Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bah humbug, April 1

Let's just say I'm not a big fan of April Fools Day. I've never been really stung with a fooler on the day, but I just don't like all the strained pranks. Boy, I'm getting grumpy in my old age.

So game shows' usual hijinks on the first of April tend to leave me very cold. I hear Wheel of Fortune will plant ten things that are "just a little off" in their April 1 episode. We're supposed to spot the ten oddities and write them down on a spreadsheet or some damn thing. Humbug!

One exception to my grumpiness is the April Fools 2003 episode of Lingo with all the hosts of the Boden originals. This really is a classic because it's a great game. Mark Walberg memorably obliterates the opposition in a 500-0 shutout, followed by a superb bonus round where he solves nine puzzles.

Yes, Todd Newton adds too much "humor" which gets old fast, and there's plenty of other allegedly funny nonsense. Humbug! But Walberg can really play, and that's no humbug.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sun sinks syndies

Daylight savings time is the sun's revenge on teevee, as viewers find better things to do with the extra hour of light. The Twin Towers of syndicated game shows really got clobbered in the access hour, and the rest of the lineup didn't fare very well, either. Broadcasting & Cable sheds, er, sunlight on the diurnally dismal results for the week ending March 21:

Wheel of Fortune 6.3 - off a full point
Jeopardy 5.3 - what do you expect after WoF, off a full point
Millionaire 2.2 - down three ticks, things are getting depressing
5th Grader 1.5 - off just one tick, could have been worse
Family Feud 1.3 - flat, which is good this week
Deal or No Deal 1.0 - poor Howie, gone from syndication but maybe not NBC's summer (?)

More light and warmer temps have started taking their inevitable toll on the numbers. But with the fall lineup already set, the expectedly bad news doesn't make an enormous difference.

Speaking of which, the officially official announcement of 5th Grader's second season has now descended. The syndie will also keep its current slots on CMT and MyTV. None of this is news, but now it's in granite. One thing I didn't know: 5th Grader sneaks past Millionaire in 18-49 and 25-54 despite trailing pretty far behind in household ratings. Interesting.

As usual, TV by the Numbers reports viewership averages for the top three syndie gamers: Wheel of Fortune 9.9 million, Jeopardy 8.0 million, Millionaire 3.1 million. All these numbers are down noticeably, though the Twin Towers take their accustomed place atop all syndies in total viewers.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bits and pieces

Mark Burnett's odd take on To Tell the Truth seems to be casting, though the call doesn't quite specify. Game show hosts all look a little dodgy to me, so it might be hard to figure which one is the dodgiest.

Even this non-TPiR fan appreciated this glimpse of Drew Carey's more somber side. He spoke on behalf of a charity for troubled kids and recounted some very tough times from his own youth, including a suicide attempt when he was eighteen. Carey went on to comment that the rough days really make the current good times seem more valuable.

Millionaire's theme weeks are getting under my skin a little. We've had the real housewives, now we've got the dancing stars, and next week we get the Hungarian midgets (just joshing, sort of).

Family Feud's move to Florida is an obvious economy measure, just like the exchange of Harvey for O'Hurley. The show is dipping ominously towards the big one-oh in household ratings, so every penny gets a squeeze.

Carrie Grosvenor notes a recent spate of big winners on Wheel of Fortune. Who doesn't like to hear Charlie O'Donnell roll out "...thooouuuuuusand dollars"?

At least Minute To Win It's second half-hour didn't perform so badly last night. By NBC standards, a 2.3 18-49 rating and 6.6 million total viewers are almost respectable. The first half-hour needs work, though. Overall the show did slightly better than last week.

Showing some age

I know I've been writing too much about GSN lately, but it's a cursedly interesting time for the network. Recent originals, pitched at a new audience beyond GSN's usual crowd, have all flopped. So it looks like Goldhill & Company have decided to rebuild for a while. Or as Alex Davis puts it: "...they seem to be abandoning getting any other audiences for their originals and going solely for the middle aged women." Which means the new schedule on April 1 shows some serious age, at least on weekdays. To plagiarize myself from the GSN board again...

Just for the fun of it, I calculated the average age of the new weekday schedule launching April 1. By age I mean years since each episode first ran. I came up with an average a little over eleven years.

That might be off a tad. I can't be sure I've got every last half-hour exactly right. But it's not far wrong. Twelve half-hours have decades on them, and eight others are in high single-digits. That's ten hours (from nineteen total) of quite old shows by normal television standards.

The median age for the half-hours was a little less, about eight years. But either number is notably high for a network that's not a nostalgia specialist. Though based on the new weekday schedule, some might say GSN is becoming a nostalgia net, at least for much of the day. I'll also admit the age for prime time and fringe is much less.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Twin towers

I'm always putting up ratings for them, but I've never spouted my opinions of them. So let's talk about the Twin Towers, the country's two most-watched game shows, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

First and easily foremost, I really like both shows. Which hardly makes me unique, but I might as well acknowledge that this is the genre's top shelf, two rock-solid, long-enduring formats that consistently entertain. Jeopardy is obviously the more challenging show and, for me, the more immediately engrossing. At least it gets me yelling at the screen more than any other game show except maybe Lingo.

Wheel of Fortune is the glitzier and louder product, but that sounds critical and I don't want to sound critical here. Pat and Vanna run the proceedings with an infinitely practiced hand, and somehow they manage to avoid looking bored. Who knows, maybe Vanna really isn't bored.

The shows do what they do so flawlessly that it's easy to forget all the professionalism behind the ever-moving production line. Year after year they churn out nearly two hundred episodes without breaking a visible sweat. I don't watch the shows religiously or even semi-religiously, but they're always there whenever I come back for a look. And they always deliver exactly as promised.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Numbers, glorious numbers

I'm a little lazy this Saturday, so I'll just copy some comments I left on the GSN board about ratings and schedules and shows and all that jazz...

Other poster: Instant Recall is a goner soon. Another failed attempt at reality. Next in line, Baggage.

Have to agree about Instant Recall, which is already getting cut back. But the newly announced format for Baggage hardly sounds like a reality show. In fact, it mostly looks like a pretty straightforward remake of Dating Game. The remake of Newlywed Game has done well in fringe, so this show might have a chance. But I'll admit that Dating Game has suffered through a lot spottier history on GSN than Newlywed Game.

I definitely don't agree with how GSN is scheduling Springer's first-runs, though. I would put Baggage first-runs at 9:30 PM and the repeat at 1:00 AM. I would keep Alfonso at 6:30 PM and Karn at 8:00 PM, where they are both performing well. Why mess with success?

Other poster: I think the biggest surprise to me this week was Poker's decently high ratings. Factor in the demos, and it was a very great week for Poker.

GSN put out a press release about how the new season of High Stakes Poker has improved in key demos versus the previous season. That 370K total viewers for the new episode was probably enough to put HSP way up the list in 18-49 for the very old-skewing GSN. Maybe at the top. They still shouldn't have fired Benza, though.

Other poster: Lastly, classics are NEVER going to do well at the times they air. Just like new shows will not do well in those times. People are just not watching between 9am and about 4pm on weekdays. Even DoND got 162k viewers on Friday at 1pm.

Howie averaged 240K for his seven showings at 1:00 PM, much better than any pre-1990 show averaged anywhere on the schedule. The best was Dawson Feud just before Howie at 12:30 PM, with 198K. It's much fairer to compare averages, especially for a niche network like GSN that rarely pulls over 500K viewers for even its highest-rated shows.

