Thursday, December 30, 2010

Syndies slumber

Syndicated game shows might as well have mailed it in for the week ending December 19. Broadcasting & Cable presents the unexciting news...

Wheel of Fortune 7.2 - down a tick
Jeopardy 6.1 - flat
Millionaire 2.3 - flat
Family Feud 1.7 - down a tick
5th Grader 1.0 - flat, this is getting real old
Lyrics 1.0 - wow, up a whole tick to a season high

At least Lyrics crawled up to the big one-oh. Nowadays, that's not such a horrible number. Nothing yet from TV by the Numbers on viewership averages for the twin towers.

Meanwhile, weekly blogger Aaron tells us that Cash Cab will roll through the syndie streets starting January 10. Aaron speculates that some other syndie gamer, probably Lyrics, will soon get the ax. I dunno, I wouldn't look for a midseason cancellation. This week Lyrics actually got the second-best household rating of any syndication rookie, only three ticks behind Nancy Grace.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Web trotting

Seattle's Tom Nissley ended his Jeopardy streak at eight on Christmas Eve. Ken Jennings can sleep easier, not that he was getting too worried. Poor Tom didn't know that Mt. Rushmore has more of a skyline than the Lincoln Memorial. This Seattle outlet praises Tom for "not being a creepy gerbil expert." Tom also missed a Daily Double about, you guessed it, gerbils.

Some columnist in some gossip rag thinks that Bob Barker is too orange. That's right, Barker's skin tone is a little on the ripe-citrus side in a State Farm ad, according to this insightful commentator. I'll leave the color judgments to you.

A casting call has gone out for a new quizzer where you win money for somebody else, or "your deserving loved one" as the call puts it. Call me selfish, but if I hit it big on a game show, I'd like to keep some of the loot for myself. BuzzerBlog's Alex Davis says the ABC show is called You Deserve It. We'll see if the show deserves any viewers.

Downer number-palooza

Douglas has posted some more ratings on Mediaweek. There's a problem, though, as I noted on the revamped GSN boards...

Unfortunately, the new numbers are not GSN ratings. Our hero Douglas just published a couple weeks of viewer numbers for Food Network and HGTV here and here. The ratings are kind of old, from November 1-7.

They're also depressing. The numbers look so big compared to GSN's numbers. We're talking about a couple niche networks here, and they blow GSN's top shows out of the water. Admittedly, Food Network and HGTV are available in about 100 million households compared to GSN's 75 million, but that hardly accounts for the huge disparity in viewer totals.

But there's a bright side. Despite such modest numbers a game show network has managed to endure for sixteen years. Poor old GSN gets slammed all the time around these boards, and I've certainly done some of the slamming myself. But it's great that a network mostly devoted to traditional game shows (for now) still exists at all.

And to be honest, the numbers tell me why GSN is launching big with the Drew Carey comedy show. GSN execs have been looking at these numbers from other niche networks for years and wondering, why not us? After all, traditional game shows are the nichiest of niches.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Money Drop oopsie part whatever

I really didn't want to blog about this any more, but it seems to be the latest game show obsession. The Money Drop goof that cost a pair of contestants eight hundred grand keeps generating media hoohah. Now host Kevin Pollak has weighed in with a giant kiss-off:

"They never had a chance to win that money. Ever. No matter what. They got the last question wrong. None of the clips show the last question...This story is a moot point. They lost everything on the next question. It's a non-story."

Pollak then dumps on the contestants for saying that a return to the show might be too much pressure. Kevin, I'll tell you my reaction to this pressing issue:

I'm bored with the whole lousy stink.

But then I'm bored with the whole lousy show. When a quizzer crawls through questions slower than a tortoise with a baby grand piano strapped to its shell, it ain't drama. It's unendurable. Fortunately, the show's near-invisible ratings might soon end the tedium.

Monday, December 27, 2010

GSN stuff

A few items about the world-needs-more-winners network, courtesy of Alex Davis at BuzzerBlog...

Alex tweets that GSN's top-rated show Baggage may (will?) be syndicated. This would be a first for the network. Despite its rise in the cable world, GSN still only reaches about 75 million of the 116 million TV households in the U.S. So a fair number of viewers have never had a chance to behold Jerry's dating extravaganza. We'll see how the syndication story develops.

Alex also posted revised GSN schedules that show a couple of weekend tweaks. The most welcome is the return of Million Dollar Password at 2:00 PM Saturday. Regis' version of the venerable classic was a more than acceptable remake, as it deftly straddled the gap between Password and its descendant Pyramid.

GSN ran the show for a while on Sunday nights. It got nice ratings but then disappeared. There were so few episodes that even rerun-happy GSN might have been afraid of burning the show out.

Million Dollar Password replaces one of the Deal or No Deal's Saturday runs. On Sunday a double run of Lingo replaces Howie at 2:00 PM. After many months of heavy duty on GSN, Deal's numbers have generally softened, especially in early afternoon.

Also, Carrie Ann's remake of 1 vs. 100 gets the 5:00 PM slot on Saturday and Sunday. Carrie Ann hasn't been a runaway hit by any means, but she's usually produced decent numbers. So GSN apparently wants to give her version of contestant-versus-mob some exposure on the weekends.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Harmless hobby

While we're still in the Christmas spirit (I hope) let's remember one more nice thing about game shows. They're a pleasant way to pass the time. And if they're not pleasant, they don't stay on the air.

I'm reminded of this when I see obituaries in the Google news cache that mention how their subjects liked to watch game shows. This one about a Missouri iron worker is typical: "Robert [Hicks] was a member of the Methodist church in Kansas City, Mo. He had been an iron worker in the Kansas City area for many years. In his spare time he enjoyed reading, watching game shows, especially Jeopardy, and watching football.

