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Who Saw This One Coming? - February 28

I fear for the state of game shows today. I figured the warning shot was when Identity, NBC's attempt to make a Big Money Game Show out of a throwaway gag bit on What's My Line?, was crafted in the image of Deal or No Deal, even though the two shows are produced by different companies. If that was the beginning of the end, the end is near with FOX's newest foray into the kingdom of quiz shows: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

To be brief, the show is Millionaire but without the multiple choice, without the energy or excitement. And yet Smarter managed to score over 25 million viewers for the opening episode. A single contestant chooses from ten topics, each assigned a grade level from first to fifth, and a subject from a grade school textbook. A right answer wins money, from $1,000 to a stonking $500,000. At that point, a contestant can go double or nothing. The Millionaire bit kicks in when a contestant is stumped. And oh my, how they're stumped. Apparently it's good TV to see people struggling over which country shares the longer border with the United States, or how many states border the Pacific Ocean.

I can understand goofing a spelling or a math question; some people just aren't geared for that sort of thing. But apparently America wants to see grown-ups plumb-bobbing questions like whether walruses live in the Arctic or Antarctic Oceans, or how many sides a trapezoid had, and they also want to see a gaggle of fifth graders holding the contestant's hands in order to win the money. I've had a few forehead-slapping moments, where I wish I had a V-8, but I can assure you that the knowledge I gleaned from grade school has stayed with me. I suspect that much like Weakest Link, Smarter is looking for contestants who did the worst on the pre-show screening. I'll say that again: we now have game shows where contestants are picked because they cannot answer the questions correctly.

I'm not sure what's worse: that the show preys on the "stupidity" of Americans, and that America is eating it up, or that the game shows zero originality. Rather than 50:50, Ask the Audience or Phone-a-Friend, contestants can "copy" the answer of their selected "classmate," they can "peek" at the answer of the partner, and keep that or go on their own, or the contestant can be outright "saved" from a wrong answer if the partner got it right. We're at the point where every quiz show has a single contestant playing against the questions, where every question is worth more money, and completing the game wins a million dollars. The production company couldn't even be bothered to do something original with the "lifeline" paradigm.

Personally, I would rather the genre wiped out than seeing more shows like this. If the producers aren't going to bother to create an interesting game that is meant to be played by intelligent and interesting contestants, then I'd rather do something else with my time. Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader is an insult to not only the contestants, audience and even the host, but a slap in the face to a genre that has given us so much over the last sixty years.

But hey, it's FOX. They cancelled Greed. They majored in Dumbass Programming Decisions at Nielsen
University. You knew this was coming.

Travis Eberle realizes that there's more to life than game shows, but he's still really ticked off. Console him at traviseberle@gmail.com, if you dare.

 

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