Just about any show on this tiny network will have an odd episode that does less than great numbers. That 162K was the absolute lowest of DOND's 27 episodes, and was hardly typical of its performance overall or in the timeslot. That's why averages are critical to understanding what's performing well and what isn't.

Of course, Dawson is getting rewarded for his good performance relative to other pre-1990 shows with two runs in daytime beginning April 1.

Other poster: 4pm through primetime looks rock solid except for the 9:30pm airing of Catch 21, and Instant Recall.

Actually, 3:00 PM through 1:00 AM looked pretty solid with the two exceptions you mention. Regis turned in 283K at the witching hour, not bad at all by GSN standards for such a late-night slot.

Howie averaged 331K at 11:00 PM, even better. And Lingo had something of an off week but still managed 235K for the 3:00 PM hour. That's about the same as GSN's total day average and far from terrible for the middle of the afternoon. It's about the same as Catch 21 in prime time, in fact.

Oh, Newlywed Game didn't do that great at 9:00 PM by prime time standards with 278K. But even that wasn't a real disaster. The Carfonso hour in prime time has hardly ever done very well, I'm afraid.

Friday, March 26, 2010

GSN number-palooza part quinque

My number friend Douglas has gifted us another full week of GSN viewer numbers for March 15-21. Digging into the chart...

1) The overall averages are 320K/241K viewers prime time/total day. Definitely an improvement on February but hardly back to the glory days of early January. Still, it's a move in the right direction.

2) Karn and O'Hurley are GSN heroes, and I don't know why the network wants to break up their 8:00 PM hour come April 19. They averaged 419K viewers in the hour despite interruptions from the wretchedly rated Instant Recall. For all of their twenty-five slots around the clock, Karn and O'Hurley turned in a superb 342K average. Together they accounted for six of GSN's ten top-rated shows.

3) Okay, let's get the Wink disaster out of the way immediately. The overall average for all ten runs of Instant Recall was a painful 166K, way below the total day average. The prime time runs averaged 204K, way below the prime time average. The new episode at 8:00 PM did 236K, way below Karn's average in the slot. Are we seeing a pattern here? This show is a dog.

4) Howie just keeps on keeping on. He averaged 326K for his crushing 27 hours of exposure, well above the total day average. As usual he landed a bunch of episodes in GSN's top 20...eight this week. His 406K average at 7:00 PM again set up prime time very nicely for the network.

5) GSN is boasting of improved ratings for poker, and the numbers are better this week. The new ep of High Stakes Poker fetched 370K viewers, well up from the first episode of the season. Of course, this show is a demo play more than a total viewer machine.

6) Catch 21 averaged an excellent 384K at 6:30 PM. Again, I have to question why GSN wants to uproot the show from its best perch for Baggage on April 19. They should put first-run Springer at 9:30 PM, where Alfonso is delivering a measly 238K, well below GSN's prime time average.

7) Jeopardy goes out with a 224K average at 1:00 AM, which is not bad at all for such a late timeslot. So long, Alex, you deserved better. And Regis gave you a nice lead-in with a 283K average at midnight.

8) Not much joy for classics fans. The best pre-1990 show was Dawson's 12:30 PM Feud run at 198K.

9) And Bob Saget is making a nice home at 10:00 PM with a solid 346K average. This is a good show and deserves its success.

Now for NBC's schedule

With all the scheduling notes today, why not add the peacock net? NBC is trying Minute To Win It in place of no-mercy-from-Nielsen Mercy on Wednesday nights for the next three weeks. Guy Fieri's stunt epic has performed unimpressively at best on Sunday, but it's cheap, cheap, cheap. The contestants don't even win much prize money.

A commenter at TV by the Numbers dismisses the move as "fail replaces fail." Gee, they're so mean on that site. Truth to tell, though, the same evil thought flitted through my uncharitable mind. We'll see if Minute's numbers show any hint of revival on Sunday or Wednesday. If the numbers slip even further, even Xtreme Cheap may not be enough to save the stunts.

On a brighter ratings note, a GSN press release brags that season six of High Stakes Poker shows nice improvements in key demos over the fifth season. The first episode of the new season performed marginally at best, with only 300K total viewers. But ratings have apparently perked up despite the farewell to Benza, Kara Scott's virtual invisibility, and generally poor reviews. The action at the table has definitely grown warmer lately, with Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey leading the charge.

Schedule, anyone part dos

GSN has shipped new pdfs for the upcoming weeks here, here, here, and here. The new files confirm the addition of Million Dollar Password and Card Sharks, the dropping of Jeopardy and Combs Feud, the big cutback of Instant Recall, and the debut of Baggage. My profound thoughts from the GSN board on all these comings and goings...

One risky change for GSN: Karn Feud loses its 8:00 PM slot to Catch 21 when Baggage debuts April 19. Alfonso has never done well in prime time while Karn has been a tower of strength at 8:00 PM. In the latest published week, for instance, Karn averaged 394K viewers at 8:00 PM while Alfonso averaged 234K at 9:30 PM.

We'll see if Alfonso can hold Howie's lead-in. This could make all of prime time come unstuck, even though the new episodes of O'Hurley Feud should definitely help. I also expect Springer to attract good initial sampling, and the newly announced Dating Game knockoff format should help.

I'll admit that running Karn five times a day is not tenable long-term, despite his consistently solid performance. But this is a real gamble with the crucial first half-hour of prime time. I would have kept Karn at 8:00 PM and cut one or both of his 1:00 AM runs. I would also have kept Alfonso at 6:30 PM, where he has done much better, and put first-run Baggage at 9:30 PM, a slot where GSN has little to lose.

Also, Instant Recall keeps six slots per week throughout the upcoming pdfs. I've got a feeling that won't last, and we'll see some revised pdfs one of these days. When Wink loses almost half his slots three weeks after his debut, you know the numbers have got to be really bad.

As for Card Sharks, my attitude towards acey-deucey is well known. But four runs a day should seem like overkill even to the most ardent acey-deucey lover. I would have kept Combs and Alex and cut a couple of the CS runs. I only hope that the wish for a return of Combs Feud and Jeopardy comes true, but I'm not optimistic.

UPDATE: Just noticed that Wink gets his ten slots per week on the pdfs for April 5 and later, while the GSN online schedule and the March 29 pdf show the cutback to six slots. My guess is that the online schedule and the March 29 pdf are right and Instant Recall is really getting hacked. Especially because the pdfs for April 5 and later show a one-hour version of Instant Recall (yikes!) at Tuesday midnight. Uh, I don't think so.

Schedule, anyone?

Confusion reigns over GSN's current schedule. Nobody seems to know exactly what's going to happen April 5. Meanwhile, Instant Recall, Wink Martindale's embarrassment, is getting its timeslots hacked severely, probably due to terrible numbers. My reaction to all this at the GSN board?

Another poster: Like instead of having only a weekly schedule [on the GSN site] why not a monthly schedule?

Because right now I doubt that anybody at GSN has any clue what the schedule will look like a month from now. Here's what seems to be happening...

GSN was in hog heaven in early January. They were getting great ratings by the network's standards, led by stalwarts like Howie, Karn, O'Hurley, Saget, and first-run Carfonso. In the week of January 4-10 GSN averaged 438K/317K viewers prime time/total day...fantastic numbers for this tiny niche network.

Then, for reasons best known to GSN execs, they decided to scramble the schedule with insane repeats of risky and unproven originals like Carnage, Hidden Agenda, and Instant Recall. They even fired Benza from High Stakes Poker, one of their most consistent demo winners.

