply representative of the contestant pool available to the show at that time but if the producers really wanted to cast women who weren’t simply demure eye-candy and men who weren’t breadwinners they could have. If they had gone that route, of course, the contestant choices wouldn’t have worked into the planned narrative of women being unable to do a man’s job quite as well or vice versa.
The jobs that each side has to pick from aren’t quite as indicative of rampant stereotypes, but there are still some issues. The male careers chosen are haberdasher and paperboy and the female careers are chorus girl and nurse. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt and say that one “career” from each side is insulting in equal measure to both sexes, as the paperboy option isn’t really a career in any respect while the chorus girl option simply pairs with the nurse option (although being a chorus girl doesn’t require official schooling like a nursing position does) as a duo of jobs where women can be objectified often and easily. After the first round “waitress” and “pro golfer” are added which only further the stereotypes of the initial choices on the board.
Those options aren’t the only things that alert the viewer that this show is from more than 30 years ago, as Gene Wood consistently makes creepy comments towards the female contestants during the stunts. He first comments on (leers at?) one of the ladies’ “nice long legs” while she is riding a tricycle around the stage to complete the first stunt. It isn’t tied in to how that might make the challenge more difficult, and he certainly didn’t comment on any of the male contestant’s stature making it easier or harder to accomplish the fake delivery of newspapers. It’s simply a comment that exists and one that would probably get a host chastised or repeatedly gif’d around the Internet for a week if it happened today.
The stereotypical gender roles perpetuated by the show and Gene Wood isn’t the only reason I could see this not being produced today however. After the first season, Wood left the show in a dispute based on allegations about injuries occurring on set during the stunts, including some contestants suffering broken bones among other things. It also suffers slightly from what I like to call “70’s Sit-Down” disease. It’s amazing the difference it makes when a show chooses to have their contestants standing behind podiums rather than sitting in a row of chairs. Even placing a desk of some sort in front of the chairs would make everything look and feel better. This set up ran rampant throughout low-budget game shows in the 70’s and 80’s, so it’s no surprise that it would show up in a Canadian show from that exact period. I would love to find out how the show was received differently, if at all, in Canada and The States. From the episode and few clips I was able to locate I got a very distinct “Robin Sparkles the 60’s didn’t get to Canada until 1972” vibe.
These criticisms don’t mean I didn’t enjoy the show at all though. Gene Wood’s attempts to spur the contestants on while they attempted to knot ties or not fall off a child’s tricycle were some of the most humorous hosting tactics I’ve seen, up to and including his support for the smallest of tasks like spelling “encyclopedia”. His enthusiasm for hosting makes him a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader in an industry of Ravens Dancers (ignoring his gaff at the end of the episode where he pretended the woman lost and the men won). Even the sexism didn’t completely turn me off. The female team actually proved the name of the show correct by successfully doing everything the men had to do better than they could and winning it all. Their victory in and of itself actually goes a long way towards disproving the gender roles of this time period, I only wish the show could have done that on purpose instead of letting the events that played out on camera back them into that conclusion.