Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Samurai shenanigans

When Fox pushed back the premiere of Mental Samurai, I figured the show must be a dog. I just watched the delayed debut, and guess what. The show was really pretty good.

In fact, Mental Samurai was an engaging test of cerebral gymnastics. A contraption called "Ava" - don't ask me where they got the name, but it's better than "Watson" - whirled contestants in every direction around an elaborate set. Once in a while Ava stopped to pose a puzzle or memory test or general knowledge question. Contestants who got all twelve challenges right won ten grand and a chance for more lucre in a four-question bonus round.

The kicker was that they only got five minutes to solve the twelve mental puzzles. This wasn't easy for a viewer comfortably ensconced in a recliner, much less a contestant who's getting a thrill ride throughout the studio.

So Ava crunched through contestants faster than Godzilla stomped through Tokyo. One poor guy, a former astronaut, bombed on the very first puzzle (an admittedly brutal pattern recognition query). Finally, a drag queen - no lie - got through all twelve questions, though he only solved two of the puzzles in the bonus round. That was still good for fifty grand.

An odd note was that Ava sounded like the sister of the disembodied voice on Minute To Win It. When the gadget counted down three-two-one before the start of the five minutes, the resemblance was uncanny. Meanwhile, human host Rob Lowe did an okay job of interacting with the put-upon contestants.

My only quibble was that the show spent a little too much time on contestant back stories. But a bit of human interest material never hurt a game show. Mental Samurai was definitely a pleasant way to pass an hour. Just keep Ava away from me.

UPDATE: Mental Samurai turns in so-so numbers for its debut. 2.20M viewers and a 0.7 18-49 rating. Not terrible by Fox standards but not particularly good, either.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ratings: viewer support for Alex

In the week when Alex Trebek revealed his cancer diagnosis, Jeopardy came out on top of the syndie game show ratings.  

TV News Check leads their story with a just comment. Viewer support for long-time host Alex Trebek, who on March 6 revealed that had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, helped make Jeopardy the top-rated game show in the session ending March 10. There was more good news for other game shows, even the bottom dweller. The household ratings for March 4-10...

Jeopardy 6.9 - up a tick from the previous week
Wheel of Fortune 6.6 - flat
Family Feud 6.5 - up a tick
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 1.8 - up three ticks, though Disney execs don't seem to care
Funny You Should Ask 0.6 - up a tick, can you believe it?

GSN slipped a little for the week of March 11-17. 370K/276K viewers prime time/total day. I've noticed that the numbers for America Says and Common Knowledge have softened a bit lately. Both shows are still doing okay, though. GSN ranked 37th and 28th in the windows.

UNRELATED UPDATE: Wikipedia is famous for screwing things up. It's the encyclopedia that any idiot can edit, after all, and many idiots do exactly that. The site used to have a very nice list of U.S. game show articles. Then some fool went and messed up that list. Luckily, there's another list on the site of U.S. game shows, even though many don't have articles. I've now used that list in the blogroll for Wikipedia.

Monday, March 18, 2019

College try

Wheel of Fortune is doing a college week. There's something about game shows and college.

The simplest explanation for the affinity is that college contestants tend to be young and good looking (duh). My aged self sounds a little grumpy about this, but TV is a visual medium. People with good visuals tend to make good TV.

Case in point: Molly Rodabaugh from the University of Tennessee (see screenshot). Molly is majoring in themed entertainment design, and I wish I could explain that subject to you. The linked story only says that "it involves designing spaces that incorporate elements of storytelling."

Well, game shows tell a story every episode: who wins and who loses. I hope Molly comes out on the winning side in Wheel's designed space. By the way, contestants always say that the space on Wheel of Fortune's set is a lot smaller than it looks on TV. They also say that the wheel is so heavy and Vanna is so nice.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

No more love

Not much to write about today, so I'll revisit a now old story. Fox has cancelled its Love Connection reboot after two low-rated seasons.

Really, it was something of a surprise that the show survived to the second season. The numbers were never all that good. I didn't think the reboot was terrible, just a little bland. On the game show board at Sitcoms Online, a few posters chew over the show's fate. One commenter points out a key issue: The show needs a better host.

Andy Cohen wasn't terrible, but he wasn't all that great, either. Just sorta middling. In a faux tweet I suggested that Fox might have brought back Chuck Woolery for nostalgia appeal. But I can understand why Fox decided against him.

Chuck was 76 when the reboot premiered, and he's also accumulated political baggage that could have put off some viewers. For instance, a couple miscreants at Game Show Forum pictorially compared Woolery to Adolf Hitler. Sure, that's the kind of nonsense you expect from GSF. (To the board's credit, the mods eventually took down the Hitler pictures.) But broadcast network execs are always scared of political reactions to entertainment personalities.

Still, even at age 76 Chuck might have brought a little more oomph to Love Connection than the humdrum Andy. We'll never know.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Rigging: back to the fifties?

The last time that a game show rigging scandal hit the news was the Our Little Genius rumpus back in 2010.