The results of all this original "development" have been disastrous. Ratings plummeted in the latest published week in February, even allowing for the Olympics. Now GSN is scrambling to put back together the afternoon, fringe and prime time schedule that worked so well in early January.

They've also decided to go heavy-duty on older shows in the morning, figuring they might as well lure back some of the classics fans put off by the groaner originals.

At least that's my theory. It seems to fit the changes we've seen on the GSN online schedule over the past several weeks and days.

But as always with GSN, stay tuned. You never know...

UPDATE: In oddly related news GSN will get Bob Eubanks for one more episode of Newlywed Game, with other game show icons as the contestants. Of course, given Eubanks' tremendous ratings performance for his first ep, GSN must be wishing they got him for all the episodes. But that's very old spilt milk.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Nerdbowl

All my life I've been proud of my nerdiness. Maybe that's why I like game shows, where an über-nerd like Ken Jennings can become a star. One of the genre's nerdiest offerings ever was GE College Bowl, an intercollegiate quizzer that ran on CBS and NBC from 1959 through 1970. Allen Ludden, the nerdiest of major game show hosts, was appropriately enough the original emcee, followed by the equally nerdy (are you seeing a pattern here?) Robert Earle.

The screenshot tells you all you need to know about the prevailing atmosphere on the show. YouTube offers the entire episode which produced the shot of Earle at his...well, you know what. This episode is actually rather famous. A tiny women's college, Agnes Scott, defeated mighty Princeton on a buzzer shot, as recounted in hushed tones of nerdy admiration on Wikipedia.

The quizzer actually inspired me to become a real live teevee game show contestant for my first and only time, on a high school knockoff of the game. College Bowl was never a huge hit, or even a non-huge hit. I always suspected the networks showed it to keep the Minow-era FCC off their backs about all the brainless - and, of course, infinitely more popular - sex and violence they purveyed to pay the bills.

I like sex and violence as much as any nerd, but it was nice to see nerdiness naked, so to speak, on College Bowl. Here's the tossup for ten points...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Robert Culp R.I.P.

Robert Culp has died after a fall at his home in Los Angeles. Though far better known as the wannabe hipster on the 1960s espionage spoof I Spy, Culp also did a few game shows.

I didn't realize it until I saw a notice on the GSN Classics board, but Culp appeared on a very early week of Match Game '73, even before Charles Nelson Reilly had established himself as a regular. The producers were still trying to shoehorn Jack Klugman into the panel, before they figured out that his soon-to-be ex-wife Brett Somers was a much better fit for the show.

Culp also showed up on Tattletales, where I cribbed the screenshot from YouTube. His most interesting bit of game show trivia: he was on Hollywood Squares...in appearances that occurred some thirty-five years apart. He did a number of episodes of the classic 1960s version, then turned up in 2004 on the Tom Bergeron remake.

He was never a big player in game shows, but he didn't look down his nose at the genre, either. I have to admit that I was never a particular fan of Mr. Culp, because he always seemed so desperately to want to be hip. But he wasn't snooty about gamers.

UPDATE: This post is looking like a deathwatch, but a note on the GSN Classics board says that longtime Goodson-Todman producer Ira Skutch has died at age 88 of lymphoma. Skutch was perhaps best known for his work on Match Game, a grim irony for this note. You can read a generous selection from his memoir, I Remember Television, here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Syndies slip a bit

Syndicated game shows mostly blahed their way through the weeks following February sweeps. Broadcasting & Cable provides the numbers for the week ending March 14:

Wheel of Fortune 7.3 - down a tick
Jeopardy 6.3 - joined at the hip with WoF, of course, down a tick
Millionaire 2.5 - getting monotonous, down a tick
5th Grader 1.6 - flat, somebody's gotta be different
Family Feud 1.3 - resuming the pattern, down a tick
Deal or No Deal - sadly, B&C doesn't even bother with the now-cancelled Howie

No big deal, we're heading into spring and repeats and general who-cares territory. Everything except DOND will get another season, and there are a couple newcomers next fall. So the numbers just don't mean as much at this point. But the pecking order remains etched in granite.

Media springing to alert

GSN has put out a press release on Jerry Springer hosting the non-dating dating show Baggage. You can read the release in the Google news cache, along with media reaction from hither and thither.

Some of the comments try to rewrite history and create some unintentional laughs. Radar keeps insisting, most amusingly, that they were the "first to report" Octomom wasn't coming to GSN. Fair enough. They were only about three weeks behind everybody else in "breaking" Nadya's non-hiring news.

At The Wrap Josef Adalian now dumps on Carnie Wilson's reality show, long since pronounced dead by Nielsen Media Research. Of course, a few months ago Adalian was breathlessly promoting the show as a "major brand expansion" for GSN, from a "red-hot production company." Looks like red-hot turned stone-cold real quick.

Overall opinion on the Springer non-date date-fest seems skeptical, to put it mildly. But Springer can create buzz (detestable cliche) and will no doubt fetch good initial sampling for the show. How long the strange format will last is anybody's guess. But I won't prejudge, tempting as it may be.

UPDATE: Over at about.com Carrie Grosvenor offers some clarification from GSN about Baggage. Seems that it will be pretty much a Dating Game knockoff, with only singles allowed and a date as the prize for the winner. At least that format sounds more sensible than a non-dating dating show. GSN now says the original casting calls were incorrect. I wonder if they just didn't change the format after puzzled reactions on the web to the odd original idea.

If this really is the format for the show, its chances of success just rose significantly. The Newlywed Game remake worked, at least by GSN standards.

Bubble show: LMAD?

In a Jacksonville Observer story, Let's Make a Deal host Wayne Brady says that he's not sure about the show's future:

"I am the host — they don’t tell me anything. All I know is that we’re shooting for the next five weeks, and then I don’t know when or if we’re coming back. We haven’t gotten a pickup order yet."

I can believe the show is on the bubble. Last anybody heard, the show was getting about 2.4 million total viewers, and the demos skewed very old. That's not great by any means relative to daytime soap operas. But LMAD is dirt-cheap compared to the sudsers. We'll see how tolerant CBS proves.

Brady also says that he hurt his voice shouting over all the noise in the studio. I can certainly believe that, too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Minute tanks

The cheery guys at TV by the Numbers offer anything but cheery numbers for stunt gamer Minute To Win It. In the show's second week, its 18-49 rating fell a scary 25% in the regular 8:00 PM slot, and the total viewer numbers also plummeted. This prompted one commenter to predict: "Minute to Win It is gone." Unless the trend changes in a hurry, the show may well vanish any minute.

I like the stunts, but I'm a game show freak who's willing to give almost any broadcast prime time gamer a break. The Nielsen households don't seem so forgiving. If Minute does crash and burn, I wonder if the grim fate would affect CBS's decision on The Cube.

In less forbidding news, Family Feud is auditioning contestants for the syndie's twelfth season (seems incredible, no?) Chad Mosher gives feudin' wannabes some helpful hints.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Springing Jerry on GSN

Jerry Springer will host Baggage, GSN's new dating show without dates. Hollywood Junket broke the news and actually sounds optimistic about Springer as host:

"Knowing that Springer will be the host, the promise of this game show/reality show being entertaining and successful just went up by about 100%. Springer hosted a game show, and a part talk show, part reality show. If Springer can’t pull this off, then no one can!"

