The inaugural GSN Game Show Awards aired on June 6th, 2009. With an impressive array of hosts, celebrity guests, and other stars in the audience, the event was hyped as a night to finally honor the genre and the people behind it. Hosted by Howie Mandel, the two and a half hour awards show celebrated icons, legends, and the games themselves.
There were many problems with the presentation itself, including most of the in-house games that were designed to make things light and fun. Still, there were many touching moments that gave us a glimpse into the colorful history of game shows.
The Game Show Awards Honorees
Let's start with the positive stuff, because there was plenty of it. True game show legends were honored, including Monty Hall, Mark Goodson, and Bob Barker. These presentations were touching, and the video clips that accompanied them showed us exactly why these men were being spotlighted.
Monty Hall was given the Icon Award, which was presented to him by his sidekick on Let's Make a Deal, Carol Merrill. Did you know that, as of June 2009, Hall has raised over one billion dollars for charities? Upon accepting his award, he said that, if it hadn't been for Let's Make a Deal opening doors for him, he never would have been able to accomplish all he's done for charity. Monty Hall is truly a class act.
Alex Trebek presented the Innovator Award to the late Mark Goodson, which was accepted on Goodson's behalf by his daughter, Marjorie Goodson-Cagle. Video tributes came from the likes of Betty White, Richard Dawson, and Wolfgang Puck. Marjorie, who referred to herself as a "Mark Goodson Production," choked up speaking of her father. It was a touching moment celebrating a true innovator.
Bob Barker was on hand to accept his Legend Award, presented by his friend Tom Bergeron. Barker has been involved in game shows for over 50 years, 35 of them as emcee of The Price is Right. He chose to ham it up a bit during his acceptance speech, calling himself not only a legend, but THE legend. At least until next year, when someone else gets the award.
I can say with confidence that, under the hosting duties of just about anyone else on the planet, the Game Show Awards could easily have fallen flat on numerous occasions. Howie Mandel combined his hosting skills with his stand-up comedy persona to work through several awkward moments. For example, when an in-house game called Name It and Claim It went horribly wrong, Mandel was quick-witted and eager to keep things moving along.
While many of the presenters and guests resorted to humor that bordered on inappropriate, Mandel was able to keep things light and upbeat with only a single bleeped word. Judging by what he had to work with sometimes, this is quite admirable.
The thing that struck me the most about Howie Mandel was that he could easily embrace both the cheesiness of the event (and really, of the game show genre in general), while still being respectful of both the genius of the folks who work in this medium, and those of us who love to watch it.
It's also worth mentioning that Rich Fields from The Price is Right was on hand as the show's announcer, and the current Price models were also there to help move the games along. The awards ceremony was dominated by Price in many ways, and while Fields really added to the festivities, it was difficult to understand why other long-running game shows, like Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire were left in the cold.
The Game Show Award Winners
Here's where things start to get dicey. The original announcement for the GSN Game Show Awards gave us a list of all categories and nominees, which included 21 categories, many with ten nominees each. In two and a half hours of coverage, viewers only got to see nine of these awards handed out. Two others were mentioned in passing, but for the full list, we were urged to visit GSN.com.
If you didn't see the event on television, you must be wondering how this is possible. There were so many games designed for the audience members that they took up the majority of the presentation. The Game Show Awards, designed to honor the best of the best, ate up the true reason for being on the air in the first place with cheesy games, thrown together for inept contestants to play.
Let's take the aforementioned Name It and Claim It game as an example. The two contestants couldn't name Bob Eubanks as the original host of The Newlywed Game, thought "Eubanks" started with a "U," and didn't know which reality show Jeff Probst was the host of. Not only that, but the Wheel of Fortune style props didn't work.
Looking past all of that though, the awards we did get to see were well done, for the most part. Aside from the off-color humor that tended to pop up, the presentations were solid and the acceptances genuine. I was surprised, however, that the show closed with Jeff Foxworthy accepting the award for Best Game Show, for Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. This is either quite an upset, or GSN gave the award to the highest profile host who confirmed his or her attendance.
The Bottom Line
I understand what GSN was trying to do with all of the added games and "filler" during the Game Show Awards. The event was meant to be fun, and they didn't want it to be a stodgy affair like many awards shows can be. It's unfortunate though that they chose to present these games in their entirety at the expense of those who won awards. There were enough big names in the audience that more attention and respect could have been paid to the games, hosts, and contestants themselves.
It was surprising to me that so many game shows, past and present, were hardly mentioned at all. We saw celebrities on the red carpet who didn't figure into the awards show at all once they were seated. It just seemed to be a waste of talent and opportunity. Why have a famous face like Rip Taylor on hand, when his sole appearance on stage was to push the lever on a TNT prop to toss confetti on everyone at the end of the show?
The Game Show Awards is a fabulous idea that is long overdue. GSN is on the right track with this concept, and I sincerely hope that there will be more of these events in the coming years. With more attention to the guests and nominees, as well as a little more thought to the focus of such an awards show, I think we could see lots of improvements should they try again.