Thursday, March 20, 2003

'Big Bucks' recalls scandal



The Game Show Network calls it the Press Your Luck scandal, but it was really just a case of American ingenuity.

Paul Michael Larson of Lebanon had studied the TV game for six months, and figured out the flashing light pattern before appearing as a contestant on May 19, 1984.

As Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal (9 p.m. Sunday, Game Show Network) demonstrates in slow motion, Larson knew when to press the button to win cash, and avoid a "whammy" that would steal his earnings. He won a record $110,237 - three times more than any previous winner on the show - by going 45 rounds ("spins") without hitting a whammy.

"I thought maybe there would be a pattern in the way the lights moved, so I videotaped six or eight of them, and watched them frame by frame," Larson explained to The Enquirer in 1994. "Six months later, I had the pattern down."

Midway through the taping at CBS' Hollywood studios, producers realized that Larson had figured out the rotation of flashing lights over the 18 game squares.

"We knew how to deal with every other situation, but all we could do with this was hang on for the ride," said Darlene Lieblich, a former CBS program practices executive, on the two-hour documentary narrated by Press Your Luck host Peter Tomarken.

Larson, who died in Florida in 1999, was obsessed with the game, said Teresa McGlynn, his former common-law wife. "He always thought he was smarter than everybody else," she said on the program.

Larson had borrowed money to travel to Los Angeles. After he won a Press Your Luck audition at CBS, he bought a blue button-down dress shirt to wear on the show at a thrift store for 65 cents.

At the end of the show, he told Tomarken: "I've been an air-conditioning mechanic, and I drove an ice cream truck for about 10-12 years, but not this year."

He invested some of his winnings in real estate, and operated a marketing company. When interviewed in 1994, as the movie Quiz Show opened, he said he was studying video poker games and planning a trip to Las Vegas.

The documentary includes all of Larson's Press Your Luck appearance; re-creations of his home life (it doesn't mention Lebanon); a reunion of fellow contestants Ed Long and Janie Litras Dakan; and producers and former CBS officials recalling their debate about whether Larson had cheated and should be denied the jackpot.

As co-creator Bill Carruthers told The Enquirer in 1994: "There was nothing we could do.... What he had done was legitimate."

Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal, which premiered this week, also repeats at noon Wednesday and noon March 28.

Channel 19 news: WXIX-TV adds a sixth hour of local news today with the premiere of Target Iraq: The View from Home (4-5 p.m., Channel 19).

Jack Atherton and Tricia Macke will anchor the report, which replaces one of two Maury Povich telecasts. It will air opposite Channel 12's half-hour 4 p.m. news, Channel 9's Oprah Winfrey and Channel 5's courtroom shows.

Target Iraq will air weekdays throughout the war. "There are no plans at this time to make it permanent," says Pat Casey, news director. "Obviously Fox19 news is being very well received in the morning (5-9 a.m.) and night (10-11 p.m.), and we would be remiss not to extend our presence elsewhere during such historic times."

HDTV schedule: Tristate basketball fans with high-definition TVs can see four first-round men's NCAA Tournament games Friday from Birmingham, Ala., in the new wide-screen format on WKRC-DT.

CBS' HDTV lineup: Texas vs. North Carolina-Ashville (12:30 p.m.), LSU vs. Purdue (2:50 p.m.), Louisville vs. Austin Peay (7:20 p.m.) and Mississippi State vs. Butler (9:40 p.m.). The winners will play Sunday at 2:20 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.on WKRC-DT.

The CBS affiliate will not simulcast (or "multiplex") all of CBS' first-round games on its digital channels, as it did last year. Digital band width gives WKRC-DT the capability to broadcast up to four standard definition programs at once.

TV today: Focus looks at domestic violence in the Tristate with local experts (7:30 p.m., Channel 48).

CBS airs a NCAA Men's Tournament Highlights Show at 12:30 a.m. late tonight, Friday, Saturday and Sunday on TNN, a Viacom sister station.


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