Sunday, February 28, 2010

GSN number-palooza the fourth

Good buddy Douglas comes through with another week (February 15-21) of GSN total viewer figures for this number-besotted actuary to play with. My usual set of observations:

1) The first week of the Olympics was a bad week to be GSN, or probably any other cable network. The Play Every Day net sank to an ignominious 281K/229K prime time/total day viewership average. Ouch and double ouch, even by the less than stratospheric standards of a tiny niche network. At least GSN had plenty of misery-loving company. The Olympics even beat American Idol a couple times in total viewers, and the other broadcast networks did embarrassing numbers.

2) GSN can thank the game show deities for Howie. Even in the midst of the total day carnage, Deal or No Deal averaged 333K viewers for twenty-six hours, or about one-fifth of the entire programming week. Maybe GSN should have scrapped everything else against the Winter Games and just ran an endless DOND cross-country ski race. Howie accounted for a ridiculous six of GSN's top ten shows.

3) Well, maybe they shouldn't have scrapped everything else. Stalwarts John O'Hurley and Richard Karn also stood tall at 8:00 PM, averaging 414K viewers. The 9:00 PM Carfonso reruns lost almost half that lead-in, though, as they plummeted to 238K. Those prime time retreads have almost never worked. The 10:00 PM mishmash continued to perform miserably with a 198K weekday average.

4) But to give Carfonso credit, they averaged 349K at 6:00 PM. Of course, they enjoyed a Howie hammock in the hour - DOND did 320K at 5:00 PM and an astonishing 447K at 7:00 PM. But I have to concede Carfonso's good performance in fringe, despite my personal dislike for both shows.

5) My personal like Lingo survived the general disaster, averaging a most respectable 288K viewers in the 3:00 PM hour. No wonder they quickly restored all of Chuck and Shandi's slots, after foolishly wasting some of them on repeats of Carnie reality and Hidden Agenda.

6) Speaking of the new shows, the sooner they disappear, the better. Carnage averaged a pitiful 107K and Hidden Agenda somehow did even worse at 74K. The shows are on the way out in a hurry.

7) The new season of High Stakes Poker debuted to 300K viewers. Not a good number by the standards of the previous seasons, but in this week GSN will take it. Of course, HSP is largely a demo play that skews younger and more male than anything else on GSN, so the total viewer numbers don't tell the full story. The prime time average for all of Sunday poker was 275K. At least it's better than Carfonso in prime time, or the 10:00 PM weekday mishmash.

8) In a relatively good note for classics fans, Dawson Feud averaged 220K at 12:30 PM. By the way, the TPiR death hour at 11:00 AM saw its usual desolation with 112K.

9) Hope for the future! The Olympics don't last forever.

Friday, February 26, 2010

More from the Winkster

The Jackson Sun tells us more than some may want to know about Wink Martindale's new GSN show, Instant Recall. The Winkster returns to the game show wars next Thursday, and he at least sounds enthusiastic:

"The reaction of [the contestants] is really priceless. And the more details they can remember after they get through this, the more they win. There's nothing more enjoyable to me than to be Santa Claus and give away money that isn't mine."

Wink's been distributing the bucks for some time now, and I'll check out his latest eleemosynary effort. The show will use an intentionally retro look, right down to Wink's 1970s garb. That could get cloying, but it might help with GSN's nostalgia fans. The story says Instant Recall will be Wink's twentieth show, and who am I to argue? The Winkster seems motivated, anyway:

"The success of any game show - more than the contestants or the hosts - rests on the concept and whether the people will come back time and time again to watch it. I believe this show has that component, more so than any I've done in a while. And we may take the show across the country. Who knows? We could be in Jackson."

By the way, Instant Recall takes over from the ratings-starved Hidden Agenda at 8:30 PM Thursday. But Hidden Agenda doesn't vanish completely, at least not yet. The show just moves back to 9:00 PM. Given the wretched numbers, though, I have to think the show's days are closely numbered.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Syndie valentine

Syndicated game shows mostly got a little love in the week ending Valentine's Day, though the changes were not large. This was the last week before Olympics coverage started scrambling a lot of schedules. Broadcasting & Cable spreads the affection:

Wheel of Fortune 7.4 - actually down a tick but still well atop the board
Jeopardy 6.4 - up a tick to season high
Millionaire 2.7 - also up a tick
5th Grader 1.8 - you guessed it, up a tick
Family Feud 1.5 - broken record, up a tick
Deal or No Deal 1.1 - poor Howie on the way out, down a tick

TV by the Numbers chimes in with its usual viewer averages for the top three syndie gamers: Wheel of Fortune 12.1 million, Jeopardy 10.1 million, Millionaire 3.8 million. The shows can live off these numbers just fine. By the way, WoF's weekend rerun pulled 6.2 million viewers. The show is a household ratings machine, though the demos skew pretty ancient.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Draw me a picture

Win, Lose or Draw was a mostly unremarkable game show that ran in the late 1980s. NBC carried a couple daytime seasons hosted by Vicki Lawrence, and a separate nighttime syndicated version ran for three years, hosted by Bert Convy and (in the last season) Robb Weller. It's silly to get too sentimental about the show. Nobody would rank it in the Ten Greatest Ever, or anywhere close. A rather routine adaptation of the board game Pictionary, the show offered little more than celebs making bad drawings.

