Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Syndies bumble along

TV viewing continued to wither in August, and syndicated game shows were no exception. TVNewsCheck brings the limp results for the week ending August 21...

Wheel of Fortune 6.0 - off a tick
Jeopardy 4.8 - down a couple ticks to season low
Family Feud 2.3 - off a couple ticks to tie...
Millionaire 2.3 - flat
5th Grader 1.0 - flat and almost gone
Lyrics 0.7 - down a tick and out

Not the best week, but next month's debuts should perk things up. Other websites don't bother much with syndies of any kind any more. But if anything shows up, I'll let you know.

UPDATE: Maybe TV by the Numbers is getting serious again about posting syndie ratings. Their viewership averages: Wheel of Fortune 9.4 million (weekend repeat 5.0 million) and Jeopardy 7.5 million. Steve and Meredith didn't make TVBTN's top 25 list.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Career planning

Bill Engvall had an allergic reaction to the proposal that he host GSN's Lingo remake: "When they asked me if I wanted to host my first thought was, 'Oh God, is my career over already?' but I actually had a blast doing it."

Nice to know that a blast was had. But game show hosting has gotten a rep as the kiss of showbiz death. Maybe it's the notorious Family Feud curse, which allegedly strikes every host of the long-running survey-fest. Yes, the curse turned all too real for Ray Combs, but current incumbent Steve Harvey seems immune. His Feud turn has producers talking to him about a syndie talk show. And his radio gig is still going strong.

Meredith Vieira is another convenient counterexample. Her Millionaire decade hardly wiped out her career, as she navigated from The View to Today. She's now retiring from her non-Millionaire jobs, but that seems to be her decision and not some baleful curse.

Alex and Pat are getting along in years, so they'll probably just pack it in sooner or later and won't worry about any new show business work. Despite a possible Achilles-tendon curse afflicting Jeopardy hosts, Alex should do okay in retirement.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Debutante ball

Weekly game show blogger Aaron is a specialist in debut dates. He collects all the info so we don't have to. The faux tweets have already noted a few fall debuts for game shows, but Aaron offers a lot of dates in a convenient package:

September 3
The Game of Life
Scrabble Showdown
Hasbro, er, Hub network. Special previews before the "official" debuts on September 17.

September 5
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
Meredith returns, of course. Lots of theme shows and a teensy-weensy tweak to gameplay, as Carrie Grosvenor recounts.

September 12
Family Feud
Now taped in Steve Harvey's Atlanta.

September 19
Wheel of Fortune
Jim Thornton takes over as announcer after the endless search due to Charlie O'Donnell's sad death.
The Price is Right
George Gray takes over as announcer after the endless search due to Rich Fields' sad firing.
Let's Make a Deal
Wayne Brady has kept the show going for three seasons now.
Jeopardy
Alex Trebek has kept the show going for centuries now.

One more fall debut that Aaron doesn't mention: Hub's Family Game Night kicks off its new season on September 2. Todd Newton is turning up all over the place. By Hub standards the show gets pretty good numbers, like 137K viewers for its August 5 episode.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

More schedule blatherings

Back and forth continues on GSN's schedule board about the network's big lineup changes. I blather on...

Other poster: Honestly, making a top 10 list by being 350 or lower is not good in the first place.

This is a tiny niche network that isn't even available in 35% of the country's households. 350K viewers are just fine by GSN's historical standards. The point is that GSN is generally doing pretty well from 2:00PM to 11:30PM. So why mess so much with that part of the schedule?

What needs fixing is pre-2:00PM (176K on Friday 8/19) and post-11:30PM (117K on 8/19). By contrast 2:00PM-11:30PM averaged a much better 298K. These are pretty typical numbers for recent weeks. On Thursday 8/18, for instance, the averages were 188K for pre-2:00PM, 121K for post-11:30PM, and a far better 311K for 2:00PM-11:30PM.

GSN has taken steps to fix late night, though they still need to get rid of Drew's woeful midnight run. But they also need to fix pre-2:00PM, which the schedule changes don't touch at all. I've suggested recent Wheel of Fortune. If that's impossible, try just about anything else. It's not like GSN has a lot to lose in the window, based on recent ratings.

I'm a fan of Millionaire and Deal or No Deal myself. I've often defended them on these boards. Deal or No Deal in particular has been attacked frequently and I've praised the show in response. So I don't mind the shows getting prime time exposure. But it seems like GSN is messing too much with the wrong part of the schedule, the most successful part, 2:00PM-11:30PM.

Another poster: We'll have to wait and see what happens. Maybe these will improve ratings? Who knows.

Late night ratings are almost guaranteed to improve just by getting rid of a couple Improv-a-Ganza runs. Cutting the improvisers has almost always improved the numbers.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sympathy for Ms. Vieira

Syndie Millionaire rolls into its tenth season starting September 5, as several faux tweets noted. I'll write "for the enemy" a bit here and express admiration for how Meredith Vieira has kept the show going for a decade.

