Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…

PEOPLE: Guided Tours with Todd Tuckey

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With over one million YouTube views and over 800 videos to choose from, Todd Tuckey of TNT Amusements has compiled one of the most prolific overviews of solid state era pinball games the internet has to offer. With an infectious smile and flair for low-budget (or no-budget) theatrics, Tuckey has turned himself into a pinball celebrity and finagled his way into negotiations with cable television networks to have a reality show based on the ups and downs of his Southampton, Pennsylvania amusement business. Living MUST be good for Mr. Tuckey. Perhaps the only way it could get better is if some in the pinball community would forgive him for throwing that Mario Andretti pinball machine off his roof back in 2008…

When I ’m looking for tombstone facts about a given game, I reference the Internet Pinball Database, which is a go-to for nearly all of us. However, I will not be alone when I make the statement that the IPDB photo galleries are unbelievably poor. Small file resolution and bi-/trisected playfield photos are only two of many inadequacies that fail to represent the overall look and feel of a given game. Luckily, we have Todd Tuckey-hosted grand video tour of nearly any solid state game you could ever imagine. His ever-changing cameraman follows along as he gives a brief overview of many playfield, cabinet and backbox, and wraps it up by having a “glass-off” game to highlight different toys, features and modes it has to offer. Tuckey is a numbers man, as he often adds how many of the featured game have passed through his shop for refurbishment (transaction price, however, is something that is not mentioned). All videos have a commercial-like feel to them, which is a throwback to the dated TNT infomercials he shot many years ago (minus the smarmy sales tactics and stiff business suit…Tuckey looks more comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans). The salesman in him, it appears, cannot be turned off…he talks up and raves about features in the most mundane of games. In the end, I guess all of these videos serve as commercials for TNT Amusements. Regardless, they now serve a wider purpose for those in the hobby looking for a visual overview of a pinball machine that they might not be able to experience otherwise.

I’ll admit that the gags and catch phrases Tuckey relies upon get old fast. If you watch more than a handful of videos, you are bound to hear one of the following more than once: Mr. Tuckey mouthing words or lyrics lifted from a bygone film or TV show, a reference to reflowing silver solder, Mr. Tuckey “accidentally” electrocuting himself, the camera man shaking the camera in a yes or no motion (and Tuckey chiding him about it), or employees yelling for their colleague “CURT!”. The last of which is more endearing than the others as it seems to be a shop-wide joke, with employees playfully mocking Tuckey’s delicate diction when calling for one of his most versatile employees who never seems to be within earshot. The rest of Tuckey’s corny jokes can be excused as he probably started out making all of his videos to entertain himself, something one does when there is a perceived limited audience watching. Now, however, the videos have entered into the lexicon of pinball reference. The playful and light nature of the videos should never cease, but perhaps some of the more over-used corny antics could be retired to the TNT Amusements Hall of Knee-Slappers.

Each week a handful of these videos that feature a different pinball or arcade machine are released regardless of whether or not the game has been featured in the past. The TNT crew works very hard to get these games ready for prime time, and its nice to see Tuckey call upon them personally to explain what they have done and the process they followed. It was a few months back that Tuckey announced that there was interest from a major cable channel to turn his amusement shop into the staged three-ring circus that is a reality show. I’m thinking there would be a market for it, as it would ride the wave of renewed interest in classic arcade and pinball machines that we are currently experiencing. And the way in which Tuckey has staged his workshop, introduced a stock set of “characters” from his payroll and encouraged witty banter on-camera shows that he knows the genre elements that make a reality show successful. If they can make a show about people who buy abandoned airline luggage, one based on an amusement machine company is a no-brainer (copyright laws permitting, right Rick Bartlett?)

It wasn’t overnight that Tuckey groomed himself for this type of success. A mining of the extensive YouTube feed will reveal that he has a Bachelor’s degree from Temple University in Communications and he was a classmate of Danny Tanner…I mean, Bob Saget. The feed also includes parts of a series recorded in the late 1980s entitled “Understanding Pinball”, which has to be one of the earliest examples of people putting the hobby on film for an in-depth strategical and technological discussion of the machines. It is a blast to see Tuckey twenty-five years younger (and a lot thinner) still doing what he does today–giving video tours of pinball machines.  The series is just Tuckey, a pinball machine, a camera and no frills whatsoever, but to think they were made before Funhouse was released really shows that Tuckey was one of the founding fathers of pinball video broadcasting.

Tuckey does get thrown under the bus a lot, but that is to be expected with anyone attempting to be a public figure in this hobby (ask Clay Harrell). There are petty complaints about restoration and sales practices, however the one stunt Tuckey is chided for, above all else, is for filming the destruction of four complete pinball machines–Street Fighter 2, Bad Girls, Mario Andretti, and Last Action Hero–along with various arcade games by throwing them from the roof of his TNT Amusements building. Collectors cried foul, and lamented that even the most blown out game should have a fate better than being destroyed in such a fashion. Tuckey explained that the games were not even fit for a wood chipper and any parts that could be salvaged were before they made their final plunge. The stunt worked, and got people from both inside and outside our community curious about what was happening on the TNT rooftop. The video has reigned in over 30,000 views on YouTube alone, far and away the most popular of any pinball related video TNT Amusements has posted.

TNT Amusements is in its 35th year serving arcade locations and home buyers alike. Many hobbyists may never buy from Tuckey in their years of collecting, preferring instead to buy from other hobbyists or fix up their own project machines, but the truth is, there is a market for retail pinball sales that is very much alive in a segment of casual collectors that may not be as dedicated to the silver ball as those that fire-polish their own plastic ramps or write a blogs about current pinball trends (hey!) but enjoy the game just as much as the rest of us. Tuckey’s video output has given something back to the pinball community, whether it be amusement, research or simply waiting for that delicate moment where Todd Tuckey pretends to electrocute himself on the high voltage section of an early solid-state Bally game.

Further Reading:
TNT Amusements – Official Website
TNT Amusements – YouTube Page

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