These notices remind me how game shows can fill a lot of people's time with harmless enjoyment. Maybe I'm getting all sentimental and Dickensian on the day after Christmas, but that's not the worst thing any entertainment genre can do. Of course, there's also a reminder of game show demographics, but I'll stay positive for at least this one blog post.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

God's own game show

Don't mean to be blasphemous on Christmas Day, and it's not often that a game show blog can use an image from the Sistine Chapel. But on this Christmas afternoon, I can't resist blogging about the strangest recent game show story I've seen in the Google news cache.

Titled What if God had his own television show?, the column imagines the Almighty fashioning a game show after his own image. The columnist runs through literally divine versions of Deal or No Deal, The Price is Right, and Dating Game as he scores some theological points.

The effort does seem to be a serious spirituality column, so maybe I'm being a little too flip. There is a genuinely religious message lurking in the awkward game show metaphors...I think. I'll let you read the story and decide if I'm imagining things. Anyway, Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Drew is coming!

The GSN Internet boards, usually quick to scream bloodiest murder whenever the network tries a non-game show, are in denial about Drew Carey's new comedy series on the network. Carey's Improv-a-Ganza starts in March and is already getting promos on GSN, though it hasn't even been taped yet. Fond fantasies around the GSN boards are:

(1) the show doesn't matter
(2) the show will flop
(3) the show will replace poker

I trash all three of these fantasies in a recent post on the GSN Originals board...

Other poster: Given that this isn't a game show, Drew or no Drew, it's a big risk, and it'll either do well, or it'll languish. No in-between.

Given Carey's track record of proven success with improv comedy, I don't think Improv-a-Ganza is much of a risk at all. Drew's got a big fanbase from The Price is Right and a lot of fond memories from Whose Line and his improv stage shows. I think Improv-a-Ganza will hit big, especially with younger demos where comedy appeals a lot more than traditional game shows.

Another poster: If GSN is hoping to replace a boring type of programming (Poker) with an equal amount of boring programming (non-game-show that doesn't give out prizes and is thus cheap to produce), then it isn't gonna last long.

Sorry to be blunt, but this fond fantasy that Carey will replace poker seems to have no basis in fact. GSN just taped an entire new season of High Stakes Poker that will debut in February. The scheduled hours for poker are expanding in January, not shrinking (usual caveats on the PDFs).

Again, poker is a demo play, much like Carey's comedy show. GSN wants some younger male viewers, and traditional game shows hardly deliver that demo. Late Night Liars was a disastrous attempt to reach young males, but it failed because the puppets were godawfully unfunny and the host was hardly well-known. Carey's show will probably be plenty funny, and Drew is plenty well-known.

All indications are that Carey's comedy show will replace traditional game shows on weekdays, not poker on weekends. I like High Stakes Poker a lot, but I agree GSN should cut back the show. Only the schedule PDFs (again, usual caveats) indicate no cutbacks at all. Just the opposite.

UPDATE: Gee, another lesson in not trusting the pdfs. According to the usually more reliable online schedule, GSN is replacing one hour of poker on Sunday night. The usual Sherri/Jerry combo will take over at 9:00 PM Sunday. So right now the online schedule says that poker is getting three more hours on Saturday night (6:00 PM - 9:00 PM) and one less hour on Sunday night.

GSN should just move poker to one night a week and trim it back to three or four hours. There's a thread on the GSN Originals board about Carey's comedy series maybe replacing poker on Sunday night. Drew's show will undoubtedly replace traditional game shows on weekdays far more than it replaces poker. But GSN might be planning a move of poker to one night in preparation for the new High Stakes Poker season which just finished taping and is due in February.

Money Drop oopsie part two

The star-crossed lovers (poetic license) on the first episode of Fox's new quizzer Million Dollar Money Drop will get a second chance to play the game. After initially getting tough, Money Drop executive producer Jeff Apploff has now admitted that contestants Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayti were right about Post-It Notes being sold in stores before the Sony Walkman.

The show goofed on their research, and that goof cost the couple $800,000. Apploff's statement:

"As a result of new information we have received from 3M, we feel it is only fair to give our contestants, Gabe and Brittany, another shot to play Million Dollar Money Drop even though this question was not the deciding question in their game.

"The revised information regarding the Post-It is as follows: the product was originally tested for sale in four cities under the name 'Press 'N Peel' in 1977, sold as 'Post-Its' in 1979 when the rollout introduction began and sold nationwide in 1980. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the viewers who brought this to our attention, and we’re thrilled to give Gabe and Brittany the opportunity to return to play the game."

Well, good for him. Trouble is, I don't know how long Money Drop will stay on the air. Initial ratings have been mediocre at best. They better get Gabe and Brittany back in a hurry.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, A RATINGS UPDATE: On Thursday night Money Drop got its usual low numbers: a 1.5 18-49 rating and 4.9 million total viewers. The household rating/share was 2.9/5. Okay, it was a little-watched night in general. The show did improve its ratings in the second hour.

It's a cheap show, so maybe it can survive with very marginal numbers. We'll see.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Renovating

Christmas approaches and the flow of game show news slackens. So I decided to mess with this blog's format. I picked a new template, tweaked the HTML, and settled on some new fonts and colors.

Beyond these cosmetic changes I added a bunch of links to the sidebar. All sorts of game show ratings are now available, thanks to TV by the Numbers (broadcast), Broadcasting & Cable (syndies), and "Douglas" at Mediaweek (GSN).