This is "for the enemy" because, frankly, Meredith isn't my fave as a game show host. Don't get me wrong, she's not nearly as off-putting (intentionally or not) as Anne Robinson. But she does come across to me as a bit dry and emotionally distant. This may be a legacy of her career in the news business, where emotional display is not prized.

She also had the misfortune of succeeding Mr. Folksy as keeper of the money tree. Regis made everybody feel comfortable with his everyman shtick. But I'm getting too critical. Meredith is super-competent, quick with an ad-lib, and plenty friendly enough for most viewers. So I'll just congratulate her on ten seasons of multiple-choice, and wish her many more.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Schedule blatherings

Today I was going to write a little paean of praise to Meredith for her ten Millionaire years. But I'll save that for tomorrow. Instead, I'll repost my quick and dirty from the GSN Schedule board on the weekday moving and shaking.

Averages for Thursday 8/18 were 345K/237K prime time/total day. Mornings and late nights were blah and pulled down the total day average. Kind of odd to see 9:30PM Newlywed Game, 7:00PM Love Triangle, 6:30PM Newlywed Game, 8:30PM Lingo, 2:30PM Chain Reaction, and 9:00PM Newlywed Game all in the top ten. Those slots are gone on the new schedule! Six out of the top ten. I hope GSN knows what they're doing. Okay, only Wendy disappears completely. But still...

Other poster: I think the new schedule will be fine.

Regis and Howie are old reliables and will probably do okay. But prime time really wasn't the problem once Drew and Wendy got ejected.

Late night was the real stinker thanks to Drew. He's two-thirds gone but his midnight slot, one of the worst performing on the entire schedule, remains. Yeah, I know it's an expensive show. GSN wants to give it every chance. But I think Improv-a-Ganza has to depart completely.

Early fringe and post-2:00PM afternoon were also not particular trouble spots, but GSN has messed around with them. Okay, Wendy probably deserved to leave, though she occasionally got decent ratings. But a four-a-day for Baggage? I dunno, the numbers haven't been all that great lately.

The pre-2:00PM schedule generally hasn't performed very well, either, but it's completely untouched. Seems like GSN spent most of the time bashing around parts of the schedule that weren't doing so bad. I mean, most of their top ten got shoved around! They did improve late night, though not enough.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Some GSN numbers

I'm kind of lazy today. I've already posted all the news in the faux tweets, so I'll just crosspost my swab-the-decks entry from the GSN schedule board on the network's latest daily ratings.

Douglas took a well deserved vacation (I guess) but he's back with Wednesday August 17. Not such a hot day for GSN with 320K/239K prime time/total day averages. Top ten was the usuals plus Deal or No Deal and Pyramid...

10:30PM Family Feud (O'Hurley) 384
4:30PM Family Feud (Karn) 369
2:30PM Chain Reaction 338
5:00PM Deal or No Deal 329
6:30PM Newlywed Game 324
8:00PM Lingo (Engvall) 324
8:30PM Lingo (Engvall) 324
10:00PM Family Feud (Karn) 314
10:30AM $25,000 Pyramid 311
2:00PM Catch 21 309

Inconsistent day, not terrible but a lot of down slots. Of course, Improv-a-Ganza didn't help.

UPDATE: All sorts of schedule shenanigans start next week, as the weekday lineup gets a major makeover. Engvall Lingo and Improv-a-Ganza are cut back to one showing each weekday. Makes sense for Drew, no sense at all for Engvall. Love Triangle disappears. Prime time undergoes a complete remake except for the mighty Feud hour at 10:00PM. Regis Millionaire and Whammy (really!) return to weekdays. And a late night Pyramid hour is back.

All the changes:

2:30PM 1 vs. 100 (Inaba)
3:00PM Whammy
3:30PM Chain Reaction
6:00PM Lingo (Engvall)
6:30PM Baggage
7:00PM Newlywed Game
8:00PM Millionaire (Philbin)
9:00PM Deal or No Deal
11:00PM Newlywed Game
11:30PM Baggage
2:00AM 25K Pyramid
2:30PM 100K Pyramid

The older-is-better crowd will like more Pyramid, and I like it, too. One of the all-time greats. Oddly, this is the first regular weekday prime time slot ever for Howie. Baggage gets a four-a-day despite recent modest ratings.

Your guess is as good as mine on the strategy behind all the chops and changes. Generally seems to be a back-to-tradition movement, as the schedule gets significantly older with Whammy, Millionaire and the Pyramid hour. I'm a little surprised that Improv-a-Ganza survives at all, but this could be its last dying chance.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Syndies fiddle and diddle

Not much happening either way for syndicated game shows in the week ending August 14. TVNewsCheck runs through the blah numbers anyway. It's what they get paid to do...

