Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bet on Groucho

The game show most associated with the immortal (and wittily immoral) Groucho Marx was, of course, not much of a game show at all. You Bet Your Life, which graced NBC's prime time schedule for eleven seasons from 1950 through 1961, was almost entirely an interview/monologue vehicle for the mustached wonder.

Yes, they played some silly quizzer sooner or later, and a contestant could always say the secret word and win an enema. But who cared about the game? Groucho's banter and bluster was so much more important than the gameplay that the show could work just as well on radio. In fact, the show originated as a radio program on ABC in 1947, before migrating to CBS radio and then to its most famous locale at NBC TV and radio.

Announcer and super-deferential straight man George Fenneman played Groucho's hapless foil for all those many years. Somehow the two remained friends despite Groucho's endless needling. Fenneman even told the story of how, when he visited the enfeebled Mr. Marx in the 87-year-old comedian's last year, he had to walk Groucho to bed. "Fenneman," said Groucho weakly, "you always were a lousy dancer."

The contestants also did their best to stay out of Groucho's way as he played off their stories and their foibles. Besides the usual civvies lots of celebs showed up for their fair share of the Groucho treatment, everybody from Colonel Harlan Sanders to General Omar Bradley. After NBC finally swung the ax, the show went into eternal reruns and many episodes have now fallen into the public domain.

A forgettable and forgotten remake with Bill Cosby lasted for a few months in 1992-93. The show can't ever be remade properly, of course, unless they remake Groucho. Which isn't likely. They really did break the mold with that guy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cubed

Reports have surfaced (rumors swirl, reports surface) that CBS will try a pilot of British stunt gamer The Cube. Neil Patrick Harris will apparently fly to London later this year to tape the pilot on the set of the sort-of hit.

Cube rooters - ouch - Carrie Grosvenor and Alex Davis are all atwitter at the news. I've always liked stunt shows myself, all the way back to the paleozoic Beat the Clock. Carrie wonders if NBC knockoff Minute To Win It, set for a March debut, might dissuade CBS from trying the oh-so-similar Cube.

Depends on the numbers, Carrie. If Minute clicks, Cube will follow. Good news from Nielsen Media Research breeds copycats faster than ordinary cats breed other cats. If Minute flops, CBS will find something else to do. Maybe they'll fire Letterman and start another ruckus in late night!

Friday, January 29, 2010

GSN number-palooza, part trois

Our old friend "Douglas" at Mediaweek has published another week, January 18-24, of GSN numbers for this hopeless actuary to play with. A few (okay, more than a few) notes:

1) The overall averages for prime time/total day are 325K/244K viewers. By GSN's usual standards that's not really a bad week. But it's a big comedown from the blowout week of January 4-10. And you don't have to look far to see why...

2) The unarguably asinine reruns of Carnie reality and Hidden Agenda are killing GSN's ratings and probably hurting the numbers for many shows they've preempted. The ridiculous nineteen showings of Carnage averaged a pitiful 159K. Hidden Agenda's absurd overexposure of eighteen showings performed even worse at 108K. Look for this nonsense to get cut back quick.

3) To give the new shows a tiny bit of credit, the original showings at 8:00 PM Thursday did better at 361K and 202K, respectively. That's still not great, of course. Hidden Agenda looks like a goner for sure, which is too bad because I personally prefer it to Carnie's reality mess. You may have noticed that I'm not the biggest Carnie fan.

4) Despite my evident non-love for Carnie, I must admit that her Newlywed Game enjoyed a good week, 433K at 6:00 PM and 430K at 9:00 PM. And much as I dislike Alfonso's yellfest hosting style, Catch 21 turned in a good 442K average at 6:30 PM, though the prime time retread at 9:30 PM typically did much worse at 313K.

5) The old reliables came through: Karn with 483K at 8:00 PM, O'Hurley with 510K at 8:30 PM, and Howie with 415K around the clock (including a thumping 489K at 7:00 PM). GSN, don't preempt the Feud hour at 8:00 PM. And thank your lucky stars for Mr. Mandel, who gives you good numbers no matter where you put Deal or No Deal.

