OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Let's say hello to our next contestants, Mary Kenah and Jason Hall.
EISENBERG: So this game is titled The Tin Age of Television. As you might remember, the '80s weren't exactly a high point for television. Do you remember the first time, Jason, you watched a show on television, you were like, oh, yeah, this is actually great?
JASON HALL: I would say "The West Wing."
EISENBERG: "The West Wing," yeah, that turned it around, right?
EISENBERG: How about you, Mary?
MARY KENAH: I'm going to go with Aaron Sorkin to "The Newsroom."
EISENBERG: "Newsroom." Oh, so you were more...
KENAH: I held out.
EISENBERG: ...More recent. You held out for a while. Well, as you also may remember, I think, the '80s had a lot of high concept television shows like a car that talks or an alien who eats cats or Miami cops who fight crime without wearing ties or socks. I know, how did they do it?
JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: In this game, we're going to read you short descriptions of '80s TV shows and you have to tell us if these were actual shows or shows we made up. There's no need to buzz in because we will just alternate between the two of you.
EISENBERG: OK, so let's start with you, Mary. "Manimal," handsome, wealthy Dr. Jonathan Chase fights crime using his superpower. He can shapeshift into any animal he chooses and because special effects in the '80s sucked, any animal meant a hawk or a panther.
KENAH: It was a show.
EISENBERG: You're saying that was a real show?
EISENBERG: Yes, it was.
COULTON: "Mr. Smith," an experimental potion gives Cha Cha the orangutan the ability to talk and an IQ of 256. So naturally, he goes to Washington, D.C., to become a political adviser, which is a weird and complete waste of such a high IQ, but there you go.
HALL: That sounds pretty fake. I'm going to say that's fake.
COULTON: It does sound fake, but it is real. I'm sorry.
EISENBERG: I know.
COULTON: It's a real show.
EISENBERG: I know, the chimp's named Cha Cha, it has a super high IQ, and it changes its name to Mr. Smith. Doesn't seem possible, right?
HALL: It seems insane. Why would you drop Cha Cha?
COULTON: Right, right.
HALL: You were born with Cha Cha.
EISENBERG: "I Married Dora," Mary. Single dad Peter Farrell depends on his housekeeper Dora, who's in the country illegally, to keep his family together. When she's about to be deported, he does the only thing he can do. He marries her.
KENAH: Not a show.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) That was a show. That was a show. Illegals were hilarious in the '80s.
COULTON: Jason, this is for you. "Fish Out Of Water," Lawrence Fish is a high-powered attorney in Malibu with a cigarette boat who gets disbarred after sleeping with his client's wife. Disgraced, he is forced to move to his hometown of Omaha where he takes over his family's furniture business.
HALL: I'm going to say that's real. I think that sounds real.
COULTON: It does not sound real, and it is fake.
COULTON: I'm sorry.
EISENBERG: Mary, "Home Before Dinner," stay-at-home dad Charlie Sanders invents a rime machine from spare parts in his garage. When Freckles, the family dog, activates it by accident, Charlie and his twin girls, Holly and Jamie, go on the adventure of several lifetimes, featuring Don Rickles as the insulting voice of Freckles the dog.
KENAH: That was a show.
EISENBERG: That's not a show.
EISENBERG: That's fake. I'm sorry, that was fake. We made that one up, but I love that you wanted it to be a show.
KENAH: Don Rickles, man.
EISENBERG: Don Rickles as a dog just insulting everyone.
COULTON: (Laughter) That's insulting for you, Don Rickles. Everyone loves Don Rickles. All right, Jason, "Mr. Merlin," if King Arthur's trusted wizard were alive today, where would he be? According to this sitcom, he's an auto mechanic in San Francisco saddled with a bumbling apprentice named Zac. Can Merlin teach Zac to use his magic wisely?
HALL: The apprentice's name is Zac?
COULTON: That's right, Zac.
HALL: Totally fake.
COULTON: Oh, I'm sorry, that's a real show.
EISENBERG: So just to be clear, in "Mr. Merlin," Merlin is hiding himself by calling himself Mr. Merlin.
COULTON: Yeah, they're like, are you the wizard? He's like, no, no.
EISENBERG: No, no, no.
COULTON: I am Mr. Merlin.
EISENBERG: Mary, "The B Team," a spinoff of "The A Team." Most notable for the absence of its stars Mr. T and George Peppard, remaining team members Face and Murdock run a detective agency out of an alligator farm in Tallahassee.
KENAH: Yes, that was a show.
EISENBERG: I'm sorry, that was not a show.
KENAH: Come on.
COULTON: OK, Jason, this is for you. "Automan," that is short for "The Automatic Man." Automan is an artificial intelligence program that can create a hologram of itself and fight crime.
COULTON: Let me finish. Automan's best buddy is Cursor, a floating polyhedron that can create objects out of light, like, for instance, the autocopter, the autoplane, and the redundantly named autocar.
COULTON: Is that real or fake, Jason?
EISENBERG: I'd like...
HALL: I'm going to say that's fake.
COULTON: It is real. It is a real show.
COULTON: I cannot believe what has happened.
ART CHUNG, BYLINE: Amazing.
COULTON: Art Chung, how did our contestants do?
CHUNG: Well, I'm not sure I can call either of them winners.
CHUNG: But Mary, by a score of 1 to nothing, you're moving on to the final round.
EISENBERG: Coming up, the music of 1986 earworms its way back into our brains, so stick around. I'm Ophira Eisenberg and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.