But the show wasn't a disaster, either. Produced by Convy and Burt Reynolds, the show featured lots of Reynolds' buddies, girlfriends and hangers-on. For instance, that's Dom DeLuise getting instructions on something from Burt in the picture. The show was an okay time-waster and occasionally generated some humor. Burt & Bert also had a penchant for elaborate outdoor settings, which seemed a little grand for such a simple game.

GSN tried rerunning the Convy episodes a while back, and they lasted for a couple years. At least WLoD wasn't obnoxious or incompetent.

A couple other notes: fans of The Cube might rejoice because a casting call has gone out for the show. CBS apparently liked the pilot enough to continue with development. If Minute to Win It gets okay numbers for NBC, CBS will probably like Cube even more.

Also, the entire complaint letter to the FCC about Our Little Genius has appeared on The Wrap. The father of one of the little geniuses says that a production assistant on the show offered pretty detailed information on the questions his son would face. It wasn't exactly a complete giveaway of the questions and answers, but the "briefing" or whatever would have probably fallen foul of 47 U.S.C. Section 509(a). The show is deader than the deadest dormouse, anyway.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Can't get a date

Reality Wanted tells us GSN is looking at a new show that sounds like Dating Game minus the dates. Yeah, seems odd to me, too. Or as GSN puts it: "YOU WILL NOT BE GOING ON A DATE, one person will choose from three others who has the least amount of baggage."

Do they haul the baggage onto the stage with them? Sorry for the lame joke, but the "baggage" examples in the casting call sound even lamer, like "I still live with my parents", "I am a pack-rat", and "I have ten cats." I'll pick the cat person. Meow.

GSN promises that the show will be "lighthearted and fun." I don't even know if the show will be on the air, but now you've heard about it, anyway.

UPDATE: This Orange County Register story says the show's name is, naturally, Baggage. The story also features a shot of Dating Game, though the casting call yells about NOT going on a date. The show still sounds odd to me.

Google tells me that the picture in the OC Register story actually comes from Jay Leno's spoof of Dating Game with politico Dennis Kucinich. The bachelorettes include Cybill Shepherd and Jennifer Tilly.

Four dislikes

Over at Carrie Grosvenor's blog, guest star or guest blogger or guest whatever Chad Mosher runs through four things he dislikes about game shows nowadays. I agree with Chad some but disagree with him more. Let's take 'em in order...

1) I don't like that in the year 2010 we have to have the FCC investigate a game show for the potential of "rigging." I don't think anybody likes this, either, but I can't agree with Chad's generalizing the complaint to an entire "era of fake drama enhanced by long tape days and post-production shenanigans." The Our Little Genius mess apparently involves allegations of outright rigging. Unless Chad can offer convincing evidence that other shows are rigged, I can't agree with his sweeping generalization of the alleged problem to today's entire game show industry.

2) I don't like that NBC blatantly ripped off ITV's The Cube with Minute to Win It. As I said before, I think both shows rip off Beat the Clock, so I don't much care about this one. Game shows have been ripping each other off since TV's Jurassic Era. Goodson-Todman sued You Don't Say for ripping off Password almost a half-century ago. It seems like Cube fans are scared silly that Minute will do okay for NBC while their beloved Cube gets no chance in the U.S. Why don't we just wait and see? In fact, if Minute does well, I think it's more likely that Cube will turn up on American teevee.

3) I don't like that the producers at Who Wants to Be a Millionaire make changes that are so detrimental to the contestants. Chad's upset that phone-a-friend went away. Unfortunately, high-speed Internet connections had transformed that lifeline into phone-a-Google. I think Millionaire did the right thing. The lifeline had clearly become something it was never intended to be. I do agree the show should get more consistently knowledgeable experts for ask-the-expert.

4) Lastly, I don't like that GSN is trying, once again, to shed their identity of a network. Chad doesn't like Carnie Wilson's reality show and Hidden Agenda. This point is almost moot because the shows have now been cut back drastically, and it looks like Hidden Agenda will soon be, well, hidden altogether. Of course, Hidden Agenda is a traditional game show, anyway, though it's not staged on a traditional set. I don't even think the show is all that terrible. GSN's audience apparently disagrees with me, and it seems that Chad's complaint about the show will be - how should we say it? - resolved shortly.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blast from a bad past III

I was a little surprised that TV by the Numbers had no reaction to the FCC investigation of Our Little Genius. The two cheery fellows at the site usually take a genuine interest in TV history. They like to put up long-term ratings charts covering decades, for instance. And they had posted a long discussion of the Our Little Genius scandal when it first broke, complete with the iconic Time magazine cover of Charles Van Doren.