We'll see if anyone can pull this strange format off. Springer will clean up his act, of course, as he did on America's Got Talent. I assume there won't be fights on the set. But a non-dating Dating Game still sounds odder than the number three. Springer will certainly get initial sampling for the show, and he's a relatively big ticket by GSN standards. So some money is going into this project.

Who knows, Springer's British game show experience may come in handy. I still don't know why GSN just doesn't remake Dating Game for real, though. The Newlywed Game remake has succeeded, at least in first-runs.

UPDATE: On his Twitter feed Alex Davis says Baggage will debut at 6:30 PM (Catch 21's current slot) on April 19. Alex is a big Catch 21 fan, unlike me, and he says the show will be back somewhere, maybe 7:00 PM. So where does Howie go? His 7:00 PM run has been one of GSN's most-watched shows - if not the most-watched - in the latest published weeks.

Oh well, just stay tuned. You never know with the GSN schedule. That's why I have to smile a little when Alex says this is "part of a plan." Sometimes GSN seems to plan its schedule maybe two days ahead. Or two hours ahead.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Regis' second GSN gig

His version of Millionaire proved crucial for GSN's recovery from the near-death experience of the early 2000s. So it's only fitting that GSN has acquired Regis Philbin's Million Dollar Password, the unfortunately short-lived CBS revival from 2008.

With just twelve episodes available, MDP will only get a Saturday run beginning the week of March 29. The show pulled plenty of viewers in its CBS run, but the eyes weren't young enough for the network beancounters. Lately, though, GSN has come a cropper in the young-demo chase, which led to the ratings disaster of Carnie Wilson's reality show. So maybe there's at least a partial change of heart among GSN execs.

Another sign that the network may be getting a little more comfortable with the dreaded Old Skew is the return of Card Sharks to the daytime and late night schedule. Acey-deucey is not my idea of thrilling gameplay, as I have grumped before on this blog. But the show no doubt comes dirt-cheap - who else wants thirty-year-old Jim Perry episodes? - and will draw some classics fans.

There are a couple casualties of the schedule shifts. Poor Ray Combs gets no respect as his version of Family Feud once again departs GSN. Ray just drops into the lost zone between classic Dawson and more recent Karn and O'Hurley. He has never settled solidly into the schedule.

And in a genuine bit of GSN history, Jeopardy leaves the network for the first time ever. Alex drew the death slot opposite The Price is Right, and the sentence has now been carried out. Very strange and somewhat sad, but neither of the Twin Towers of game show syndication will now feature on the game show network.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Game or no game?

An interesting if parochial staple of game show discussion is that burning question: just what the hey is a game show? Really, I think it comes down to Potter Stewart's criterion. I know it when I see it.

That's obviously not a universally accepted definition. I got into an interesting discussion with a couple of my fellow-bloggers about this issue on the GSN board. To plagiarize myself again from the board...

Chad Mosher: I was referring to Instant Recall, not Hidden Agenda. Agenda is still a reality-game hybrid but that wasn't my point. Myyy bad.

Me: Hey, no problem. The endless discussions about what does and does not qualify for the hallowed "game show" label are fun...for us game show freaks. For everybody else the arguments probably look, oh, almost incomprehensible. [Followed by irritating smiley emoticon.]

Alex Davis: I'm not as much [of a traditionalist] as you think I am. I think stuff like Amazing Race and Survivor are game shows, just not in a studio.

Me: Truth to tell, I think High Stakes Poker is probably closer to a traditional game show than Amazing Race or Survivor. Besides the issue of setting, which I agree is pretty trivial, HSP concentrates very heavily on the gameplay. Race and Survivor, on the other hand, are loaded with interpersonal drama that tends more towards classic reality fodder like Real World.

Again, all these hair-splitting discussions probably look incredibly arcane to outsiders. What really matters, of course, is whether a show can capture and keep a large enough and advertiser-friendly enough audience.

But just to split a few more hairs...there are obviously a bunch of core shows that virtually everybody identifies as game shows. Nobody ever mistook Jeopardy or Password for reality teevee or any other kind of teevee besides game shows. But once you start moving away from an intense concentration on gameplay and start shedding some of the traditional trappings of game shows - the emcee, the set, the sound effects, etc. - things get murkier.

I tend to be an inclusionist on game shows, to use a Wikipedia term. For instance, You Bet Your Life was really far more of a talk/comedy show than a game show. But us freaks want to bring a towering figure like Groucho into the fold, so YBYL's qualification for the beloved title is almost never in question. Which is fine with me.

Same same same

Sorry for the two-day absence, but I've been on the road with better things to do than blogging. What's more important than this blog? A whole lot of stuff.

I like to post history items now and then, though I don't want to turn overly antiquarian like old-game-show guru Steve Beverly. The game show genre is cursed with an interesting past, reaching all the way back to radio days and continuing through six decades of the flickering screen in the living room. The 1950s featured game shows' darkest hour with the partly ridiculous, partly tragic rigging scandals, and the genre has fluctuated in popularity and success ever since.

One 1950s show which escaped the wrath of Congress and the New York District Attorney was Goodson-Todman's The Name's the Same. Launched in 1951 on then-fledgling ABC, the show's format offered G-T's familiar panel of four (or three) celebs trying to guess a civvie contestant's secret. Only the secret was always and monotonously the same: the contestant had the same name as somebody or something famous, or at least vaguely familiar.

Celebrity guests also showed up each week, and the panelists tried to guess who the celebs would like to be, or what secret wish they allegedly harbored. With such thoroughly standardized secrets, the show quickly became rather stereotyped and dull. The Name's the Same endured four seasons of less than stellar ratings on a struggling network, and finally succumbed in 1955.

The acerbic Robert Q. Lewis hosted for the first three seasons, but the fourth year saw several host changes as the producers desperately tried to keep the show afloat. The celeb panelist most closely associated with The Name's the Same was Broadway actress Joan Alexander. She employed her hoity-toity semi-British accent throughout the show's short and troubled history.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

$676,900 (real money) bluff

When I wasn't enjoying the contestant antics on Minute To Win It last Sunday night, I was absorbed in the best episode of High Stakes Poker I've ever seen. The action was fast enough to require a scorecard for all the players getting felted.

Arcane and violent disputes have erupted on the Internet over whether poker shows are game shows. I don't care any more, especially after Sunday's absurdly dramatic HSP episode.

The current season of High Stakes Poker has endured a critical drubbing thanks to AJ Benza's enforced absence, the non-contributions of Kara Scott, and the supposedly lackadaisical play. Really, the action hasn't been that dull. A couple players got the heave-ho before Sunday's melodrama.

But the chips truly splattered the fan in the show's most recent installment. The screenshot displays the final hand from Sunday's episode, and if you know anything about poker, the graphics tell the tale. Yes, Tom Dwan is actually bluffing Phil Ivey with nine-high on a pot of almost seven hundred thousand very real dollars. This ain't no tournament with a $1,000 buy-in. Dwan looks a tad worried and Ivey lets him stew for a good long while. What finally happens? You don't expect me to play spoiler, do you?

GSN repeated the show a couple hours later, so I could and did watch the histrionics uninterrupted. They should never have fired Benza, but this episode hardly needed any commentators at all.

