Tuesday, October 6, 2015

TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #11: GAME SHOWS: INTRO AND HISTORY



Good morning, Class.

I know, it's been, awhile, way too long, in fact I probably should stop using the whole classroom eh, conceit with these, but I truly didn't mean to fall so far behind on this series, or on this blog, but I still do want to continue with this because there's still a lot of television to go through and somebody need to be out there teaching people how to watch a lot of it correctly. No seriously, I was reminded how important these lessons really are recently after one particular person in a Facebook group, let's call this person, J.K. HugeFucking-Asshole. when Mr. HugeFucking-Asshole eventually got himself kicked out of this Facebook group for berating television as a lesser art form than film, because he doesn't think things like Talk Shows or Game Shows or Reality Shows or any of the other more derided forms of the media were worth discussion, particularly when compared to movies, and that's part of why I do these, because genre, isn't what makes something bad, it's the quality of the product and with every television genre, there's a way to analyze the quality of a program even within the genre. Even within game shows, for every "Wheel of Fortune", there's dozens of "Queen for a Day". Never heard of that one, lucky you. Look it up one day.

Now that that's settled, the reason we're doing Game Shows is because A. This is a relatively simpler genre to talk about compared to Sitcoms or Drama Series and whatnot, but also because I want to eventually swing our way into discussing reality television and, while there's quite a few differences between the genres, you can pretty easily claim that game shows are pretty much what you would consider the predecessor to what would become Reality, in particular, what we call Reality-Competition shows. Although a lot of the early Reality show predecessors do seem aesthetically a bit like game shows sometimes, but that's a different discussion.

That said, let's be clear here, Reality-Competition Shows, are NOT Game Shows, and vice-versa. I've seen people try to confuse the two especially when there is a game show in Primetime and they throw it into Reality, but Reality-Competition Shows, they're main thing is that they're recreating and/or exaggerating what are essentially social experiments and situations, in some way or another based on real life events. For examples, show like "The Apprentice", eh, "Hell's Kitchen', even "Project Runway", to a certain extent "Project Greenlight" even, they're basically just televised job interviews. People who are uniquely or exceptionally talented in their fields of study (At least eventually we get down to the uniquely and/or exceptionally talented) and they're fighting for the same job opportunity/opening. You can throw in something like "American Idol" or "So You Think You Can Dance" as well into that, although those can be traced back to talent competition shows, especially later seasons of "Last Comic Standing" but they're basically overblown casting auditions.. Holding your own in a singing competition is not a game, it's trying to get a singing job. They're mimicking reality essentially.

Game Shows are about, playing games. Literal games. I know nearly everything is a game, but like, games, games. Like, go into your closet, like, your actual closet, and you see those old box games piled up on top? Yeah, those games. Cards, chess, checkers, Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, those games, real games. This is something that a lot of lesser game shows, especially these days tend to forget, especially some of the Primetime game shows events that usually last half a season longer than you thought they did, but game shows are not about the results or the tension, or even really the contestants or even the hosts really, it's about playing the game. Whether or not we're truly able to participate with the show at home, it's the people playing the game that's fascinating to us.

Not only is that where the real drama is, but let's face it, we, as a people and society, we play games all the time. Video games, role playing games, card games, dice games, board games, hell we make up our own games. Let's play a game now, we don't even need any of that, let's just play, "20 Questions". I'll think of somebody, you ask yes/no questions and try to figure out who it is. Real quick, um (Slight pause), okay I got somebody.

No, not a male.
Ye-es, she's an American I believe.
(Confused, shocked look)
Yes, it's Nicole Eggert, how the fuck did you get that?! What the-, from American & female and you got Nicole Eggert?-

Okay, nevermind but, see, we have a natural affection for games. Hell, I didn't even mention athletic and sporting games; we are a game culture. It's competitive it's naturally dramatic, and frankly it's just a compelling thing, we want to participate and play along. We've known this, since the earliest days of television. Televised game shows date back to 1938, it's one of the oldest genres on television, and the original version of "Truth or Consequences", aired in 1941, was the first nationally syndicated game show, and yes, like most other genres, game shows also trace their roots back to radio as well.

They're also-, um, can't really ignore this, and boy do we get into reality television here, um, you see, uh, game shows are really important in the history of television, because, well, they're the reason why television, is the way it is. Even today. (Awkward pause)

So, in these early days of television, as I've gone over before, basically anything and everything that could be put on the air was needed. Basically, the idea of there just being a little screen in the living room was new so people would really watch anything on there. but this also meant that, while there were guidelines, there weren't exactly rules on what you can and can't do or say or put on television. Game shows, cheap to make, popular, easy entertainment, and there were dozens of them! They're not such a part of the modern television landscape anymore, there were at least 40 or so game shows on three channels at certain points in the '50s, and that's not even counting some of the lost shows on the DuMont Network. (Including a rare surviving episode of "20 Questions", you can find on Youtube.) So there was competition and a few producers were trying to find ways of getting more of the audience ratings. (And they were big ratings winners, the only show to win the Neilsen's ratings over "I Love Lucy" was "The $64,000 Question") This lead, to, fix-ing, some of the games.

