What makes a TV game show good?

On the one extreme we have something like Jeopardy, on the other Deal or No Deal. The former offers modest winnings and involves viewers in an intellectual way. The latter gives away more money (even if no one wins the million dollars), but is based purely on luck.

My question is what qualities—according to some brainy network executive—would a highly successful network game show have?

Off the top of my head:
[li]game that’s easy to understand and play along with[/li][li]game that can be enjoyed with other people (think people yelling at the tv screen)[/li][li]game that has some element of luck and skill[/li][li]the right host[/li][/ul]
As to Deal or No Deal, it’s mostly luck, but there is an element of skill to know when to take the deal at the right time. Tonight, a contestant was absolutely oblivious to risk and play to the end to walk away with $50 after turning down offers of over $70K. Of course, there is some satisfaction in seeing her crap out. And I guess that’s another component of a good game show. You get involved enough to root for success or failure for the contestant. *Jeopardy * is an oddity among successful game shows – there is virtually no element of luck and is 99% knowledge/skill.

Not sure there’s a general formula. Like any other genre of TV, the rule is “whatever works”. You could argue that Survivor is a game show.

No, it is still all luck. There is no way to “know” when the right time to quit is until after the game is over. It is easy to say, “he should have quit” and kept the $70k, but there was just as much chance that he would have won the $450k.

True, but there is some “skill” in realiizing when the odds are in oyur favor and being able to assess the risk/reward of a scenario. Although the odds were in the girls favor last night, she was offered $7? thousand, and had the possibility of winning only $300,000. But if that amount was off the board she had a possibility of winning only $300. The risk/reward, for me was too risky. Of course, YMMV.

Nivlac, regarding the OP, your getting at the type of stuff I was looking for. Now if only some network executive would venture into GQ and read this…

According to Peggy Hill, the two essential elements are spinning and choosing.

In addition to factors others have listed:

  1. Greed or the often vain hope that some how they are ‘Lucky’ and will win however bad the odds are.
  2. A charasimatic host.
  3. A element of conflict of some sort that involves the viewer.
  4. Wording the final question.
  5. Timing the fatal question.

Winning also takes knowing when to “Hold 'em and when to Fold 'em.”

Houdini was the best known if not the best escape artist of all time.
He held audiences spellbound and made good his escape at just the exact right moment for maximum effect.
He was not so much a master magician as a master of advertising, psychology, and timing.
[See the History Chanel’s ephisodes on Houdini at your first opportunity.]

The lotteries on the other hand are pure luck.

In addition to the wise words of Peggy Hill, I think you and nivlac have both mentioned the one thing that a successful game show must have: viewer/audience involvement. Everything else seems to be optional and varies greatly from one successful show to another, with some being on the opposte ends of the spectrum from each other. “Knowledge based”, for instance.

Since this is GQ and not IMHO, I’m reluctant to continue this, but here goes anyway. It wasn’t $450K. It was a 25% chance for $300K vs. 75% chance for $300 or less. Let’s see, a sure $71K or a 25% chance for $300K? Everyone in the audience and her groupie urged the contestant to take the deal. After all, she previously stated that her goal was to go home with $75K. She previously turned down $79K. So she turns down the $71K and proceeds to eliminate the $300K with her next pick. Ah, sweet justice. :smiley:

**magellan01 ** has already said it. The game is all about the trade-off between risk and reward. At the beginning of the game, it’s low risk, high reward, but as the game proceeds, the risks get higher and the rewards will fluctuate between high and low. The “skill” comes in making that trade-off, and taking the deal when the risks far outweigh the potential reward.

As an aside, I personally think it’s highly unlikely that anyone will ever win the $1 million because to do so the contestant will have to choose between a sure $500K or a 50% chance for the $1M (assuming that the other unseen amount is a small amount). Unless the contestant already has a few million in the bank already, it’ll be rare person who would pass on the $500K. But I’m stumbling into IMHO again.

I think viewer involvement is the key. When I took the Jeopardy test, they told us that the producers liked it when the contestants cleared the board, since the audience got to see all the questions. In Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, and Millionaire, when you shout out an answer you quickly find out if you were right. In Deal, unless you pay a lot of attention, you won’t know if the suitcases you’d pick were right, and that’s pure luck. You don’t even know if a choice you’d make to take the deal would work.

A second element is drama. Deal has that. The episode of Jeopardy I was on got rerun I think because a) we cleared both boards, b) it was my opponent’s fifth win and c) because I made it into the state of possibly winning on the very last question.

And some just work because they are more concerned with humor than the game - like “You Bet Your Life.”

It seems that the evolution of game shows has been away from skill-based shows like Jeopardy, and toward shows like Deal or No Deal. In the newer shows the drama comes from people dealing with decisions about huge amounts of money, where the older shows are more about skill or competition.

