As 2009 draws to a close, it's time to take a look at the biggest moments in game shows throughout the year. 2009 brought us revivals, celebrity contestants, freshly-crowned millionaires, contestant gaffes, and cancellations, among other things. Here are the top ten memories we'll take with us from the year.
GSN has tried lots of new ideas for programming lately, and this past summer we got Big Saturday Night
. The idea wasn't bad: put together a package consisting of two new game shows, and add comedy sketches and play-at-home games throughout the evening. Unfortunately, the path between concept and execution was littered with debris. What we got was two solid game shows that were impossible to enjoy because of the horrendous interstitial programming. The hosts weren't game show fans, the play-at-home bits were long and awkward, and most viewers didn't find the comedy bits funny. Big Saturday Night
ruined The Money List
, both of which could have found a wide audience without the extra fluff.
We lost all of the prime time game shows in the fall of 2009, but no cancellation had as big an impact as the loss of Deal or No Deal
on NBC. While the syndicated show keeps chugging along, viewers were stunned when the prime time show was unceremoniously dropped from the schedule. This was the game show that blew open the doors for many others, and gave contestants the chance to win money without much effort. Months later, I still get e-mail from fans wanting to know how they can apply to be on the show - and this might be the problem. People want to play, but they simply stopped tuning in to watch.
You have to hand it to The Price is Right
. They've been through so many changes over so many years, and yet they still know how to keep the show going strong. If you had said 30 years ago that a game show based on shopping would still be around in 2009, many would have called you crazy. Yet here they are, celebrating over 7,000 episodes. The 7000th episode (which technically wasn't #7000, but we won't be picky here) was a really fun hour of television, with tasteful throwbacks and lots of subtle reminders of the rich history of TPIR
When GSN announced that they were going to present their first Game Show Awards ceremony, many of us were excited. What a great way to honor the genre! We sent our friend Alex Purnell
to the taping, where she got to mingle with the likes of Monty Hall and Carol Merrill. She also described the event as a "somewhat schizophrenic affair," and I can't think of a better way to sum up the evening. The highlight of the show was Howie Mandel
, who somehow managed to keep it together in the face of malfunctioning props and illiterate on-stage contestants. It was a huge disappointment, mishandled from start to finish.
Courtesy Sony Pictures Television
The Free Spin wedge on Wheel of Fortune
's big wheel is one of the things about the show that most people recognize. It's been there since the beginning, after all. For some reason though, the powers that be decided to replace it in 2009 with the new Free Play wedge. The new wedge is a nice addition to the game, allowing contestants who land on it to have a free pass, earning $500 for a consonant or buying a vowel for free, and then continuing the game even if their chosen letter isn't in the puzzle. Sometimes replacing the old with the new isn't such a bad thing after all.
When Who Wants to Be a Millionaire returned to prime time this year, the addition of celebrity contestants playing for charity became something for us to endure at the end of each episode. The questions were softballs, there were no time limits, and the celebs themselves didn't really add much to the game. Enter Patricia Heaton, who was faced with a math question that my 10-year-old answered within 45 seconds. Heaton, however, saw that her question involved numbers and reacted with a complete melt down of epic proportions. Eventually Regis talked her through it, but this remains a classic example of why certain celebrities should not play quiz shows.
There were rumors for over a year before we got confirmation, but the return of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to prime time, with Regis Philbin at the helm, was an event worthy of celebration. Just seeing Philbin walk on stage, introducing the show and kicking off the Fastest Finger round, was enough to induce goosebumps. This two-week event was to honor the show's tenth anniversary, and gave us some great television moments. In fact, two of the highlights also made this list!
Courtesy Valleycrest Productions Ltd.
2009 gave us only two game show contestants who won a million dollars. First up was George Smoot, who played a masterful game on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. Unfortunately the prime time game was in the midst of burning off its remaining few episodes, so there wasn't much fanfare for Mr. Smoot. Still, his game play was impressive, and he was rewarded with the top prize.
Our second million-dollar winner was Sam Murray, who was the only contestant in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Tournament of Ten to attempt to answer his question. He was right, and eventually became the winner of the tournament.
Contestant Ken Basin was the last person to take the hot seat in the Millionaire prime time event. He got all the way to the million dollar question, despite some poor game play in using his lifelines. After deciding to go for it, Basin ended up losing $475,000 by answering the question incorrectly, which was a first for the show. No other contestant had ever answered the million dollar question wrong, which is hard to believe given the storied history of the show. Basin walked away with $25,000, the last safety net in the money ladder.
When long-running soap opera Guiding Light was canceled, CBS fulfilled the dream of many a game show fan by filling the empty hour with a new daytime game show. The revival of Let's Make a Deal, hosted by the talented Wayne Brady, has made for an excellent companion to The Price is Right. In many markets, you can now catch a solid two hours of daytime game programming, and there's promise of more to come. With more soap operas in trouble and being canceled, as well as talk shows exiting in 2010, we could see a handful of new game shows appearing during the daytime hours. What a treat that would be!