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The Block Party Year End Spectacular
December 31

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!

2009 was a very big year in the world of reality competition shows and game shows. There were a ton of stories that made an impact, but these 10 stories made those most impact in a positive or negative way. Lets get to it with:

10. BEN SILVERMAN LEAVES NBC: The Ben Silverman experiment was deemed a failure in July as Silverman left, or was gently pushed out his position as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment. The founder of Reveille Studios did not bring NBC out of the ratings doldrums. His lack of support for scripted entertainment, his emphasis on bad reality and the greenlighting of the 10PM Jay Leno disaster got him the early release from his contract.

What will be interesting to see what his next move will be. Silverman is a player that is not a dumb guy. Where he lands and what he does will be fun to watch.

9. HANDI-CAPABLE CONTESTANTS COME OUT OF THE GAME SHOW SHADOWS: 2009 was a very big year for physically challenged contestants as a lot of shows took a chance and cast people who would be overlooked normally. The Price is Right had a deaf person play the Grocery Game, and Wheel of Fortune had designated spinners for multiple contestants.

But two people on reality shows shattered the perceptions of what a reality show contestant can do. On American Idol legally blind contestant Scott McIntyre finished in 8th place and showed that if you got the chops, talent and desire that you can make it on a talent show.

The person who shattered the most perceptions in 2009 was Luke Donald. Donald, who is deaf, ran the Amazing Race this spring with his mother Margie. Margie and Luke finished in 3rd place, but had a shot to win the whole thing because Luke played the game better than most hearing contestants. He was strong, arrogant and if not for a couple of mental breakdowns could have won the whole thing.

I hope more contestant coordinators give more people like Luke Donald a chance. They deserve it.

8. WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? RETURNS TO PRIMETIME: The biggest open secret of 2009 was announced in the spring as Regis Philbin was going to return to ABC for a two week run in the summer to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show's debut.

While the idea was noble...the execution was not that great. There were many ways to get on the show including auditions, video submission and the return of the Phone Game. But none of those happened during the actual run of the show in August of 2009. It didn't have the feel of the "anything could happen" moments of the original ABC version.

Regis was very uncomfortable with the new clock and syndicated rules. But we did have history made on August 23, 2009 as Ken Basin was the first person to go for the Million Dollar Question and lose. Basin was a polarizing figure. Some people called it amazing television. Other people, including myself, called him arrogant. But no one will ever forget him.

Combine that with the syndicated version's new money tree, horribly executed "Tournament of Ten", and announcement of the loss of the "Phone a Friend" lifeline and Millionaire did not have a good 2009.

7. RUNWAY STRUTS OUT OF COURT AND ONTO LIFETIME: 2009 began for Project Runway the same way it ended 2008 which was in Federal Court and not on TV. But that all changed when a settlement between the Weinstein Company and NBC Universal was announced. This paved the way for the move to Lifetime and the broadcast of the long delayed Season 6 in August of 2009.

The move to Los Angeles didn't hurt them too badly, but a lot of the show felt dated due to the delay. The show's move back to New York and immediate broadcast of Season 7 in early January will help them regain some of the luster which was lost due to the court delay of 2008/2009. That is a very good thing.

6. JEFF KIRBY COMMITS DOUBLE JEOPARDY!: On October 12, 2009 Jeff Kirby committed the biggest sin of a Jeopardy player. He attempted to get away with being on Jeopardy twice. He had appeared on the show previously on December 8, 1999. In a fit of arrogance, he wore the same exact tie he wore on his first appearance 10 years ago. He would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for the meddling kids of j-archive.com. They caught the error and notified Jeopardy producers, who revoked his 3rd place prize.

Jeopardy's producers were guilty of not being as vigilant as they normally are, but Kirby was the bigger fool. And he took away a spot from all the people who didn't try to cheat the system. He made us game show fans look bad. Thank goodness he isn't the norm.

5. GSN'S EPIC FAIL: 2009 was a horrible year for GSN. While the successes of "Catch-21","The Newlywed Game" and "High Stakes Poker" were nice, the failures of GSN in 2009 were numerous in nature. Let us count the fails:

--The 2009 Game Show Awards was a huge disaster on many accounts. You had poor continuity editing, vulgar hosting by Howie Mandel and ludicrously bad games played during the show. But the biggest fail of the show was how the online voting component (which was heavily publicized by GSN) was thrown out at the producer's discretion. It wasn't about who deserved to win, it was about who the producers could get to appear on the show. It was also a vehicle to shove "Big Saturday Night" down our throats. And let us not forget the hissy fit Bob Barker pulled to get Betty White not to appear live on stage. At the time of the taping, they were on different sides of certain animal rights issues in the Los Angeles Area, and Barker's legendary ego won out in the end.

