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Identity Crisis
February 5

I'm about to admit to something here, and if it makes me sound like a pig, I do apologize.

A couple of days ago, I found myself fancying a co-worker - whom I won't name in this article - from an outside-of-work point-of-view. Now, she's not exactly my ex-girlfriend, but she is good people. So I asked my sister about this sort of thing. More specifically, I asked her, "Do I really have feelings for her, or am I just settling?" She gave me what had to be the most brilliant answer at the time.

"If you have to ask, then the answer is 'yes, you're settling. And no, it's not her fault, it's yours.'"

Now you're probably asking yourself, what in God's name does this have to do with game shows? I'll tell you. Because a couple of surveys circulating seem to point out that they're asking a similar question to the fandom at large, that of "How are we doing?" The first survey came out last week from the GSN camp, and it seems at least to some people that they're looking for one pointed answer: pushing the reality of... well, reality. The second came out this week from CBS, asking patrons of TPIR's website at CBS.com/daytime what they like or dislike about the show. Anyone from network brass could read any pointed postings over at any of the boards dedicated to "The Price Is Right" and discern that the damned thing should've been cancelled a long time ago, but that's besides the point.

The point is: if you have to ask whether or not you're doing a good job, then there's a problem. And the problem's not with the product, but with your confidence or direction in said product.

"The Price Is Right" has always been one of America's great television institutions, even if no one will tell you as such. After all, you do the same thing for 38 years and people love you for it, you have to be doing something right. Similarly, for the last 15 years, GSN has been running a tight ship, with its best years coming in the early millennium with such faves as "Whammy!", "Lingo", and "High Stakes Poker". With both cases, one can argue that the oceans weren't perfect, but the ships were at least moving in the right direction.

But there's an unwritten geek law, one that can be applied to anything from game shows to Transformers to Star Trek to any nerdy obsession under the sun: "A property must ever be as it was when it was first discovered. Anything more or less will be seen as inferior." And in this day and age, where everyone is connected, everyone has a voice, and every opinion, including mine, is subject to increasing scrutiny, such an overload of information and wear down a once-powerful zeitgeist of hubris. And if you're in such as position as GSN's or TPIR's, it'll leave you questioning what you've done up to this point, even though theoretically it's been working.

Here's the problem with that line of thought. This amalgamation of opinion has little to no basis in reality. Take TPIR for example. The "loyal friends and true" have been divided over the events of the last three years, from the modernization of prize banks to the replacement of key cast and staff to the "fixing" of games as to make them "un-winnable." They like to call this whole fracas "budgeting" the show, and it has cost them what they held dear, from games being retired to models being scaled back to cars that end in "9". Time for a Chico Reality Check... We are living in the worst economic times in decades. Couple that with increased information as to how to beat the games (some of which we shared on this very site AND in the line), and you can understand why things are the way that they are.  It's not that they hate you or they're out to ruin your life. It's that pesky bottom line. Money going in has to be greater than or equal to money coming out. That's a GOOD thing. It means that the show survives. And truth be told, if the biggest problem that you have is that they're using a blue-and-purple drywall turntable instead of a stucco one with earth tones, then God help you, because you're never going to be happy. But CBS doesn't hate you. They want your input. What happens after that is anyone's guess.

On the other hand, there's GSN's little questionnaire, which seems to be stilted towards phasing out the traditional game show in favor of shows that, truth be told, have no business being on the air. I took the survey last week (all the way to the taxing end of it), and I couldn't help but notice that there are questions written in such a way as to favor "wish fulfillment reality shows" over "decades-old reruns of in-studio game shows". A man much wiser than I (I believe it was Tom Kennedy) once said, "It's not what you say, but what you don't say." It seems like GSN wants to do away with what got them to a position of prominence in favor of things that, and I've said this before, do not work for the network. The week of January 18, the most popular show on GSN was a three-year-old rerun of "Family Feud", with 601,000 viewers. The premiere of "Carnie Wilson: Unstapled"... 361,000. The premiere of "Hidden Agenda"... 202,000. The oldest show that managed to beat it was "The $100,000 Pyramid". Yet GSN seems happy to push the classics to the side while newer projects crash and burn and even happier to fudge the numbers a little to help them out with that venture. Go figure.

Time and again, the proof was ultimately not in the written opinions of 100 people surveyed, but in the ratings, because in the real world, talk is cheap, but not exactly discounted. So what do you do? I suggest taking the survey, but doing so with a grain of salt. Take into account what the questions are asking, instead of what the questions are saying. And most importantly, be honest with them... and also be honest with yourself.

Because as I've said time and again, "a bad game show is better than no game show."  

Game Show Alphabet Redux

Next up is "J". You'd think I'd put "Jeopardy!" in because it's my favorite quiz show of all time and I'm in the contestant pool... That would be too easy. Instead, I offer this to my cohort, the Wizard of Parkway Lanes... and fans of Milton Berle everywhere...

"Jackpot Bowling".

The show only had four hosts in the two years that it was on, but it had one of the earliest appearances of future Feud host Richard Dawson.

More information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackpot_Bowling

25 Days That Rocked the Game Show World: Day 23

It's easy to say that Vanna White changed the way females were represented on game shows during the 1980s, but what about the game itself? I mean, "Wheel of Fortune" pretty much stayed the same throughout its run in daytime. But on one day in January 1989, a single move by a single man signaled the beginning of the end of the daytime game show as we know it.

January 9, 1989: Pat Sajak Leaves Daytime Wheel

CBS offered the host a show of his own to go against Carson. That didn't work. Meanwhile, the Wheel began to fall off of NBC's hinges. Chargers place-kicker Rolf Benirschke was about as far from Pat Sajak as you can get... then the show moved to budget mode across town at CBS six months later. And then, save for a mercy euthanasia on NBC, it died a slow, painful death in 1991, leaving the Goodson monopoly of "Family Feud Challenge" and "The Price Is Right" on the Eye.

The syndicated edition, where Pat and his big money wheel remained, still airs to this day.

Chico Alexander wants you to be on the lookout for Vegas III. It's coming to you soon. Right now, though, e-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com.