GSN: Could We Think More Outside the Box?
Game Show Network is, for me, like an uncle who sends you a dollar for Christmas and you wish it was ten. When it premiered in 1994, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I have acquaintances who work with the organization. I realize the constraints under which they often work. I'm glad we have GSN. I only wish it would be more than what it was.
I made a comment a couple of days ago about outside-the-box thinking. Sometimes when companies are under financial pressures and demographic pressures, as Game Show Network surely has been in its six-year history, original and innovative thinking is genuinely difficult.
For those of us game show purists, when the network premiered with five nights a week from the classic Goodson-Todman library with shows which had not been seen, in some instances, in 45 years, GSN was like a toy store. To see Bud and Garry and John and Allen light the landscape all over again was a game fanatic's dream.
For all intents, GSN was only available to satellite dish owners in those early months. Peter Tomarken wasn't even sure if anyone was watching that first December night, so he asked for faxes. Mine was the first Peter read on the air.
The pressures and demands of demographics, demographics, demographics----getting younger viewers so cable system operators will find your network attractive to add----ultimately meant GSN could not stay the way it was. Nostalgia would have to give way, except in the designated pocket of Sunday night as it is now. Clearly, younger people (unless it's a Nick at Nite/TV Land classic, such as The Andy Griffith Show or Leave It to Beaver are not going to invest in a predominantly black-and-white network.
We won't detail the various evolutions of this network. At times, the perception has been GSN has been tossing lineup cards against the wall hoping something will stick.
I was encouraged when GSN finally opted to produce some original shows----until I saw what most of them were. If you're going to make an evolution to a younger-skewing network, you have to do it more subtly with game shows---in my opinion---than what GSN attempted. With the exception of Inquizition, which I found awfully infectious---thanks to the touch of Sande Stewart, GSN began resembling Comedy Central wannabes. Extreme Gong was enough to make Chuck Barris's original appear to be a Shakespearean triumph. Throut and Neck was what was once pitched to me by a former GSN p.r. specialist as "an interactive game that'll knock your socks off." Thank you, my socks stayed quite attached during my few viewings of that disaster. You've heard me write enough about how I found Burt Luddin's Love Buffet one of the most insulting and revolting half-hours ever. Parody is one thing. This one pandered to the traditional critics of games worldwide. Plus, the show was just plain bad.
All New 3's a Crowd has managed to attract some semblance of audience but I never liked the All Old 3's a Crowd because I've never been a fan of relationship shows. This version is merely a conduit for young women, primarily in this case, to say every little filthy thing they can think to utter. Things which were considered shocking or risque 15 years ago. Things which today just make those nightclubesque audiences yell like Ric Flair.
Hollywood Showdown is a well-produced show with a reasonable budget for cable and, aided by the PAX airings, gave GSN something which respects the genre. Yet, PAX has shifted the show to late-night and Showdown hasn't been a ball of fire in the GSN numbers (around an 0.4). At least for a while we've been treated to the brilliant Todd Newton, who should be around a long, long time (please, please don't give him a relationship show in the future!!!).
Two months ago, GSN announced a platter of five new game shows----most of which were more than "edgy" (gracious, I hate that word like the last spoonful of Castoria I had)----and if they get on and more than one is a success, I will tip my cap to Jake Tauber. Economics may be dictating we will not see some of those offerings, which may be a distinct contribution to our mental health.
So what are the out-of-the-box ideas for a network like this? Some which financially may not be feasible. However, if I were thinking of something which would get people to sample my network, here are a few suggestions:
---Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Unless ABC or Buena Vista has a legal block on this, I'd try to negotiate with Celador for the British version with Chris Tarrant. More than 100 episodes have been produced and the show would no doubt attract a quality cross-section of demographics.
---Greed: This has the edgy qualities which GSN has been seeking, along with the demographics. The Fox version could be chopped into 85 half-hours because of the way the soon-to-expire version was edited. That's 17 weeks of shows. Strip them. Run them three times, then go for a co-production deal with Dick Clark Productions and/or Pearson (which has the international rights) for a joint cable/syndication run of a new half-hour stripped version in 2001-02. So what if you scale down the jackpots? If the game's good, it'll work. That is, if Jefferson Lanz doesn't win his suit.
---Press Your Luck: Regardless of where one goes, when I talk to college students I teach and people in their 30s and early 40s, this is the show which keeps ringing back in their minds. They'd love to see "big bucks, no whammies" back on the air. Why not negotiate with Bill Carruthers and try to get this back on in a new version? Yep, the set would be expensive and Carruthers supposedly has set a high price for it. Okay, if you want to get an audience, pay the price.
---More marathons: Old ideas are not necessarily bad ones. GSN has totally abandoned, with the exception of the nicely-handled A Very Garry Christmas last December, the idea of theme-related marathons from its library on holidays. That surely seems to work for Sci-Fi with its Twilight Zone specials, with WPIX in New York for its Honeymooners extravaganzas and TV Land for some of its recent classic weekends. Do things on holidays to attract attention----ANYTHING!
---Name That Tune: The Tom Kennedy episodes still exist. They are in Ralph Edwards' vault. They haven't been seen in 20 years. They're in color. They're fast-paced. They have drama. Nobody will pay Edwards' price but nobody's asked in recent years.
---You Bet Your Life: Okay, it's black-and-white. However, the Groucho shows are as funny today as they were in 1950 when they started. Young people still go for him. They've been off the market on cable for eight years.
---Expand Classic Sundays to Classic Saturdays: Let's face it. Saturday nights on most cable networks (except during football and basketball season for the sports webs) are throwaways. They're just like talk radio airing vet and garden shows on Saturday mornings and afternoons. Get somebody watching. Expand that classic Sunday night block to Saturdays. Sure doesn't hurt TV Land when it runs those 48-hour blocks of black-and-white classics on selected weekends.
---Hire a Quality Emcee to Anchor Prime Time: The best thing which helped GSN to launch in 1994 was having a well-known face in Peter Tomarken to serve as the thread through the evening's lineups. You don't even have to do these things live. If you had a Chuck Woolery or a Tomarken or a Wink Martindale or even a Todd Newton doing taped wraparounds during the 7-to-11 block, you'd have a defining presence for viewers to lock into weeknights.
Renew The Price Is Right reruns: I wish I had $5 for every e-mail I've had from viewers wanting to know when GSN is going to get those TPIR episodes back. Do it! Do it! Do it!
No doubt, I'll receive some responses telling me why these ideas are unworkable. Some of them probably are. However, as one who has seen this network, which I have had a passion for since its premiere, operating as an erratically-moving hurricane at times, these are ideas which I genuinely feel would strike a balance between the young audiences Sony and cable operators are pressuring the network to deliver and the over-40s, who tend to feed most of traditional game show viewership.
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