Game shows have been around since the beginning of TV. Their popularity has never really waned; just look at the success of long-running franchises like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, The Price is Right
, and (one of my personal favorites) Supermarket Sweep
. However, the prime-time network game show is an altogether different beast. The late 1990s saw an unprecedented boom in the prime-time game show, ushered in by the mega-hit Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
That show was successful for a number of reasons. One, it was the largest prize that a game show has ever offered. Two, Regis Philbin, however you feel about him, is a warm presence and wonderful host, the perfect guide through an our of trivia and small talk. The success of Millionaire
paved the way for programs like The Weakest Link
and Greed, but ABC eventually overexposed Millionaire
, leading to its doom, and the prime time game show laid dormant. That is, until late last season.
Deal or No Deal
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burst onto the season in the latter half of last TV season, becoming an overnight sensation. A far more mild version of Deal
had been popular in the UK, but this version was different. How do you appeal to an American audience? Take a proven commodity and add a bunch of hot chicks.
One could argue that NBC hit upon the success of Deal or No Deal
out of luck and desperation. The network had fallen from grace, moving from the number one network of the 90's to fourth place, even falling behind former whipping boy FOX. With a shrinking budget, what's the easiest way to fill a prime time schedule bereft of hit shows? Create cheaply produced programs that can be inserted anywhere in the line up.
And, so, the second coming of the modern prime time game show began. Game shows are, in theory, a perfect cash cow for networks. Cheap and easy to produce, requiring zero fan loyalty. With the outpouring of high-serialized drama, it's a welcome sight for TV viewers to turn on a show that requires no priming, no commitment. It is the best cure for an ailing network.
As it is with television, once a formula is deemed successful, the replication of that formula will begin in earnest. Whereas a year ago there were no prime time game shows, we now have upwards of four, three on NBC. Here is how those break down.
Deal or No Deal
A game of chance, requiring no skill. Contestants choose one of 26 briefcases, each with a monetary amount inside. The contestants slowly eliminate briefcases, learning those cases value after they eliminate them. The object is to receive the best possible offer from the banker. Deal or No Deal
is a wonderful microcosm of greed in today's society. Players are often blinded by their own greed, making terrible decision after terrible decision. Host Howie Mandel
leads the proceedings with surprising deftness.
1 vs. 100
Bob Saget is back in the national zeitgeist after a decade long fling with oblivion. A contestant squares off against 100 people as they each answer multiple choice questions. The monetary prize goes up after each multiple choice question is answered and members of the 100 are eliminated if they answer a question wrong. The 100 is comprised of doctors, geniuses, teachers, idiots, trained monkeys, cosmonauts, Kevin Federline, evil dictators, and any other subset of person that exists in today's world.
Show Me the Money
Although this show is ridiculous, it is shamefully so, and therefore is enjoyable despite itself. Hosted by William Shatner, Show Me the Money
is part trivia show, part variety dance off. There are hot dancers, similar to the Deal or No Deal
models, and Shatner will dance with these dancers at any time he deems necessary. It often feels like a train wreck, but that's also kind of the point.
Born from the mind of Penn Gillette, of the magic/comedy duo Penn and Teller, Identity
is a high-concept game show that forces contestants to figure out the occupations ("identity") of twelve on-stage strangers. They are given twelve separate occupations corresponding to the strangers, and the prize money goes up for each person they can correctly identify. The jury is still out on Identity
, but it shows promise, both for entertainment value and the network's ability to think outside the box.
The game show will never go away. There will be waves of popularity, but the simple truth is this: they are cheap and easy to produce, are beloved by millions, and have become a staple of entertainment in our culture. Trends like incorporating beautiful women into the proceedings can only help increase popularity. So, when wondering why game shows have suddenly become popular, just know that this is not a recent trend; it's been happening for over 50 years.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer