Thursday, December 31, 2009

Invincible nerd

Sorry for the hiatus in posting, but I've been a traveling man lately. I got back to the Internet just in time to see various lists of the top moments in game shows for the year and for the decade. Funny how these lists pop up at this time of year...and decade.

I'm not going to count down a top ten or a top hundred because I'm too lazy. I'll just pick one moment for the year and one for the decade, with a loose definition of "moment." The top moment of the year has to be the first new broadcast daytime game show in a very long while. I'm not a big fan of Let's Make a Deal in any incarnation, including its latest CBS version. But if LMAD's moderate success helps restore Pyramid to its rightful place in daytime teevee, the show's just fine with me.

The moment of the decade, of course, belongs to the pictured gentleman. Ken Jennings dominated Jeopardy like nobody before or since, and has even built a personal empire on that incredible run of correct questions for the answers. Ken is a hopeless nerd and valiantly unashamed of it, which evokes a bit of pride for nerdy types like moi. I'm an actuary and it doesn't get nerdier than that.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Drawing the line

Apologies for the cliche, but I have a love-hate relationship - well, not really hate, more like mild dislike - with What's My Line. Like almost any game show fan, I'm willing to concede the show's iconic status in the genre's history. Its network and syndie versions lasted for a continuous quarter-century, which is a little longer than most shows last. The regular panelists developed definite and differing personalities, which made for a nice blend...affable Arlene, competitive Dorothy, owlish Bennett. And Mr. Daly obfuscated better than the Federal Reserve Board.

The gameplay was simplicity itself, so there was no learning curve for the viewer. Watch any episode and you could get immediately involved. You could even play along with the civvie contestants by closing your eyes during the silent reveal. The show generated a fair amount of humor and even some suspense as the hunt for the elusive occupation (or identity of the mystery guest) intensified.

My problem is the pervasive snootiness of the proceedings, at least on the original CBS version (the syndie relaxed a little). I realize that the formality looks somewhat charming nowadays, in this era of business casual and everything else casual. But the show sometimes seemed almost petrified in the amber of stuffiness.

Occasionally a guest panelist tried to shake things up, most memorably in Groucho Marx's hilarious attempt to run wild over the format. There were even a couple of onscreen spats between guest panelist Henry Morgan and Bennett Cerf. The publisher's haughty demeanor and WML's general stiffness obviously irritated the iconoclastic Morgan.

YouTube features many complete eps of the original CBS version and scores of shorter clips. I watch them sometimes for the old-fashioned charm. But I still wish the show could have loosened up some. As John Daly huffily commented when the producers suggested some tweaks to the format, they could take that stuff to I've Got a Secret.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The prof's due and the long runs

It's Christmas day and I want to be charitable. So to give Steve Beverly his due, his December 25 newsletter finally did get around to talking about game shows. Nothing special, just a rehash of the possibilities for a Pyramid remake or some other gamer taking the slot of the soon-to-expire As The World Turns.

Steve runs through all the scenarios already discussed exhaustively and exhaustingly on the web...a game show, a talk show, a schedule shift, expanding another soap, or turning the hour or part of it back to the affiliates. He's particularly skeptical about a new chatfest, but I'm not so sure. A talker is about as cheap as a gamer - at least until the host gets established and starts demanding more money - and nowadays cheap is chic in network daytime.

Speaking of daytime, marathons of all sorts have descended on cableland for the holidays. I watched a bit of GSN's long run of Combs Feud yesterday and again remembered how Ray Combs was the show's best all-round host throughout his tenure. He didn't subside into mumbling and boredom as Dawson did. He was quicker with a quip than Karn and less mannered than O'Hurley. And he was better in every way than Anderson, though that's not a high bar.

Today Dawson gets his turn at a lengthy run of Feud on GSN. At least they're using earlier episodes when Richard was still interested in the show. And to take a peek at non-game-show marathons, I spent a few hours with History's Pawn Stars on Christmas Eve. As I stumble into my dotage, I'm getting almost as grumpy as the Old Man.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

They keep dying!

A grim update to my post on Steve Beverly...

Steve has now put out three newsletters since he restarted his e-mail commentary on game shows. Only he has yet to say anything about game shows. Instead all three newsletters have been occupied almost completely by long obituaries for various teevee personalities from bygone decades.