I also linked to BuzzerBlog's GSN schedules. These PDF files often go obsolete because GSN is prone to sudden, twitchy schedule changes. But the links are now provided for your scheduling entertainment.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One night, two shows

Two traditional game shows on different broadcast networks on the same night. So how did they do? From another post of mine on the GSN General board...

In the Tuesday ratings it was steady as she goes for Million Dollar Money Drop, or MD-squared (I like that!) The show did a 2.0 18-49 rating with 5.6 million total viewers. About the same as Monday.

Not a hit by any means, but maybe good enough to keep a cheap unscripted show on the air. The household rating was 3.2, again about the same as Monday.

An hour earlier, Minute To Win It did a little better in every category: 2.2 18-49, 7.0 million total viewers, 3.9 household rating. In fact, Minute won 18-49 in the 8:30 PM slot. Okay, the competition was almost all reruns.

If Minute can survive on those numbers, Money Drop might also scrape by. Especially because Money Drop hardly ever seems to drop big money on the contestants.

Oh well, two of the broadcast networks showed traditional game shows in prime time on the same night. That's nice.

Money Drop oopsie?

Did the first pair of contestants on Million Dollar Money Drop get rooked? The couple bet a bundle that Post-It Notes were sold in stores before the Sony Walkman. Money Drop's producers thought otherwise, maybe incorrectly. From a post of mine on the GSN General board...

Other poster: Hate to burst everyone's bubble, but FOX is now in a bath of hot water with the controversy surrounding Post-It Notes being sold in stores before the Sony Walkman (anyone who watched the premiere knows what I mean by that).

In case you want some more background on this controversy, this story rehashes the goof and offers links to other discussions. Seems that Post-It Notes were sold in stores in selected cities before the Walkman. The brand name was different, but that seems like a crummy technicality.

The first contestants on the show lost a cool $800,000 because of this apparent mistake. Poor Kevin Pollak. Any game show he gets involved with stumbles into some ridiculous controversy. Remember Our Little Genius? At least it's not a rigging scandal this time.

CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER UPDATE: Money Drop exec producer Jeff Apploff is saying no dice to the claims against the show:

"The integrity of the questions and answers on our show are our No. 1 priority. In this case, our research team spoke directly with 3M, and they confirmed that although they had given out free samples in test markets in 1977 and 1978, it wasn't until 1980 that Post-Its were sold in stores. Million Dollar Money Drop stands behind the answer that was revealed on the show."

Hm, are there any lawyers around?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Syndies hardly budge

Syndicated game shows barely moved a muscle in the week ending December 12. Broadcasting & Cable reveals the static truth...

Wheel of Fortune 7.3 - down a tick
Jeopardy 6.1 - like its soulmate, down a tick
Millionaire 2.3 - up a tick, some slight but welcome good news
Family Feud 1.8 - flat
5th Grader 1.0 - up a tick to the big one-oh
Lyrics 0.9 - flat and last, as usual

TV by the Numbers presents both a top 25 and a bottom 25 syndie list. The Twin Towers were the only game shows that appeared on either one (the top 25 list, surprise, surprise). The viewership averages: Wheel of Fortune 11.8 million (weekend repeat 5.0 million) and Jeopardy 9.6 million.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Suspended animation

Just sat through the first interminable hour of the (puhleeeze) two-hour Million Dollar Money Drop debut on Fox. Hard to believe, but we've finally found the game show that makes Millionaire look speedier than light.

The idea is the reverse of Millionaire: you start with a million and have to bet chunks of it on multiple choice questions. When you miss, trapdoors swing open and your money disappears. The first pair of contestants wanted to keep some money for their wedding. Sadly, they saw all the bucks eventually go down the chute.

But only after a long, long, long time. The show wheezed through, count 'em, seven questions in a full hour. I don't mind some suspense in a quizzer, a sweet little pause before the reveal. But after a while - like twenty minutes or so - you get tired of suspense and want to see some action. There's precious little of that last commodity in Money Drop.

Kevin Pollak hosts competently, and the set features the usual dark trappings of Millionaire clones. But the show lolligags to such a ridiculous degree, that it's pretty near impossible to maintain interest. Move it along, folks.

UPDATE: My grumpy review notwithstanding, Money Drop scored acceptable though not terrific ratings: 1.9 18-49 with 5.3 million total viewers. As TV by the Numbers points out, that's almost the same 18-49 rating as Fox's scripted Lie To Me on Monday night. The household rating was 3.3.

The show sure doesn't look like any kind of runaway hit, but a 1.9 18-49 number should be enough to keep the cheap unscripted quizzer on the air.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday session

Wheel of Fortune recently had a $100,000 winner named Hillary Light. Over at BuzzerBlog Alex Davis thought Hillary reacted too robotically. My take was a little different. I started wondering why WoF scrimps so hard on the prize budget.

I know, there's a tiny million-dollar slice on the wheel, and once upon a time a contestant actually won it. But the odds against that one amount larger than 100K are astronomical. WoF lures about twelve million viewers for each episode. So why not offer a more realistic chance at some bigger wins? I'm definitely not a mo' money guy when it comes to game shows - I'm even a big fan of the ultimate cheapo, Cash Cab. But of all the shows out there, Wheel of Fortune could easily afford to dispense a few more bucks.

In a convergence of cosmic significance, two objects of my thorough indifference have come together: hockey and The Price is Right. Yes, a few hockey players are appearing with Drew and company. At least the players apparently don't get into asinine fights on the show. I'm indifferent to hockey as a sport but actively hostile to those idiotic fisticuffs the NHL stages to feed the animals.

