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November 12, 1999


Big Night But Some Are Mad

        What a night! I don't care what any critic of game or quiz shows in America says. We fools who have waited for this genre to take charge for more than a quarter-century could not help but be compelled Thursday night. Yet, a bit of a backlash is brewing, if my e-mail is any indication.
       To show you how life has become for me, I had to attend a speech by General Colin Powell Thursday night to raise money for my university's scholarship fund. Full house. Compelling speech. Steve is sitting in the crowd----with his Watchman and a pair of earbuds to see Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I had to restrain myself when Gary Levine passed on his $500,000 question on The Sound of Music, a film I've probably seen more times than any other.
       I had the "need for Greed but we don't have a local Fox affiliate in Jackson available over-the-air, so I had to wait to see the videotape when I arrived home at 11:30.
       Levine was a terrific contestant. So what if he is a dentist? He had that edge of a New York personality which made him endearing. Oh, if he'd just known the Von Trapps a bit better. To see him tie Michael Shutterly would have forced me to leave the local Civic Center.
       Greed was much better as an hour than two hours. Plus, you had a compelling team which probably exemplified the title of the show better than any of the previous combos from the first week.
       However, I am in the camp with the 60 per cent of the 60-40 split from my e-mailbox who are upset with how the final rounds were extended with instant replays and lengthy/increasing commercial breaks toward the end of the show. I'm not furious, nor am I in the camp of a few who wrote to say they won't watch the show in protest for what they feel was manipulating a cliffhanger. Yet, while I was watching the clock, I saw exactly what was coming.
       Welcome to the world of creative game show editing and pacing of the new millenium. Greed won't be the last, nor is it the first to employ such tactics. Michael Davies has made decisions to creatively edit Millionaire, such as when Doug Foster's 14-minute deliberation over a question was chopped down to six, to accommodate an extra contestant here or there, or to build drama in the show.
       This is nothing new in television. Roone Arledge pioneered in the technique with the Olympics. Nowhere was it more evident than when he built the drama in 1976 until Dorothy Hamill was the last athlete to appear in a three-hour prime time airing of the Winter Games and won the figure skating gold medal. Rarely does NBC give a real-time airing of the Games. Check out 1996 in Atlanta when Kerri Strug's final leap (which, in retrospect, was not necessary to win the gymnastic team gold medal for the U.S.) was taped earlier and held until the end of the show to keep the audiencein suspense.
       The problem with what happened with Greed is the producers were too obvious in what they were executing by dragging out the finish and holding it for a cliffhanger to next week. Heavens, soaps have done it for years. Dick Clark and Bob Boden needed to be more subtle.
       Yet, despite the anger of some viewers, one cannot argue Greed was an attention-grabber and the biggest key for me going into next week is the three survivors are on their own, not reliant on each other's decision whether to go for the ultimate jackpot.
       The one contestant I genuinely felt sorry for was Jackie Brinkman, the historian from Montevallo, Ca. When Curtis Warner challenged her as a Terminator, Jackie was crushed. No doubt in my mind when she said, "Why me?," she was sincere. Yet, that's the way the game is played.
       My biggest irritation is not over the cliffhanger (face it, we hardcores are going to be more critical of that than casual viewers who are just getting hooked on game shows again). It's that either Fox or someone affiliated with Greed leaked the likely result to a reporter. We did report the information; however, our policy is going to be to put a disclaimer and a "spoiler" warning on any such finish, as we did this time, to urge you not to read the story if you want to isolate yourself from the finish. For my money, the fun of the new shows is not knowing the finish. That's why I think Millionaire has the right idea of taping only one night in advance. In my opinion, Dick Clark and Bob Boden ought to do the same thing. If the shows aren't going to be live----and with as much high-tech involved, the risks would be enormous if the shows were in real-time----at least tape them on a one-day advance only. That's the most significant time protection against leaks, which only spoil the whole experience for everyone.
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