Wheel of Fortune 6.1 - up one entire tick
Jeopardy 5.0 - down one entire tick, an equal and opposite reaction to the soulmate
Family Feud 2.5 - down a tick
Millionaire 2.3 - flat
5th Grader 1.0 - flat and slowly fading
Lyrics 0.8 - down a tick and mostly faded out

I've pretty much given up on TVNewser and TV by the Numbers for the cable ranker and the syndie viewership chart. But if anything pops on the sites, I'll let you know.

I shouldn't have doubted at least one of the sites. The viewership averages from TV by the Numbers: Wheel of Fortune 9.3 million (weekend repeat 4.0 million), Jeopardy 7.6 million, Family Feud 3.8 million. Meredith just missed out on their top 25 list.

SportsCenter

Remember all those fights over What Is And Is Not A Game Show? Well, if you don't hang out on Internet game show boards, you probably don't remember them. But there have been a few knock-down-drag-outs.

I should know because I've been one of the bloodied but unbowed. Generally, I've been an inclusionist (Wikipedia speak!) in the battles. I don't mind a pretty expansive definition of "game show", though I get suspicious of reality TV territory. See my post on Take the Money and Run, for instance.

But I've argued that poker shows belong on GSN because they feature people playing a game for money, and not much else. We don't follow Doyle Brunson out into the supposedly "real world."

Another area of contention is sports. The Encyclopedia of Game Shows actually included the 1960 Home Run Derby as a game show. This project featured genuine-article baseball players - many of them now Hall of Famers, in fact - belting home runs out of Los Angeles' ancient Wrigley Field (no, not the one in Chicago).

If you're going to count that as a game show, you're pretty close to including the World Series and Super Bowl. Which does seem extreme. But some game shows, particularly the stunt shows, do test genuine athletic abilities. Do you include American Gladiators in the genre?

I mention all this because Carrie Grosvenor commented on American Ninja Warriors at her game show site. Is this going too far afield? Maybe a little, depending on how inclusionist you are. As always, everybody has to decide for themselves.

Now I will admit that Jeopardy is a game show. Though the buzzer does test the contestants' reflexes. Ask Watson.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Set piece

One of the odd things about the game show internets is the enormous attention paid to sets. You know, the places where they play game shows. On Matt Ottinger's board I just noticed a thread called "Set changes." It's all about short-lived set changes on game shows from the past. (Naturally from the past. It's Matt's board, after all.) A typical exchange:
When Match Game switched to the newer logo in 1978, weren't the celebrity podiums one color for a brief period, and then switched to another?

Yes. The backdrop behind the lower tier was dark blue. However the backdrop behind the players was light blue and was solid instead of ridged. The player's score indicators were white instead of green and red. The following week the lower tier was painted light blue to match the player area, and the triangle and circle were painted green and red respectably.
I'm all for game show trivia, but this is truly way-beyond-trivial trivia. Yes, I'm biased because I usually don't care much about game show sets. They play Cash Cab inside a dinky little taxi and I don't mind.

But what they hey, if folks want to talk about how the triangle and circle were painted on Match Game, who am I to quibble? I can think of a lot worse things to discuss. Only I can't resist a snide reference to Dizzy Dean's base runners returning to their respectable bases. (Check the last sentence of the quote about the Match Game set.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Do-gooders

It's nice that Vanna and friends helped out with rebuilding a neighborhood somewhere. We've got an unemployment rate pushing double digits and Obama on his magical misery tour, so charity was never more needed.

I'm just not sure that I like charity in game shows. Flinty me would rather see folks motivated by grim old basic greed. Like that Fox shaft-thy-neighbor show which actually used the word for its title. The upcoming project You Deserve It, which hands out the prize money to non-contestants, seems like a perversion of the whole grubby game show ideal: do your damnedest to win, and to hell with everybody else.

That's why I'm not thrilled with celeb versions of game shows where all the winnings go to "your favorite charity." I know I'm sounding like Scrooge here, but I might as well be honest (if a little curmudgeonly). Sometimes the charity versions get even more irritating, like when Jeopardy dumbs down the boards for the celebs. We don't want severe embarrassment here.

No, I'm not alleging rigging or anything close. But when you've got to tinker with formats to make celeb charity versions look more competitive, I get even grumpier. Oh well, it's all for a good cause, right?

Friday, August 19, 2011

My silly schedule idea

Always fun to give unwanted advice to GSN execs on how to program their network. My dumb ideas from the GSN schedule board for morning and late night...

The obvious suggestion for improving late night is replacing Improv-a-Ganza with anything. Donnymid, Catch 21, Chain Reaction, anything. For morning I'd beg Sony for a very recent season of Wheel of Fortune, 2008-09 maybe, and double run it some time before noon. The 10:00AM hour might work with even modest promotion. Don't know if it would get the same kind of numbers we saw on Black Friday last year. But it would probably help. And it would keep the show far away from Sony's prized access-hour slots for first-run Wheel.

Other poster: Why would they waste Wheel's potential airing it before noon? That wouldn't be a good move, IMO.