America's most colorful newspaper notes that the broadcast networks have a fondness for special runs of game shows and other cheap reality efforts at Christmastime. As one exec puts it: "It's fun to try to keep the lights on during the very end of the year when the networks historically pretty much run repeats." And game shows are a pleasantly inexpensive way to keep those lights burning.

Get a grip

Sometimes you just gotta laugh about this Internet thing. The following notes appeared on the GSN Classics board in response to the news that the network was adding an hour of Match Game at 8:00 AM on weekdays...

I'm absolutely FURIOUS!...But, unless they do something with how they are running Match Game, I am officially through with GSN....This ruins things for me totally...Thanks GSN. You've made a loyal viewer who once loved you now despise you...I'm so depressed about what the network is doing...thanks to the network everything is ruined now. It has truly put a damper on my holidays even...I used to love this network. Now, I hate it...Thanks for ruining everything, GSN.

I've left out a lot of similar grumpiness, but you get the drift. These rants, splattered over several different threads, came from a poster who always and loudly proclaims her (not political correctness, she's identified herself as female) devotion to old game shows. So you think she'd be happy with another hour of Match Game. Well, think again.

In this poster's, uh, interesting view, GSN's horrid crime is running Match Game '74 at 8:00 AM instead of Match Game '75. Honest. That's literally why she's pitching this tantrum.

In the real world, of course, most GSN viewers will hardly notice the difference. Match Game ran about 250 episodes per season, so there's plenty of different eps in any year to entertain teevee-watchers. Overall GSN has leased about 400 episodes of Match Game, a far longer run than most other shows on cable.

But this tantrum shows how bizarro-world often takes over the Internet. Fortunately, you can always take a walk around the block to remind yourself that Net nonsense - about game shows or anything else - generally means so very, very little.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

GSN number-palooza gigantic

Douglas has unleashed his biggest bounty of GSN viewership numbers yet, a whopping three weeks plus a couple days covering November 22 through December 14. Piling up my usual notes for each week would make a real long blog post, even longer than this one. So I'll just summarize and hand-wave, based mostly on comments I've already posted on the GSN Classics board...

GSN's extraordinary run in November continued for the final week of the month, with 380K/313K prime time/total day averages. It was a very good month for our little game show network.

In particular, don't be amazed if relatively recent Wheel of Fortune eps pop up on GSN, no matter how much they cost. The WoF marathon on Black Friday was a tremendous success, averaging 370K for six daytime hours with three eps scoring 500K+. Such huge 500K and 600K numbers are virtually unknown in the 9:00 AM-3:00 PM daytime window.

Maybe this shouldn't be a surprise for what is, after all, the most-watched game show in the country. Especially when you program episodes that look a lot like the current first-run eps.

In December things show signs of returning to more normal levels, although the numbers are still very acceptable by the network's usual standards. The first two weeks scored 359K/282K and 328K/271K prime time/total day averages. Not bad at all but not like the bodacious November totals. After all, GSN loaded up with new originals and acquisitions in November.

Mercilessly abused Lingo is getting too much of a workout five times a day. The show has proven enormously resistant to savage rerun abuse - the 3:00 PM hour continued to perform very well with a 331K average for the December 6-10 week. But there are limits to everything.

I wouldn't be stunned to see an hour of recent-as-they-can-get Wheel of Fortune eps at noon one of these days, if GSN can swing the deal with Sony. On Black Friday WoF averaged 353K for the noon hour. Wow.

1990s WoF never did great numbers on GSN. It didn't bomb, either, generally got low-to-mid 200Ks. But nothing like the Black Friday eps. GSN should just gulp and pay whatever Sony wants for recent seasons. And I mean very recent. Like the previous couple years with the million-dollar win and such. That would be the biggest ratings bonanza they could get for daytime, except for that other show on CBS and we all know about that problem.

By the way, during that last week in November Lingo averaged 257K for the noon hour, actually up from the 208K lead-in for the 11:00 AM hour. Not bad at all, but the show can't take a five-a-day pounding indefinitely. Come on, GSN, have a little mercy and at least trim one of the runs.

The first-run numbers for GSN's 1 vs. 100 remake at 7:00 PM in the last couple weeks: Dec 6-12 339K and Dec 13-14 418K. Not so long ago that would have been pretty good, but it does seem a little peaked compared to the four musketeers: Baggage, Newlywed Game, Karn Feud and O'Hurley Feud. Those four shows are basically carrying the network - they accounted for all of the top ten in the latest week - admittedly with some help from elsewhere.

As for 1 vs. 100's ultimate fate, it depends on the comparisons GSN uses for the show. Carnie got the heave-ho because she didn't perform so swell compared to Baggage, or at least that's what a few web stories said. But 1 vs. 100's numbers are hardly awful by GSN historical standards in the access hour. We'll see. My guess is that coaxing Saget into hosting a second season would do wonders for the ratings.

If GSN can't bring themselves to renew Lingo, they might think about Chain Reaction. Lane and friends always deliver 300K+ averages in the afternoon, with occasional eps over 400K. For a show with little more than a hundred much-abused episodes, that's remarkable.

I was hoping for some numbers on the B&W shows, but for some odd reason the 3:00 AM hour is missing from the last couple days (and a few other days).

Finally, let's just hope Dawson Feud benefits from the new Match Game lead-in. The 9:00 AM numbers are embarrassing - no, it's not Dawson's fault, just the infomercials - and no doubt account for GSN trying something, anything in the 8:00 AM hour.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Early bird

The GSN Classics board is even more hilarious than usual lately. The network has announced a run of Match Game at 8:00 AM on weekdays, beginning December 27. You'd think the supposed classics-lovers on the Classics board would be happy. You'd be wrong.