No disrespect intended about the deaths. But gee, Steve, could we move on to something else, anything else...maybe even something about game shows since you call the newsletter the "Game Show Fix"? I've always thought the prof had a secret wish to be the chief obit writer for the New York Times. The wish doesn't look so secret any more.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas, syndies

Must be the holiday season and everybody's in the mood for a good game. Or maybe the wretched weather is just keeping everybody indoors. Whatever the reason, syndicated game shows generally enjoyed good numbers for the week ending December 13. As always Broadcasting & Cable opens the envelope:

Wheel of Fortune 7.5 - up a couple ticks from the previous week
Jeopardy 6.3 - you won't believe this, but Jep did just the same as WoF
Millionaire 2.7 - up noticeably to season high
5th Grader 1.6 - flat
Family Feud 1.4 - up a tick to season high
Deal or No Deal 1.3 - also up a tick to season high

Everything looks bright-eyed and bushy-tailed right now in syndie gamers. And Tiger's keeping the syndie entertainment news shows hopping, too. Total viewer numbers for the top three syndie game shows, courtesy of TV by the Numbers: Wheel of Fortune 12.1 million, Jeopardy 9.8 million, Millionaire 3.7 million. Nice numbers all around.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Anybody know what's on GSN?

GSN has released pdfs of their new schedule with Hidden Agenda and the Carnie Wilson reality show. Let's just say it's an unholy mess. Besides the original runs at Thursday 8:00 PM Eastern, each show also gets rerun sixteen times each week. As if that brainless rerun abuse isn't enough, the reruns are scattered at seemingly random times for each different day, leading to unpredictable preemptions of many shows currently on the schedule.

I'm not even going to try to sort out all the different times and days. You can check BuzzerBlog for the truly gory details. But I will crosspost my reaction to this fiasco from the GSN Classics board. Funny thing, the usual suspects on the Classics board really don't have much to complain about. Only two half-hours of "classic" shows are getting the ax as a result of all this schedule nonsense. But I've got plenty to whine over...

Alex Davis [at BuzzerBlog] has actually advocated scrambling up the 10:00 PM hour on weekdays with different shows. Well, he's getting his wish. The 20Q and Money List [preemption] experiment bombed immediately and got scrapped. We'll see how long this new jumbled schedule lasts. It's a mess all over the place, though the 10:00 PM hour is the wackiest...different literally every day of the week Sunday through Saturday.

I don't want to think that complete idiocy has infected the executive ranks at GSN. So this whole mess of different times and ridiculous rerun abuse of the new reality shows might only be an experiment to see where non-traditional shows do best on the schedule.

Even that explanation is probably too generous. The overwhelming majority of GSN viewers hardly follow every tiny twist and turn of the schedule like we do here [on the GSN Internet boards]. They only know vaguely when their favorite show is on.

So what happens when Aunt Hilda tunes in Friday at 3:30 PM to see that nice Chuck and Shandi hosting that fun word game...and instead she sees some potty-mouthed F-list celeb trying to sweat off weight. My guess is that Aunt Hilda gets real upset, especially if she's seen the same potty-mouth F-list celeb in the same episode a lot of other times when she's tuned in.

Multiply that by tens of thousands of viewers suddenly discovering that their favorite shows have inexplicably disappeared for a day or two for the umpteenth rerun of the F-list celeb or some odd hidden-camera show. You start to think this experiment might not work so swell.

Look, I understand what GSN is doing with the non-traditional stuff. They're tired of demos that skew older than Everest. But this wacko schedule scramble and insane rerun abuse make no sense for any demo.

GSN should introduce the non-traditional stuff gradually and with a minimum of schedule disruption and rerun abuse. Instead, they look like they're trying to alienate all the network's current viewers with scrambled preemptions, and any new viewers with a mindless rerun grind of the new shows.

Naturally stoning along

The GSN Classics board is writhing in emoticoned agony over the network's upcoming foray into reality shows. Posters are wailing that doom is nigh and we should all head for the hills with our wilderness survival kits. The supposedly horrible example of GSN's 2004 reality show about Chuck Woolery, Naturally Stoned, is often invoked in these lamentations.

Funny thing, though. Naturally Stoned wasn't bad at all. Oh sure, the narration was way too coy and snarky, as if we should all snicker at the very thought of a reality show about Chuck Woolery. And the show's initial portrait of the supposedly rosy marriage between Woolery and Teri Nelson proved to be anything but real.

But Chuck came off as a quite likeable guy, very alert and witty especially compared to the usual braindead subjects of these shows. We got some interesting backstage footage of the second season of Lingo, such as producer Phil Gurin's cursing fit when the judges couldn't decide if W-E-A-L-D was a word. There were also some genuinely humorous bits, like Chuck's increasingly desperate hunt for Knudsen's cottage cheese in a grocery store.

The show did okay numbers and was greenlighted for a second season. But genuine reality intruded with Woolery's marital troubles. The last episode of Naturally Stoned offered a mature and reasonable treatment of the issue, with the narration mercifully de-snarked. The final image of a half-smiling, half-rueful Woolery bidding "good night" at a GSN media function was downright memorable.

Of course, none of this makes any difference on the GSN Internet boards. Over there reality shows are considered evil per se and a sure sign of the apocalypse, at least on GSN. Some posters - including one now banned from the boards - have even asserted that the show caused Woolery's divorce. (Absurd, of course. There were far more genuine problems, as media reports at the time made painfully clear.)

