The game’s up

The quiz and game show in­dus­try is strug­gling, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide -

IT’S of­fi­cial: quiz and game shows are on the nose. In just 18 months, the axe has fallen on a rash of prime-time pro­grams. And most still on air are bat­tling for sur­vival.

The list of re­cent ca­su­al­ties is ex­ten­sive: 1 vs 100, Power of 10, Who Wants To Be A Mil­lion­aire, Mo­ment of Truth, Bert’s Fam­ily Feud, Mil­lion Dol­lar Wheel of For­tune and The Con Test.

Ear­lier this year The Rich List was pulled af­ter just two weeks in its new Satur­day times­lot (it has since re­turned, to medi­ocre rat­ings, in its orig­i­nal Mon­day slot). And the sec­ond se­ries of Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader has been a rat­ings dis­ap­point­ment.

Nine shelved Temp­ta­tion, hosted by Ed Phillips and Livinia Nixon, back in Au­gust 2007. Two and a Half Men quashed any chance of a re­turn dur­ing of­fi­cial rat­ings and the quiz show is back on Mon­day as a sum­mer filler pro­gram.

‘‘It’s kind of hard to ar­gue with their (Nine’s) logic given that our re­place­ment is the big­gest com­edy of 2008,’’ Phillips says.

So what is the prob­lem? Why are view­ers de­sert­ing quiz shows? Is the genre dead or is there any chance of a re­turn to the glory days?

One is­sue has been qual­ity. Let’s face it, Truth, Wheel, Power and The Con Test were bad shows. That’s what killed them off.

The worst thing that hap­pened to Mil­lion­aire was some­one winning the mil­lion dol­lars. Af­ter that, viewer in­ter­est dropped. Ed­die McGuire leav­ing to be­come Chan­nel 9 CEO didn’t help as Nine strug­gled to find a re­place­ment.

The fate of Temp­ta­tion and Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader is more wor­ry­ing. Both shows are top qual­ity. The Phillips/Nixon com­bi­na­tion clicks on the for­mer and Rove McManus and the six chil­dren shine on the lat­ter.

‘‘You can liken it to a sports­man,’’ Phillips says.

‘‘You can train the house down and be in ter­rific form but there’s some­thing bet­ter that’s in your spot. I know they’ve (Nine) got a fi­nite batch (of Two and a Half Men). We just hope we blow their (view­ers) socks off and a lot of peo­ple go ‘we’ve missed you at seven o’clock’ and they’ll still watch it.

‘‘It ( Temp­ta­tion) is such an iconic brand for Nine. If it doesn’t come back in 2009, they haven’t ruled it out for the fol­low­ing year.’’

Phillips shouldn’t hold his breath. Nine Mel­bourne’s pro­gram di­rec­tor Len Downs says the fu­ture is bleak for quiz shows, which have slipped out of prime time all around the world.

The prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to Downs, is that they don’t at­tract younger view­ers, who are the main tar­get for ad­ver­tis­ers.

‘‘Game shows in the main tend to lean to­wards an older de­mo­graphic,’’ he says.

‘‘ Two and a Half Men has been a bonanza in terms of what it has achieved de­mo­graph­i­cally, es­pe­cially in the 25-54 age group.

‘‘When you look at The Ein­stein Fac­tor, it’s ap­proach­ing its sixth sea­son on the ABC, but its main au­di­ence is 55 and over. The 16-39s and 25-54s are hardly watch­ing it.

‘‘You need a pro­gram that cuts across as many de­mo­graph­ics as you can. Who Wants To Be A Mil­lion­aire sparked the imagination and did the trick for a pe­riod of time, but maybe now they (younger peo­ple) are not game show watch­ers.’’

An­other prob­lem is cost. Quiz shows are ex­pen­sive to pro­duce. Just look at the enor­mous set for McGuire’s 1 vs 100.

‘‘Game shows have be­come grander pro­duc­tions on a larger scale over the past decade,’’ Fre­mantleMe­dia di­rec­tor of game shows Tony Skin­ner says. ‘‘They look im­pres­sive, but they cost an aw­ful lot of money and at this point in time the net­works are watch­ing where their money goes.’’

An­other pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for the game show slump is that the most re­cent batch are dumbed down com­pared to their fore­run­ners — con­cen­trat­ing far too much on pop cul­ture and knowl­edge.

A typ­i­cal Power of 10 ques­tion was ‘‘What per­cent­age of Aus­tralians said they have let a dog lick them on the mouth?’’

‘‘That’s where Temp­ta­tion has the strength,’’ Phillips says. ‘‘If you go through and win four or five nights,



gen­eral you’ve got to be smart. There’s no bluff­ing it.’’

Skin­ner is more op­ti­mistic than Downs about the pos­si­bil­ity of a quiz show resur­gence. To him it’s a cycli­cal thing. He says, though, that any fu­ture suc­cess will be based on cre­at­ing a com­pelling hu­man con- nec­tion rather than of­fer­ing up big prize money.

‘‘ Mil­lion­aire came along when a mil­lion dol­lars was a lot of money, but now we’re all de­sen­si­tised to the value of money,’’ he says. ‘‘When they brought Mil­lion­aire back with $10 mil­lion it didn’t work.

‘‘Game shows need to have a hu­man con­nec­tion. That’s why Deal or No Deal is a suc­cess. You go on a jour­ney over the half hour with a sin­gle con­tes­tant. It’s like a mini drama play­ing out.’’

Mark McCraith, the manag­ing part­ner of me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany Mind­Share, says that — from an ad­ver­tiser’s point of view— a game show skew­ing older isn’t all bad.

Al­though the re­cent eco­nomic cri­sis has hit su­per­an­nu­a­tion funds hard, there is still a sub­stan­tial num­ber of cashed-up oldies out there.

‘‘The older con­sumers do still have money. If th­ese shows per­form they will be part of the ad­ver­tis­ing mix.’’

So maybe, just maybe, there is a glint of op­ti­mism in the cur­rent game show slump. Any new suc­cess is likely to be smaller, cheaper, and more emo­tion­ally en­gag­ing than the re­cent crop of fail­ures.

‘‘I think there will be a cut­through pro­gram,’’ Skin­ner says. ‘‘Are we all scram­bling to find it? Ab­so­lutely!’’

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