Other readers of the site were similarly puzzed by the non-reaction, and they sent in some (electronic) cards and letters. Today Robert Seidman at TV by the Numbers responded:

"Received an e-mail saying, 'I can’t believe you didn’t post about Fox’s Our Little Genius being investigated by the FCC!'

"I probably should’ve posted about it. The New York Times had a good write-up on it on Friday. I wasn’t very interested because other than a former potential contestant filing a complaint with the FCC, there was little new news there. The show was pulled from airing because producer Mark Burnett discovered there were some hinky things happening with contestants being coached. Had the show actually made it to the the airwaves with coached contestants, this would be a very big story. But it didn’t. Realistically the FCC isn’t going to do anything about a show that was never actually broadcast, so the only way Our Little Genius will become a story is if Fox really does try a do over with the show and it makes it to the air. At this point, I doubt that will ever happen."

I've already expressed my agreement with Robert: Our Little Genius is still dead along with Francisco Franco. Fox will never air the show after these apparently significant accusations of "hinkiness", as Robert delicately puts it. Traditional game shows have never escaped and will never escape from the long, deep shadow of the 1950s scandals.

By the way, I replaced that iconic Van Doren Time cover with a still of Jack Narz on Dotto, the first show to get the ax in the rigging scandals. I hasten to add that the late Mr. Narz was cleared of any involvement in the rigging and went on to host many other game shows.

Laughs for a Radar "exclusive"

Radar, the shoddy entertainment rag, has finally admitted what everybody already knew: Octomom is not coming to GSN. In what it hilariously calls an "exclusive", Radar breathlessly informs us: "Octo-Mom Nadya Suleman does not have a gig with the Game Show Network, has exclusively learned."

Yeah, right. Everybody and his brother long ago saw GSN's statement that Octomom wasn't offered a job with the network. Radar's original report did lead to some amusing heavy breathing on BuzzerBlog and the GSN boards. Radar's next "exclusive": WOOLERY LEAVES WHEEL.

Radar does manage one bit of humor in the closing line of the story. "A final note from that GSN talent executive: He says she gave him some really good child care tips."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blast from a bad past II

The New York Times reports that the FCC has begun an investigation into contestant allegations of rigging on the now-defunct Our Little Genius. I'm lazy, so I'll just mostly copy my comments from the GSN General board:

Maybe this is what persuaded showrunner Mark Burnett to pull the show. I figured something like this must have happened - or at least allegedly happened - when the story first broke weeks ago.

It would be an interesting test to see if anybody could get convicted for a show that was never broadcast. By the way, lots of people could have easily been convicted in the original quiz show scandal for lying to the grand jury. In fact, the potential penalties for perjury are much stiffer than the one-year jail term and ten-thousand dollar fine for rigging a game show.

But the New York D.A. passed on the chance because he had already milked the scandal for all its political benefit. Prosecuting people, especially civvie contestants, might have just seemed vindictive.

Anyhoo, Our Little Genius will never air, whether the allegations have any substance or not. Even a whiff of clandestine prearrangement is enough to sink any traditional game show.

UPDATE: I was wrong about the lack of convictions for perjury in the original scandal. A few people did get a slap on the wrist as the PBS article on the scandal comments:

"No one involved in the scandal suffered serious legal consequences. None of the contestants or the behind-the-scenes coaches were punished for their participation in the duplicity that became one of the top ten news stories of the year. The district attorney estimated that at least 100 contestants who had testified had perjured themselves. A handful pleaded guilty to charges of second degree perjury in Special Sessions Court in New York, admitting they had lied to the grand jury investigating the hoax. All, however, drew suspended sentences."

The article goes on to mention the producers, like Dan Enright, who were blacklisted in the industry for several years. But those producers suffered no significant legal consequences, either.

There's one more invaluable link: Charles Van Doren's personal account of the scandal, published in 2008 in the New Yorker. It's a must-read for anybody interested in the uproar.

If the U.S. game show industry has ever brushed against genuine tragedy, this was it. Some of the contestants involved, like Vivienne Nearing who eventually "defeated" Van Doren on Twenty-One, could hardly bring themselves to talk about the scandal for the rest of their lives.

UPDATED UPDATE: As I expected, Alex Davis at BuzzerBlog has picked up on the story. There's not much new in his post. It's mostly just a rehash of the New York Times story plus some boilerplate about what a Big Thing this is. Well, it's a big thing for the thoroughly dead Our Little Genius, but unless credible evidence starts surfacing against other shows, it's not really such a big thing in the industry overall.

I noticed one interesting point in Alex's post...he goes very easy on Mark Burnett: "A report given to us did confirm that when Mark Burnett, the executive producer, discovered what was going on he, in earnest, pulled the plug on the show. So that part was completely honest, and good on him."

