Donna Redier Linsk arrived at Telepictures, Warner Bros.’ first-run production arm, to continue her role as Mike Darnell’s right hand, four years ago. Since then, she’s worked with Darnell to expand such Telepictures brands as The Ellen DeGeneres Show and TMZ, and the team has found success with their strategy.
On Jan. 2, a new primetime game show made its official NBC debut: Ellen’s Game of Games, which was created out of the games DeGeneres plays on her daytime talk show. The show quietly offered a preview Dec. 18, but it wasn’t until the double-episode premiere that viewers took notice.
The show, which Redier Linsk produced with Warner Horizon’s Brooke Karzen, premiered to an average of 8.85 million viewers over the two-episode block, and a 2.3 rating among the 18-49 demographic, according to Nielsen — up 30% among viewers and 20% in the demo from the preview. Last week, NBC picked up the show for a 13-episode second season.
Redier Linsk discussed Ellen’s Game of Games and more with B&C contributing editor Paige Albiniak. An edited transcript follows.
What led you to spin this series out of The Ellen DeGeneres Show and into primetime?
Ellen has always played fun games on her show, and it’s very entertaining to watch. In talking to Ellen’s executive producers, we tried to figure out how to blow it up and put it on steroids for a big network primetime audience, which is ultimately what they did and brought to us, and we sold it to NBC.
Why do you think this show was so well received in primetime?
People are tired of gimmicks in primetime. They just want to have fun and be distracted from the world around them. The traditional daytime landscape is very genuine and authentic. You get a lot more fantasy programming in primetime. But I think in primetime, people also want to see people genuinely having fun.
NBC just picked Ellen’s Game of Games up for a second season. When do you expect you guys will produce those 13 episodes? How will you fit this new order into Ellen and her team’s tight production schedule?
We are thrilled about the pick-up. We just got the order and haven’t worked out the schedule yet, but can’t wait to get started. It’s a timing thing — Ellen and her team do a daytime show five days a week throughout the year. Sometime in the summer they’d like to have a little bit of a break.
There are lots of examples of these limited game series doing well in primetime right now. Do you think this format could be considered a trend?
I think you have singing competitions, dancing competitions — obviously things are cyclical. People want to be entertained. The fun of this game is participating in it and not necessarily the questions or the material. It’s easy to watch, it’s easy to have a good time and to laugh and anyone can participate. You don’t have to be a great talent, a singer or a dancer, you could be anyone.
There are currently only four game shows in syndication. There could be more. Do you think about trying any games in first-run?
It’s definitely an area our development team is working on. Syndication is tricky — the whole TV landscape is tricky right now. But we don’t believe syndication is going anywhere, so we need to be smart about coming up with new financial models. That could work with games.
Love Connection used to be in syndication; now it’s in network primetime on Fox and we’re in preproduction on our second season. You can take elements for a network show like Game of Games, which you might not be able to do economically for syndication, but you can make it a huge network prime event. Or you could take elements of content from the daytime syndicated world and create something that has nothing to do with the original, like TMZ and Objectified. Those are the areas we’re playing in to take advantage of that syndicated space.