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Duel or No Duel
April 15

Most game show mechanics ride on timing. Knowing when to say when has led at least one person to run the Money Cards and take NBC for $28,800. Knowing when to say when has led another person to take Sony for $2.5 million back in the summer of 2004. Knowing when to say when has led one person to take the Deal or No Deal board to $750,000, chump change when you take into account the money it takes in from NBC.

Sing the right song at the right time, and you’re an Idol to millions. Play the right play at the right time, and you’re $250,000 richer courtesy Alex Trebek. Spin the right spin at the right time (and call the right letter), that’s an easy $5000... times whatever. Make the right move, and you could see your dreams come true before you can even imagine.

Network programming works the same way. Part of what made shows like “Deal or No Deal”, “American Idol”, and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” work was timing. The public was ready for something new, and these shows delivered, and are continuing to deliver.

Which begs the question... What happened with “Duel”? This was supposed to be ABC’s next quiz phenomenon, the next big thing... and then it laid a tightly-coiled pile on the lawn of television.

Here’s the scene. Last week, “Duel” entered its second season as a revamped version of the show that we were introduced to during the holidays last year. This time... only 3.93 million viewers tuned in. That was, not counting cable or My Network TV, the LOWEST rating for a show that night.

As a point of comparison, “The One: Making a Music Star” rated thusly: 3.2 million viewers.

One could argue that the game itself hasn’t changed, though the mechanics behind it have. But let’s face it. “Deal or No Deal” was pretty much sold on presentation alone. The game is “Open briefcase, win money”. Gordon had to wait a few installments before it eventually grew on him, and even now, I’m not so sure. It was introduced on a holiday week where there was nothing else on. Then it came back after the next year’s Olympics and hasn’t let up since.

Duel came out at a time where everyone was hip to that gambit, and as a result, it had something that neither “Deal” nor “Identity” had... Ready competition. See, if it was the only thing on that week, maybe... MAYBE it would’ve stood a chance.

So fast forward to now, and we have another gambit... Want a game show to succeed without really trying? Put it on Friday. Worked for “Deal”. Worked for “Identity.” Worked for “1 vs. 100”. For “Duel”... not so much. It came at a time when everyone with a game show was clamoring for Friday real estate. “Amnesia” learned this one the hard way. “The Price Is Right”... Let’s face it, you can never go wrong with “The Price Is Right”. Give ‘em a million to give away, and stick it on Friday where an underperforming show is awaiting word on its fate.

Unfortunately, that slot was the only thing available for “Duel”.

So here’s where I propose a rule that CBS is enforcing with its “Do You Trust Me” show it taped last year... BIDE YOUR TIME. Seven episodes were taped, and, if I’m being optimistic, CBS is waiting for the right moment to let them loose on the public. Same deal with Fox’s “When Women Rule the World”... well, almost. The jury’s still out on whether or not Fox will actually air it (on Fox Reality... MAYBE).

So what to do with “Duel”? Hold it for the summer? Nah. That only works for some shows. Ask the producers of “Game Show Marathon.” It was modest at best. Wait for another winner winter wonderland? Nope. We may have someone beat you to it, or worse, decide to put something on to snipe you. Fall launch? The last time a game vehicle was announced for release in the fall was “The Amazing Race”, and it took a good six years and four Emmys for it to get a stable foothold. How about the spring? Good idea, ABC. How’s that working out for you?

The best thing to do at this point is nothing. Not until the space frees up for it. Then attack. You’ll probably get a small sampling, enough to put it in the mindset of the game show world, but hey, whose fault is it that the game is stretched thinner than dishwater?

Game Show Alphabet Redux.

We’re going to “C” now. Lots of celebrities. Celebrities playing poker. Celebrities playing blackjack. Celebrities playing charades. Celebrities playing sweepstakes. Celebrities looking to be an apprentice. Celebrities joining fit clubs. Celebrities on game shows are that double edged sword. Some shows need celebrities in order to succeed (“Hollywood Squares”, “Match Game”). And some shows only bring on celebrities when they know that they’re nearing the end of their life cycles (“Hot Potato” anyone?)

So to honor (or dishonor) the wonder of celebrity, we’re choosing a rarity here...

Celebrity Bowling.

What, we like bowling!

Celebrity Bowling:

And a bonus, because I like it, “Catch Phrase”, a show that for all intents and purposes, was truly ahead of its time. It’s considered as a classic in the UK, where it ran until 2002.

Catch Phrase: 

25 Days that Rocked the Game Show World: Day 16

We finally got around to this one. It was one of England’s most popular shows, and it earned international accolades with its blend of variety, competition, and caustic reality. And when it arrived in America, it spawned a host of imitators, none of which could match the manic fervor that the original could (and still does) capture.

June 11, 2002: This is American Idol

Hard to believe that it’s been six years since the original “search for a superstar” hopped the pond to the States, where it achieved success that, for the most part, was unexpected judging by its low-key affair. This was in an age when the auditions were held over the course of an hour and when the only thing spectacular about the final Idol stage was the talent that graced it. Oh yeah, and there was a guy named Dunkleman on stage.

Compare that to the Idol of nowadays... an elaborate production that is picked apart as thoroughly as it’s put together, where people cry foul to the point of rioting over a) not getting a spot on the show or b) seeing their favorites kicked off.

Still no Dunkleman.

Rules still remain, though. If you can sing it, bring it.

Chico Alexander just slapped Jason Block in the face with a little white glove. E-mail him at