Sunday, August 20, 2017

Nutty professor

I don't want this blog to turn into the obit section, but comedy legend Jerry Lewis has died at age 91.

A confession: I thought Mr. Lewis had died years ago. He always seemed like a figure of the 1950s (and early 1960s), so it was a surprise to learn that he was still active into the new millennium. Another confession: I was never a big fan. His comedy always came off as a little hokey and juvenile to me. It didn't help that some hoity-toity French movie critics insisted he was a cinematic genius.

In at least one respect my image of Mr. Lewis as an iconic 1950s performer is correct. He turned up quite often on the iconic 1950s game show, What's My Line. His IMDb page lists seven credits on the show, as both panelist and mystery guest. You can watch all his WML fun and games on YouTube, thanks to the superb What's My Line channel.

Mr. Lewis also appeared on I've Got a Secret, which again seems only natural for a figure of black-and-white 1950s TV. Whatever my own opinion, many others thought highly of his movies and standup act. R.I.P.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Taxing times

I've occasionally written about taxes and game shows. The two seem to go together, because the IRS always wants its share of the winnings.

But an odd variant of the old win-and-pay story has cropped up in Google News. This time the IRS is making life miserable for somebody before a game show. The individual in question is Earl Simmons, better known as rapper DMX. The Feds are after him for $1.7 million in back taxes.

Simmons made bail in the case but then cleverly flunked a drug test. (Brilliant idea, DMX.) So the judge has put him under house arrest, more or less, which means he can't travel to L.A. for his scheduled appearance on Hip Hop Squares. That's VH1's rewind of Hollywood Squares, in case you missed it.

It's tough when the IRS wipes out your money from a game show before you even get the check. But Simmons could have laid off the illegal substances for a little while, no?

Friday, August 18, 2017

One time

British game show host and all-round TV celebrity Bruce Forsyth has died at age 89.

Usually, this blog deals only with U.S. game shows, because I have enough trouble keeping track of one country in our little genre. But Bruce Forsyth actually was part of U.S. game shows once upon a time. A very short time, unfortunately. Thirteen weeks, in fact, which is all that ABC granted to Bruce Forsyth's Hot Streak in 1986.

Brutal competition and Mr. Forsyth's inability to appeal to American audiences doomed the show. But as we've discussed, old game shows never die. There's a surprising amount of Hot Streak available on YouTube. The show was a battle-of-the-sexes word game, which was sort of okay but nothing special.

Mr. Forsyth was a legend on the other side of the pond, of course, with a career that spanned almost the entire history of commercial television. Best known in his later years for Strictly Come Dancing, he hosted so many shows that it takes forever for IMDb to list them. R.I.P. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Syndication information

Rummaging around the game show Interwebs, I found some apparent bad news for Millionaire.

The syndie quizzer seems to have lost its slot in Atlanta, the nation's tenth largest TV market. Millionaire has been hanging on gamely (sorry) for the last few years, wining new seasons by the narrowest of margins. The syndie starts its sixteenth season in September, which is a nice long run by any standard. But how much further can it go?

Celebrity Name Game is already shuffling off this mortal coil. A new comedy game show, Funny You Should Ask, will debut in syndication this fall. (By the way, in Atlanta the show will get a 10:30 PM slot on an independent station. Good luck with that.) So for now there will still be five entries in my weekly syndie ratings reports.

Broadcasting and Cable has noted some very mildly encouraging ratings news for the tryout of iWitness in a few markets this summer. It's possible we might see the show in general syndication in fall 2018, though there's no guarantee. The numbers are far from overwhelming.

Will syndie game shows eventually dwindle away to just the big three? The depressing answer might be yes, but there's always hope.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

More on Buzzr

A few posts ago I wrote about Buzzr's upcoming "Lost and Found" stunt in September.

I updated the post with news that Buzzr would run Richard Simmons' Dream Maker, of all things, as part of the stunt. I got the news secondhand from a commenter who seemed a little nonplussed that this non-game show would turn up on the diginet.

Well, Buzzr has now sent me the news directly. In my e-mail today...