The idea is to soften any Sony opposition to their crown jewel on GSN by putting it far, far away from the access hour. Sony seems real sensitive on Wheel, at least recent seasons that look too much like current first-runs. They've only allowed such seasons on GSN once...in that Black Friday marathon.

I agree that '90s seasons of Wheel wouldn't work particularly well. They just look old and creaky compared to the current show. But if GSN could get the 2008-09 season with the million-dollar win? Yeah, I think it could perk up mornings nicely. With no promotion at all the Black Friday marathon got 337K in the 10:00AM hour. With only modest promotion I think GSN could average 300K+ consistently with recent Wheel in the hour, which would give the following daytime schedule a nice boost.

Other poster: So, I wouldn't remove Dick Clark from the network. Perhaps put 25k Pyramid in a better time slot?

Okay, put it at 11:00AM and give it a nice lead-in from Wheel.

But all this is probably fantasy. Recent Wheel has cropped up on GSN exactly once, with no promotion...as if Sony was trying to make sure nobody saw it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Baggage meets Love Connection

As I wrote on a faux tweet a while back, GSN is trying to refresh its Baggage franchise. The show still gets pretty good numbers but not the bodacious ratings of its first couple seasons. So the producers have borrowed a page from Chuck Woolery's book, and the show is inviting back some contestants after their first date.

Baggage First Dates debuts August 21 at 8:00PM, amid a marathon of just plain Baggage episodes. The press release promises that "the audience of Baggage First Dates gets to go along for the bumpy ride." The ride on the debut is the first date of Andre and Maggie, who agreed a while back on the show to put up with each other's baggage.

I've seen a few glimpses of the episode on GSN promos, as Maggie backs off from Andre's backyard menagerie of large animals. After the first-date fun and games, the couple meet back at the studio for one last piece of "truly shocking baggage." I'm not easily shocked, so I don't expect to faint.

At least GSN is trying a new wrinkle to keep the show going. I like Baggage most of the time, though the contestants are sometimes boring or obnoxious. But the show remains an entertaining blend of Dating Game and Deal or No Deal. Now they're adding Love Connection to the mix.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last laugh

Sad note: comic Vic Dunlop has died at age 62 from complications of diabetes. Dunlop had a long and varied career in standup and scripted roles. But he's best remembered for the short-lived game show Make Me Laugh (1979-80).

A remake of an even shorter-lived show from the '50s, Make Me Laugh was simple: comics tried to make contestants laugh. (You might have guessed that from the title.) If contestants resisted, they got a little cash. YouTube offers some clips, including a lady contestant who pinched up her face so tight, she could barely breathe, much less laugh.

The trouble with the show was an all too simple and predictable format. Comedy Central tried another remake in the '90s but it only struggled through two seasons. At least the 1979-80 version featured some terrific comedians early in their careers, like Bob Saget, Howie Mandel and Gary Shandling.

Vic Dunlop certainly had the correct comic's attitude towards his fight with diabetes. When he lost a leg to the disease, he remarked: "I got 10 minutes of new material from it." R.I.P.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Syndies feel the summer heat

August is the cruelest month for TV ratings, and syndicated game shows are not spared. TVNewsCheck depresses us with the forgettable news for the week ending August 7...

Wheel of Fortune 6.0 - down three ticks
Jeopardy 5.1 - feels the soulmate's pain, down the same three ticks
Family Feud 2.6 - flat, which is pretty good
Millionaire 2.3 - down a tick
5th Grader 1.0 - flat, which would be good if the show wasn't kaput
Lyrics 0.9 - actually up a tick, but a dead show walking

You know the drill. I'll check TV by the Numbers and TVNewser for any news on syndie viewership numbers and GSN's latest weekly ratings. Meanwhile, have a nice summer!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Those %$#@*&! numbers

A thread on Matt Ottinger's game show board got into Improv-a-Ganza's crummy ratings. Matt himself posted a caveat:
I have maintained for years that at the bottom of the cable barrel, the numbers are so small that the differences between them are virtually insignificant. Remember when we used to hear about the "margin of error"? The margin of error for this sliver of audience measurement is probably greater than the largest rating GSN usually gets, meaning that the whole thing is just a great big guess.
Um, not really. GSN's biggest audiences are five or six hundred thousand people. That's way above margin-of-error territory for Nielsen's huge (by statistical standards) sample. And GSN isn't at the bottom of the cable barrel. It's a mid-sized network that often sneaks into the top forty basic cable outlets.

Matt's a PBS guy in Michigan, so he's probably not a big fan of Nielsen and their pesky people-meters. PBS is not known for its sky-high numbers. To be fair to Matt, he's hardly alone in his dislike of Nielsen. Most everybody involved in American TV has cursed those irritating but almighty numbers.

But when Nielsen keeps saying day after day that nobody's watching Improv-a-Ganza, well, it's almost certainly true. The sample might wobble back and forth but after a while the probability is with The Nielsen Company. Central limit theorem and all that.

