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Well, she sneaks around the world from Kiev to Carolina
—Theme song, by Rockapella.
Educational Game Show, based on the Carmen Sandiego computer games by Brøderbund, that ran on PBS from 1991-95 (with repeats continuing until 1996). Three children answered multiple-choice geography questions while pursuing a member of Carmen's gang, who had stolen a famous landmark.
Instead of playing for cash, the young "detectives" played for points, here called "Acme Crime Bucks". Halfway through the show, the lowest scorer was eliminated. The two remaining children played a game akin to Concentration, looking for the loot, the warrant and the crook, in that order. The winner of that round played the end game, placing markers on a large floor map, hoping to arrest Carmen herself and win the grand prize of a trip anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States. In the second season, this was expanded to all of North America; presumably, Hawaii was never an option.
Much of the show's memorability can be attributed to the terrific cast: host Greg Lee, Lynne Thigpen as Da Chief and "house band" Rockapella, who provided an a-cappella soundtrack (including the famous theme song, not to mention all the wacky sound effects).
In the successor series, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?? (1996-98), the focus shifted from geography to history, and Kevin Shinick succeeded Lee as quizmaster. Lynne Thigpen was the only regular cast member in both Carmen Sandiego series.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Big Win Sirens: A standard police siren sounded every time a match was successful. Winning the bonus round resulted in the siren speeding up and various bells and horns accompanying it.
- Bonus Round: Here's a map of a country or continent. Place these markers on seven (later eight) locations within 45 seconds (or 60 seconds on the Asia map in the first season) and win a trip.
- Confetti Drop: When the crook was captured (thus winning the main game), and not if Carmen was captured in the bonus round.
- Consolation Prize
- Golden Snitch: The final clue of each round was sometimes this. Earlier clues and games awarded 5 or 10 Crime Bucks per answer, but in the final round contestants could risk, in increments of 10, up to 50. Often this resulted in the final clue being the sole determiner of the finishing order of the contestants.
- The Concentration-esque memory game. The points from the trivia rounds no longer mattered. It was just a matter of luck and memory as far as who made it to the Bonus Round, making everything leading up to this game almost meaningless. (All that it did was to determine who was the first to choose in that second round.)
- Home Game: Inverted; the game show was based off the home computer game.
- Think Music: Two songs, both performed by Rockapella - "How much you wanna risk?" during the wagering portion of the game, and "Where do you wanna go?" as the winning contestant wrote down his desired trip destination if he captured Carmen.
This show contains examples of:
- Acme Products: Sort of. The sleuths worked for the Acme Detective Agency.
- Black Boss Lady: Lynne Thigpen, of course.
- Brick Joke: The intro for the "Chase" round often contained an element from another sketch earlier on. Also, during the "Training Exercise," where the contestants had to race to dig a clue card out of a trash can (first to finish got first shot over the question for 10 points), Greg's can often contained either a gag from earlier in the show or a camera (cue cut to the camera in the can).
- Call a Point a Smeerp: Acme Crime Bucks.
- The contestants are also called "gumshoes".
- Canon Immigrant: The Chief was created for the game show, but she proved to be so popular that she eventually made it into newer editions of the computer games.
- Cardboard Prison: Done to such an absurd extent that you wonder why the kids even bothered arresting the criminals. Adding to the frustration is the show's closing Credits Gag.
- Carried by the Host: The goofy Greg Lee's chemistry with the straight-faced Chief, along with Rockapella's musical accompaniment. Without them, it would have been just another dull edutainment show.
- Catch Phrase: "I salute you!"
- "Do it, Rockapella!"
- Credits Gag: Oh, no! The Mooks are out already! They're stealing the credits! Back to work...
- Deadpan Snarker: Rockapella will snark in song if Round 2 starts dragging.
- "Tension's mounting!"
- "Pressure building!"
- "Any day now!"
- Early Installment Weirdness: Some gems:
- Rockapella wearing street clothes rather than suits in the 1st pilot.
- Greg spending entire episodes with his hat on.
- The Chief in a green and yellow suit.
- Different sound effects, mostly from Double Dare.
- Getting answers right actually results in gumshoes losing Crime Bucks.
- The second round did not require gumshoes to find the loot, warrant, and crook in that order.
- A map that was United States only, and the markers contained state flags instead of police lights, which the gumshoes had to match with their respective states.
- No rhyme by The Chief at the end, and no "Do it, Rockapella!"
- 60 Seconds for the bonus round instead of 45
- Educational Song: Some of Rockapella's full-length songs used when the show ran short. There was one about the five largest islands in the world.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: As hinted by the "MOM" tattoo on Top Grunge's arm.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Both Wonder Rat and Carmen Sandiego object to discrimination involving black people. Double Trouble also consider grave robbing below them.
