Creating Game Shows
Creating Game Shows
Bob Boden (Vice President of Production, Fox Reality Channel) gives expert video advice on: What is the process for getting a game show on the air?; Who are the most influential game show creators?; What was Merv Griffin's impact on the game show genre? and more...
What is the process for getting a game show on the air?
In order to get a game show on the air you have to have two things, a great idea and the connections to get that idea pitched and then produced. There are a lot of great ideas, most of the game shows that I've heard over the years are not great ideas. It's hard to come up with a formula that really is solid and will be enduring, and will be engaging and compelling to viewers for a long time. The part two, which is finding someone to help you package it, and front it, and perhaps finance it, and pitch it, and ultimately produce it, that's a lot harder. But there are not a lot of producers out there who do this, so if you can get into the good graces of one of them, and your idea is good- you will have a shot.
Who are the most influential game show creators?
The most influential game show creators of all time are Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. They started as partners in the forties. Their partnership endured until the death of Bill Todman, and the company that he created with Mark Goodson lived on as Mark Goodson Productions. And then Mark Goodson Productions was sold to what is not Freemantle Media. But "The Price is Right" and "Family Feud" still, at the end of their show, say, "This is a Mark Goodson Production.” There will be, I don't think, ever, anybody as prolific and as creative as the Goodson-Todman shop. And many, many great game show producers worked there and learned there. Most notably, Bob Stewart. Bob Stewart is credited as the man behind "To Tell the Truth," "Password," "The Price is Right," and "Pyramid," four of the most enduring formats in the history of not only game shows but television. And Bob created "Password," "To Tell the Truth," and "Price Is Right" under the banner of Goodson-Todman and then later went out on his own and created "Pyramid" to start his own company or his part of his own company. I would say he is one of the most influential creators of all time.
What was Merv Griffin's impact on the game show genre?
Another influential creator is the late Merv Griffin. Merv had only two real notable shows that he created, but they are two of the biggest powerhouses in the history of television. those were Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, both of which, in various incarnations, have been on for more than thirty years.
How did Merv Griffin become a game show creator?
Merv Griffin was a performer, a singer, a band leader, and a composer. He had an interest in creating game ideas. The classic story about one of his first creations, which was Jeopardy, was that he was on a plane with his wife, Julann, and they were lamenting the quiz show scandals that had just taken place and this was the early 1960's. Julann said "What about a show where we counteract all of the scandal about giving the answers and we give the answers and the contestants have to come up with the question"? And as an example of that, she said "5,280 feet" and he said "How many feet are in a mile?" and that's apparently how Jeopardy was born.
What was Chuck Barris's impact on the game show genre?
Probably one of the most creative game show, producers and creators of all time was Chuck Barris. And Chuck was notable for taking traditional game show conventions and turning them up side down. The most notable examples would be the Dating Game, which was a very honest and bold concept for the mid sixties, where young people got to choose their date just by virtue of a vocal interview, and not by seeing them. The Newly Wed Game was groundbreaking in its time because it was the first show that really got into the bedrooms of America's married couples; and it did it in a very subtle and comedic way, but it was very powerful and very enduring. And then the Gong Show, is not just most successful show but probably has most memorable show, largely because he hosted it. And I think he hosted it because there just was nobody around who was as crazy as him at that time, who could bring the style, and the wit, and humour a bet show to life as Chuck Barris did.
How were Chuck Barris' shows received?
Chuck Barris got criticized, even ridiculed from time to time by the press because his shows were often considered to be lowbrow and appealing to the LCD, lowest common denominator. But Chuck Barris' shows were compelling and funny and people watched them. It was always funny that if you were to mention the Gong Show in any public forum, everyone around would say oh I don't watch that crap, but the Gong Show was a very successful show, so if nobody watched that crap, then the Gong Show wouldn't have stayed on as long as it did. And I think a lot of people did watch that show, and it wasn't crap.
What makes a successful reality game show?
Reality shows have in common with game shows the phenomenon of casting being the overriding influence in the success of a show. Just like game shows that are cast for the best contestants, reality shows that are cast for the best contestants and succeed go on for many years, sometimes decades. The key difference I think is that game play skill is probably more at the forefront of game show auditions than reality auditions and that reality shows tend to want people with a little more depth, a little more character, a little more entertainment value than game shows do because they're really required to do more. They're not just answering questions and solving puzzles but they have to form alliances, they have to strategize, they have to verbalize everything that is going on in their heads, they have to confess, they have to be available for that great sound byte and I think it is a lot harder to be a great reality show contestant than a great game show contestant.
What are the current trends in game shows?
I think the most enduring game show titles will continue to endure. “Wheel of Fortune”, “Jeopardy”, “The Price is Right”, “Family Feud”, I think will stay on in their current form for many, many years to come. They may skew a little bit over the average television show or even game show, but they have a very solid following that goes back generations. And I don't think they're going anywhere anytime soon. I think “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” will also stick around for a while because it's a very solid, playable game that is incredibly involving.
What is the outlook for prime time game shows?
The prime time game show will continue to evolve slightly, and I think that the bar will continue to rise on what networks try to do in prime time games, and that includes reality games. I don't know how high that bar's going to get, and I don't know if at some point the house of cards may tumble, but it's possible. There may be just too many prime time game shows. The lesson that was learned from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire's prime time run is that overexposure can cause premature death, and that had Who Wants To Be A Millionaire not been on three or four times a week it might have stayed on air, perhaps once a week or maybe twice a week. It's important to look at the pattern of the current shows and make sure that they're not stretched too thin, because viewers do get impatient and they want new ideas. If something's on too frequently as a big prime time spectacle, it could hasten it's demise. I don't think that's the case for a syndicated show. I don't think that Wheel and Jeopardy being on five days a week or a daytime show like Price Is Right being on five days a week is harmful to it, but I do think a prime time show in a different competitive environment can suffer from over exposure.
How have game shows changed to a appeal to new generation?
One of the classic challenges in game show production and programming is that the conventional wisdom is that they skew old games shows. Game shows attract an older audience than the average television show. And in some cases it is a very old audience, and an old audience is simply not desirable by the advertising community. So the broadcast networks have been reluctant to put a lot of game shows on in primetime because the belief has been that they will bring up the median age of the network. That hasn't been the case for a lot of game shows, as many of the games that have had success in prime time have actually skewed younger audiences than the average game show. Still possibly older than the median age of the network, but not so much so that its hurt the network, or it's advertising rates. That said, as game shows continue even in prime time, they do tend to get a little older over time. The older viewers do have more loyalty, and do get into a habit of watching shows more than younger viewers. Younger viewers want new things quicker and more immediately, be it generation X or Y or millennial or whatever name you want to give them. They don't stick with shows as long as their parents and the prior generations. So one of the challenges in programming game shows is how to keep the shows fresh and appealing to the younger crowd.