Sweeping the syndies

This week Broadcasting & Cable offers a little different take on its weekly roundup of syndication ratings. Instead of comparing the week's numbers to the previous week, they compare overall February sweeps ratings to the previous year. The mixed results for syndie game shows:

Wheel of Fortune 7.4 - up a couple ticks
Jeopardy 6.3 - of course followed WoF, only the show rose a little more
Millionaire 2.6 - up two ticks
5th Grader 1.6 - the rook took a one-tick fall from the November sweeps
Family Feud 1.4 - off a tick
Deal or No Deal 1.1 - down six ticks and on its way out

So the top three got richer and the bottom three got poorer. But only Howie got cancelled.

UPDATE: TV by the Numbers provides its usual list of viewership numbers for the top twenty-five syndies, including Wheel of Fortune 11.8 million (weekend rerun 5.2 million), Jeopardy 9.9 million, and Millionaire 3.5 million. I wish Nielsen would let the site list all syndies, so we could see the bottom three game shows.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sympathy for Howie

The recent news that NBC may be considering a summer comeback for Deal or No Deal reminded me to give Howie Mandel some well-deserved kudos for his deft handling of the host's role. When Howie was announced as the host, many feared that his stand-up shtick would take over and bury the game, the contestants, the audience, and any passers-by.

Nothing close to that happened. Howie proved restrained, courteous and sympathetic towards the contestants. He occasionally cracked wise but never interfered with the gameplay or tried to dominate the show. His hosting style was likable and competent, and he seemed genuinely sorry when some poor schlub wiped out.

The job was probably the best he ever had, and Howie always looked like he was enjoying it to the full. He will probably never be counted among the best game show hosts ever, because he only had that one gig. But he succeeded when many predicted embarrassing failure, and I hope he gets another chance with Deal or No Deal.

And yes, I culled that particular screenshot from YouTube as a goofy accompaniment to this entry's title nod towards Sympathy for the Devil. Howie does look rather satanic, no?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dumb enough for me

Reviewers have not been kind to Minute To Win It, NBC's new stunt show that just completed its double debut. The main complaints are (1) the show rips off The Cube and (2) the show is dumb.

The reviewers could not be more right. Actually, the show rips off Beat the Clock but it's still a rip-off and it's still dumb. And that's why I like it. I'm an ancient BtC fan and I was always a sucker for the silly stunts the show piled onto its hapless contestants. Minute To Win It similarly shows no mercy to its poor saps. Contestants are forced to blow bubbles around the stage, bounce ping pong balls off plates and into a fishbowl, shoot rubber bands at tin cans, shake their heads up and down rapidly, pull kleenex tissues out of a box just as rapidly, and generally act like fools.

That's why I could hardly stop watching, though I cut away now and then to my beloved High Stakes Poker on GSN. But I kept coming back to see the latest indignity foisted on Minute's put-upon charges. The show's commercials were of course strategically positioned to keep viewers from wandering too far afield.

A couple of slightly sour notes: the show seemed a little padded at an hour's length, and host Guy Fieri shouts a lot, though he can occasionally dial it back. But the general mindlessness kept me happily entertained, which might tell you more about me than I want you to know.

UPDATE (plagiarizing myself from the GSN General board): Minute To Win It's ratings weren't great but they were hardly disastrous for an NBC non-scripted show. As TV by the Numbers puts it: "The season premiere of the game show Minute To Win It scored a 1.9 rating. Although ABC’s reality topped it both hours, for a reality show on NBC that’s a win!"

The most encouraging result was the steady climb of the show throughout its timeslot in 18-49 rating/total viewers:

7:00 PM 1.3 4.182M
7:30 PM 1.7 4.958M
8:00 PM 2.1 6.604M
8:30 PM 2.6 7.799M

If Minute to Win It can maintain that 2.6 18-49 rating and 7.8 million total viewers in future runs, it won't have any problems with NBC. We'll see if that's possible.

The models return?

Alex Davis reports an interesting rumor that NBC may be casting contestants for a return of the big-money Deal or No Deal. A scrounge through the Google blog cache did produce this online request for contestant applications, posted just a couple weeks ago. Since syndie DOND is supposedly kaput, maybe they want folks for a broadcast network version, though the call doesn't specify.

I can understand NBC's possible interest in giving the full-scale, all-the-models version another try. The broadcast episodes have repeated well on CNBC and GSN, which indicates there's still an audience for the high-priced format. Meanwhile, the syndie always looked like a cheap knockoff of the prime time version...which, in fact, it was. I like the presumably dead syndie, but I'm biased because my actuarial self likes the format in general. This hopeless nerd enjoys all the probability and utility theory tucked under the show's deceptively simple surface.

I assume NBC would only use the show for summer filler, if it ever makes it back to air at all. I can't see even woeful NBC bringing the show back into its regular season lineup, unless the ratings really lift off.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

He cannot be serious

John McEnroe played some great tennis between some greater tantrums. In an odd way he was the perfect host for an odd 2002 ABC game show called The Chair, which tested a contestant's ability to maintain a slow heart rate. If anybody could raise a tennis official's blood pressure and heart rate, it was the Tennis Brat.

Unfortunately, the rest of The Chair's production wasn't quite so well thought out. Most importantly, the producers forgot that watching a contestant's heart rate is not an intrinsically thrilling experience for TV viewers. At least they tossed in some questions and a few surprises to keep a little momentum in the gameplay. But the basic premise proved fatally non-telegenic, and The Chair went to the Nielsen electric chair after only nine episodes.

Another odd note is this odd story is that Fox launched a vaguely similar show, The Chamber, at about the same time in 2002. Supposedly some legal catfighting ensued but nothing serious developed. After all, The Chamber went to the Nielsen gas chamber after only three episodes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Greed is a game show

This blog has referred to it a couple times, but I might as well post a longer note on the best of the Millionaire knockoffs, Fox's Greed. The 1999-2000 show offered an intriguing blend of cooperation and competition. An uneasy team of contestants tried to help each other up the money ladder, but also occasionally bumped each other off the show.

The format was thrown together in literally days to cash in on the Millionaire phenomenon in 1999, so inevitable flaws cropped up. The worst was the $200K level, which developed into an impassible barrier for many teams. Even if they won that level's money, they usually chickened out on going any further. Gameplay thus tended to become rather stereotyped and predictable.

But the tension among team members was always palpable, as they alternately cheered each other on and tried to terminate each other with extreme game show prejudice. The head-to-head shootout (see the ominous picture) was a great piece of quizzer theater.

The show got mostly poor reviews as an obvious copy of Millionaire. Well, so it was, but Greed offered an edginess that you didn't feel in the folksy Regis hour. Greed featured what its name literally implied: big money and a hostile environment. Chuck Woolery presided with a hard command quite unlike Regis' hail-fellow-well-met chumminess.

The show succumbed to a new regime at Fox determined to be rid of game shows. Greed's ratings were respectable if not spectacular, and I always thought the show deserved a longer run. But Fox execs didn't feel the need.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kinder gentler AJ

Last heard dissing GSN execs and the world in general for his firing from High Stakes Poker, AJ Benza may have decided on a different, more amiable approach. His interview with Dan Cypra at Poker News Daily reads very gently by Benza standards. He praises his former broadcast partner Gabe Kaplan to the skies and picks his steps carefully in criticizing the new Benza-less format on HSP.

He also seems genuinely humble - yes, I know this is very difficult to imagine about Benza - in reacting to the online petitions to get him back on the show. He recalls how he didn't know squat about poker when he started on HSP, and he thanks the many fans who have hollered to GSN for his reinstatement on the show.

Benza may be making a value bet, as they say at the poker table, for getting his old gig back. Trouble is, the ratings have fallen for the new season, as Benza himself notes in a departure from his newfound diplomacy. And GSN head honcho David Goldhill has always seemed ambivalent at best about the show. I'm not sure there will be another HSP season for AJ to return to.

