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Everything's a game of numbers...

Today is

Summer, Summer, Summertime - June 7

The answer is: the one commonality, in terms of audience, that National Bingo Night, Pirate Master, and On the Lot share.

Players, you have 30 seconds. Good luck. (*hums "Think!"*)

And that's time. The correct response. "What are an audience of less than seven million each?"

Now guess which one has the most?

Pirate Master: a so-so 6.99 million.

National Bingo Night: a nothing-to-write-home-about 5.00 million.

On the Lot: an underwhelming 4.06 million for its Tuesday outing, and a death-clock-triggering 2.87 million.

Strange, but true. They all premiered to some degree of hoopla (some more than others), and all ended up to some degree underwhelming. Bingo commercials have been all over the finale of "Dancing with the Stars", while "On the Lot" earned the cherished time slot after the final "American Idol" performance. But so far, nothing has stuck to the wall like "Millionaire" in 1999 and "Idol" in 2002.

But it's not for lack of a good idea, really. It's just that in the eight years since "Millionaire" changed everything, "Idol" got the whole country involved, "Dancing" got the celebrities involved, and "Deal or No Deal" took away the skill factor, the ideas behind these shows have been literally done to death. In some cases, they've been overdone to death.

If you've seen state lottery-based game shows such as "Illinois' Luckiest", "Cash Explosion", "The Big Spin", or "Make Me Famous, Make Me Rich", then the premise that makes National Bingo Night what it is -- basically building a game show around the calling of Bingo balls -- is nothing new or seat-grabbingly exciting. It's essentially a national lottery show where the element that separates the studio player from the home audience is the game that they're playing (they play the metagame, while we play straight bingo). I can understand where the appeal comes from, but still... an hour, a manic-depressive audience, a model, and a referee, albeit a really funny one?

Then there's "On the Lot". Last season on WLTI, we called this one "American Idol goes to the movies." Last year, we had "Idol has an infomercial" and "Idol meets the Gong Show". The before, it was "Idol goes dancing" and "Idol goes dancing with celebs". Not to mention skating, singing, and rocking out for your votes. See where the problem is? Television, by its very nature, is a copycat business. For every Idol, there are about nine or ten reinventions of the wheel, Granted a couple of them can hold their own an eventually stand out on their own merits (we call it the Greed rule), but more often than not strict adherence to a proven formula without any attempt to differentiate themselves aside from the intert-title-and-occupation-here tends to kill a show even before it begins.

Same can be said for "Pirate Master", the Survivor-come-Pirates of the Caribbean that is so far doing well enough to be on par with "Game Show Marathon". The differences? One, the latter didn't have Mark Burnett's name and reputation all over it, and two, the former is a retread of a proven idea. So it's not really his fault or Spielberg's or Simon Fuller's or whoever's. It's just that a summer audience is looking for something new (which could also explain the success of shows like "1 vs. 100" and "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader"... which I admit to being too hard on).

Then there's "The Next Best Thing", the exception that proves the rule. The premiere scored a whopping 7.75 million. Pretty hefty for a summer series. Didn't have a lick of promotion compared to other series. Yet so far, it's the most popular new entry (still the most popular entry of the summer is "So You Think You Can Dance", the fourth most-watched show this week with almost 11 million. Another "exception that proves the rule". You have a carbon copy, but at the same time, it evolves meat to go with the frame... enough meat to keep Hillshire Farm in business for years. The game itself keeps the players and the audience on their shoes.

There you have it. Copying is not all a bad thing. It's what built the industry. Just remember that there's a fine line between evolution and selling out.

In other numbers...

- In an age when a comic who likes to laugh at rednecks, an actor who used to blow up latex gloves with his nose, a radio DJ that doesn't know the meaning of the word "rest", and a journalist that gets more frequent flyer miles between LA and Connecticut than the Sparks and the Sun combined are the reigning kings of primetime games, it's nice to know that one of the elders of the golden age of television can still show them how to "git'er done." Bob Barker's primetime sendoff on "The Price is Right" attracted 14.34 million viewers, more than your average episode of "Deal or No Deal". Add that to 14.08 million for the Million Dollar Spectacular the night before and... Well, let's just say that there's a reason why the last episode of Barker's tenure will be rebroadcast in primetime.

- Syndication report card: this week, everything's down from last year. According to TV Week, Wheel of Fortune" averaged a 7.3 rating, off 6 percent; "Jeopardy" pulled a 5.8 score for a drop of 9 percent; "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" earned a 3.0 for a 6 percent tumble; and "Family Feud" scored a 1.7, down 15 percent.

The Weekly Rant, or thoughts as I challenge Peter Funt to come up with something better...

We really should've seen this one coming, right? After all, this is the crowd that cut its teeth on "Candid Camera", raised its kids on "Bloopers", and sent them off to college with "Punk'd".

In case you haven't heard, a news report came out that a new show was going to air on Dutch television. Titled "The Big Donor Show", the premise featured Lisa, a reasonably attractive female who was dying from a brain tumor. The three contestants that were chosen for the show are in need of a vital organ, and they could compete to see who, upon Lisa's death, would get it. The show made headlines all over the world and prompted foul outcries from organ donation advocates and government officials alike.

Keep in mind that this is the same industry that gave us a person lying about his monetary status, a person trying to break up three couples, an attempted quickie marriage courtesy of America, weddings to princes and "multi-millionaires", and an adopted woman trying to figure out who her birth father was, all for some sort of gain, be it monetary or otherwise. So one schooled in the realm of reality (read: me) would think, hey, another drop in the buck, what will they think of next.

So imagine what I must've been thinking when I read that this was all a well-perpetrated hoax designed to raise awareness of laws in the Netherlands pertaining to organ donation an their need to reform. Under current Dutch law, donors must be friends or preferably family to the recipient. From the article...

"Shortly before the controversial program was to air, Patrick Lodiers of the 'Big Donor Show' said the woman was not actually dying of a brain tumor and the entire exercise was intended to put pressure on the government and raise awareness of the need for organs. The three prospective recipients were real patients in need of transplants and had been in on the hoax."

Well played, my Dutch friend. My hat is off.

Personally, I believe that a) things such as life and death are too important to play games with, and b) this sort of decision is best left to the privacy of the individual to be shared with family and loved ones. Obviously current law prohibits that. But still, Endemol succeeded in one aspect only for now; they got the world's attention using a familiar medium in which they happened to be experts. Now let's see what they do with it.

Me, I'm surprised Fox didn't try to copy this one.

A lot of people got angry. And that's good. A lot of people need to get angry. But I have to wonder if the people who got angry would (or rather, should) react in the same way when we saw wheh Joe Millionaire or My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance got the final word in edgewise.

Those reactions would be pretty hard to stage and near impossible to edit.

On the Lot notwithstanding, Chico Alexander is eagerly awaiting the release of "Transformers". Autobots can transform and roll-out an e-mail to chico@gameshownewsnet.com.

 

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