Television has always been a solid platform for game shows. In the 70’s and 80’s, weekday mornings were full of The Price Is Right, $100,000 Pyramid, The Gong Show, Family Feud, and the like. In later years, game shows lost their luster and were pushed aside as talk shows took over the morning hours. Programs like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune survived as they were considered well-suited to the evening pre-primetime audiences.
But since everyone likes to win, producers continued to search for ways to make game shows popular again. The answer was easy: money. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (based on a UK show) was a smash hit because of the size of its jackpot. But Survivor (based on a Swedish format) appeared a year later with the same prize, more variety and proof that Americans will do just about anything for cash – even starve themselves.
Nearly twenty years later, Survivor continues to be a money-maker for CBS. Meanwhile, every season, a new game show tries to top it.
This January, NBC partnered with muscle-bound actor Dwayne Johnson for a new competition. The Titan Games uses twisted physical challenges based on the personal workouts of The Rock. Frankly, many of them look like scenes out of Hercules.
Now this March, NBC also has Million Dollar Mile in which contestants run a race through an obstacle course on the streets to win a million dollars. The twist? Professional athletes are also chasing them, trying to stop them “at all costs.”
If this sounds eerily familiar, I direct your memory back about 30-odd years. In 1987, Arnold Schwarzenegger ran a gauntlet of obstacles chased by elite players to the death for a futuristic televised game show in The Running Man.
How wonderful that someone at NBC decided to bring it back for real.
Not to be outdone in the games of the bizarre, Fox is launching Mental Samurai with the help of host, Rob Lowe. Each contestant must answer mentally challenging questions while being physically thrown around the room. It’s like taking an exam during a ride on a Tilt-A-Whirl in the middle of a tornado.
I’m just curious what studio audience members would sit in the front row while someone takes a ride on their own personal Vomit Comet.
Given recent trends toward the extreme, it seems American studios are running out of ideas and will soon look international sources of inspiration once again. However, this time they seem to be moving toward Japan’s twisted television trends. And in the Land of the Rising Sun, a wrong answer on a game show can lead to a butt in the face, a paddle to the groin, or even a visit from a Thai kickboxer. But for some, I guess, that’s entertainment.
Oh, how I long for the simpler times of Card Sharks and Definition. Back then, failure meant you just left with a consolation prize: the show's home game or a Brother typewriter.