As someone who has spent many hours vegetating happily in front of Jeopardy! and The $10,000 Pyramid as it inflated into a $100,000 pyramid, I wonder, Why can’t anyone come up with a good new game show? Such a program would be instantly addictive to millions of viewers, a bonanza for advertisers, and could easily yield a figure of national prominence equal to Vanna White. But I guess I also know the answer to my question. While game shows are cheap to produce and frequently seem as hastily slapped together as their glitzy sets, inventing a fresh, intriguing premise for one is actually exceedingly difficult; like so much supposedly cheesy pop culture, there’s an art to the good stuff that can’t be faked.
The summer’s new major-network, prime-time game show, The Hollywood Game pretty much admits this difficulty by being shamelessly derivative. Everything about The Hollywood Game seems recycled, including host Bob Goen, the amiable square-jaw who presided over the daytime CBS version of Wheel of Fortune in 1989-91. As host of The Hollywood Game, Goen stands in the shadow of a reproduction of Los Angeles’ famous Hollywood sign and asks two pairs of contestants questions about movie and TV trivia.
”What are the first names of the Blues Brothers?” ”Name two jobs that Roseanne has had on Roseanne.” ”What was the name of the nightclub that Ricky owned on I Love Lucy?” If you’re like me, you got two out of three of those Hollywood Game questions correct. Jake and Elwood — that was easy. Beautician and waitress — I’m a Roseanne fan. I was never much of a Lucy fan, though, so the proper answer — Club Babaloo — didn’t jolt the old gray cells. In fact, the Hollywood contestants didn’t know the answer to the Lucy question either — could it be that, with our educational system in crisis, we’re not teaching young people enough about America’s most beloved comedian these days? Time for classes in Remedial Ball?
The Hollywood Game is just a TV version of the board game Trivial Pursuit, using only the show business cards. It would be a harmless, inoffensive show were it not for, oh, two or three things. First there’s the verbiage that someone writes for poor Goen to recite; his setup for that Blues Brothers question was, ”Saturday Night Live set a standard for late-night comedy and made stars of many of its alumni, among them, the Blues Brothers.” Even Bob’s eyes were glazing over reading that cue card.
Then there is Hollywood’s annoying habit of showing clips from the movies and TV series it mentions — teeny, tiny little scenes of everything from The Hand That Rocks the Cradle to The Simpsons, all of them yanked out of context and edited into incoherency. They’re pointless, neither entertaining nor helpful to the contestants in answering the questions.
Then too, The Hollywood Game is far too willing to suck up to Hollywood itself. Goen concluded the show’s debut by showing us a clip from Batman Returns, which just happened to be opening that very day. There was no reason to show the scene; it didn’t figure as a question in the game. It was intended, said the host, ”to help you sharpen your trivia skills.” Yeah, and also to help prod you into a movie theater that weekend.
In the fall Bill Cosby will enter the game-show competition with his updated, syndicated version of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. The show is expected to do well, but no matter how amusing Cosby is, it’s just another reworking of an old idea. The great new game show of the ’90s remains to be invented. C