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New Year, New Decade... Same Game Show News
January 11

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!

We start this episode with the breaking news that David Hasselhoff will not be returning to the hit NBC show "America's Got Talent". People.com posted a statement from Hasselhoff on January 6. He said, "I am proud that I was part of making America’s Got Talent the No. 1 rated show for the past four summers. It’s been a rewarding experience and now I’m thrilled to be able to follow my dream to do my own TV show, which will be announced very shortly.” Hasselhoff adds, “I want to thank my friend, (executive producer) Simon Cowell, and everyone at NBC and Fremantle for the opportunity for four great years.”

NBC confirmed the departure by saying, "David’s been an integral part of the success of America’s Got Talent and we are sad to see him go. We wish him all the best with his new show.”

No details of the show have been released at this time. There are a few questions that beg to be asked with the release of this statement:

1. Who replaces David? That judge's spot was the "Randy Jackson" seat on the AGT panel. The decision has to be made quickly as auditions take place in the next 2-3 months.

2. Is this the real reason for his departure? While the statement reeks of PR spin, Hasselhoff has had a very public battle with alcohol abuse for many years. Is NBC really putting money into a show with the Hoff, or is Hoff finally getting truly clean so that he can be a sober parent to his teenage daughters?

3. Does this affect the show? With Piers Morgan being the only original member of the show, has AGT now lost its identity?

It is going to be very interesting to watch the developments as they pan out. Whatever Hasselhoff does, people watch and listen.

Another NBC reality show that made news this week is "Celebrity Apprentice 3". The Mark Burnett/Donald Trump production returns March 14th. The cast list that is playing for charity was revealed this week and it looks pretty good. We have for the men: former baseball player Darryl Strawberry, Poison singer and reality star Bret Michaels, former pro wrestler and Bullrun host Bill Goldberg, Michael Johnson, disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, comedian Sinbad and celebrity chef Curtis Stone. The women include: singer Cyndi Lauper, AGT judge and reality show star Sharon Osbourne, actress Holly Robinson Peete, Victoria's Secret model Selita Ebanks, current WWE Diva and wrestler Maria Kanellis, comedian/writer Carol Leifer and game show host/Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders.

We had an excellent season last year which was ruined by the poor final decision of Donald Trump awarding the $250,000 grand prize to Joan Rivers's charity instead of poker player Annie Duke's because Rivers was old and "tried hard" instead of the better player. Let us hope Trump stays out of the way and makes the right choices for gameplay instead of TV Drama.

But the bigger reveal was the list of the players in the 20th edition of Survivor: Heroes v. Villains. Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly confirmed the list after weeks of online rumors. Jeff Probst showed us a sneak preview of the show on the People's Choice Awards which gave us this list of the 20 Heroes and Villains:

- Rupert Boneham (Previous seasons: Pearl Islands, All-Stars)
- James Clement (Previous seasons: China, Micronesia)
- Colby Donaldson (Previous seasons: The Australian Outback, All-Stars)
- Cirie Fields (Previous seasons: Panama, Micronesia)
- Amanda Kimmell (Previous seasons: China, Micronesia)
- Jessica “Sugar” Kiper (Previous season: Gabon)
- Stephenie LaGrossa (Previous seasons: Palau, Guatemala)
- James “J.T.” Thomas (Previous season: Tocantins)
- Tom Westman (Previous season: Palau)
- Candice Woodcock (Previous season: Cook Islands)

- Tyson Apostol (Previous season: Tocantins)
- Randy Bailey (Previous season: Gabon)
- Sandra Diaz-Twine (Previous season: Pearl Islands)
- Danielle DiLorenzo (Previous season: Panama)
- Russell Hantz (Previous season: Samoa)
- Jerri Manthey (Previous seasons: Australian Outback, All-Stars)
- “Boston” Rob Mariano (Previous seasons: Marquesas, All-Stars)
- Parvati Shallow (Previous seasons: Cook Islands, Micronesia)
- “Coach” Benjamin Wade (Previous season: Tocantins)
- Courtney Yates (Previous season: China)

Ross commented that fans will be divided over the fact that nine of the 20 players are playing for the third time, including two (James Clement and Amanda Kimmell) who will be competing for the third time in six seasons. “At the end of the day, we looked at the names, and we said, ‘let’s forget about who’s been here once, or twice or three times,’” host Jeff Probst told EW.com in Samoa. “‘Who do we want to see play again? Who does the audience want to see?’ And that’s really what governed our choices.”

The only person that is truly missing here is Richard Hatch. That was Hatch's own doing for the fact that he didn't pay his taxes and spent most of the last two years in federal prison. But this is going to be must-see TV when it returns on February 11th. Will Russell have an advantage going in? Will any of the winners win for the 2nd time? I can't wait to see it.

We had two cable impasses over the holidays, one which was settled and one that is still going on as we speak. The one that was settled was Time Warner Cable's dispute with Fox TV. Fox and Time Warner came to an agreement around January 1, so American Idol fans can get their fix on Time Warner.

But the bigger dispute is the one with Cablevision and Scripps Networks. Scripps is the home of HGTV and the Food Network. They have been off the Cablevision lineup since January 1st and their 3.1 Million subscribers are not happy. The dispute is over money.

According to Mediaweek, Cablevision fired the first shot, issuing a release condemning Scripps Nets for refusing to agree to an extension of their carriage agreement, which expired midnight, Jan. 1. The statement said that Scripps rebuffed Cablevision’s invitation to continue to negotiate through the deadline, as is standard practice. As Cablevision puts it, once the contract expired, Scripps “took the extraordinary step of flipping a switch and removing its channels from Cablevision––effectively holding their own viewers hostage in order to pursue a more than 200 percent fee increase.” Cablevision added that the move came “with virtually no warning.”

