Don't hate the player, hate the game

Why game shows have taken over.

click to enlarge WHO'S THE MANDEL? Howie, like so many other aging stand-ups, has resurrected his career on a game show. - Courtesy Nbc Universal
Courtesy Nbc Universal
WHO'S THE MANDEL? Howie, like so many other aging stand-ups, has resurrected his career on a game show.

The Game Show: Now more than ever, it's the cure for prime-time ills, able to leap tall buildings — and dead air — in a single bound. Once relegated to housewife TV, the daytime staple has invaded evening lineups with a vengeance, execs turning everything from karaoke (The Singing Bee) to the pack mentality (1 vs. 100) into a competition. It's a win-win situation, unless you're a writer. Networks can produce a game show cheaply and easily plop it into the nightly schedule — more than once a week, if they've got a hit on their hands.

The game show is, in fact, the original reality show, all triumph and tragedy neatly tied up in a fabulous cash-and-prizes bow. Don't we all want to be a millionaire, or at least a hundred thousand-aire? I feel a modest twang of pride when I prove I'm smarter than a gradeschooler or correctly croon the lyrics to "Walk Like an Egyptian," even if there's no monetary reward on my side of the screen. Forget Jeopardy! — today's shows feature games we can all play, and games we can almost always play better than the pitiful contestants producers throw to the slaughter.

The latest craze, as you well know if you turned on a TV in the last 12 months, is NBC's Deal or No Deal, a guilty pleasure whose success seems predicated on a bare minimum of intellectual acumen. Make that a bare minimum of anything. Deal's timely formula — boobs + money + risk — asks little of its competitors and even less of its viewers. It's Millionaire without the trivia, Wheel of Fortune sans those pesky vowels — and with a harem of Vannas, to boot.

Pick a suitcase, any suitcase. And don't worry: Howie's here to help.

After sanitizing his profane stand-up alter ego Bobby for a Saturday morning cartoon, the mighty Mandel chrome-domed his way back onto family television as Deal or No Deal's host. And he's not alone. Bob Saget on 1 vs. 100, Drew Carey double-dipping on the post-Barker Price Is Right and Power of 10, Jeff Foxworthy on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Even Wayne Brady, bitch, hosts Don't Forget the Lyrics.

I must have missed the memo requiring every aging stand-up to toil as the resident ringmaster, schmoozer and comic relief on a game show. I seriously doubt that the greenest of newbies, while anxiously pacing backstage at The Laugh Factory, envisions peddling cash-filled luggage at 8 p.m. on Wednesday evenings. But so they go, veteran comics hitting a different circuit en route to the big mic in the sky and, if they're lucky, resurrecting their careers.

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