(Sigh) Ye-ah, uh, ugh. If you've never seen "Quiz Show", you might want to rent that, not only is probably Robert Redford's best film as a director, but it really does go into what is probably still the biggest and most controversial event in television history, the game show scandals. You see, there really weren't too many laws at the time, on what can or can't be on television, So, a game show, really, it could've been argued was basically as much a form of entertainment as "The Honeymooners", but they didn't say that it was like that. This is where we're getting into, how staged is, say "Storage Wars" which got under fire recently for say, finding items to put into the storage spaces and stuff like that, and is that in fact, uh, deceiving the public. I actually wrote a blog on that awhile back, here's the link to that:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-storage-wars-lawsuit-thin-legal.html

Giving them one impression of what the show is, while it instead being another. I think "Man vs. Wild" I remember getting in trouble for this, because the show was promoted as a documentary reality series, about living in and off the wild, while in reality, the star of that show would spend night in hotels and spas and whatever, before going out and biting into raw fish and whatnot.

It is a matter of the public trust being upheld, not so much, whether or not a game show was fixed, remember, it's about how it's promoted. For pro wrestling fans out there, it's the difference between saying it's "wrestling" or saying it's "sports entertainment" (Which is actual distinction that requires different things from different athletic commission state-by-state and whatnot....) and this led to the creation, of what we now know as "Standards & Practices". Yes, this is why, you can't say "Fuck" on network television, it's not because of George Carlin, it's because of the producers of "21". And a few other shows as well, this wasn't just a single show remember, "Dotto" was actually the first show that officially got caught with this and was suddenly cancelled after a contestant was caught with the answers in a notebook, but yeah, that episode of "21" that's posted above is the infamous one.

It's actually kinda amazing how much this has influenced all of television, especially game shows. Now, you wouldn't even imagine that say, "Wheel of Fortune" or "Family Feud" might be rigged, it would be against the law if they were, but back then, you have to understand that this was still a young medium trying to understand what they can and cannot do. We're still feeling the effects of this, every time we suspect that their might something on television that might not be on the entire up and up..., I mean, imagine if somebody said the Super Bowl was rigged! (And NO, I am not saying it is; I'm not feeding those conspiratorial assholes)  That's the kind of big NO-NO, this turned out to be. You can really go back to this moment and see how much the television landscape was effected. Creating Standards & Practices alone was huge, (And if you've been to a game show taping, and I have, S&P, are always still there, keeping the contestants away from the hosts and the writers, and the hosts separated from all of them, and the producers are followed..., they're still not kidding with this) but it also started slowing down the game show boom, which lead to more of what we call panel shows, like "What's My Line?" and "To Tell the Truth", which weren't quiz and information based shows, so cheating was not as likely or even possible in some cases, that meant that they needed to fill in more airtime, so talk shows in the daytime, basically inevitably started from this; it was mostly soaps, game shows and kids shows before (Oh kids game shows, I almost forgot about that subgenre. We'll bring that up some other time), hell, the greatest game show of all-time, was created specifically because of the "21" scandal! No, I'm serious it was. This one: (Look down)



Didn't you ever wonder why "Jeopardy!" gave you the answer and you had to come up with the question? It was specifically designed that way, so as to exclude the possibility of fixing and cheating, You're giving them the answers, so it doesn't matter if they know the answers ahead of time, they have to come up with the question. (Plus it's a lot fucking harder to memorize 61 questions than it is five or ten answers! Yes, everything about "Jeopardy!" is created to eliminate the ability to cheat at a quiz show). It's amazing to think about it, and the fact that this show has survived all this time, but that's how well-designed this game is. It's about the game, you can play it at home while you're watching, the results don't matter as much as the fact that the players are playing and competing in a true test of knowledge and skill and even if there wasn't a bunch of S&P people there making sure you don't cheat, it's pretty hard to cheat at this game and it's especially hard to win. That's why when Ken Jennings won 75 times in a row, it was a huge accomplishment and deal! He was le-git!

Now, not all game shows are about knowledge, and they shouldn't be, there's other good game shows around. Some require skill, some involve luck, some a combination of both, some much more of one than others, and some are questionable whether they're game shows at all. There's a reason I didn't bring up how "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" are basically versions of dating, because that would lead to, is "The Dating Game" a game show or not question, (Or a better question, is "Love Connection" a game show or not)  and like I said before, we;ll get to when game shows move into early influences of reality shows later.

Anyway, no real homework assignment for this one, just think about how your favorite game shows, I'm sure you have one or two, but think a bit about how and how much, the focus is on the game itself, and the answer might not be a lot, we'll go over structures and format of game shows next time, and some shows are more shows than they are games, and that goes back to the beginning as well, "You Bet Your Life" for instance. is not remembered for how captivating the gameplay is. Also, think about how the "21" scandal has influence or effected your favorite game shows. Whether part of it's creation is an effect of S&P, or whether it's an aspect or two, etc. "Family Feud"'s an interesting one for instance, no questions, no answers, but you take a poll; they were obviously thinking a bit about that.

Well, go into the structures and format of game shows, what makes a good game show, what makes a bad or less-than-great game show, next time. So structure and formatting of a game show, and-eh, quality analysis of game shows next class, and then we should then move into reality television.

Okay, Any Questions?

What is No? Good. Alright, everybody, take care, have a nice day. No Whammys, no whammys, no whammys!
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