Saturday, December 24, 2005

TV: Deal or No Deal

Genre: Game show
Logistics: NBC, due to return
Verdict: &&&

"No trivia questions, no crazy stunts," Howie Mandel says during the opening of Deal or No Deal, the latest network stab at a big-money primetime game show and, like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a show that is already a foreign success. While half of that statement sounds like a potshot at Fear Factor, one of the most heinous crimes ever foisted on the American viewing public, the other half , "no trivia questions," only calls attention to how thin a concept Deal or No Deal really is: A contestant chooses one of 26 suitcases containing dollar amounts ranging from 1 cent to $1 million. Suitcases are opened in chunks of six, then five, etcetera, with the bank making an offer to buy back the contestant's suitcase after each round of selections. If the revealed suitcases contain a lot of low values, the bank's offer goes up. It's all a matter of chance and determining when is the right moment to stop – and that's just about it, with big money and glitzy production to prop it up. The stage full of suitcases is a nice touch, reminiscent of the '70s and '80s Treasure Hunt (a Chuck Barris production, no less), with its stage full of prize packages, one of which contained a check for a large sum. I like that there's a model on Deal to hold each and every suitcase and a constant barrage of statistics thrown up onscreen, such as, "Marla has a 60 percent chance of having $100,000 or more in her suitcase." The show's weakness is its one-dimensionality – introducing some family members on the sidelines does not qualify as mixing things up. Even Press Your Luck, the king of luck-based games, varied the pace with two question rounds. Nevertheless, Deal can be entertaining, especially when only a few cases remain and big money is still on the board. Its Dec. 19-23 run performed well enough that NBC has reportedly green-lighted further production. Since most of the few new game shows we get these days are formats that have proved to be international successes, here's hoping some American producer takes note of Australia's long-running success with $ale of the Century (it's the kind of juggernaut there that Wheel of Fortune is here), a game that's nonstop fun and, unlike Deal, weaves together a number of compelling elements.

// Fun fact // NBC's last game show attempt was the unspectacular revival of Let's Make a Deal.

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