A buzzer and a bell? What could this mean? That’s right, folks: Lost and Found is back September 11th until September 15th. BUZZR has searched every nook and cranny of its vaults to bring you some hidden gems, including never-before-seen programming like Trivia Trap with Bob Eubanks and Richard Simmons' Dream Maker. Stay tuned for more details! 

We’ve been listening to what you have to say; and, we’re doing something about it. Coming this Fall, we are adding more episodes and new game shows. Keep an eye out for updates and details from BUZZR in the coming weeks.

So the news looks to be real. As I commented in the update, word that GSN was running Dream Maker would produce wailing and gnashing of teeth on the game show oldies boards. As it is, the same news from Buzzr is getting passed over with embarrassed silence or a few chuckles. The double standard is nothing new, but it is noteworthy. (Okay, a few harsher comments have now appeared. But they're still nothing compared to the thrashing that GSN would receive for running Dream Maker.)

By the way, Trivia Trap is not a terrific addition, either. But at least it's a game show. Anyway, we'll see if this Dream Maker experiment means that Buzzr will try more non-game show stuff in the future. Game show oldies remain a narrow niche within a narrow niche.

UPDATE: Haven't seen the promo myself, but apparently the "Lost and Found" stunt will also include Winner Take All, Play for Keeps, Choose Up Sides, Play Your Hunch and Match Game.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ratings: Pat and Vanna get back to number two

Wheel of Fortune climbed back into the number two slot among syndie game shows for the latest week. Pat and Vanna didn't have such a great week, but Alex had a worse one. Otherwise, there was little movement in the genre. TV News Check has the household ratings for July 31-August 6...

Family Feud 6.2 - up a tick
Wheel of Fortune 5.4 - down a tick but back to #2
Jeopardy 5.1 - down four ticks in a tumble into third
Millionaire 1.6 - up a tick
Celebrity Name Game 1.1 - flat as it's almost over in syndication

Poor Candy Crush is wending its way to an early demise. On Sunday it inherited an audience of 6.2M from Big Brother and managed to turn it into an audience of 2.2M.

Not such a hot week in prime time for GSN. 347K/282K viewers prime time/total day for the August 7-13 week. The network ranked 41st and 33rd in the windows. GSN's persistent problem is finding another prime time staple besides Harvey Feud.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Back and forth

Last night I found myself bouncing back and forth between GSN and Buzzr for an hour.

It was an interesting trip to a couple different corners of the genre. GSN was running Baggage, the Jerry Springer dating epic where would-be lovebirds open suitcases to reveal iffy details of their personal lives. Buzzr was running Double Dare, the cerebral Alex Trebek quizzer where personal lives don't exist as contestants try to figure out various conundrums.

I remember one Baggage ep had a guy who slept with 315 girls and another ep had a girl who slept with 121 guys. (I could be off a little on those numbers. But I'm in the ballpark. And what a ballpark it is.) Meanwhile, Double Dare was reviewing the political career of Nikita Khrushchev. There was no word on how many girls he slept with.

Just to show you where my allegiances lie, Baggage made my top 50 list while Double Dare sadly didn't. The great American unwashed seems to agree with me. Double Dare died a quick death on CBS while Baggage lasted for years on GSN. Sex beats Khrushchev any day. But you can still catch both shows late at night on weekends.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sudsy Wink

Some game show news items are just too deliciously strange. And being not so deliciously strange myself, I can't resist 'em.

I last glimpsed legendary game show host Wink Martindale in a literally spacey KFC commercial. That was odd enough, but it's nothing compared to Wink's next adventure, "the world's first faith-based soap opera." Hm, I always thought that every soap opera requires a leap of faith to be taken seriously.

But we're talking Christianity here, with an outfit named PureFlix creating Hilton Head Island, a 12-ep soaper that's "a Christian show in a format known for salacious storytelling." Soap operas are also known for ridiculous storytelling, but we'll leave that aside. The series will star Anthony Sabato, Donna Mills, Michael Swan and, yes, "renowned game show host Wink Martindale."

It's nice to see Wink at work on anything at age 83. I hope he gets to speak some lines, unlike his cameo in the KFC ad. I also hope things don't get too salacious.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

I once was lost but now am found

Haven't written much lately about Buzzr, our other little game show network.