UPDATE: Wouldn't you know, Improv-a-Ganza scored its best numbers in a long time on August 7. But only in the 8:00PM hour. In the 11:00PM hour the numbers returned to their usual suckiness.

For the ratings week of August 1-7 overall, GSN got a prime time average of 340K viewers, its best in many weeks. And well above the margin of error.

UPDATED UPDATE: Nielsen is now getting some competition from Rentrak, a company that uses set top box (STB) data from Dish Network. Not to be outdone, Nielsen itself has made a deal to get STB data from a hundred thousand or so DirecTV households for use in local markets. Nielsen has no plans yet to use STB data in its national ratings.

There are serious issues about how representative and reliable STB data is. But I'd love to see real competition for Nielsen. The company has monopolized TV ratings for decades. High barriers to entry, as the economists say.

Plus, more numbers from more sources would make any actuary happy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

GSN gets happy on Saturday

After all my putdowns of GSN's sorry Saturday numbers, the network bounced back on August 6. That's when GSN freed Saturday from ratings disaster Improv-a-Ganza. The results were pleasant, as I posted on the GSN schedule board.

Other poster: An okay day...

Yeah, you might say so. Of course, this was the best Saturday in a long, long time with 323K/254K prime time/total day averages. Getting rid of Improv-a-Ganza worked wonders. Notice this, GSN execs? Top ten...

9:00PM Family Feud (O'Hurley) 399
8:30PM Family Feud (Karn) 395
9:30PM Family Feud (O'Hurley) 372
12:00PM Million Dollar Password 355
8:00PM Family Feud (Karn) 354
11:30AM Catch 21 346
5:00PM Baggage 346
5:30PM Baggage 346
3:30PM Family Feud (O'Hurley) 337
11:00AM Newlywed Game 306

Bubble show was 6:00PM syndie Deal or No Deal, which is interesting. As expected, old reliables Karn and O'Hurley delivered. Their lead-in even helped High Stakes Poker to 200K numbers for a change. Cut poker to a couple post-midnight hours, give it a decent lead-in, and you might at least get okay demos.

Despite the general improvement, it was Engvall Lingo's worst day ever, not even close to the top ten. Is the ridiculous schedule finally taking a toll? Million Dollar Password got its usual nice ratings. I'll be interested to see how Regis does in the big money marathon tomorrow, with both his shows. We'll have to wait a while for those numbers, though.

The early day window, 9:00AM to 2:00PM, looked a lot better than weekdays. The 285K average easily surpassed this week's 195K weekday average for the same window. Unfortunately, that average partially relied on two very short-run shows, Million Dollar Password and Power of 10, which can't be used every day. If those shows had lasted longer, GSN might have a couple of good entries for weekday mornings or early afternoons.

Pregnant pause

Have I mentioned that I'm tired of the endless lawsuits swirling around The Price is Right? A favorite theme is the pregnancy blues. Shane Stirling and Brandi Cochran both allege that their baby bumps cost them their modeling gigs on the show.

The linked column poses an interesting question:
...when it is your job to look thin and pretty on camera, I don’t know that a lawsuit claiming discrimination is in order. Sure The Price Is Right could choose to look really cool and earn a lot of bonus points by keeping on a pregnant model but if they hired her for a specific reason (her physique and modeling abilities) and she loses her physique don't they have a right to fire her? Should a model expect to lose jobs because of a pregnancy?
I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one in the blogosphere. But it seems like reasonable maternity leave could be arranged, so a model could return after the blessed event.

In my line of work, nobody much cares about an actuary getting pregnant as long as she can still crunch the numbers. But actuaries, as my photo on this blog proves, are not hired for their looks. In an appearance business like game show modeling, sure, an argument can be made that pregnancy is a disqualification. But it's a temporary disqualification, after all. Couldn't everybody save a lot of legal fees by allowing reasonable leave time?

Play safe

Controversy is the cliched two-edged sword for game show hosts. On one hand a little public spice can add to a host's cachet. On the famous other hand too much wrangling can turn off audiences who just want to be entertained.

Ask Rosie O'Donnell. She was one of the finalists to succeed Bob Barker on The Price is Right. But the producers decided against such a lightning-rod for political hullabaloo. Instead they settled on Drew Carey, known for a few political comments himself but not nearly as divisive as Rosie.

On his talk radio show, Family Feud host Steve Harvey recently blasted Cornel West and Travis Smiley as "uncle toms" for not being enthusiastic enough about Obama. Got some news for you, Steve. Lots of folks ain't all that sexed up about the current White House occupant. Most people in this country disapprove of his job performance, in fact. As you might expect, Harvey caught some blowback over this foray into racial politics.

Harvey has stumbled into political storms before. Critics ripped what they saw as the Neanderthal sexual politics of his relationship books. So Steve has decided to play things safer for now. He's getting in some golf in Vegas and hosting a charity awards show for "Best Church Choir" and other noncontroversial categories.

