NBC has enjoyed recent success with gameshows of the loud, dramatically lit and unwaveringly dumb variety, and Fox’s “The Rich List” — which premiered Wednesday to poor ratings opposite “Lost” and “Criminal Minds” — falls comfortably within that realm. Billed as from the producers of “The Weakest Link,” the show has the basic feel of “Twenty-One” for dummies, what with its soundproof boxes, escalating stakes and contestants rattling off pop-culture-heavy lists (Tom Cruise movies, Oscar winners, Broadway musicals) for cash and air time.
Among the program’s modest innovations, each team of two players joins strangers who must strategize about how many entries they can identify from People magazine’s sexiest-man-alive list, say, before getting it wrong. The team that wins those challenges subsequently goes for cash on a tower that ascends to $250,000, with no limit on how much they can ultimately amass.
The concept certainly draws liberally from other quiz and game shows, even incorporating a bit of “Name That Tune,” as the competing duos boast of how many correct answers they can provide within a given category. Thanks to that structure, there is an amusing play-along element, assuming you’ve been kicked in the head by a horse and can’t come up with 10 of the U.S.’ top 50 newspapers or that many animated Disney/Pixar movies.
Eamonn Holmes, an Irish news presenter and quiz master with BBC credentials, makes for a jolly, playful host, while the contestants range from “Temptation Island” rejects to just plain odd. The premiere’s triumphant tandem were a self-described “Golden Girls” expert who let loose with maniacal giggles paired with a cranky old guy who kept insisting he was experiencing heart trouble because of all the excitement. Damn you, Fox alternative programming department, you’re killing me!
For the most part, “The Rich List” is harmless and silly, very much along the lines of NBC’s “1 vs. 100,” another show where visual flair masks the fact that with questions this easy, a reasonably bright 12-year-old could easily sock away enough for Ivy League college tuition.
There’s a certain pleasure, of course, in watching dim bulbs win money, since viewers get to simultaneously feel happy for the participants and superior to them. Seriously, though, isn’t watching a dope enjoy the thrill of victory what U.S. elections are for?
Given the initial ratings, this hour hardly looks like anything more than short-term filler for Fox before “American Idol” arrives, which wouldn’t be a major loss. Because if the category was truly engaging gameshows, “The Rich List” wouldn’t be included.