The diginet has posted a blurb for "Lost and Found" next month. Wondering where those obscure game shows went? You can claim them in our 'lost and found' starting in September! Only on Buzzr. The news has brought a bunch of predictable comments about Buzzr offering "new" episodes of various oldies. Buzzr has always drawn some flak about its overdose on a relatively few eps of Match Game and Family Feud.

One comment even commits the ultimate game show Interweb heresy of comparing GSN favorably to Buzzr (gasp!) There's more MG episodes GSN has in its lease than Buzzr's! On the mostly traditionalist Interwebs, where GSN is often the Antichrist for running shows with less than 30 years of dust on them, these are fightin' words.

A lot of commenters want non-Fremantle shows on Buzzr, which probably isn't going to happen any time soon. But if the diginet ever starts producing significant revenue, Fremantle might try sprucing up the schedule by leasing a few shows from other libraries. For now most fans would probably settle for some "new" eps of the usual Fremantle oldies.

UPDATE: A commenter says that, for some bizarre reason, Buzzr will run Richard Simmons' Dream Maker in September. This wasn't even a game show. Oh boy, if GSN tried something like this, the game show Interwebs would explode. Even Buzzr might catch some grief.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A summer shower of renewals

As a faux tweet noted, Love Connection has connected for a second season at Fox.

The show joins a bunch of recent renewals at the broadcast networks in our little genre. Celebrity Family Feud, 100K Pyramid, Match Game and Beat Shazam have also earned another round of eps. I'm happy that there's a little juice left in traditional game shows on the broadcasters. Candy Crush looks doomed at CBS, but you can't win them all.

It's not like these game shows are pulling huge audiences. Steve Harvey does best with Feud, which got 6.0M viewers and a 1.0 18-49 rating for its latest run. The ratings fall away for the other shows, but this is the world of a zillion channels. The linked Variety story says Love Connection's average numbers - 2.6M viewers and a 0.8 18-49 rating - make the show a "solid summer performer." By today's low standards of broadcast ratings, that's probably true.

Love Connection is a passable reboot of the Chuck Woolery chestnut. There's the usual titter and tatter about dating hijinks, which is what the format has always been about. Congrats on the second season.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Documentaries

Yesterday I wrote about a Game Show Paradise thread with an odd comment on game show rigging in the 1980s (which almost certainly didn't happen).

The actual subject of the thread was game show documentaries. This led to the somewhat fictional Quiz Show, and that led to the rigging discussion. Anyway, my personal pair of favorite documentaries on our little genre happen to be available on YouTube.

The first is the E True Hollywood Story episode about Family Feud. While no doubt overwrought at times, the episode is a delicious detailing of the adventures and misadventures of Feud's first three hosts: Richard Dawson, Ray Combs (see screenshot) and Louie Anderson. We get to hear all sorts of dirt and dish on the show, not to mention Louie's famous prediction that Feud would meet an early demise after his dismissal (wrong!)

The only problem with the 2002 show is that it stops short. What would they have made of the subsequent years with Richard Karn, John O'Hurley and, above all, Steve Harvey? Steve's tenure would have given them some pretty good material, I think.

A related documentary is GSN's Behind the Blank about the 1973-82 Match Game. Richard Dawson cuts a major figure in this show, too...as the bad guy. GSN portrays him as the ultimate prima donna who got to be unbearable to everybody else on Match Game. "Sexy as a snail" is how Brett Somers dismisses him.

This may be a bit unfair, but there's no doubt that Richard was visibly bored with Match Game in his last few years on the show. So far Alec Baldwin is still looking interested in the latest MG version on ABC. He gets paid well enough, no doubt.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rigged?

A thread on Game Show Paradise offers an odd assertion: "I have a feeling Mark Goodson may have been rigging shows such as Card Sharks and The Price is Right in the 1980s." As it stands, the comment is almost surely wrong. After the rigging scandals of the 1950s, game show producers in general and Mark Goodson in particular became very sensitive to anything that might remotely resemble rigging.

In fact, Goodson's squeamishness on the issue helped sink the 1983-84 Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour. He forbade the practice of scripting the celebs on Squares, and that verboten helped turn the format into a dull, long-winded bore. (MG-HS had several other problems as well.)

