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Dec 19, 2006

You call these "Game Shows"?

I'll admit it - I'm making an uninformed, biased guess here: Identity, the new game show starring Penn Jiillette, is a heaping pile of excrement. From the looks of it, it's a weak To Tell the Truth ripoff. True, I should watch it before passing such judgment, but it's really not the target of my vitriol.

The larger point here (hopefully) is: what the hell happened to game shows? Look at the more successful game shows of the last, say, 50 years - Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, The Price is Right. These shows have one big thing in common: their premise is surprisingly simple.

Jeopardy!? A straightforward general trivia show, with the only twist being the delivery of the answers and questions (or vice-versa). The Wheel? It's just hangman, for chrissakes. Millionaire? Trivia again, but solo and a sprint instead of the marathon that Jeopardy! is. Price is Right? A guessing game - whoever guesses better wins.

Now look at the current landscape. Deal or No Deal starts off with a bunch of cases and plays out somewhat like Russian Roulette, only throws in some "mysterious" banker concept and a bald-headed white guy to host. Not as bad as it sounds, actually, but NBC kills it for no good reason by showing waaaayyy too much into the promos for the show. Bizarre, considering the show has little actual drama to begin with. 1 vs. 100 takes a decent concept (run the table of trivia questions longer than the "mob," but gimmicks it up and tries (via Bob Saget) to throw too many jokes into the mix.

Some recent successes? Not surprisingly, VH1's Rock 'n' Roll Jeopardy! (hosted by future host king Jeff Probst) was excellent, but it had good source material. Staying on VH1, the below-mentioned World Series of Pop Culture is compelling, has a staid, solid host and a noticeable lack of schtick.

In the end, here are my suggestions:

Keep it simple, stupid. Stop trying to wow us with crazy sets and fancy lights and give us good content and good concepts.

Leave the jokes to the sitcoms. How many jokes does Alex Trebek throw out in your average Jeopardy! episode.? I'll set the over/under at 3 - what's your bet? Pat Sajak tries every now and then, but look where his late night show got him...

Bring back some classics. Name...that...tune. Need I say more? VH1, I'm looking at you to pick this one up again.

Ben Stein, the world needs you back. Buehler? Buehler? Buehler?

2 people have chosen wisely: on "You call these "Game Shows"?"

Anonymous said...

Another key ingredient is the prize structure that creates drama. At least Deal or No Deal can create some actual tense decisions (even if the over-hyping of such decisions is usually brutal). 1 vs. 100 has a fatally flawed prize structure that virtually ensures no one will ever get to the end. Once you're down to about 12 people on the mob the incremental amount you'll potentially win on any specific question is so low compared to the amount you've already put in your prize fund that choosing to go forward is not a viable option. They either need to adopt a geometric progression for the dollar values (i.e. after the initial cheap questions go from 1,000 per eliminated mob member, to 2,000, to 5,000, to 10,000) so that there's more incentive to keep moving on, or make the top prize something really worth gambling for, like $5 million. I don't think 1 vs. 100 has any staying power without these changes.

-Frank the Tank

Anonymous said...

I always liked Hollywood Squares and the Match Game. With the plethora of pseudo-celebrities out there (the Hilton/Lohan/Spears/Simpson-types who are most useful as tabloid fodder), I think these shows' premises could be revived, possibly updated even with a touch of Japanese game show influence. Think "Extreme Hollywood Squares", where Paris gets a question wrong and get electrically shocked.