Monday, September 26, 2016

GSN prime time

At Game Show Network News Scott Rahner has posted a long disquisition on GSN's prime time ratings.

He uses Nielsen numbers provided by the tireless Son of the Bronx, Douglas Pucci, and slices and dices them 47 ways. I'll spare you all the gory numerical details - though as a retired actuary I love this number crunching - and cut to the chase (no reference to Mark Labbett, at least not yet). In GSN prime time Winsanity and Idiotest drop a big chunk of the lead-in audience provided by Steve Harvey's Family Feud.

This is hardly a secret. GSN relies enormously on Mr. Harvey for their prime time numbers. Nothing else the network has tried recently in the evening window has drawn a lot of viewers. Once upon a time (not long ago) GSN got very decent viewer totals for The Chase and Chain Reaction. In fact, none other than Mark Labbett has bragged that The Chase actually built on the viewer totals from its Family Feud lead-in.

But then along came demos. GSN execs have long since gotten tired of hearing that their network skews older than Methuselah in his declining years...or at least older than anything this side of the cable news networks. So they've been trying feverishly to lower GSN's median viewer age. Although The Chase and Chain Reaction piled up nice viewer numbers, they suffered the traditional old skew of traditional game shows.

So in came stuff like Idiotest and Hellevator, plus the reality shows GSN has dabbled in. These shows rarely (if ever) wow anybody with total viewer numbers, but they do skew younger.

After a while, though, lowering the median viewer age only does so much good. If your show gets seven viewers and four of them are twenty-somethings, your median viewer age will look pretty young. (This almost literally describes the ratings for Hellevator late in its first season.) You won't sell much advertising time, though. And as anybody can see from watching GSN, a lot of the advertisers are still aiming for older folks, anyway. So maybe the demo chase - again, no reference to Mark Labbett here - is a futile one for GSN. Why not get as many viewers as you can and worry about demos later?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

TPiR thanks Millionaire

Game shows have never been shy about borrowing from each other.

The practice dates back to at least the early 1950s, when Messrs. Goodson and Todman decided to rip off their own What's My Line with I've Got a Secret. The two shows eventually diverged quite a bit but started out as near clones.

The latest borrowing happened on The Price is Right this week with their new pricing game, "Hot Seat." Even the name comes from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, though the (figuratively) heated chair has long since disappeared from the current syndie.

Sure enough, the game features a money tree - well, actually a money thermometer (see the screenshot) - and if the contestant goofs anywhere on the way up, all the money goes away. I'll spoil the suspense by revealing that the happy player on the first run made it all the way to the top prize of 20 grand. Maybe they could have called it "Who Wants to Be a Twenty Thousandaire."

To climb the tree you simply have to guess if a dollar amount is above or below the price of a piece of merchandise. Five correct guesses and you're at the top of the tree, er, thermometer. It's a lot shorter trip than Millionaire. The YouTube comments are mostly favorable, if you want to know.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Final account

Today in Google News I saw an obit for Micki Marlo, a singer from the 1950s and 1960s. Normally the sad news wouldn't be of much relevance to this blog, but Micki happened to have a connection to our little genre, though a tenuous one. She co-hosted Charge Account, a game show segment on Jan Murray's NBC daytime show from 1960 to 1962.

The linked article from U.S. Game Shows Wiki doesn't mention Micki Marlo, but everybody else on the web seems agreed that she really did appear on the show. The publicity photo of her with Jan Murray also exists as visual evidence. Jan would draw letters from the contraption in the photo, and contestants would try to make as many three and four-letter words as they could with the letters. Pretty basic, but I assume the game was mainly a vehicle for Jan Murray's random wit.

The wiki article dumps on Charge Account as a "flop," which seems a little harsh. The show lasted for a couple years, after all. Micki Marlo also worked in a radio precursor to Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and she was a regular on Steve Allen's talk show. There's a long interview with her on a classic TV blog. R.I.P.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wheel of tax

Every now and then a story crops up about game show contestants paying taxes on their winnings. While I'm a devout anti-tax believer myself, I always have to smile a little at the thought that game show winnings are somehow exempt from one of life's two certainties.

The latest tempest in a taxable teapot concerns a Wheel of Fortune winner named Matt McMahan. He copped $16,400 in cash and (after some finagling) two vacations worth $10,800. This story and a couple others trumpet that he only wound up "$6,000 richer after all his taxes are paid."

Which, if you aren't paying close attention, might make you think that Mr. McMahan got socked with a 78% tax rate on his winnings. ($21,200 in taxes on his winnings of $27,200.)

Well, no. Matt's tax rate was actually a still steep 38%. ($10,400 in taxes on his winnings of $27,200.) Remember that Matt gets to enjoy his trips worth over ten grand, plus the after-tax six grand in cash. It's hardly like he's coming out behind on the deal.

Sure, a tax rate of 38% is still way too high, but what else do you expect from the Feds combining with tax-happy California? Matt, maybe you can get Wheel to move its production to my home state, Texas. There's no state income tax around here.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Daytime mastery

CBS recently bragged about how they've dominated daytime broadcast TV for ninety-nine years or so.

The eye network's (warning, Variety speak) twin pillars of game show, The Price is Right and Let's Make a Deal, are holding up their end of the daytime edifice. Both are doing boffo box office, according to the Nielsen beancounters. The one trick that CBS missed might have been a Pyramid remake in the daytime. (They messed around with the idea but never committed.) The show has worked for ABC in prime time pretty well.

