Moments in Car History: ‘The Intercept’ Car Theft Game Show
Game shows have a generally pretty good relationship with cars. Usually, they are some grand prize, on shows like “Family Feud,” or they could be a central game mechanic, like on “Cash Cab.” However, Russia took its own twist on the car game show back in the late ’90s with “The Intercept.”
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“The Intercept,” or “Perehvat” in Russia, starts by giving a contestant the keys to a car, which is equipped with an anti-theft LoJack system. Then, they let the contestant loose in Moscow to drive around. The objective: avoid the cops for 35 minutes. Meanwhile, the cops, using the LoJack system, three cars and helicopter, would try to catch the “thief.” If you managed to make it the full time, you won the car.
An added twist for the officers, though: partway through the case, a second “thief” is released. Footage comes from an array of 25 cameras, including several in the “stolen” vehicles. The police are real officers, who are in on the show.
While that sounds absolutely nuts and dangerous, there are a few caveats. According to the show’s creator, David Gamburg, speaking to The Independent back in 1997, the routes of the cars are pre-planned, and the contestants have a police officer in the car to make sure they don’t break traffic laws.
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Origins and the end
Oddly, this game of cops and robbers actually had a high-minded reasoning behind it. Gamburg was trying to reduce carjacking and improve the image of the Moscow traffic police (the GAI) in the late ’90s, and they really needed it—The Independent describes the GAI thus: “[…] their appetite for bribes and their non-stop harassment of motorists has produced both fear and loathing. A more unpopular force would be hard to imagine.” The Christian Science Monitor in 1998 described the GAI as “known for demanding bribes thinly disguised as fines for such offenses as driving unwashed cars.”
Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. In The Independent’s article, it pointed out the studio audience’s reactions when a police car broke down. The watchers laughed and flung happy jeers at the cops, especially when they got lost. Meanwhile, censoring beeps marred the dialogue of the cops due to excessive swearing.
Off screen, the attitude didn’t redeem the police. Gamburg told the Christian Science Monitor that he regularly received calls from politicians, movie stars, bankers, and even gangsters begging for the chance to humiliate the cops. After two years on the air, “The Intercept,” dropped from the airwaves.