The supposed classics-lovers actually love complaining about GSN more than they love anything else. So they're yelping to high heaven that, gasp, Match Game '74 will be used for the 8:00 AM run instead of some other season. Just makes you wanna cry, doesn't it? Anyhoo, my take on the early weekday start for GSN...

Other poster: When they had MG / MGPM at the 9AM hour a while ago that did better than any of the changes after that.

Dawson's getting about 100K viewers at 9:00 AM, Karn 150-160K at 9:30 AM. Weekends do a little better with Hollywood Squares and Whammy, but I can't see 8:00 AM (5:00 AM Pacific) pulling much of an audience.

GSN seems to be flush right now - Drew ain't cheap - so they might have figured they don't need the extra infomercial money any more. It may be worth a flyer to see if the weekday morning numbers might improve for later hours, come up closer to what the weekend mornings get.

In the latest published week (November 15-21) the 9:00 AM-12:00 PM window averaged 188K viewers for weekdays, 245K for weekends. The 8:00 AM start on weekdays might be an effort to close that gap a little.

As for the rehash of Match Game '74, it's no big deal in the real world (as opposed to the Classics board). That MG season offers about 250 different episodes. GSN grinds shorter runs plenty hard, and the network hasn't expired.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

World needs winners

We've got a couple big winners in game shows lately, and who doesn't like winners? Last night on Minute To Win It Memphis sisters Autumn McAlpin and Allison Chapman copped a quarter-million for stacking martini glasses with Christmas ornaments in them.

You can watch the very careful stacking here. Too bad the A&A girls wiped out on the half-million stunt, but it's not like they went away empty-handed. And the show got some winning numbers itself: a 2.3 18-49 rating and 7.7 million total viewers, second in the timeslot to only NCIS.

On syndie Millionaire Marla Miller also took home two hundred and fifty grand when she decided that the half-mill question was just a little too tough. Turns out she made the right decision because she was leaning towards the wrong answer.

Unfortunately, Millionaire itself hasn't been clicking too big in the numbers lately. But it still ranks third among syndie gamers, though Steve Harvey's Family Feud is creeping up on it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

High stakes silliness

My favorite poker show - in fact, the only poker show I watch much any more - is suffering some conniption fits. The seventh season of GSN's High Stakes Poker is set to tape this week at the Bellagio. But a lot of big names - Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey and Patrick Antonius, for instance - may be missing in (high stakes) action. Seems that they represent Full Tilt Poker, and the show is sponsored by rival Team PokerStars.

I know, it looks like a silly ruckus. Frankly, with teevee poker on the skids lately, the two sites should probably join forces and not pick fights. GSN's poker ratings have stumbled and bumbled in recent months. The last thing the network needs is a weakened roster on High Stakes Poker.

Maybe things will get worked out. But GSN can use all the marquee names it can get for the seventh season of its hold 'em effort. Guys, settle the quarrel...and shuffle up and deal.

Syndies snap back

Syndicated game shows mostly bounced back from the low-rated Thanksgiving week. Broadcasting & Cable spreads the largely good cheer for the week ending December 5:

Wheel of Fortune 7.4 - up a whopping eleven ticks
Jeopardy 6.2 - not to be out-whopped, also up eleven ticks to a new season high
Millionaire 2.2 - flat, really a disappointing season so far
Family Feud 1.8 - up two ticks to season high
5th Grader 0.9 - down a tick and sinking towards oblivion
Lyrics 0.9 - stuck in a very low gear

TV by the Numbers offers the impressive viewership averages for the twin towers: Wheel of Fortune 11.9 million and Jeopardy 9.5 million. Yeah, I know about the demos, but these are big numbers in any demo.

Open the pod bay doors, Watson

The machines are coming and we can't stop 'em. Now that computers have taken over chess, they've set their sights on another classic game, Jeopardy.

IBM supercomputer Watson will battle two of Jeopardy's best human players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, over three days on February 14-16. No word on whether Alex will be replaced by a machine to guarantee neutrality.

Watson has been tested in a bunch of trial runs against human foes, but nobody will say how it did. Its onscreen representation will be a "round avatar," which I guess is better than a square avatar.

Let's hope that we don't need an emergency disconnection because the machine goes berserk. I couldn't resist the screenshot of HAL, the malevolent cybergenius in 2001, as it meets its memorable demise. "My mind is going...I'm afraid." Of course, HAL is a one-letter-back transposition of, you guessed it, IBM.

Monday, December 13, 2010

This here and that there

The screenshot features legendary game show producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman on the final CBS episode of What's My Line. Todman thanked everybody in sight for the show's 17-year run, including the audience. Now Todman is getting a bit of a thank-you himself, albeit posthumously. On January 20 he'll be inducted in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. Todman, who died in 1979 at the age of 62, ran the business end of the partnership and generally left most of the creative work to Goodson and friends.

Variety reports that David Arquette is pitching a celeb game show called Ranking the Stars, based on a Japanese format. Various celebs will "rank each other on a given topic, from most likely to least likely." The idea is to revive the spirit of Match Game and Hollywood Squares, but with some self-deprecating roast material tossed in. Civvie contestants will win or lose by guessing how the celebs rank themselves on each topic. Sounds like pure silliness, so the project might actually get off the ground. I can imagine the late, great Johnny Olson intoning: "Get ready to rank the stars!"

