Gaming the System
When it comes to programming gameshows on television today, what is the most important element?
A) Live viewing
B) A novel format
C) Celeb talent
D) App integration
The answer to that isn’t a simple one, as many producers and network execs have come to realize in recent years.
With the primetime heyday of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “Deal or No Deal” now a syndicated memory on television lineups, broadcast and cable networks are facing new challenges when launching gameshows in today’s market, thanks to the proliferation of high-speed Internet hookups, social media platforms and DVR use.
Yet execs — including NBC’s alternative chief Paul Telegdy — see gameshows as an opportunity to tap into something more “retro” in order to capture ratings and the public’s attention.
“What’s working on broadcast today are big, live events: American football, baseball, the Grammys, the Academy Awards,” Telegdy says. “They’re very inclusive; you have to be a part of it. It’s the kind of TV where you have three generations of a family watching together.”
Telegdy is one of many to draw comparisons between gameshows and the seemingly DVR-proof quality of live sports: Numerous reality producers cite the genre as one of the last, most durable pieces of televised content to consistently nab auds’ attention in real time. Fox’s hiring of former Fox Sports chairman David Hill — who has a decorated history in programming football, baseball and hockey — to reinvigorate competition shows “American Idol” and “The X Factor” is indicative of this emphasis in programming big gameshow formats.
Eli Holzman, one of the heads of All3Media and exec producer of the Peacock’s forthcoming mega-gameshow “Million Second Quiz,” hopes to capture the watercooler effect with his 12-day live strip set to bow in September.
“Stephen Lambert and I looked at the television landscape when conceiving ‘Million Second Quiz,’ and thought the quiz game is such a terrific staple,” Holzman explains. “What if you took a David Blaine-type spectacle and blended it with a quiz show?”
The show involves sending contestants to live in a specially built structure in the middle of Times Square, where the game will take place 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Holzman says they’re very excited to be making a show that’s essential to watch while it’s happening. Bob Greenblatt, NBC Entertainment chairman, said during the Peacock’s TCA executive session in July, “While (‘Million Second Quiz’) is being played in the center of New York City, you could be playing it at home on a special app that we’re building. You can actually join the game if you get pulled out of your home. … It just feels like an event. … It will feel like something, hopefully, big is happening for those two weeks.”
Quiz shows thrive overseas, especially in the U.K., where such series as “The Chase” received a whopping 300-episode order, and “The Million Pound Drop Live” forges through its 10th season on Channel 4. But British game producers are at a notable advantage with live formats when compared to their Stateside counterparts, since the U.K. is in a single time zone.
Therein lies the rub when trying to program U.S. gameshows like live sports: While American audiences may be willing to tune in past 11 p.m. to watch their home team battle for a championship title, they’re hard-pressed to watch a trivia show broadcast live simultaneously on both coasts. The stakes simply aren’t comparable.