Game Show Network

Game Show Network has officially tapped the zeitgeist.

A GSN spoof on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” last season indicated that the once-struggling cable net has at last advanced its position in pop culture.

In fact, watching NBC alone in recent months, one would think the Peacock had a gaming addiction. Billy Bob Thornton plugged GSN on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” as did Megan Mullally’s character on “Will & Grace.” The “Today” show presented half-hour segs every day for a week on classic gamers.

You don’t have to take Thornton’s word for it, however, to know Game Show Network is one of the most buzzworthy nets in today’s wired world.

The Sony- and Liberty-owned service is one of cable’s fastest growing. It picked up 12 million homes in the last year to become available in more than 48 million households. Its primetime household cable ratings are up by about 25% year to year, and its median viewing age continues to drop.

“Our vision is to be the world champion of games on television,” says Rich Cronin, who came in as GSN prexy-CEO in spring 2001.

Since he came aboard, Cronin reviewed and revamped the schedule, increasing promotion on air and off, and carving out space for the network’s most popular classic gamers and originals in primetime. “With our on-air promo team, we were able to create a much hipper look for the network,” he says.

Cronin staffed up across many areas of the cabler’s biz, including programming and production, interactive, publicity and ad sales. He also brought in a new chief financial officer. “We’re hitting on all cylinders now,” Cronin says.

GSN introduced a quartet of new original series this year, “Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck,” “Russian Roulette,” “Friend or Foe” and “Lingo.” Two more, “Wintuition” and “Cram,” likely will premiere in December.

More than 35 hours of interactive play-along are now available each week.

About two dozen pilot presentations are in the works, including the blackjack-themed “Casino,” “Scrabble,” videogame-oriented “Tag Team” and “National Lampoon’s Funny Money.”

“We think that with all the upcoming shows, the buzz will continue,” Cronin says. “We’ll keep experimenting with library shows and ways to promote our schedule, with things like marathons. We’re constantly making sure we have a great mix of classics and new originals.”

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