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RollerGames was a U.S. television series that presented a theatrical version of the sport of roller derby for a national audience, and featured a number of skaters who had been in the Roller Games league (1961–1975), as well as younger participants. It was broadcast for one season (1989–1990). The series came from the combination of Roller Games owner William Griffiths, Sr. and the television production team of David Sams and Mike Miller.
The show took place in the Super Roller Dome, where all matches were broadcast. Instead of a banked oval track, a figure eight track was used where one side heavily banked. It included obstacles such as the "Wall of Death" (which was located on the heavily banked side) and the "Jet Jump". The only ones who could score during each 45-second scoring cycle were the "jetters," who wore helmets and got six points if they got above the top line for three steps on the Wall of Death without going over, and two points if they got between the two lines for three steps. The "Jet Jump" had a 12-foot marker that allowed six points if the jetter got past it, and two if the jetter landed in front of it. In either case, the jetter had to land safely. Also, there were only four skaters on the track at a time (instead of the usual five).
The rest of the cycle involved traditional roller derby elements of scoring one point for every opponent lapped. The players got as many 45-second cycles as possible within four six-minute periods (cut down from eight 12-minute periods in traditional roller derby). The team with the most points won.
As a tiebreaker, two skaters would skate around a pit full of alligators. The first skater to skate around the pit five times or to throw his or her opponent into the alligator pit was declared the winner. The debut episode was the only time live alligators were ever used, as no ties ever happened after that (although a "news report" featured another tiebreaker). The episode revealed one of the rare times that the T-Birds lost the championship, with the Violators taking it (although later footage revealed that Skull, the manager, cheated by interfering, but the Violators got to keep the Comissioner's Cup in spite of that).
Instead of a penalty box, skaters that committed misdemeanors sat in a "penalty pod," one of each was located on either side of the broadcast booth where Sams and Underwood called the action. Because the rules said there were always four skaters on the track, a jetter got one bonus point each time they passed the skater inside the pod. Referee Don Lastra frequently referred to the penalty pod as "jail," and would tell skaters who got a penalty to "go sit down." (Lastra would also fine players specific amounts of money; these fines were to be paid out of pocket as a check and given to him, since he issued the fines. Fines usually were issued if the act incurring a penalty came in between a period or after the end of the game, but the players who got fined always said vindication was theirs, and thus a moral victory was earned).
The "world famous" Los Angeles T-Birds were one of the teams used for the show. Other teams were the Rockers, Hot Flash, Violators, Bad Attitude and Maniacs. Many of the athletes that skated for Griffiths in the past were used for RollerGames. (The Hot Flash team was referred as "Hollywood Hot Flash" on a couple of occasions.) Some of the most visible skaters included twin sisters Jennifer & Kristine Van Galder, the "T-Bird Twins" (two blonde waitresses that Sams recruited while dining at a trendy LA area eatery), "The IceBox" Robert Smith, brothers "Mr. Mean" Harold Jackson & "Monster Man" Bernie Jackson, Michael Flaningam "The California Kid", "Skinney Minnie" Gwen Miller, "Electric" Randi Whitman (who got her nickname because of her hair), "Stars and Stripes" Matt Bickham, "Dar The Star" Darlene Langlois, "Latin Spitfire" Patsy Delgado, "Sweet" Stephanie Garcia, and Rocker Speed Skater and Guitarist on the Roller Games TV Theme Song, Michael "Fish" Fischer (who was forced to leave the team before the first telecast because he broke his hand in practice), and Ralphie Valladares, whose daughter, Gina, skated for Hot Flash. Other past Roller Derby personalities to appear on RollerGames included "Mizz" Georgia Hase, the cantankerous heel manager of the Detroit Devils and Bad Attitude, and "Little" Richard Brown, the Maniacs' top skater who got to manage and coach several skaters on RollerJam.
Some of the storylines were off-the-wall, but tame by today's standards — the main storyline was a controversy involving the T-Bird Twins being drafted as one person (more on that below), rather than two. Hair-pulling and catfights were crowd favorites. When a fight broke out, the cameras frequently cut to a shot of an angry woman in a pink dress, glaring at the skaters.
The show became noted for its "big controversy:" according to a report from Sams, Georgia Hase claimed the T-Bird Twins were improperly drafted as one entity. Thus, Jennifer went to the Maniacs, and Kristine went to the Violators. At the same time, the league office informed Ralphie Valladares that he was to be the first inductee into the Hall of Fame. This led Hase to object that, according to the rule book, Ralphie could not enter unless he hung up his skates for good. The league office did not intend for that to happen. Hase then decided that Ralphie would never skate again, as well as never go into the Hall of Fame.