A Winnipeg website tells us that Christmas office parties are getting less boozy and more professional. Seems like an ominous trend to me. One party-producing outfit specializes in "TV game-show packages -- party-goers compete in games styled after popular TV game shows like Family Feud, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune." So if you want to buy a vowel at the office party, maybe somebody will sell it to you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shhhhhh...the real story of a Cash Cab loser

Hard to believe, but something of an Internet kerfuffle has erutped over the A.V. Club non-news story about Cash Cab's screening of contestants.

It's been well-known for years (and disclaimed at the end of every episode) that Discovery often screens players prior to the show. But would-be contestants are misled and never informed that they'll be on Cash Cab until they actually climb into Ben's (or Beth's) taxi.

Former Cash Cab contestant and, sadly, loser Kevin Collier has posted a long and funny account of how the screening and misleading works. Of course, the actual game isn't rigged. Otherwise, a lot of producers would be looking at a year in jail and a ten thousand dollar fine.

I still remember the episode where Kevin and friends wiped out because they didn't know what "strabismus" was. It's cross-eyedness, by the way. Too bad, they got nothing but a cab ride and not quite fifteen minutes of minor fame. But Kevin's saga of his figuratively bumpy cab ride is well worth reading.

And while we're in a debunking mood...Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy also screen their contestants! I know, it's a crushing revelation, but they don't just let people walk in off the street and start playing.

Scrabbling around

Have I ever mentioned that I like word games? The current appearance of Terry Ray on GSN's 1 vs. 100 brings to mind his previous stint as a contestant on Scrabble, one of my long-lost favorites. NBC's incarnation of the ancient board game ran for six seasons from 1984 through 1990, plus a brief return in 1993.

The producers wisely decided to depart heavily from the traditional Scrabble rules. This made the show's gameplay much faster and more telegenic. Scrabble featured computer graphics that were more than competent for the time, and Chuck Woolery hosted with his usual charm. In the screenshot Chuck's making a wry face because a contestant just showed the embalmed remains of his pet tarantula. Rest in peace, our eight-legged friend.

While never a mega-hit Scrabble garnered good enough numbers to enjoy a pleasant run. The 1993 revival didn't work, and neither did a pilot for syndication in 1990. GSN reportedly tried two Scrabble pilots in the early 2000s, hosted by John O'Hurley and Friend or Foe's Kennedy. But these versions apparently stuck closer to the board game, which was probably a bad idea. Neither version made it to air.

"Why hasn't GSN ever shown Scrabble?" complaints regularly appear on the network's Internet boards. I'd sure rather watch it than acey-deucey, but GSN has never leased the show for reasons too tedious to explore. At least there's a fair number of clips on YouTube.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

GSN demos and a contestant

I'm lazy today so I'll just crosspost a couple of my GSN notes from the network's Classics board. One concerns a somewhat notable contestant on 1 vs. 100, another talks about those pesky demos...

Other posters: In fact, during one of today's questions [on 1 vs. 100] with the man who had the "Gay-dar" device thingy, apparently GSN accidentally played the incorrect-answer music...This contestant was/is 80s Scrabble champion Terry Ray.

You can watch Terry Ray on Scrabble here (apparently uploaded by Ray himself) and in related clips. Chuck plays off Ray's mannerisms, but in a carefully respectful way. Ray has left some comments on YouTube about the show.

Other poster: The viewers of GSN take a liking to Karn - probably because the network skews old in age and they like his warm, home-like feel to the show.

Demo information is always scarce about GSN, but these posts by Douglas argue just the opposite: Karn Feud is only one of three shows that ever gets 0.2 in the 25-54 target demo. The other two shows are Baggage and syndie Deal or No Deal. No other show gets above 0.1 for any run.

Everything on GSN skews old with the possible exception of poker. That's no surprise for traditional game shows. But Karn Feud doesn't seem to skew particularly old compared to the network's other shows. Not at all.

My guess is that the network's next demo winner (as if they've had many of them) will be Drew Carey's improv comedy show. I wouldn't be surprised to see the laugher skew considerably younger than the traditional gamers that currently dominate almost all of GSN's schedule.

Comedy tends to skew young. Comedy Central's median viewer age is 31, for instance. That's probably why GSN is paying the not inexpensive Drew in the first place. They want some of those advertiser-friendly young'uns.

Sorry to bring back a horrible memory, but the demo chase also explains GSN's waste of millions on the stinker "comedy" Late Night Liars.

Raving review

My cynical self tends to get suspicious of "laughing, gasping and clapping my hands" reviews of anything. Especially when those reviews emerge from sneak previews which mere groundlings like moi haven't been privileged to share. So take this rave about Fox's upcoming Million Dollar Money Drop with all the salt in your saltshaker.

Some of the comments sound almost goofy. "That million dollars is getting the Presidential treatment. And I'm getting chills." Are they like the chills that ran down Chris Matthews' leg when Obama was a fresh face instead of some run-of-the-mill politico who just got shellacked?

The gameplay sounds simple enough, which could be good or bad depending on your enthusiasm for simplicity in game shows. The essential reverse-money-tree idea survives from the Brit original. Contestants start out with a million bucks and watch chunks of it fall down a teevee crapper (figuratively speaking) as they navigate through multiple-choice questions. Whatever is left at the end of the quizzing is whatever they get.

I don't want to sound like a complete blue meanie, so it's nice that a broadcast network is taking a chance on a quizzer. I'm always a sucker for the primeval Q&A format, so I'll definitely sample Fox's new project, due December 20. At least the network will be really careful about integrity issues after the Our Little Genius fiasco.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Taxis and tweets

Even Time magazine has finally picked up on Pat Sajak's hilarious Twitter feed. Carrie Grosvenor noted it a while back, and game show boards around the Internet had spotted it before then. It just takes, er, time for Time to notice anything.

