Written by Paul Monopoli

Television shows based on video games were just starting to make their mark in the early 90s. Britain had Games Master Live which was quite popular. This was aided by the fact that Games Master was also a magazine released by Future Publishing, which is what the show was based on. Future Publishing had some of the best video game magazines around in the 90s & naturally cross promotion took place across all of Future’s publications including: Game Master, Total, Super Play, Amstrad Action, Commodore Format, Amiga Format etc etc…

 

Britain also had Bad Influence which was another video game show co-hosted by Violet Berlin, who was interviewed in Retro Gamer magazine about a year or 2 ago. Sadly I don’t think the name would have helped endear the show to parents, but it was entertaining, informative & lasted 4 seasons. We’ll touch on both of these at a later date. Today we’ll look at Australia’s entry simply known as “The Zone”.

Little is documented about this show online & finding episodes is not an easy task. Also please excuse the quality of some of the images, I had a hard time finding some them as it was. I believe I may have an episode or two on VHS somewhere, but having no VHS player I’m hanging on to the tapes until I have an opportunity to check them. On a side note I will add that a lot of what you are about to read is from my childhood memories. I have tried to keep it as factual as possible but the odd inaccuracy may creep in.
 

– Adam Reilly

The Zone used to feature on Saturday morning from memory at 8:00 or 8:30AM just before the Ren & Stimpy Show. It was sponsored by Sega but featured reviews on all the popular consoles of the day from the SNES, MD, NES, SMS, even the 3DO. The show was hosted by Adam Reilly (who also created the shows theme tune) with reviews from Adam, Justin Mansour (also known as Muttlee), Amos Wong from Australia’s Nintendo Magazine System, & Stuart Clarke from Hyper among others. For its time the show broke the mould by having female reviewers including Gamestar editor Jo Borkman & Gamestar staff writer Janice Tong.

– Muttlee (Justin Mansour)

As this show was sponsored by Sega the reviewers would regularly state that they thought the Megadrive was technically the superior machine both in terms of hardware & the games available. I can’t remember anyone on the show saying otherwise… Being a SNES fan I always disagreed, but that’s what the console wars were all about. This didn’t stop Nintendo games being featured on the show equally as much as Sega’s games. The most interesting review for me was of the Japanese 3DO release of “Super Street Fighter 2 X” (known as SSF2 Turbo outside Japan). It was an out of the blue review for a little known console which shocked me. They were never too scared to review the odd import games, though they weren’t as frequent as their reviews for domestic releases.

– Jo Borkman & Janice Tong

When the Sega 32X was released they made a big deal about it also mentioning other Sega systems that were in development (the Saturn). They would provide similar feature articles throughout the shows run. These started to get a little ridiculous & I stopped watching for a few weeks, which was in part a fault of the Australian TV censors. There was one feature that was the final straw for me:

Mortal Kombat 2 was released in 1993 & an even bigger fuss was made over it than the first one. Nintendo had lifted their censorship restrictions & the game was presented in its full glory on the SNES. Zone wanted to feature the finishing moves of the game but were unable to do so. They explained that it was due to censorship issues in Australia but instead they decided to act them out. It was quite shambolic. Adam stood in between 2 of the shows reviewers & yelled out the finishing move. If Adam said left the person doing the move would shuffle left, if he said up the person would jump. You get the idea. I gave up on the show, but did return to it. When I came back I didn’t like what I saw.

Adam was leaving the show to pursue a music career (no I haven’t heard any of his stuff either) & in his place the hosting duties were carried out by Muttlee & Megan Connolly. I remember thinking “Megan Connolly from Paradise Beach? What the hell?” Muttlee I could understand, if anyone was going to take over from Adam it would be him, but Megan Connolly? I think it’s safe to say that Megan was there purely as eye candy (& she was definately that) & the only things she knew about video games were what she was told off camera. That’s how it seemed anyway, I’m not saying that as a fact but she did come across as fake. Add to that the reviews didn’t have the same personal touch that made the early episodes so interesting. Obviously I wasn’t the only one to think this as the show died shorty after.

Sadly the show didn’t get a lot of promotion. Out of the Australian magazines I used to read back then: Hyper, Nintendo Magazine System & Gamestar most of the promotion for the show featured in Gamestar. That’s not saying much as Game Star itself only lasted for 13 issues, so its readership base can’t have been that big (though allegedly it did continue in being released in video stores, though I never found any copies). Nintendo Magazine System had a bit though they didn’t mind bashing the show eventhough one of their reviewers was on it. I’m not sure about Hyper as I don’t have any of my old issues… I’d be interested in seeing scans of any promotional material for the show in these magazines. Additionally the show was very low budget & Channel 9 themselves hardly played any ads for it.

Overall I have fond memories of The Zone. I remember getting up in the morning to play tennis & making sure my Mum would tape it for me while I was away. That afternoon I would go to my friend James’ house & we’d sit down to watch it, then play some video games ourselves. It was like a ritual. Today The Zone is but a distant memory in the minds of Australian gamers & it would be good to watch some episodes again. Will that ever be possible? I guess that’s up to Channel 9 & those who have copies recorded from the TV… myself included if it turns out I have some episodes on those tapes…

Thankfully one such person has made an episode of the show available. So here’s a special glimpse of this piece of Australian retrogaming history? I had to REALLY scour the Internet for this one, so I hope you like it. Check it out here:

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2009/08/hey-dudes-dont-be-dogmeat-jack-in-to-the-zone/

& some other interesting links relating to the show & the people involved:

http://www.linkedin.com/in/justinmansour

http://au.linkedin.com/pub/janice-tong/3/a83/871

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