- Evolving Music: Czechoslovakia's 1992 split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic necessitated a change to the theme song.
- Game Over Woman: A failure on the map is indicated by a newspaper graphic with Carmen on the front page and the headline "Carmen Escapes Again!"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: One of the first taped episodes featured Rockapella singing a song called "Zombie Jamboree" at the end instead of the theme song... complete with the line "I don't give a damn." On a PBS kids' show.
- He's Okay: A few sketches involved Rockapella or some other informant taking a really nasty hit. Greg would assure the audience that nobody was hurt by saying this.
- Hurricane of Puns: The ending theme. Seriously.
- The Chief uses quite a few of these, as well.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Idiosyncratic Episode Naming aside, this show goes nuts with this trope!
- List Song: This ties into Crowning Music of Awesome.
- Large Ham: Both Rockapella and Greg Lee to some degree.
- Luck-Based Mission: The concentration game they played as round 2.
- Monumental Theft: On the low end, Carmen and her crew take things like the Titanic, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Great Wall of China. Watch the show to see the high end Monumental Thefts.
- Mook Face Turn: Immediately following Round 2, the winning gumshoe gets a phone call from the apprehended crook. This reveals where (i.e., on which map/continent) the winner will be searching for Carmen that day.
- Nice Hat: Greg and the contestants usually came in wearing some cool hats. Hats and detectives just go together.
- Nintendo Hard: The Surprise Difficulty was in the bonus game, where the contestant carried around posts and marked off countries on a giant floor map — starting from the north side, which made the map appear upside down to the contestant. Even if you knew all the answers, the fact that they needed exact placement (seriously, the posts didn't work if they weren't perfectly on top of the target), the actual shuttle running and keeping the things from falling over, coupled with a brutal time limit, made it extremely hard to win. Usually, one double-miss meant Carmen could safely escape.
- And then, It Got Worse, because they changed it from seven to eight markers necessary to win.
- The reason was apparently that PBS, being PBS, really couldn't afford to pay for many grand prizes.
- One episode has gone unaired because a contestant fell and suffered an arm fracture during the bonus round. It's now an Old Shame for the stations that produced the show.
- Non-Lethal Warfare
- Opening Narration:
Chief: All these people want to know:
- Out of Order: The two pilot episodes would air much later in the season.
- Phrase Catcher: Indeed. "Do it, Rockapella!"
- Painting the Fourth Wall: On one episode, The Chief shows Greg a camera-switching device. When Greg starts playing with it, he switches to a shot so wide that it exposes the studio surrounding the office set.
- Punny Name
- Reset Button: No doubt a result of the Cardboard Prison.
- Rogues Gallery featuring:
- Rummage Sale Rejects: Vic the Slick.
- Put on a Bus: (The) Contessa. She comes back, though.
- Dumb Muscle: Eartha Brute.
- Blondes Are Evil: Patty Larceny.
- Non-Identical Twins/Trickster Twins: Double Trouble (Trouble!).
- Amusing Alien: Kneemoi. Learned Kneemoi. Talk about a Parental Bonus!
- Canon Immigrant/Idol Singer: Sarah Nade.
- The Pig Pen: The appropriately named Top Grunge.
- Robo Speak: Robocrook.
- Brought to You by The Letter "S": WONDER RAAAAAT!
- Spell My Name with a "The": Subverted with Contessa. While everyone else just called her Contessa, Greg had a habit of adding "The." It makes sense, since contessa is Italian for "countess" instead of being a real name.
- Stock Footage: Footage of unusual ways of travel were used in seasons 3 and 4 as a transition from ACME HQ to the final round.
- Throw It In: Most of Rockapella's sound effects.
- Timed Mission: The map.
- The memory game they played as the second round: when it came to a player's turn, they were on a 10-second shot clock before losing their turn. Subverted, though, since it didn't come into play much, and the round continued until someone won.
- Title Theme Tune/Crowning Music of Awesome: "Do it, Rockapella!" Qualifies as an Ear Worm, too.
- Why We're Bummed Communism Fell: The run of this show on PBS coincided with a period of extremely-short map shelf life, which made the Asia and Europe maps in the final round particularly difficult ("Turkmenistan! Tajikistan!") and forced the Chief to end the show with a disclaimer that "All geographical information was correct as of the date this program was recorded!" (along with the recording date, very rare for a game show to air on purpose) in case some other former Yugoslav republic declared independence while the episode was on the cutting-room floor.
- Czechoslovakia was actually named in the theme song, and it also ceased to exist during the show's run, necessitating a change from "Chicago to Czechoslovakia and back!" to "Chicago to Czech and Slovakia and back!" (emphasis ours).
- World of Ham: Amusingly enough. Every episode was Greg vs. The Chief vs. Rockapella.
- A Worldwide Punomenon: What, too easy?
Do it, Rockapella!