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The Story Is Always Two - January 12

It's a new year in the Numbers Game, as we continue to give you the long and the short of TV ratings, spin control, and other questions that are best answered thusly: "Long answer, yes with an if. Short answer, no with a but." Today, we've got dancing, deals, special editions, and a runner... that didn't. First, though...

Dance Dance

If there was one bright star during the night sky that was last summer, it was ABC's "Dancing with the Stars".

Thursday, the long-awaited second season opened up to some decent numbers. To recall, the first season finale posted households: 16.2/25; Viewers: 21.84 million; A18-49: 6.5/19. Last Thursday, a bit of a shave-off from the move to Thursdays: 12.8/19 in the overnights, 17.33 million viewers and a 4.7/12 among adults 18-49, but good enough for second place opposite CBS's Thursday's lineup. But considering that the last time ABC had a monster Thursday was back in the days of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", this is, what we scientists call, progress.

So not for lack of trying, but I don't know anyone outside of the ABC brass who expected to knock off the eye on Thursday. I just wanted to watch the show for a good time (and to see Kenny Mayne royally take one), which I got. With a competitive showing for a first-week out, it's like what Ardal O'Hanlon (of "Father Ted" and "My Hero" fame) once said: "if you expect a kick in the balls and get a slap in the face, then it's a victory."

Daily Deal? Not So Fast There, Buddy...

So "Deal or No Deal" was a hit for NBC but before someone goes off the deep end and make it his life goal to see that success parlayed into syndicated numbers, consider the following

- Every syndicated version of "The Price is Right" paled in comparison to its broadcast equivalent, resulting in a) Bob Barker stepping in (in the case of the Dennis James version), or b) cancellation within a year.

- "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" was on ABC for three years before being jettisoned to the land of syndication, where it turned out decent enough numbers for itself. The last week alone tied season records with a 3.3.

- "Wheel of Fortune," America's #1 syndicated game show, was on in tandem with its broadcast brother when the latter started to falter while the former rose to its present-day glory (this week, an 8.1).

- "Weakest Link" was hardly on for a year before it was called to do double daily duty. The syndicated show came and went as quickly as the primetime show, given the door after a year and a half.

So when you have a hit like "Deal", and NBC is asked the question of when it will return and how many episodes, of course the answers will be "soon" and "more". But let's be real for a moment. This will only work if we do it properly, build up a decent audience of familiarity, then do right by the show for a change.

Special Editions: Good and Bad.

The bad: CBS's "Amazing Race: Family Edition" did so poorly that, despite its Emmy win, the network did not reference it in announcing season nine of the Race.

The good: NBC's "Biggest Loser: Special Edition" premiered with this: 6.3/9 in the overnights, 8.54 million viewers and a 3.6/9 among adults 18-49 from 8-10p, according to Mediaweek's Marc Berman, who cites that it did air opposite a big bowl game. This week, overnights: 4.6/7; Viewers: 6.56 million; A18-49: 2.7/7, all third place. Why is this good? Because it built 46 percent out of "E-Ring".

The weekly rant, or Miss America is not a game show... at least not anymore. Whose stupid idea was that anyway?

The best show on GSN nowadays, surprisingly enough, isn't even a game show in the loosest sense of the word.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a big fan of shows like "Biography", "Behind the Music", and even "E!'s True Hollywood Story". So when I heard that GSN was creating its own true-story in their own words documentary, I was in heaven. Granted, it wasn't that unexpected given the critical success of the network's first documentary movie, "Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal."

The new series "Anything to Win" takes those humble roots and magnifies them to chronicle the thrill--and the agony--of victory, sometimes at any cost.

When I saw the finished product on the Rosie Ruiz story (as an aside, after hearing her story and watching countless bits of evidence contrary thereto, I said to myself that, to paraphrase Doug Morris, if this person doesn't have some king of mental issue, she ought to have one), I had my doubts about the production itself, not the story.

First off, I know you have to stretch an hour-long show into a two-hour premiere, but was showing the same pictures and video over an over again absolutely necessary? We get it already. The sweat was off, she was a bit chunky, she didn't have the exuberance of someone who ran 26.2 miles when she crossed the finish line. It was almost three hours after the race started. Show me something new for cripes sake. I mean "BTM" rarely recycled footage just to prove a point.

Another gripe that I had was that the story was impossible to follow, as it jumped from the big story to the back story to the research to the opinion back to the big story and then ending with "where are they now?". "Big Bucks" has this spot on. They gave us the story, then the back story, then the mechanics, then the aftermath. Any good story teller will tell you that before you get there, we have to establish where "there" is. Then give us the raw figures and the how and why before getting to the aftermath. Then assume that your audience is smart enough to come to its own conclusion. That's why figures show that educated people get their news from "The Daily Show" more than Fox News. True story.

But all in all, it was probably the best non-game programming since the conversion in 2004, although some will argue that with exhibits like "American Dream Derby" and "Video Game Invasion", such a thing is hard not to pull off. All the important bits were there. First, we go to hear the story in Rosie's own words. That is first and foremost the point and the benchmark from which this series stems. Their story, their words, no spin, just a raw account of the events in question from their vantage. Then there was the attention to not letting anything outside the story become the story. This isn't about the feisty Canadian runner who finally broke the tape 25 years on, although this did make for a nice little wrap-up. This is simply the people of the Boston Marathon of 1980. We didn't hear anything we didn't need to hear, and if future episodes follow suit, then we could possibly have a winner. I'll weigh in on final judgment in 13 weeks, provided GSN doesn't preempt or rerun.

But until then, some dream subjects: Ken Jennings, the 1980 US Hockey Miracle on Ice, the Quiz Show Scandals of the 1950s, Thom McKee, John Carpenter, and last summer's "Dancing with the Stars". I'm still scratching my head over that one.

Chico Alexander loves the whole duality thing. Don't you? E-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com.

 

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