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Eulogy for an Octagon
March 25

"Our greatest competition is with ourselves." -Mark Dacascos, as "The Chairman", "Iron Chef America".

By the time you read these words, the final episode (at least for now) of "Solitary" would have aired on Fox Reality Channel.

"Solitary", a game in which nine Americans were each separated from all time and space - and each other - in an isolation pod for an endurance test against cyberintelligence VAL for $50,000, was a fixture of the Fox Reality schedule since 2006, when it was first commissioned by the network to run Saturday nights. I bet no one would have thought that nine people competing in what was essentially a high-stakes game of chicken would last five episodes let alone five years. After all, we all remember "Unan1mous" (which was created by co-creator Lincoln Hiatt).

But it did. And it garnered a fan following as one of the smarter reality shows out there, if not one of the most underrated due to its eschewing of all reality cliches at the time. There was no island, no roses, no lifelines, no allies, no adversaries, no phone voting. The only thing that stood between you and 50 G's was you. And we loved it.

I don't think we could've loved it any more than we did. And yet, here we are at a precipice, as we prepare to shut VAL down for perhaps the final time, having been victimized not by the series' own merits, but by the times. The official word last year was that, "with the changing cable landscape, (the company) made a strategic decision to shift some resources and refocus on emerging channels."

Put in layman's terms... the network was a money pit.

You see, Fox Reality, like all big-time media outlets, is controlled by income. Income comes as a result of commercial time. And simply put, the buyers were not there for an all-reality TV network. Yet the network was paying hand over fist for broadcast rights, prize budgets, and the like. Past cases like "Survivor" on Versus and "The Amazing Race" on GSN proved that the market wasn't ready for reruns of a long-form game show in which the outcome is already known, let alone a network chock full of them. When corporate money is at a premium, as it is in these hard times, you have to either reformat for the good of the company, or cut the fat altogether.

Fox Reality, as it would appear, was not financially viable enough for News Corporation to keep around. Hence, from March 29, we will be getting National Geographic Wild in its place.

But don't shed a quick tear just yet. "Solitary" is a good strong format that tests the will and fortitude of its participants. And a man much wiser than I once said, "A good idea doesn't die." Fox Reality is but one outlet. There are many more, including sending it to corporate siblings FX or My Network TV. Even selling the rights to GSN, who looks like they're looking almost feverishly for a weekly series idea, would be feasible at this point.

It wouldn't be the first time a game show was put on a shelf due to no fault of its own, as was proven by the resurgence of "The Singing Bee" in 2009, the syndication of both "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" & "Deal or No Deal", and the upcoming "Don't Forget the Lyrics!" If an idea has merits that make it stand out in a pack due to its excellence, we will in fact see it again. It's just a matter of when, where, and in what format.

But for now, I bow my head and take my hat off to a good format that deserved a better fate, as I'm only left to say... "Good night-afternoon-morning."

Game Show Alphabet Redux

We're going online with our "P" entry, as we salute the landmark game "PlayCafe". It launched at a time when the play-at-home call-and-win game show was starting to come into its own (and perhaps brought down through guilt-by-association). Again, it was a good idea, and hopefully we'll see it again.

And no, the fact that our friend Chad Mosher was a host and that our own Eric Pierce wrote for it didn't factor into the selection. So don't ask. Thanks.

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

Chico Alexander's best friend, like many a Solitarian, is a 42-inch plasma TV with a strange thing on... namely "Jeopardy!". E-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com.