Saturday, September 20, 2014

Niche ditching

On Game Show Paradise a long thread has built up over GSN's schedule changes.

The talk gets around to cable networks ditching their original niche. Of course, the board is worried about GSN getting away from game shows. So posters fret over nets like SyFy dumping their core shows and audience. Naturally, I chime in with a lot of blather...

Other poster: ID (Investigation Discovery), I believe, hasn't screwed around with the format too much.

Once upon a time, ID was Discovery Civilization network (and then Discovery Times network) and concentrated on historical documentaries. It eventually abandoned that niche and went to true crime. So it's really not a very good example of a network supposedly ruining itself by abandoning its niche. In fact, it's a perfect counterexample. ID has prospered after the original niche was ditched.

Also, Syfy is hardly hurting. It was 13th in prime time viewership among all cable networks in the latest published week. Not quite top ten but pretty close. If Syfy has abandoned its niche, whatever it was, the network has not been destroyed as a result. Far from it, in fact.

Sometimes ditching the niche doesn't work out, of course. truTV (once Court TV) dumped its original niche for reality shows. The audience got younger but smaller. In the latest week, the network is all the way down to 34th in prime time viewership. In fact, Investigation Discovery swooped in and took the law-and-crime niche away from truTV, and has prospered as a result.

Like any other move in programming, ditching the niche sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. You can find plenty of examples either way. GSN's 2004 move into non-traditional stuff mostly bombed except for the poker shows, which eventually produced one of the network's biggest critical and ratings successes, High Stakes Poker.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A disappearing Hub

Discovery is tired of the Hub network not doing much against other kids cable nets. So the media operation is taking majority control of the network and will rename it Discovery Family.

The toymaker Hasbro will retain an interest in the network and control programming during the day. But Discovery intends to slant the cable net toward adults as well as kids. The obvious question for game show fans: what will happen to Family Game Night?

The show has put up good numbers by Hub standards. Still, who knows if that will be enough for Discovery? The game show looks like a natural for appealing to parents and kids, but Discovery may decide that pushing Hasbro games is no longer a priority. Also, word on the web is that execs think the show is a tad on the expensive side.

Family Game Night has enjoyed a nice run on Hub, or Discovery Family, or whatever the net is finally called. We'll see how long the new majority owners decide to keep the show around.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

500 of the little critters

They're getting that old 5th Grader gang back together.

Mark Burnett and Mike Darnell are going direct to series with a game show called 500 Questions for ABC. Set to debut sometime in 2015, details are scarce about gameplay, host, set, contestants, or pretty much anything else. Burnett does allow: "It is the first network game show to combine what audiences love about serialized unscripted hits with a huge game show event. It has ongoing characters and huge stakes."

Sounds like muti-episode reality meets traditional quizzer. We'll see if the marriage is made in heaven. The Hollywood Reporter story speculates that broadcast networks have soured on game shows since Million Second Quiz expired on NBC. But the show really didn't get such terrible ratings by summer broadcast standards. (The finale got a 1.3 18-49 rating with 4.95M total viewers. Hardly a disaster for NBC in the summer.) And Pawnography did okay this summer. So maybe ABC figures, why not?

Fox bought the Israeli format Boom a while back, though that show seems mired in internal controversy. Broadcasters aren't really where the game show action is lately, but it's nice to see a little movement. Darnell adds some hype, for what it's worth: "I have no doubt this is going to be the next international game show hit." Just some decent numbers in the U.S. would be nice for starters.

What hath the schedule wrought?

A little while ago I got GSN's one-page grid for September 29-October 5. Now I've gotten the multi-page schedule with all the episode info, and I've posted it in the sidebar. There are a bunch of changes, and I've chewed over them on a couple game show boards. But the real twist is prime time on Sunday, October 5.

Let's Ask America comes to prime time at 8:00 PM, and Baggage returns to prime time at 10:00 PM. Those are noteworthy changes in themselves. But in between comes the real curveball. At 9:00 PM GSN will run an ep of All Star Secrets. This show lasted for a day-and-a-half (slight exaggeration) on NBC in 1979. Wikipedia (usual caveats) says only four eps are known to exist, and GSN will show one with Billy Crystal.

Things get even twistier at 9:30 PM. GSN dusts off the unsold pilot of Babble, with Tom Kennedy as host. By definition, exactly one (1) ep of this show exists.

I have no clue what’s happening here. It's hard to believe GSN will just drop these shows on the unsuspecting audience. So I speculate that somebody like Wink Martindale – YouTube's specialist in game show rarities – will introduce these selections. This is pure speculation, mind you, based on no inside info beyond the schedule itself.

As to why GSN is trying this, I can only go further into wild-blue theorizing. Maybe it's to pacify the hardcore traditionalists. They've been grumping about Skin Wars and other signs of, gasp, GSN going reality. The network is also refreshing its oldies lineup, which adds a bit of credence to this crazy theory.