6) Wheel of Fortune's last week on GSN was forgettable, a 97K average in the death slot vs. TPiR. Poker continues to burn out on Sunday night, though the reruns at least stand up better than the constant retreads of Carnage and Hidden Agenda. But that's very faint praise.

7) The scrambled schedule at 10:00 PM isn't working at all. The only show which did respectable numbers for the prime time slot was, of course, Deal or No Deal on Thursday with 371K and Friday with 406K. Everything else fell below the prime time average, sometimes way below.

8) To show how preemptions can hurt numbers, Lingo dropped to a 240K average, well off its January 4-10 performance. Of course, four of Lingo's ten slots were preempted by goofball reruns of Carnage and Hidden Agenda. The same thing happened to many other shows, depressing GSN's total day numbers even further. The idiotic reruns not only stink themselves, they harm other shows as well.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

To say or not to say

Somewhere on this blog I mentioned my hopeless addiction to word games. I even like knockoffs of other word games...when they're done well enough, anyway. You Don't Say was Ralph Edwards' 1960s imitation of Password, and I still remember it fondly from my wordy and misspent youth.

In fact, Edwards performed the sincerest form of flattery so thoroughly that Password's producers at Goodson-Todman sued. Wikipedia (usual caveats) relates the odd outcome: "Although Goodson-Todman did not win the case, they did win an unusual concession from Andrews-Yagemann: [Tom] Kennedy's podium on You Don't Say had to be moved to the end of the playing table from the center where it originally stood, since the original set layout did indeed look very similar to that of Password."

The picture shows an absurdly young-looking Tom Kennedy behind his podium in a 1967 episode of You Don't Say. Sadly, almost all of the show's 1963-69 run and its brief, much altered return in 1975 are now gone with the tape-erasing wind. YouTube offers a few of the surviving pottery fragments. An even briefer syndie version expired in 1978-79 after the fabled thirteen weeks.

The first and most important version copied Password so slavishly that it even suffered the same Big Problem: a rather dawdling pace. Bob Stewart had the right idea when he made everything the lightning round and called it Pyramid. I can tolerate a less than breakneck pace on word games, though. I'm hooked.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lyrical news

Broadcasting & Cable's intrepid syndie sleuth Paige Albiniak reports that Fox's warbling game show Don't Forget the Lyrics will resurface in syndication this fall. Rumors had swirled (like rumors always do) that Twentieth Television would launch another syndie gamer to accompany the second season of 5th Grader. I've never been a diehard fan of crooner game shows, but Lyrics ain't the worst I've seen. Rock heartthrob and onetime Extra host Mark McGrath will host.

The show will also replace Deal or No Deal on MyNetwork, which pretty well bids sayonara to Howie and his suitcases. Paige tiptoes a bit but allows that "industry observers expect Deal to end its syndicated run after this season." GSN probably can't wait to pick up the syndie eps, anyway, because Howie has reinvigorated the network's sometime grim Nielsen numbers. Looks like the Play Every Day network might soon have both broadcast and syndie Deal or No Deal all to itself.

So seven syndie gamers are currently lined up for the fall: the Twin Towers, Millionaire, 5th Grader, Family Feud, Lyrics and Cash Cab. The genre looks a bit crowded but game shows are cheap, and cheapness appeals to everybody in the business right now.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

GSN number-palooza, el segundo

I've seen some reaction around the web to the GSN total viewer numbers published on Mediaweek for the week of January 4-10. It's interesting that nobody bothered to calculate the total day and prime time averages except moi. Maybe it's just the number-crunching mentality of an actuary...or maybe the network's endless critics didn't like the good news of very good numbers, at least by past GSN standards.

About the only grudging admission of the glad tidings centered on Bob Eubanks' fine performance for his appearance on Newlywed Game. I loves me my classic Newlywed Bob as much as anybody, but he was hardly the reason for GSN's stellar performance. Sadly, he only got one (1) of the 132 rated hours in the week.

