GAME ON: One of the revelations found in PBS’ recent Pioneers Of Television series – besides the dwarfing scale of a hit show’s audience share compared to our more fragmented TV universe today – was the phenomenon that was game shows. While there were quiz shows on radio, the visual element – whether it was an avuncular host or contestants rendered free of inhibitions by either a stupid costume or simple greed – enhanced their appeal massively, and there was an age when game shows ruled prime time along with variety shows, squeezing sitcoms and dramas into a fraction of the real estate they’ve occupied for over a generation.
Eventually they moved to daytime, where men such as producer Chuck Barris, creator of The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game and the more infamous Gong Show, had the same sort of pull now exercised by someone such as Fox reality czar Mike Darnell. Game shows have been disappearing from daytime slowly, but they’re almost filler on primetime now, except for brief, months-long eruptions of popularity for shows like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Deal Or No Deal and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader.
There’s an argument, however, that reality television – game shows without sets or studio audiences, essentially – are the genre returning to colonize prime time in a Trojan horse. With a beachhead established, it would seem that game shows are returning to plant a flag on evening airspace again, with a story in Variety on Wednesday that CBS, desperate to cut down on repeats in a primetime starved of new shows thanks to the writers’ strike, is bringing The Price Is Right from daytime to bring some fresh air into Friday nights starting Feb. 22.
Ghost Whisperer is being moved up to 9pm, while Moonlight is being put on hiatus; both shows have been in repeats without fresh scripts to film. The move sees Drew Carey, who took over hosting Price when Bob Barker retired last year, essentially displacing himself, as CBS is pulling his other game show, Power Of 10, from the schedule, with a promise that the show will return in the summer.
It’s another unintended “back to the future” incident inspired by the strike, which is rapidly reshaping primetime into a sort of time machine where you can pretend it’s the early ‘90s again, when reality TV exploded onto the airwaves, and now the ‘50s, when quiz shows were destination television. All we need now is an explosion of variety shows built around one-hit wonder acts and MOR sensations. Is anyone ready for the Josh Groban Hour, or the Maroon 5 Traveling Good Time Medicine Show?
Scratch that – American Idol has been filling that niche, at a fraction of the cost, for several years. Is it any wonder that, for me at least, writing about prime time network television is like being overcome with successive waves of déjà vu, every day?