Such praise stands in stark contrast to Alex's original comments on the issue several weeks ago, when he was far more hostile to Burnett. He even made allegations about Burnett's previous game show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? However, Alex quickly withdrew the comments about 5th Grader and softened his language considerably.

Carrie Grosvenor also lets Burnett off easily: "There's no way in the world that Burnett or any of the high-level staffers gave the order to provide answers to the contestants - not in this day and age."

It does seem unbelievable that Burnett would risk such obvious chicanery, and he did pull the show before it aired. Right now I have to agree with Carrie's reasonable (as always) conclusion: "If Burnett and FOX had gone ahead with the show and all this came to light after the premiere, then it would be a huge scandal. Right now, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and see what comes of this investigation."

Friday, February 19, 2010

CBS daytime gamers prosper

Nielsen smiles on the genre. The Price is Right and Let's Make a Deal are showing some year-over-year timeslot improvements.

The upswing isn't enormous but it's encouraging for shows that cost a lot less than scripted entertainment. I'm not much of a fan of either show, and not much of a fan of any shopping show. But if the trend encourages CBS to bring back a daytime version of Pyramid, it's fine with me.

CBS's meh version of LMAD still gets fewer viewers (2.42 million) than any daytime soap opera currently on the broadcast networks, with the possible exception of the soon-to-expire As The World Turns. The show's old-skewing demos, like a miniscule 0.6/3 in W18-34, won't wow anybody, either. But LMAD is so cheap compared to any sudser that the show might well survive.

Cheap-cheap has always been a plus-plus for game shows. Producers can churn out a gazillion eps for peanuts...or at least fewer peanuts than scripted shows with expensive actors who often should find another line of work.

Two-hour minute

NBC has released some pictures of the upcoming and now two-hour premiere of Minute To Win It on March 14. Alex Davis posted the pics on BuzzerBlog, along with his now standard complaint that the show rips off The Cube. NBC offers some additional video at the show's official site.

To me it looks like both Minute and Cube rip off Beat the Clock, but I'm an old fart who still remembers Beat the Clock. Alex also dumps on Minute for making its studio audience look larger than it is. Wow, what a game show felony. He remarks, oddly, that a timer makes the stunts a matter of luck. Seems to me that a timer would make dexterity and hand-eye coordination even more important, but what do I know?

I've always liked stunt shows, so I'll probably give this one a look. Guy Fieri is not my cup of chef's special tea, so I hope the producers keep him under control. The show is apparently getting pretty heavy promotion on the Olympics, and I assume that even semi-respectable ratings would keep it on NBC. What else does the woeful network have?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Truth be told

Mark Goodson, who knew something about game shows, was once asked for his personal favorite among all Goodson-Todman productions. His answer: "That's like asking a father which is his favorite child! However, I would say that To Tell the Truth is probably my all-time favorite. It's the most classically perfect of all the formats." (Producers on Producing, page 68)

A scumbum blogger like me has no business disagreeing with Mr. Goodson. But while To Tell the Truth endured for decades in several different versions, it was never a particular favorite of mine. I'll admit that the final reveal of the real truth-teller was a brilliant piece of game show theater. Unfortunately, it was preceded by way too much here-and-there questioning, a rather random stroll that often led nowhere in particular.

For all its fuddy-duddiness What's My Line generated some suspense as the panelists homed in on the secret. But To Tell the Truth often saw each panelist wander their separate ways into blind alleys and false starts. So their votes for the real Joe Hornswoggle frequently seemed based on little more than a whim or a hunch or a stab at humor.

The show was always competent. I can't remember any version where the host was clueless or the panelists unendurable. Well, maybe Paula Poundstone in the 2000-02 incarnation came closest to fingernails-on-blackboard irritation. The format has always left me cool-to-cold, though.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Syndie doings

For once TV by the Numbers got their syndie ratings on the web before Broadcasting & Cable. The average viewer numbers for the top three syndicated game shows in the week ending February 5: Wheel of Fortune 12.1 million, Jeopardy 9.8 million, Millionaire 3.7 million. Okay numbers all around. When B&C does their usual weekly roundup, I'll post the household ratings for all syndie gamers.

UPDATE: B&C finally posted the household numbers, and they were little changed though generally down:

Wheel of Fortune 7.5 - off a tick
Jeopardy 6.2 - as usual, same as WoF and off a tick
Millionaire 2.6 - down a tick, this is getting monotonous
5th Grader 1.7 - more monotony, down a tick
Family Feud 1.4 - flat, somebody's gotta be different
Deal or No Deal 1.2 - yep, down a tick

An unrelated but sad note: GSN Live host Bo Griffin just died after a brief bout with cancer. She was only 51. RIP.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Replacing a sudser

Alex Davis at BuzzerBlog offers a lot of this-and-that speculation about possible game show replacements for the ancient and soon-to-be-axed CBS soap opera, As The World Turns. All the speculation is completely bereft of any real news. But for what it's worth and that's not much, Alex says the current favorites are a Pyramid remake and a teevee version of Hasbro's board game, Catch Phrase.

