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Feeling the Heat
June 22

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!

We start this time around with a roundup of shows which either debuted or returned over the last few weeks. First up is “The Next Food Network Star”, which returns for Season 6. Bobby Flay returns as host and the selection committee of Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson are back as well. There are two major changes for this season. The first one is location. The 12 competing chefs are living in a house in the Hollywood Hills while competing in Los Angeles based challenges. The 2nd involves Giada De Laurentiis. She is on board as “mentor” for the chefs. This is the biggest flaw of the show so far. She should be giving out constructive criticism instead of just looking good on camera.

The padded season premiere had the chefs create a chicken and potato dish that reflected who they were from a culinary perspective. They also had to write and act in their show promo and create a six course meal for Wolfgang Puck and the selection committee. The 2nd and 3rd episodes had “Ace of Cakes” star Duff Goldman and 2nd season winner Guy Fieri assist the selection committee by participating in challenges. There was a lot more to like this season. The producers have toned back on the drama and focused on the cooking. And the judging has been spot on. The three chefs eliminated as of this writing, Alexis Hernandez, Doreen Fang and Dzintra Dzenis, deserved to go home. You never tell a contestant to shut up as Dzintra did by telling fellow chef Aria to “shhh” while co-presenting at a post Grammy party featuring Colbie Caillat.

The formula still works and I hope the judging continues to be consistent. If it does, we are going to get a solid addition to the Food Network lineup. My grade for the show so far: B-.

The other major premiere on the Food Network was not as successful. “Cupcake Wars” is basically “Chopped” with a mixing bowl and icing. Four teams of bakers compete for a prize of $10,000 and the chance for their winning cupcakes to be showcased at a major event such as a George Lopez golf tournament or SeaWorld’s birthday.

Justin Willman is an awful host who brings zero hosting chops to the table. The judges Candace Nelson (owner of Sprinkles Cupcakes) and Florian Bellanger (chef and co-owner of online macaroon company MadMac) are competent, but they don’t stand out.  

The Xerox fumes are very strong here. Fans of shows like “Ace of Cakes” and “Food Network Challenge” will like this show, but this brings nothing new to the table.  My grade is C-.

Next up is one of the biggest disappointments of the summer. “Late Night Liars” recently premiered on GSN. This Muppet Alternative/GSN collaboration is hosted by comedian Larry Miller. The concept: pick out which one of four “celebrity puppets” is either lying or telling the truth. The puppets are clones or very close representatives of celebrities we know. Shelley Oceans is a dead ringer for Joan Rivers. William A. Mummy is a raconteur/playboy using a Paul Lynde-like voice. Cashmere Ramada is a pink dog puppet who acts a lot like Paris Hilton and/or Lindsay Lohan. Finally there is Sir Sebastian Simian, a British Record Executive who looks like Elton John but sounds like Simon Cowell. The announcer is simply known as The Weasel.

What they tried to do is recapture the 1970s vibe of shows like “Liar’s Club” and “Match Game”. Unfortunately for the viewers, the execution left a lot to be desired. The reasons why shows like this worked is that the humor was organic. The humor here is so in your face that it may turn viewers away from the show, not towards it. Larry Miller seems so bored. He does not look like he wants to be there.

The game play is an afterthought here. The whole show just doesn’t make sense.

I really wanted to like this show. But unfunny humor and a lack of competent game play makes this a big D for me.

Speaking of unfunny, let’s talk about “Last Comic Standing” on NBC. Craig Robinson of “The Office” and “Hot Tub Time Machine” hosts this dreck. Comics across the country compete in front of judges Greg GiraldoNatasha Leggero, and Andy Kindler for the chance to win a development contract with the NBC network, and a television special first to air on the cable-TV network Comedy Central and later on the cable network Bravo.

There are two things I don’t like about LCS. The first is Craig Robinson. He is brutally awful as host. He is unfunny. The second is the selection of comics. When watching the show you see people like Guy Torry and Rachel Feinstein. They have been on the circuit for years and are not comics who need a break. The smell of nepotism and giving comedian friends a break is still there in a big way. 

I didn’t like the comedy, the hosts, the judges or the concept. This one is another D for me.

Next up is “Top Shot”, a shooting competition on the History Channel. Colby Donaldson of Survivor hosts this show where 16 shooters compete for $100,000 and the title of Top Shot.

There are some things to like about this show. The drama here is minimal as the shooters are here to play. And I liked the integration of the historical significance of the guns used in each shooting challenge.

