Big Bucks, Big Problems - November 29
In the 1950s, game
shows were the biggest thing going, and they had massive
prizes for the big winners. The country was neck-deep in
a space race with the Soviet Union, and as well there
were new scientific discoveries being made left and
right. Intellectualism was lauded in those days, and
contestants who were able to make their way to the
$64,000 Question, or win the race to twenty-one points
would not only win the big bucks that were part of the
game, but they would also be at the forefront of the
country. Winners would have their names and faces on the
news, cheered for their brains. The house of cards came
falling down after the scandals revealed that some
people were being given the answers.
In 1999, ABC took a chance on Who Wants to be a
Millionaire? and it revolutionized and energized the
genre. Anyone, on any night could win $1 million by
answering fifteen questions. Only one person ever got
the kind of notoriety that would be achieved by Dr.
Joyce Brothers or Herb Stempel, but again, the country
watched. Rival networks created their own copycat shows,
and the mirroring was transparent: answer a series of
questions for big money, with various ways to make the
journey easier. Only this time, the questions weren't
about Classical Literature and Nuclear Physics.
Contestants would win their jackpots by knowing which
car companies were doing the most business, or the
number of the precinct on NYPD Blue. The "anyone
can win" mentality meant that the question material was
changed. Gone are the multiple part questions from the
days of old. Now we have questions where the answer is
on the screen, flanked by several (sometimes up to 48)
wrong answers. Now it's a matter of finding that right
answer, and having the nerve to walk just a little
farther on the tightrope.
At least back then you had to know a little something
about some things to win the jackpot. Now it's not even
that hard. Deal or No Deal is all glitz and little
substance. That's not so offensive; Treasure Hunt had
longer odds for a lower payoff. The thing is, Treasure
Hunt had no pretensions about being all fun and
silliness. Deal or No Deal pretends to be something it
is not, by holding up that same house of cards with
tense music beds and silly stunts. And the public eats
it up like they were old people at an afternoon buffet.
The same public that earlier cheered on the mental
gladiators of sixty years ago, and dreamed of their own
shot at a million bucks less than ten years ago now
wants their cash jackpot to be served to them on a
silver platter. And to win that jackpot? Fifteen
questions is fourteen too many. They just want to pull
numbers from a lunch sack
All I can think if is "America got stupid." Sure, that's
a generalization of the highest order. I know many smart
people, and I'm sure you did too. But the type of game
show that is on the air now does not showcase the smart
people of our country. It showcases manic extroverts
with Queen for a Day-inspired wishes, over-the-top
mannerisms and none of the same qualities that we looked
for in our small screen heroes of the days of old.
I miss the good old days.
Travis Eberle can't find his onion. Send him a Vidalia
or Walla Walla at firstname.lastname@example.org.