Scripps responded by saying, “Cablevision simply is not telling the truth,” the programmer’s response read. “Scripps Networks Interactive has been trying to have productive negotiations with Cablevision for more than six months, but to no avail. Repeated requests to sit down together to discuss a fair market price for our networks have been rejected––even as recently as Sunday afternoon [Jan. 3].”

While SNI did not address the specific dollar amount it was looking to secure from Cablevision, the company revealed that under the terms of its expired contract, the operator paid 25 cents per month per sub for the combined networks. A 200 percent increase would bring the fee to 75 cents per sub, which would effectively raise Cablevision's monthly payment from $775,000 to $2.33 million.

And Food Network is taking some extraordinary steps so that some viewers can see the premieres of one of their big shows. Viewers in the New York Tri-State area will be able to see the unprecedented culinary competition Super Chef Battle: An Iron Chef America Event in a special, one-time airing on Sunday, January 10th from 8-10pm ET on WPIX-TV (New York's Channel 11) and on WTXX-TV (Hartford's Channel 20). The special episode, which premiered on Food Network on January 3rd, stars Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford in an unprecedented culinary competition.

My guess is that the two sides will come to some agreement as SNI is spending a lot of money in online, radio, print and television ads to get the fans to talk to Cablevision. There will be some compromise, especially in this economy.

Speaking of the economy, the Los Angeles Times continues the reports of how people are going on game shows to help out their own financial situations. Michael Albo reported on two different people. Jasmin Bryant, a 34-year-old out-of-work television producer, was checking job listings when she came across an ad soliciting prospective contestants for the Game Show Network's "Catch 21." After reading the ad's hook -- the possibility of winning up to $25,000 -- Bryant was intrigued. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, $25,000 would really help out a lot.' Even after taxes it would help pay for my car, my rent, my insurance, the whole nine yards. I'd be able to fly back East to visit my family for the holidays."

Ashley Coelho, 29, an out-of-work accounts executive, was searching Craigslist for a job when she saw an ad seeking contestants for GSN's revival of "The Newlywed Game." Recently married, she talked her new husband into giving it a try. "It's really tough out there," she says. "Cash or prizes, it didn't really matter -- it was really the only way we could possibly do anything for our honeymoon."

Before the economic meltdown, Bev Pomerantz, a veteran casting director for "Catch 21," rarely saw prospective contestants who were college-educated, professional and out of work. "That demographic is now maybe 10%," she says.

Catch 21's host Alfonso Ribeiro said this "During the first season, there were a lot of people going for the $25,000 regardless of how the odds stacked up against them. The second season, which we shot back in March, most people were saying, 'I'm taking the money I've already won. I'm not risking it.' I think the total was 13 episodes where, if they would have gone for it, they would have won $25,000."

Kelly Goode, senior vice president of programming at GSN, the cable game show network, says the company doesn't keep statistics on the unemployed hopefuls who audition for GSN's growing string of original programming. But, she added, the numbers of contestants in general are up, and "more of those people are looking for work. We have a growing pool of people looking to be on a show," she said.

This is going to continue for the foreseeable future. With no immediate economic relief in sight, unemployment at 10% and more shows on the horizon, game shows will continue to be a refuge for the unemployed and the underemployed. It will be harder and harder for people to get on shows because the application pool will continue to increase.

Block Party Quick Hits Time:

--"Seducing Cindy" debuts on Fox Reality on January 30th. It's a dating show where 40 yr old internet supermodel Cindy Margolis tries to find love. Her suitors run the gamut from 18 years old to 71 years old.

--Bob Barker continues to put his money where his mouth is with regards to animal rights. He recently donated $5,000,000 of his own money to the Sea Shepherd's Conservation Society. That money built a 1,200 ton ship which rescued 6 members of the society after a confrontation with a Japanese whaling ship. The ship is now named the Bob Barker in his honor.

--Donny Osmond will launch a syndicated radio show on January 18th called "The Donny Osmond Show".

--Melissa Rycroft is now Melissa Strickland after her recent marriage.

--Entertainment Weekly.com is reporting NBC is considering a re-launch of "Last Comic Standing".

--The Singing Bee returns to CMT for Season 2 on January 15th. It was THE highest rated show in 2009 for the network.

--Poker After Dark returns in HD.

--"The Crystal Maze" is rumored to be up for a revival on ITV.

--Bob Eubanks talks up his "Newlywed Game" hosting appearance.

--American Idol's Jason Castro gets married.

--Chris Harrison of the Bachelor addressed the scandal where a contender for the heart of Jake Pavelka and a show producer were caught having an affair. "It was embarrassing for us ... incredibly unfortunate, [and] horrible decisions were made," he said on Valentine in the Morning on 104.3 MY FM Monday. "This is something that we took very seriously and it's something that we couldn't just sit by." However, they decided not to let Bachelor Jake Pavelka stay in the dark.

"In fairness to Jake and for the other women, [we decided to] nip this in the bud and take care of it. And that's what we did," he said. "There are train wrecks in this show where I'm like, 'Oh, it's going to be great. Let's let them have it.' But ... I felt bad for everybody, and it was an uncomfortable deal." So...how were they caught? "It was a little bit of both -- then he came forward," he said. "Eventually, stepped up to the plate, and we were like, 'Well, okay.' There was a barn storm. There was a fire!"

--Tyra Banks announces that she is shutting her talk show down at the end of this season.

Jason Block's favorite schmaltzy love song from the 1980s? Definitely not "On the Wings of Love". E-mail him with suggestions at jiblock@yahoo.com.