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Showcase Showdown

June 1st, 2006

Last night brought the first episode of the summer TV series Game Show Marathon. It’s a wonderfully entertaining concept: take the same group of contestants through a gauntlet of current and classic game shows, complete with all the original bells and whistles. The games include The Price Is Right, Let’s Make a Deal, Beat the Clock, Press Your Luck, Card Sharks, Match Game and Family Feud.

Unfortunately, it makes a couple of major, though not fatal, missteps. First is that employs Ricki Lake as the host. I haven’t had much previous exposure to Lake, having an allergic reaction to afternoon talk shows. I’m sure that she’s an adequate emcee elsewhere, but she lacks the necessary smarm for game show host. (I did like that she closed last night’s The Price Is Right pastiche with a Bob Barkerish call to spay or neuter your pet.)

Second is the use of celebrity contestants. Granted, I am all too fond of former Trading Spaces perky girl Paige Davis, and was amused by her obvious delight in the opportunity to play Plinko. However, the problem with celebrity contestants is that there’s really very little at stake for them. Sure, charities may win or lose based on their performance, but there’s no personal risk. It’s one of the reasons that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? imploded.

What I think Game Show Marathon is missing are plain ol’ folks to run the gauntlet. And like the best reality show competitions, we need to know enough about them to actually give a darn whether they excel at Card Sharks.

Actually, what I think all game shows are missing is an opportunity for real people to play, and by that I mean contestants who aren’t prescreened and cast for their personality types. I’ll admit that a large part of this belief stems from the fact that I am not the sort of excitable person that game show producers like.

When it began, Millionaire was intriguing because the national phone line it used to test contestant wannabes suggested that we finally had a show which was truly open to the unwashed masses. Indeed, the first million dollar winner was just about the most personality-free human ever granted 15 minutes of fame. But before long, the phone line closed down and we wound up with a long parade of celebrities, sports figures and prescreened-within-an-inch-of-their-lives bubbleheads.

I’m not saying that I won’t watch more of Game Show Marathon. I’m looking forward to Paige Davis’s turn at Press Your Luck.

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