As to whether Goodson ever tolerated practices that might be seen as rigging in today's world, the issue is a little cloudier. NBC news reader Tom Brokaw appeared on Two for the Money in 1957 when he was seventeen. In much later life he intimated the show was rigged. As I vaguely recall, this brought a screech from showrunner Ira Skutch, and Brokaw started backtracking quickly. In fact, in his memoirs Skutch tells a funny story of how the lack of rigging on the show cost the producers a lot of money. It was all about a question on words ending in "th."

It's hard to imagine why anybody would bother to rig Two for the Money, anyway, since the game was pretty much an afterthought. The show was mostly a monologue/interview vehicle for host Herb Shriner. You can sample an ep on YouTube.

There were some other practices on Goodson shows that fell short of actual rigging but wouldn't pass muster nowadays, like coaching contestants on possible freeze levels on the original TPiR. But once the scandals broke, Mark Goodson turned holier than thou about any kind of chicanery.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ratings: the soulmates tie

Wheel of Fortune pulled into a tie for second place among syndie game shows. It wasn't that Pat and Vanna had such a great week. Alex just lost a little altitude. In general, it was a forgettable week for the genre. TV News Check has the blah household ratings...

Family Feud 6.1 - down four ticks in a nasty tumble
Wheel of Fortune 5.5 - flat, which isn't bad this week
Jeopardy 5.5 - down a tick into the tie
Millionaire 1.5 - flat
Celebrity Name Game 1.1 - flat as the hour approaches

GSN perked up for its best week in a while. 397K/290K viewers prime time/total day for the July 31-August 6 week. The network ranked 39th and 31st in the windows.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Snap chat

Just watched one of GSN's four - count 'em, four - debut eps of Snap Decision.

To spare you any suspense, I'll sum up the show in a phrase: a reboot of Street Smarts. Which doesn't mean that I don't like it. Street Smarts was one of my top fifty of all time, and this new version is by no means bad.

Okay, Snap Decision is not an exact copy. The three contestants don't have to guess which of the three strangers on the street know which trivia questions. Instead, they have to guess which of the three strangers wears cross-gender underwear (among other personal foibles).

But it's pretty much the same idea. You gotta figure out things about strangers from superficial clues based on appearance, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. At least showrunner Scott St. John doesn't bastardize his previous effort.

David Alan Grier, who has appeared on every game show in the last ten years, hosts with apparent enthusiasm, though you can never know for sure. I'm just making a snap decision.

UPDATE: Snap Decision starts out fine in the ratings, with 380K viewers and a 0.08 18-49 rating at 9:00 PM. But the numbers quickly go south afterwards.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Get ready to match more stars

It's been no secret for a while, but ABC's press release confirms that Match Game will return for a third season.

The network has also signed Alec Baldwin to a deal on possible new projects. I think this might be an iffy idea, because Baldwin is an iffy kind of guy. On a good day he draws as many detractors as fans, and his personal life has been turbulent, to say the least. But maybe ABC has some iffy and turbulent projects in mind, and Baldwin might seem perfect for them.

The show itself is okay. It won't make anybody forget the Gene Rayburn 1973-82 classic, but it's a pleasant way to pass the time. Ratings for the second season were only so-so, but ABC can't afford to turn up its nose at so-so numbers. Anything that doesn't stink to Nielsen's high heaven might get renewed at the alphabet net (Variety speak!)

I remember seeing "sometime in 2018" as the landing date for the third season. I assume the orange shag carpet will be back.

A commenter points out that Celebrity Family Feud and 100K Pyramid got new seasons, too. These shows have usually pulled better numbers and were pretty close to locks for renewal.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Contestants

Ah, contestant stories. Google News has plenty of them even on a slow weekend.

The first two entries that popped up in a "game show" search were items about contestants on Beat Shazam and GSN's upcoming Snap Decision. Yes, we even get contestant stories about shows that nobody has seen yet. It's never too early to read about players on a game show, even if they can't reveal the outcome.