The true reasons for GSN's great week are named Mandel, Karn, O'Hurley and Saget. The first two are anathema to the GSN Classics board and Matt Ottinger's board, and the last two aren't exactly favorites. Naughty me couldn't help posting Howie's superb numbers on the GSN board, though.

GSN scrambled their schedule the following week with a bazillion asinine reruns of Carnie reality and Hidden Agenda. My guess is that the total viewer numbers suffered considerably, though these shows are obviously demo plays, not targeted at total viewer ratings.

Alex Davis of Buzzerblog posted some ratings for the new shows' debuts, then changed them. Who knows how the shows really performed? When it comes to ratings, I trust TV by the Numbers, Broadcasting & Cable and Mediaweek a whole lot more than I trust BuzzerBlog.

Friday, January 22, 2010

GSN number-palooza

The ratings-loving "Douglas" has posted another complete set of GSN total viewer numbers on Mediaweek, covering the week of January 4-10. My actuarial self loves to download these numbers into Excel and set the data parsing and sorting functions to work. The results:

1) This was a great week by GSN standards. The network averaged 438K/317K viewers prime time/total day. USA Network would sneer at these figures, but they're the best I've ever seen for lowly GSN. Sure, January is a big viewing month for all teevee, but GSN didn't get anywhere near these numbers last January.

2) Howie is the most important single reason for the big draw. Syndie Deal or No Deal may be in trouble, but Mr. Mandel remains GSN's new savior. He averaged 474K viewers for twenty-two hours of the schedule, or 17% of the entire programming week. And he only got one hour of prime time! He delivered great numbers around the clock. No wonder the network is giving him another run in the afternoon.

3) Deal or No Deal performed especially well at 7:00 PM with a 535K viewer average. That fed a large audience into prime time, and the Karn and O'Hurley runs of Family Feud didn't let the viewers go. They both averaged 540K viewers in prime.

4) Bob Eubanks pulled the biggest audience of the week for his appearance on Newlywed Game, an amazing 718K viewers. GSN, why didn't you just get Bob for every episode? Okay, the demos would skew old, but that's true for every traditional game show.

5) Despite the rerun abuse, 1 vs. 100 more than pulled its weight in prime time with a 462K average. That run is now history but Saget did his bit for GSN.

6) Poker is burning out from horrendous rerun abuse. The new season of High Stakes Poker can't get here soon enough, and the shows should be cut back to just two or three hours on Sunday night.

7) Regis keeps on keeping on, averaging 348K at the witching hour. Of course, he enjoys Howie's lead-in at 11:00 PM, which generated a whopping 447K average. Howie is keeping this network afloat.

8) Personal favorite Lingo did fine in the middle of the afternoon with a 344K average. The much maligned Chain Reaction, which I like because it's a good show, also chipped in on weekday afternoons with 310K. Both shows have withstood nasty rerun abuse very well, because nobody can remember all the word puzzles.

9) All this was before the insane reruns of Carnie reality and Hidden Agenda took over the schedule. Also, there's no demo information, just total viewer numbers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dear John letter

Odd that I used a shot of John O'Hurley on Family Feud for my weekly post about syndie game show ratings. Because John won't be around Feud much longer. He's leaving after this season, to be replaced by comic Steve Harvey. That makes four seasons for O'Hurley, matching his predecessor Richard Karn and outdistancing Karn's predecessor Louie Anderson by one year.

I have mixed feelings about O'Hurley. I'm definitely not one of John's superfans like Alex Davis at BuzzerBlog. O'Hurley was quick with a quip but sometimes seemed a little too mannered and patrician for an everyman genre like game shows. I will say that he tempered the mannerisms over the years, especially his annoyingly fake reaction to the buzzer in the fast money round.

Ratings declined steadily over O'Hurley's tenure, but he really can't be blamed for that. Over-the-air teevee has seen all its numbers tumble as the cable monster has grown. Ratings for the current edition of Feud peaked in Karn's second season and have headed south ever since.

