Game shows have been a distinct genre for decades, starting with radio quiz shows and evolving into spectacular prime time extravaganzas. In 2000 a new format, reality television, came along and blurred the lines somewhat. So what exactly is a game show by modern standards, and how do they differ from reality shows?
Characteristics of a Game Show
Using a very general outline and understanding that there are and will be exceptions, game shows have the following characteristics in common:
- One or more contestants competing to win a prize, be it cash or other type of prize.
- Some type of game, challenge, or puzzle being played, or a series of similar-themed games.
- Stand-alone, self-contained episodes, with or without a returning champion.
- A regular host.
By today's standards, the most important characteristic that defines a game show is the third one - that each episode is a fresh start with new contestants.
Difference Between Game Shows and Reality TV
Reality television really established itself in 2000 with the debut of Survivor. While there had been shows before this one that would be considered "reality," Survivor was an instant hit and started the rolling snowball of reality shows that we see today.
While this type of program does feature contestants vying for a prize as well as challenges, there are elements to reality television that separate it from game shows. Most notably, reality shows generally feature the same group of contestants throughout an entire season. There are story arcs throughout each season, often focusing more on the contestants and their growth than on the game itself.
There are, of course, exceptions. Dating shows like Celebridate and The Fifth Wheel featured new contestants in each episode, but were widely considered to be reality TV shows.
An interesting illustration of the difference between game shows and reality television can be seen in the case of I Survived a Japanese Game Show. Overall, it would have been considered a reality show in that a group of contestants competed and were eliminated one by one in order to decide the winner. The show was a hybrid of sorts, however, in that the actual game play came in the form of the made-up Japanese game show Majide. There were even two different hosts: Tony Sano hosted the reality portion of the program, while Majide was hosted by the charismatic Rome Kanda.
Types of Game Shows
There are a number of different types of game shows, from tough quizzers to physical competitions. Most game shows fall into at least one of the following categories, and many even incorporate two or more.
- Quiz Shows: Quiz shows are mainly focused on trivia. Examples include Jeopardy! and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.
- Puzzles: Puzzle game shows include word games and other non-trivia puzzles. A perfect example would be Wheel of Fortune.
- Stunt Shows: Stunt-based game shows offer a physical challenge, often made "extreme" or comical. Some examples include Wipeout! and Fear Factor.
- Musical: In a musical game show, contestants are challenged to name songs and/or lyrics, using musical cues. Examples would be Name That Tune and Don't Forget the Lyrics.
- Card and Board Games: Card games and board games can often make for interesting game shows, and there have been many examples of popular games making the jump to television. For example, Trivial Pursuit and The Joker's Wild.
Not every game show will fit into these neat little categories, but all of them offer a distinct form of game play combined with contestants vying to win cash and prizes. The main goal of a game show is to entertain, and most of them are based on the premise that they should be fun, allow viewers to root for the contestants, and offer some kind of play-along factor for the audience.