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The Game Show Convention Center
March 30, 2000

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There Goes the Family Hour, What's Left of It

       Here we go again.
       We can't say we weren't warned. The Fox promos for World's Funniest Game Show Moments were explicit enough. The show carried a TV-14 rating and "D" and "L" (for sexual discussions and explicit language) labels attached. Even the on-air warnings of a "graphic nature" for parental discretion were offered twice.
       However, this special did more to destroy what crumb of a family viewing hour is left on network television than five weeks of the series it pre-empted, Beverly Hills 90210.
       Never let it be said Rupert Murdoch runs a family network. When Greed is the only show on your network which consistently draws a TV-G rating, that tells you something.
       However, I can tell you one thing with every degree of assurance: any one of you could have produced that special. All you need to do is start with a premise: let's tell one 58-minute-long sex joke. Then, find the clips or outtakes to fit your theme.
       As this is written, about five hours after the special aired, the ratings are not yet available. I remember the charm of the Carl Reiner-hosted special, Those Great American Game Shows, and the one William Shatner did with the classic Goodson-Todman hosts in the mid-1980s. Both of those hours did solid ratings without any off-color jokes or racy outtakes. The spontaneity and natural humor of the clips sold those shows with the audiences.
       Conversely, narrator Richard Dawson went right for the jugular with a nine-minute barrage of sexual material off the top which left nothing to the imagination, much less what little sense of shame remains in American culture.
       Mind you, some of you who read this space probably laughed uproariously. We live in a society which today equates sexual explicitness with fun and games. One extraordinary contrast was striking. A Dating Game clip from the '70s featured a young woman who revealed to the three bachelors she had a two-and-a-half year-old daughter. The young man she was questioning expressed shock. "Just because I have a baby doesn't mean I have to be married," the bachelorette exclaimed. "Where I come from, you do," the contestant shot back. A seminal moment in television. Even with changing mores, that young man probably had a lot of silent support from the home viewers. Today, much of the audience---desensitized as it is to any type of entertainment shame---probably mentally lampooned the guy.
       All television is not going to be Touched By an Angel, Seventh Heaven, Providence or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, for that fact, though a much better balance of family vs. "adult" fare ought to exist. In the last four years alone, networks have been shown an audience exists for family-friendly material if the shows are well-written, have quality production values, and don't insult the public's intelligence. What the issue boils down to is whether enough executives want to produce that kind of programming. The easy way out in the '90s and the '00s continues to be the sex joke. Get a Saturday Night Live demographic audience and you get the howls.
       From this corner, the Fox special is or at least should be a total embarrassment to the genre. Particularly for a show airing at 7 p.m. in the Central time zone. The show may have been representative of what game shows had frequently deteriorated into before the recent quiz revival. However, the show hardly struck a balance of what game shows have provided as a collective work. Yet, if those ratings are good (and the show aired in the time slot where Twenty-One performed its best before NBC massacred it), we'll see Fox inflict more of it.
       All I ask is a balance. I saw none on that Fox special. As Dawson exclaimed five minutes into the show, "What's the best way to lower a game show to its lowest common denominator? Sex." Touche, Richard!

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