After two rule violations by John "Guru" Drew (manager for the Maniacs) and Chuck Skull (manager of the Violators) of physically abusing each of the T-Bird twins, Sams and on-the-track commentator Shelley Jamison brought up how each twin's contract was null and void, thus returning them to the T-Birds. This led Griffiths, Sr., as commissioner, to let the public decide on how this situation was to go. The American public overwhelmingly elected that Ralphie continue to skate while being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and that the twins return to the T-Birds for good (viewers in the continental 48 states could vote by calling a 900 number, while Alaska and Hawaii residents had to write a letter to a specific address, as the 900 number was not available to them). The exact number of votes was 75,468, with 96% voting "YES" and only 4% voting "NO."
Although the show was cancelled after one season, the show also featured an episode where Ralphie challenged the "unholy 3" ("Mizz" Georgia Hase, Guru Drew, Skull) to a 3-on-1 match race. Griffiths, Sr. pointed out that 3-on-1 wasn't legal according to league laws (during an interview with Wally George), but 2-on-1 was, so Skull had to drop out. While Ralphie dealt with Georgia and Drew, "Stars and Stripes" Matt Bickham reported to Shelley Jamison that he'd keep an eye on Skull. Due to the producers' bankruptcy and the show's subsequent cancellation, that match race never took place. The show also offered the public a chance to dial the same 900 number and vote on whether or not the alligators should be banned from the sport, but due to the cancellation, the viewers never got to see the outcome.
In 1989, television producers David Sams and Mike Miller teamed with Roller Games owner Bill Griffiths, Sr. to create a modern version of the sport marketed as Rock and RollerGames. Sams provided color commentary while Chuck Underwood provided the main play-by-play.
The show also included halftime entertainment by musical performers like Lita Ford, Warrant, Exposé, and had halftime commentary by Wally George. Former Phoenix, Arizona news reporter Shelly Jamison (who also appeared nude in Playboy) served as sideline reporter. RollerGames premiered in 95% of the country, and, though generally panned by critics, was well received among teenagers and college students.
Director Chet Forte was recruited to direct the show. Many of the graphics and camera techniques were unique for the day, like the cameras on the skaters. Additional segments were directed by producer David Sams, Joe Dea and wrestling director Andrew Hecker.
In many cities, RollerGames aired late at night, against Saturday Night Live, while in others it aired mid-day on Saturdays. Although the show's ratings were quite good, even beating out American Gladiators, it only lasted one season before getting cancelled due to some of the producers going bankrupt (War Productions, Sans-Miller Productions). However, co-producers Motown Productions, and the distributor, Qintex Productions (who also co-produced the Disney Channel's version of Kids Incorporated for two seasons) did not go bankrupt due to RollerGames. RollerGames delivered a 4.7 national rating vs. the American Gladiators 2.5 rating. Its debut in New York scored a 9.3 overnight rating.
In January 2008, RollerGames coproducer David Sams announced that he "intends to put banked-track Roller Sports back on Television and the Internet in 2008." He later announced that The David Sams Organization was recruiting skaters, coaches, trainers, and cheerleaders for a series that "will be taped in the Los Angeles area, as early as this summer and fall." He also said "A tour is being planned for the winter/spring of 2009."
Following the cancellation of RollerGames, Griffiths continued promoting an untelevised league under the name Roller Games International, which continues the sport of RollerGames to this day.
- Konami released two different video game versions of RollerGames in 1990 for different platforms: a coin-operated version and a console version for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The arcade version adapts the format of the original TV series, while the NES version is a side-scrolling action game.
- In 1989 the World Alliance of Rollersports released a CD Soundtrack album featuring the show's theme song "Rock & RollerGames", as well as team theme songs "Made In The USA" (T-Birds, sung by Rockers skater Darlene Langlois), "Hit And Run" (Hot Flash, sung by skater Tammy Hansen), "Rock It" (Rockers, sung by Langlois, Hansen and Holly Fields), "Bad Attitude" (Bad Attitude, also sung by Hansen), "Kick Butt" (Violators) and "No Brakes" (Maniacs). The album was produced by Douglas Cooper Getschal, who sang "Rock & RollerGames" and a few others. (The RollerGames music is currently being used on the internet radio program RollerShoot.)
- In 1990, Williams released a pinball game, RollerGames, designed by pinball designer Steve Ritchie, with features the main theme song recomposed by Dan Forden.
- G.C. London Publishing, the original publisher of Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine, put out its first and only issue of RollerGames Magazine.