2004: A Games Odyssey -
For this second round of The Numbers Game, let's go back... WAY back. Back in
time... to 2004.
It seems like only yesterday, we were watching Donald Trump fire his first
Apprentice, getting down to Kelis' "Milkshake", and mourning the lamented US
adaptation of "Coupling"... okay, so only I was doing that last one.
But something else was brewing. In a move that was, among fans, both the
biggest news and the biggest non-news of 2004, Game Show Network decided to
branch out from its traditionalist game show niche (actually, the move was
decided a long time ago with the advent of "GSN Video Games", but was quickly
phased out... temporarily, but quickly) and morph itself into GSN: The Network
for Games. Here's a quick perspective:
Before: GSN had acquired the reruns of the primetime smash "Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire" from Buena Vista TV for its own primetime lineup. The originals of
2002 were riding into success for the most part. Whammy! was well into its
second season, Lingo had earned an unprecedented-for-GSN third season, and GSN's
first documentary, 2003's "Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal", was riding
The transformation: GSN had announced that its primetime schedule was to
undergo a radical transformation. Millionaire would stay at 8pm each night with
Match Game following. Then came the 10pm hour, the hour that had most
traditionalist game show fans crying foul. On Monday, GSN aired the pseudo-sport
of "The World Series of Blackjack". Tuesday saw reruns of cult favorite "The
Mole". Wednesday gave us the hosting debut of Evan Marriott on "Fake-a-Date".
Thursday gave us the Canadian import "Kenny vs. Spenny". And Friday saw NBC
series "SpyTV" and original series "Vegas Weddings Unveiled" with Darva Conger.
We could go into a whole chapter of why the Friday lineup didn't belong, but
that's another story for another day.
And the idea for "WinTuition?" It morphed into
the "Get Schooled Tour".
After: The Tuesday show, which, admittedly, I had to look up to remember,
"Kenny vs. Spenny", "Fake-a-Date", and "Vegas Weddings Unveiled" came and went
without nary a whisper. In their place, NBC's take on the BBC's "Dog Eat Dog",
"Celebrity Blackjack", "Extreme Dodgeball", "Poker Royale", and off-net reruns
of "Next Action Star" and "Average Joe". And leading off the night? Reruns of
CBS's take on "Star Search". New game show offerings, namely "Win Ben Stein's
Money", "Street Smarts", and the third-season Lingo Tournament of Champions,
were relegated out of prime time. And not surprisingly, only Ben Stein, the card
games, and "Dog Eat Dog" really stuck around to do some justice to the lineup.
But why? Well, consider this: GSN, like all cable channels, is a company. The
universal goal in any company at the end of the day: turn a profit. Also
consider this: thanks to the success of shows like "Survivor", "The Amazing
Race", "The Apprentice", and "American Idol", reality competition was being seen
as a marketable medium (it would later prove as vulnerable as any other genre of
television with a few series ending without a resolution). So if everyone else
was getting a piece of the pie from this genre, why not GSN? After all, and this
is a stretch, "Survivor" is nothing more than "Beat the Clock" on an island,
"Average Joe" is nothing more than "The Dating Game" stretched to 20 eligibles
and 9 shows, and "The World Series of Blackjack" is nothing more than every
other blackjack game show in its rawest form.
And it worked for a bit. The first seasons of "Poker Royale" and "Celebrity
Blackjack" garnered high ratings for the reinvented network. I say a bit,
because, and this is where the number du jour comes on, in the latest report out
of Mediaweek, it was reported that GSN's overall viewership was down by 33
percent. That's not down as in "fluctuating." That's down as in "for the count."
That's down as in, "if this was a stand alone show, it would be on death watch."
Hollywood Squares was down by less than that when it was cancelled in 2004.
Needless to say, a significant chunk of GSN's core audience didn't approve
(hint: if one of your executives, namely Bob Boden, quit because of the move,
then chances are it isn't a good one).
And it seems like just recently, almost a year on, after the failures of
reality reruns and "American Dream Derby", Rich Cronin and company are beginning
to realize the error of their ways and have since applied styptics to stop the
bleeding. Saturday nights are big for fans of old school (Super Password
anyone?), and most of GSN's post-transformation games have been either cancelled
or shuffled out of the way where they can't do any damage (only the card games
and "Dog Eat Dog" remain in primetime, with reruns of Super Millionaire on their
But will it work? Moreover, will Reality 24-7, a new channel devoted entirely
to the niche, do what GSN couldn't, find an audience with reality hardcores that
will stay around long after the dust has settled? Only time - and the numbers -
But for now, I'll give you until the next Numbers Game to point toward the
general area of the GSN offices and say "I told you so."
wrote this way past his bedtime. He can be reached (assuming he's awake, of
course) at firstname.lastname@example.org