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The Game Show Convention Center
November 5, 1999


The Need for Greed

        Two hours was too long....but it held my attention. The invariable comparisons to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? with the light show, music track and multiple choice questions will be made. However, Greed is a compelling television quiz show, even if the show needs attention to some details.
       Candidly, I am absolutely amazed at what Dick Clark and his staff managed to put together with barely 17 days to get a show on the air after the deal was made with Fox for Greed. True, a British prototype in Mob Rule was available to adapt; however, to develop the light show and set design and get Chuck Woolery prepared for this format in fewer than three weeks is nothing short of astounding.
       Fox was trying to create an event by staging the first two-hour game in television history. At times, the editing showed----particularly when Woolery had to explain the rules again in one game "for those who may have just joined us." When this show was first sold, Fox was looking at six half-hours. The problem with two hours is the viewer finds difficult remembering what and who was important about the first half-hour by the time the second hour ends.
       Woolery is an inspired choice for this show. Chuck still looks younger than his 58 years, yet has 25 years of experience in the game show format. This kind of show has to command authority and Chuck has it. Yet, he's folksy enough to make people remember Greed is still just a game, despite the high stakes. He seemed far more upbeat and energized in this setting than in the past two years with a Dating Game relegated to the insomnia hour in most markets. I've just plain always enjoyed Chuck and I'm glad to see him get a prime time shot.
       Yet, let's look at two elements of Greed: the game, itself, and the contestants. The game and its strategy of potentially killing off your teammates and being forced to rely on the decisions of someone else are what ultimately will sell this show. Unlike Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, unfortunately, the contestants on this show will not likely be memorable the next day, except to friends and family members.
       Greed is one of the few games in which a player is at the mercy of others (although one could argue having Cloris Leachman as your celebrity player on The $25,000 Pyramid could have a contestant begging for mercy), largely, in order to win. That's a twist, and an interesting enough one, to compel viewers. Having a team captain with veto power over the answers is another significant variation. The "Terminator" element after the $100,000 level, where a player can challenge and potentially eliminate another player---including the team captain---is a brilliant way of illuminating the show's theme of greed. Bounce your teammate and get a bigger share of the winnings, if you're so greedy.
       Yet, some attention needs to be paid to some flaws in this game. I could see a lot of first-time viewers of the game confused as having someone declare Christmas would be observed on Dec. 29 when it comes to how the jackpot splits are calculated. The producers have to devise for Chuck a clearer explanation of why a surviving Terminator challenger's winnings increase by a specific amount. Perhaps a graphic with the dollar figure at stake would help. Yet, still tough is to understand why Robert Abramoff went home with $300,000 of his team's half-million in the final game.
       Another problem: I don't like the idea of giving a player $10,000 merely for making a Terminator challenge. If one challenges another player and loses, why reward the contestant? That player is not a "victim of greed," as Chuck later described a losing challengee.
       This game is going to be far tougher than Millionaire for players to clear the final hurdle. In one part because a contestant only has a partial say-so over the team's answers. For another difficulty, increasing the numbers of multiple choices with each plateau will lower the odds of winning. When the second team Thursday night failed at $500,000 on a seven-choice question, despite a "Freebie" helper, you could see the irritation in the eyes of at least one of the surviving team members at the captain's decision to go forward.
       As for the contestants themselves, you have two problems---not enough time being spent developing their identities, or their personas. On Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the game is a one-on-one drama with the player and Regis Philbin. Those players have only themselves to blame if they lose. Regis spends careful time with each player to learn a story about them (Doug Van Gundy as the $12,000-a-year fiddle player, Doug Foster as a youth minister attempting to adopt a child, the "fat man" who can't stand the drama of waiting on an answer). Those stories lead to those winners becoming celebrities because we look on them vicariously as members of the family. Heavens, Ed Stash only made it to the final ten on WWTBAM? and was asked for interviews after his appearance.
       On Greed, they're making a mistake daytime game shows have made for years. The players quickly become first name (with a name tag, no less) contestants with no last name, no identity, no story behind them, other than being interchangeable with thousands of other game show players. Chuck may ask them what they'd do with $2 million. Yet, if you watched the entire two hours Thursday night, ask yourself if you can honestly remember what any of those people do for a living (other than the bouncer from Chicago, who had a funny moment with his introduction) without rewinding your videotape. Did you really care about a single individual winning the game on a personal basis, other than just for the suspense of the game? Will you remember any of these people by name tomorrow?
       In my opinion, which that and 55 cents will get you a cup of coffee at your local Waffle House, for prime time game/quiz shows to succeed opposite big-ticket comedy and drama entertainment, the viewer has to have not only a dramatic and suspenseful game, he or she has to have a reason to care about the players on a personal basis. Not enough time was spent with the players as individuals on Greed to flesh out those characteristics. Such a task is more formidable with more players on the set. Yet, rather than asking what they'd do with $2 million, I'd rather have Chuck probe more about the contestants as people. We may well find an interesting story in a few of them.
       Two other suggestions from this end. One, the camera is so wide and at such a side angle from the tote boards on the qualifying round, one is hard-pressed to see the answers on the left three contestants. Two, Chuck should have been told to spend more time with the winning players at the end of the final half-hour. Those people just split a half-million dollars and one of the team members became the second-biggest cash winner in network quiz show history. The victory called for a far larger celebration and perhaps even a post-game set of follow-up interviews with the three survivors, rather than a qualifying game for the next week. The winners should have been the thought of last impression.
       The ratings will dictate a lot about this show. However, the problems I've pointed out are far from insurmountable and, considering how fast this show was rushed to air, not unexpected. I'll just drive home again these points: Greed is a compelling game, though a little complex in communicating the nuances of the winners' splits. The host is a winner, as he always is. The sets, the music, and the unorthodox strategy of the game are all interesting. What we need is more time with the players on a personal basis. Jeopardy did such a beautiful job with its undefeated champion Eddie Timanus two weeks ago and its ratings were up nearly 15 per cent. Give contestants time to tell more of their own personal stories. Give them more than first-name identities. Give us a reason to care about whether they win. If you're going to compete in prime time, you have to make celebrities out of the players and you do that by giving the audience personal reasons to root for them. Greed has a genuine chance if these weaknesses can be addressed.
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