The Beat Shazam pair were Amy Chiasson and Stacey Connors Noel, and their account appears in Wicked Local Waltham, a pile of local stories about Waltham, MA. By the way, how did that "wicked" colloquialism ever get started in New England? I'll never know (too lazy to Google it) but the pair won just over a hundred grand by naming their tunes. One of the pair even used the s-word: the show was a "wild and surreal" experience. It's always surreal in contestant stories.

The Snap Decision player was Conor Halbleib from Louisville. He got on the show when he was visiting a friend in California. He can't tell us how he did, but he liked host David Alan Grier. "Oh man, he's really sharp and made the experience a lot of fun." It's even more fun when you win.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Company lawyer

GSN has promoted from within for its new president. Exec veep and general counsel (that means "lawyer") Mark Feldman will replace David Goldhill, whose decade-long tenure was easily the longest of any GSN chief.

I wish I could tell you what this means for the network's future direction, but I don't have the foggiest. GSN has recently recommitted to traditional game shows, with none of the reality and other experiments that have come and gone over the years. The schedule has been all-traditional for so long, I'm starting to think Gene Rayburn is the network's patron saint.

I can tell you what GSN's biggest need is...another prime time hit to complement Steve Harvey's Family Feud. They've tried and tried with both originals and acquisitions, but Harvey Feud remains the tent pole of the entire operation.

At least the entire TV operation. GSN has a whole 'nother side, of course, the video game business. As to what Mr. Feldman's new job means for the gaming operation, I'm even more clueless, if that's possible. I can only offer the ultimate TV cliche: stay tuned.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The new Ernie

A while back I wrote about Ernie Kovacs, the often seen TV comic of the 1950s.

Ernie earned (sorry) a good critical reputation but never really broke through to major success. His act was a little too offbeat and in-jokey for the great American unwashed. With Celebrity Name Game trudging off the field toward the Nielsen showers, it strikes me that Craig Ferguson might be the Ernie of the new century.

Like Kovacs, Ferguson has not lacked for kindly critical notice, and he has a couple of Emmys to prove it. (Whatever I might think about show biz self-congratulation.) But his act has never really broken through to the kind of mass market acceptance that, say, Steve Harvey has won.

Maybe it's the accent (just kidding). The actual reason is probably Craig's oddball humor, which always seems rather disconnected from any reality except his own. Ernie might know what I'm talking about, though I realize I'm not expressing it too well.

Anyway, it's too bad that an entertaining game show will soon be only a memory, except maybe for reruns on GSN. (No, I haven't heard anything about the network acquiring the show.) Celebrity Name Game was good while it lasted.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Forgettable you

Continuing the old-game-shows-never-die theme, I ran across this Esquire story about an upcoming reality show on people in total darkness.

I don't care about the reality epic, but the story mentioned "a forgettable American game show where Jaleel White challenged contestants to a face a variety of Fear Factor-style challenges in the dark for a $5,000 prize." The show was so forgettable that the writer didn't even bother to Google the name. It was Total Blackout on Syfy in 2012-13.

We already know that old game shows live on and on, and YouTube proves it on Total Blackout. In fact, I didn't think the show was so awful. Besides the spooky stuff in the dark, losing players also dropped through trap doors, a la Russian Roulette. Syfy gave Total Blackout a second season, then dropped it through the Nielsen trap door.

Jaleel White hosted in a slyly humorous style. The stunts could be a little gross but they weren't too outlandish. I've seen worse.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ratings: not a bad week for syndies

In a generally bad week for syndication, game shows did pretty well. No big gains, but no losses, either. TV News Check has the household ratings for the July 17-23 week, which could have been worse...

Family Feud 6.5 - up a couple ticks
Jeopardy 5.6 - flat
Wheel of Fortune 5.5 - up a tick to creep closer to the soulmate
Millionaire 1.5 - flat
Celebrity Name Game 1.1 - up a tick, though it means nothing

Last night's run of To Tell the Truth scored 3.6M viewers and a 0.7 18-49 rating. Not too bad for summer stuff. In fact, a commenter points out that it's just fine for ABC on Monday at 10:00 PM. We'll see how the show does in the fall on Sunday night.

Same old same old for GSN in the July 24-30 week. 355K/272K viewers prime time/total day. The network ranked 42nd and 34th in the windows. A little more distance than usual between the two rankings.