At least that shouldn't get too many people upset. Except for the losers at the awards show, and they probably won't be very unhappy. They get a trip to Vegas, after all.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Amazing

As a faux tweet noted, legendary showrunner Michael Davies is working on a game show for ABC involving a maze. Back in 1974-75 the alphabet net (Variety speak!) tried to a-maze us with a show called The Money Maze. Host Nick Clooney wrote a bittersweet column on his experiences with the show in the now-defunct Cincinnati Post. Yep, a dead game show in a dead newspaper.

Clooney remembers the show somewhat fondly, though he quotes a dour critic trashing "grown people running around like rats in a maze, just to collect money." Well, people have done worse things for cash. Clooney describes the show's format:
There would be a little question and answer game between two couples. The winning couple would "go to the maze." That was when, it was hoped, the fun would begin. One person, usually the wife, would stand in a sort of crow's nest overlooking the life-size maze. The spouse would then run through the maze, directed by the mate on high. They were trying to reach five stanchions and push a button to make each light up. There were four "zeros" and a "one." If all were lighted, the couple won $10,000 in cash.
Bits and pieces of the show survive on YouTube, but most of the tapes were wiped. Really, Money Maze was no more or less silly than other stunt shows, though the huge maze was a pain to put up and disassemble. The show quickly succumbed to spotty clearances from local ABC stations and less than amazing ratings.

Clooney says he never tried game show hosting again, though he was offered another gig the following summer. His moral of the story: "Games are fun. Life is better." But isn't life just a big game show?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wheeling at the ballpark

Took my daughter to the Texas Rangers game last night at their Arlington ballpark. Can't say either of us were disappointed as the Rangers rallied from an early 6-3 deficit - their starting pitcher Alexei Ogando stunk - to a walkoff 7-6 win. I spent most of the last two innings standing and shouting, usually at both managers for not doing what I thought they should do. The Rangers manager won despite my advice.

All's well that end's well. Anyway, enough baseball. Back to game shows. Wheel of Fortune, to be exact. One of the between-innings gimmicks on the stadium TV system was a live version of Pat and Vanna's game, played by some randomly picked fan and hosted by one of the Ranger's tee-shirted cheerleaders.

Just as in the real bonus round, they spotted the fan R, S, T, L, N and E. That filled in TE--S LE---ER. Since the category was "baseball term" (surprise) the fan had little trouble guessing "Texas leaguer." She only got to pick two more consonants and a vowel, instead of the standard three consonants and a vowel. But that didn't bother her.

Can't remember what she won. It wasn't $100,000. But I never expected Wheel to roll all the way into a baseball park. That show has worked its way deep into the pop-culture weave.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Syndies flat or down

Is this why they call them the dog days? In the July 25-31 week, syndicated game shows looked like our Labrador Retriever when she's in a lazy mood. Truth to tell, she's in that mood most of the time. TVNewsCheck doesn't say anything about our dog but they bring the blah tidings for syndie game shows...

Wheel of Fortune 6.3 - flat
Jeopardy 5.4 - flat
Family Feud 2.6 - down a tick from season high
Millionaire 2.4 - flat, I can't suppress a yawn any more
5th Grader 1.0 - down a tick if you're still paying attention
Lyrics 0.8 - down two ticks and getting real close to invisible

Pretty much given up on syndie ratings from TV by the Numbers. But if they post them for a change, I'll list them here. TVNewser is not always reliable for its weekly cable ranker, either. But if they publish one, I'll check to see if GSN made the list.

O me of little faith. TV by the Numbers posted the viewership averages: Wheel of Fortune 9.8 million (weekend repeat 4.6 million), Jeopardy 8.3 million, Family Feud 3.9 million.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Petition 'em

Improv-a-Ganza's well-known ratings woes have sparked an online petition to GSN for a second season.

These things almost never work. Nielsen speaks far louder, especially when the petition only gathers a couple thousand signatures. Some of the comments on the petition site talk about the show's genuine issues. Improv-a-Ganza is a misfit for a game show network, sketches wander on too long, some favorite Whose Line skits have gone missing, etc. But then there's the comment about an angry mob burning down GSN headquarters if the show is cancelled. Somehow I doubt we'll have to call the fire department.

And sorry for the grim news, but the ship has probably sailed on this one. Improv-a-Ganza has been booted from weekday prime time and appears to have lost all its weekend slots as well. Some reruns might hang around for a while as GSN amortizes the cost of the large cast over a little ad revenue.

But a second season? Not unless the numbers miraculously recover.

UPDATE: Speaking of the numbers, the latest published day was the worst yet. Improv-a-Ganza crashed to an average of 79K viewers (not a misprint) for the three runs on Monday, August 1. I don't think that petition's gonna get it done.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Last secret

Just watched the last episode of the original CBS I've Got a Secret. The April 3, 1967 show hardly resembled the well-organized final ep of its sibling What's My Line later that year.

