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The Primetime Game Show Resurgence & How Long It Can Last


photo: CityTV
Game shows are a staple of daytime television and syndication in general. Networks like 'Buzzr' and 'GSN' are even dedicated to airing encores of classic game shows. Recently, the genre has found a new outlet in the form of primetime television. While they have aired in primetime before, they haven't been as prominent in the past couple years. That all changed when ABC decided to air 'Celebrity Family Feud' on their summer schedule in 2015. The Steve Harvey-led game show premiered to an incredible 2.4 in the 18-49 demographic. Ultimately, the series averaged an extremely healthy 2.0. To put things into perspective, it beat out all but 7 scripted shows that the alphabet network aired in the regular season. This prompted ABC to invest some more money in the game show business. The following summer, ABC revived three classic ones, 'Match Game', 'To Tell the Truth', and 'The $100,000 Pyramid'. While they weren't as big as 'Celebrity Family Feud', they still pulled in solid numbers.

Whether it was because of ABC's success or another reason entirely, other networks have started to join in on the fun. Fox and CBS have made game shows out of apps with 'Beat Shazam' and 'Candy Crush' respectively. The former network has also revived 'Love Connection' for the summer. NBC also has a slate of game shows with 'The Wall' and 'Hollywood Game Night (the latter has been around longer than 'Feud'). This sudden onslaught of programming has seemingly revived the primetime game show. But, will it last? Are we already at the end of this resurgence? Before we get to that, we have to look at how they are performing.

The Numbers
Let's start with the trendsetter itself, 'Celebrity Family Feud'. Yes, the show was a huge rating hit initially, but it has flamed out. The show dropped nearly 34% in its sophomore season and averaged a much weaker 1.3. Currently, the third season of the series is on par with the second with a 1.3 average. Despite the brutal second season drop, the show has steadied itself and is easily the strongest of the ABC game shows. Maybe it's not the huge hit it once was, but its ratings are still more than acceptable.

Outside of the mothership, ABC's game shows aren't exactly doing well. All had strong results initially, but have quickly slipped. For example, 'The $100,00 Pyramid' was a solid performer last summer with a 1.23 average in the 18-49 demographic. But, it has been a different story this year. Currently, the show is down over 25% from last year and its latest episode hit a meager 0.7 in the demo. Part of this decline could be because Funderdome is a weak lead-in, but even then, 'Pyramid' still normally does worse than it. Meanwhile 'To Tell the Truth' averaged a solid 1.0 last year, but the four episodes that aired this summer have averaged a dreadful 0.63. The last ABC game show, 'Match Game', was moved from summer to the regular season and fell over 20%.

The non-ABC game shows haven't done much better. 'Hollywood Game Night' has done the best with just a 10% drop for its fifth season this summer. NBC's other game show, 'The Wall', hasn't had much luck. While it did very well for its Tuesday run in the winter (averaging a healthy 1.5), it is currently down nearly 30% for its summer run.

Over on Fox, it's a mixed bag. 'Beat Shazam' has averaged a healthy 1.0. On the other hand, 'Love Connection' is averaging a much weaker 0.77 and its most recent episode managed just a 0.6 in the lucrative 18-49 demographic. 

CBS has had the worst luck with their game show. 'Candy Crush' had an okay 1.1 debut in the demo, but quickly collapsed. By episode three, it was down to a disastrous 0.5. The series shed over half of its audience over the course of three installments despite a strong 'Big Brother' lead-in.

In all, most of these shows are either down significantly or never did well in the first place. But, a lot of this has to do with the way these shows are thrown across the schedule.

Constant Timeslot Changes
Ultimately, the nets are overusing their game shows to fill up trouble slots and causing them to decline in the ratings as a result. The biggest example of this is ABC's 'To Tell the Truth'. After a solid summer run, the series returned in January and declined a good bit (as noted above). Recently, it has declined even more in its return to summer. Despite having only aired 18 episodes to date, the series has aired on four nights (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) and in every hour from 8 pm to 10 pm. ABC has tossed it all over the schedule and it has negatively affected its numbers. While it hasn't been treated as poorly, 'Match Game' has also been affected by a schedule change. After a strong summer run, the game show aired in the 10 pm timeslot on Wednesdays. It did relatively well and garnered a 1.0 average. Afterward, 'Time After Time' bombed on Sunday, and the series was dragged back on the schedule in April. With a low-rated, incompatible 'Once Upon a Time' lead-in, the show fell as low as a 0.6 and never went above a 0.8.

But, ABC isn't the only one guilty of overusing and changing timeslots. NBC has done the same with both 'The Wall' & 'Hollywood Game Night'. 'The Wall' averaged a 1.5 for its winter run but slipped to a 1.1 for a special airing after 'The Voice'. It also hasn't come close to its winter average for its current summer run. Shifting from winter to summer will hurt any show's ratings, but there was no need for 'The Wall' to return in the summer. NBC could have kept it as an in-season show, but they choose to overexpose the series. On the other hand, 'Hollywood Game Night' was pulling in solid ratings in winter 2016. Overall, the series was normally around a 1.1 in the 18-49 demographic at the time. Months later, NBC decided to move its night and time from Tuesday at 8 to Sunday at 10. The series collapsed and went as low as a 0.7.

So, How Long Can it Last?
I don't see this game show resurgence going away anytime soon. Yes, none of these game shows are or will ever be as big as something like peak 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire', but they're keeping the lights on for their respective networks. CBS probably won't be keeping 'Candy Crush', but Fox has already renewed 'Beat Shazam' for a second season and ABC will be moving 'To Tell the Truth' to Sundays at 8 in the fall. But, this revival does have an expiration date on it. As noted before, the broadcast networks are simply airing these game shows too many times in too many different places. Also, these shows are generally repetitive so audience members may get tired watching after the first couple episodes. This may explain why repeats of 'The 100,000 Pyramid' and 'To Tell the Truth' did better than a good majority of their originals this summer. In the end, even if game shows fade away from broadcast, they'll still have a dominating presence in daytime television and the syndication landscape.


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