Another decade is going down in the history books, with many memorable moments in television. Here is my chronological list of what I consider to be the top ten moments in game shows, from 2000-2009.
'Millionaire Mania' – 2000 to June 27, 2002
As we entered the new millennium, Regis Philbin and Who Wants to be a Millionaire still had a heck of a stronghold on the ratings as they worked to make more million dollar winners. Though the bloom was off the rose by 2002, the show is still a strong contender in the syndication race going into 2010. Most modern shows still borrow a thing here or there from the former juggernaut.
Nickelodeon GAS Lets Loose - 2000In 2000, the Game Show Network (GSN) had been going for just over five years, and was gaining steady popularity. Those at Viacom must have noticed this because in 1999 and 2000, they launched and rolled out full-scale a similar venture for kids: Nickelodeon Games and Sports. Consisting mostly of reruns of old Nick game shows mixed with a sports program here and there, Nick GAS was a young game show junkie's dream. The network was shut down right before 2008, but for a while it was a great go-to spot to relive every game show Nick aired and see how kids in the 80s and 90s did things.
The Super Run of Ken Jennings – June 2, 2004 to November 30, 2004
There is no way the last ten years of game shows could be discussed without a mention of this man. In 2003, Jeopardy! lifted their five game limits for champions... but they had no idea what they would wreak upon themselves. Just starting off as an everyday software engineer from Utah, within six months Ken Jennings had turned Jeopardy! upside-down. Winning $2.5 million over 74 games, Jennings proved that it's cool to work hard and be really intelligent. Jennings has since parlayed his incredible success into quite a career, having written two books and keeping a recurring role on GSN Live, not to mention serving as a hero for trivia buffs and game show geeks.
'Deal or No Deal' Debuts – December 19, 2005
Who'da thunk that red-blooded Americans would flock to a show with lots of money and just as many hot girls? The international hit Deal or No Deal debuted in the U.S. with a premiere week similar to that of Millionaire's, and its ratings response proved that Americans were ready for a new primetime game hit. Howie Mandel's great hosting also began a trend of the comedian-turned game show host, which was generally a good thing. Generally a bad thing was the trend of brain-dead game shows to follow for a little bit.
The "Reboot" of 'Family Feud' – September 11, 2006
By the end of the 2005-06 season of Family Feud, fans grew tired of almost everything about it: the set, the host, the threats to take first blood on the other family... but enter a breath of fresh air. Recently a victor of a Dancing with the Stars finals finish, John O’Hurley (who previously hosted To Tell the Truth in 2000) took the reigns as the new host of the Feud, bringing with him new music, a new set and a more Feud-like feel for the 30th anniversary of the program. The show is still chugging along with O’Hurley at the helm, keeping some fresh and exciting changes to make the show as vibrant as ever.
This is... a Stalemate! – March 16, 2007
This day at Jeopardy! started like any other, but it certainly didn't end that way when, due to two contestants being tied with half of the leader's amount before Final Jeopardy, the scores ended up at $16,000 apiece in a non-zero three-way tie at the finish of the show, something that had never happened in the show's previous five thousand games. The odds of this happening have been calculated (properly) at about 1 in 20,000. Sure, there were some human factors in this moment but it was a neat little moment and another gem for Jeopardy! to add to their record books.
Jason Luna Takes Down 100 – January 4, 2008
1 vs. 100 is one of my favorite games. Where else will you have 101 people physically in a room trying to get their share of a million? It's a game where you can only win if you answer more than everyone else you're against. Self-professed loser Jason Luna knocked out the remaining fifteen people in the Mob of 100 women by knowing that Christmas is the holiday on which most cards are given. The show deserved a longer run, but this was a shining moment in the life of the game.
Loewenstein Spins the Wheel of Millions! – October 14, 2008
Perhaps the most statistically impressive million dollar winner of the decade, Wheel of Fortune contestant Michelle Loewenstein won the million dollar wedge on the first spin of the round, solved the first puzzle, managed to hit no bankrupts and gained enough money to go to the bonus round where she landed on the one space out of 24 that gave her a shot at a million dollars. That sounds impossible enough, but then she solved the puzzle, "Leaky Faucet," to take home over a million dollars in cash and prizes. Though many groaned over the implausibility of winning the top prize, Loewenstein proved in the first six weeks of the show's season that anything can happen on the ol' wheel.
'Let's Make a Deal' vs. '$1,000,000 Pyramid' – Summer 2009
With the cancellation of Guiding Light announced in the spring of '09, rumors ran rampant as to its replacement. When the two leading candidates, revivals of Let's Make a Deal and Pyramid, were announced, game show fans went nuts. After months of pilot reports and gossip on which one network executives wanted, the nod ultimately went to LMAD. Though it was just one battle over an hour-long slot, this opened the door to prove that game shows are once again a viable daytime option. (And now it looks like we may get Pyramid after all!)
George Takei on 'The Newlywed Game' – October 15, 2009
It's fairly difficult to make history on a show that originally premiered in 1966 but George Takei and Brad Altman did just that. During the second season of the GSN revival, the two men played (and won!) on an episode of The Newlywed Game as the first same-sex couple to ever appear on the show. This moment rightfully garnered much attention from the mass media.