Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Crash and prizes

• Two new games began syndication runs this week.

Verdicts: Merv Griffin's Crosswords: &&

If crossword puzzles tempt you, you might be drawn to Merv Griffin's Crosswords, in which contestants answer brain-teasing word clues for a shot at walking away with a whopping $3,000 to $4,0000, on average, and possibly a trip on top of that if they're lucky. While I admire Crosswords for not dumbing down the material — even the most erudite will be stumped by some of the clues — Crosswords is, at heart, a broken format. Two primary players up front are gunning to buzz in for the correct answer, but behind them in later rounds are three "spoilers" who can buzz in and steal a front spot if neither of the two front players buzz in with a correct answer. That means a spoiler can do nothing for the entire game and buzz in with a single correct answer just before time runs out, move up to the podium with the higher score, and win the game. Bzzzt! That's unfair and unacceptable, and this show isn't worthy of being Griffin's parting gift to television. Better is Twentieth Television's Temptation, a remake of the internationally successful Sale of the Century format (notable runs included NBC, 1969-74 and 1983-89, and Australia's 9 Network, 1980-2001 and 2005-present [the latter under the title Temptation], among numerous others), although this one, too, is problematic. I've already said quite a bit in this post about what's right and wrong with Temptation, a three-person quizzer in which contestants build up a bankroll over multiple days with which they can buy marvelously discounted merchandise (a $35,000 Jaguar for $936 is one top prize), but the overriding problem is that Sale was always a classy and serious high-stakes format, and Twentieth has transformed it into a handbag-waving, "let's go girl!" affair that will likely scare off some male viewers and disappoint those who remember the tense games in which the champion played for "the lot" — all the prizes and the big cash jackpot — something which isn't offered here. Further souring the bargain, straightforward questions have been tossed out the window in favor of a series of mini-games that is over and done with by 16 minutes into the show; it simply screams for more game (such as … duh … some straightforward questions). The quiz element focuses on pop culture, and I'm generally OK with that; I like the new Knock-Off game, which rips off an old '80s syndie game called Wipeout, in which the contestants choose the multiple right answers to a question from a list that includes wrong answers. On the other hand, I hate the new Fame Game, which uses hangman in favor of Sale's classic "Who am I" question and suspenseful pick of the board for a boost to a player's score or a prize. That said, the essence of the format remains, and I've still enjoyed what I've seen thus far; the producers just need to learn how to work with the drama that's right under their fingertips and stop selling it out in a clueless grab for handbag-waving ratings. Somewhere, Jim Perry, NBC's Sale host from '83-'89, is rolling in his recliner.

Pictured: Crosswords host Ty Treadway holds the big board at bay.

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