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December 11

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Tidings of Discomfort and Pain
December 18

For the last couple of weeks, we've been waiting on bated breath for the holiday entries by NBC and ABC, "Clash of the Choirs" and "Duel".

Now that both have aired, I think I'd be better off watching reruns of ... well, anything that was on at 8p.

Let's start with "Duel". Leading to the premiere, my colleague Alex Davis told me that he was a mite disappointed in what eventually went to air. And after seeing what finally went to air, I can understand.

Let's start with the good. The format works on paper. You start with 10 chips. You can use them to answer multiple-choice questions. For every answer you miss, you lose the chip. First player to choke loses. The lost chips are added to an escalating jackpot, which, in the end, can total up to $1.5 million. I'll tell you right now, that's not gonna happen. But it's challenging in that you have to be able to not only know the subject matter, you have to read your opponent. Does she know the answer? Do I pressure her into answering? Will she trip up? What do I do now?

But that's where the hook ends, and the reality sets in.

They say first impressions are lasting impressions, and this particular instance just serves to hit the point home. A game can be really well thought out, but a game show, especially one in the 21st Century, lives and dies on presentation. You have to know when to rush through the game and when to pace it out. This is where "Duel" fails. Although Mike Greenberg can throw it to break with the best of them, watching players hem and haw over how they plan to use their chips gets to be grating after a while.

That and Mike Greenberg is pretty much what would happen if you implanted Pat Kiernan with an emotion chip. A pretty scary thought brought to reality.

But there is a bright side, as the presentation gets only marginally better over the 90 minutes that I watched. That and the strategy element means that a game is not truly over until it's over.

So there you go then. It's not a bad game. But it's a pretty roughshod show.

Which is more than what can be said for "Clash of the Choirs", which, at best, is yet another talent show.

Staring with the good, again. The choirmasters have put together some really amazing groups. And then they turn around and judge each other, so we have some interplay amongst the five choirs.

But once again, hook ends, here comes cold hard reality. And that reality is... replace the choirs with individual singers... replace the choirmasters with mentors/judges... replace the phone numbers with... more phone numbers. This is about as close to "The X-Factor" as America's going to get. And we all know where "The X-Factor" came from. Another seed born from the American Idol testicle.

Honestly, is it that hard to come up with something different? Sure "Identity" was pretty much "What's My Line", but it was "What's My Line" in reverse, done up differently. Same with "Deal or No Deal" a year prior. This one had "Let's Make a Deal" all over it, but the presentation carried it, and in some cases, continues to carry it.

So if I had to choose between a solid-but-completely-tortuous quizzer and a reality show that was born from another reality show, I'd rather go out onto Sunset and scream to the WGA, "HEY! GET THIS STRIKE OVER WITH, OR WE'LL HAVE MORE OF THIS!"

Open Letter to Heidi Klum...

Love you on Project Runway. But please. Never sing again.

Game Show Alphabet...

We're up to "Q" now. Let's talk sob stories. Now let's give whoever had the saddest one prizes. It worked for radio since 1945, and then on TV from 1956-1970, and then again as a one-off in 2004. We're talking about NBC's "Queen for a Day", which between lavish presentation and mega-prize giveaways helped usher in the age of reality television early on.

Queen for a Day:

25 Days That Rocked the Game Show World: Day 2

We went to the most current day last week. This week, we're going to one of the earliest.

"Twenty-One" was one of the first big primetime quizzers to strike hard at the heart of America, and two of its most legendary stars were normal people like you and me... the relatively unpopular Herb Stempel and golden boy Charles Van Doren. Their match would be the defining moment of the series, a clash of the trivial titans that would be talked about for days on end by its loyal fanbase.

Only one problem... it was fixed.

December 5, 1956 - Van Doren Beats Stempel on "Twenty One"

The story goes that upon Van Doren's arrival, the two played to a number of 21-21 ties. The sponsor of the show, Geritol, as was the case before, put pressure on Dan Enright to rig the outcomes of the game. As audiences tuned in droves to see who, if anyone, would drop, the hammer finally came when Stempel wouldn't truthfully answer a question he knew: "What film won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1955?"

The correct answer: "Marty". The given answer: "On the Waterfront." Charles Van Doren was champion that night... and every night until March 11, 1957, when Vivienne Nearing unseated him.

Herb Stempel, on the other hand, was convinced that his downfall was orchestrated by powers outside of the game. He held true to those beliefs through the cancellation of "Dotto" in 1958 due to a contestant revealing that he had crib sheets on the questions to be asked in her game.

Careers of both contestant and producer were in shambles. The genre was almost brought to its knees when, in one of the landmark decisions, it was decided to hold the networks accountable for regulating fairness of the way that the new big-money game shows were handled (and said new games were few and far between until the late 60s and early 70s) in terms of limiting the amounts won.

Contrary to popular belief, the 1960 amendments to the Communications Act never outlawed rigging of games, but people were charged with such crimes in the scope of obstruction of justice.

You can read more about the quiz show scandals here:

Chico Alexander is a member in good standing of the Barry-Enright Concern... or he was during college. E-mail him at