The production left a little to be desired as there was a huge reliance on the super slo-mo exploding targets.  Colby Donaldson does not distinguish himself well as he is relied too much on being like Jeff Probst as host. He should have brought his own personality and style to the table instead of trying to be a Probst clone.

That being said this is a fun show that I will catch again. My grade is B-.

Another Xerox Clone is Bravo’s “Work of Art”, produced by Sarah Jessica Parker. A group of artists come to New York to compete for $100,000 and an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

The big problem here is that EVERY element from Project Runway has been transferred to this show. From the hip New York apartment, to the really cool workspace, to the overseeing expert judge Simon De Pury, to the camera angles during the challenges, there is nothing here that is original.

If you like art and Project Runway, you will like this. Otherwise, I am passing out from the Xerox fumes here. My grade is C.

Finally we get to “Downfall”. This Scott St. John production is hosted by WWE Wrestler/Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho. The concept: various levels of prizes are placed on a conveyor belt depending on what level of the money tree you have. This is the money tree:

Round 1 - $5,000 (4/10 questions right)
Round 2 - $10,000(5/10 questions right)
Round 3 - $25,000(6/10 questions right - MILESTONE LEVEL)
Round 4 - $50,000(7/10 questions right)
Round 5 - $100,000(8/10 questions right)
Round 6 - $250,000(9/10 questions right)
Round 7 - $1,000,000(10/10 questions right)

If you pass on a question, the belt moves faster. You can hit the “panic button” twice which stops the belt before the money drops. When you hit the panic button you can either place a “panic partner” or a prized possession on the belt. The “panic partner” can help you during his/her round by assisting with the questions but the contestant has to give the answer.

There are a ton of non-original moments of game play here. You can see elements of Millionaire, the bonus round of Million Dollar Password, Russian Roulette, and Trashed. The rooftop set is one of the most unique things ever seen on TV. But there were way too many times during the show when the camera shot cut away from the quiz part of the game, to emphasize the prizes dropping off the 100 foot precipice from different angles in super-slo-mo.

The best part of the show is Chris Jericho. I admit to being a little biased having been a fan of Chris Jericho for over 20 years in and out of the wrestling ring. He really feels comfortable up there and was able to improv with the contestants. When he truly retires from the WWE, he has a future in hosting. He was the best thing in Fuse’s Redemption Song, and he is a star in the making.

The show itself is paced too slow, but Jericho is pretty awesome. My overall grade – C+.

Last year, I told you about Watson an IBM Natural Language processing Supercomputer that was being prepped to play Jeopardy. Rumors are swirling that it is ready to go against live televised competition this fall. According to trends website PSFK for the past 3 years IBM has been perfecting this supercomputer which has the ability to converse naturally with people in everyday language, unlike typical question-answering systems that can only work with simply phrased questions.

IBM scientists have stored millions of pieces of data in Watson in order for it to answer questions about almost anything, and more significantly, recognize oddly phrased questions to answer them with accurate responses. To test its capabilities, the scientists held mock contests pitting Watson against some of the former contestants in a game where Watson’s artificial intelligence was pushed to the limit due to the nature of the game where clues are puzzling, full of trivia and often use wordplay. Watson won some of the games which impressed the producers of Jeopardy enough to allow it to participate in a televised episode of the show which could happen this year.


It would be really cool to play against it in a practice game, but I am guessing Harry Friedman has people like Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in mind to play against Watson on TV. The TV ratings will be huge for this one game showdown.  


I am a huge fan of Betty White but when she is wrong, she is wrong. Promoting Hot in Cleveland, she went on The View. She was asked why the game show 'Million Dollar Password' didn't make it. White replied that it was the perfect game show but the younger generation couldn't seem to keep up with the game. According to her the producers wanted the younger people on the show but unfortunately they have become overly dependent on computers and are not able to think on their feet. 

Betty White is so wrong on this. The reason why the show didn’t succeed was that the re-formatted version strayed too far away from the classic show it was based on. Michael Davies and Fremantle tinkered with the format and made it too flashy.

She should know better. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Ms. White at a Game Show Congress. If she had the time she would have seen a then 11 yr old Madeline Suchard play different games and beat most of the adults there. This was a pre cursor to her winning over $20,000 on Jeopardy.

It is not about the age of the player, it is about the game. Nickelodeon has tapped into that market with “BrainSurge”. The HUB is using Family Game Night to train the next generation of game players. When Betty White trashes the youth of today, she is also trashing the next generation of potential game show superstars. No matter how beloved she is, she is wrong and made a mistake on this issue.


