Harvey-Fueled 'Feud' Bucks Downward Ratings Trend

Host change proves turnarounds possible as game shows continue to lose viewers

Debmar-Mercury’s Family
, with Steve Harvey
newly installed as host, is
bucking a genre-wide downward ratings
trend among syndicated game
shows by improving across key measures.

Feud is up 7% season-to-date in
households and 20% among adults
25-54, according to Nielsen Media
Research. It’s also improving time
periods in several markets including
Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Detroit,
Tampa and Washington, D.C.

Most often, shows’ ratings improve
or decline due to a time-period
upgrade or an additional cable
run. But for Feud this season, the major change is Harvey.
“There’s one big difference between last year and this year,
and that’s Steve,” says Lonnie Burstein, Debmar-Mercury
executive VP of programming and production. Debmar-
Mercury distributes the show to stations; FremantleMedia
North America produces it.

In fact, Harvey likely will mean the difference between
the show staying on the air and being cancelled.

Feud’s ratings uptick demonstrates that programming
changes can improve a show’s performance, but most shows
are finding that their ratings decline as the audience fragments.

Over the past five years, CBS Television Distribution’s game
leader, Wheel of Fortune, has dropped
21% in households, from an 8.0
household average in 2005-06 to a
6.3 average this season. Syndication’s
second-place game and overall show,
CTD’s Jeopardy!, has declined nearly
16%, dropping a rating point from
a 6.4 in 2005-06 to a 5.4 so far this
season. Disney-ABC’s Who Wants to
be a Millionaire
, in third place, has
dropped 27%, from a 3.1 in 2005-06
(and an uptick to a 3.2 in 2006-07)
to a 2.2 this year.

Game shows went through a brief
revival five years ago, when NBC
aired Deal Or No Deal in primetime.
Fox aired Are You Smarter Than a Fifth
and Don’t Forget the Lyrics.
All three shows ended up in syndication,
although none of them have
received huge ratings. Deal ended its
run this fall, after two years on the
air. Fifth Grader and Lyrics both are
averaging a 1.0 household rating or
below this season, but both shows
are additionally supported with runs
on three platforms: syndication,
primetime and cable.

“New original game shows are
almost impossible to launch, even
if they are established brands,” says
one syndication executive. “At least
with a talk show, it’s slightly different
every day. Game shows are really the same thing every
day. That’s what makes a game show a game show.”

That explains why after that brief resurgence, no game
shows are in development for syndication. CBS, however,
is having some success with its pair of games: The Price Is
and a remake of Let’s Make a Deal, starring Wayne
Brady, which premiered on the network last October.

“There’s never been a successful launch of a first-run game
show that hasn’t had prior network exposure,” says Burstein.
“Game shows in syndication are somewhat dictated by the
networks. When they work, the networks want a lot of them.
When they don’t, the networks don’t want them at all.”

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