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October 21, 2000

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Fall 2000: First Month Game Show Fallout

       No, we haven't been out to lunch---just waiting to get a feel of where the games, both old and new, are standing after their first-month shakeout of the new season. Accordingly, here's our 2-Minute Drill take on the fall so far....
   WWTBAM: Sure, we've seen an erosion---as we predicted here---to the 12-14 range from what was often 16-18 last season (except with sweeps stunts). So what? This is on the same par as what happened in the second season of The $64,000 Question in the '50s. Guess what else? Except with a blockbuster Monday Night Football matchup, ABC does not boast a stronger show.
   Truth is, this is the expected shakeout for this show. Younger people don't stay with game shows long. The biggest loss is in the 18-39 age bracket but the 40-and-overs are solid. Yep, four a week is one too many but ABC has nothing in development which would perform as well on that fourth night. However, if CBS opts to send Survivor opposite one of them, I still say watch that episode tuck tail to Fridays at 9.
   Serious holes won't be felt here until the show falls to regular 6s and 7s. That's the point where ABC and Buena Vista will move this to prime access syndication.
   We'll deal with the changes in the qualifying game in a separate column. However, one suggestion for a special week: bring on classic TV legends to play. Jerry Mathers, Alan Alda, Bill Shatner, Andy Griffith, Carroll O'Connor, Max Baer Jr., Elinor Donahue, Lucie Arnaz, Mary Tyler Moore, Henry Winkler, Marla Gibbs, Marlo Thomas, June Lockhart, Billy Mumy, Joyce Randolph and Cindy Williams would be a terrific pool to draw ratings.

   To Tell the Truth: Second glance has John O'Hurley getting better and better than our initial review of him as an emcee. He's more comfortable and no one could have treated Kitty Carlisle Hart with any more respect. He deserves a medal for having to referee Paula Poundstone.
   However, the show badly needs to settle on two more permanent panelists (three, if the producers can't tone down Poundstone) who can play the game. Patrick Duffy ought to be a regular. Someone other than a token blonde bimbo ought to fill that fourth slot. Again, a competent female sportscaster such as Andrea Joyce, Lesley Visser or Beth Ruyak would be a good choice.
   Initial prediction: if the producers don't see a need for some adjustments, not even time period upgrades will give this one a second year.

   The Price Is Right: The Triple Play game is a great new addition because it's going to be a hard one to win. Barker still has his humor going and is even more self-deprecating with his "going to the rest home" jokes.
   However, as tough as this is to say, either Rod Roddy ought to regain his zip and enthusiasm or step aside. The first two or three shows of the new season, Rod appeared to have his energy----however, all last week, he said "come on down" with the zest of a mortician and delivered the Showcase descriptions with the verve of a first-time speech student reading a manuscript.

   Family Feud: I don't know if anything will tweak this show one way or another. Louie's Louie and you can take him or leave him.
   The show actually began to rally at mid-summer and once tied Hollywood Squares with a 3.3 rating. The start has been relatively slow this fall, suggesting perhaps college students home for the break may have swelled the numbers. As long as this stays in the 2-3 range, it'll have a renewal.

   History IQ: This is the most intelligent of the new offerings because it genuinely requires one to have knowledge of world and domestic events and newsmakers throug hthe years. Plus, Marc Summers is pleasingly toned down from his Double Dare frenetics (almost too much so).
   However, I do wish Dana Calderwood had done more than merely clone Ultimate Fan Search in the preliminary rounds. The biggest flaw with the end game isn't the game itself, which is a good challenge and a justifiably tough one to win the $25,000. The computer engineers need to readjust the system for contestants to make the matches because too many are having a difficult time making the matchups electronically.

   Supermarket Sweep: This one is already getting a pickup for 2001 from PAX and is somewhat becoming the seventh network's flagship game. This is a show, like TPIR, where a little tweak or alteration in the mechanics of the game keeps interest.
   David Ruprecht ought to bring Joyce DeWitt on for a celebrity run down the aisles, since he "married" her 16 years ago on Three's Company. The addition of Randy West is an inspired one because he delivers the play-by-play as if he was sitting in the bleachers commenting to his friends. The descriptions are cheesy and they should be----that's what sells this show. This show has never made any pretense to be a threat to Shakespeare. It's just pure fun.