 Block Party Quick Hits:

--The Millionaire trial has begun in California. Speaking of Millionaire, Chris Tarrant told the UK Sun of some serious format changes in the UK version that will begin shooting this summer. Tarrant confirmed that contestants will soon be forced to play against the clock when attempting to secure lower cash values in the show's early stages. The shake-up is a significant change as participants have always been granted as much time as they like to answer questions. In a further twist, Phone-A-Friend helpers will start appearing on screen rather than simply being heard over the phone. And Sri Lanka has its own version coming soon.

--Channel 4 is planning another season of the Million Pound Drop. And Fox is considering a US version of the show.

--Broadcasting and Cable is reporting that Say It Now, a live talk show with Valerie Bertinelli is one of the contenders to fill the slot now taken up by As the World Turns.

--Have a Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato or Greyson Chance in your house? They can now audition for American Idol as the minimum age has been lowered to 15 for next season. And more audition cities and dates have been announced. They are: 

--Nashville:            July 17
--Milwaukee:         July 21
--New Orleans:      July 26
--East Rutherford: August 3
--Austin:                August 11
--San Francisco:    August 19

--In a move that shocked no one, Jake and Vienna from the Bachelor’s relationship is done.

--Ellen DeGeneres will be writing a new book in 2011.

--Rumors are flying that Season 8 of Project Runway returns August 29th with a spinoff called On The Road With Austin & Santino.

--Kellie Pickler is engaged.

--The Price is Right is auditioning in Cleveland. And the Wheelmobile heads to Fargo. The Wheel is also taping 6 weeks of shows in Vegas starting next month for its new season.

--Let’s Make a Deal starts taping for Season 2 on July 9th in Los Angeles.

--The Daytime Emmys are this Sunday from Las Vegas.

--Yet another contestant claims that the Biggest Loser is “dangerous” to people. Kai Hibbard, a finalist on the third season of 'The Biggest Loser,' reveals how dangerous she feels the show really is to its contestants. "I have people that come up to me and talk to me and ask me why they can't lose 12 pounds in a week when I did. When I didn't. It didn't happen. It's TV," she told the CBS 'Early Show.' "I need to take blame and responsibility for the fact that I helped perpetuate a myth that's dangerous."

When asked to clarify about her "a week is not a week on TV" comments, she said, "I'm saying that it would be, most times, longer than a week and I believe once, in my season, it was less than a week." (Contestants weigh-in on the show every week to determine who may get voted off.) Hibbard also claims that the techniques they were taught to lose weight weren't always healthy. "The weight loss for that show is for ratings. People have to remember that 'The Biggest Loser' isn't a weight-loss camp that happens to be filmed for TV. It's a TV show that's made to look like a weight-loss camp. So there was pressure from production and everybody involved in the show to make sure you had as big of numbers as possible every week.

--Details are leaking about the syndicated version of Don’t Forget the Lyrics. According to Hollywoodjunket.com, contestants will play for the following money amounts: $1000, $2,500, $5,000, $10,000, and a special category called “Encore” that allows them to play for $50,000. Crooners are equipped with only one “backup” for their help which is multiple choice lyrics. If a contestant misses the first level lyric, they are not out of the game, but they lose their “Encore” option.

If a player goes all the way to the “Encore” level, they risk falling back down to $1000 which is what they walk away with should they miss this final and complex lyric. If a contestant misses any one of the levels, they get the chance to double the last money level they achieved. For instance, if a player goes for the $10,000 lyric, but misses it, they automatically get a chance to double the $5000 that they already earned instead of playing for the “Encore” level which they lose.

The songs are played to the contestant via “MySpace Karaoke”, axing Rickey Minor and his band who performed on the larger prime time production. The theme song has also been replaced.

--“The World’s Wackiest Game Shows” debuts July 13th on the Travel Channel with host Todd Newton.

--NBC Orders 21 more episodes of “Minute to Win It”.

--The contestants for “Bachelor Pad” are announced.

--PETA is trying to sign up 1000 new members to their organization by July 31, and the former game show host will match all donations over $16. And if you are already a member, Bob will match your donations until July 4.

--Simon Fuller is out of the running for CKX Inc.

--Family Game Night and Season 2 of Baggage are casting.

--Ken Jennings defends the game show genre in a great editorial in the New York Daily News. It is located at http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/06/21/2010-06-21_is_this_our_downfall_hardly.html

--John O’Hurley guest voices on Spongebob SquarePants.

--DL Hughley hosts a game show pilot called “Who’s Bluffing Who?”

--In E3 news, new versions of “Hollywood Squares” and “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” are in the pipeline.

Jason Block's season is over, but he'll be back in the summer. E-mail him at jiblock@yahoo.com.