As the linked Cinema Blend story admits, daytime is hardly the most prestigious window in the TV day. Critics tend to look down their noses at the daylight hours as a vast wasteland of uncool stuff, unlike Game of Thrones and all those other buzzy shows that pundits love to talk to each other about. But I'm sure CBS will take the very nice revenue stream from the old reliables in the sunshine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Board of the game

So I was watching the season debut of Celebrity Name Game, and there's a blurb for the home version of the game. That made a weird kind of sense, because they play the game on a home-like set. Well, the set isn't really too homey but Craig Ferguson does shout out to imaginary celebs walking past the imaginary windows. "Hi George Clooney! Hi Gwyneth Paltrow!"

So I scrounged around the web and came up with this review of the show's home game. You get score chips, 150 double-sided cards, and an electronic timer, which is no doubt better than an hourglass. In fact, Celebrity Name Game is supposedly based on another board game called Identity Crisis. Of course, the show is really a knockoff of Pyramid, but that's a little awkward for the showrunners to admit.

So we've now got a board game version of a TV game show which is allegedly based on another board game but is really copied from another TV game show. I like Celebrity Name Game - even put it at #25 on my list of the top fifty game shows of all time - but I probably won't invest in the home game. It's a lot easier to sit back and yell clues at the TV screen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ratings: last week of summer for syndies

The week of September 5-11 was the last period before new eps of syndie game shows began to roll out. So it's no surprise that the numbers were generally blah. But Chris Harrison had a little something to be happy about. TV News Check has the household ratings...

Family Feud 6.2 - down a tick
Wheel of Fortune 5.4 - down a couple ticks
Jeopardy 5.0 - down a couple ticks like the Sony soulmate
Celebrity Name Game 1.3 - what else, flat at its usual number
Millionaire 1.3 - actually up a tick for the perennial cellar dweller

The ABC game shows have been drooping as their seasons went on and the competition got tougher. Match Game closed out its first season with 4.4 million viewers and a 0.9 18-49 rating. The show's seen better days.

GSN got pretty much their average numbers for the September 12-18 week. 445K/287K/438K viewers prime time/total day/extended prime time. The network ranked 35th, 31st and 36th in the windows.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Breathless revelation

Don't often get around to the game show board on Sitcoms Online. But I saw a thread today with the oddball title: "Just Found Out That the Game Show Tattletales Was A Sham!" Hm, they rigged that silly little relationship show? Well, no. Instead, the "sham" was that the more or less openly gay Charles Nelson Reilly appeared on the show with female teammates.

Of course, other posters on the board laughed off the breathless revelation about CNR on Tattletales, which was old news four decades ago. Then they discussed other gay celebs on the show, and somebody also noted that Richard Dawson showed up with whatever lady he happened to be dating at the time. There was a final comment about Buzzr cutting back Tattletales on their new all-Match-Game-and-Family-Feud-all-the-time schedule.

I always thought Tattletales was the weak-tea version of Newlywed Game, but the show gets some respect and notice on the game show Interwebs. It snuck onto Game Show Forum's list of 50 oldies, er, greatest, and Buzzr still gives the show a little air time. Even I'll admit that Bert Convy was his usual cheerful and competent self as the host.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Deadly sin

Hellevator returns to GSN for an abbreviated four-episode season starting October 7. I kind of liked the first season last year, though I thought they overdid the back stories, fake blood and body parts, and faux dread. Come on, the contestants couldn't have been as scared as the production tried to make them look. They all knew it was just a game show.

But enough of my nitpicks. The twisted Soska twins are back for more horror-story fun and games. At Game Show Network News Scott Rahner has posted a review of the new season's first ep. GSN gave him a sneak peek. (By the way, I'm never sure if I should accept when a network offers me a preview of a new show. I usually want to go into a show's premiere with no preconceptions. But opinions differ.)

Based on what I can glean from the review, the gameplay has changed some, especially in the final round. Scott says the pace also seems to have improved, though he concedes that the new episodes don't really contain any more actual gameplay. I thought the pace dawdled badly last year, thanks in part to the absurdly detailed back stories for each ep. This year we're getting "deadly sins" as the theme. Hope they don't waste too much time on the phony theology.

After an encouraging start Hellevator crashed and burned in the ratings last year. The numbers got uglier than the show's bogus blood and viscera. I don't expect any big ratings rebound this year, but at least GSN is hedging their bet with the reduced episode order.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Remember that show?

The Emmys are tomorrow night.

Normally this would cue one of my rants about show biz self-love. But if you read this blog at all, you've already heard that rant. So I'll skip to the host of the Emmys, Jimmy Kimmel. In particular, I'll link to this Telegraph story about the late-night host and one-time participant in our little genre. In fact, he's supposedly returning to the genre with Big Fan, based on his talk show segment about, you guessed it, big fans of show biz celebs.

Even after all these years the Telegraph feels compelled to recount Jimmy's days on Win Ben Stein's Money. This show has developed something of a legend, though (or because) it's been out of production for almost a decade and a half. It's even one of the very few game shows from the last quarter-century to make Game Show Forum's list of the best 50.

One of the oddities about the show is how it flopped on GSN when the network tried reruns in 2004. GSN acquired a nice selection of episodes and gave the show a good timeslot and plenty of promotion. There was just one problem: the audience couldn't stand the loony quizzer. Ben and Jimmy quickly vanished from the erring game show network, never to be seen again.

I dunno, maybe GSN's viewers thought Messrs. Stein and Kimmel were jerks. Or they didn't appreciate the goofball humor. Or they saw the show as a parody instead of a real game show (which was true to some extent). Sometimes things don't work out, even for a future late-night star.

UPDATE: It breaks my heart to report that this year's Emmys were the least watched ever. Sure, broadcast ratings of all kinds continue to plummet, but it's extra nice to see show biz self-congratulation hit the skids.