New quiz shows breath fresh air into old genre

More than a decade has passed since “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” splashed down in the international market, reviving the gameshow genre and driving the global format trade. But has the fizz gone out of the quiz biz?

When British production company Celador launched “Millionaire” in 1998 it was a game-changer, standing conventions on their heads and setting new standards.

“When we saw one of the first editions, we immediately knew that this was something very special,” recalls Paul Romer, chief creative officer at global production behemoth Endemol. “It was the formatting of the whole thing: the way the set, lights and music worked together in the build up of the drama.”

“Millionaire,” which at its height was on air in 106 territories, helped inspire an explosion in the formats biz.

“The shows that were around before ‘Millionaire’ were not branded as cohesively or formatted as rigorously as it was. After ‘Millionaire,’ things began to look different,” says Rob Clark, prexy of worldwide entertainment at London-based international producer FremantleMedia.

No gameshow can stand still and Sony Pictures Television, which now owns the rights to “Millionaire,” has spawned a spinoff, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Hot Seat.”

SPT international production prexy Kees Abrahams describes it as a “musical chairs” version of the show, with several contestants. “With more contestants, the stakes are higher and there’s more adrenalin,” he says. “We will continue to look at ‘Millionaire’ and keep it fresh and new and young.”

The gameshow genre is evolving. It tends to attract an older demo, so to reach out to the youngsters, producers have created hybrids that fuse reality elements with gameshow mechanics.

SPT recently launched “Frenemies,” for example, in which the contestants are shown to bond or bicker over dinner before proceeding to the quiz.

But such cross-fertilization has its limits. The use of comedy, for instance, may undermine the very qualities that keep viewers glued to a show.

“The reason why people haven’t gone down the comedy route is because you want to have that heightened sense of jeopardy in a gameshow,” says Remy Blumenfeld, director of formats at ITV Studios Global Content.

The same is true regarding the use of scripted elements. “The moment you feel like the show has been fixed in any way, its chances are pretty much out the window,” he says.

Several such shows launched at last month’s Mipcom TV mart in Cannes, each with a novel twist. In Endemol’s “101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow,” for example, losing contestants are ejected from the show … literally, shot by cannon or catapult and so on.

One reason for the genre’s longevity is that gameshows are cheap to produce, of particular importance in a downturn.

“You can tape three to five episodes in one day and that is as efficient as you can get it,” Romer says.

The economic collapse has also driven a shift in tone toward more light-hearted shows, compared to the meaner and tenser shows of the past.

“It is all about having fun,” says Matthieu Porte, head of formats at Zodiak Entertainment. “Sitting on your couch and forgetting about the difficulties of everyday life.”

But do gameshows have a future in the age of “the content cloud” — the new buzz phrase to describe content that moves effortlessly from one platform to another. For instance, a viewer might start watching a show on TV, pick it up again on a computer screen and finish viewing on a personal device.

“In many ways, they are the most adaptable of all shows because they can be used separately from their TV life. So, if you look at ‘The Price Is Right,’ we earn more from non-televisual activities than we do from televisual,” Clark says.

“Gameshows are always about the game mechanic, and this mechanic not only works on television but also on the Internet, mobile and consoles,” Romer says. “The biggest change will be interactivity. The possibility for audiences to participate in the same gameplay from their home will be the driver for the coming years.”

Abrahams acknowledges the power of the Web.

“Companies like YouTube, Facebook and Google have a lot of viewers, so we have to take them seriously as a marketing platform for the content that we create,” he says. “It is not inconceivable that we will start a show on the Internet rather than television.”

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