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S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! NIGHT!
July 17

Game Show Network (GSN) needs all the help they can get. They're a third-tier network with mostly decades-old reruns and mediocre original programming. Big Saturday Night was announced with some fanfare, and it turned out to be a three-hour train wreck.

I was housesitting for my parents when the first episode aired. That was the only one I've been able to see so far, The actual game show content was decent, but the wraparound segments were dreadful.

The Money List is a reworking of The Rich List, which lasted a single episode on the FOX network several years ago. The money is scaled back, but the game is still about completing lists. Fred Roggin is decent, but it is obvious that he's being told to read out several “could have said” answers to drag out the game, rather than getting on with it. The material tends toward popular culture, but I don't think that's a terrible thing.

20Q stars Cat Deeley, and Hal Sparks is the voice of the antagonist, Mr. Q. Players try to get onstage by being the first to solve a puzzle in the style of Double Dare from CBS. After three players have done that, the game changes to one closer to that of the parlor game Twenty Questions. The winner of that round gets $5,000 and a spot in the final challenge. The two winners must solve a Qualifying puzzle as fast as possible. The winner gets an HDTV and plays against Mr. Q in the bonus game for $20,000. The champion picks from twenty questions on the board and must figure out the answer before the computer does to win the game.

I could listen to Cat Deeley's adorable accent for hours on end, and she's also pleasant to look at, I won't lie. But 20Q should be a half hour show at most, not a full hour. The best parts are the Qualifying Round and the final between the last two players.

That leaves us with the wraparound bits. They fall into two categories: sketches and minigames. The sketches tend to the less-than-funny, One such example was “hosts before they were stars” featuring a young Alex Trebek in school. It was obviously Alex because the kid had a maple leaf on his tie, he was an obnoxious know-it-all and always answered the teacher with a question. Big Saturday Night's version of the Weekend Update segment was more timely but not all that much funnier.

The minigames were things like dime-store Pyramid, or “make small words from a longer phrase.” They were played for thousands of dollars at a time. I remember in the old days when games like Decades or Trivia Track would top out at about $1,000 a game. These games were throwing around $10,000 in each instance. We've come a long way, baby. While being overpriced, they also weren't that interesting.

Back at the beginning, I alluded to the fact that the network is struggling. Why then would they decide to make their filler segments into a middle finger to the people who are going to watch. If you're watching Game Show Network on a Saturday night, you probably don't have anywhere else to be. But that doesn't mean that people are going to watch rubbish.

The two game shows could easily run as hour-long standalone shows (and they do on Sunday afternoons). That extra hour of fluff has no reason to exist, because it's not even close to entertaining. Most networks have given up Saturday nights as the least watched day of the week, and GSN would do well to follow suit. Put on some rerun blocks that people could record, or give us something special. But don't give us tripe under the guise of a big to-do.

Travis Eberle has big Saturday nights... somewhere else. E-mail him