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Why Game Show Marathon May Be Key - May 29

If you’re reading this column, you’re probably a game show fan.  If not, then stop reading now.  Just kidding.  Anyway, for the traditionalist game show fans like me, a big smile comes to our faces when we see a return of more traditional game shows…with less of an emphasis on the extreme reality shows that we saw at times during the last few years. 

What do I mean?  Consider that NBC basically swapped out “Fear Factor” for “Deal or No Deal”…to fantastic results.  Consider that GSN is strongly exploring traditional and hybrid formats and creating fantastic shows such as “Annie Duke Takes on the World,” while leaving behind some of the poor choices of recent years programmingwise (hello, Kenny vs. Spenny).  They’ve even brought back live interactive gameplay with “Playmania”…plus having almost 100% of their schedule play-along. 

You’ve seen all the upcoming items chronicled in the news section here at Game Show NewsNet.  But one of those shows, alone, could make or break the looming game show resurgence.  It’s CBS’ “Game Show Marathon.”  The series, which puts celebrities into CBS’ own “The Price is Right” and six other classic shows, is in my opinion the key to just how far the current game show push goes.

First, I still contend that GSN should take advantage of the series’ airing for its own promotion.  It should buy commercials inside the series (yes, I know that’s not a cheap prospect, but you’ve gotta know your audience!).  It should also – without necessarily attempting to promote “Marathon” – air the shows it has the rights to on the same night or the next night as they are played on “Marathon.”  (GSN does not have rights to “The Price is Right.”  I am not sure if they still have rights to “Let’s Make a Deal” or not, but if they do, they don’t air it anymore).

But beyond all that, if “Marathon” itself can garner strong ratings, from classic game show fans and modern game show fans (who obviously exist) alike, it could be the key to a full revival of game shows.  Let’s consider why:

Prime Time

Already, networks are clamoring for the next “Deal or No Deal,” just like everyone was clamoring for the next “Millionaire” back in 1999.  Already, ABC has signed on for “Set For the Rest of Your Life,” NBC has taken “1 vs. 100,” and FOX has inked a deal for “Show Me the Money.”  ABC also is in talks for “Con.Test.” 

Many have complained about the “saturation” of games and reality TV in network prime time programming, and how they are taking money away from those who work on scripted series.  Apparently people are forgetting about the days of prime time game shows many years ago… and to be honest, if the scripted series were any good… this wouldn’t be an issue.  And to their credit, there have been several excellent scripted series to come out in the last few years.

If “Marathon” gets strong ratings...this will be only the beginning.  Not only would “Marathon” become a regular feature (possible sweeps stunt series?) but it would prove that the gimmicks that people have thought are required for viewership (and I’m talking about gimmicks in the game, not things like the “play-at-home” features) aren’t necessary.

Increasingly, though, I don’t think we will see a return of primetime “Millionaire.”  Host Regis Philbin was just named as host of a talent contest on NBC this summer, which certainly seems like a sign to me.  I guess we’ll see though.

Talent shows are certainly a hallmark of the current revival…and interestingly, more than “American Idol” is surviving.  “So You Think You Can Dance” is back.  So is “Rock Star.” And “Last Comic Standing.”  But “Idol” is really the only one that takes on the big guys.  And wins.  Big.


So how does “Marathon” affect cable?  Not only could you see a renewed push for games on cable networks – particularly CBS/Viacom’s networks – but you also likely would see a surge in development by GSN for revivals and original concepts.  

And for that matter, GSN is already back on the right track…so any effect from “Marathon” would only help them further.


Already there have been developments on the syndicated front.  The team behind the powerhouse combo of “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” is planning another hour of daytime games for Fall 2007.  The actual games have yet to be announced, but the rumor is one revival and one original show.  They do have a number of properties available for that revival…picking the right one, and picking the right original to pair with it…will determine its success.

The daytime “Deal or No Deal” also probably will launch at the same time…and again, if “Marathon” is successful…you could very well see revivals of one or two of the “Marathon” series on the docket for Fall 2007.

In closing, you see why “Marathon” could be very important to the immediate future of the genre we all love.  We’ll see in just a few weeks.

Jason Elliott ain't a player, he just crushes a lot. E-mail him at


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