Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (game show)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Based onWhere in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
published by Broderbund
Developed byHoward Blumenthal
Dana Calderwood
Dorothy Curley
Directed byDana Calderwood (1991–1993)
Hugh Martin (1994–1995)
Presented byGreg Lee
StarringLynne Thigpen
Voices ofBarry Carl
Chris Phillips
Doug Preis
Christine Sokol
Theme music composerSean Altman
David Yazbek
Opening theme"Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" by Rockapella
Composer(s)Scott Leonard
Elliott Kerman
Barry Carl
Sean Altman
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes295
Executive producer(s)Jay Rayvid
Kate Taylor
Producer(s)Howard Blumenthal, Jonathan Meath, Ariel Schwartz
Production location(s)Chelsea Studios
Manhattan, New York (1991–1992)
Kaufman Astoria Studios
Queens, New York (1992–1995)
Running time26-28 minutes
Production company(s)WQED
Original networkPBS[1]
Picture format480i (SDTV)
Audio formatStereo
First shown inUnited States
Original releaseSeptember 30, 1991 (1991-09-30) –
December 22, 1995 (1995-12-22)
Followed byWhere in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?
Related showsWhere on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?
Carmen Sandiego

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? is an American half-hour children's television game show based on the Carmen Sandiego computer game series created by Brøderbund Software. The show was hosted by Greg Lee, who was joined by Lynne Thigpen, and the a cappella vocal group Rockapella, who served as the show's house band and comedy troupe. The series was videotaped in New York City at Lifetime Studios and co-produced by WQED and WGBH-TV, and aired on PBS stations from September 30, 1991 to December 22, 1995, with reruns airing until October 4, 1996. A total of 295 episodes over five seasons were recorded.

The show won seven Daytime Emmys and a 1992 Peabody Award. In 2001, TV Guide ranked the show at #47 on its list of 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time.

The show was created partially in response to the results of a National Geographic survey that indicated Americans had alarmingly little knowledge of geography, with one in four being unable to locate the Soviet Union or the Pacific Ocean.[2] The show's questions were verified by National Geographic World,[3] who also provided prizes to the contestants in the form of subscriptions to their magazine.

Main characters[edit]

Season 5 cast (L-R): Greg Lee, Elliott Kerman, Lynne Thigpen, Barry Carl, Jeff Thacher, Scott Leonard, and (at bottom, seated) Sean Altman

Greg Lee[edit]

Greg Lee was the show's zany yet amiable host, introduced by the Chief as ACME's "Special (later Senior) Agent in charge of training new recruits".

The Chief[edit]

The Chief (Lynne Thigpen) was head of the fictitious "ACME Crimenet". As the de facto announcer for the show, the Chief eloquently used dialogue rife with puns, alliteration and other forms of word play. The Chief became so popular that Thigpen reprised the role in later editions of the computer games, and also in the subsequent TV series Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?


New York City a cappella group Rockapella was the house band for the show and also contributed to the comic relief. During the series run, their lineup included:

The group performed the theme music and also brief musical interludes and introductions. They also performed the "think music" during the wager period of the first round and the section where the winner writes where they want to go if they capture Carmen. They also provided brief humorous musical sound effects during the Jailtime Challenge round of the game, as well as background music during the 45-second bonus round.

The Crooks[edit]

The crooks, all animated characters, were a Rogues' gallery of ne'er-do-wells:

  • Carmen Sandiego: master criminal and the title character of the show. During the show's "Phone Tap" segments, she would be heard talking to the episode's crook, giving them advice to evade detection.[4] The ultimate goal of the game was to capture Carmen after the crook was caught.
  • The Contessa (season 1, 4-5): a so-called criminal of style who fancies herself to be near-royalty.[5]
  • Double Trouble: a pair of Yin and Yang party-boy twins with quarter moon-shaped heads. They speak in a voice similar to Jack Nicholson.[6]
  • Eartha Brute: a muscular, dimwitted woman. Her name is a pun on that of actress Eartha Kitt.[7]
  • Kneemoi: (introduced in season 2) an shape-shifting alien from the planet Roddenberry. Her name is a reference to Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek and her home planet to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.[8]
  • Patty Larceny: a flighty, blonde schoolgirl with a sweet and giggly personality. Her name is a pun on the phrase "petty larceny".[9]
  • RoboCrook (Unit-059): a cyborg spoof of RoboCop.[10]
  • Sarah Nade (introduced in season 3): a loud, obnoxious teenage punk rocker with rainbow-colored hair. Her name is an ironic pun on the word "serenade".[11]
  • Top Grunge: a burly and unkempt biker who was always riding his chopper motorcycle.[12] Dirty and surrounded by flies, he would continually sneeze, snort, and cough in conversations.[13]
  • Vic the Slick: a tactless salesman who wears a loud polyester suit. He also has a seedy moustache, shifty eyes and slicked black hair.[14]
  • Wonder Rat (introduced in season 2): a superhero parody who wears a makeshift rat costume.[15]


