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It's the Format, Stupid - December 7

Everyone did the whole "It's the _____, Stupid" feature. Now it's my turn.

Part 1: The Battle for Wednesday Nights...

In one corner, William Shatner and 13 leggy lovelies.

In the other, Tyra Banks... and 13 leggy lovelies.

William Shatner's "Show Me the Money" took the "Deal or No Deal" mold and added an interesting trivia game that you have to play out.

Tyra Banks' "America's Next Top Model" took the "American Idol" mold and added... models.

Amazingly enough, one was given enough time to spawn into another manner of beast, combining the best elements of any reality show you can think of (panel of judges, challenges, manufactured drama, product placements). The other... just continued to chug along its dark and lonesome road to nowhere in particular.

Even as the one with the chimerism syndrome laughs it all the way to the bank, and a well deserved rest until "Beauty and the Geek" ends, the other... just sits there. Idly. Waiting for something... ANYTHING... to make it explode.

The little voice in my head (I call him "Bubba", mainly because of his sunglasses, bandanna, cigarette, five o'clock shadow, and tattoo that reads "I heart Mom") is saying, "Get to the damn point, will ya!" The point is this. The difference between the two this week, one-tenth. "Top Model" ended up the big winner with a 5.4/8, compared to "Show Me's" 5.3/8. Granted, both time slots for both networks were down from the year before, but given the CW's raison d'etre as a niche network for the youth of our country, the news is quite good for Tyra and her friends. For the Shat and his friends... Not so much.

Begs the question of why ABC went ahead and kept it on the schedule for January. It's not a placeholder for the ever-potent "Dancing with the Stars". Not a place holder for anything, actually. It's just ... there. And no one really knows why, especially after the whole "Maggie May" deal last week. More on that in another column, though.

Four words: "It's the format, stupid." Millions of people are convinced that they know what to expect from "Top Model". Beautiful women all vying for one top honor, to become something a little more than Peter Brady's trophy wife and something a little less than host of a fashion-help show on Style. And that is not a dig on Yoanna; I've actually seen an ep of the second season of "The Look for Less"... Not a bad job.

With "Show Me the Money", outside of the game and what it is, the only thing we know for certain is that, win or lose, William Shatner's going to be daffy to the point of comic ... umm, genius?

In the end, format wins over gimmick. Also, it didn't hurt much that it was the season finale and that the winner was going to be announced for all the world to hear. Now let's see if she'll go the high route of Eva Pigford or the low route of Naima... err, whatever her name was.

Part 2: The Match Game

If you're like me, you've been waiting on pins, needles, and whatever other sharp objects you can find for GSN's hour-long advertisement for "The Best of Match Game" on DVD, "The Real Match Game: Behind the Blank."

Okay, so it wasn't an advertisement. At least not on the level that "Big Bucks" may have been conveniently played on the same night as the season premiere of "Whammy!" some years ago. But let's be real here.

The show itself got a 0.7 on a network that gets a 0.5 on a good day, "Playmania" notwithstanding. That's good. It means that we should hope for more of these "Behind the Music"-esque shows. Give me one on "The Price is Right" without the brooding angst that screamed "Our network was controlled 39% by an entity that has something airing on opposite the show five times a week". I mean, have you seen the show? How true is that Hollywood story anyway?

But not poor pretense-less GSN. I'm not going to say that it's was all roses and sunshine and cute little puppies with anime eyes. But at least you get a balanced story that isn't bad or good, it's just a story. And from that, you make your own decisions. For example, it's a foregone conclusion that the 1990 version of "Match Game" is as close as we're ever going to get from the good old days. Okay, so that's just what I got from it, but the point is that you can't really catch lightning in a bottle with something like "Match Game".

But you can with the story behind it.

The Weekly Rant, or Part 3.

I wanted to write about why "Set for Life" matters for us gamers in the up and coming months, but then, something happened that may render my entire argument moot.

Just when we were getting ready for an upswing in new game show action, Howie Mandel went and ruined everything. After nearly a year of braving a new world in his career and then taking "Deal or No Deal" into his own heart and making it one of the top draws on television, he has decided that there's no way he'll do it again in daytime. A quote from a news article detailing the move...

"A deal by NBC Universal to bring Howie Mandel to a prospective 30-minute syndicated edition of Deal or No Deal has collapsed, according to people familiar with the situation.

"Stations have refused to commit to the project until they see a host. Comic actor Mark Curry has also been mentioned as a candidate."

(from B&C's website)

I guess I'm being too hard on him. After all, he has a stage act as well as TWO, count'em TWO versions of "Deal or No Deal" on his plate, one of them airing on NBC seemingly whenever there's a schedule plug that needs to be filled. But when he opted out of the daytime version of "Deal", it may have just knocked the wind out of our sails.

Let's consider the following...

- NBC has been looking long and hard on who should host the series. The three main candidates -- Mandel, Arsenio Hall, and Mark Curry -- all have experience in the hosting field, with "Deal", "Star Search", and "Don't Forget Your Toothbrush" respectively. NBC and Endemol look to be taking as great care with this project as they did with "Weakest Link" back in 2002. Granted, George Gray was no Anne Robinson, but he didn't need to be. If Anne was the school's headmistress, then George was the troublemaker in the back giving her 15 flavors of grief. Methinks NBC is looking for someone who can be "Howie Mandel.... but not." Good move.

- There are two big projects that Sony is pushing ever forward with for fall in a remake of "The Joker's Wild" and John Ricci Jr.'s "Combination Lock". Their success is highly dependent on how big the game shows that are already on the air are. Both formats, by what I've seen and heard, work. But if I'm a syndicator in the early 21st Century looking for a big return on my comparably cheap programming, I'm not looking for the Michael Burgers or the Todd Newtons of the world to host them. I'm looking for the Donny Osmonds and the Richard Karns. I'm looking for a name that will attract people. Then we can trap them in with a solid product.

- There seems to be a mentality that attracts the two facets in this brave new world of game show globalization, and it's this... and imagine me in the gruffest of voices, and perhaps a foreign accent of some sort wouldn't hurt either, saying here (and anyone who's ever heard me talk will imagine that that will be hard), but... "This is how you create a hit game show in America today. Not with a solid game, but with a solid product."

- Early indications suggest that the big four game shows, as well as ET, The Insider, Dr. Phil, Oprah, at least one court show, maybe two, and Rachael Ray, among others, will return for new seasons in 2007. And let's be honest. There are more prospective products out there than there are time slots to fill them all.

Seems to me at least like the people who get paid not to think about this sort of thing (which, coincidentally, hold the same ranks as those who thought William Shatner would be a great game show host) are holding firm to the first point, that a name, more than the format, will make the show.  And judging on whether or not that mentality succeeds, the other points may fall by the wayside.

In short, as much as it pains me to say it, the future of the current game show trend may hang on NBC finding a better Howie than Howie. Until we arrive to an age where people who, again, get paid more than I do to not think of this sort of thing know better, we're just going to have to let the rest fall into place.

Not outside the realm of possibility... They just need to know where to look.

Chico Alexander will do "Set for Life" if ABC is willing to do it. E-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com

 

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