The game’s up
The quiz and game show industry is struggling, writes Colin Vickery
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!’’