Each episode consisted of three middle-school-aged contestants (10–14 years of age) competing against one another answering geography-related trivia questions to determine the location of one of Carmen Sandiego's cronies and eventually Carmen herself. Throughout the program the contestants are referred to as "gumshoes", in reference to fledgling detectives just starting out in the profession.

Round One[edit]

After Greg meets the day's gumshoes at the beginning of the show, the Chief briefs them on the crime and the crook who committed it, often adding the crook's reason for committing the crime. The gumshoes began with 50 ACME Crime Bucks each. Assorted live action, celebrity, musical, animated, and costumed comedy sketches were performed, each providing clues to a geographical location of the day's crook. A map with three possible locations was shown on-screen to the gumshoes, Greg would remind them of the clues, and each gumshoe chose an answer. Ten Crime Bucks were added to each gumshoe's score for a correct answer, and there was no penalty for a wrong guess.

Various elements of the first round included:

  • The Lightning Round: Partway through round one, a thunderclap/lightning effect played in the office signaling the start of the Lightning Round. Three toss-up questions, all multiple-choice related to the area in the previous question, were asked to the gumshoes, and each right answer earned five more Crime Bucks. This section, along with The Chase, required the gumshoes to use their buzzers to answer questions.
  • Chief's Office: After the Lightning Round, the Chief would call Greg into her office for a brief conference. This was used as a comedy break, during which the Chief and Greg would engage in a brief skit, usually brought to a close by announcing the show's grand prize: a trip to anywhere in the Continental United States (beginning in season 2, the prize was expanded to include anywhere in North America) to the gumshoe who captured Carmen Sandiego by the end of the episode. On occasion, they would describe a home viewer contest in which viewers could win various prizes.
  • Phone Tap: After visiting the Chief's office and returning to the game set, Greg would play a "Phone tap" recording for the gumshoes on the game monitor: in it, Carmen would converse with the crook of the day, providing more clues for another location to which the crook has gone.
  • The Chase (beginning in season 2): Similar to the "Lightning Round", and also requiring contestants to answer with their buzzers, Greg asked a series of five toss-up questions which provided clues about locations that followed a path, indicating that the gumshoes were hot on the trail of the crook; each correct answer earned five Crime Bucks. (This segment was introduced with a brief chase skit performed by Rockapella comically running across the stage, sometimes accompanied by others, including Greg, the Chief, some stage hands, and even members of the studio audience.)
  • Training Exercise (Season 5 only): In this game (which began in between the Chief's Office and the Phone Tap), the gumshoes were each given a trash can to rummage through to find a card; each card providing a different clue for another location. After all of the clues were read, the first gumshoe to find their card and re-close their trash can got the first chance to answer, the right answer earning ten Crime Bucks.
  • The Final Clue: To end the first round, Greg showed the gumshoes a map of three locations to where the crook may have traveled. Before the clues were given, Greg gave them a few seconds (during which Rockapella would sing special "think music") to wager up to 50 of their Crime Bucks, in increments of 10 (or they could risk nothing), on their answer. The final clue would then be given, and the gumshoes would be allowed to pick and set aside their answer. Starting with the lowest scoring gumshoe up to that point, each gumshoe would then first reveal their wager and then their answer. Their wager was added to their score if they answered correctly, but deducted from their score if incorrect. At round's end, the lowest scoring gumshoe received consolation prizes from the Chief and was eliminated from the game.