I don't know much about Steve Harvey, never really watched any of his shows. I've read varied reactions around the web to his hiring, but I'll have to wait and see how he adapts from comedian to game show host.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cold outside, syndies prosper

It's January, the weather is lousy, and TV staring is up. So it's no surprise that syndicated game shows enjoyed very good numbers for the week ending January 10, with several shows hitting season highs. Broadcasting & Cable spreads the post-holiday cheer:

Wheel of Fortune 7.6 - up nicely to a season-high
Jeopardy 6.2 - incredible, but followed WoF up the ladder
Millionaire 2.8 - also a season-high
5th Grader 1.8 - also a season-high
Family Feud 1.5 - also a season-high
Deal or No Deal 1.3 - too bad, Howie breaks the pattern, not a season-high

Meanwhile, the tireless Paige Albiniak reports that 5th Grader has already earned a second-season renewal and many clearances in top markets. Good for Jeff and the gang. I like to see quizzers prosper. Paige also volunteers that the 5th Grader retreads on MyNetwork are performing well for the "programming service" or whatever they call it now, pulling an average of 2.6 million viewers.

The news ain't so great for Howie. Paige says Deal or No Deal is "on the bubble" for a third season, which I've also heard from other game show pundits. I like the suitcase antics, but the format may have worn out its welcome after hundreds of broadcast and syndie episodes.

UPDATE: TV by the Numbers offers total viewer numbers for the top three syndie gamers. They're all very good, as you would expect from the healthy household ratings: 12.5 million for Wheel of Fortune, 9.8 million for Jeopardy, and 3.9 million for Millionaire. Pat and Alex topped all syndies in total viewers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Agenda completed

Finally got around to absorbing one of GSN's 97,346,121 reruns of Hidden Agenda. All I can say is: what's the ruckus about? To hear some of the yelps on the GSN Classics board, you'd think this show heralds the doom of western (and every other) civilization. Instead, what shows up onscreen is a harmless bit of fun, some goofy stunts in front of hidden cameras. Sure, the show rips off Candid Camera, but at least they're ripping off something good. And the gimmick of having one player in on the secret is a nice twist.

I figure they picked one of the best eps for the premiere. The couple was attractive and likable, and the husband proved a good enough sport to go along with his wife's goofball requests. I can see how the format could disintegrate into boring quarrels and non-action, but those efforts probably won't make it to air.

Only one problem: low-rent host Debi Gutierrez apparently graduated with honors from the Alfonso Ribeiro School of Loud and Obnoxious Game Show Hosting. Very fortunately, she gets little time onscreen. The producers must not be idiots. Now let's hope that GSN will stop most of the idiotic reruns. The greatest game show in history couldn't withstand all those retreads.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Manic minute

NBC has changed the name from Perfect 10 to Minute to Win It, but the premise remains the same. Contestants must finish ten stunts in a minute each to win a million bucks. Beat the Clock meets Millionaire, you might say.

The show has started taping, so naturally details about some of the stunts have leaked. They sound dumb enough to interest me, like nodding your head 150 times in the magic sixty seconds. I can't recall Bud Collyer putting his charges through something exactly like that, but it's the spirit that counts.

Minute to Win It gets a throwaway Saturday night slot at 8:00 PM beginning March 14. NBC can't possibly expect very good ratings in the slot, so the show could squeak by even with pretty miserable numbers. Given the stunts, I doubt the prize budget will undergo enormous strain. Carrie Grosvenor thinks the show has promise but worries about the timeslot. I'd worry more if the show was on CBS in a slot expected to perform halfway decently. Remember Million Dollar Password?

Guy Fieri gets his crack at hosting a game show, and I assume the producers will tone down his act a little but not too much. He's goofy enough for a dumb show like this, so the whole thing just might work. See you in March, Guy.

UNRELATED UPDATE: A while back I said I would be interested in Steve Beverly's take on the Our Little Genius semi-rigging ruckus. The prof finally got around to the hoohah in a newsletter I just received. After trotting through much of the expected historical background - nobody trots through historical background like Steve - he cuts to the chase: "When a game show has the slightest taint of scandal, it's a dead duck."

