To paraphrase ABC latenight host Jimmy Kimmel, “National Bingo Night” really does make “Deal or No Deal” appear smart and demanding by comparison. This strange compliment is based on an unfinished preview, but as with the game itself, it’s not difficult to fill in the blanks. Completely skill-free except for a rudimentary grasp of probability, the program meets the two major criteria of modern gameshows — cheap and simple minded — while dressing up a pastime enjoyed by old ladies in Nebraska with graphics recalling “The Running Man.”
The show’s hosted by “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s” Ed Sanders with hyperactive abandon, but its one real breakthrough is “bingo master” Sunil Narkar, who periodically gets to yell, “No Bingo! Play still on!” — a line that has “drinking game” written all over it. Assuming any of them are home watching on Friday nights, college kids will surely want T-shirts.
As structured for TV, the contestant tries to pick whether the next ball shooting out of the huge bingo machine will be higher or lower than the previous one, racing to reach 500 points before one of the 200 audience members shouts you-know-what.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of this particular series is that the much-beloved “play at home” element, which has become standard for this genre, is here predicated on a game with which the audience is familiar — and a natural, at that, for courting church groups that otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead watching the bed-hopping sluts populating ABC’s dramas.
Unfortunately, NBC got there first with “Deal” and “1 vs. 100,” and most of these me-too gameshows have yielded lesser returns. That said, the high-energy approach and low-cost production values (seriously, do all these shows share the same set and lighting designer?) provide a square-to-be-hip come-on, and playing into the summer on Friday nights doesn’t exactly set the bar way up there in terms of ratings expectations.
Oh, and let’s not forget one more bit of back-handed praise you’ll probably hear more than once before the summer’s over: “And hey, it’s strike-proof!”