IS IT GAME OVER?
A mysterious disease is killing our game and quiz shows, write Siobhan Duck and Darren Devlyn
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.’’