Will game shows save the fall TV season?

OK, apologies my dear readers for a “click-bait” headline. I don’t honestly think that the fall TV season needs saving. Yes it’s true that there aren’t a lot of new shows coming this year but there’s just so much TV out there that you’ll still find something great to watch.

The TV industry is constantly reinventing itself, and always looking for something to capture the public’s interest. This time around, they’ve been leaning on programming that requires no script, and can be produced with a smaller crew. I’m talking about game shows.

One of the oldest forms of programming

Game shows have been on television since the beginning. In the 1950s, they rose to incredible prominence, but were rocked by a scandal that kept them sidelined for years. Several large game shows were revealed to be fixed to one degree or another. If you’re looking for a very engaging look at the time, look at the 1994 film Quiz Show. Game shows recovered, though, focusing first on tests of skill that were not easily “fixed.” Eventually, high-dollar trivia shows like the ones that created the scandal returned. They’ve never really gone away, thanks to unprecedented daytime runs for shows like Let’s Make a Deal and The Price is Right.

Evening game shows

Night-time game shows have come and gone several times over the years. It was common in the 1960s and 1970s to have both daytime and night-time versions of a show. Usually the evening version had bigger prizes and was one half-hour, while daytime versions ran longer but with smaller prizes. The Price is Right had an evening version, although perhaps the best-remembered primetime game show of the time was Match Game, which pushed the boundaries of what was allowed on TV with saucy innuendo baked into every episode.

In the 1970s, local stations began picking up syndicated game shows and this led to the eventual dominance of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, both now celebrating about 40 years of ongoing airings.

Rise of the modern game show

If we look at the modern game show, two shows come to mind. Regis Philbin bragged that he singlehandedly rescued ABC from extinction with Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and he’s probably not too far off. At the same time, global sensation The Weakest Link grew in prominence thanks to bitingly dark host Anne Robinson. The US version was short-lived but the rest of the world did enjoy it quite a bit.

Game shows in the early 2000s gave way to reality television, a trend that’s dominated the last two decades. But, with competition-style reality shows waning, it looks like game shows could be coming back to save the day.

What to expect this year

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  returns

Millionaire returned this spring for a short run that was produced in the early days of the pandemic. The show, despite reflecting the jittery uncertainty of the time in which it was shot, was as much fun as ever. It’s coming back this fall, again hosted by the jocular Jimmy Kimmel. It probably won’t be the global smash it was a generation ago, but it’s likely to keep ABC going as everyone figures out how to shoot TV shows safely.

The Weakest Link comes back up to bat

The Weakest Link’s hook was that contestants worked together, and perennially one person from each team would be winnowed out until one person prevailed. The real star of the show was the sharp-tongued British host, and this time around that role’s being played by the affable yet versatile Jane Lynch. It remains to be seen if she’ll be as cold and cruel as Ms. Robinson.

Supermarket Sweep — who asked for this to return?

ABC is making a big deal of Supermarket Sweep. I’m not sure anyone was clamoring for this to come back, especially since Guy’s Grocery Games (which still airs) isn’t that different. I myself had totally forgotten about this show, which aired from 1965-1967, 1990-1995, and 2000-2003. But ABC’s betting that the fourth time’s the charm, and that Leslie Jones is just the kind of host we need in these troubled times.

Will you be watching?

I’m curious! Leave a comment below and let me know what your plans are. Will game shows win at Final Jeopardy, or are they the Weakest Link?


About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.