In 1991, a Canadian television show called Video and Arcade Top 10 launched on YTV. The show was the brainchild of Robert Essery. “He was a finger on the pulse of the trend kind of guy. I am sure he realized the home videogame audience was growing,” Nicholas Picholas told me as he described how the show got started. “Nintendo was looking for a vehicle to market [the NES], and a couple ideas came together and the show really took off fast.”
Children of the 90s, or the very early 2000s, will remember Nicholas Picholas as the main host of Video and Arcade Top 10 for over 14 years. After taking over main hosting duties from Gordon Woolvett (Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda) in the show’s first season, Nicholas cemented his place in Canada’s gaming culture by remaining the show’s main host until the program stopped production in 2006.
For the uninitiated, Video and Arcade Top 10 was far more than just a game show for kids. The team behind each episode had formed a close relationship, or business partnership, with Nintendo that made Video and Arcade Top 10 the leading edge of Canadian gaming news. “A lot of times these games were not released,” said Nicolas as he described the games that were played on the show. “Someone from Nintendo would accompany the game cartridges, or they were these weird things that looked like old eproms. Sometimes it was top secret, and Nintendo wouldn’t want the information about the game getting out, so they would take the game with them (after taping).”
That might sound a little paranoid, especially given the small world nature of the pre-internet era; however, before you measure Nintendo for a tin foil hat, remember that CGM did not exist yet. Newspapers had no videogame sections on their websites, and Toronto was nowhere near having two local radio stations creating weekly programs about videogames. There was clearly an audience that wanted as much information as they could get and Nicholas remembers that part of the show’s success was the hunger of that audience. “When the show was at its height we got mailbags that were just ridiculous. I am talking thousands of letters. I would go through the mail and I can’t believe how far away, province to province, territory to territory, how big this thing was.”
Nicholas also put me in touch with his original Video and Arcade Top 10 lead producer: Jonathan Freedman. Jonathan left the show after the 5th season to take the position of Studio Director with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. He remembers the impact the show had on Canadian gamers, “I remember going to my first E3 with Sony, and I met a guy who was just starting out. A young report named Victor Lucas who wanted to start a show. Victor said, ‘I’ve seen Video and Arcade Top TOP 10’ and he knew of Nicholas and all that.”
While Nicholas was the face of the show, Jonathan’s role was that of the creative heart. “It came down to a science when we did it right,” is how Jonathan explained producing Video and Arcade Top 10. Jonathan and his team would work hard to prepare for one weekend every month when they would film Nicholas hosting up to seven shows, live to tape, in a single day. That didn’t leave a lot of time for anything but taping the show, and Jonathan explained how fast they had to be, “there were some points were we would literary roll tape, and when the show wraps after the closing credits. We’re still rolling and people are changing on set. So tapes still going, we’re in a countdown and we would go right into the next show.”
Despite having to tape so many shows in one day, both Jonathan and Nicolas told me that making Video and Arcade Top 10 was always a blast. Although, that doesn’t mean that Nicholas was always happy with his work. “Some of it’s embarrassing, because if you listen to the pace that we’re reading it was this super-fast hyper talk.” When I told Nicholas that his show was syndicated on Game TV here in Canada, he jokingly replied, “Dude! They promised me the show would never air again!”
So what happened to the show? It seemed like the perfect combination of elements: an outlet that had the full attention of an audience, a slightly embarrassed host, a producer who loved games, and the support of Nintendo. Why is Video and Arcade Top 10 no longer on the air? Jonathan Freedman explains that time changes everything, “Back then you could talk to an audience and say, ‘Video and Arcade top 10, today its Super Mario or Donkey.’ There was one SKUed major console to play that had 80 or 90 percent of the market. Now it’s fragmented between 3 major consoles, between handheld devices, between your iPhone, between apps.”
Although that doesn’t mean a show like Video and Arcade Top 10 couldn’t return today. While Jonathan continuously repeated to me that he had no knowledge that the show would return for sure, he and Nicholas both confirmed that the ownership rights for the show had recently changed hands. Jonathan even confirmed that he’s has recently taken meetings about the subject.
I guess that leaves one unanswered question remaining, where is Nicholas now? “I’ve been where I was the whole time,” is what Nicholas said when I called his US phone number. “While I was doing the show, I was also doing a morning radio show in Buffalo. We would tape [Video and Arcade Top 10] in various places around Toronto or Hamilton, and I would jump between the two.”
However, seven years away from Canadian basic cable doesn’t mean Nicholas has been forgotten. Actually, he said that the opposite is true. “We cross the border (into Canada), and I get the weirdest stares. I’ll walk through an Ikea, and a guy who is 33 years old will stare at me like I’m from a wanted poster. And then I will see it click. Yeah I’m that guy.” Nicholas also works with various Buffalo sports teams, and told me that he runs into all sorts of Ontario fans at the Buffalo Bills games.