Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? was a game show based on the computer game of the same name. The show first aired on September 30, 1991 on PBS. The show ran for five seasons, the final episode airing on October 4, 1996.
Several factors contributed to the production of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Foremost was a decline in geographic knowledge. A 1991 National Geographic survey had discovered that one in four Americans couldn't point out the Pacific Ocean or Soviet Union on a map. The show was also relatively inexpensive to produce, and came in the wake of other popular children's game shows, most notably Nickelodeon's Double Dare.
People involved in the show's production include Howard J. Blumenthal, Jay Rayvid, and Kate Taylor. Originally, it was envisioned as a straight forward quiz show in the style of Jeopardy, but research showed that kids wanted something different.
The show itself was recorded first at Chelsea Studio in Manhattan, but later moved to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. Members of the audience were required to past a geography test.
Funding for the show was mostly provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and viewer contributions. At various times, Toyota, Holiday Inn, and Delta Airlines were show sponsors.
The show began with the Chief (played by Lynne Thigpen) describing the crime including what was stolen, where the crime took place, and which crook was involved. Afterward, the three contestants are brought into the ACME Detective Agency and are introduced by Greg Lee, ACME agent in charge of training new recruits.
Each contestants begins with 50 ACME crime bucks. Throughout the round, there are various comedic sketches with clues about where that episode's thief is hiding. After the clues, the contestants are shown a map with three possible locations. Each player chooses their simultaneously and reveals their answer before the correct one is revealed. A correct answer earns them 10 crime bucks.
At the end of the round, the gumshoes are presented with a map and told the next question will be about that area. Each player chooses how many points they want to risk: anywhere from 0 to 50 crime bucks. Contestants with a correct answer would get the amount they wagered added to their score while contestants who answered incorrectly would lose their crime bucks. The detective with the lowest score would be out of the game.
- Lightning Round - After two or three sketches, a flash of lightning would signal the lightning round. Greg Lee would read three questions about the last location visited and provide three possible answers for each. The first gumshoe to buzz in with the correct answer earned 5 crime bucks. If no one answered in time or everyone buzzed in with the wrong answer, Greg would reveal the correct answer and move to the next question.
- The Chief's Office Sketch - This happened after the Lightning Round. Usually, the Chief would ask to see Greg in her office, though sometimes Greg would go on his own. In Seasons 1 and 2, the sketch was used to announce the grand prize. From Season 3 onwards, it was used to promote contests for home viewers. Each time, the sketch would end with the Chief saying, "Greg, go away."
- Greg's Training Exercise - Added part way through Season 5, this game happened after the Chief's office sketch. The gumshoes and Greg would go into the alley where they would find a set of trash cans. Greg would pull out a card with a country's flag on it. The gumshoes went through their own cans to find a matching card. After they had found the cards, Greg would give each gumshoe a clue about the country. Then each player would guess what country it was, going in the order they found their cards. The winner was awarded 10 crime bucks.
- Phone Tap - After the Office Sketch (seasons 1-4) or Training Exercise (season 5), ACME BugNet would present a phone tap. Carmen would give the episode's crook a few clues on where to go. Afterward, the gumshoes were asked what country it was for 10 crime bucks.
- The Chase - Starting with Season 2, The Chase was added. It was announced with a short scene of one member of Rockapella being chased by the others. The round worked similar to the Lightning Round, with the first gumshoe to buzz in winning the points. However, the questions were about countries in a particular area, only one answer was accepted for each question, and there were five questions instead of three. Three possible answers were provided for each question and each correct answer was worth 5 crime bucks.
Round 2 begins with Photo Recon of the location of the hiding crook at the end of round 1. The Chief describes various landmarks as photos are shown.
After photo recon, the contestants were taken to a wall with the names of fifteen locations on them. The goal was to find the loot, the warrant, and the crook in that order. The players alternated choosing locations to find what was hidden there. Finding the loot, warrant, or crook let them choose another location. The other player got to choose if they found only foot prints, they took over 10 seconds to choose, or they got everything needed, but in the wrong order.
The winner of this round got to pull a chain and put the crook in jail as well as advance to the final round. In one case, a contestant (Ali Haider) got everything right on the first try. A $100 savings bond was hidden at one of the landmarks and he was given 5 turns to get it. He was unsuccessful.
This round starts with Greg Lee explaining that winning this round means a free trip anywhere in the lower 48 states (anywhere in North America beginning in Season 2). After the contestant writes down the location they'd like to visit, the captured crook calls to give them Carmen Sandiego's location.
