Syndie Doubles Down on Game Show Genre

Jan 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

If television program distributors have their way at NATPE this week, the number of syndicated game shows on the air could double with the start of the 2007-08 TV season.

Syndicators Program Partners, October Moon, Twentieth Television and NBC Universal are all in various stages of rolling out new game series for the fall at the annual National Association of Television Program Executives market. The conference, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, runs Tuesday through Thursday.

With the majority of syndication genres taking ratings hits this year, distributors are looking long and hard at the many recent successes of televised competitions.

Prime-time network hits such as “American Idol” and “Deal or No Deal” continue to perform in the ratings. In addition, viewership for three of the four game shows currently in first-run syndication, “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy!” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” is either up or holding even compared to last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. Only the syndicated “Family Feud” has shown a decline, down a modest 10 percent compared to the 2005-06 season.

The game show is the only category in syndication currently being underplayed, according to Lisa Hollaender, Katz Television Group’s director of program research.

“No new options have joined the fray over the last few years, leaving the four games on a more isolated playing field,” Ms. Hollaender said in the recent Katz report on syndicated programs for the 2007-08 season.

Also making game shows an attractive option for syndicators and stations: Their natural potential for revenue-generating interactive elements.

For example, prizes featured on “Temptation,” from Twentieth and “American Idol” producer FremantleMedia North America, will be available to viewers for discounted purchase via phone or at the program’s Web site.

“Its interactive, transactional shopping format sets it apart from any other game show on television with a new and more interesting business model for the genre,” Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia North America, said.

Ironically, it was “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” distributor King World that started the game-show buzz for the 2007-08 season six months ago when the company began developing “Combination Lock” and “The Joker’s Wild” with Sony, which produces “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” King World has since pulled back on plans for the shows.

Sources cited a lack of desirable time periods as a primary reason King World, now known as CBS Television Distribution Group, is sitting out this round. That hasn’t stopped other distributors from capitalizing on game-show fever.

Merv Griffin

“Because King World had been walking around for six months saying it was going to bring two game shows to stations but didn’t come out with them, everybody was left with a taste in their mouth for the genre,” said Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming for Petry TV. “That left an opening and everybody jumped in. They are cheap to make, formats are everywhere, and they are easy to acquire, especially for the little guys.”

Two of the new game contenders come from small syndicators that are not aligned with a major studio, network or station group..

October Moon Television is handling program sales of the new first-run Monday-through-Friday strip “Laugh Off,” produced by reality heavyweight Bunim-Murray Productions (“The Real World,” “Simple Life”).

Program Partners, which distributes Canadian dramas “Da Vinci’s Inquest,” “Intelligence” and “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” is expected to introduce a contest format from “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” creator Merv Griffin titled “Let’s Play Crosswords.” Tribune may be considering picking up the program for the 2007-08 season, people familiar with the matter said.

“Laugh Off” is described as a comedy competition series that offers unknown comedians the chance for exposure and success on national television.

“Audiences have always enjoyed the search for talent, from the early days of television and Ted Mack’s `Original Amateur Hour’ up to today’s `American Idol’ phenomenon,” October Moon President Chuck Larsen said.

The series will feature two contestants every day as they compete in three rounds of comedy for the title of “Laugh Off” champion. The competitive rounds will vary each day to test their strengths and will include stand-up, improvisation, charades, mime and tabloid quiz. The studio audience will decide the winner, with the champion returning for up to five days to meet new challengers.

“There are thousands of talented unknown and undiscovered comedians working at the local comedy clubs around the country,” stated Jon Murray, chairman and president of Bunim-Murray Productions. “Each season we will provide television exposure to several hundred, hoping to find the next Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld or Ray Romano.”

Program Partners is expected to announce a game show format of their own at NATPE and have already taken multiple meetings with stations. The move would expand the distributor’s offerings beyond its drama specialty, marking its first entry into the game genre.

Last week, Twentieth Television announced that “Temptation,” a series the distributor will produce with FremantleMedia North America, was cleared on 10 of the MyNetworkTV-affiliated Fox Television Stations outlets. The series, set for a fall debut, will be based on the classic “Sale of the Century” format in which three contestants are pitted against one another to earn cash by answering a series of questions about pop culture and current events. The winning contestant is the individual with the most money at the end of the game. Throughout the program, opponents are tempted to spend their money on high-end prizes at bargain prices.

Fremantle owns the “Sale of the Century” format.

“`Temptation’ is an exciting game show with a proven format nearly unparalleled anywhere. It will draw in viewers with its fun games and give them the opportunity to further participate by offering the opportunity to purchase luxury prizes at significant discounts,” Paul Buccieri, president of programming for Twentieth Television, said in a statement. He added that Fremantle’s “track record speaks for itself.”

Although the series is cleared on key MyNetwork affiliates, and MyNetwork is expected to incorporate some game shows into its telenovela-dominated prime-time lineup this year, the show is not slated to run in prime. It is scheduled to air in traditional syndicated time periods on stations that include WWOR-TV in New York, KCOP-TV Los Angeles and WPWR-TV in Chicago. The series is booked to air as a double run on a cash-plus-barter deal with a split of five minutes of local advertising and two minutes of national ad time per half hour.

In its original U.S. format as “Sale of the Century,” the series aired on NBC between 1983 and 1989, during which it consistently won its daytime time period. The format experienced a resurgence internationally in recent years, attracting an audience of 9 million viewers on ITV1 in the United Kingdom last year and ranking as the highest-rated game show of the year in that territory. The highest profile of the new series may be the planned daytime version of “Deal or No Deal” from NBC Universal Television Distribution. Although executives have struggled to find a right host for the daytime strip in its new format (see sidebar), stations are still clamoring for the show.

“In syndication, there is a better chance of sampling and greater success where the game has a proven track record, often the same host, viewer involvement and a substantial prize, though the size of the prize seems not to be as critical as in prime time,” Katz’s Ms. Hollaender said. “`Deal or No Deal’ is probably the most talked-about game on the list, thanks to Howie Mandel and its current network performance.”