But from a more rational and less ideological viewpoint, the show was hardly the worst thing ever inflicted on the network's audience. This was no Extreme Gong, folks.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The prof

Steve Beverly is a communications professor at Union University in Tennessee. A long-time veteran of the TV business, Steve has a special fondness for old game shows. Whenever a game show icon dies, the media tend to get Steve for comments on the passing. His status as the media go-to guy for classic game shows has irritated some other Internet commentators. His unabashedly conservative political views have also rubbed some people the wrong way. "Until he can report his 'news' without bias, and learn some journalism ethics, he has no place to be in the position that he was," runs a typical blast.

I've been pretty hard on Steve myself, partly because his crusade for "family-friendly" game shows is inconsistent. He gets hot and bothered whenever a new game show includes off-color material, but gives a pass to the same stuff on old shows. Steve even appeared on the GSN documentary about Match Game and lavishly praised the show, though the not-so-family-friendly material accumulated pretty thick during the Rayburn frolics.

Steve used to run a website with game show news and views, but he shut that down a while ago. He then put out an e-mail newsletter on game shows, but that eventually went away, too. So imagine my surprise when a brand new newsletter turned up in my inbox this morning. Steve says he's returning to the e-mail wars between semesters at Union.

Unfortunately, this particular newsletter offered little about game shows. Instead, a very long obituary for Connie Hines, an actress who appeared on the 1960s sitcom Mr. Ed, occupied almost all the space. Unfortunately, another penchant of Steve's is War-and-Peace-sized obituaries. But he promises some fresh game show material over the next few weeks.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My TPiR problem

My problem with The Price is Right is simple: I don't care. That's right, I just don't give a bid one way or the other about the show. Lots of people like it, and it's been on CBS longer than the government's been collecting taxes. Which is okay with me - there's no begrudging other people their teevee enjoyments. I just don't watch the show and have never been a fan.

In fact, I'm not much interested in any shopping show, as my previous putdown of Let's Make a Deal might indicate. When it comes to game shows, I can get interested in quizzers, comedy shows, stunt shows, word games, gambling games, just about anything except shopping epics. That's probably because I dislike shopping itself. Trundling through a store or a website looking for bargains always seemed like a waste of time to me. If you gotta buy something, just buy it and move on to more important pursuits. Blogging, for instance.

Best as I can tell because I don't read much of the Internet commentary on the show, TPiR fans tend to split into pro-Barker and pro-Carey factions. The main hangout for the pro-Carey folks seems to be the GSN General board. The pro-Barker types congregate on something called They have big fights with each other, I think...except I don't care enough to follow the fights.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stunts and spiky hair

NBC has picked a guy with spiky white hair. His name is Guy Fieri and he's apparently a star of Food Network, which I never watch but they don't care because the network is doing fine lately. His mission, should he decide to accept it, is hosting a new stunt show on NBC called Perfect Ten. I've always liked stunt shows dating back to the Jurassic-era Beat the Clock with Bud Collyer. From what I've seen of Fieri on YouTube, he could be okay for the show if the director sits on him.

As usual nowadays, the top prize is a million bucks and the show is an hour long. The big shadow of Regis looms over prime time game shows yet again. The show's stunts will all have the same sixty-second time limit, which seems a little monotonous. BtC had the right idea when it varied the limit depending on the degree of difficulty. Anyway, complete ten of the stunts and You Win.

For once Alex Davis at BuzzerBlog isn't dumping on this show sight unseen, for whatever that's worth. Alex's comments, though, are marred by his usual and irritatingly subservient forelock-tugging before supposedly superior British game shows. Perfect Ten was originally scheduled for January but has now been shoved back to later in the season or summer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Captured by Alex

Film blogs are having some fun with Prisoners of Trebek, an in-development indie that trots through "the true story of stand-up comedian Bob Harris who tried to master Jeopardy, but instead found himself and fell in love." The premise sounds like a pancake-flat joke, and the blogs are adding even worse alleged "humor." One scintillating wit wonders if Trebek is a planet or an actual human being.

The star is supposedly Spidey-guy Toby Maguire, also rumored to be in-Hobbiting the upcoming Bored of the Rings prequel. Okay, I'm not a scintillating wit, either. I vaguely remember Bob Harris from Greed, and I'm not crazy about the memories. He always seemed like a smartass who unfortunately was genuinely smart. Wikipedia tells me about his book Prisoner of Trebekistan, and I assume this film project mutated from the agonizingly cute title.

Harris did win eight times on Jeopardy. That's the best thing I know about him, but I'm not inclined to drop any money on this flick. If the film actually gets made, I'll wait until it shows up on the Lifetime Movie Network.

