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Looking Back, Looking Forward
December 29

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!

Well, it is 2009 and the year 2008 was a year of amazing highs and low lows...but for the Block Party...these 10 stories and items were, in my opinion the most important stories of 2008.

10. CELEBRITY APPRENTICE REBOOTS THE SHOW, AND PIERS MORGAN REAPS THE BENEFITS. We flash back to Fall 2007, and the Donald Trump/Mark Burnett show “The Apprentice” is not even on the fall schedule due to overexposure and low ratings. Ben Silverman comes into NBC, and Donald Trump announces that the show will be back in early 2008 with celebrities competing for $250,000 in cash for the charity of their choice. A lot of people, including myself, thought this would be the death knell of the show. Boy, we were we wrong.

By going back to basics as a business competition, the show became must watch TV. Add celebrity egos, and the legit hatred between Omarosa and eventual winner Piers Morgan and you get great stuff. The finale was the classic good guy (Trace Adkins) v. bad guy (Piers), but Trump had the guts to call Piers the winner. Along with his spot on judging in America’s Got Talent 3, and Piers becomes the reality show celebrity of the year. And NBC has high expectations for Celebrity Apprentice 2 when it premieres on March 1 with 2 hour episodes. As usual, you never count out Donald Trump. He proved us wrong in 2008, let’s see what happens in 2009.

9. TWO SAD ENDINGS IN THE GAME SHOW WORLD. These next two finales were sad for me on both a personal and professional level. The first, being that College Bowl International announced on July 21, 2008 that they were suspending their campus quiz bowl program. The program which was created in 1953 is the granddaddy of educational quiz programs and was the spark for thousands of trivia experts and future game show contestants. They are continuing to support the Honda All-Star Challenge for historically black colleges, but the fact that the major campus program leaves a huge void for quiz bowl and academic bowl challengers everywhere.

The second was the announcement over the summer that Carol Vorderman, the female face and co-host of Countdown, was leaving the venerable UK game show classic after being there for over 26 years. The details of her departure were sketchy as there were rumors of a 90% pay cut. Her last show was December 12, 2008 and a special “One Last Consonant, please Carol” was broadcast in the UK. This would be the equivalent of Vanna White leaving Wheel of Fortune. As a fan of both Ms. Vorderman and the show itself, this was a sad day for me and game show fans worldwide. Ms. Vorderman will be missed. Will Rachel Riley and Jeff Stelling (the replacement for Des O’Connor) be as popular as Richard Whiteley and Ms. Vorderman? I sincerely doubt it.

8. THE YEAR IN GSN...SOME UPS...MOSTLY DOWNS. GSN did a lot this past year and most of it was, in my opinion, not so good. But give GSN credit for trying. The bad stuff at GSN begins with the cancellation of GSN’s flagship show, Lingo. Some of the bad shows that GSN tried in 2008 included “How Much is Enough” and the disaster of “The Meow Mix Game Show.”

The good stuff included the reboot of “Bingo America” with Richard Karn as host, the launch of “Catch-21", GSN’s remake of the 1970's show Gambit, “Play It Back”–a video rewind of shows from the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's as well as GSN Live (a live interactive quiz show). Also, replacing the Regis version of Millionaire with the Meredith Vieira version was a smart idea. But the best thing to come out of GSN this year was not on TV. GSN Radio, starring Bob Goen and Marianne Curan was launched on August 18 and its combination of radio smarts, high production value and interactivity make this a must listen on the internet at (Full disclosure–I have won $1,800 on far.) This is the most successful attempt at interactivity that GSN has tried since Playmania or even Club A.M. With radio deals in NY and LA, GSN Radio looks to be even bigger and better in 2009.

7. THE SYNDICATION CLASS OF 2008 DOES BETTER THAN 2007. At this time last year, we were lamenting the fact that “Temptation: The New Sale of the Century” was not even close to what we were expecting, and that the potential of “Merv Griffin’s Crosswords” was not realized. Temptation was put of its misery in May, and Crosswords was replaced by Inside the Box and a best of package. But the fall of 2008 saw two new shows debut to different (and in some cases better) results.

Deal or No Deal premiered in September and has become a hit in syndication by going back to basics. (See a theme, folks?) 22 cases and contestants, a much faster pace, and theme weeks that don’t take away from gameplay make Deal the monster hit of 2008 in syndication. And while “Trivial Pursuit: America Plays” is not a huge ratings hit from a strict TV sense. But it has brought a ton of money and recognition to the brand of “Trivial Pursuit” and You have another Bingo America type situation here where the ratings aren’t strong, but the interactive component is HUGE. This makes economic sense for this, and Deal to be renewed for Fall 2009. And with “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” poised to debut in Fall 2009, we might be in for the strongest syndicated game show slate in a long time with no less than 7 shows on the air come the fall. (Jeopardy, Wheel, Millionaire, Feud, TP, DoND, 5th Grader).

6. AMAZING RACE AND SURVIVOR BECOME APPOINTMENT TV – AGAIN. This may sound like a broken record, but both of these shows go back to basics and become great television. Amazing Race 12 helped to win the show it’s 6th consecutive “Best Reality Show” Emmy award, but amazingly no Emmy for Phil Keoghan. Jeff Probst wins his first Emmy for Best Reality Show host in September.

On Survivor, the year began with Survivor: Micronesia–Fans v. Favorites as Parvati Shallow wins the Million as we had 10 favorites compete against Survivor “Superfans.” Survivor: Gabon Earth’s Last Eden becomes the first season in HD as Bob Crowley becomes the oldest Survivor winner ever. With Survivor: Tocantins in the can and another due in the fall, we are in store for two more seasons of great action.