Next, they move to a room with one of five maps on the floor: South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, or North America (originally the continental United States). The Chief then names 13 locations Carmen may have traveled to.
The contestant was given 13 markers. Greg Lee read off the names of the locations and the player had to place the marker at the correct spot. If they were right, a siren in the marker would go off. If wrong, they got one chance to correct their answer. If they got that wrong too, they had to leave it, though they'd be able to make corrections if they went through the rest of the locations.
If they managed to identify 8 locations (7 in Season 1) correctly in 45 seconds (60 for two early playings in Asia), they captured Carmen and won their trip. Otherwise, they got a consolation prize. Either way, the gumshoe was promoted to a sleuth.
Greg Lee, the contestant, and the audience would point to the camera and yell, "Do it, Rockapella!" signaling the group to sing the show's theme song. The show's crooks would be seen stealing the names of the shows cast and crew.
At the very end, the Chief would appear, saying "This is Lynne Thigpen speaking for Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, and remember..." The sentence would end with some sort of rhyme, such as "No matter what the odds you face, ACME Crime Net solves the case."
Later, a few disclaimers were added, both spoken by Lynne Thigpen. Season 2 and 3 assured the viewers that "All contestants have been briefed prior to their appearance". Every season after the first one had the disclaimer "All geographic information was accurate as of the date this program was recorded."
Occasionally, when the show ended early, an extra segment was added to fill out the show.
- ACME Music Net Extra - The ACME Music Net Extra was a song featuring Rockapella. Occasionally, the song was just one they liked, but more often it had some sort of educational value to it.
- Audience Games - One episode ("The Disoriented Express") had Greg Lee asking younger audience members geography questions to win prizes. For the rest of Season 1, The Chief called audience members into her office to ask a geography question. A correct answer would earn them a Carmen Sandiego sweatshirt. If they answered incorrectly or didn't know, the Chief told them the right answer and gave them an atlas. Either way, they returned as gumshoes in later episodes.
The Grand Prize was a trip to anywhere in the lower 48 states (anywhere in North America beginning in Season 2). The trip included the contestant, their parent, and a guest. The group got a free round trip ticket to their destination, flying coach. They also got a free week at a luxury hotel selected by the Chief. During part of Season 4, the contestant got to choose their hotel. Seasons 3 - 5 included a rental car. The contestant also got some spending money. During Season 1, it was $250, but it increased to $500 during Seasons 2 - 4, and finally got to $750 and $1000 during Season 5.
Each contestant that missed the grand prize was given a consolation prize. Originally, they called it the official ACME CrimeNet Travel Kit. Later, the terms Travel Pack and Gumshoe Gear were used.
ACME CrimeNet Travel Kit
This was given to both third and second place contestants.
- World Atlas by Rand McNally
- Official Carmen Watch (Seasons 1 - 3)
- Official Carmen Sweatshirt (Part of Season 1)
- Official Carmen T-Shirt(Part of Season 1, Seasons 2 - 5)
- A year subscription to National Geographic World magazine
- A portable basketball globe (Seasons 2-3)
- An ACME travel pack - a back pack with the show's and ACME CrimeNet's logo (Season 4)
- ACME Voice Identification Badge and Leave-a-Message wallet (Season 4)
- ACME Stealth Pen Recorder (Season 5)
- ACME CrimeNet Hat (Season 5)
Given to second place contestants in addition to the Travel Kit
- A pocket translator (Season 1 - 3)
- Two ACME Secret Senders (Personal organizers) (Seasons 4 & 5)
- A world band radio (Seasons 1 - 4)
- An automatic camera (Season 3)
Prizes for a Final Round Loss
- Carmen Sandiego Slueth jacket (Given if the player wins as well)
- A camera (Given away in Season 2 if the contestant got 6 or 7 correct locations)
- A portable CD player and a selection of CDs from around the world (Given away Seasons 1 & 3, but a prize for advancing to Round 2 during Season 2)
- A boom box (Season 4)
- An ACME Pocket Color Television (Season 5)
The reaction to the show was positive. Its success allowed it to run for five seasons, making it the longest running game show on PBS and the second longest running children's game show ever, right behind Double Dare. In 1993, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? won the George Foster Peabody Award for excellence. Lynne Thigpen's performance as the Chief earned her three nominations for Daytime Emmys.
Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? aired soon after World was canceled and shared many elements with its predecessor. Also, the Chief featured in Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego: Treasures of Knowledge and Carmen Sandiego: The Secret of the Stolen Drums looks similar to Lynne Thigpen.