Before that abortive effort you have to ramble all the way back to the 1950s for rigged game shows, at least as far as anybody will publicly admit. But now a bunch of stories have cropped up in Google News about a supposedly rigged mobile phone game show called Tap That Awesome App. This now defunct show ran on a now defunct Verizon mobile phone channel. That's a lot of defunct.

The reason this story is getting any attention at all is that it involves Olivia Jade Giannulli. If you haven't heard, she's been in the news lately for reasons beyond this blog's ambit. The alleged rigging occurred in 2016 when producers of Tap That Awesome App reportedly forced other contestants to lose so Olivia Jade could win.

Don't ask me if any of this is true. To be honest, the rigging story strikes me as the media piling onto an already wounded target. As you probably know, there's a federal law against rigging game shows. The language of the statute, enacted in 1960, is archaic and of course doesn't envision mobile phone game shows (or mobile phones themselves).

No matter what the statute says, I doubt seriously that there will be any legal troubles over Tap That Awesome App. But it makes for a nice media hoohah.

One other odd note. The host of the show was Hunter March, who later helmed GSN's short-lived Emogenius. And yes, his grandfather was Hal March of $64,000 Question infamy. You can't make this stuff up.

Friday, March 15, 2019


A few posts back I noted that our little genre is reboot-happy. Once a game show format succeeds to any extent at all, somebody starts cooking up a new version or knockoff. Right now we're awaiting the debuts for rewinds of Card Sharks, Press Your Luck and Hollywood Squares.

Yes, as someone once observed, there is nothing new under the sun. Or over the sun, for that matter. If they've got game shows on a planet in the Alpha Centauri system, they're probably rebooting them out there, too. There are only so many ways you can get contestants to play games that people (or Alpha Centaurians) might be interested in watching.

Still, it's kind of depressing to watch the same old formats get recycled in the same old ways. At least GSN threw a few tweaks into the Family Feud format and came up with America Says. GSN won't get any plaudits from the game show Interwebs, but the Nielsen Company has approved. This fall's upcoming 25 Words or Less is a reworking of Password, but it's not quite a paint-by-numbers clone.

Oh well, if ABC can copy old-time Pyramid down to the last detail and get an audience, who am I to complain? They're copying something good, anyway.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

He's a lucky guy

Alex Trebek taped a message for broadcast before today's Jeopardy episode.

In his brief remarks Alex thanked everyone for their good wishes and statements of support. IBM even sent along a note from Watson, the all-conquering gizmo which defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Mr. Trebek summed up his feelings with a sadly ironic phrase: "I'm a lucky guy."

Alex has already resumed taping future Jeopardy eps. The last taping date for this season is April 9, according to I'm sure that Mr. Trebek will make every effort to keep that schedule.

If anyone from Jeopardy reads this board, please add my best wishes to the hundreds of thousands of other messages. Good luck to Alex in facing this brutal challenge.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Jimmy the game show mogul

I've speculated that Jimmy Fallon plays so many game show segments on his talker, that he might as well become a real game show producer.

It looks like it's finally happening, as NBC has ordered ten eps of That's My Jam. It's a musical game show with lots of celebs, based on various segments that Fallon has featured on his late night show. The linked story points out the similarity to Ellen's Game of Games. NBC is no doubt hoping for similarly good news from the Nielsen Company.

No word on a host or debut date. This looks like summer fodder, though, cheap and easy to produce more eps if the ratings are pleasant. I'm not the biggest Fallon fan, but he seems to have a real affection for our little genre. We'll see how his foray into game show production works out. I don't expect another Mark Goodson, but I'll wish Jimmy the best.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Ratings: triple dead heat for syndies

TV News Check did its usual summary of February sweeps ratings. The numbers were tight at the top for our little genre. Or as the site put it: The game show contest was a nail-biter that came down to the wire and ended in a triple dead-heat. The household ratings for the January 31-February 27 sweeps period, with changes from February 2018...

Family Feud 6.7 - down a couple ticks from last year
Wheel of Fortune 6.7 - down a tick
Jeopardy 6.7 - flat
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 1.7 - down a tick in its last February sweep?
Funny You Should Ask 0.5 - flat, as you may have expected

For the week of March 4-10 there wasn't much change for GSN. 407K/291K viewers prime time/total day. The network ranked 33rd and 26th in the windows.

Monday, March 11, 2019

More squares

Hollywood Squares never dies. It just changes its name.

The latest reboot is Nashville Squares, coming this summer on CMT. The country music cable outlet has ordered ten eps of the rewind. The show is technically a spin-off of Hip Hop Squares on sister network VH1. (Don't ask me how they determine which show is technically a spin-off of which other show.)

The linked story says that "CMT is really leaning into the whole Nashville, Tennessee scene." Well, that's where the country music business is headquartered, after all. So if you're going to do Hollywood Squares with a bunch of country music people, "Nashville" seems like a logical title.

No word on a host or any gameplay tweaks. Hip Hop Squares messed around a little with the classic format, not always for the better. The tweak I liked least was not letting civvie contestants play for themselves. I hope Nashville Squares sticks closer to the traditional gameplay.