Volume 93, Issue 66

Thursday, January 27, 2000


Get rich, quick!

Get rich, quick!

By Clare Elias and Molly Duignan
Gazette Staff

Who wants to be 21, Greedy and Winning Lines? Is that your final answer?

The onslaught of American game shows has escalated to enormous proportions over the past few months and to no surprise, Canadian programming has bought into the phenomenon.

Canadian television stations such as CTV and the Global television network have not gone as far as creating equivalent Canuck games, but instead, they have opted to buy into the latest American fad.

The popular game shows range from the Fox network's Greed and NBC's 21, to CBS' Winning Lines and of course, the show which kick-started the craze, ABC's Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

Although these shows were not borne from their own genius, they are a part of a long standing tradition of get-rich-quick schemes which started with 21 in the '50s and the European game show, Masterminds.

However, the popularity these shows have garnered, especially Regis Philbin's following with Millionaire, outweigh anything seen before in television history, said Mike Cosentino, director of programming and communications at CTV in Toronto.

The new prime time spectacles have surpassed the '80s influx of trivia-based programming such as Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune and have left their time-slot competitors in their wake.

Keir Keightley, an associate professor in the faculty of information and media studies at Western, suggests these game shows are filling the void of intelligent sitcoms and dramatic series.

"The sitcom is in a state of crisis. Without shows like Seinfeld that could carry their own weight financially, networks must look for less expensively produced shows instead of throwing away money on shows that don't succeed," she said.

Keightley added she believed the success these programs have attained are due, in large part, to their pop-cultured nature. "The easy questions on these shows flatter viewers and encourage them to shout out at their television. This makes for truly interactive television."

While game shows may not encourage the same passivity as other television programs, Keightley said there is a "dumming down" factor which makes the shows more accessible. "The universal appeal to these shows allows the networks to achieve huge numbers of viewers watching one show, instead of fewer numbers of people watching a greater number of shows," Keightley argued.

Cosentino said last Thursday, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire attracted over three million viewers and is averaging 2.5 million people per episode. "These ratings beat those of the Super Bowl and even ER, our top rated dramatic show for the past few years," he said.

Cosentino said such a vast audience has given CTV the ability to put the game shows in its schedule and have the same three million people stay tuned for the following prime time show. These kinds of programs, he explained, will run until the viewers have had enough.

"The basic appeal is to see in an instant the average viewer become a millionaire. It is exciting, dramatic and we can all relate to the pressures of the contestant," he said, adding most get-rich-quick shows are the result of a cyclical trend. "When the mini-series was in trouble, we brought in the sitcom. Now the sitcom phenomenon is wearing off and these shows are a refreshing difference."

For Canadians, the same accessibility to these programs as their American counterparts does not exist. "Contestants must be U.S. residents and questions tend to be geared toward the continental U.S.," Consentino said. He added while other countries are producing the same genre of game shows, a Canadian version is still on the drawing board at CTV. "We're looking for one day to be involved in this millionaire phenomenon, but for now we'll stay with our current status."

At the Global television network, where Greed is broadcasted in Canada, the reaction to creating a Canadian version is also hesitant.

David Hamilton, Global's director of national promotions and publicity, said the station would rather wait to see if the game show trend is merely a short term phenomenon.

"What happens is these shows hit a peak and start sliding. We would rather be involved in quality drama shows such as Traders and Ready Or Not," he said.

Hamilton added Global's proposed series would take a different path from the game show genre and lean more towards a series devoted to the Canadian Justice Department.

On the American front, ABC is interested in expanding Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to a wider genre of themes and to broaden its base of eligibility.

Micheal Davies, executive producer at ABC, said they are working with CTV as well as French-Canadian producers on developing special episodes for Canada. Some suggestions given to the producer have included "Who Wants to Be A Thousandaire?"

Davies added he wants Millionaire to be as accessible as possible.

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