AUTHOR’S NOTE: Much like many other daily media efforts during this time of year, we’re reprising “best of” from the soon-to-be ending year (and not a minute too soon, may I add). Each day, we will attempt to connect something that just occurred or may happen in the world now with something we previously mused on.
This week NBC launched a two-week holiday run for a prime-time game show with successful roots in the UK called THE WHEEL. 17 years earlier, they did the exact same thing when they launched DEAL OR NO DEAL, albeit wirh refinements to its original format, a substantial increase in the prize budget (one suitcase could be worth ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!!) and a dramatic, Americanized look which at the time was more the norm for the genre.
When they announced their previous prime time game show tryout, a revival of the legendary US classic PASSWORD, earlier this year the announcement of its emcee choice produced a pretty negative reaction in many circles, including (sadly) from some ardent potential fans. The news of the choice of Keke Palmer as host came concurrent with the announcement of their “firm go” announcement for a new talk show featuring Karamo Brown.
As we observed then, such reaction was not only unforgivably ignorant, it was also effectively trying to bury its potential for success sight unseen:
I was somewhat disturbed when I saw some social media reaction earlier this week to the announcement of a third new daytime talk show for a fall launch, NBCUniversal’s KARAMO. Featuring the openly gay co-star of Netflix’s reboot of the one-time breakthrough Bravo hit QUEER EYE Karamo Brown, it is a de facto replacement for MAURY, for whom Brown often guest-hosted for the past few years. The fact is he is the third consecutive Black personality to be greenlit, following Jennifer Hudson and Sherri Shepherd. And, frankly, a lot of uneducated people took issue with it.
I am someone who has little tolerance for unwarranted prejudice of any kind. So seeing sad laments harkening back to the days of Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin and Phil Donahue is, to me, a sad commentary on the lack of understanding viewers have of their medium.
The fact is Blacks, particularly women, watch proportionately more daytime television than their Caucasian counterparts do. They also tend to engage in social media interactions more frequently than do Caucasians, another monetizable point for stations and producers. And for more than 35 years, every daytime personality has been chasing the standard set by arguably the most relatable representative of the underserviced audience she commanded, Oprah Winfrey.
Winfrey’s transformative debut and quarter-century run on daily national TV was unprecedented and since unduplicated. She immediately gained a legion of devotees who saw themselves in her–her struggles with weight and food addiction, her unabashed passion for products (granted, one that often paid her to support them), and even her love of particular books. Whenever rights became available in markets, the King brothers would deliver their maximum hard sell, knowing the ratings were indisputably strong, other options financially and image-wise disastrous and would often cost any managers on the losing end of any such negotiations their jobs. She also paved the way for Drs. Phil and Oz, among others, though given the benefit of hindsight we probably shouldn’t keep on saluting her for that.
Nowadays Winfrey limits her on-screen presence mostly to primetime specials, where she has indeed inherited the mantle of Barbara Walters and still sets the bar for large audiences in that daypart. She books big names, to be sure, but her legions of fans are still loyal to her and yet again reinforce that shows that appeal to Black audiences have a benefit to prime time, and networks know it. Countless articles cite surveys where multicultural audiences still feel underrepresented and executives are compelled to address it. When you can thread a needle with a cast that is representative yet appeals cross-racially, well, the color of the moment is cost. See the likes of ABBOTT ELEMENTARY or even my friends at S.W.A.T. (Congrats on the Season 6 renewal!)
Most recently, NBC announced that the new host of the revival of the classic game show PASSWORD is none other than Keke Palmer, a bubbly African-American female actress with zero game show hosting experience on her resume. As she is inheriting a job held over three decades by a man married to a woman whose surname was White I won’t even dignify the names that many of the same trolls bestowed upon her–before they were removed by their respective platforms. (Though you can probably guess).
Sight unseen, speculation compared her to Leslie Jones, whose over-the-top hosting of Fremantle’s recent reboot of SUPERMARKET SWEEP was tied by many to that show’s non-renewal. Again, facts support the decision. She was rejected because she was ill-cast. Nothing else. Keke’s an actress and gorgeous. She may have more in common with Elizabeth Banks, who has earned rave reviews for the same company’s new version of PRESS YOUR LUCK, and so far that’s working out fairly well.
If PASSWORD or KARAMO or anything else fail in the upcoming months, it will be because enough people choose not to watch, and at that point posturing on representation is moot. Because this is a business, and it IS about how things look in black and white. Keke, Karamo or anyone else may not be Oprah. But if they can carve out a fraction of her popularity, the the dominant color will be green.
Oh, the results of each, you might ask?
Turns out much of what was written about THE WHEEL was, ironically, just spin. It has hovered around 1.3-1.5 million viewers, consistently trailing in its time period against mostly rerun competition and the executives who were responsible for buying it for NBC have mostly been replaced.
In their defense, PASSWORD, their earlier choice, premiered with almost three times the audience, was the most-watched summer original series when it premiered and held near that level through its run. And Palmer, a mulitalented performer with a pedigree since childhood, turned out to be quite competent and appealing, bringing in new and desired audience familiar with her and eventually proving the more open-minded maysayers who loved the show that she was indeed worthy of being called this century’s “Ms. Password”–though, unlike Ludden, it is not a title that will define her, The show has been renewed, and Palmer closed the year with a well-received stint as host of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE as she promoted her award-winning role in the theatrical success NOPE.
By contrast, THE WHEEL imported its original British host Michael McIntyre, copied elements from several other UK game shows that were hits back when DEAL was launched, offered a relatively modest prize, built little tension and frankly, put me to sleep when I tried to watch.
I think it’s safe to say Palmer was better received than was McIntyre. Yes, ethnic appeal played a role in potential, but talent and execution ultimately determines what actually works, Karamo’s talk show is struggling, but if you’ve seen him in action he may have Maury’s format and writers but, frankly, he doesn’t deliver the goods the way Maury did (I mean, who do you THINK first uttered our tag line??!!!!)
But at least I actually gave both hosts and shows a chance to be seen, unlike so many that simply look at images and prejudge. I like Palmer. I didn’t like McIntyre. I like Sherri Shepherd. I don’t like Karamo Brown. And I’m not in the target demo for either, so it really doesn’t matter.
I’m hoping that’s what happened with all of these launches, and hoping even more feverishly that people will judge others by talent and not images going forward. Should that happen, the urgency of the link below may disssippate. But if you choose, you can click on it anyway. For now, I’m hoping you do that too.
Until next time…
POSTSCRIPT: We’re adding the following link with every repost through the end of the year because, well, you’ll see the reasons if you click on it. If you like what you’ve read, and perhaps are inclined to do more catch up, I’d greatly appreciate your consideration of taking the requested action.