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Playing Games

Long-forgotten game shows return

“You can’t improve on the wheel” might well be the battle cry of game show producers everywhere, and they’re not just talking about the “Wheel of Fortune.” Skimming through this fall’s game show lineup is like being spooked by the ghosts of quiz shows past.

Dick Clark’s “Pyramid” will return, helmed by host-of-the-ages Chuck Woolery. (In past incarnations the inflationary “Pyramid” has come in $20,000-, $25,000- and $100,000 versions, but a show rep says the new ’90s denomination hasn’t been decided yet.) Struggling updates of “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game” have also been renewed for second seasons. And there is reported interest in developing new versions of “The Match Game” and “Family Feud.”

One of the most ambitious endeavors for fall is a reincarnation of “Hollywood Squares” by syndication behemoth KingWorld. No host has been announced yet, nor has anyone been awarded the heralded center square. But the folks at KingWorld stress that they are looking for high quality guests like Tiger Woods and Jay Leno – so viewers won’t end up playing “Tic-Tac-Who?” “You will not sit there and look at nine squares, and say ‘I’ve seen each of those people on a ‘Love Boat’ episode,” says Sean Perry, senior VP of development for KingWorld. He quickly adds, “No disrespect to [”Love Boat” creator] Aaron Spelling.”

This game show cloning isn’t so much a lack of creativity, as it is a matter of survival. “New game shows take longer to develop an audience,” says Jim Picinich, program director for WCBS in New York, which will be running the updated “Hollywood Squares.” Stations are quick to yank a shaky show, so producers try to play it safe. “When the titles are familiar, there’s an audience that instantly remembers them and is more likely to tune in,” explains Picinich. “Syndicators can sell them as, ‘This worked before, it’ll work again.’”

Recycling also extends to perennial hosts like Bob Eubanks and Wink Martindale, who seem to be constantly getting rotated one show to the left. “Syndicators have to go out and sell 150 stations at a time,” says Jake Tauber, senior VP of programming at the Game Show Network. “When you go to Topeka, you say, ‘We’re doing “Pyramid” with Chuck Woolery.’ The person says, ‘Oh, I remember him from “Wheel of Fortune,”’ and you don’t have to sell them on a whole new guy.”

One place where first-time game shows still have hope is on the appropriately-titled Game Show Network. “We can do a show that no one has ever heard of, because an audience will come here looking for it,” says Tauber about his niche channel. But sometimes even pioneers can’t resist a classic: The network’s newest project is “JEP!”, a version of “Jeopardy” for teens, premiering January 30.