That would make many posters on the GSN Classics board happy, but it would be a genuine loss for the network. GSN has recently tried a lot of goofy experiments to attract new viewers beyond its usual old-skewing, female-skewing audience. They put the very rough-edged Carnie Wilson on 88 times a week in a lame reality series. They subjected the legendary Wink Martindale to a wretchedly unfunny game show parody. They splattered their Saturday night schedule with loud, crude, downright asinine interstitials. These experiments and others have all crashed and burned where it matters...in the reports from Nielsen Media Research.

High Stakes Poker is one of GSN's few efforts that have actually reached a new audience, younger and more male. So why does the network treat the show so disdainfully? Well, Goldhill inherited it from his predecessor Rich Cronin, and that's hardly a recommendation with the powers-that-now-be at GSN.

Burnett is back

Our Little Genius didn't pan out so great, but Mark Burnett is back to the game show wars. He's doing a pilot for ABC called Trust Me, I'm a Game Show Host. It looks like an odd twist on To Tell the Truth, except you have to figure out which host is lying, not which contestant. The game show blogosphere is reacting cautiously because the concept sounds a little out there.

Mark's a smart guy and he might make this work. If anybody can take an offbeat idea and put it into salable form, it's Burnett. But we're only at the pilot stage and there's many a slip betwixt...as we discovered with the little geniuses.

In other news Saturday Night Live has now confirmed that game show über-legend Betty White will host the show on May 8. The episode will also feature a Mother's Day reunion of six former female cast members. (That doesn't mean they're former females. They're former actors on the show.)

Meanwhile, the GSN schedule has lapsed into chaos as network president David Goldhill wields his terrible swift sword against the recent spate of miserably rated originals. Hidden Agenda is long gone. Carnie reality is getting cut back to near-invisibility after its "season finale" tonight and may soon be completely gone. Instant Recall is losing its Thursday slots after its apparently disastrous debut. Stay tuned as the Goldhill rampage continues.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Your bags, please

The non-dating dating show that I blogged about a couple weeks ago may actually be coming to GSN. Reality Wanted has released yet another casting call that mentions a 40-episode order. The show is supposedly called Baggage, though this title is not used in the call. The description still looks weird: "The show is based on the original show The Dating Game with some new and funny changes! This is not a dating show....but a funny game show about dating!!"

We'll see what emerges from this, ah, intriguing concept. Non-date dates may be the coming thing, but the format still sounds like a far stretch. Why doesn't GSN just remake Dating Game for real? I think they looked at a remake pilot a while back, with Kim Coles as the host. That project apparently died in development hell, so now we have a dateless version.

The only originals that have worked at all for GSN's current Goldhill regime are two remakes: Newlywed Game and Catch 21. Of course, the real question is why GSN doesn't just make more episodes of Lingo, an original they know succeeds with their audience.

Ticky tacky

With Wink Martindale suffering through a forgettable return on Instant Recall, let's instantly recall a happier time. Wink's biggest show was undoubtedly Tic Tac Dough, the Barry & Enright production that enjoyed an eight-year run in 1978-86. Wink hosted the first seven seasons of x's and o's.

The show, of course, was a remake of the 1950s version which became embroiled in the endless game show scandals of the decade. Producer Howard Felsher, later to become embroiled in endless disputes with Richard Dawson on Family Feud, helpfully coached contestants to lie to the grand jury about Tic Tac Dough's rampant rigging. Eventually Felsher and his boss Dan Enright got tossed out of the industry for a few years due to their misdeeds.

Tic Tac Dough returned semi-triumphantly in the late 1970s. A CBS daytime run in the summer of 1978 didn't perform well, and the syndicated version wasn't an immediate success, either. But then contestant Thom McKee piled up a staggering run of wins that made the syndie's fortune and launched it on a long run through 1986. At least McKee earned his victories honestly.

Barry & Enright tried reviving the show one more time in 1991 with Patrick Wayne as host, but it didn't work. My own feelings about the show are mixed. Wink did his usual competent and friendly job, and the show had some play-along value. But the questions tended toward the simplistic and the tic-tac-toe format was hardly the most original or dramatic.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monty deals again

The game show blogosphere is atwitter with the news that Monty Hall will return for a week of CBS's Let's Make a Deal March 22-26. The show has never appealed to me much, but Monty's cheesy charm was unquestionably one of its better features for this cynical blogger. I'll check out Monty's co-star turn with Wayne Brady.

LMAD has garnered modest ratings at best and very old demos. Lots of soap operas outperform it, but LMAD holds the undoubted advantage on the bottom line. An enduring and critical edge for game shows is their blessed cheapness. With advertising spending still on the skimpy side, low expenses look very sexy.

Syndies amble along

Not much change for syndicated game shows in the week ending February 28, though the Twin Towers gained a bit. Broadcasting & Cable provides just the facts, ma'am:

Wheel of Fortune 7.4 - up a little
Jeopardy 6.4 - what else, same as WoF, up a little
Millionaire 2.6 - down a tick
5th Grader 1.5 - flat
Family Feud 1.3 - flat
Deal or No Deal - mostly preempted by the Olympics

Not exactly an exciting week. I still wonder if Steve Harvey can keep the old Feud hoss going next fall. The format remains rock-solid but this latest syndie version is limping into its twelfth season, and there will be new competition on the block.

5th Grader has already won renewal with ratings that would have doomed a syndie not long ago. The Foxworthy effort also gets exposure on cable and MyNetwork, but the real saving grace is the lowered expectations for all over-the-air TV. As recently as 2004 Donny Osmond's Pyramid got axed with much better numbers in syndication.

The top three syndie game shows are, of course, locks for perpetual renewal as long as they maintain anything close to their current numbers. If these shows skewed young, they'd be red-hot properties. Even with their less than favorable demos, the shows are very reliable cash cows. TV by the Numbers reports the quite respectable average viewership numbers for the latest week: Wheel of Fortune 11.7 million (weekend rerun 5.7 million), Jeopardy 10.0 million, Millionaire 3.6 million.

Carniewed III tapes

Again plagiarizing myself from the GSN board...

According to this report from Hollywood Junket, the third season of GSN's Newlywed Game started taping last Thursday. Assuming normal post-production, we might see the new season in April or May. If GSN wants the biggest ratings bang for the buck, they might hold the new episodes until after the broadcast networks mostly shut down in May.

Unintentionally funny note from the story: "The show production shooting schedule is now on track, and not painstakingly long like last season’s. [Carnie] Wilson has tightened her hosting skills a bit which has cut a lot of the shooting time down. Her personality still fails to completely shine through."

Considering how Carnie's reality show has bombed with GSN's viewers, the producers may not want her personality "to completely shine through" on Newlywed Game.

In a related note Carrie Grosvenor offers GSN some advice about its original programming. As you might expect from Carrie, the advice is so evenhanded that it's almost exasperating. She wants GSN to develop new traditional game shows - "dish up a good old-fashioned game show with a decent host and good contestants" - but she also wants the network to branch out into other genres - "by all means, keep experimenting with reality-TV based shows."

Sorry, but this sounds like a recipe for pleasing nobody by spreading GSN's limited resources and talent too thin. I've got a simpler idea: junk all original development for a while. Instead, spend the money on acquisitions like broadcast 5th Grader, syndie Deal or No Deal, more O'Hurley Feud, Million Dollar Password, and other shows that would likely appeal to GSN's actual audience right now.

