In Search of the Killer
App - June 29
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 1999...
Survivor in 2000...
Fear Factor in 2001...
American Idol in 2002...
Dancing with the Stars in
Summer shows that are so
good that they earn a coveted spot on the fall schedule.
We call these "the killer apps".
What is a killer app?
In the world of
entertainment, more specifically video games, a "killer
app" is a game that basically will sell the system.
"Super Mario Bros.," "Tetris," and "Sonic the Hedgehog"
were killer apps of their respective game systems.
When you're talking about
other forms of entertainment, the killer takes on the
form which satisfies three main commonalities:
1) It brings something to
the field that hasn't been done before.
2) It generates a large audience and gets people talking
or, in some cases, taking sides.
3) A rip-off usually follows.
Another big commonality,
no one saw them coming.
So the question that begs
to be answered... Where's the killer app this summer?
Sure we had some good shows in the game show world, but
where is the one that gets people up and talking? Let's
take a look on a show by show basis.
First, Game Show
Marathon. While this show has polarized the game show
fanbase between those who love the tribute aspect and
those who can't stop picking apart every single bloody
thing wrong with the whole package, it has delivered to
an extent. The show placed first for its time period
last week with the "Match Game" episode, a 5.5/10 in the
overnights, with 7.47 million viewers watching, good for
18th for the week. This was up from last week (Card
Sharks, 4.7/8; 6.76 million viewers). In fact, it was
the third most-watched episode behind "TPIR" and "Let's
Make a Deal." Although the show has won its time period
and a coveted slot on "Best Week Ever", it isn't really
catching enough fire to be declared a killer app. A nice
waste of an hour? Definitely, but no killer.
How about the return of
Last Comic Standing? Last week, 5.0/8 for third, with
7.07 million for second. The week prior, 5.3/8; 7.45
million, both third. I really haven't seen much buzz on
Last Comic Standing (and mind you, it's my job to keep
abreast of this sort of thing for you, the discerning
game show fan), but again... no real killer. Although
it's gotten Bil Dwyer more work.
Master of Champions?
Let's see... the premiere scored thusly: 4.6/8 in the
overnights, 6.20 million viewers. Second place in both
to the aforementioned "Game Show Marathon." And if GSM
isn't the killer... then sure as hell this isn't.
How about America's Got
Talent? It made both major televised pop-culture
barometers ("Best Week Ever" and "The Soup"). Regis was
making rounds. NBC was touting this as the next big
thing. Simon was touting this as the next big thing
(although really, it's The Gong Show with American Idol
elements tied in). This week, it boasted that 25 million
viewers caught it. The official numbers... Drum roll
please... 8.8/14 in the overnights and 12.14 million
viewers, all first place in the two hours. Not even
close to the 25 million Regis touted, but hey, it's
bigger than anything we've seen thus far. And it was the
top non-sports TV show this week (by the way, congrats
to the Miami Heat). This may be the killer app for the
summer. It follows three of the commonalities (we've not
yet seen a rip-off if you don't count Master of
Champions), and NBC is structuring its Wednesday nights
around it. The real test will be come fall and the
second season of the show, but for now, this is a
serious killer contender.
Next, Treasure Hunters.
NBC was giving us the business promoting the hell out of
this show, and for what? A two-hour Sunday premiere that
barely registered. On paper, it notched a third-place
finish with 4.2/7, and 6.91 million viewers. The
time-slot premiere eight days later (thanks, by the way,
to the victorious attempt of the Carolina Hurricanes)
ranked even worse, 3.9/6 in the overnights, with 5.79
For the record, the game
7 of the Stanley Cup Final didn't do that well either.
Now it's time for the
acid test. Five shows that premiered (we're going to
count Last Comic Standing as a premiere, since the
original show was cancelled), and of those, only one has
the properties needed to be the killer app. Let's go
back to last summer's killer app, "Dancing with the
The opening numbers:
nothing short of exceptional. In it premiere, it scored
top of the hour on all three major fronts: 9.4/15 in
households, 13.48 million viewers, and 4.3/12 for adults
Judging by what we've
seen with this premiere, and with top 20 finishes on the
Saturday rerun, I believe that "America's Got Talent" is
this summer's killer app, but there's still more show to
watch, so we'll keep an eye out and report on our final
There were only two shows
in continuous cycle still last week, "Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire?" and "Jeopardy!". That still didn't stop
"Wheel of Fortune" from taking the top spot. Wheel
notched a 6.8 with 7.44 million viewers. Jeopardy! came
in second with 5.4, 5.91 million viewers. Still mired in
15th, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, with 2.9, 3.15
The Weekly Rant, or
people like watching Telemundo because people like
saying "Telemundo." Go ahead... say it. Doesn't it just
roll off the tongue, like "Telemundo..."
This one comes courtesy
of the blog of BJ Brown, one of my LJ friends...
If you want to revive
The Gong Show, why don't you just revive The Gong Show
instead of making knockoffs of the same format? I swear,
America's Got Talent is like that, except instead of one
panelist banging a gong, all three must hit a button to
cue the Family Feud strike noise and have them
To answer BJ's question
in short answer form... Four words: "American Idol"
If I want to elaborate,
and make you read a little more, Fox saw the original
"Pop Idol" format, which, in and of itself, was a
higher-stakes, long form episode of "Star Search".
Unlike Star Search, though, it had a serious following
in the UK, so rather than going for name recognition in
hopes that people will catch on, Fox thought it was
simple and, in the long run, more economically sound, to
just front its own version of what works.
CBS tried to relaunch
"Star Search", but with a radically different take
bordering on American Idol copyright infringement, it
didn't meet the same amount of instant success needed to
sustain a lifespan to rival the original. Earlier, CBS
went as far as to try out a version of "The $64,000
Question" when the Millionaire bug hit. That was killed
after the pilot.
So I guess I should say
more accurately, "Millionaire" ruined everything. But I
In the case of "America's
Got Talent", NBC finds it a bit easier to buy into the
Simon Cowell name, since he was the creator of the
format. Of course, it does help that said creator just
happens to be the face of the most popular show on the
face of this planet. But you have to look at the cases
of original vs. original-plus.
This particular conflict
is perhaps best exemplified by 2003's "Let's Make a
Deal" remake with Billy Bush at the helm. To say it went
over like a lead balloon would be generous. Fastforward
two and a half years, and we get essentially the same
game with "Deal or No Deal". That is the new killer app.
Basically put, you buy a
well-established concept, you take your chances. Chances
are greatly minimized for some reason when you go for a
show that no one in the mainstream has heard of.
And for what it's worth,
it looks like NBC is getting a return on its investment.
You can borrow a few elements from other shows that
work, but in the long run, you stand a better chance of
success, it appears, if no one sees it coming. Hell,
even "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" has to tip its
feathered cap at "The $64,000 Question."
So there you go, then. To
make a long story even longer, it's more economically
sound in the long run to do a knock off that works
instead of a by-the-book revival that doesn't.
So BJ, I hope that
answers your question. For what it's worth, it was a
doozie. My hat is off to you, Mr. Brown.
Chico Alexander thinks
that David Hasselhoff would probably be more respected a
guy if he didn't make fun of himself all the time.
E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.