Defining A Genre Just Got Muddier

Actually found the time and mental bandwidth to catch a couple of actual premieres in recent days.  I guess one could call them game shows, but it would likely be a healthy debate in both cases as to the accuracy of that classification.   And given my past experiences with such discourse, honestly, I’m currently not in the mindset to entertain another round of it anytime soon.

Friends of mine have literally written the book on this issue–three editions, to be precise.  THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TV GAME SHOWS, while now a touch outdated, is far and away the best-researched and comprehensive reference one could obtain if one were studying the genre’s history.  The entries are concise and meticulous; the details only as nuanced as when the narrative required it.  But when an attempt was made to craft a similar book on the history of reality television, turned out to be an oversized and ultimately incomplete stab that never saw an update.  In fairness, it was devised as a promotional hook for a short-lived and minimally seen channel built around reruns of shows whose very existence was dependent upon learning who emerges victorious–the lesson learned, as with soap operas, is that anything so heavily built around the end result has minimal appeal to all but the most ardent of fans if they already know the outcome.  The book was as successful as the network.

When I joined Game Show Network, before the management I answered into concluded my knowledge and success was somehow threatening to their agendas, I helped craft an upfront presentation that attempted to define our “new vision” of what is indeed a game.  With the demographic skew we had at the time, we needed to advance philosophical discussions in order to keep potential advertisers and partners in contention.  Whenever we were considering what would be our competitive set, one of my colleagues, a production lackey who the size of their ego exceeded even the degree of their plastic surgery, would insist that the Comedy Central series @MIDNIGHT was a traditional game show.  “I’ve been on the set many times”, this person would exclaim, “and I see people ringing buzzers, answering questions, scoring points.  And besides, it’s really cost-efficient.”  Somehow, to this person, those qualities defined what a game show is.

Well, irony of ironies, it is for ALL of those reasons that Shari Redstone’s least favorite loss leader, CBS, has resurrected it as its newest late night entry, now retitled AFTER MIDNIGHT, since it now starts 37 minutes later than the original version.   While it was never a true ratings success, @MIDNIGHT did achieve pop culture notoriety for its quirky look at current events through the eyes of internet trolls and improvisational comedy. a perfect compliment to a lineup that included similarly skewed commentaries and takes like THE DAILY SHOW and THE COLBERT REPORT.  Indeed, Stephen Colbert himself (and his wife and several of his talk show’s executives) is involved in producing this new series, and they’ve wisely brought back showrunner Jack Martin, who helmed the Comedy Central show.  AFTER MIDNIGHT is glossier and now embraces the TikTok and Snapchat video era, and to replace Chris Hardwick, whose MTV Networks history with SINGLED OUT was part of @MIDNIGHT’s selling points, Colbert has found an appealing and energetic replacement in millennial comedienne Taylor Tomlinson.

As an updating of a cable network original, this is more than fine.  But AFTER MIDNIGHT is unfortunately being compared to the more beloved show it replaced, THE LATE, LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN–and Tomlinson, the first woman to get an opportunity to tackle the daypart since Samantha Bee’s TBS series was unceremoniously scrapped amidst the hues and cries of a fan base crying gender discrimination, is carrying the weight of enhanced expectations from a generation of aggreived young women looking for a voice amidst the homogeniaty of middle-aged white men who now dominate what’s left of late night TV.  But as if often noted by the people most in control of what we see these days–beancounters–late night TV isn’t what it once was as a profit center or, for that matter, a destination.  AFTER MIDNIGHT is indeed as relatively cost-efficient as the original version was, and Tomlinson a much cheaper talent than Corden.

The reviews have been tepid from the likes of USA TODAY’s Kelly Lawler, who offered this whiny lament yesterday:

After the departure of James Corden from “The Late Late Show” last year, CBS decided not to put another white man behind a desk with celebrity guests at 12:37 a.m. EST/PST. Instead, the network tapped young (and female!) comedian Tomlinson, 30, to head panel show “After Midnight,” aWith a slightly altered name and a network TV glow up, “After Midnight” … still looks like a half-baked cable timeslot filler. The series is fine, occasionally chuckle-worthy and entirely inoffensive. But greatness never came from anything labeled “fine.” version of the Comedy Central show “@midnight,” which was hosted by Chris Hardwick and aired form 2013-17 at the aforementioned stroke of 12:00 a.m.  

See what I mean?