Sajak has always shown an understated sense of humor on Wheel of Fortune. But he can get a little wilder and crazier in Twitterville. Too bad he had to punch out that contestant. But the jerk probably had it coming.

Speaking of arriving late for a story, a website called A.V. Club breathlessly informs us that a lot of Cash Cab's contestants are, gasp, screened before they ride the cab! Of course, anybody who reads the show's disclaimers knows that, and various web stories have reported it for years. But the A.V. Club numskulls think they've got a hot scoop. And guess what, the cash ain't real, either! The contestants are mailed a check!

Several commenters on the website have pointed out the obvious: all this "news" has been widely published knowledge for a long, long time. The A.V. Club story does offer one nugget of genuine news. The rumored "blonde lady" driving the taxi in the Chicago eps is comedian Beth Melewski. We'll see if she can mug for the camera like Ben.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Game shows make us dumb

Wandering through the web today, I happened across the latest indictment of game shows. They're ruining test scores in America's schools!

Yes, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy are somehow making American schoolkids so dumb they can't pass standardized achievement tests. So says a brainy commenter replying to a Washington Post blog entry:

"...the 'culture' of poverty that is preventing students from using the opportunities in the public schools to get ahead is exacerbated by the media and entertainment industries. The stupid game shows [emphasis mine, as you probably guessed] that make it appear money falls off trees or spinning wheels, the false notion that a sports scholarship is a ticket to the big money sport leagues, the popularization of violence and overconsumption, all are detrimental to modeling and informing the successful paths to a better life."

To which I can only say, HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA. If somebody really thinks Wheel of Fortune is destroying America's schools, that somebody is a world-class cretin who would flunk out of a school of fish. If anything, trying to solve the puzzles might actually help a few kids learn a few words. But the show is way too innocuous to do much good or bad for kids.

There are lots of problems with America's schools. Pat and Vanna aren't among them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Swept away with the syndies

Broadcasting & Cable puts a little different spin on their syndication ratings roundup. Instead of the usual weekly numbers, they look at how the syndies fared in this November's sweeps compared to last year...

Wheel of Fortune 7.2 - down a tick but still leading all syndies in household rating
Jeopardy 5.8 - down three ticks, not horrendous
Millionaire 2.2 - down four ticks, the new format isn't helping all that much
Family Feud 1.6 - up three ticks, Steve Harvey improves over the previous November
5th Grader 1.0 - down seven ticks, yeeeeeeeouch
Lyrics 0.9 - the rook does modest numbers at best

TV by the Numbers doesn't bother with sweeps ratings. They just post their usual top 25 list for the week ending November 28 (Thanksgiving week, of course). Only the towering towers make the list: Wheel of Fortune 6.3 rating, 10.3 million viewers (weekend repeat 2.5 rating, 3.9 million viewers) and Jeopardy 5.1 rating and 8.1 million viewers. Clearly lower than normal figures, as you would expect from a holiday week.

In other ratings news, Minute To Win It returned last night with okay numbers: 4.2 household rating, 1.9 18-49 rating, and 7.0 million viewers. Not boffo business but probably good enough to keep the cheap unscripted show on the air.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Over lightly

Carrie-Ann Grosvenor has been getting e-mails that Carrie Ann Inaba dresses like a slut on GSN's 1 vs. 100. It's true that Carrie Ann (without the hyphen) is no Saget with a quip, but she does have better legs. So if she wants to wear those short tight skirts, it's just fine with me. Carrie-Ann (with the hyphen) has also been getting e-mails that the show is too cheap. For the eighty-eighth time: Welcome to Cable, folks.

Jeopardy college champ Erin McLean says the secret to success on Alex's quizzer is studying stuff you don't know. Seems reasonable to me. She also says that Jeopardy repeats questions (or answers) a lot, so it they talk about a Finnish composer, you know it's got to be Sibelius. Truth to tell, I've never heard of any other Finnish composers, so that's what I would guess, too.

Quarterback and sportscaster Don Meredith has died at age 72. Have to confess I'm not a big football fan, so I never saw him play much or heard a lot of his commentary on Monday Night Football. But by all accounts he was a friendly, personable sort who was the perfect foil for the acerbic, often insufferable Howard Cosell. Meredith's IMDb page lists appearances on Match Game and Liars Club.

Alex Davis tweets that GSN will run a Newlywed Game marathon on Christmas Day. Alex must have gotten the new pdf schedules from the network and will probably post them soon on BuzzerBlog. Sherri Shepherd isn't exactly my cup of tea - too much chatter but too few real zingers. Still, she's garnered good numbers for the show's new season.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Testing, testing

When I looked through Leslie Nielsen's IMDb page, I noticed a credit for Don Adams' Screen Test. I somehow remember this obscurity, an odd game show that suffered through one weekly syndication season in 1975-76. Wikipedia (usual caveats) says 24 episodes got made, plus the pilot. It's remarkable the series lasted that long.

The show put civvie contestants through a literal screen test, where they would play a well-known movie scene with genuine-article actors (one of whom was the late, lamented Mr. Nielsen). At the end of the show somebody would decide which civvie did the best acting job, and the winner got a real screen test in some studio somewhere.

If this sounds like a thin premise, that's because it was a freaking near-invisible premise. To pad the half-hour they would show outtakes and bloopers and goofball ad-libs from the real actors. According to Wikipedia the pilot was an hour long, and I can only imagine how much padding was necessary for a sixty-minute version. Wikipedia also says the show has never been re-aired since its original run, and that's one wiki-assertion I can believe with no double-check.