After all, in the latest published week (February 15-21) seventeen of GSN's twenty top-rated shows were acquisitions. That's been the pattern for all of the recent published weeks. Acquisitions have always heavily predominated among GSN's most-watched shows. If the network just has to spend some bucks on new shows, then make a few new episodes of Lingo, a proven winner with GSN's viewers.

By the way, Carrie's incorrect when she says that Newlywed Game is "the one new show that GSN has had some success with." Catch 21 has been a little more consistently successful, landing a couple episodes in the latest published top twenty. Newlywed Game's most watched episode ranked twenty-fifth.

Monday, March 8, 2010

R.I.P. Nick GAS

Chad Mosher's post at about.com on game shows for kids brought to my gloomy mind the sad and cautionary tale of Nick GAS. Launched in March 1999, Nick GAS was, as the aspersed Wikipedia says, "essentially a children's version of (and Viacom's answer to) Game Show Network, which had launched in December 1994."

But while GSN has survived to this day, though not without occasional alarms, Nick GAS closed up shop a few years ago. Even Dish Network's automated loop of its programming has vanished. Chad offers a rather old-fogeyish explanation for the network's failure: "Kids are too enveloped in their brain-dead cartoons and text messaging (you're only ten, give me that cell phone!) to take much of an interest in a game for thirty minutes." In other words, what's wrong with kids nowadays!

Maybe I'm naive, but I doubt that kids today are particularly scatterbrained or inattentive compared to any other generation. It's always been hard for kids to sit through a complete game show. Even the best of the shows on Nick GAS, like the quizzer-plus-stunt epic Legends of the Hidden Temple, demanded fairly close attention for a fairly long time to see who was finally going to win.

The demise of Nick GAS provides an obvious lesson for GSN. Even adults can easily lose interest in game shows. That's why the genre has rarely been a dominant force in television programming like sitcoms or dramas. So it's no surprise that GSN has occasionally tried to broaden its offerings, though the network has found only limited success in the experiments.

I still miss Nick GAS. My daughter purely loved the channel as she grew up, and I liked old stony Olmec myself.

UNRELATED UPDATE: Game show doyenne Betty White has apparently signed on to host Saturday Night Live. I wasn't enthusiastic about the idea, basically because I'm not enthusiastic about the show. But I'm sure Betty will do fine.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rescued top fifty

This isn't a post about game shows so much as about the idiocy of Wikipedia. Once upon a time I contributed heavily to Jimbo Wales' online pile of stuff. But I finally got tired of the moron admins who run the place like a Stalinist gulag. So in November, 2007 I "retired," as they say in Wikiland. Truth to tell, I have edited anonymously a few times since then, but I have no interest in getting heavily involved in the Wikimess anymore.

All right, I'm being a little unfair. I actually use Wikipedia a lot as a handy reference, though always with ten tons of salt for its notoriously fallible reliability. Anyway, one of the articles I worked on during my stretch in Wikijail was the entry on GSN's 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time. This series was a much discussed sort-of-documentary that ran on the network in 2006. Disagreements rang out over the Internet about the network's picks for the top fifty.

Hundreds of thousands of people saw at least part of the series. I naively figured its Wikipedia entry would withstand the test of time and the idiot "deletionists" who get kinky pleasure from erasing Wikipedia articles. So I was mildly surprised when I found that some particularly moronic admin had deleted the article for some particularly stupid reason.

Luckily, the asinine Wikipedia admins don't run the entire Internet. The indispensible Internet Archive saved a complete copy of the entry, right down to the (appropriate) hole-in-the-head Wikipedia logo. So in your face, clown admins. You couldn't rub out my work on the article, though you tried.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Seeing it

My weakness for word games is well known, at least to myself. So I have a soft spot even for an obscure show like Now You See It, which ran for just over a year on CBS in 1974-75. The show featured Jack Narz at his most understated, though his blazer and tie in the picture were overstated even by seventies standards.

The show never did all that well and really began to struggle when NBC launched Alex Trebek's High Rollers in the same timeslot. The producers juggled NYSI's format in a vain attempt to meet the competition, but the show finally succumbed in June, 1975, about fourteen months after its launch.

The basic skill required in the game was the ability to pick out words quickly from a board of jumbled letters. This may not sound like the most exciting or dramatic set-up, and the show did tend to be rather quiet and cerebral, especially with the soft-spoken Mr. Narz at the helm. But word game freaks like me don't mind quiet and cerebral, and I enjoyed the show when GSN ran a few episodes a couple years ago.

In 1989 CBS gave the show another try with Chuck Henry as the host. The new version foundered in a hurry and was cancelled after three months. The simple word game just seemed too quaint and unexciting compared to shock talkers and the other detritus that was starting to dominate daytime TV. And by the late eighties the broadcast networks were turning away from game shows of all kinds, a trend that wouldn't change until Regis came along in 1999.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Son of instant dud

I figured the GSN board would dump on Instant Recall with a howling vengeance, and I wasn't disappointed. I started a thread with my review of the show and got little dissent from my scorched-earth pan. I wrote this reply to a perceptive comment (in italics) from another poster:

Wow, I haven't seen the show, but based on the reviews, it seems like they were going for a "cheesy" game show parody, and brought Wink on board because he's arguably the quintessential "cheesy" host in the public's eye.

Oh sure, and Wink's aware of it, of course. The guy's not stupid. He's intentionally playing off his cheeseball image to revive his career.

Which is fine with me. If the show had been a funny send-up of his cheeseballsiness, I would have enjoyed it, just as I enjoyed Wink's rap commercial. The only problem is...the show's not funny at all.

The braindead hidden-camera set-ups limp along for seemingly hours with zero humor or entertainment. At least the pace picks up with the quizzer segments, but even these aren't very funny because the 1970s game show parody is too achingly broad. The show tries to enliven the proceedings with allegedly humorous pop-ups, but these non-gag lines may be even more unfunny than the segments they're popping into.

It's just a mess. Funny thing, I actually enjoyed the Carnage episode with Bob Eubanks before the debut of Wink's disaster. At least Carnie was honest enough to admit her professional jealousy of Eubanks' flawless hosting style.

UPDATE: In the spirit of fairness and because I don't have anything better to do right now, I'll post this link to a favorable review of the show. Most of the review is just a rehash of the mishmash, but the reviewer finally does give his opinion: "The fast pace, the positively sassy way of Wink Martindale, and retro feel in modern day 2010 are a winning combination."

And to add one more of my comments from the GSN board...

Extending my feeble attempt to look fair-minded, I wouldn't be surprised if the show gets decent ratings. Wink alone should attract good initial sampling, and the show has a so-bad-it's-good vibe that might keep viewers coming back.

I don't think Instant Recall will appeal much to hardcore game show freaks. The game-show-within-the-show is an intentional joke, though not a very good one. But of all GSN's recent efforts to broaden the brand - the Big Saturday Night interstitials, Carnage, Hidden Agenda - this show may work best. At least it should work better than Hidden Agenda, which is now getting very well hidden by GSN.

UPDATED UPDATE: Shows how accurate my predictions can be. Alex Davis says the debut of Instant Recall got a wretched 0.1 household rating. Yeeeeeouch, if the number's correct. When it comes to ratings, I trust "Douglas" on Mediaweek a lot more. Obviously, getting sandwiched between the miserably rated Carnage and Hidden Agenda didn't help Wink at all. In fact, Hidden Agenda now apppears to have disappeared entirely from GSN's schedule.