Still my favourite is Price is Right, a show where the entire thing is product placement, and you win by knowing things about the products. The ad guys must have been hi-fiving for weeks when they came up with that one :slight_smile:

I know what you mean, but in another sense I think that even the quiz shows that are essentially just Q & A are also largely based on luck and chance. Consider a broad category like ‘General Knowledge’. I’m sure I could think of 100 GK questions that I would know the answer to, and 100 more that I wouldn’t. If the ones I know happen to come up, I’ll look really smart and win big. If not, not. And it’s the same even with specific categories. ‘Science’ questions… well, ‘science’ covers a lot of turf. Again, I can think of 100s of qs I’d know, and 100s I wouldn’t. Luck of the draw.

Actually there’s a large element of luck in *Jeopardy! *It’s a given that most of the contestants know most of the correct responses (or at least that’s what I’ve always heard). You have to have quick reflexes to buzz in before your opponents, and even a strong player can lose everything if the Final Jeopardy clue doesn’t happen to be in one of his strong categories. Even Ken Jennings came very close to losing on many occasions. He didn’t always have a runaway going into FJ, and he didn’t always come up with the right response. There was a huge element of luck there (not that I’m minimizing his accomplishment).

Not if your opponent knows the answers to thousands of questions. If his knowledge is larger than yours, it’s not luck.

Since this is about the Arts, let’s move to Cafe Society.

samclem GQ moderator

This may or may not be a hijack, but I’ll give it anyway:

WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE was the show that everybody was talking about for a few weeks several years ago, spawning a host of half-assed quickly off the air knock-offs and then itself going to the QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY HOME FOR THE HALF SEASON SENSATION. The show was great because

1- there was the element of knowledge
2- there was the element of chance (what the questions would be, would you be chosen if you went there, etc.)
3- people could play along with it at home and (this is very very very important) have the fantasy that they might be in the hot seat themselves some day

I think there are two main reasons why the show quickly began smelling like old halibut:

1- They took away the 1-800 contestant search number. This move cannot be underestimate in its effect- somebody did not understand that the 1-800 number was a vital part of the show’s success because it fed the fantasy “that could be me… and I KNOW who Tinkerbell was modelled after” element which led to disinterest in the show’s viewership (why watch somebody else get rich when you can flip channels and watch people learn their kid belongs to the neighbor or eat cockroaches for money?)

2- Those stupid ass $100-$1000 “Which of the following was a president of the U.S.- A) Richard Simmons B) Humphrey Bogart C) Dwight D. Eisenhower D) Anne Frank” questions. They’re boring, time consuming, and while I realize that the point of them is to let the contestant loosen up and get the hang of it, screw 'em. They either know or they don’t, and unlike Jeopardy you don’t have to learn to work the buzzers and speed most certainly isn’t an issue. (I loved THE SIMPSONS parody when Moe was asked a question on the show about Quantum Mechanics and starts with “Well…uh… let’s see… I was born in Indiana…”.)

The way I’d fix that show and bring it back as big as ever:

1- reinstate the 1-800 number

2- start with the thousand dollar question (give 'em a thou for answering the “put these body parts in order of size on an average 12 year old” qualifying question)

3- (BIGGIE)- start every episode with the qualifying question and have a maximum of one or two players per episode. If Player A strikes out at $16,000 and Player B goes all the way and Player C quits with $32,000 then simply don’t show them in order; cut and splice it so that they appear no more than 1 or 2 per show- go long or short on the “Bob collects broken toy dump trucks and I understand he has an interesting story about the time he saw his daughter’s naked boobies on a “sluts in Cancun” video at a stag party, tell us about that Bob” parts as needed and you’re a shoe-in for editing awards at the daytime Emmies).

4- Add more lifelines and then let the player choose which 3 he or she wants. Each can still be used only one time. Some I’d add would include “30 seconds on Google” (nice piece of tie-in change to be had there), “ask a librarian by chat”, "pick a shell [one shell has the answer written underneath, the other three say “sorry, try again”] or “Pass” (where you can get another question of equal value but you have to answer it without a lifeline).

5- Speedo and thong clad frat boy dancers

6- New sexy co-hosts, Fran Drescher and Max Baer Jr.!

Well, maybe not, but the first five would work.

I’d say the play-along-at-home element is at least as important as all others combined.

The Jeopardy quiz tests for broad knowledge, so people knowing a lot about a few categories won’t tend to get on. There is some degree of luck - I knew my Daily Double purely out of luck - but they tend to minimize it.

Is Alex Trebek charismatic? I’ve never really thought about it. But his attitude, whatever you want to call it, is a key part of Jeopardy! in my opinion.

I agree. We called the 800 number. I never did figure out how you were supposed to get on the show after they stopped it.

No - you’re overestimating the intelligence of the American public. I bet there was a substantial percentage of Millionaire watchers who thought anyone who got to $1000 was a genius. Plus, we had the fun of watching the clowns who blew the $200 question.
Though the real reason it died was those morons at ABC, who had no other programs that people actually wanted to watch, put it on pretty much 24/7. Most TV writers knew they were killing the show, and they were right.

Regis in a thong? I think not.