So what the hey, I'll do a little speculating myself. If the choice really does come down to these two, the outcome might depend on how many commercial dollars CBS can extract from Hasbro. The toy empire is launching an entire cable channel for its wares, and might shower CBS with enough "promotional consideration" to make it worth the network's while. But like Alex, I have no clue if CBS will use any game show to replace As The World Turns.

Alex rambles through several other possibilities: Press Your Luck, Dirty Rotten Cheater, Money Maze, an adaptation of board game Apples to Apples. His (unintentionally) funniest comment concerns Press Your Luck: "...supposedly there are some 'important people in the mix pretty strongly against [Press Your Luck]. So it may not survive.' What the objections could be I have no idea..."

Well, one objection might correctly assert that PYL is a tedious exercise in random button-pushing...unless they find a contemporary equivalent of Michael Larson to bring some genuine intelligence to the show.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Risky bet

The sixth season of High Stakes Poker on GSN comes with higher than usual stakes for the network. For reasons best known to GSN execs, AJ Benza has received his walking papers, which led to a major Internet rumpus. Thanks for giving us our top 18-49 show, AJ, and don't let door hit backside.

Benza's replacement is supposedly Kara Scott, who brings along a moderate reputation as a tournament player. I say "supposedly" because there was little evidence in the new season's first episode that Kara is employed on the show. She wasn't heard, she wasn't seen, she wasn't there. They replaced Benza with nobody.

All right, Kara did read a few sentences at the start and finish, and asked a couple scripted questions in-between. Run-of-the-mill eye candy could have handled the miniscule role. Otherwise, Gabe Kaplan carried the show alone. If they're paying Kara Scott an actual salary, why not let her do something? She's supposed to have some poker chops. Maybe she could join Gabe and comment on the proceedings now and then?

Kara's non-presence aside, the first ep did offer some reasonably interesting action. It was The Tale of Two Phils: Ivey cleaned up and Hellmuth cleared out. The poker brat took a couple of tough beats when he hit flushes only to lose to higher flushes. He burned through two hundred grand in forty-three seconds (slight exaggeration) and left the building immediately. He didn't throw any tantrums, which was disappointing.

Meanwhile Phil Ivey caught all the cards and gladly accepted money from the rest of the participants, who were determined not to be bullied by him. Sure enough, they weren't bullied. They just lost.

The teaser at the end of the show announced that somebody else crashes out next week. I'll be there to watch, though I'm not sure if Kara Scott will show up. Even if she does put in an "appearance", you might miss her if you blink twice.

Win that guy's money

Comedy Central doesn't often live up to its name. Groaner Central would be a more accurate moniker much of the time. But the network that tries to palm off Stephen Colbert as a political pundit, or a comedian, or something, once did present a very respectable and actually funny game show. I'm talking about Win Ben Stein's Money, of course, where one-time Nixon administration speechwriter Ben Stein challenged all and sundry for the toughest five grand in the business.

The show was essentially a rather standard quizzer, but it was tricked up with salacious humor, amusing by-play between Ben and co-host Jimmy Kimmel and the often hapless contestants, a cluttered antique-shop set, and classical theme music. The Wikipedia article on the show gleefully lists some of the categories, like "The Lager I Drink This Czech Beer, the Cuter That Fat Slav Looks." Okay, some of the categories were funnier than that.

Ben was always a worthy opponent once he joined the fray as a "common contestant." To beat him for the money, you really did have to be pretty good at completely useless trivia. The show lasted six seasons on Comedy Central from 1997 to 2003 and won a slew of Daytime Emmys. (The most recent Emmy darling among game shows seems to be Cash Cab, a show with a somewhat similar but toned-down attitude.)

Kimmel left after WBSM's first three seasons and the show started losing steam. GSN tried some reruns a few years ago but the experiment didn't click with the network's grandmotherly audience. Maybe too many of the grandmas thought Ben and Jimmy were jerks.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More monologues, more interviews

Now that I've hit Groucho Marx and Johnny Carson a lick, I might as well talk about Herb Shriner. Who is Herb Shriner, you may ask? He's the guy in the picture, and he hosted another fifties knockoff of You Bet Your Life, a mostly non-game game show called Two for the Money. If you don't recall the show, don't feel bad. It's a rarity for game show freaks, a little-remembered interview/monologue vehicle for Shriner that has mostly vanished. Wikipedia (usual caveats) says that only seventeen episodes survive.