The whining is in full swing

At BuzzerBlog Alex Davis provides more of what is becoming his specialty, unintentional humor. In response to the news about GSN's upcoming Life at Stake, he promises: "Now I know some people [moi, perhaps?] expect a knee jerk reaction from me, saying how terrible this is, how it’s off brand and I can’t really see this going well. But I won’t."

Of course, he then proceeds to dump on the show, sight unseen. For good measure he also unloads on another upcoming reality show from GSN, again sight unseen. (To prove how important the unloading is, he tosses in a little cussing.) To top it off, he praises Newlywed Game and Catch 21, which are only the two least interesting shows on the network right now.

Yes, the whining about GSN's foray into reality shows is in full swing, both at BuzzerBlog and on the GSN boards. Alex predicts doom for all the non-traditional efforts and mentions GSN's previous venture into non-trad shows back in 2004.

Trouble is, that effort eventually produced High Stakes Poker, a non-traditional show which has only become one of GSN's biggest winners in 18-49, the demo that counts most with advertisers. The non-trad dodgeball show even lured some 18-34 viewers, a demo the ancient-skewing GSN usually doesn't know exists.

Even Alex Davis and the GSN Classics board have to realize that GSN's audience is older than most hills. While the network still makes money by cutting costs to the bone, they would also like to attract a few viewers not on Medicare.

I don't know if any of these reality efforts will turn the trick. But I can understand what the network is doing. After a zillion Nielsen charts, it gets pretty obvious that traditional game shows skew really, really, and I mean really old. Is it so terrible for GSN to try a few shows that might attract a slightly less gray-haired audience?

With its current schedule almost completely dominated by traditional game shows, GSN's audience has become the third oldest in all of cableland. That fatal skew has sharply limited the network's growth potential. GSN still isn't even available in 30% of this country's cable/satellite households. Sooner or later GSN has to show advertisers and cable system operators that it can attract at least some viewers in the younger demos.

And there's one thing traditional game shows don't do: deliver a lot of viewers in younger demos. You can complain about ageism and the unfairness of life. But GSN is a commercial operation with no pipeline to the taxpayer's pocket. The network depends on advertisers and system operators. And those folks want to see some younger people watching the the network.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let the whining begin

Over at Carrie Grosvenor notes a casting call for a new GSN reality show called Life at Stake. She comments that it sounds like a cross between The Biggest Loser and Intervention.

The casting call says the show will feature "the most unhealthy individuals and with the help of lifestyle and medical experts, turn their life completely around." The call looks like a pilot - the unhealthy lifestyle in the episode is an addiction to, of all things, exercise.

I can't remember offhand if this was one of the shows mentioned by the Famous Disgruntled Insider in his comments on AJ Benza's blog. Just checked...nope.

Anyway, I'm sure we'll hear the usual complaints, and we already hear some in Carrie's post. An interesting note in Carrie's entry is her opinion that Naturally Stoned was "arguably not terrible." Except for the ridiculous narration, I didn't think the show was bad at all. It even managed a reasonable, mature treatment of Woolery's marital problems.

Found another casting call for the show. It wants you if you're a "CHAIN SMOKER, ALCOHOLIC, SLEEP DEPRIVED, WORKAHOLIC, OVER-WEIGHT, UNDERWEIGHT, HABITUAL DIETER, JUNK FOOD JUNKIE or just plain UNHEALTHY." If you're all of 'em, maybe you get to host!

My old school

Now that I've given Jeff Foxworthy a photo on the blog (see below) I might as well talk a little about his show. On the whole I like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, but then I'm a sucker for quizzers of all sorts. At first I was worried about Foxworthy launching into his redneck standup routine. But he's done a good job of running the game and staying out of the contestants' way. He drops in a quip now and then, but he doesn't hog attention and lets the gameplay proceed unhampered.

The game itself is a little cutesy-pie with the adorable kids, the schoolroom set, and the children's-choir theme song. But giving some air time to smart kids is hardly the worst crime committed by American teevee. The questions are challenging enough and the contestants are a reasonable mix of the astute and the clueless. It's sort of a Millionaire knockoff, but you could say that about any quizzer with a money tree.

The Fox version lasted for over eighty episodes, which is far from terrible, and the syndie has settled into a comfortable fourth place among syndicated game shows. It looks like people may be confessing their intellectual inferiority to fifth graders for a while.

