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Game Shows: The Price Isn’t Right : Television: Networks are dropping onetime staples in favor of talk and news shows, which are cheaper and attract younger audiences.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The category is Dying Breeds. The clue: “A once popular form of daytime television that has all but disappeared from the networks.”

Don’t forget to phrase your answer in the form of a question.

If you said, “What are game shows?,” you’re correct.

Next month, NBC will bid farewell to “Wheel of Fortune” and “Classic Concentration,” its last two game shows. Earlier this summer, ABC cashed in its remaining game show, “The Match Game.” That leaves just two survivors for next season: “The Price Is Right” and “Family Feud,” both on CBS.

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“In the 35 years that I have been on television, I have seen game shows behave just like the stock market,” said longtime “Price Is Right” host Bob Barker. “Right now the market is down, way down.”

Morning network schedules, once filled with buzzers, bells, whistles and lights, are fast becoming the territory of talk shows, news and information. “It’s like a hurricane came and wiped them all away,” said Mark Goodson, whose company produces “The Price Is Right” and “Family Feud.”

“Part of this is the attitude networks have toward game shows, and part of it is economics,” said Bob Lloyd, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Reg Grundy Productions, which produced “Scrabble” and “Sale of the Century.”

“The attitude is that game shows skew old, and networks are looking for younger audiences,” he said. “The economics is that networks can do reality shows in-house, with their own production staffs, and do them cheaper than they can buy game shows.”

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The current trend toward reality programming does not, however, signal the end of game shows. They are still popular in syndication, and new ones are being developed for cable-TV audiences.

In fact, the few game shows still on the air are among the most successful programs on television. “The Price Is Right,” the longest-running game show in TV history after 19 years, is currently the No. 2 program on daytime television, behind “The Young and the Restless.” And the two top syndicated shows for the 1990-91 season were “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!,” both from Merv Griffin Productions.

“I can’t look at the success of ‘Price Is Right,’ and the audience it continues to draw, and say the form is dead,” said Lucy Johnson, vice president of daytime programming for CBS. “Program forms go in cycles, and they fall in fashion and out of fashion.”

What “Price,” “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” have in common, however, is that they have all been around for at least 15 years, with “Price” based on a game show that premiered in 1957.

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“I think part of the problem is that in trying to lower the risk of success or failure, the tendency is to go back and revive older titles--like ‘Password, ‘Concentration,’ ‘Tic Tac Dough'--because they were well known,” Johnson said. “That was an understandable choice a few years ago, but it possibly helped the demise of game shows today. At the same time, a new idea is harder to launch.”

Indeed, a small surge of new syndicated game shows last season, from such established producers as Dick Clark and Disney, flopped. Griffin expressed concern over the closed market to new ideas. He said that in the heyday of game shows, there were always new games to keep audiences interested.

“I was part of the most successful lineup of game shows in the history of television,” he said. “On NBC back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was ‘Play Your Hunch,’ which I hosted, ‘Price Is Right’ and ‘Concentration.’ Those shows regularly pulled a 40 share of the audience. When we pulled less than 44, we wondered what was wrong. Now a 15 share of the audience is hot.

“But those were breakthrough shows. The problem is there are no breakthrough game shows today.”

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Barker concurs. He said the current game show drought has resulted from a flood of bad game shows.

“What happens in these periods is (that) every person who hopes to become a producer comes up with a game show,” he said. “And they unfortunately are often better salesmen than they are producers. And both (early evening) and daytime becomes inundated with game shows that are not good. These game shows last a very short time, and they disappear.

“We’ve had an awful lot of terrible game shows in the last year. They’re gone. We’re down to a few. And I’m sure once the networks find another successful game show, they’ll be back.”

In dropping their game shows, ABC and NBC claim they are merely following the trend toward reality programming. ABC dropped “Match Game” to extend the magazine-style “Home” show from 60 to 90 minutes. On NBC, meanwhile, fewer than 75% of the network’s affiliate stations now air “Fortune” and “Concentration,” choosing instead to broadcast syndicated talk shows. So NBC decided to relinquish the 10 a.m. hour to all of its local stations.

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“You have to look at what’s working in the syndicated market,” said John Miller, NBC’s executive vice president of daytime programming. “Those sort of personality-driven shows that deal with reality or talk or information are what seem to be working. And no one wants to create a glut of them, but they do seem to be attracting the salable audience right now. So that’s where we’re headed.”

To that end, NBC has hired “Entertainment Tonight’s” John Tesh to host a new morning interview show, “One on One,” beginning Sept. 9. “The hope is, over time, to find our own Donahue or Oprah, and have a franchise for some time to come,” Miller said.

One area where game shows have enjoyed increasing popularity is on cable. MTV enjoyed success with “Remote Control” and now is planning two more game shows. The children’s channel Nickelodeon pits kids against parents in “Family Double Dare.” USA Network runs an afternoon block of game show reruns. And Lifetime, the cable channel for women, revived “Supermarket Sweep” and developed a companion game show, “Shop Till You Drop.”

“From the cable networks’ perspective, since cable has a more targeted audience, a more focused audience with the niche that we have, we can try to seek out or develop new game programs that will meet our viewership and our viewership’s needs and interests,” said Donna Harris, Lifetime’s vice president of original programming. “So the shows don’t have to be as broad-based in terms of content and viewer appeal.”

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And are you ready for the Game Show Channel? If Los Angeles television programming consultant Dick Block has his way, the cable service will be on line by 1992.

“The channel will be like a beacon for people who like game shows,” Block said. “Our research revealed that there is a significant amount of the population who like game shows very much. Game shows are cyclical, and they’re going to be back with a vengeance.”


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