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A Nation in the Grip of PlayMania - April 19

Back in 1998, Game Show Network was on cable and dish systems under the banner "All Play, All Day." When you were through watching "The Joker's Wild" and "The $25,000 Pyramid," you could participate from your very own home in several different interactive games. This was something that experimental networks had tried in the late 1970s, but the technology nor the interest were there, and so we waited until the late 1990s to be able to play from home. Viewers that couldn't get out to California to appear on "Wheel of Fortune" or "Jeopardy!" could win prizes by playing a bonus puzzle or Final Jeopardy! clue from the previous week. Winners would get gift certificates. The idea was expanded into half-hour shows that lasted for a year or so each.              

GSN is back to its roots with "PlayMania," a late-night show where contestants call in to play word games and other puzzles. Much as I like the interactive idea, I don't think the client base is there, and PlayMania will be gone just like "Inquizition" and "When Did That Happen?"

The first of several problems is the airing time. PlayMania is on in the middle of the night in all time zones. This is a far cry from the 8pm interactive block from years ago. Additionally, the West Coast viewers are seeing a repeat of the East Coast feed. Viewers from the Pacific Time Zone watch the show, but cannot play along- the very definition of 'interactive.' Why watch a show where you're supposed to participate if you cannot do so by the design of the show? Combine the small number of viewers at the late hours with the fact that some of them are excluded outright, and that doesn't fill me with confidence.

Even if the prizes were huge, the show was in prime time and everyone could play, the game is uninteresting. Guessing five-letter words? Unscrambling words? I can watch the first one in an episode of "Lingo" without having to watch the host tap dance for twenty minutes while waiting for someone to pay a dollar to take a flyer on a five-letter word. (Would you do that for a $50 prize? Given only the first letter? Yeah, that's what I thought.)

GSN gave it a game try with the interactive gaming eight years ago. I don't really understand why they're going back to a known non-starter today, when they were making money on infomercials before. I would admire their courage in going for it, except that they botched it every step of the way.

Travis Eberle wanted to be a contestant on Super Decades, but the show fell well short of his 18th birthday. E-mail him at


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