Syndie doings

After the sweeps special last week, Broadcasting & Cable returns to the tried-and-true format for syndie ratings this week. They look at changes from the previous week, not the previous year's sweeps. The game show results for the week ending December 6:

Wheel of Fortune 7.3 - up big from season low in the previous week
Jeopardy 6.1 - guess what, same as WoF, up big from season low
Millionaire 2.4 - down a couple ticks
5th Grader 1.6 - up a tick
Family Feud 1.3 - flat
Deal or No Deal 1.2 - flat

In non-game-related news - at least in this blog's usual sense of "game" - all the syndicated celebrity newsmagazines profited big from Tiger Woods' shenanigans. Nice to know he's helping the syndie economy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Button pressing

The news of As the World Turns' demise has sent game show fans into a tizzy of speculation about putative replacements for the soon-to-croak soap. A pretty funny thread has developed on Matt Ottinger's game show board about the possibilities. One of the most frequently mentioned options is a remake of Press Your Luck, the 1980s show which made random button-pushing into an art form...well, a game show form.

Not everybody is entranced with the thought. One of the board's moderators harrumphs: "Press Your Luck is one of the flimsiest game formats ever to see the light of day. It should never have been put on in the first place." This leads to much anguish from PYL's legion of fans on the board. "Compared to LMAD, it's frigging chess," shouts one of them.

Actually, compared to PYL Deal or No Deal is friggin' chess, with its pile of interesting mathematics tucked beneath the show's surface. You can't calculate odds, expected values or possible future offers on PYL. You can just hit the damn button at some pure-chance moment in time. The only contestant who brought any real intellect to the game is the famous gentleman in the screenshot, Michael Larson.

Of course, everybody on the board disses Whammy, GSN's PYL remake, because it's (sort of) new. Matt's board is as hung up on the distant past as the GSN Classics board. But Whammy was obviously just as good or just as bad as the original. It's a random push of the button on either version, as it would be on any CBS remake.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Russkies a-comin'

Maybe game shows really are back in semi-vogue. ABC is even looking at a Russian format. The original, rather unimaginatively called What? Where? When?, is all the rage in Putinland, says The Hollywood Reporter. Debuting the same year as Amerikanski Wheel of Fortune, the show even features, you guessed it, a multi-colored wheel. It's sort of a quizzer, except it supposedly emphasizes "logical thinking" instead of trivial knowledge. ABC is renaming their version The Six, which at least sounds a little more mysterious.

I ain't great at logical anything myself, but it's nice that a broadcast network is considering a new game show format. The Reporter tells an interesting tale of how the format was pried loose from its owners, the family of the original producer. Appropriately, Merv Griffin Enterprises is producing the American version of a show with a big wheel. There will be a few tweaks to the original format, including an on-set host instead of the original's disembodied voice.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hiding the agenda

The pilot formerly known as Honey Please has morphed into Hidden Agenda, and the show makes its GSN debut on January 14. The press release describes the gimmick: "One member of a couple attempts to persuade his or her partner to complete a series of challenges - without letting on that the world is watching." Well, for GSN the world means maybe three or four hundred thousand viewers. Anyhoo, the show sounds innocuous enough and might even be occasionally entertaining.

Comic Debi Gutierrez hosts. She does raunchy standup but cleans up her act for some neutered PBS epic called A Place of Our Own. Like every other dirt-dull show on PBS, it won a Peabody award for being so damn boring. Michael Davies produces Hidden Agenda, and he's still looking for his next big hit after Millionaire. He did okay with GSN's revamps of Newlywed Game and Chain Reaction, but doing okay on GSN hardly qualifies as a big or even small-to-medium hit.

On the GSN Classics board they're moaning that this apparent piece of fluff is a sign of the apocalypse, or maybe even the second coming of Carrot Top. I particularly like the guy who tells us how many GSN-free days he's completed. As if anybody cares. Truth to tell, the show hardly sounds substantial enough to be the sign of an afternoon nap. But the Classics board gets conniption fits over any show less than twenty years old.

Over at BuzzerBlog Alex Davis is also slapping around the show, sight unseen. Alex does a good job of that. Gee, you might think that watching a show first could be a good idea.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sweeping the syndies

Broadcasting & Cable offers a little different take on syndie ratings this week. They compare the numbers for the full November sweeps period to the sweeps last year. The results:

Wheel of Fortune 7.3 - down a bit compared to November, 2008
Jeopardy 6.1 - different from WoF (!) and up a little
Millionaire 2.6 - up a tick
5th Grader 1.7 - the rookie does respectably
Family Feud 1.3 - down noticeably
Deal or No Deal 1.2 - down more than noticeably

The shows are all hanging in above the dreaded 1.0, but DOND may be hurting due to a bad year-to-year stumble. Family Feud is also limping, but it's so insanely cheap that it'll probably survive.

For the week ending November 29, TV by the Numbers reports that Wheel of Fortune averaged 10.2 million viewers, Jeopardy 8.0 million, and Millionaire 3.6 million. All these figures are within normal limits, as the medicos say.

