Back in the Game?

Execs consider the game-show genre—again

While there are once again no new game shows on the syndication slate for fall, the recent success of NBC’s brief run of Deal or No Deal, hosted by Howie Mandel, has prompted syndicators to wonder if the genre has new life.

But one syndication executive involved in such discussions doubts it. “When a game show makes a blip on the network radar screen, everyone wonders if we should be jumping back in,” the exec says. “I told my people I didn’t think so.”

No one has rolled out a new first-run game show in syndication since fall 2002, when Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and the now-defunct Pyramid both debuted.

Ratings for the entire genre are down this season. Industry standard Wheel of Fortune leads the way as usual, averaging an 8.2 national household rating, but it’s off 7% from last year’s season-to-date average. Jeopardy! is averaging a 6.4, down 20% from last year, which included Ken Jennings’ ratings-driving run. Millionaire is down 9% this season to a 3.0, and Family Feud is off 5% to a 1.9.

And while Deal itself has been shopped around as a possibility for new blood in the genre, syndicators are waiting to see how the network version does against stiffer competition.

Deal saw relatively strong numbers for its one-hour episodes that aired over five nights in the non-competitive pre-Christmas week of Dec. 19. It’s expected to return after the Olympics. If it does well, then syndicators may decide Deal is viable for a strip version. Even if that happens, it would likely take 18 months to get a syndicated version sold and launched.

But if the networks program more game shows, syndicators may follow. CBS has ordered seven episodes of import Game Show Marathon from Fremantle and Granada. In that one, celebs compete in a different classic game show each week. If that show hits, it could spark interest in remakes of older formats in syndication.

Sony is among those that might go game fishing. It recently signed game and reality producer Michael Davies. Also, reality producer Mark Burnett talks about entering the realm.

But doubt remains. “Unless you can evolve the genre, it probably will just be a flash in the pan,” says a syndication pro. “It can’t be too complicated or over-produced. Plus, you have to find a balance of interactivity and the ability for a viewer to just watch passively. That’s not easy.”