I agree. The show will never air. Steve also sounds suspicious of the show's producer, Mark Burnett. But that may just be a by-product of the prof's loathing for the reality genre, where Burnett has toiled for years.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hubba-hubba

The upcoming replacement for Discovery Kids has a name and a logo. It's not quite HASBRO but it's close: HUB. The official press release still makes the network look like one very long infomercial for Hasbro products.

At about.com Carrie Grosvenor dumps cold water on overheated speculation that the new channel could become some kind of competitor for GSN. Although the release mentions "game shows," the programming will obviously target kiddies and their toy-buying mommies and daddies. Any crazy thoughts that The Hub - the name sounds dumb even by juvenile standards - would suddenly start programming black-and-white What's My Line look even crazier now.

The sad fate of Nickelodeon GAS may indicate that the channel won't emphasize gamers of any sort. The press release touts The Hub's programming as "ranging from new comedies and animated adventures to live-action franchises and game shows." You'll notice that game shows come last.

By the way, I just noticed Urban Dictionary squawking that anybody using the term "hubba-hubba" should be "flogged & fined." I ain't worried. I can take care of myself if any of the nerds from Urban Dictionary come around.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Twittering

Just saw a funny bit on BuzzerBlog. Alex Davis actually uses Twitter comments to critique GSN's reality show with Carnie Wilson, which debuted tonight. An unfriendly observer might use this item to question Alex's grip on reality. But he's plenty smart enough to denounce the "dumb Twitter crowd" even as he quotes them to support his own dislike (sight unseen, of course) for the show.

Apparently that crowd generally liked GSN's Hidden Agenda, also debuting tonight. As you might expect, Alex doesn't quote those favorable remarks. I haven't seen either show, but GSN is rerunning them 88 times a week so I'll catch them sooner or later and post my own comments...though not on Twitter.

In a non-game-show bit Alex also announces that he's on Team Conan. When it comes to late night I'm on Team Nobody. I don't much care for Jay or Conan or Dave or any of 'em. Their monologues are often dumb, they can't interview anybody very well, and their alleged comedy bits tend to be downright painful. Other than that, the shows are fine.

Acey deucey is a snoozey

For reasons of nostalgia - there can be no other good reasons - the ancient acey-deucey-inspired Card Sharks has a lot of fans on the Internet. This boring format based on a boring card game somehow survived a few seasons on NBC and then a few more on CBS. They even tried a couple syndie versions, both of which flopped in a hurry.

But rose-tinted specs directed toward the good old days have given this dull game a haze of respectability. The show rewarded brilliant contestants for deciding whether a card was higher or lower than an eight. Even more fascinating were the goofball survey questions ripped off from Match Game and Family Feud. Okay, all the shows were Goodson-Todman productions, so technically the producers were ripping off themselves.

At least the show had competent hosts, though even Bill Cullen in his prime couldn't have kept this thing going for more than two or three years. GSN has rerun various versions but the show has never been a big winner for the network despite the vocal Internet fan club. The format surfaced for what will probably be its last original episode on CBS's 2006 Gameshow Marathon.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Happy new syndie year

Syndicated game shows bounced back from the Christmas doldrums to post generally improved numbers in the week ending January 3. Broadcasting & Cable toasts the new year:

Wheel of Fortune 7.0 - up some
Jeopardy 5.8 - see WoF, as always
Millionaire 2.6 - up a couple ticks
5th Grader 1.6 - flat
Family Feud 1.4 - up a tick
Deal or No Deal 1.3 - also up a tick

Decent numbers all around. I'm still worried about Howie, though. By the way, the guy in the picture added the letters M, C, D, A and P - he got an extra consonant for his wild card - and correctly solved BACKSPLASH. He won twenty-five grand for his efforts, though he gladly confessed that he didn't know what a backsplash was.

Monday, January 11, 2010

No phone, no friend

As widely reported for a while now, the phone-a-friend lifeline has finally joined 50-50 in the Millionaire dustbin of history. On today's syndie episode Meredith announced that high-speed Internet connections had made the lifeline too problematic. Phone-a-friend had already vanished from the Regis episodes, shown last November out of taping order.