If the first round ended in a tie for second place, Greg read clues related to a famous person or place (typically a U.S. state). Gumshoes could buzz in as often as they wanted; the first gumshoe to buzz in with the correct answer received an additional five Crime Bucks and moved on to Round 2. Generally speaking, the last clue would contain the answer. If the round ended in a three-way tie, then Greg would read two tiebreaker questions and only two gumshoes would be tied and move on to the next round.

Round Two[edit]

The two higher scoring gumshoes continued on to Round Two, following the crook to their next destination (the same destination described in the Final Clue from Round One). The Chief briefed the two on their destination, using a "Photo Recon" to describe different landmarks and venues in the location from the final question of the first round. Fifteen trilons were then displayed on a large game board, each one labeled with the name of a different landmark, including those shown during the Chief's briefing. Hidden behind three of the trilons were the day's stolen loot, an arrest warrant, and the crook him/herself, and behind the other twelve were shoe prints, which indicated nothing was there. (The game board itself is reminiscent of the board from the classic game show Concentration, for which producer Howard Blumenthal's father Norm was the executive producer.)

The higher of the two scoring gumshoes from round one chose first. If the two gumshoes were tied for first place, a coin toss determined who would start. Then gumshoes taking turns until one of them found all three of the key items in the required order:

  • First, the loot, the evidence required for the warrant,
  • Second, the warrant to arrest the crook, and
  • Third, only after finding the loot and the warrant, the crook him/herself

Finding either the loot, warrant, or crook at any time allowed the gumshoe to take another turn, but uncovering one of the shoe print spaces ended a gumshoe's turn and all revealed trilons were covered again.

At round's end, the winning gumshoe would pull a ring on a chain rope, activating a foghorn and incarcerating the crook. A consolation prize was announced by the Chief to the losing and departing gumshoe, after which Greg would reiterate the grand prize to the winning gumshoe.

Bonus Round: Carmen's World Map[edit]

At the end of the second round, Greg would then hand a portfolio to the winning gumshoe for them to secretly write down their chosen destination if they were to win the grand prize in the Bonus Round, after which the gumshoe received a phone call from the apprehended crook, who would instruct them to look for Carmen on a certain continent: either Asia, Africa, Europe, South America or the United States (the latter of which expanded to include the rest of North America beginning in season 3), and the Chief then gave a list of thirteen locations on the chosen continent.

Greg and the gumshoe then moved to a giant map that covered the entire floor in front of the studio audience. The map showed small red circles denoting cities of countries or states, and later added red arrows marking bodies of water and red squares for national parks and monuments.

To capture Carmen, the gumshoe had to identify seven different locations on the map (eight beginning in season 2) in 45 seconds or less, each time grabbing one of a set of large markers with police beacons mounted on top, and quickly placing the marker on one of the red spots on the map. If they correctly identified a location, the beacon on the marker would begin to flash and a police siren would blare briefly, while incorrect guesses were marked by a two-note "uh-oh" buzzer; one incorrect guess per location was allowed, but a second incorrect guess forced the gumshoe to leave the marker behind and go on to the next location. If the gumshoe succeeded, he/she won the grand prize, plus a package of educational items similar to those given in round two; Greg would then reveal the location the gumshoe wrote down in the portfolio. If the gumshoe failed to capture Carmen, they would only receive the prize package. Regardless of the result, the Chief promoted the gumshoe to "sleuth" with her congratulations.


Near the end of the show, Greg would prompt the new sleuth (with the entire audience) to cue the closing theme, with all of them pointing to an overhead camera shouting "Do it, Rockapella!". As Rockapella sang the theme, the animated closing credits would roll, depicting members of Carmen's gang stealing the names of production staff members against a background resembling a notepad. For the final season, a black background with falling confetti was used. Afterwards, Rockapella would invite the audience on the map to dance, Greg would join in the song, and Thigpen would say, "This is Lynne Thigpen for Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, and remember...", and then say something funny that rhymed.

Following the completion of taping for Season 1 in 1991, massive geopolitical changes in the world, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, rendered the entire season geographically inaccurate. Starting in the second season, a disclaimer (recited by Thigpen) was heard in the closing which stated that "All geographic information was accurate as of the date this program was recorded", with the recording date listed in the copyright info at the end.