GSN's 10:00 PM weekday jumble has also been shelved due to terrible ratings. 1 vs. 100 will now run at 10:00 PM weekdays, except for Howie on Thursday.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Instant dud

A while back I commented that people should give Wink Martindale a break before dumping on his new GSN show Instant Recall sight unseen. Well, sight has now been seen, and I have to admit the dumpers were intolerably correct. Instant Recall is an embarrassment, and I only hope Mr. Martindale was well-paid for the entire unsightly disaster.

The show is a mishmash of a hidden-camera spoof and a 1970s game show spoof. Trouble is, neither spoof is funny. Neither spoof is entertaining. Neither spoof is even endurable. Some poor saps get shanghaied into an odd, boring hidden-camera situation that plays out at excruciating length. Finally, to relieve the tedium, Wink comes onto the scene and announces that the saps are on a game show. A crew then puts up a cringe-worthy parody of a 1970s game show set, and Wink quizzes the saps on details of the hidden-camera set-up. The only good thing I can say about the quizzer is that it doesn't last as long as the set-up.

Wink is decked out in retina-destroying garb from the seventies and treats the whole mess as if it's pure joy. I have no idea how much joy he had in making the show, but I can guarantee a joyless experience for the show's viewers. I kept wishing somebody else would interrupt the proceedings to announce that the whole production was a joke and GSN would now give Wink a real game show.

13 is lucky

Carrie Grosvenor directed me to an odd site called The Top 13. No triskaidekaphobia in those parts, I guess. One of the site's lists was, almost inevitably, the top thirteen game show hosts. As Carrie wisely points out, these lists are purest subjectivity, which is why my egotistical self loves them so.

As fate would have it, I don't disagree much with the site's selections. Ten of the fellows can stay, in my conceited opinion. The unfortunate three I would exclude are Peter Marshall, Jack Barry and the Sesame Street puppet (sorry, kids). Marshall goes because I never liked all the scripting on Hollywood Squares, Barry goes because I never liked all the rigging on Twenty-One, and Guy Smiley goes because I never liked all the anything on Sesame Street. Okay, Cookie Monster was just bearable.

In their place I would usher in Bill Cullen, Regis Philbin, and Garry Moore. Cullen did 88 shows, all of them well. Regis really only had one show, but it was a lollapalooza that sparked a renaissance for prime time game shows on the broadcast networks. And Garry was always a trooper on I've Got a Secret and performed creditably on many other gamers.

Carrie says that she would eject Richard Dawson, which I can't agree with. True, Dawson tended to fade into indifference and mumbling as his shows went along, as I have already sourly noted. But at the top of his form on the early seasons of Family Feud, he was as good a host as the genre gets.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tattled out

Over at Brandon's TV blog the semi-anonymous "Brandon B." recently posted an admiring comment on Tattletales, Goodson-Todman's knockoff of Newlywed Game. The show had two runs, 1974-78 and 1982-84, both hosted by Bert Convy, who actually copped a Daytime Emmy for Tattletales in 1977.

Brandon calls the show "Newlywed Game with celebrities." I would call it "Newlywed Game neutered." The show wasn't terrible, just kind of bland. Without Bob Eubanks' acerbic wit to keep things edgy, the show tended to yawn through the marital minutiae of celeb couples. As always, Convy was Mr. Nice Guy, which was fine for the easygoing format G-T wanted. But I like my relationship shows with a spoonful of medicine to help the sugar go down. Which is what Eubanks supplied for the real and (in my opinion) far superior Newlywed Game.

Brandon B. is an older-is-better guy when it comes to game shows, so it's no surprise that he ends his note with a knock on Deal or No Deal and GSN's Chain Reaction. No disputing tastes, but at least DOND and Chain Reaction don't lull me to sleep, as the Convy epic tended to do. If the show ever returned to GSN, as Brandon wants, I'd just skip it. Instead, I wish GSN would bring back Bob Eubanks with the genuine-article Newlywed Game.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Syndies don't own the podium

The Olympics were rough on GSN and didn't do syndicated game shows any favors, either. But losses in the week ending February 21 were relatively small compared to other syndie genres. Broadcasting & Cable presents the non-medals:

Wheel of Fortune 7.2 - down a couple ticks
Jeopardy 6.2 - same as WoF, a stunner I know, down a couple ticks
Millionaire 2.7 - flat, Meredith hung in there
5th Grader 1.5 - down a couple ticks, a pattern is developing
Family Feud 1.3 - didn't want to spoil the pattern, down a couple ticks
Deal or No Deal - mostly wiped out by Olympics preemptions

TV by the Numbers offers the average viewer totals for the top three syndies, and they were nothing special: Wheel of Fortune 11.7 million (weekend rerun 6.0 million), Jeopardy 9.7 million, Millionaire 3.8 million.

Non-game-show note, unless you really broaden the definition of "game show": my guilty pleasure Investigation Discovery posted its best month ever in February with a 378K viewership average in prime time. GSN wouldn't mind that number, and the Play Every Day net is available in 15 million more households than ID. Crime pays.

UPDATE: In my post on GSN's February 15-21 ratings, I speculated that the Olympics brutalized a lot of cable networks. Indeed, Mediaweek now tells us that a whole slew of cablers suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous hockey, curling, skiing, skating, etc.

Still don't care

Have I ever mentioned that I don't care about The Price is Right? Yes, I have mentioned that, and the recent hoohah about the fifty-fourth suit against the show by an ex-model leaves me as uninterested as ever.

Frankly, Bob Barker drew a nice round bull's-eye on the show for greedy lawyers when he admitted to an affair with some other flipping ex-model. Ever since that unfortunate out-of-pants experience, The Price is Right has become a litigation magnet. It also helps that the show makes a mint. Money lures lawyers like a non-sinking ship attracts rats.

This latest suit sounds thin to me, if I could ever bother to follow it closely. The ex-model says that people on the show made rude remarks about her pregnancy. Life's tough. People make rude remarks to me on the Internet, but no lawyer would bother suing pajama-clad netniks inhabiting basement rooms in their parents' houses.

I smell a settlement coming, just to get rid of the former model and her whining. The lawyer will get a cut, which should make all of us ecstatic.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Big smile now!

I've gotten into a few skirmishes on the GSN Classics board about Richard Dawson's sour exit from Match Game in 1978. The details are well known to game show freaks, but for the less initiated, Dawson was undoubtedly one of the stars of the show in its early 1973-75 seasons. His brilliant ad-libs helped Match Game to the top of the network daytime charts.

But around 1976 or so, Dawson started to withdraw from the show. He was now hosting Family Feud as well as filling his regular seat on the Match Game panel, so his schedule was a killer. He joked less and less on Match Game and even assumed a permanent and irritating frown. The picture shows a memorable moment when Gene Rayburn tried vainly to get Richard to smile.

Match Game's producers got tired of Dawson's act and introduced the "star wheel" to stop contestants from constantly selecting Richard for the big money match. On the GSN documentary about the show, Dawson allowed that he took the star wheel as a personal slight. He grew even grumpier as a result and finally left the show completely.

I'll admit I'm not the biggest Dawson devotee and I never liked how he put less and less effort into Match Game. Of course, Dawson fans on the GSN board have often let me know how idiotic my criticism is. I still wish Richard had remained his smiling, life-of-the-party self on my favorite game show ever, but he had just gotten too bored with the proceedings.