Game shows return to TV with a vengeance

Canadian shows like Spin Off, Pop Quiz and Match Game join Hollywood Game Night and Trust Me, I’m a Game Show Host

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Game shows were once the original reality TV. But over the years they have been passed over by glossier fare, a casualty of a Kardashian-obsessed world.

Perhaps in a backlash over a TV season rife with overt sexuality and serial killers as anti-heroes, broadcasters seem to have discovered once again the television equivalent of a cosy fireplace, where families once bonded over board games.

When the trivia game show Spin Off debuts this fall on CHCH Television, it will join a crowded field of new entrants and incumbents.

Spin Off joins Pop Quiz, which is currently shooting 60 episodes in Toronto to be aired on E! in the fall.

The Comedy Network’s Canadian-produced Match Game was renewed for a second season.

NBC’s Hollywood Game Night, meanwhile, which also airs on CTV, pairs celebrities such as Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow with non-famous contestants in what they promise to be outrageous games.

TBS will also debut a new game show, Trust Me, I’m A Game Show Host, based on our preconceptions of what a game show host should be.

“I think there is a real need for family friendly viewing,” said Jennifer Chen, vice-president of programming for Channel Zero, which owns CHCH and other channels, including Rewind, Silver Screen Classics and Fight Now!

“Game shows are a great piece of programming that families can watch together and you can get a huge demographic.”

In a television season heavy on violence in shows like The Following, Bates Motel and Hannibal, it might be argued that family-friendly fare has been a rare commodity.

“The pendulum is constantly shifting and game shows seem to be back in popularity,” says Tom DeMichael, Chicago-based author of TV’s Greatest Game Shows.

“We used to call it broadcasting, but now it’s narrowcasting, aiming shows at a specifically targeted audience. But game shows are a great example of something that appeals to everyone, and what used to work still works. It’s about a question and an answer, and people sitting at home saying, ‘What an Idiot, how come I’m not on that show? I know more than that guy.’”

Game shows are also a lot cheaper to produce. In many game shows, the prizes are donated by sponsors, which helps to subsidize costs.

While a one-hour episode of a cop drama such as CTV’s Flashpoint would cost more than $2 million, an episode of Spin Off will be a fraction of that cost.

(That’s true unless you happen to be The Price Is Right, the world’s longest five-days-a-week show, which offereda $285,000 (U.S.) Ferrari 458 Spyder in one episode.)

Certainly, CHCH, a station based in Hamilton, has found success with the formula.

Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! are among the top 10 most watched shows on that channel.

Jeopardy! goes into its 30th season this year, hosted by Canadian Alex Trebek, who says the popularity of game shows has never really abated.

“It’s the best kind of reality television,” he said in an interview. “It allows people to live vicariously through the contestants. You know there will be some losers. But that’s life. But the losers aren’t losing anything they didn’t have before. It’s like going to Vegas. Once you win you’re playing with house money.”

Using Jeopardy! as an anchor for CHCH, the hope is that the locally produced Spin Off will crack the top 10. And that’s not just wishful thinking.

What makes Spin Off an interesting case study is that it’s a show exclusively for Canadians (at first) created by the guy who brought you Survivor, The Voice and The Celebrity Apprentice.

Mark Burnett’s Los Angeles-based One Three Media are the executive producers, with production by Canada’s Suddenly SeeMore. It’s also a case of a tiny network like CHCH punching above its weight by producing with the big guns in the hopes that the show will go international.

“We were really excited to work with Mark Burnett,” said Chen. “It was also great to be on the ground floor where we could customize it to our market.”

Chen said one of her big beefs when watching some game trivia shows is that she would get tripped up on American presidents.

“I always get nailed on those questions. But that won’t be true of Spin Off,” says Chen.

When she attended a pitch meeting last May at Burnett’s Santa Monica offices, Chen said she was surprised at the number of game shows in the mix.

“There were probably half a dozen and we decided to go with Spin Off.”

Since then, Chen says she has been in an inordinate number of meetings where game shows have been part of the conversation.

“I’ve been sitting in more and more pitches and I’m not sure why, but certainly I think it’s about attracting a wide family audience that’s often neglected,” said Chen.

Spin Off, hosted by Torontonian and Second City alumnus Elvira Kurt, looks to be a bit of hybrid of Wheel and Jeopardy! with contestants answering trivia questions.

“I really think this will be huge. It takes the knowledge you have and pairs it with fate and a wheel, and you could be the sharpest tool in the shed and it doesn’t matter,” Kurt said in an interview.

Chen said the final product, which has already been shot and is in post-production, was slightly different than the original concept.
“The essence of the game remained the same, but we had a lot of discussion on what we thought would work, everything from how the wheel would play into it to the kinds of questions,” said Chen.

“The result was to try and make it more exciting, to put more at stake so viewers would get involved and I think they’ll be happy with the results.”


Morgan July 22, 2013 Uncategorized