The show was made with a staff of 150 and a giant studio.[16]

Original music and theme song[edit]

"Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?"
Song by Rockapella
GenreA Cappella
Length2:48 (Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?)
2:59 (Primer)
4:13 (In Concert)
5:44 (Live in Japan)
LabelShakariki Records
Amerigo Records
J-Bird Records
Composer(s)Sean Altman
David Yazbek

All of the music on the series (including assorted short stings and stagers) was arranged and performed by Rockapella. The theme song played in full over the animated end credits as the studio audience danced to the music on the map, and in later episodes the audience would join in singing along. The main theme song was written by Rockapella co-founder Sean Altman and David Yazbek, and appears on the 1992 soundtrack album Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? and also in the compilation Television's Greatest Hits Volume 7: Cable Ready (TVT 1996).


Graphic designer Gene Mackles recalled: "I took on the assignment to produce about 2 hours of animation for the [show]. With a ridiculously tight deadline and budget, the only possibility for this to work at the time involved purchasing half a dozen Macintosh computers and assembling a team of animators using Macromind Director to get it to happen. Amazingly enough it worked, and Chris Pullman and I won a daytime Emmy for our effort".[17] All the animated characters were created on the Mac.[18]

Pilot format scoring[edit]

In the pilot episode, the scoring format was different. The gumshoes began with 125 ACME Crime Bucks each. Choosing the correct location subtracted 10 Crime Bucks from their score, while choosing the wrong location subtracted 15 (the idea being that the Crime Bucks were spent on the costs of getting to the next location). The wager amounts for the final question were 0, 5, 10, 15, and 20. This scoring system was later abandoned when the series went to air.

Critical reception[edit]

NerdHQ deemed the series the "crown jewel" of the Carmen Sandiego franchise.[19]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Aside from the aformentioned Emmy and Peabody wins, the show was nominated for several other awards.

Year Award Title Recipient Result
1992 Young Artist Award Outstanding New Animation Series Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Nominated
1992 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design Jim Fenhagen Won
1992 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Children's Series Jay Rayvid (executive producer) et al. Nominated
1992 Peabody Award Recipient, 53rd Annual Peabody Awards Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Won
1993 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design Jim Fenhagen (set designer) & Laura Brock (art director) Won
1993 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Directing in a Children's Series Dana Calderwood Nominated
1993 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Achievement in Graphics and Title Design Gene Mackles & Chris Pullman Nominated
1993 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Children's Series Jay Rayvid (executive producer) et al. Nominated
1994 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series Lynne Thigpen for playing "The Chief" Nominated
1994 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design Jim Fenhagen (scenic designer) & Laura Brock (art director) Nominated
1994 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Children's Series Jay Rayvid (executive producer) et al. Nominated
1994 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Directing in a Children's Series Dana Calderwood Nominated
1994 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design Danajean Cicerchi Nominated
1994 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Achievement in Technical Direction/Electronic Camera/Video Control Richard Wirth (technical director) et al. Nominated
1994 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Achievement in Live and Tape Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Todd Miller (production mixer) et al. Nominated
1995 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design Laura Brock & Jim Fenhagen Won
1995 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series Lynne Thigpen for playing "The Chief" Nominated
1995 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Directing in a Children's Series Hugh Martin Nominated
1995 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Children's Series Kate Taylor (executive producer) & Jay Rayvid (executive producer) et al. Nominated
1995 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Costume Design Danajean Cicerchi Nominated
1995 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Achievement in Live and Tape Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Fritz Lang (production mixer) et al. Nominated
1996 Image Award Outstanding Performance in an Educational/Informational Youth or Children's Series/Special Lynne Thigpen Nominated
1996 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Art Direction/Set Direction/Scenic Design Jim Fenhagen, Laura Brock, Eric Cheripka, Hank Liebeskind Won
1996 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Live and Tape Sound Mixing Tim Lester, Robert Agnello, John Converting, Ronnie Lantz, Billy Straus Won
1996 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Children's Series Jay Rayvid (executive producer) & Kate Taylor (executive producer) et al. Nominated
1996 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series Lynne Thigpen for playing "The Chief" Nominated
1996 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Directing in a Children's Series Hugh Martin Nominated
1996 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Costume Design or Costuming Maria E. Kenny Nominated
1997 Image Award Outstanding Youth or Children's Series/Special Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Nominated
1997 Daytime Emmy Outstanding Art Direction/Set Direction/Scenic Design Jim Fenhagen, Erik Ulfers, Laura Brock Won


The show was primarily funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by the annual financial support from the viewers/stations of PBS (1991–1995). Toyota funded the show for its first three seasons with Holiday Inn co-funded for the second half of the first season and all of season two. Delta Air Lines provided funding for the show's final two seasons (1994–95).