Instead it was just a run-of-the-mill episode with a last farewell taped later and tacked onto the end. The show was cancelled so abruptly that the producers had no time to plan and tape a festive finale.

At least the regular panelists got a few seconds for some closing words. The comments reflected their personalities in almost too pat a fashion. Betsy Palmer was bubbly and spunky, Bill Cullen wry and self-deprecating, Bess Myerson cool and elegant, and Henry Morgan curt and cantankerous. Steve Allen glided through the segment with his usual glib competence.

Although an announcer promised a run of Password as a replacement, game shows were quickly fading out of broadcast prime time. Through the 1980s and almost all of the 1990s the genre vanished from the top viewing hours. But then Regis came along in 1999 with a British import. And things changed.

Not to mention that game shows found new homes in syndication, cable, and that odd thing called reality TV.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

So long, hold 'em

Nothing lasts forever, and GSN's High Stakes Poker will not be the first exception. The show pioneered high stakes cash games on TV and developed a strong critical reputation, not to mention some very nice ratings for GSN. But the audience has mostly dwindled away. I drop an elegiac note on the GSN schedule board...

Other poster: Poker doesn't get any demos when it's getting under 100,000 viewers.

The latest Saturday 7/30 ratings had three High Stakes Poker runs over 100K. Funny thing, those runs may have gotten more younger male viewers than most other shows on GSN. But the numbers have declined so far that HSP is doomed to a couple hours post-midnight at best. It's already been cut back severely.

I like the show but it's time to move on. A few years ago High Stakes Poker was the network's top 18-49 show. Once upon a time HSP was GSN's top-rated show, period.

Rate the syndie Feud hosts

When they're not tracking every twist and turn of the GSN schedule, posters on the GSN boards sometimes talk about syndicated game shows.

Poster "groundchuck" (meaty name) started a chat on why the current syndie Family Feud doesn't get the same respect as the old Dawson and Combs versions. Maybe he's been hanging out on the older-is-better game show Internets for too long. The Nielsen Company (and they're the ones who count, literally and figuratively) gives the current syndie Feud plenty of respect. That's why it's lasted all these years and now holds the number three slot among syndie game shows behind only the twin towers.

Another poster "SpeedAndStrategy" replied with a long review of the syndie's four hosts. He dissed Louie Anderson, was tepid on Richard Karn, praised John O'Hurley with reservations, and heaped hosannas on Steve Harvey.

I think S&S undervalues the very likable Karn, who still gets terrific ratings on GSN reruns. I'm more ambivalent about O'Hurley's sometime patrician airs. Game shows are low-rent efforts aimed at the hoi polloi, after all. And although I can't deny that Harvey has revived the ratings, maybe he hogs a little too much attention with standup material.

Have to agree completely on Louie, though. Not the show's finest hour.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

GSN and...me?

At Sitcoms Online a thread popped up about whether GSN had jumped the shark. (Which is a silly phrase that got old before it was new.) Had to laugh when one poster wandered into a discussion of my little old self. My reply and my comments on GSN in general...

Other poster: I used to post on the GSN forums, and there were some great people there, and I used to have so much fun there, but it was lost forever, ruined by an evil man in Casey Abell. All he does is shove ratings down other peoples' throats, and comes off as someone who knows it all, but in reality, he doesn't. He is very snobby and bossy. I also cannot stand anyone who worships him 24/7. There were several reasons why I quit the GSN forums, but the always ignorant and arrogant Casey Abell was the main reason.

Hey, I'm glad that somebody understands what I'm trying to do here. (Okay, I'm stealing that line from Chuck Barris on Gong Show.)

Anyway, I do post about GSN ratings often, but I'm hardly the only one. Lots of posters discuss the ratings on the GSN boards. And I can't shove stuff down people's throats even if I wanted to, because Brendy does a very good job of moderating the boards. As to whether I'm evil and snobby and bossy and ignorant and arrogant, well, my Labrador Retriever likes me (wink).

Same poster: He's [me] just a poster on GSN. He claims to get ratings from a guy named Douglas.

I don't "claim" this. It's just a fact. Douglas regularly posts GSN ratings at his blog.

Same poster: I'll never forget the thread asking if 2009 was the network's worst year ever. He hogged most of the thread, and basically came off as this kind of person who says "no you're wrong, 2009 was a great year, you hear me, a great year!". GAWD!

Again, Brendy doesn't let people post personal attacks, even if I wanted to, which I don't. Also, 2009 was a good year for GSN because Deal or No Deal made such a big ratings splash on the network. In fact, it was GSN's biggest hit in several years. If you don't like the show, well, there's no disputing tastes. But 2009 was hardly a flop for GSN. Just the opposite, in fact.

