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March 22


First of all, an apology is in order. I pitched the idea of this column back in mid-January, back when it was a little warm. Too warm for snow, in fact. Now here we are in mid- to late March, and I'm just getting to the opener. At least half of it has to deal with obligations to the site that admittedly I have yet to get to, because the other half, overwhelming real-life concerns, took precedence.

But I've been able to control at least in this short time that half that does affect me writing. So let's begin at the beginning. Everything in our world is connected by numbers. Thirty-three: the number of seasons that "The Price is Right" has been on the air. Four: the number of editions of "The Newlywed Game" that exist (if you count the late 90s versions as two). Fifty-two: the number out of every 100 votes during the season 1 final of "American Idol" that read "Kelly Clarkson." One hundred forty-nine: the number of opponents dispatched by Ken Jennings during his "Jeopardy!" run.

So what is this game, you ask? Well, it's in the title. It's a game of numbers. More importantly, the numbers which chart what you, the game show fan, are and are not watching. Moreover, it will attempt to figure out what those numbers mean for the shows and the genre in general. I don't promise that I will have all the answers, and I will not even try to brag that I do. But simply put, the column is an extension of what was quoted in Sherlock Holmes: take what you have and rule out the impossible; whatever is left, however improbable, must be truth.

That said... Let's play The Numbers Game.

An old adage and a young network.

An old adage - and I don't remember where I got it from - goes, "Promise only what you can deliver, then deliver more than what you promised." That can be applied to Gail Berman, the head of Fox, who admitted that "American Idol" had peaked as phenomenon television, and this particular season would experience its share of growing pains, similar to what happened on previous seasons of competition shows such as "Survivor" (its fifth Thailand series was the worst rated ever). Meanwhile, the premiere surpassed the third season by leaps and bounds. And the latest live edition yielded a record high votes for a final round tally. While we can't really count the latter into effect due to the nature of the voting (let's just say the phrase "one man, one vote" is lost on the franchise), you can't discount the number of people on average casting their votes and watching as one by one, the participants bite the dust.

Here's how the figures stacked. Season four opened with an astounding 20.1/28 in the overnights, 33.45 million viewers and a 14.0/33 among adults 18-49 according to fast affiliate data from 8-10p. Last year, the 8-9:15p scored 17.2/24, 28.96 million, and 12.9/30 among target demo. That was an increase of 17 percent in the overnights, 4.49 million viewers and 9 percent among adults 18-49, according to Mediaweek's Marc Berman. However, you need to factor in the competition for the nights. Last year, CBS had a Monday lock. This year, Fox stuck to its strengths and was virtually uncontested (unless you count CBS's "NCIS" and "The Amazing Race", but that's another topic). Since then, the pattern has held that there are less viewers on Wednesdays, and that the mainstay of millions that turn on to the pop stage range from 20 to 28 million viewers a night. And as per year before? Fox has seen its audience share grow on average of 15 percent.

Conclusion: While it's important to realize that correlation doesn't equal causation, and while you can't really say that bigger talent has led to bigger audiences, you can't really discount it either. We'll keep an eye out for the rest of the season.

An Amazing start.

The Amazing Race, one of those simplicities that can't be made complex no matter how hard you try. Then why is it only coming around in just the last couple of years? Let's take a look at the figures.

Last week, the Racers stopped off at Chile to the best ratings since AR5 over the last summer. The episode, which Rob found a way to one-up his opponents during a roadblock, drew a 5.0/12 rating in the key Adults 18-49 category, a 5.8/13 in CBS's preferred Adults 25-54 measure, and a 4.1/12 in Adults 18-34, according to Reality TV World. Not only are these numbers better than the ones drawn by any episode of AR6, but they're better than the third episode of AR5, even by standards of summer programming fare.

This is also up from the first episode of the series, a two-hour romp on March 1. The numbers, 8.9/13 in the overnights, 11.68 million viewers and a 4.9/12 among adults 18-49 from 9-11 p.m. The numbers have since kept steady, with an Idol-fueled "House" in the mix to throw the globetrotting game at bay - and at second place.  But it's a competitive second.

Regardless of these numbers, though, CBS is holding to its plans on two more seasons at least. It will be interesting to see how they fare as the seasons change.

Feud for thought.

When "Family Feud" first premiered in 1999, not one person thought it would last seven years with Louie Anderson at the helm. And, you know something? They were right. Beat that... But even so, the Feud did attract a modest crowd in its first few years before numbers started declining. Then came the overhaul, which saw the Feud's new new attitude equate its old attitude (you remember the pitch line: "This Family Feud's got a new attitude"?), yet still keep itself firmly ensconced in 21st century mentality.

What was the result? An increase in year-to-year totals, rewarded by an early seventh-season renewal by Tribune Entertainment, the distributor of the Howard Felsher creation. Last week, the survey-fueled series inched to a 2.4, a new season high, and fourth-place behind syndie leaders "Wheel of Fortune" (10.1, up 4% from last year), "Jeopardy!'s Ultimate Tournament of Champions" (8.4, up 5%), and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (3.8, up 3%). Audience gets bigger, therefore demand grows louder. Simple logic. While we're still waiting for the 3.0s we've seen from season one (back when there was no less than six classic-style game shows in syndication and about three in primetime), we'll take what we get when we get it.

Of course, the same logic can be applied to "Millionaire," "Wheel of Fortune", and "Jeopardy!", which all got long-term renewals this year for either growth ("Millioniare") or holding down the top of the pops (the latter two). And speaking of which...

An open letter for the Jeopardy! fans...

I'm writing this letter for the Jeopardy! fans out there, because apparently as it stands some 30 games into the Ultimate Championship, it's nothing to write home about. At least not yet. Granted, numbers are up from last year (see above), but we have yet to see the cataclysmic numbers we've seen over the summer of Ken (in which a typical episode would have beaten a CSI rerun according to old news sources). Not that I'm expecting it or anything, and not that I'm pining for newspaper coverage of the event, but it just doesn't really seem that big a deal outside our little fan world. Why is it? Is it because of our short-term nature? Is it because we've lost interest on the champs of the past? I don't know. I'm not even going to pretend that I know. One week, we were having less viewers than we did last year; this week, we had more.

So it goes like this...

"To whom it may concern. Are you watching the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions? Are you liking what you see? Are you telling other people to watch? A simple yes or no will do. I expect nothing from you. This letter is all about you. A few more people than average are watching, and I'm wondering if you really care of not.

"You know, if it can hold this growth, then we have something. I guess we'll see what happens when the dust settles and a champion is finally crowd. And if I'm wrong... well, I'll apologize, because that's the kind of guy I am."

Well, that's this week's Numbers Game, still in its infancy, and still a work in progress. If you can tell me any way to make this better, PLEASE do not hesitate to let me know. After all, as I have said... this is all about you.

Chico Alexander
can be reached at chico@gameshownewsnet.com


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