Alphabet back in the quiz biz

'Deal' is a hit o'seas including Oz, Italy, Argentina

The “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” network is back in the game show business: ABC has picked up six episodes of the Endemol USA contest “Deal or No Deal.”

A hit in territories including Australia, Holland, Italy and Argentina, “Deal or No Deal” is a tension-building quiz show that pits studio audience members against one another until a final victor is given a shot at winning $2 million.

Endemol USA prexy David Goldberg said he thought the time was right to bring back the primetime gamer genre. Spurred by the mega success of ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the broadcast webs went quiz crazy at the turn of the century, airing entries such as NBC’s “Weakest Link” and Fox’s “Greed.”

But the trend quickly diminished, as “Millionaire” burned out on ABC. Other than CBS’ occasional primetime editions of “The Price is Right,” and the WB’s one-time special “Play for a Billion,” games have been virtually absent from primetime since ABC pulled “Millionaire” in 2002.

Still, a half-hour version of “Millionaire” thrives in syndication. And Goldberg said he’s encountered much more interest from nets regarding game shows than even a year ago.

“There’s a feeling out there that the game is coming back,” Goldberg said. “It’s part of the natural ebb and flow of genres. The fact that ‘Millionaire’ has some traction in syndication and ‘Pyramid’ is doing quite well, people feel like now’s the time for a new game.”

Enter “Deal or No Deal.” The show begins with 100 contestants (think “Price is Right”), who also serve as the show’s studio audience. The group is divided into teams that continue to compete until the final round, when one studio audience member wins a shot at taking home $2 million.

That’s when the game really takes off, Goldberg said. The contestant is then presented with 26 briefcases — carried by 26 models who look like they came out of an old Robert Palmer video. The contestant is also given their own bag, which may or may not contain the loot. All of the bags contain money — anything from a penny to that jackpot $2 million.

At that point, the player must choose six of the models’ briefcases and open them up. At the same time, the show’s “bank” will bribe the contestant with a decent wad of cash; the player must make a decision whether to take that bribe by guessing whether or not their own bag contains a bigger prize (using process of elimination from what was inside the models’ bags).

If they think their own briefcase contains big bucks, they’ll tell the bank “no deal.” But if it turns out the models had big cash in their bags — and the player’s briefcase looks to be filled with chump change — then they’ll go for the “deal.”

Sounds complicated — but Goldberg said the show is attracting 35 shares in the Netherlands and is a monster hit in Italy, where it airs as a weeknight strip.

“We’re hoping this can be the next ‘Millionaire,’ ” Goldberg said.

“Deal or No Deal” is one of several Endemol programs already picked up or in the works at ABC. Alphabet web recently doubled its order (from six to 12 segs) for Endemol’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” hosted by Ty Pennington.

“Home Edition” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. this midseason.

“It’s nice for us, that we finally broke into doing business with them,” Goldberg said. “We’re doing things that fit right into their brand.”

Separately, ABC picked up a comedy pilot Wednesday starring standup comedian Rodney Carrington.

The Touchstone laffer, from scribe Ric Swatzlander (“8 Simple Rules”), is a family show based on Carrington’s real life. Swartzlander and David Himmelfarb will exec produce.

Project is a redeveloped version of last season’s Rodney Carrington pilot at ABC.

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