On the general topic of this thread, of course it's subjective as to whether you think GSN has jumped the shark. I generally like the network because I'm a hopeless game show fan. GSN has screwed up lately, in my opinion, with Improv-a-Ganza and Love Triangle. (I'm blah on the first and can't stand the second.) But I like Bill Engvall's new Lingo and generally find the schedule acceptable.

By the way, Jeopardy returns to GSN starting this Saturday after a long hiatus. With Sony assuming operational control and eventual majority ownership of GSN, it's possible we'll see more Sony shows on the network.

There are some other schedule changes starting this weekend. Improv-a-Ganza finally gets cut from Saturday after weeks of miserable ratings. Deal or No Deal gets another slot at 5:00PM weekdays, though Catch 21 and Lingo had been delivering decent numbers. I guess Lingo's absurd rerun abuse had to get trimmed back.

UPDATE: Gee, I'm a popular subject all of a sudden. From a thread on Matt Ottinger's board...

First poster: Even Casey Abell, of all people, said that he can't understand this theory that old game shows have suddenly gotten expensive.

Second poster: He's still beating that drum? Goodness.


I'm not sure what drum I'm beating. And I'm really not sure why I'd be "of all people." But I do know that leasing old game shows is dirt cheap, as other posters on the thread noted.

Guess I'm getting in trouble with the older-is-better crowd, which tends to predominate on Internet boards, though certainly not in the actual TV audience. Oh well, too bad.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not taking the money

It's time for America's favorite game, Is It a Game Show or Is It a Reality Show?

Alright, maybe it's not your favorite game, but it is a discussable topic. As Game Show Newsnet demonstrates, the line between the genres, always blurry, is getting pretty near invisible. I'm tempted to fall back on Potter Stewart's should-be tombstone inscription. Each of us has to know 'em when we see 'em.

The latest quandary concerns ABC's Take the Money and Run. Over at BuzzerBlog Alex Davis is treating this faux-larceny epic like any other traditional game show. That's Alex's prerogative, no doubt. It's his site, after all. Carrie Grosvenor covers Big Brother, the ultimate reality show, at her game show site.

But I'm just a little more persnickety. Not saying I'm any better, which would be ridiculous. Just more persnickety. Take the Money and Run looks too reality-ish to me. There's too much imitation "real world" (no pun intended, MTV) and not enough nitty-gritty gameplay. I'm not saying the show's bad, though I wasn't overly impressed by the bits and pieces I've seen. I'm just saying it doesn't really (that word again) feel like a game show to me, though others obviously differ.

So I'm not going to cover the show here. Does this make me a hopeless game show purist? Oh, maybe.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Syndies steady or better

It wasn't a blowout week for syndicated game shows, but things could have been worse. What little movement there was, was up. TVNewsCheck presents the tiny changes for the week ending July 24...

Wheel of Fortune 6.4 - flat but tops as always
Jeopardy 5.4 - up a tick, take that, Pat and Vanna
Family Feud 2.7 - flat at a continued season high
Millionaire 2.4 - up a tick and comfortably above the ones
5th Grader 1.1 - flat as the final lap continues
Lyrics 1.0 - up a tick as we bid farewell

When TV by the Numbers gets the viewership averages out to the world, this part of the world will post them. I'll also check TVNewser's latest cable ranker to see if GSN made the top 40 list.

Monday, August 1, 2011

They named a computer language after this guy

With game show news slowed to a crawl in the dog days, I'm really going to stretch with this entry. All the way back to the 17th century, in fact.

No, I'm not going to discuss some Renaissance versions of Pat and Vanna who trooped around the countryside with a big wheel. Instead, I'm going to talk about the gentleman in the picture, Blaise Pascal. This guy was an undoubted genius. With fellow French mathematician Pierre Fermat (he of the famous and now-proved Last Theorem) Pascal laid the foundations of modern-day probability and statistics.

His work underlays much of today's science, engineering and finance, not to mention the entire economy of Las Vegas, NV. And it also impacts our little world of chance-based game shows. Unfortunately, the undoubted genius Blaise Pascal happened to be a nutcase religious fanatic. He got his jollies from a sincere belief that almost all of us are predestined to eternal hellfire.

For obscure reasons I'm currently plodding through Pascal's Provincial Letters. This innocently titled book is a screaming polemic on religion that shows Pascal at his vindictive, puritanical worst. It's studded with charming passages like these:
Do we not find God at once hates and despises sinners; so that even at the hour of death, when their condition is most sad and deplorable, Divine Wisdom adds mockery to the vengeance which consigns them to eternal punishment? "I will laugh at your calamity." The saints, too, influenced by the same feeling, will join in the derision; for, according to David, when they witness the punishment of the wicked, "they shall fear, and yet laugh at it."
This guy makes John Calvin look easygoing and chummy. Oh well, Pascal has long since gone on to...whatever he went on to. We can still benefit from his mathematical and scientific work, even if we're hopeless sinners predestined to not-so-lovely parting gifts.