--Big Saturday Night was thrust upon us on June 13, 2009. This was supposed to be GSN's answer to the long running Spanish language variety game show hybrid "Sabado Gigante". The execution of said answer was the biggest mess of 2009. This unfunny annoying dreck had Keegan-Michael Key, Ross Mathews(a/k/a Ross The Intern on the Tonight Show), and Charissa Thompson playing games for prizes in studio and for home players. These in-studio bits were wrapped around two game shows "20Q" and "The Money List". While these shows were ok at best, Big Saturday Night sunk them fast and by the end of the summer BSN was mercifully gone.

--In October of 2009, AJ Benza was fired as host of "High Stakes Poker" and will be replaced by Poker hottie Kara Scott in 2010. Benza took to his blog and ranted at how GSN Executives Bary Nugent and David Schiff didnít treat Benza well in his firing.

--And finally, GSN Radio was unceremoniously cancelled on November 12, 2009 after a 15 month run. Its final broadcast was less than 24 hours later, which showed the lack of respect GSN had for the production staff, crew, hosts Marianne Curan and Bob Goen and to the loyal fans of the show who supported it. The best show that GSN produced was thrown away like a piece of garbage.

And if the first shows and casting notices of 2010 are any indication, GSN is continuing down the wrong path and not realizing that the roots of GSN were the GAME SHOW NETWORK. Sony isn't going to throw good money after bad forever. People don't want to see hidden camera reality shows and stuff about Carnie Wilson. Fans want to see traditional studio game shows, as we will see later on.

4. PAULA TWEETS HER RESIGNATION FROM "IDOL": While Season 8 of American Idol had another 10% ratings downturn, the big news from this season was not the "Judges Save" or how the new 4th judge Kara DioGuardi was not well received. The big news was Paula Abdul leaving American Idol.

After the show ended Season 8 with Kris Allen defeating Adam Lambert, rumors were circulating that Paula Abdul would not resign with the Fox powerhouse. And in an article with the Los Angeles Times on July 17, 2009 her manager David Sonenberg said, "Very sadly, it does not appear that she's going to be back on "Idol". And on August 5th, she posted on her Twitter page that she was leaving the show. She stated, "With sadness in my heart, Iíve decided not to return to #IDOL. Iíll be miss nurturing all the new talent, but most of all being a part of a show that I helped from day1 become an international phenomenon ÖWhat I want to say most is how much I appreciate the undying support and enormous love that you have showered upon me. It truly has been breathtaking, especially over the past month. I do without any doubt have the BEST fans in the entire world and I love you all.Ē

Auditions for Season 9 started August 9th and a series of guest judges were announced for the auditions. But the news a month later that Ellen DeGeneres would become the permanent 4th judge took a lot of people by surprise. 2010 is going to be a very pivotal year for Idol as Simon Cowell's contract ends after this season of Idol. With him rumored to be leaving to start up an American version of X-Factor, could the Idol franchise survive without him?

3. REALITY TV GETS CRIMINALLY REAL: Most reality show contestants fade into obscurity. But these two contestants committed criminal acts that were so brazen in their boldness and stupidity that you are left shaking your head.

Adam Jasinski, the winner of Big Brother 9, was arrested on October 17, 2009 after attempting to sell 2,000 oxycodone pills in Massachusetts to a government witness. The big part of his arrest was the disclosure that he told police he used his 2008 winnings on the CBS Program of $500,000 to fund the purchase and sale of said oxycodone pills. As of this writing, he is out on $200,000 bond and has been forced to go to drug rehabilitation.

But no criminal act by a contestant had more effect on the genre than what Ryan Jenkins did. Jenkins debuted as a contestant on the VH1 reality dating competition show "Megan Wants a Millionaire" on August 2, 2009. He was one of the suitors trying to woo the heart of former Rock of Love contestant Megan Hauserman. What no one knew that he was the prime suspect of in the murder of his wife, Jasmine Fiori. He was also rumored to be a participant on and the winner of I Love Money 3.