There was some laughable yelping about this change when it was first rumored. I don't know why. The lifeline wasn't designed to test typing skills on Google. Ask-the-expert has taken over the original idea of the lifeline, so it's not like the contestants are getting screwed. In any event Millionaire isn't supposed to be an easy game. That's why nobody ever wins the top prize.

Howie's new gig

Buried in the Jay Leno hoopla was another announcement from NBC. Howie Mandel will replace David Hasselhoff on America's Got Talent. I had no idea that Hasselhoff was on the show in the first place, because I've never watched a minute. Anyway, Howie's new job has set off even more speculation about the future of syndie Deal or No Deal.

The show has cranked out household ratings on the right side of the big one-oh, but DOND is down big from its first season and consistently trails the field among syndie gamers. Alex Davis thinks DOND is finished, Carrie Grosvenor isn't sure, and I have no clue. A lot of other syndies do worse household numbers, but I would assume the usual old skew for game shows is hurting DOND.

One other bit of news from Alex: Oxygen Network, which I would only watch if I were paid large amounts of green money, is developing a new game show called Fashion Drop. According to Alex, contestants have "to prove their fashion sense or they are dropped off the set." Gee, that gimmick sounds familiar.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Get sort of rich quick

Easy money has always been one lure for game show contestants, though arguably not the most important. Many people just want their fifteen minutes...or half-hour minus commercials. But with such cheerful unemployment news recently pouring out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's not surprising that ready cash looks better and better to prospective game-players.

The Los Angeles Times (with pretty ugly finances of its own) ran a somewhat discouraging story about unemployed contestants on GSN shows Catch 21 and Newlywed Game. Sadly, the story's feature contestant, an out-of-work TV producer named Jasmin Bryant, didn't make any bucks off the Alfonso-fest. The good news is that another contestant in the story, unemployed accounts exec Ashley Coelho, apparently did better on Carniewed.

Kelly Goode, GSN programming veep and frequent punching bag on the GSN Classics board, says that more unemployed people are turning up as contestants. That's not exactly a surprise, because more unemployed people are turning up everywhere these days. Kelly might try watching the evening news.

GSN is hardly the place to make life-changing money, of course. The shoestring operation has to keep a tight rein on its prize budget compared to syndie or broadcast gamers and reality epics. If you're looking for a genuinely nice payout, try Survivor.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

One life not to live

The pictured actress looks like she's getting the bad ratings news about her venerable soap, One Life To Live. The cheerless tidings from Nielsen Media Research have set off speculation that ABC might be ready to pull the bathtub plug on its ancient sudser, just as CBS has already done with Guiding Light and As the World Turns.

Could the alphabet net (Variety strikes!) be thinking about a daytime game show as a replacement? Well, you have to assume that ABC execs are prepared to rinse the soap away in the first place, and there's no solid reason to believe that quite yet. Let's Make a Deal, CBS' pallid replacement for Guiding Light, churns out very so-so numbers at best, but it's dirt-cheap. Recent unemployment reports indicate that dirt-cheapness is a Good Thing in today's economy.

NBC went supercheap in prime time with Jay Leno, and we're seeing how swell that worked. But daytime is different, less subject to media hypocrisy about broadcast networks "killing quality." (As if most prime time crud has any quality except terrible.) So sliding a bargain-basement gamer into the daytime schedule wouldn't bring the same yelps and whimpers from pompous pundits.

The soaps have long been declining for all the much-chatted-about reasons, and the networks have slashed their budgets relentlessly. Is Life about over, no matter how cheap they make it? Or will ABC struggle to make Life worth living? Tune in next week for more drama.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Santa snubs syndies

Christmas week traditionally brings lower ratings, because people have better things to do than stare at the teevee. So syndie game shows suffered a little in the week ending December 27, but it wasn't a catastrophe. As always, Broadcasting & Cable provides the numbers:

Wheel of Fortune 6.6 - down a few ticks
Jeopardy 5.6 - whodah thunk, same as WoF, down a few ticks
Millionaire 2.4 - yep, down those few ticks, too
5th Grader 1.6 - bucked the trend, up a tick
Family Feud 1.3 - flat
Deal or No Deal 1.2 - flat

Once we're past the holidays the numbers should improve, especially with wicked weather keeping people indoors in January.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blast from a bad past?

