Dec 22, 2011
Todd Tuckey and his band of restoration geniuses run TNT Amusements, a game room mecca in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Arcade games, pinball machines, counter-top games, Skeeball, you name it, these people will sell it and fix it.
High Score, the brainchild of Corey Armideo and Nate Hall, is a reality show about arcade games and the arcade collectibles market.
PopGamer sat down with Todd, Corey and Nate to dig deep into their show. This is their story.
We first told you about High Score in our previous article where we showed you the video reel.
We were intrigued. Finally, a show about arcade games! The reel was good, but it was missing something. What we would find out later: they were holding back!
The pièce de résistance was Todd Tuckey, a man who knows more about these arcade cabinets than the creators themselves.
We set up a Skype interview a few days later with Todd, Corey and Nate.
We found ourselves asking about the origin story.
The early 1970s was the beginning of the coin-op industry and Todd was in his late teens. “My uncle had a boat dock in Tennessee and wanted me to buy [coin-op] games for that place, so my best friend and I bought a vendor’s extra equipment. They were all mechanical back then; pinballs, mechanical driving games, and it was all a hobby.”
It stayed a hobby for Todd until ’79. That’s when the industry exploded.
“That’s when the big stuff hit,” Todd recounted. “Space Invaders, Asteroids… It became really big, and I started buying brand new equipment and putting them in stores.” That was the big business, when commercial business was good.
Then 16-bit and 32-bit consoles came into prominence, bringing technology that only existed in arcade machines into the home. Surprisingly, people still wanted the big cabinets and arcade-like feeling; only this time, they wanted a personal experience.
“The home sales didn’t start until the coin-op sales went almost completely dead. That’s when we found there was this huge market for the home. People wanted to put stuff in their house and they wanted commercial quality.”
That resurgence crested in 2004. “That was the peak,” he told us. “It dropped off quite a bit since with the economy and such.”
Will we see another wave in arcade popularity? Todd seems enthusiastic.
“This show is absolutely, positively going to get people interested in arcade games again.”
Todd is an icon. His infomercials have been a staple of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey late-night market for over a decade. But these are not hyper-produced viral marketing segments now so common on the web, like Slap-Chop or ‘Will It Blend?’. Todd has the mom-and-pop approach, a market that has kept him in business through the arcade ages.
His famous late-night infomercials started airing locally in 1995. It didn’t take long for people in the Philly area to notice.
“We always watched the infomercials when we were kids growing up,” Corey recounted. “Everyone in the Philadelphia area loves them. He does all these jokes with his hand getting smashed with a rubber hand… it’s a classic cult following. He sells DVDs even though it’s an ad.”
Watching some of the old infomercials, we were struck by the prankster-esque comedy that he employed. It’s a style familiar to those of classic slapstick movies. It’s a specific kind of humor; genuine and always done in good fun. This isn’t Punk’d.
The sizzle reel for High Score showed one direction for the show. It was in typical History Channel and TLC format. We could see signs of something unique, but it was constrained, wanting to burst out. This ‘something different’ we found out, was Todd. He is a man with passion for what he does. Entertainment is not just his business, it is his personality.
“Everyone always said ‘Todd, you should do a reality show’… I was never ever going to do a reality show. I was working 14-16 hours a day.” All it took to persuade him was a simple trailer put together with footage he already had.
“These two guys came into my place, a week after I returned from a major heart attack,” Todd said, pointing out that he had returned from his six month checkup earlier in the day of our interview. “They brought a trailer reel that they had made. They actually had assembled all this footage from YouTube videos I’d put up. They put this really fantastic thing together and sold me instantly.” He was obviously floored. “Just imagine if we do this right.”
Corey jumped in. “We started shooting the next day.”
“The next day we were shooting!” Todd exclaimed.
But why these two? Nate and Corey are great guys, but tackling a television pilot is no easy task.
Nate & Corey
We asked the filmmakers how it all started for them.
Nate smiled. “Back in 1996, Corey and I went to the same high school. We got an internship at a TV station in Delaware. While we worked there on other people’s shows we decided to create our own show called Some Show which was a video game and culture and movies type show, kinda like you see on YouTube now, only we did that back in ‘97, ‘96. It was on local cable. ”
Corey chimed in. “We aired at midnight. We hung around the studio watching.” They were 16 at the time, and like typical teenagers had time to spare. “For the hell of it, we put the phone number of the studio up and just flashed it across the bottom. We’d get phone calls all night, either prank calling or telling us ‘Oh, we love it’.”
The sweet sounds of interactivity gave them all the encouragement they needed.
“We had it every week for almost a year,” Corey continued, the good times etched in his mind. “We’d go out, see a movie, and run right back to the studio… We practically lived there.”
Nate took over. Their ability to seamlessly shift talking duties shows an insight into their work habits. “After that we moved off to start working on independent films, TV commercials, working for news stations as editors or doing corporate videos. [We were] shooting for ABC, NBC, CBS, all of that type of stuff. But we’re at the point in our careers where we don’t want to work on other people’s projects anymore. We want to do our own thing. That’s why we decided, ‘Let’s create our own show’.”
Inspired by watching the gold standards of Pawn Stars and American Pickers, the duo began brainstorming. “All the stuff [American Pickers] are getting is cool, but I don’t remember any of this stuff. What I remember is playing Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man and pinball. Why don’t we do a show about that?”
The first person they thought of to star in it? Todd Tuckey.
We were lucky at PopGamer to view a full length test episode of the series, which introduced some of the people that we would be seeing if the series was picked up. These people are the real deal. Electrical work, art retouching; the workshop was a hive of activity with these talented individuals. Some of us can barely get A/V cables hooked up properly, and these craftsman are rewiring huge transistors and ancient circuit boards to get these games playable again.
This pilot was, as we discovered, shot just by the two of them with some DSLR cameras. Nate mused, “You can see what we could do with two people, just imagine what we can do with an entire crew.”
“As of last week,” Corey happily revealed, “We actually got signed with a production company [Film Garden Productions] that’s going to take it to market. They’ve done a lot of different shows for TLC, AMC…”
“They do Amazing Wedding Cakes, Wild Hogs…” Nate added.
Todd, with the smile of a proud father, simply proclaimed, “And now they’re going to do our show, High Score.”
What’s next for the show are the pains and joy of making it. With a production company involved, we’re looking closer and closer to seeing this show on our television sets. With all of the other kinds of odd reality shows on the air, we feel this has a better chance than most to make it. We think that if America gets to see Todd in action, we’ll see a hard working gamer as our next reality TV star (take that Kardashians!).