Yes, I’m a big fan of game shows.
But over the last decade or so, I’ve always felt the need to qualify that statement. I’m a big fan of the way game shows used to be done.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when everything wasn’t overly-dramatic with Armageddon-style lighting and manufactured tension.
See, for example, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Deal or No Deal? and you’ll quickly get examples of the styles I’m talking about that are the problem. It’s not that either show is bad in and of itself. The formats are fine and the gameplay can be entertaining.
But when that much money is already at stake, we just don’t need to force extra drama into the picture. It’s enough already!
Back in the 1970s and well into the 1980s, game shows just felt fun. They were bright and colorful, there were flashing lights and neon, upbeat music with trumpets.
For some reason, all of that got replaced with darkness, spotlights, and music that reminds me of the signature transition sound on the Law and Order franchise. The music wasn’t upbeat, it sounded like we’d just found ourselves on the precipice of World War III.
So you could have imagined my surprise when I learned ABC was bringing back a collection of classic game shows for a summer run.
The first of these was another round of Celebrity Family Feud hosted by Steve Harvey. Then there was The $100,000 Pyramid hosted by Michael Strahan. Then, a revival of Match Game hosted by Alec Baldwin. And finally, an update to To Tell the Truth.
The only one of these I’ve not yet seen is the ‘TTTT’ update, so I’ll skip that.
I think Steve Harvey is the best thing that has happened to the Family Feud franchise since the late Richard Dawson. He’s funny, he says what most of us are thinking, almost the way we’re thinking it, and he makes the show much more watchable than previous hosts have managed to do. ABC found some success with prior iterations of Celebrity Family Feud in prime time, so this was a no-brainer.
I was most curious about ‘The $100,000 Pyramid’.
The earlier versions hosted by the late great Dick Clark were very entertaining and watchable. Clark kept the show on pace and managed to keep it exciting. It’s a game you watch without realizing how quickly and easily you begin playing along. Donnie Osmond hosted a remake a few years back full of the aforementioned Armageddon lighting that turned the bright pyramid, into what appeared to be a life-or-death battle.
The new version is much more true to original, even bringing back the rotating “trilons” on the Pyramid boards that reveal categories and rewards. (Sometimes something mechanical just looks better than everything being a monitor.) Strahan, in my opinion, doesn’t bring a great deal to the show, but he doesn’t really hinder it, either, so we come out even in the host department.
The first player who goes to the Winner’s Circle plays for $50,000. If they return in the second game, they play for $100,000. What I’ve noticed much more in this version than in any other is that the celebrity partners are not evenly matched. This means one tends to be a very good player while the other doesn’t, which would seem to make it very difficult for the same player to reach the Winner’s Circle both times.
Maybe there’s nothing “money-saving” about that and maybe it’s just a coincidence. But I’ve noticed it across several episodes and I just feel like it’s not something I should notice.
Overall, the new ‘Pyramid’ is still a good remake: it’s not quite on par with Dick Clark’s classic version from the 1980s, but it’s probably as close as we’re going to get all these years later.
The show I dreaded was the remake of ‘Match Game.’
That’s probably surprising when you consider the 1970s Match Game is one of my all-time favorite game shows. Then again, when you think about the way game shows are done today versus the way they were done 40 years ago, it shouldn’t be surprising.
For one thing, the classic version had six zany celebrities that were often “B-list” but had at least been heard of. And those that weren’t household names were at least on often enough to develop a rapport and, at least within the confines of the game, a persona that allowed people to know what to expect.
Then there were the questions. The beauty of that era was that censors still patrolled with an iron fist. Words like “boobs” were only then making it to air. Words for bodily functions — even scientific terms like “urinate” — still were not. (The Match Game word for “urinate” in the 1970s, for example, was “tinkle.” Quaint, right?)
So the questions were loaded with double entendre and everybody immediately thought of the “dirty” answer but never said it. It became a game within a game. When a question like this came up: “Mary likes to pour gravy on her husband’s __________,” there was no telling what you might be thinking.
But as the envelope being pushed kept moving along, there was no envelope left to push. The thought of gravy being poured on a husband’s _________ wasn’t funny anymore. So words for genitalia became common answers, a complaint some viewers have with today’s Family Feud. After about two minutes, that’s even less amusing.
And there was one more ingredient: Gene Rayburn. He was a wild man. You never knew what he’d do. But he was a master conductor, prevailing over some wild celebrity panelists, giving them enough room to be themselves while still able to reel things in when necessary to keep the chaos and mayhem just under control enough to have time for the game.
The best thing they’ve done with this remake is they’ve kept the basic set design and music, a nice gesture for those of us who value nostalgia. The questions are less “X-rated” than some of the remakes have offered and often do not require euphemisms for body parts, which in itself in this day and age is an accomplishment.
Baldwin isn’t bad as a host; in fact, he’s much better than I expected, though some of his humor seems a bit forced and too scripted.
Then there are the celebrities. And I use that term loosely. Honestly, out of six celebs, I end up having to Google, on average, at least three each week to figure out who these people are. Maybe we’ve given the term celebrity out just a little too freely these days, so perhaps that the bar is just too low.
The good news is that ABC recently announced it is renewing its new game show revivals for a second “season,” presumably for next summer.
Maybe we’ll see a swing towards more game shows and more shows done the way they used to be done, where the focus was on fun, not drama.