Fox is pulling Our Little Genius from its scheduled January 13 debut. The press release mutters about "integrity" issues. Translation: some of the little geniuses may have gotten under-the-table info about the questions. Charles Van Doren, call home.

The statement from producer Mark Burnett:

"I recently discovered that there was an issue with how some information was relayed to contestants during the pre-production of Our Little Genius. As a result, I am not comfortable delivering the episodes without re-shooting them. I believe my series must always be beyond reproach, so I have requested that Fox not air these episodes."

Fox's release:

"Mark Burnett is one of the pre-eminent producers of unscripted programming on television. Even though we were incredibly pleased with the quality of Our Little Genius, we respect and appreciate his due diligence and the decision to pull these episodes. We agree there can be no question about the integrity of our shows. While these episodes will not air, the families who participated in the show will receive their winnings, and we are grateful for their participation."

Maybe GSN can get these eps as part of a rigged show documentary. Call it Cheating Then and Now, with lots of Van Doren pics. (Just kidding, folks.)

UPDATE: Alex Davis, who blasted Our Little Genius sight unseen, is ranting about the mini-scandal. Let's just say that Alex is no fan of the show's producer, Mark Burnett. Alex lays into Burnett with all sorts of charges about his previous show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader. I have no idea if any of the charges are true, and some of them are so trivial - the kids, gasp, are actors - that I don't care if they're true or not.

Alex also insists (without offering any evidence) that anonymous "lawyers" or equally anonymous contestants pressured Burnett into pulling the Our Little Genius episodes. With no sources or names provided, it's impossible to judge the accuracy of these claims. Over at about.com Carrie Grosvenor is, as you might expect, far more circumspect in her reaction to the news.

UPDATED UPDATE: Alex has softened his rant considerably. He's deleted all the charges about 5th Grader, and he's now hedging his comments (with "I could be wrong" language) about lawyers or contestants pressuring Burnett to pull the episodes. Alex's explanation for the very significant changes: "I removed a few things that weren’t needed in the original dialog and cleaned it up a bit." That's putting it extremely mildly.

While toning down his first rant against Our Little Genius, Alex has added a second blast that at least provides a source (Hollywood Junket, for what it's worth) and one possible instance of questionable activity on the show. Alex puts the worst possible construction on the incident - a substitution of one category for another - though a more innocent explanation is obviously also possible. He then repeats a lot of the boilerplate about the sanctity of game shows.

My take on all this is that the show will never air in any form. Even the notorious "appearance of impropriety" is enough to doom a traditional game show, after the enormous scandals of the 1950s. I'll be interested in Steve Beverly's views on the controversy, if he gets around to it in his e-mail newsletter.

Cooking up a show

Over at BuzzerBlog, Alex Davis rummages through casting calls and announces that two new shows are coming to GSN. One is a cooking show based on the British Come Dine With Me, a format that has succeeded nicely in a number of countries. It's no surprise that Alex rips the possible GSN cooking epic as "how exciting" - sight unseen, of course - though he grudgingly concedes the original's "relative hit" status in the Mother Country.

Most of the time Alex adores Brit shows, as if we're still loyal subjects of Elizabeth Part Deux. But the BuzzerBlog pundit has little use for GSN any more, despite his undying and inexplicable love for Catch 21. In fact, this cooking format might actually appeal to GSN's old-skewing, female-skewing audience. Grandma might like to watch contestants trying to out-chef each other. Food Network has been on a roll lately, and GSN can use all the help it can get.

The other new effort is Instant Recall, where contestants try to remember the details of a situation they're put in. This hardly sounds like a winner for GSN's current viewers but more of an attempt to find a new, less elderly audience. There's been no official word on either show, just Alex's casting-call inferences. So we'll have to wait and see if either project ever makes it to GSN air.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bob at bat

GSN finally got the right host, if only for one episode. Tomorrow Bob Eubanks returns to the game show he made all his own. For those who slept through the last half-century, that show is Newlywed Game. Speaking of a half-century, Eubanks can now boast of having hosted the show in five different decades.

