October 24, 2006

Some Serious Luck Needed

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Once upon a time, NBC was the toast of television ,with comedies like Seinfeld and Friends and dramas like L.A. Law and The West Wing. ER is actually still one of the bright spots for NBC and has rebounded in no small part through the casting of John “Uncle Jessie” Stamos. Except for Heroes, NBC’s newest shows have not performed well, with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip being the most disappointing. I’ve seen every episode so far and I’d be lying to say its cancellation would be a strong blow to the culture of television. As Peter Griffin might say, “it insists upon itself.” I want to like it badly, but I don’t feel that crucial Sorkin chemistry in the cast.
The peacock network announced cost-cutting measures last week that favor cheaper, unscripted shows in the once coveted 8 p.m. primetime slot. In this move, dubbed NBCU 2.0, get ready to see a lot more programming in the vein of Deal or No Deal, and the new game show, 1 vs. 100. Since this might be the future of network programming, I decided to sit down and actually see what a rebooted NBC has to offer.
First up in NBC’s Friday night game show power block is Deal or No Deal hosted by the insufferable Howie Mandel, complete with glistening bald head. Now, I’ve seen the show before, but this was the first time I actually sat down to study it. For the uninitiated, Deal or No Deal requires a contestant to pick one suitcase out of twenty-six which contain dollar amounts anywhere from $.01 to $1,000,000. The contestant chooses suitcases to eliminate and thus increases or decreases the likelihood of his/her suitcase containing a large sum of money. At various points, the shadowy banker offers the contestant a “deal” on his case and he has to decide whether to take the “deal” or risk eliminating more cases to hopefully drive up his case’s potential value. Whereas Millionaire or Jeopardy contestants also have to weigh risks when playing, they, at least, are tested on knowledge. Not that I don’t appreciate the statistical strategy involved, but Deal or No Deal only tests greed and luck. Deal or No Deal at least outdoes The Price is Right in the beautiful women department. NBC’s show gratuitously offers 25 female models whose sole jobs are to stand around looking beautiful and open suitcases when called upon. I also like when Howie asks the contestant “deal or no deal;” in return, the contestant must either press a giant red button to take the deal or, if not, throw the plastic guard over it, as if deciding not to launch nuclear missiles.
So, is Deal or No Deal worth one’s time? Not really. Catching an occasional five minutes here and there through channel surfing is more than enough to fully appreciate it. The wildly gesticulating contestants and Howie’s constant reiteration of the obvious to heighten the drama get annoying fast. Only slightly more interesting is its companion show: 1 vs. 100.
1 vs. 100 features a more traditional quiz show format, but is much crueler because it does not even offer the loser a consolation prize. Hosted by Bob Saget, on a come-back after memorable cameos in Entourage and The Aristocrats, 1 vs. 100 has one contestant challenge one-hundred (“the mob”) by answering multiple choice questions. If the contestant answers correctly, they earn whatever the question’s worth multiplied by the number of wrong answers delivered by “the mob.” Whichever member of “the mob” answers incorrectly gets eliminated, thus the number of challengers decreases. Before a new question, the contestant can either take the money and stop playing, or, continue against “the mob” and risk everything. If the “1” eliminates the mob completely, he/she wins $1,000,000. As the game continues, the questions go up in value, but also in difficulty. Another twist is that the mob can be solicited for help twice, but the advice may be deceitful. If a contestant answers incorrectly, he wins nothing, and the mob divides its winnings amongst each other. The cut-throat element makes this Hollywood Squares-on-steroids game at least a bit more interesting. I was actually surprised by some of the questions’ difficulty. Do you know the color of the number one space on a standard roulette wheel? Jeopardy champ and “king dork” Ken Jennings didn’t. The answer is red, by the way. This primetime game show revival doesn’t represent the end of culture, but perhaps anticipates the networks’ decreasing role in providing the bulk of quality scripted entertainment. Also there are a lot more out-of-work comedians left to be game shows hosts. Yakov Smirnoff anybody?