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What Happens in Vegas...
February 5

In recent years, the convention of the National Association of Television Program Executives in Las Vegas was a huge media event. This is one of the moments of the year that, for people like Alex, Steve, and Gordon & myself, is just murder on time, research, and sanity (but mostly sanity). NATPE, TCA tours, and television upfronts are all windfalls of information that we, as a service, pass along to you.

This year... not so much. I mean, there was some action, but it was all done in a tamer environment.

Does this have to do anything with the writer's strike? Does this have to do anything with a slumping economy? Does it have to do with across-the-board ratings dives? The answer to all three... "It is neither known, nor is it important in this case."

We've put this all together last week, now let's break it all apart with a tale of two shows. One whose producer talked... at length, whether it was true or not... and the other whose producer is more of the silent type.

Crosswords: It's no secret that Program Partners has been arguing tirelessly on behalf of this show, a premise that proves that you don't need big money to have a good time. The one thing you need are big numbers, and so far, the 1.0 rating it's gotten only translates to little over a million homes. That's one percent of all the households in America. And yet here we are putting "Crosswords" on video games, books, cell phones, everything. The Alexander house didn't have a copy of the NES edition of "Jeopardy!" until shortly after its release in 1989 (remember the NES?)... five years after Jeopardy! launched, was almost cancelled, and then flourished.

The show is probably taking in a modest profit due to it being dirt-cheap to produce and market, but what about the carriage? After all, if you don't have the show, what do you have?

Program Partners have thrown about the words "Firm go" like there's nobody's business, citing that stations from major players like NBC, Raycom, Belo, and the like have already signed on for a second year of the quiz, representing 40 the top 50 markets (that would be from New York to markets as large as Buffalo in terms of population).

From Ritch Colbert of Program Partners: "'Crosswords' ' ratings are building continuously and now hitting season-to-date highs. This renewal is a testament to our amazing production team and to the power of Merv Griffin's original vision."

Gotta hand it to the guy. He knows how to sell, but let's look at the facts. We've been hovering about the 0.9 levels for a while now. Five years ago when "Street Smarts" did half a point better, it was only saved as an 11th-hour reprieve. Five years later, and seven months before the official start of the fall 2008 season, stations are hedging their bets early in case they don't have anything better to put on. Were they genuine afraid or just an easy sell? We'll have to come back to that one later.

Deal or No Deal: Million Dollar Mission or not, this show is one of the season's biggest hits, a trump card NBC probably played up to the hilt in selling the daytime version of the show. That, and Howie Mandel, the man himself, tubthumping for the show. But other than that (and the money dropping to $250,000), the show (and representatives thereof) have been tightlipped about how the show is going to be revisioned. Probably because they're busy concentrating on cranking out more strike-fueled episodes of the show (it's on three times this week). We'll have to come back to this one as well.

Next week, taking a look at Debmar-Mercury's twosome for fall, "Family Feud" and "Trivial Pursuit: America Plays".

Game Show Alphabet

We're up to "W" now.

This one comes to the desk courtesy of a longtime friend of the site (and of me) Tammy Warner. Imagine playing "Password" with song titles. That's basically the premise of "What's This Song?" Hosted by a young Wink Martindale in 1964, it lasted 11 months on NBC after lasting a while in the 40s on old-time radio as "What's the Name of This Song?"

The show may not have lasted as long as "Password" or "Name That Tune", but its legacy is far reaching. "What's This Song" was Martindale's first show ever... although he was billed as "Win Martindale." Short for "Winston", we know, but it would be the last time we ever heard THAT name.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't include this link.

What's This Song?:

25 Days That Rocked the Game Show World: Day 8

Models on game shows are not a new invention. From Bill's assistants on "The Price Is Right" to the classy Carol Merrill on "Let's Make a Deal" to the 26 bombshells on "Deal or No Deal", one of the hidden rules of the game show world is "Sex sells."

And then, the right model came at the right time...

December 13, 1982 - America Meets Vanna

Actually, America met Vanna White when she was a contestant on "The Price is Right" back in 1980, but it wasn't until 1982 when she became the new letter turner on "Wheel of Fortune", replacing an outgoing Susan Stafford. Within a couple of years, "Wheel of Fortune", now on in the nighttime as well as the daytime, would become one of the most popular shows in the nation.

Then came her autobiography...

... and her movie...

... and the record for most frequent clapper.

... and the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006.

Not bad for someone who just wanted Bob Barker to just "get serious."

Chico Al_xand_r would lik_ to buy a vow_l. _-mail him at