On August 18, 2009 VH1 cancelled "Megan". He was charged with Jasmine's murder, and on August 23, 2009 Jenkins committed suicide in a motel in British Columbia. In October of 2009, Collective Intelligence launched a law suit against the company to which it outsourced the job of checking Jenkins's background. They said that it didn't conduct criminal background checks outside the US and outsourced the job to the Canadian company Straightline International, because the apparent murder-suicide has caused Collective Intelligence to lose business. The lawsuit is pending as of this writing.

What this contestant did was not only blow up VH1's reality show franchises; it sent a major warning shot to all reality competition producers and casting coordinators. They NEED to reform how they cast and check their contestants. Not everyone with a pretty face has a pretty story to go with it. They need to peel the onion to the center and find entertaining people with clean backgrounds to make their shows as fun as possible without any negative press. If you cast anyone off the street, you will get people like Ryan Jenkins polluting your airwaves.

2. SUSAN BOYLE SHOCKS THE WORLD: No reality show contestant had more impact in 2009 than a 48 yr old single woman from Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland named Susan Boyle. Her appearance on Britain's Got Talent on April 11, 2009 blew people away in ways that we rarely see.

She came on stage in a frumpy dress and big eyebrows. People laughed at her and her dream to sing with, and be like, British theater icon Elaine Paige. But when "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miserables came out of her mouth, no one was laughing anymore. The look on Simon Cowell's face was priceless. The video of Boyle singing made her an instant superstar in literal hours and has been viewed on Youtube over 100 million times.

Boyle finished 2nd to a dance troupe called Diversity but we all know who the real winner was here. 2009 belonged to Boyle as he she performed on a summer tour in Britain, an appearance on the final of "America's Got Talent", and the worldwide release of her now double-platinum album "I Dreamed A Dream" in November 2009 which was produced by Simon Cowell. "The Susan Boyle Story", where Boyle did get to sing with Paige, was the highest rated special on the TV Guide Channel of all time.

The beauty of Boyle's story is that she was not another one of the thousands of hot looking women looking to use a reality show as a stepping stone to other things. She was just like you and me. She had been singing for years in the karaoke bars of Scotland looking for a break. And boy, did she get one. Her story is universal, and that is why she affected so many people at one time.

1. "DEAL" DEBUTS ON DAYTIME: There is no doubt in my mind that the biggest story of the year is the premiere of the first studio game show to premiere on daytime TV since "Caesar's Challenge" left the air in January of 1994. "Let's Make A Deal" hit the airwaves on October 6, 2009 replacing the long running soap opera Guiding Light. "Light" was cancelled on April 1, 2009 and ended its 72 year run (combining radio and TV) on September 18, 2009.

But what makes this news so big is how we got to that point. After the news of the cancellation was announced, CBS had ordered two pilots to be shot. Michael Davies was the man behind both of them. The one that made the biggest splash was "The $1,000,000 Pyramid" which was shot over the summer in Queens. As details of the show leaked to the game show community, people were salivating and called it the front runner. He also had a "Dating Game" remake in the pipeline.

Then, word surfaced that a 3rd pilot was being shot. In July of 2009, a pilot for "Let's Make A Deal" with Wayne Brady was shot in Los Angeles. Later on that summer, the pilot was greenlit for production on CBS. Brady and crew moved to Vegas and the rest is game show history. And for fans of the show, the 2003 NBC Billy Bush version is a distant memory. Wayne Brady, Jonathan Mangum, Alison Fiori and the production team have executed a version of the show that new and old fans have come to like.

2009 to be has gone on to be the year of the game show. Many channels have successfully debuted game shows including Nickelodeon, BET, The Science Channel and others. "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader" debuted in syndication in the fall of 2009. Applications for game shows in this economic downturn have gone up as much as 20% for a lot of shows. And with the cancellation of "As The World Turns" and "The Bonnie Hunt Show" in December 2009, do not be surprised if we don't see "The $1,000,000 Pyramid" on CBS in early 2010 and more shows in syndication down the pike.

Thatís all for this year of the Block Party. I would like to thank all my readers and my recording engineer Ivy Reisner. A special thank you goes out to Chico Alexander, Gordon Pepper and the staff of Game Show News Net. They have given me the outlet and the voice to express my opinion about this wonderful media that we all love. I will be back in 2010 with more of the good and bad in game shows.


Jason Block can't wait to see what the new decade is going to hit him with. In the meantime, hit him up at jiblock@yahoo.com.