Alfonso and the white yuppies

Alfonso Ribeiro, host of GSN's Catch 21, gave an interview a while back to some left coast blog. For the most part the chat was a puffy nothing about his career. But the final question got a little, let's say, interesting. Alfonso took a wild swing at today's sitcoms, alleging that "white yuppie America" had somehow ruined the genre on broadcast TV:

"To be 100 percent honest with you, I think that 'Must See TV' which NBC ran for years, killed the sitcom. It killed it because they continued to put out the same shows over and over again to a group of people that don't watch network television. White yuppie America doesn't watch network television. They watch HBO. They watch Showtime. They watch FX. They watch the History Channel. They watch National Geographic. They're not watching regular network television. But they continue to make shows for those people and the numbers continue to drop. They continue to push to a certain group in America that was themselves, but they don't watch television, themselves. It killed the genre."

I criticized this comment harshly on GSN's Internet board, and my posts got censored. Fair enough, I was getting pretty personal in my attack on Ribeiro. So I'll bring the criticism over here. It's still going to be pretty personal, though.

First, "the numbers continue to drop" not because of some "white yuppie" groupthink among network execs - an unpleasant and unnecessary racial comment - but because broadcast network ratings of all kinds have fallen off a cliff. All sorts of viewers, not just the sneered-at "those people"/"a certain group"/"white yuppies", have found many alternatives to the broadcasters on cable. In fact, sitcoms of various sorts continue to do fairly well on broadcast television, compared to today's broadcast competition. Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, for instance, landed in the top ten for the week ending November 29.

Which happens to be much better than Alfonso's own '90s sitcom, Fresh Prince, usually managed. That show never made the top ten and didn't even make the top thirty in three of its six seasons, according to Ribeiro either doesn't know any of these numbers and thus has no clue what he's talking about, or he ignores the numbers to make a phony argument about his dreaded "white yuppies" ruining the sitcom genre. Adjusting for the huge falloff in all broadcast ratings, network sitcoms are holding their own, and some are performing considerably better than Alfonso's own show did.

I'll admit that I'm not a particular fan of Ribeiro or Catch 21. Alfonso is way too loud and in-your-face for my taste, and the show is a so-so (at best) mishmash of pop-culture questions and blackjack. Yes, the show does well for GSN in first runs at 6:30 PM, though it fades in reruns and the 9:30 PM retread has never worked.

Still, even with my personal biases admitted, I don't buy Ribeiro's sneer at today's sitcoms and I dislike his racial comment. Next time a blog comes round, Alfonso, stick to the puffy stuff about your career.

Another face from Match Game

Remember Joe Santos? Probably not, unless you were a big Rockford Files fan. That was Joe's biggest break, when he played rumpled, chummy detective Dennis Becker opposite tall, unruffled James Garner. The perfect sidekick and a natural for friendly cop roles, Santos also showed up in Hardcastle and McCormick and Magnum P.I., among other sleuth skeins. More recently he landed a recurring role in The Sopranos, where he got whacked, unfortunately.

Joe's rumpledness and chumminess made him a natural for game shows, which dislike and expose pretentiousness of any kind. For some thirty episodes Match Game put Joe in the number one seat, upper left, where the producers tended to position affable types who might get occasional laughs. That's where I saw him today on GSN's Match Game PM. Joe smiled and got along with everybody and even won ten grand for a cute blonde contestant in the big money match.

Joe's long IMDb page doesn't list any other game shows, which mildly surprises me. He seemed like a natural on Match Game, though he might have been a little at sea on challenging games like Pyramid. But for something like a celebrity version of Family Feud, he would have been perfect.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

As the world stops turning

Another soap has rinsed away. CBS is cancelling As the World Turns effective September 2010. The actors in the photo are suitably depressed. But over at Carrie Grosvenor is gleefully speculating that the Eye Network (warning, Variety-speak) might bring back Pyramid to replace the axed sudser. The network looked at a Pyramid remake recently.

This is one speculation that I hope comes true. CBS also canned Guiding Light and replaced it with the Wayne Brady version of Let's Make a Deal. That remake of a game show classic hasn't been a huge hit by any means. In fact, it's only pulling about the same numbers as the woeful soap it displaced. Brady is nothing special and the format has never interested me much. But the game show is almost certainly cheaper than any soap, and that's a powerful advantage in these days of double-digit unemployment.

Pyramid would be a far more welcome addition to daytime CBS. I've always been a huge fan of the format, a dramatic improvement on Bob Stewart's original Password. The latest incarnation with Donny Osmond was more than worthy and got respectable ratings. But Sony stupidly axed it for some loser talk show. Let's hope CBS will be smarter and bring back the Winner's Circle.

UPDATE: To give soap fans their due, I'll quote without comment this lament: "It's another dark day for soap operas. CBS soap fans will never invite cheesy, revamped updates of old game shows into their living rooms. We don't need the games CBS is playing and the game show lineup will never become the Walmart of daytime television as long as fans of GL and ATWT have anything to say about it."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dumping on a show, sight unseen

Over at BuzzerBlog Alex Davis is dissing Our Little Genius, the upcoming Fox effort featuring brainiac kids. Of course, Alex hasn't seen the show yet, but that doesn't stop the pan. Alex is also an enormous fan of Catch 21 and Alfonso Ribeiro, so there really is no accounting for tastes.