   Wheel of Fortune: Again, another tweak here and there. The buzz-in puzzle at the start of the show just adds a twist which, as Tom Kennedy has said: "If you're going to make changes to a game, make them subtle, gradual."
   They're making the puzzles tougher in the bonus with the one and two-word phrases with limited numbers of vowels. A couple of suggestions: at least hike the top dollar prize at the end to $50,000 and in keeping with the show's theme, go to a wheel spin to determine the final prize. This one will still be on top until ABC moves Millionaire to syndication.

   Jeopardy!: They're already beefing up the number of special weeks because while overall numbers were up, this show actually lost more 18-49s last year than did Wheel.
   Two suggestions: beef up the pot for the Tournament of Champions winner to $500,000 and promote it all year long; and Alex needs to finally let go of the yapping, even subtly, about Millionaire. Even if it's a joke, it's getting old.

   Street Smarts: : This is the purely drop-dead funniest new game in years but the producers are running a big risk here and I hope they realize it.
   In the first three weeks, 60 per cent of the contestants are selecting the African American street players, which is bordering very close on exploiting the old stereotype of the "dumb black," with some of the answers offered. If SS was not a late-night show, I have a feeling some major-market critics would have already called their hands. Same thing goes with the "dumb blonde" exploitation.
   One suggestion: this show does not need sex questions, even as a late offering, to be funny. That's almost a gratuitous effort to get Ric Flair whoops out of the young audience. The show is hilarious just asking street players about normal events in the news, history and from the dictionary. Leave the cheap questions at home. It's funny enough to draw younger viewers without them.

   Hollywood Squares: Whether it was the Emmy or whether just a natural evolution, Tom Bergeron has emerged as one of the best in the business and that's no surprise. He was terrific on the old Fox breakfast show until that went network and the executives all tampered with it.
   What that has served to do is neutralize Whoopi Goldberg's domination which overpowered this show in the first season back. The director does not feel the need to cut to Whoopi's box on every player's question now. The show can survive fine without her if she were to leave tomorrow.
   For airing in daytime in most of the U.S., this game still has an overabundance of overt sex questions, particularly for the Thursday and Friday editions when the backstage wine has taken its toll on the celebs. However, clearly this is Bergeron's show now----as well it should be.

   Battlebots: What can I say! This is pro wrestling with robots and reminds me of the humor one used to draw from Almost Anything Goes when Charlie Jones and Lynn Shackleford would call the action straight.
   Probably a fad show but it's already Comedy Central's highest-rated show and looks to have a lot more legs than Don't Forget Your Toothbrush.

   2-Minute Drill: This one isn't going to pack in a lot of females but it's the game ABC should have developed with its now-aborted Mastermind.
   This is as tense as any game on television and is a tough test for the experts. The idea of bringing on sportscasters and athletes as the questioners is an extra hook and Kenny Mayne's dry wit ("We have a great collection of seedless grapes backstage as you leave") is a plus.
   If, indeed, we have a protracted strike next year, this show would not be a bad addition to ABC's lineup as a weekly for a short-term basis on a Friday or Saturday night.
       Overall, of the new syndie offerings, we don't have a standout winner. Street Smarts has had the makings of a late-night success but a 1.5 rating does not make one a hit. Truth is looking more and more on a ratings track of 1998's Match Game.
       On cable, Battlebots and 2-Minute Drill are the early winners, though both are not strong with women. History IQ is a tougher early draw, particularly with its lack of female contestants.
       However, even with an expected slippage because of the young audience's departure, we still have one head-and-shoulders king. Millionaire is already beating back Bette Midler and has rallied back to overcome its Thursday night sitcom opposition in two weeks. Yeah, the show is due for another millionaire soon but you can't guarantee those unless you fix it. The critics have abandoned it and are salivating for the return of Survivor. Let's see which has the longer legs.

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