One other thing: the cover e-mail on the schedule said the rarities on Sunday night are "part of the Time Capsule initiative." So it does look like a continuing series of little known game shows dug up from the vault.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Spoiling for a fight (cont.)

About the only thing that wasn't spoiled was the gender of the winner.

The blurry picture previously published on the game show Interwebs seemed to show a "guy" winning really, really big. Well, it wasn't a guy. Sarah Manchester, math teacher and mother of two, won the million bucks on Wheel of Fortune tonight. The Silver Spring, MD resident was suitably ecstatic.

I had posted before about how Wheel was spoiling this win shamelessly. But on second thought, who can blame them? When you get the biggest prize on the first week of the season, it's hard not to blab. I even got an embargoed e-mail in my inbox today about the win, but I didn't see it before the show. So I wasn't completely certain that Sarah would take home the million.

But when she copped the glittery green wedge and easily guessed the bonus round puzzle (L-O-U-D  L-A-U-G-H-T-E-R, for the record), I had a very good idea what Mr. Sajak was going to announce.

He did as I expected, and everybody went nuts as the confetti rained down. The kids were adorable, Sarah and husband were thrilled, and the show had its third million dollar winner. Good for all of them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ratings: syndies slip some more

Syndie game shows continued to languish with reruns in the week of September 1-7. Cedric bowed out with a particularly bad number. But nobody had much to brag about. TV News Check offers the household ratings...

Wheel of Fortune 5.5 - down a tick
Jeopardy 5.1 - down a couple ticks
Family Feud 4.7 - flat, which is pretty good for this week
Millionaire 1.7 - down a couple ticks as Cedric goes out on a low note

Only the top three made the chart at TV by the Numbers. The viewer averages: Wheel of Fortune 8.6M, Jeopardy 7.8M, Family Feud 6.8M. We await the new seasons and, let's hope, better numbers.

GSN stumbled to its worst week in a while for September 8-14. 320K/243K viewer averages prime time/total day. The network ranked 45th and 43rd in the windows. Not terrible by historical standards, but pallid compared to recent weeks.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cash Cab goes airborne

It probably won't draw quite as many viewers as the big multi-colored wheel. But the airborne Game Plane goes wheels-up this weekend. The show looks like one long plug for Allegiant Air, but there could be worse plugs than a game show, right? Mark Walberg hosts, and Game Plane already has 40 episodes on the shelf.

Passengers play word games and trivia challenges and putting contests and extra-special "turbulence games." (I hope the last item doesn't involve air sickness bags.) And like a certain CBS effort, there's a "big deal" for some of the winners at the end of the show.

Game Plane is widely distributed around the country, though the stations and timeslots hardly look choice. The show's website says it gets a 5:00 PM Sunday slot in my home Dallas-Fort Worth market. I don't think the NFL has much to fear.

But your full-service game show blogger will watch an ep or two and report back. I always liked Cash Cab, so maybe the airplane version will be a pleasant way to pass the time.

Another go-round

Just finished watching the return of Alex and Pat and Vanna. Yes, the mustache is back. And the wheel has a $500 minimum.

But otherwise things are reassuringly familiar. We can't change the comfort food too much. The customers don't want wild experiments, after all. Jeopardy kicked off with a rather run-of-the-mill game. The pretty challenger built up a big lead against the returning champion. She ended up winning, though Final Jeopardy was an embarrassing triple stumper. Hasn't anybody ever heard of Dr. Seuss? I even nailed it.

It was the same on Wheel of Fortune, a ho-hum ep with no huge (or non-huge) surprises. Sure, the show seems bound and determined to issue spoilers, even on their promos. But nothing much spoilable happened tonight. Three teachers duked it out on teachers' week, and everybody won something. The bonus round was a toughie and went unsolved. We did get to see the new $32,000 minimum, and we got to hear some new-season remarks from Mr. Sajak.

Vanna said bye and it was over. The soulmates are off and running on another year.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spoiling for a fight

Buy a Vowel is noting various, uh, hints around the game show Interwebs that something very, very big will happen on Wheel of Fortune's new season. Which happens to debut this week.

And which also happens to be an "eventful week," according to none other than Pat Sajak. Somehow, somewhere, I've seen this movie before. Game show spoilers spill over so much of the Internet that they eventually even reach this blog, and I'm way down the game show food chain.

I was planning to take in a fair amount of Wheel's new season, anyway, because last I checked, it's still the most watched game show in the country. That makes it an Important Subject for game show blogs, boards, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and pizza coupons. So you really don't have to spoil quite so hard, guys, at least when it comes to little old me.

A weird idea: what if nothing very important happens in the first week, or during the season overall? Could all the spoilers be wrong? Nah, they wouldn't do that to us, would they?