The announcer for GSN's version, Randy West, has this to say about Eubanks on the show:

"It was magical because of the studio audience's love for Bob, and for the way he stepped in and hosted a fun show, live-to-tape, that required no editing...quite unusual these days. Bob was masterful in getting laughs with the newlyweds, and moving the game along at a brisk, fun pace...I remember the entire crew and me feeding off of Bob's energy as if we were doing a live network broadcast. It was a memorable experience, and I hope the excitement translates through the viewers' screens." [From Carrie Grosvenor's about.com blog.]

Gee, Randy, if Bob did so swell, why didn't the network get him for the entire run of the show instead of one measly episode? Now we're stuck with the completely inexperienced and highly forgettable Carnie Wilson. Even worse, we also have to endure Carnie in a reality series that GSN will rerun eighty-eight miles into the ground.

Oh, I'll stop the grumpiness. Bob's back for one show, and that's better than a no-show.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Syndies meet Grinch

The week ending December 20 left small lumps of coal in all the syndie gamers' stockings. Too many people must have busied themselves with office Christmas parties, as syndicated shows of all kinds took a hit. Broadcasting & Cable spreads the Christmas non-cheer:

Wheel of Fortune 7.2 - down a few ticks
Jeopardy 5.9 - stunning, incredible, unprecedented - same as WoF
Millionaire 2.6 - down a tick
5th Grader 1.5 - down a tick
Family Feud 1.3 - down a tick
Deal or No Deal 1.2 - seeing a pattern? - down a tick

The numbers weren't awful, just a tad below the previous week and nothing to get overly (or underly) concerned about. Around Christmastime people have other things on their minds besides syndicated game shows. One more sly note: I couldn't resist a screenshot of Alex that resembles this blog's title image.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Drop it

After Lingo my favorite GSN original remains Russian Roulette. Known mostly for its gimmick of dropping hapless contestants through the floor, the show was a well-designed quizzer with a clever challenge format. As always, Mark Walberg did a more than competent job as host, and the questions were actually set above moron level.

Launched in 2002 as part of the Boden originals - named for former GSN programming veep Bob Boden - the show clicked well enough on the Nielsen meters to earn a second season. A third go-round was supposedly in the works but never got to air. Even reruns eventually vanished from the network, and a final attempt a couple years ago to bring them back didn't work. The show has done modestly well in other countries, and clips from some of those versions made up part of a special GSN episode.

The pictured contestant is Maria Lay, one of three lucky and smart people who copped the 100K top prize. Nowadays a hundred grand seems like petty cash for game shows, but it was and is a significant item in GSN's prize budget. Maria was the only contestant in season two to win the biggie, after the final round was toughened considerably compared to the show's first batch of episodes. On the fateful last pull of the lever, she only had one safe zone available but went for the big dollars anyway.

In a moment of grace, she survived and lived wealthily ever after.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Revival DOA

Over at BuzzerBlog Alex Davis rejoices that the planned TBS revival of Match Game has apparently expired. He offers no real information on the project beyond vague rumors that many game show fans (including me) have heard. But he's glad that the comeback attempt looks dead, dead, dead.

So am I, in a way. Not for the same reasons as Alex, though. As he admits, Alex generally dislikes old game show formats, though for some odd reason he deeply hearts CBS's ho-hum remake of Let's Make a Deal. You might call this the Opposite Ideology from the GSN Classics board or Matt Ottinger's game show board. I'm not ideological in my approach to game shows, which is one of my few claims to intelligence. I can appreciate a good show of any era.

But Match Game in its 1973-82 incarnation happens to be my favorite game show ever, and that includes all of ever. And nobody likes to see their forever-and-ever favorites messed with. Match Game '90 was a reasonable revival, but it still seemed a little like desecration to me. So I'm very relieved that TBS has left the frolicsome memories of Match Game undisturbed. I can always watch the real thing on GSN.