Like Groucho's show, Two for the Money didn't pay much attention to any silly little quizzer. Instead, affable Hoosier humorist Shriner would lead off with a monologue eerily similar to today's late-night riffs on politics and pop culture. Then he would chat with the contestants for a while. Sooner or later he would ask a few trivia questions and some contestants might even win a few bucks. One small claim to fame for the show is the appearance of then seventeen-year-old Tom Brokaw as a contestant.

The show started on NBC in 1952 but migrated to CBS after the first season. Shriner eventually left the show and Sam Levenson took over for the final 1956-57 go-round. GSN has run the show in the middle of the night as a curiosity for hardcore types like me.

Though almost forgotten today, Shriner was something of a celebrity in the fifties. He even starred in a very short-lived variety show on CBS, which survives in a brief highlights clip on YouTube. After his TV gigs ran out, Herb took his harmonica playing and aw-shucks humor to what Wikipedia calls "nightclubs, state fairs, showboats, and similar venues."

Sadly, Herb and his wife died in a 1970 car accident in Florida. He was driving one of his prized antique automobiles when the brakes failed. One of Herb's sons, Wil Shriner, hosted a couple of Family Channel game shows in the 1990s. Another son, Kin Shriner, became a fixture on several soap operas.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Octomom labor pains

At Buzzerblog Alex Davis gets his knickers in a twist over a report, from a shaky source called Radar, that Octomom Nadya Suleman has talked with some GSN execs. Alex thunders: "Maybe we’ll be seeing a reality show about the destruction of a long-running network in the course of a year or so the way things are going."

Sure, Alex. His hysterical (in both senses) pronouncements on GSN are generating more unintentional humor than ever. In fact, the network just enjoyed a blowout January, with average viewership in prime time up 25% year-over-year to a very healthy, by GSN standards, 376,000. "Douglas" at Mediaweek reported that total day ratings did fine, too, except for the asinine reruns of Hidden Agenda and Carnie reality.

With the debut of a new season of High Stakes Poker and the big cutback in the idiotic reruns of the new shows, GSN also looks poised for a nice February. But don't expect Alex to report any of this. Somehow he managed to overlook all the good ratings news for GSN in January, though he hollered plenty about the bad ratings for the reruns. Maybe it's just as well that Alex avoids posting about the Nielsen news. When he does report ratings, he's been known to get the numbers all wrong (see his original comments on the debuts of Carnage and Hidden Agenda).

Carrie Grosvenor, as you would expect, reacts in a far more measured and mature way to the "news", if you can call anything from Radar news. Carrie dismisses the whole fuss as "a bit of a conundrum." Really, it doesn't even rise to conundrum level. After all, not even Radar alleges that GSN has actually hired Octomom to do anything yet. It's just another whoopsie-doopsie day in the game show blogosphere.

UPDATE: Carrie contacted GSN and got this statement: "GSN is ramping up original production and casting, and we take many meetings with potential talent. We have met with Nadya Suleman, but have no specific casting plans for her at this time."

So Radar was right in its report of a meeting, but way ahead of itself in heavily implying some kind of deal was in the works. Radar couldn't be bothered to get this statement from GSN, because that might have been considered responsible journalism. I doubt seriously that Octomom will turn up on GSN any time soon...or not so soon.

But we do know that Wink Martindale is coming to the network.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Meredith at 3:30 AM

Game Show Newsnet highlights this New York Daily News story about Meredith Vieira and her double gig on Today and Millionaire. It's a dull puff piece, nothing more. Meredith just loves both her jobs, doncha know.

Today still rules mornings and Millionaire has long established a solid slot as the number three syndie game show, though ratings for both shows have naturally declined along with all over-the-air TV. But one place where Meredith has flopped rather spectacularly is GSN. A few months ago her version of Millionaire held two prime time slots every day on the network. Now she's relegated to two slots a 3:30 AM. In the latest published week she fetched 78,000 viewers.

Which is awful even for a graveyard slot on a smalltime network. So what happened? Regis Philbin's Millionaire still draws about 300,000 viewers on GSN, despite its own lousy timeslot at midnight. And the network has rerun-abused Regis' episodes a lot more than Meredith's efforts.

The answer may be those pesky demos. GSN's audience has always skewed old and female, and nowadays it's skewing more grandmotherly than ever. Does Grandma like Regis' folksier style better than Meredith's drier approach? Maybe, or there might be some other arcane explanation for La Vieira's flameout on the Play Every Day network. At least GSN still uses her on its promos.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't do it, Betty

Carrie Grosvenor is rooting for game show doyenne Betty White, fresh from her memorable Super Bowl commercial, to host Saturday Night Live. While I bow to no one in my appreciation for the incomparable Betty, I really hope this idea goes nowhere.

First, I don't give a thin rodent's butt any more for Saturday Night Live. I've seen maybe fifteen minutes of the show in the past year, and they weren't the best fifteen minutes of my life. The show was always raunchy but now just seems incurably stupid to me in my crotchety old age.