Supposedly a clip from the show exists on YouTube. But when I try to access the clip, I get a stern "this video is private" message. You'd think it was a (pre-Wikileaks) state secret.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Couple more interviews

Game show folks keep chatting on various websites. A couple more Q&A sessions besides the ones I mentioned in my previous post...

Steve Harvey can't handle the eight-a-day Feud sessions any more, though he's looking forward to another season. Given the good numbers he's produced, he'll probably get his wish for a second go-round. One caveat on the ratings: Harvey's numbers are decent but not much better than the mid-ones his predecessor John O'Hurley garnered in his last few months on the show. But in over-the-air teevee you're doing all right if you can just keep the numbers steady.

Harvey also mentions his crash diet, which doesn't sound particularly healthy. My cynical self wonders how much weight he's put back on. The crashes hardly ever work for more than a few months.

Guy Fieri's kind words for icons Richard Dawson and Wink Martindale can only help his cause with game show classics fans. Fieri sounds frankly incredulous that he's landed in the same genre: "I always liked the personality and energy they brought to the screen. I never imagined myself doing what they did, and I can't believe I'm doing this now."

Believe it or not, Guy, you're doing pretty much exactly what Bud Collyer did for years in the 1950s. He gets in some plugs for Minute To Win It's upcoming holiday eps, even tipping a marriage proposal on one of the shows. Fieri does confess that he would be a mediocre contestant: "Any challenge involving ping-pong balls would throw me."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cash Cab in Chicago...minus Ben

The only cab that pays you is now paying Chicagoans, according to a website that should know because it's been "serving Chicago's taxicab and livery industry since 2002." Yes, Cash Cab has been taping some episodes in the Windy City. Supposedly the cab has been spotted not far from Wrigley Field, among other locales. Only Ben Bailey isn't driving and mugging like mad for the camera.

According to the comments on this site, the new driver is a "blonde lady." No word on whether she's as rubber-faced as Ben, or as tall. Bailey's agent has confirmed that he's not along for the Q&A on the Chicago eps.

But don't worry, Ben fans (and I'm one of you). Bailey just wrapped a new season of New York episodes, which will debut next spring on Discovery. The blonde lady's trips in the cash-dispensing taxi will apparently show up later.

Syndies mostly smile

It was a pretty decent week for syndicated game shows. Broadcasting & Cable reports the mildly encouraging news for the week ending November 21...

Wheel of Fortune 7.4 - down a tick but no big deal for Pat and Vanna
Jeopardy 6.1 - up a tick to season high
Millionaire 2.3 - up a tick
Family Feud 1.7 - up a tick, also a season high
5th Grader 1.0 - up a tick, will the trend continue?
Lyrics 0.9 - flat, the trend breaks for the perpetual cellar-dweller

Things still look grim for the bottom two, but maybe I'm getting too pessimistic. Nowadays a 1.0 might not look all that bad. TV by the Numbers tallies the viewership averages for the twin towers: Wheel of Fortune 11.9 million and Jeopardy 9.3 million. The shows can make a fortune (with or without the wheel) from those numbers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Coming attractions

Game shows and possible game shows are bubbling up here and there. Carrie Grosvenor reports on Minute To Win It's Christmas episodes beginning December 7. The top prize will be bumped to three mill, the girls will dress up as Santa's somewhat naughty helpers, and some new holiday-themed stunts will be featured. As usual, Guy Fieri will host exuberantly.

Hilary Swank is developing a game show for the CW, home of girl kiddie litter. That's harsh, but I'm in a harsh mood today. Not much is known about the effort, except that it's "a studio-based game show in which self-described fashion diehards will be tested on their knowledge of style and fashion." I'm a self-described fashion die-easy myself. I don't much care about clothes, as long as they fit. We'll see if this project escapes development hell.

Although it's not a game show at all and there's no use pretending that it is a game show, Drew Carey's improv comedy series for GSN will start taping January 14 at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Normally, the GSN boards would be writhing in agony over this non-game-show effort polluting the network's schedule. But Carey's name and the Whose Line memories have mostly kept the usual whiners quiet.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Interview me

Various game show folks, past and present, are making the web interview rounds lately. GSN stalwart and four-year Family Feud host John O'Hurley had a particularly gracious chat with CaliforniaChronicle.com, where he thanked his Feud fans and explained his reasons for leaving the show. The man is certainly burning no bridges. But that's not surprising for somebody who has always seemed smarter than the average celeb. Okay, maybe that's not a high standard.

A former host who is definitely torching some bridges is Carnie Wilson, late of GSN's Newlywed Game. Entertainment Tonight asked about her departure from the world-needs-more-winners net, and got a curt answer:

"ETonline: I know you left GSN? What's next?

"Carnie Wilson: I didn't leave GSN. They let me go. I just want to clarify that. I am very sad about that."

And very litigious. Carnie has apparently been axed from another gig, with some diet company. It hasn't exactly been good times lately.

Finally, suitcase dealer Howie Mandel talked with a Worcester site about his career. Surprise, surprise, he identified Deal or No Deal as his biggest break, not to mention "the most interesting, frustrating, exciting experience I’ve ever had." Apparently the biggest frustration was watching people turn down huge money and end up with almost nothing: "It was a social experiment I felt responsible for...it was very visceral."

We can all use some visceral game shows. And by the way, happy 16th birthday to GSN. I could say something about a long and winding road, but my cliche alert just went off.