By Brad Pomerance
Special to TelevisionWeek
What a difference a summer can make.
That was the phrase being heard at the 3rd Annual Game Show Congress, held last week in Burbank. After several years in which the number of TV game shows dwindled, including the end of long runs by “Hollywood Squares” and “Pyramid,” the genre got a shot in the arm this summer when software developer Ken Jennings became the most successful contestant in the history of “Jeopardy!” As his fortunes rose, the syndicated half-hour’s ratings soared.
So far, Mr. Jennings has won $1,321,660. He returns later this year when the new season begins.
Mr. Jennings became “as much a star as the winner of `American Idol,”‘ said Bob Boden, most recently senior VP of programming at GSN and now a game show producer hoping that “a halo effect” from Mr. Jennings’ success will help revive the entire genre.
“Jennings is the best thing to happen to game shows in a long time,” Mr. Boden said.
This fall not a single new game show is scheduled to premiere in daytime on any of the major broadcast networks. To a large extent, game shows have been supplanted by reality and talk television, what some game show advocates derisively call “game operas.”
While no one at the Game Show Congress expected a return to the glory days of 1975, when there were close to 20 game shows airing in daytime, the viewpoints on The Jennings Effect differed.
Steve Beverly, professor at Union University and producer of the Web site TVgameshows.net, is “not optimistic that we will see more game shows in syndication anytime soon.”
However, Jeff Mirkin, most recently senior VP of development at FremantleMedia, said, “Jennings is great for game shows. He has increased viewer awareness of the genre.” However, even he conceded the ultimate effect is “difficult to predict.”
One thing seems to be sure. “There will be more returning champs in light of the Jennings phenomenon,” Mr. Beverly predicted. “Programmers now recognize that the viewers do invest in winners. They become a guest in the home-just like the [show] host.”
Mr. Mirkin sees other trends. “When a third run of the “World Poker Tour” becomes the No. 1-rated show in the history of the Travel Channel,” he said, “I expect to see more gambling shows-and not just poker-dominate the game show genre. They have the play-along-at-home factor, which is why they work.”
Another prognosticator forecast that with the Internet hangover wearing off, traditional game shows will return to the party.
“There had been a push for interactivity in television five years ago. But with the Internet bubble bursting, that push faded,” said Rick Rosner, a game show producer currently writing for “The Jimmy Kimmel Show.” “Now we are seeing that desire for interactivity on the rise again and that could help traditional game shows rebound.”