Second, with all due respect to Betty and then some, she just turned 88. Is a live ninety-minute show really the best idea for her? I'm sure she would come through with flying colors, but I'll admit to a little trepidation.

Third, I'd like to see Betty do some more cameo appearances on game shows, instead of wasting her time and considerable talents on Saturday Night Live. Wheel of Fortune brought her on for a brief appearance last year, and more shows should do the same.

UPDATE: Betty happened to appear in both Match Game eps this morning on GSN. She was batting 'em back and forth with Brett Somers, as usual. Mocking Betty's love for animals, Brett boasted about killing seven houseflies before taping the show. Betty replied that Brett must have talked the flies to death.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Syndies yawn

Not much happened either way for syndie game shows in the week ending January 31. Broadcasting & Cable delivers the ho-hums:

Wheel of Fortune 7.6 - up one entire tick
Jeopardy 6.4 - flat, so it almost followed soulmate WoF
Millionaire 2.7 - also flat, bored yet?
5th Grader 1.8 - up a tick
Family Feud 1.4 - down a tick
Deal or No Deal 1.3 - up a tick but dead anyway

Would be kind of funny if DOND crept ahead of Feud, even though Howie won't return for a third season. Feud is so cheap - and it just got cheaper with Harvey replacing O'Hurley - that it can probably survive on anything over the big one-oh.

UPDATE: TV by the Numbers provides viewer averages for the top two syndies: Wheel of Fortune 12.2 million and Jeopardy 10.1 million. Millionaire didn't make their top-25 list, but Meredith is safe with her 2.7 household rating. And in non-game-show news, my personal fave Pawn Stars continues to rock on to new heights. The February 8 eps averaged 4.6 million viewers. Go, pawnbrokers!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Inquizitive minds

Towards the end of Michael Fleming's 1994-2001 reign, GSN started producing some of its all-time worst originals: Extreme Gong, Burt Luddin's Love Buffet, All New Three's a Crowd. The evil memories still make game show fans shiver through fearsome nightmares. Not coincidentally, the network was also drowning in red ink by the close of the Fleming regime.

But one GSN original from that generally miserable time didn't disgrace the genre. That show was Inquizition, a stripped-down quizzer with a host whose face you never saw but whose long mane of grey hair was always in the foreground. He flogged four contestants through three rounds of challenging multiple-choice questions, eliminating one poor sap at each stage. Prize money was inconsequential, and the Inquizitor apparently thought some of the contestants were, too. His frequent barbs at errant game-players seemed like genuine exasperation.

The show has long since vanished from GSN and lives on only in a few YouTube clips. Nobody has ever convincingly identified the faceless Inquizitor, though oddball theories abound. I just wish GSN would show a few eps now and then. As the Inquizitor might thunder at the network which has forgotten him: "You have failed!"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Icons then and now

I got into a stupid fight with another poster on the GSN board. This poster delights in trashing various older game show hosts as decrepit, feeble, and just about dead. His comments about the unfortunately unwell Dick Clark are particularly grating. In his latest screed he also dismissed Bob Eubanks as an "a-hole."

Which shows the generally high level of his commentary. I should just ignore the guy, but I let myself get drawn into an idiotic spitting match. So who am I to criticize, you may ask.

Good question, and I wish I had a good answer. All this splatter occurred because Wink Martindale is returning to GSN on a new hidden-camera show called Instant Recall. Of course, the GSN boards are already dumping on the show sight unseen, along with crocodile tears about how Wink "deserves" a supposedly better show.

Sorry, GSN boards, but Wink deserves any show he wants. The man has put in enough time on game shows to judge whether he wants to return or not.

I don't advocate blind worship, or any worship, of game show icons. But I really don't like prejudging any show without so much as a glimpse, especially when a very experienced host like Wink Martindale has decided to give it a try. Can we at least wait to see how he does before trashing the entire effort?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cram yourself

A poster on the GSN boards has gifted us with his list of the fifty worst game shows ever. These lists are nothing to get upset about, of course, because they're so subjective...though Extreme Gong's omission from the magic fifty mystifies me endlessly.

I do want to pick one small bone, however. GSN original Cram made the list, despite its entertaining combination of insomnia, goofy stunts, and goofier trivia. For those who don't remember, which might well be almost everybody, Cram was one of the Boden originals in the heyday of those originals on GSN, 2002-03. The show earned decent enough numbers to get a second season but then disappeared.

Truth to tell, the second season sort of crammed the idea into the ground. They let statuesque sidekick Bergland Icey talk, which was definitely a mistake, and the show started assuming a somewhat sleazy overtone. But the first season was fresh and funny and offbeat.

Graham Elwood, recovering from the disgrace known as Strip Poker - now that abomination should have made the fifty worst list, easy - hosted with aplomb and enthusiasm. The stunts were silly enough to entertain me, which means they were silly indeed. The sleep deprivation gimmick was only that, but it made for some interesting out-of-studio shots. And the trivia questions could make even the curmudgeonly poster on the GSN board smile...I think.