Maybe if Lawler would pay attention to the other news about the show that came out, such as the drop from THE WRAP’s Loree Seitz about how CBS is spinning the premiere’s numbers, she might have been taking on a different tone:

The reboot of “@midnight,” which originally ran on Comedy Central from 2013 to 2017, brought in 686,000 viewers to CBS during its Tuesday night premiere, according to Nielsen fast national figures. 

Viewership for the new show was up 31% in terms of total viewers when compared to the time period this season to-date, which has been filled by Byron Allen’s syndicated show “Comics Unleashed,” since the end of “The Late Late Show With James Corden” last spring.

The 12:30 a.m. premiere also scored CBS’ largest regularly scheduled audience in the hour time slot since the finale of “The Late Late Show” on April 27, 2023.

You see, Kelly, when the network that ordered the show is in play, the last thing anyone wants is “greatness”.

Though if you’re looking for ambitious and risky, you may need to look no further than what was unveiled before a Peacock-rejecting football audience last Saturday night on NBC.  Unlike AFTER MIDNIGHT, which is a comedy show wrapped in game show trappings, DEAL OR NO DEAL ISLAND is a game show, indeed the guessing game that gave the network its own chance to revive a struggling prime time and then blow it with overscheduling and stunting, much like ABC did a few years earlier with the original WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE, is back.  The faux Samsonite briefcases are back, fortunately containing different sums of cash time around (DOND’s shark was jumped when, in a desperate attempt to actually award the top $1M prize, the show added multiple million dollar cases until half of the 26 in play contained that amount; a 50-50 chance at anything loses some appeal).

But this time, the cases are literally covered in mud, as are the combatants.  As SCREENRANT’s Zina Zafow attempted to describe it:

One of NBC’s most popular game shows, Deal Or No Deal, is coming back, but this time it’s set on a tropical island, now titled Deal Or No Deal Island. The original game show premiered in 2005 and was immediately a huge hit. It ran for seven very successful seasons until 2010 and then a revival season in 2018. This new version will be the first time the show has aired since.  The new show will return to everything that made the series popular: high-stakes competition, millions of dollars in prize money, and the coveted Deal Or No Deal Banker. This time it’s changing the game by bringing contestants to a mysterious tropical island where they’ll compete against each other in intense physical and mental challenges. Simply put, this new version of the show is Deal Or No Deal meets Survivor.

And as if that wasn’t abundantly clear, those vying to play the game are indeed veterans of SURVIVOR and other backstabbing reality shows, including the notorious Boston Rob Mariano and Claudia Jordan, who double qualifies as both a veteran of Bravolebrity (REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA) and, indeed, the original DEAL OR NO DEAL series (she was the model who didn’t marry a prince).  What we saw was merely the overly scored build-up and introductions, which revealed that Joe Manganiello is taking over for Howie Mandel as host.  I’ve seen his biceps up close, and I think even Howie would admit he’s got him beat in that department.  What’s less clear is why he’s needed other than to cater to the same sort of voyeuristic appeal that reality show producers seem to believe is what draws younger viewers to watch what is much more like a “shiny floor” show than they may want to admit.  After the all-too-familiar scavenger hunt for the buried treasures that the cases have now become, allowing more and more muscle and toned thighs to be revealed covered in mud, the build-up to the preview episode’s climax hinted at what would be a supersized “classic game of DEAL OR NO DEAL”, now being played inside a canvas hut rather than a glitzy Universal City soundstage.  Classic?  Well, something that goes all the way back to 2005 can technically be referenced as classic, I suppose.

Many of the names associated with this version produced iterations of shows like FEAR FACTOR, so I suspect there will be elements of grossness along with the jockeying for position.  The reality of most good reality shows is that game show-like competitions are a staple, utilizing a lot of the same elements and talent that more traditional shows employ.  I’m just curious if NBC really thinks there’s enough reality here to bring those viewers in, without throwing in too much “game”, and vice-versa.  These aren’t necessarily complimentary fan bases.

And based upon the fact that NBC’s press releases are bragging about the iconic briefcases, now worth a combined $200 million, this seems to be anything but a cost-effective play.  Manganiello’s got to pay alimony to Sofia Vergara; he’s certainly not cheap.  And although Mandel is conspicuously not being cast as host, he is still an executive producer, and the climax to this tease half-hour promised to reveal the identity of the Banker, the heretofore unseen master of the cash temptations the original show used to tempt those seeking to become millionaires to tone down their expectations.

I know who I’d like to see in that role.  That said, I’m not in the Bravolebrity demo.  But I DO know what is and isn’t a game show. Ya hear that, ladies?

Until next time…

Leave a Comment