All that said, the show does sound like an iffy retread of 5th Grader. The major twist is that the kiddies' parents get to decide whether the brainiacs proceed to the next question in the money tree. This offers possibilities for some onscreen spats between mommies and daddies and their offspring. Given Alex's usual taste for edgier fare, you'd think this might attract him.

At worst the show is a quizzer with some tough questions. That doesn't sound hopelessly (or even hopefully) horrible. Alex mentions the Hollywood Junket sneak preview of the show, which is snippy towards host Kevin Pollak but otherwise pretty bland. I tend to distrust Hollywood Junket ever since they belched a very favorable sneak preview of Catch 21, though.

Bob is back...briefly

GSN is touting the January 7 episode of its in-house Newlywed Game, which will feature the legendary Bob Eubanks (except he's a lot funnier than most legends). Frankly, GSN should have used Eubanks for the entire show, but they wanted Carnie Wilson as "one of the faces of the network." Please refrain from rude jokes about that face.

The Eubanks versions of Newlywed Game were staples on GSN for many years, and the network even did a relatively recent marathon of Bob's episodes. It's really hard to understand why they didn't get Eubanks for the new version instead of the completely inexperienced Wilson. They were worried about the demos turning even more ancient than usual for GSN, I guess.

Eubanks was the ultimate in snark hosts, long before the Wicked Witch on Weakest Link. But Bob also knew when to stop the acidity and play nice, or at least neutral. He's never really enjoyed another huge success besides Newlywed Game, though he's been more than competent on other shows. He's so closely associated with the franchise that almost everybody (outside the Wilson household) was rooting for him to host GSN's version. He'll get one measly episode, anyway.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cleaning up the board

If you don't read the GSN Internet board, don't bother with this post. But Brendy, the always tolerant moderator of the board, has finally had enough. Lately the board has become way too obnoxious thanks to a few way too obnoxious posters. Brendy finally banned one of the most frequent offenders and warned the others:

"The threads are deleted because they turn into fights and personal attacks. They will continue to be deleted as long as the message board rules are not followed. I will also be closing threads that complain about deleted threads. If something is deleted, it's for a reason. Thanks."

It's just like Brendy to add a "thanks" to the warning. She's the most polite and reasonable of moderators, allowing even the harshest and most personal criticism of GSN and its execs. But a few posters have poisoned the atmosphere by attacking any fellow poster who dares to disagree with their emphatic opinions.

I won't deny that I'm biased here, because I've been on the receiving end of some of the attacks. But if the GSN board is going to have rules, they might as well be enforced. And the rules are explicit: "Don't attack or be abusive towards others when their views on a game, host, show, etc. are different from your own. Debate and discuss the topic, but if it gets personal it gets deleted."

UPDATE: Speaking of GSN, there seems to be some confusion over its schedule. Zap2it and other online sources show the weekday schedule returning to its current form after a one-week stunt for Catch 21 at 11:00 AM (the death slot opposite TPiR) and 1 vs. 100 at 10:00 PM, and a two-week stunt for I've Got a Secret at 3:30 AM.

Alex Davis, the biggest Catch 21 fan on earth, fervently hopes that Alfonso has gotten another permanent slot at 11:00 AM. I dislike Alfonso myself, but my guess is that GSN will go with anything which can fetch numbers opposite TPiR. If Alfonso succeeds - or if he just doesn't fail as badly as previous timeslot occupants - he may get the slot for a while.

As for 1 vs. 100 permanently each weeknight, that looks like a stretch for a show with only 28 episodes, even by GSN's loose standards of rerun abuse. We'll see soon enough.

UPDATED UPDATE: GSN's online schedule, which is usually though not always accurate, shows that Catch 21 and 1 vs. 100 will continue in their new slots the week of December 14. I like Saget and I don't like Ribeiro, and I still worry about ridiculous rerun abuse of 1 vs. 100. But if you don't like the GSN schedule, wait a minute.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Smart kids get comic host

Fox's new Our Little Genius has a host: actor and stand-up comic Kevin Pollak. Not exactly an A-list name. But as Carrie Grosvenor points out, game show producers must figure stand-up comics can think quick on their feet. That's why they call them stand-ups, I guess. Carrie also spells the guy's name "Pollack." As another stand-up comic of some repute once respect, I tell ya, no respect. (UPDATE: Carrie has now corrected the spelling. But Alex Davis still slips up once on BuzzerBlog. UPDATED UPDATE: Alex has now fixed his spelling mistake, too. Nice to see accuracy winning out.)