Hardly the greatest show but far from GSN's worst half-hour. I still miss Miss Pickwick.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Trust Johnny

Yes, once upon a time Johnny Carson looked like he had just emerged from puberty. Before I had done the same, I used to watch ABC's knockoff of You Bet Your Life, an afternoon half-hour "game show" with Carson called Who Do You Trust. I use the scare quotes because, like the Groucho epic, Carson's show had little to do with playing any silly game. Instead, it was the perfect monologue/interview training ground for the future Tonight Show icon.

Wikipedia recounts how the show's 3:30 PM timeslot helped it "garner a significant number of young viewers coming home from school." One of those garnered young'uns was me, and I still remember laughing at Carson's gags and goofs. Unlike Groucho, who ruled his show as an absolute and rather aloof monarch, Carson would often get involved in stupid human tricks with the contestants. A blooper reel of some of the more memorable stunts lives on at YouTube.

Ed McMahon took over as Johnny's sidekick midway through the show's 1957-62 run, and we all know how that partnership developed. Sadly, little of Who Do You Trust survives. If only video tape had been a little cheaper back then.

Carson appeared on many other game shows as he gradually revived his career in the late fifties and early sixties. He eventually took advantage of a certain opportunity when Jack Paar decided to call it quits. His game show experience, with its emphasis on improvisation and quick comebacks, definitely helped him in subsequent adventures.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

As the GSN schedule turns

Hidden Agenda, Michael Davies' harmless knockoff of Candid Camera, is disappearing fast from the GSN schedule. That's hardly surprising because the numbers stink like a skunk, according to our buddy Douglas at Mediaweek. I figure the show gets axed completely by the end of March.

Carnie Wilson's reality show is getting better ratings. You might even call the original showings semi-respectable, though the asinine reruns quickly run out of Nielsen steam. Carnage will probably hang around for a while and might even get a second season, if the demos turn a little younger than GSN's usual ancient skew.

We'll see if the gruesome fate of Hidden Agenda has any effect on GSN's supposed development slate of non-traditional shows. Things might slow down a little, anyway.

UPDATE: Guess what, Wink Martindale is returning to the GSN schedule with Instant Recall beginning March 4. This might be the replacement, more or less, for the flopped Hidden Agenda. Wink looks like insurance to attract some of GSN's current audience to an untested format. The network must have noticed the 700K+ number Bob Eubanks pulled for his episode of Newlywed Game.

Now if GSN could only get Eubanks for every episode of the game he made his own. By the way, GSN enjoyed a great month in January prime time. The total day numbers were good, too, except for the idiotic reruns of Carnage and Hidden Agenda.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Syndies step up

I was on the road much of last week, so I didn't post the syndie game show ratings. This week I'm making up for my laziness, thanks as always to Broadcasting & Cable. The syndie news for the week ending January 24 was generally good compared to the previous week:

Wheel of Fortune 7.5 - up five ticks
Jeopardy 6.4 - followed its soulmate up the ladder
Millionaire 2.7 - up a couple ticks
5th Grader 1.7 - up one whole tick
Family Feud 1.5 - also up a tick
Deal or No Deal 1.2 - flat

Sadly, Howie looks to be gone after this season. We'll see if the new guys on the syndie block this fall, Don't Forget the Lyrics and Cash Cab, can do any better.

UPDATE: TV by the Numbers gives the viewer averages for the top three: Wheel of Fortune 12.2 million, Jeopardy 10.0 million, Millionaire 3.8 million. As usual, the Twin Towers easily led all syndies in total viewers. Yes, I know the demos skew old. And in a completely unrelated item, the cheery guys at TV by the Numbers offer some props for my guilty pleasure, Pawn Stars. Rock on, pawnbrokers!

Wannabe a contestant?

Over at Carrie Grosvenor's blog at, guest blogger (is that like a guest star?) Chad Mosher regularly publishes tips for would-be contestants on various game shows. His latest effort tells Wheel of Fortune wannabes to buy vowels, be aware of the category, use the letter board, etc.

It's all very good advice, of course, but I wonder if any of it really helps. If you're hopeless at wordplay, you probably ain't gonna score big on the Pat-and-Vanna epic even if you follow all the most well-meaning advice in the world. Sadly, I think the only really effective advice is: find a game you're good at and try out for it.

Once upon a very distant time, I was a contestant on a televised high school quizzer, my only actual game show experience. I happen to be passable at quizzers, though I would be hopeless at a singing game show. (My voice peels wallpaper at 200 feet.) I did okay on the show but I've never gotten the itch to try out for a real-money grown-up gamer.

I'm afraid that game shows have become a strictly spectator sport for my aged self. If I ever got up there again under the lights and the pressure, I'd probably flop miserably. It's safer just to blog about the shows.