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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 2005...

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 million viewers.

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 Stars"...

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 18-49.

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 findings.

In Syndication...

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 million viewers.

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 eliminated.

To answer BJ's question in short answer form... Four words: "American Idol" ruined everything.

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 digress.

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


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