On the Amazing Race, the 12th Season finished in early 2008 where TK & Rachel won the $1M prize. The 13th Season saw Nick and Starr Spangler dominate and win the Million. AR14 will debut in Early February 2009. I know I cannot wait.

5. MILLION DOLLAR SPOILAGE–Well, the idea of winning one million dollars became as ubiquitous as winning $100,000 back in the day. It’s getting so easy that than 8 people did the trick in 2008. 3 people did it on the Price is Right during their series of Million Dollar Specials and two people did it on Deal or No Deal, and Michelle Loewenstein did it after the addition of the Million Dollar Wedge on Wheel of Fortune.

But the bigger issue of the Million Dollar wins was two fold. Deal or No Deal, and in some cases Price is Right, made the ability to win the Million Dollars absurdly easy. Deal or No Deal was incredibly guilty in this regard with the absurd “Million Dollar Mission”(*) and increasing the values of bigger cases on some games. And Deal or No Deal, as well as Wheel of Fortune did themselves no favors by spoiling when and how someone would win the million dollars. This was the saddest trend of 2008, where most networks--GSN being the rare exception with 2 $100,000 Bingo America wins in 2008--now suck all the drama out of these shows. And even Wheel of Fortune, who didn’t need to do it at all being the #1 show in syndication only got a .3 bump upwards in rating when Michelle won the million. This tactic does not work, and unfortunately, most networks don’t get it
4. PROJECT RUNWAY EXPOSES THEIR LEGAL BRIEFS. The biggest reality show of 2008 took place in New York City courtrooms. On April 7, 2008, the Weinstein Company announced that the show would be moving to Lifetime after Season 6 in a five-year deal. NBC Universal filed a suit claiming that the Weinstein Company violated the contract with NBC. The battle has raged on for most of 2008 with legal moves and countermoves. The Lifetime Channel in November filed suit in Manhattan Federal Court against NBC Universal and Bravo Media, claiming Lifetime holds the copyrights to the show through its deal with the Weinstein Company. And as recently as December 23, Judge Richard Sullivan ruled that the suit will be heard in NY State Court. All this lead to a poorly promoted Season 5, and a delayed Season 6. This court battle is going to rage through 2009 and may permanently damage one of the biggest brands in reality TV. Stay tuned on this story. This isn’t going anyway anytime soon.

3. DAVID V. DAVID–As we headed into early 2008, we were coming off a lackluster Season 6 of American Idol, with a battle between Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis (remember him?) And Jordin Sparks would have been a distant memory in American Idol history, if not for a duet for Chris Brown. She had a bout with an acute vocal cord hemorrhage in mid-2008 as well. And who could forget Sanjaya Malakar?

Season 7 changed that in a big way. We had the best American Idol in recent memory with two Davids...Archuleta from Utah and Cook from Missouri battling to a point where neither ever made the bottom three (an American Idol first). While David Archuleta peaked early, David Cook was the most creative and visionary rock performer on Idol in a long time, if ever. Cook won the finale in May, but both Cook and Archuleta will be remembered and have long careers.

Season 8 brings a lot of changes. We have a fourth judge in Kara DioGuardi, a top 36 instead of top 24, potentially different mentors and a lot of anticipation. They have to do a lot to top Season 7. This was a fantastic year. Period.

2. CRISIS AT STUDIO 33. As we entered 2008, The Price is Right was chugging along nicely. Drew Carey was settling into the role as host nicely in the second half of Season 36, and we as fans were expecting that the status quo would be maintained. Ratings were down, but Carey got a little a bit of a pass because Drew was in the middle of his first season.

All that changed in July when rumblings of major changes were happening. Roger Dobkowitz, the executive producer for all of the 36 years was out. Syd Vinnedge and Mike Richards became co-executive producers. Rumors flew of set changes, video walls, and the “American Idol”ing of the show.

But as the show debuted for Season 37, we saw a lot of the changes that took place. And what we saw was absolutely disastrous. Drew Carey’s hosting ability became out of control, lazy and lackadaisical, especially when the 2nd perfect bid in the history of Showcases occurred in late December. Speaking of the Showcases (rumored to be written by Carey), they became humorless and scattershot including a pie fight, a hockey fight, and Rich Fields looking like a moron a lot of the time. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon. I would not be shocked to hear cancellation rumors come out of Television City in 2009. It is a crying shame to see what has happened to one of my favorite shows. It has gone from hip and happening to a shell of its former self.

1. THE WRITER’S STRIKE. And my top story in 2008 was the biggest story in not only in game shows and reality shows, but in entertainment as well. The WGA, or Writer’s Guild of America, struck the AMPTP, or the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, on October 31, 2007, and lasted until February 13, 2008. That strike brought us a ton of crappy reality and game shows, cancelled a ton of regularly scheduled dramatic shows and caused a 10-15% overall drop in television viewing overall.

And even after the WGA, DGA, and AFTRA settled with the AMPTP and tried to rebuild the shattered Hollywood economy, the Screen Actors Guild plans to strike in 2009, without getting a settlement in 2008. If this goes through, we might see a repeat of 2008, and another gaping wound in the Hollywood economy.

Well, that’s my look back of 2008. What holds for 2009? Stay tuned to the Block Party to find out. Thanks again to all my readers, my editors at, and my recording engineer, Ivy Reisner. This is Jason Block, reminding you...don’t just play to win.

Jason Block says "Here's to 365 more days of awesome." E-mail him at