International versions[edit]

Disney's Buena Vista Productions International (BVPI) co-produced the series in Germany with MDR in Chemnitz (formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt) where it aired on national broadcaster ARD and was entitled Jagd um die Welt – Schnappt Carmen Sandiego! (Chase Around the World: Catch Carmen Sandiego!) in 1994. In the same year, BVPI also co-produced the Italian series in Naples with national broadcaster RAI (entitled Dov'è finita Carmen Sandiego?), and the Spanish version, Dónde se esconde Carmen Sandiego, (Where Hides Carmen Sandiego) which was co-produced in Valencia with national broadcaster TVE in 1995.

Canada's Télé-Québec produced a French-language version called Mais, où se cache Carmen Sandiego? (But, Where is Carmen Sandiego Hiding?), which aired between 1995 and 1998 and stars Pauline Martin as "The Chief" and Martin Drainville as ACME Agent in Charge of Training New Recruits.

There was also a New Zealand version of Carmen Sandiego that lasted from 1996-1999. Radio Television of Malaysia produced their own iteration of the show in 1998 titled Di Mana Joe Jambul (Where Is Pompadour Joe). In this version, contestants composed of two teams of three kids try to find clues and stop Pompadour Joe and his gang criminal activities around the world. The show was rebooted in 2012 with a new set, animation and rules.



  1. ^ Bernstein, Sharon (September 30, 1991). "PBS Game Show Charts New Territory". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  2. ^ Rabinovitz, Jonathan (October 6, 1991). "The Case of the Game-Show Ploy". The New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  3. ^ Jon Jenkins, WITWICS? - Big Bank Bingo (1992), retrieved January 13, 2019
  4. ^ Jon Jenkins, WITWICS? - Big Bank Bingo (1992), retrieved January 13, 2019
  5. ^ Anton Spivack, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?—The Case of the Cribbed Crater, retrieved January 13, 2019
  6. ^ Jon Jenkins, WITWICS? - Bad Day On Broadway (1992), retrieved January 13, 2019
  7. ^ The ACME Crime Net, WiTWI Carmen Sandiego (1992) | Trouble on Tanganyika, retrieved January 13, 2019
  8. ^ The ACME Crime Net, WiTWi Carmen Sandiego? (1992) | What's What With Watts?, retrieved January 13, 2019
  9. ^ The ACME Crime Net, WiTWi Carmen Sandiego (1992) | School's Out (What Happened A U), retrieved January 13, 2019
  10. ^ Jon Jenkins, WITWICS? - Big Bank Bingo (1992), retrieved January 13, 2019
  11. ^ Sara M, WitWiCS - 269 - Held for B Ransom (Part 1), retrieved January 13, 2019
  12. ^ TVLubber, WitWi Carmen Sandiego? (1994) | Who Heisted the Humps? | Colleen vs. Zachary vs. Ashwini, retrieved January 13, 2019
  13. ^ Anton Spivack, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?—Frix the Grand Prix, retrieved January 12, 2019
  14. ^ The ACME Crime Net, WiTWICS (1992) | Cur Cribs Curves, retrieved January 13, 2019
  15. ^ TVLubber, WitWi Carmen Sandiego? (1992) | Twinkle Twinkle Little Rat | Akunna vs. David vs. Tabitha, retrieved January 13, 2019
  16. ^ WRITER, By Kristin E. Holmes, INQUIRER STAFF. "Point, click, sit back". https://www.inquirer.com. Retrieved September 6, 2019. External link in |website= (help)
  17. ^ http://www.iotathegame.com/IOTA%20rules,%20FAQs%20and%20more6.pdf
  18. ^ QuestBusters: The Adventurer's Journal Volume 8 Number 09.
  19. ^ "Nostalgia Time: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?". Retrieved May 6, 2017.

External links[edit]