Fox is definitely giving the show a chance, with a plum debut slot right after American Idol. Smart kids worked pretty well on 5th Grader, but involving parents in the gameplay makes things a little edgier, Fox-style. My cynical self says Fox is hoping for on-screen spats between kiddies and parents.

Found an interesting quote from Pollak on his IMDb page:

"I am completely and utterly hooked to all the great shows on A&E and Court TV that are about small town murder. These shows like Forensic Files, City Confidential, I just can't get enough of them. It's always the same sort of deal. You know that they interview the actual people that lived through the experience. I miss Paul Winfield as the host of City Confidential, may he rest in peace."

A man after my own true-crime-loving heart. Except I don't miss Winfield on City Confidential. He was a little too arch and sarcastic in his narrative tone. And sadly, it's not Court TV now. It's something called truTV, whatever that means. (It actually means a lot of lame reality shows.)

Also, A&E can't be bothered with City Confidential any more. They dumped the show on the low-rent Biography channel, so A&E would have more room for classy stuff like Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Syndies maintain

Not much action in the syndication numbers for the latest week ending November 22. All the gamers stuck pretty close to the previous week, which wasn't bad at all. Broadcasting & Cable, as always, delivers the goods:

Wheel of Fortune 7.3 - down a couple ticks from season high in previous week
Jeopardy 6.2 - lo and behold, same as WoF
Millionaire 2.6 - second week of the Tournament of Ten maintains season high
5th Grader 1.7 - also flat at season high
Family Feud 1.3 - guess what, flat at season high
Deal or No Deal 1.2 - hey, up a tick!

Slightly good news for Howie...for a change. Things look pretty healthy in general.

UPDATE: The cheery guys at TV by the Numbers report that Wheel of Fortune averaged 11.8 million viewers for the week. The averages for Jeopardy and Millionaire were 9.6 million and 3.7 million, respectively. The guys also comment in honor of WoF:

"In the numbers reported below for Monday Night Football (Browns Ravens on 11/16), 10.196 million of the viewing was on ESPN, and .625 million of the viewing came from the local markets or the 'syndicated' portion. But Nielsen reports the whole 10.821 million in the syndicated reports. Normally I just ignore it, but I bring it up this week to pay homage to Pat & Vanna. Because even with the erroneous 10.196 million included in, Wheel of Fortune still bested Ravens/Browns!"

GSN, fifteen and still alive

The network almost didn't make it, but GSN just celebrated its fifteenth birthday. Back in 2000-01 the Play Every Day outlet was hemorrhaging red ink and looking terminal. GSN could have easily gone the way of Nick GAS. Luckily, Liberty Media stepped in and assumed a half-interest. They brought in a competent exec named Rich Cronin to clean up the mess, and he turned the network profitable.

GSN continues to make money despite modest and very old-skewing ratings. The secret is dirt-cheap programming. Hardly anybody else wants used game shows, so GSN can rustle up hundreds of episodes for a song...or at least not too many songs. As Variety noted, GSN's entire programming budget is around fifty million a year, about what ESPN pays for one (1) NFL game.

Sure, ESPN pulls much bigger audiences. But GSN has established a lucrative niche in a happily inexpensive genre. That's why Liberty has increased its stake in GSN to 65% and kept hold of the network through its endless reorganizations. They want that cash flow. Not to mention that GSN offers genuine growth opportunities on the web with its gaming sites.

Reaction around the Internet to GSN's fifteenth birthday has been mixed at best. Grumpy classics fans are still bewailing GSN's steady move (over at least the last ten years now) towards more recent shows. Sorry to point out the obvious, but that move has helped the network double its household availability from those dark days at the turn of the millennium.

I loves me my Match Game as much as anybody, but I can understand what the network is doing. Musty shows just don't draw audiences, something made painfully clear from GSN's detailed timeslot numbers published on Mediaweek. In fact, I think the current much-maligned schedule is one of the most consistently entertaining GSN has offered. In my non-humble opinion the worst things on the card are the Goldhill originals, Newlywed Game and Catch 21, and they're not terrible, just mediocre-to-poor. I can tune into the network almost at random (except during the overnight infomercial-fest) and see something I enjoy.

The grumpies also complain that GSN runs too few shows. This isn't really true by cable standards. There's more than enough variety on the network...just not all the oldies the grumblers would like. This is cable, after all, where History runs Pawn Stars until it's pawned out, Discovery drives Cash Cab 88 gazillion times a week, and ESPN makes everybody sick of Sportscenter. Singling out GSN for abuse on this issue is more than a little unfair. And lately the network seems to be mixing things up a bit, with stunts like the short run of classic I've Got a Secret beginning next week.

So all in all, this game show freak is content with GSN as is. Even more important, I'm very happy that there's any game show network at all. The sad fate of Nick GAS is a cautionary tale.