In Depth

Rolling Dice on Syndie Games

Primetime Hits Look to Expand Domain

Quick pace and low budget are the rules producers must play by as more and more game shows make the abbreviated journey from primetime to syndication.

Shortened time periods and slimmer syndie budgets are forcing game show executive producers to bring a lean, mean product to the syndication marketplace, while making sure their program remains true to its primetime roots.

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“Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” executive producer Barry Poznik is learning this first-hand as he prepares the syndicated version of “5th Grader” for a fall 2009 debut through Twentieth Television.

“We’ve sort of coined [the syndication version] as ‘Smarter, Faster 5th Grader,’” he said.

“Fifth Grader” has several things going for it in pulling in fans of the primetime version; for one, like NBC Universal’s “Deal or No Deal” and host Howie Mandel, nighttime “5th Grader” host Jeff Foxworthy is onboard for the daytime iteration.

“Comedy is key to this show,” Mr. Poznik said. “We couldn’t imagine doing the show with anyone else.”

Mr. Poznik added that he could see the show working well in afterschool timeslots.

Twentieth Television President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Cook said due to the half-hour format and the comedy provided by Mr. Foxworthy, the game show plays almost like a sitcom.

Family Fun

“This is one of these shows that is helping to bring back all-family viewing,” he said.

Mr. Poznik said the show is trying to remain as close to the primetime version as possible, but said the budgets haven’t been finalized for the prize amounts. The primetime show’s top prize is $1 million.

“We’re negotiating to make it as close to that as possible,” he said.

“Fifth Grader” joins the syndication realm one year after “Deal,” which arrived to solid ratings, leading the 2008-09 freshman first-run daily strips in household ratings.

However, changes had to be made to the format of the syndicated version of “Deal,” due in part to its half-hour runtime and limited budget. The game was sped up, the top prize amount was lowered to $500,000 and a majority of the suitcase models were replaced with contestants. In addition, a wheel decides who gets a shot at the cash amount in their briefcase.

“I think the one thing that we learned from ‘Deal,’” Mr. Poznik said, “is that people kept asking, ‘Why did they change it? I liked it the way it was before.’”

International Flavor

Dozens of countries air their own version of “Deal,” most featuring minor tweaks from the American original. “Deal” executive producer Scott St. John said seeing how format changes worked in international markets benefited the syndicated version.

“The reasoning for replacing the models with potential contestants is that in the international marketplace, we were told it works toward building camaraderie,” he said, adding that in some markets, contestants live together for a weekend before they tape.

He said that in developing the syndicated version of “Deal,” he wanted to preserve the look and quality of the network show. He said a huge part of that was Howie Mandel’s participation.

“‘Deal or No Deal’ is a simple game,” he said. “It involves picking cases. We chose someone who is able to make that interesting again and again and again.”

Disney-ABC Domestic Television’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” when it made its way to syndication in 2002, didn’t have the bonus of having its prime-time host Regis Philbin attached.

“It’s no secret that we offered the job to Regis,” said Michael Davies, “Millionaire’s” executive producer. “But we had no concern in bringing in Meredith Vieira.”

Other changes made to the syndicated “Millionaire” included the removal of the “fastest finger” game to choose contestants. Later in the run, a clock was added to speed up answers, along with the new lifeline “Ask the Expert.”

Mr. Davies said game shows in syndication, specifically “Millionaire,” look to attract the programming genre’s prime demographic of women 25 to 54 as opposed to the wider primetime audience.

Part of that focus shift involves question content, which Mr. Davies said is much more contemporary and pop culture-based than in the primetime version.

“Daytime is more of a close touch than primetime,” he said. “You need to connect with the contestant and the audience day after day after day.”