Daytime Emmys: Game Shows Morph Into Prime Reality

Mar 13, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Allison J. Waldman

Special to TelevisionWeek

Were you puzzled when the Daytime Emmy nominations for 2006 were announced Feb. 8 and only two game shows-“Jeopardy!” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”-were in the running for outstanding show and outstanding game show host? You shouldn’t be. There are but a handful of game and audience participation programs appearing in daytime these days. It’s a genre that’s teetering on the brink of being irrelevant to the Daytime Emmys. But it hasn’t always been like that.

Once upon a time, game/audience participation TV fare dominated the daytime schedule. There were more quiz shows than soap operas, talk programs or news. You could bet your life, play the pyramid, check out what the survey said, use your concentration to cipher a word puzzle and choose to send or receive a password, to name a few. Competition programming filled the landscape of daytime, from “Truth or Consequences” to “The Dating Game” to “Family Feud.”

Game shows, in fact, were so popular that they even flourished in prime time. In television’s infancy, the 1940s, there were more than 30 game shows on network prime time, and five times as many, 150, in the 1950s. The number dwindled throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. In the 1990s, only one traditional game show emerged: the 1999 success “Millionaire.”

Presently, “The New Price Is Right” is the lone network game show still airing, and the future doesn’t portend the arrival of others. Both “Jeopardy!” and “Millionaire” are syndicated.

“I don’t think anybody at the Big 3-ABC, CBS and NBC-is remotely contemplating adding a new game show anytime soon,” TV Guide columnist Michael Logan said. “Now it’s all about stopping the [daytime] audience erosion. Anyone who thinks there are millions of potential viewers out there just waiting to pick up a new daytime TV habit is a fool.”

Still, it’s an oddity of voting-not a dearth of viewers-that has created the lack of competition in the 2006 Daytime Emmys. “Only six game shows submitted themselves for Emmy consideration, so, employing the one-third rule, only two could be nominated,” said Tom O’Neil, columnist for the Los Angeles Times’ awards site, TheEnvelope.com.

Handicapping the 2006 race, last year’s game show host winner, Meredith Vieira, who is also a nominee for outstanding talk show host along with the other hosts of “The View,” could again be the victor. Alex Trebek, her lone competitor, is a three-time winner and double-digit nominee for his work on “Jeopardy!,” and that could actually work against him with voters. “The perception is that Alex has dozens of Emmys,” said Mary Ann Cooper, who writes the syndicated column “Speaking of Soaps.”

However, while Ms. Vieira took the 2005 Emmy for outstanding game show host, “Jeopardy!” won for best show. Since 1984, when it premiered in syndication, “Jeopardy!” has taken the top Daytime Emmy nine times.

The larger question remains, though: Are game shows still a viable genre? The answer is yes; game shows, in fact, are alive and well and thriving. They’ve just returned to prime time. Competition-driven reality shows “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “The Amazing Race” and others are essentially replacing the game shows of decades past.

“Basically, these reality shows take the game concept out of the staid studio and place it into real-world experiences,” Ms. Cooper said. “They spend more money, instigate more competition and amp up the game show concept.”

Taken a step further, it’s easy to connect the antics of “Let’s Make a Deal” to “Fear Factor,” the fake romanticism of “The Dating Game” to “The Bachelor” and even the mawkish tears of “Queen for a Day” to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Every new game show seems merely a variation on something that has come before.

The appetite for this kind of entertainment remains strong. But looking to the future of the daytime game show, experts see the genre changing-or disappearing entirely. “If the game show category exists at the Emmys 10 years from now, it will look very different because the Internet will ultimately have devoured TV,” Mr. O’Neil said. “Tomorrow’s game shows will be interactive, having viewers participate fully via remote controls. Imagine Xbox with Bob Barker as host and a refrigerator for a prize. That’s the future.” And not a pretty one to Mr. O’Neil, who added sardonically, “Be very afraid.”

Mr. Logan is even more apprehensive about future audience participation shows, and sees sweeping changes in the daytime landscape overall. “I predict that the Big 3 will be out of the daytime TV business altogether within five years,” he said. “They’ll give those hours back to the affiliates and put their full focus on prime time.”