IS IT GAME OVER?

A mys­te­ri­ous dis­ease is killing our game and quiz shows, write Siob­han Duck and Dar­ren Dev­lyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide -

WITH The Rich List yanked from Chan­nel 7’s Satur­daynight line-up, Mil­lion Dol­lar Wheel of For­tune shed­ding view­ers and Power of 10, Bert’s Fam­ily Feud and Na­tional Bingo Night dead and buried, you have to won­der what’s hap­pened to Aus­tralia’s ap­petite for quiz and game shows.

Of the many such shows launched in re­cent years, only Deal or No Deal and Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? rank as un­qual­i­fied suc­cess sto­ries.

Temp­ta­tion is one of the few old for­mats to sur­vive, but even it re­mains in hia­tus as Nine chases a younger de­mo­graphic with the US sit­com Two and a Half Men.

Nine’s Melbourne pro­gram chief Len Downs says Two and a Half Men ap­peals to its core age de­mo­graphic of 25-54, con­sis­tently beat­ing Big Brother and Home & Away.

The sit­com is also a far cheaper op­tion for Nine than pro­duc­ing new episodes of Temp­ta­tion.

A US sit­com costs about $4000 an episode, but a quiz-show bud­get runs to about $40,000.

Downs says Temp­ta­tion will re­turn to Nine’s sched­ule once the cur­rent se­ries of Two and a Half Men ends.

He says that though Temp­ta­tion is tra­di­tion­ally a favourite with older view­ers, it at­tracted a slightly younger au­di­ence in its last run.

Downs says the net­work will also per­se­vere with Mil­lion Dol­lar Wheel of For­tune even though it is be­ing belted by Seven’s Deal or No Deal.

‘‘We have also done well with the news (bul­letin) be­cause of Wheel. It ( Wheel) seems to have pushed (view­ers) into our nightly news,’’ he says.

Downs says Nine is hop­ing a res­ur­rected 1 v 100 will also prove a strong plat­form for its new Fri­daynight line-up of US crime dra­mas.

1 v 100, how­ever, was on Fri­day given a hid­ing. It at­tracted 199,000 view­ers, com­pared with Bet­ter Homes and Gar­dens’ 408,000.

Downs says game shows are no dif­fer­ent to any new shows.

‘‘Some will cap­ture peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion and other’s won’t. It’s not only game shows. The same can be said of drama.

‘‘There’s no set for­mula for the pro­grams that have been suc­cess­ful. You just have to have a go.’’

Seven Melbourne pro­gram boss Graeme Hill is cer­tain The Rich List will re­turn to strong rat­ings in a new times­lot af­ter the Olympics.

‘‘Suc­cess is not about the genre, it’s about the for­mat. The suc­cess­ful ones are easy to watch and en­cour­age you, as a viewer, to pit your­self against the con­tes­tants,’’ Hill says.

Ten ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Rick Maier says 5th Grader has been a hit be­cause it’s ‘‘one of those rare shows’’ that the en­tire fam­ily can watch to­gether.

But game-show vet­eran John Bur- gess says the net­works’ ob­ses­sion with cap­tur­ing the youth mar­ket has come at the ex­pense of game shows and older per­form­ers.

Though US game-show hosts and news pre­sen­ters re­main on screen well into their 70s, Burgess says it’s a dif­fer­ent story in Aus­tralia.

Burgess says older per­form­ers are put out to pas­ture by pro­gram­mers too fo­cused on snar­ing the youth mar­ket. The for­mer host of Wheel of For­tune has been mostly ab­sent from our screens since Burgo’s Catch­phrase was axed by Nine in 2004.

THOUGH he still presents the Wed­nes­day-night Lotto num­bers, Burgess con­tin­ues to hold out hope he may be given a big­ger role on com­mer­cial television — pos­si­bly host­ing an­other game show or as a news­reader.

‘‘I have al­ways said I would like to read the news — not in a ma­jor mar­ket like Syd­ney or Melbourne,’’ Burgess says. ‘‘I have read it be­fore on the Gold Coast, so I know I can do it. But it’s hard to con­vince a lot of the pro­gram­mers be­cause they are set on hav­ing young peo­ple do­ing things when they come up.

‘‘It’s noth­ing like Amer­ica where they stand by their tal­ent. Bob Barker, the host of Price is Right, has just re­tired and he’s in his 80s for good­ness sake.

‘‘And Pat Sa­jak and Vanna White have been on Wheel of For­tune (the US ver­sion) since it be­gan.

‘‘It’s (Aus­tralia) all about chas­ing the younger mar­ket of 25 to 40-yearolds now, but they’re not watch­ing television. They are watch­ing DVDs, on their com­put­ers or lis­ten­ing to their iPods. It’s the older au­di­ence that are still sit­ting down at home watch­ing TV at 5.30pm and they want to watch some­one they feel com­fort­able with.’’

Burgess, who turned 65 last week, was back in the head­lines last month when he joked that he was ‘‘gut­ted’’ to have missed out on host­ing Nine’s re­vamped Wheel of For­tune. That job in­stead went to for­mer Home and Away star Tim Camp­bell, who is roughly 30 years Burgess’s ju­nior.

Though he missed out on host­ing Wheel, Burgess is buoyed by re­newed in­ter­est in his ca­reer brought on by his light-hearted ra­dio com­ments. He’s hope­ful that his TV days aren’t quite num­bered.

Burgess re­ceived sup­port from Rove McManus and Peter Hel­liar, who in­vited him to be a guest on Rove soon af­ter he made his re­marks.

He was also ‘‘hum­bled’’ to dis­cover a ‘‘Bring Back Burgo’’ on­line pe­ti­tion had started on the in­ter­net net­work­ing web­site, Face­book.

It’s not the first time Burgess has been at the cen­tre of a pub­lic cam­paign.

He was booted off Wheel for the first time in 1996.

‘‘It went from the No.1 show to zilch. They got rid of me in June, but were forced to ask me back by Novem­ber be­cause of the pub­lic,’’ he says, proudly.

Burgess now says he was jok­ing when he made his re­marks on ra­dio, but stands by his claim that Nine had promised him the job if it ever se­cured the rights to the show.

He is hope­ful re­newed pub­lic in­ter­est in him may in­spire pro­gram­mers to take a risk and give him an­other go.

‘‘I would love to get this ugly head back on the box,’’ he says.

‘‘I would like to think that I still have some­thing to of­fer, even though I’m not the youngest per­former on the planet th­ese days.

‘‘There’s quite a science to gameshow host­ing. You can’t keep in­ter­rupt­ing the game to make jokes.

‘‘With­out be­ing crit­i­cal of Bert (New­ton)— Bert is an icon and very clever — but he’s not a game-show host. Even he has ad­mit­ted that.’’

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