Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Channel surfing: Power of 10

I am about to make that guy that searches the Web for posts about CBS shows so he can post comments that support CBS shows at all costs REALLY HAPPY. You can totally take this one to the bosses, CBS lurker poster guy.

You see, Power of 10 is probably the best new primetime game show since Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? debuted. I hesitate to say that because it feels like I'm missing something, but Deal Or No Deal sucks, 1 Vs. 100 is too easy, and the U.S. version of The Weakest Link never captured what was so fun about the British show. Power of 10 takes the best things about Millionaire (the ladder system and the audience participation aspect), then blends them with the "Survey says!" excitement of Family Feud and doesn't wrap it all up in a bizarre and completely pointless scoring system like Family Feud does.

One of the problems of primetime game shows since Millionaire is that no show has ever quite gotten down the gradual ramping up of the difficulty of the questions (even Millionaire got way too easy after the first few months). Shows either feature questions that are way, way too easy, or they skew too obscure. Jeopardy!, of course, has perfected the idea of easy questions growing into difficult ones (again, that's gotten easier too), but that show wouldn't work in primetime, so much does it feel like a relic from another era. Yes, its ratings are huge, but how many would make it a once-a-week appointment. It just benefits from being on at the time when people are preparing dinner or settling in for the night.

Power of 10 veers away from the dumb luck and trivia-hound style games that have dominated the post-Millionaire era. It certainly has its bright, flashing lights and loud, dramatic music (which will probably get quickly tiresome), but its questions are based on the answers thousands of Americans gave to a survey. So instead of someone puzzling over whether Drew Carey is a comedian or a presidential candidate, they get to puzzle over just how many of their fellow Americans are stupid enough to think Drew Carey is a presidential candidate, not a comedian. It's a subtle twist to the format that really injects it with new life. Who knew that what was waiting to resurrect Millionaire was Family Feud?

The segments where two people (often seemingly chosen from diametrically opposed social standings) face off in a best-of-five series to see who can land closer to the correct answer are fascinating too, almost in a sociological way. Seeing a prim young woman and a taciturn black man (most likely in his 40s) have wildly divergent opinions on how many Americans thought cats were smarter than dogs was a fascinating look into how these particular individuals felt and how the audience's pre-existing stereotypes about both the question and those answering it. I was surprised, for instance, to find the man thought more Americans thought cats were smarter than dogs. Maybe it's just my Midwest upbringing (don't ask me about it unless you want to hear a really long, really boring story), but I had it in my head that the opposite would be true. Instead, he lost, when more Americans ranked dogs as the smarter animal.

Obviously, these questions are inconsequential, but it would be interesting to see the show take on real political and social issues. Maybe that would make the show too hot button, but it would be rare to see a game show that tackled topics like that at all.

And if anyone could make it palatable, it would be Drew Carey, who's a surprising natural at the game show hosting thing. He jokes and ad libs easily (far more so than he ever did on Whose Line Is It Anyway), and his empathy for the kid on the first night of the show (Carey told him if he wasn't sure, he should keep the $100,000 and not risk losing $90,000 of it) and subsequent contestants has felt surprisingly genuine. Carey's not perfect, and he's not a consummate host just yet, but he's a fair sight better than Howie Mandel.

Power of 10 isn't perfect TV, and like most primetime game shows, it will probably get old very fast, but for now, it's perfect summer TV. It's not too challenging, and it knows exactly which buttons to push.


Dan Owen said...

On a related note, I'm from the UK and recently visited the US, and was very surprised by your version of Deal Or No Deal.

The UK version is very much geared towards ordinary peoples' personalities (future contestants hold the cases, not glamour models) and it's a knowingly eccentric show that has good fun with its silly premise.

In comparison, the US version is hideously crass, bombastic, too fast-paced and OTT. I can't understand why it's a success... and don't get me started on the number of ad breaks you guys have!! Madness. Every six MINUTES for some shows? I just can't understand how you guys put up wit that! Hell's Kitchen was ruined because of that... and you BLEEP the swearing???

Millionaire seems to have kept fairly similar to the original UK version. But the UK has far, far harder questions (particularly after the 32 grand mark).

It'll be interesting to see if Power 10 gets a UK version, as we got 1 Vs 100 (but it bombed, despite being more difficult than the US version sounds).

Carrie said...

I watched the premiere of this and liked it as well. I loved when the fancy marketing executive person totally blew the "How many Americans have spent $100 on jeans" question. She guessed like 40%! She obviously forgot that 85% of America's population doesn't shop at Bloomingdales and the like. Very interesting.

I can't imagine anyone will ever go for the $10 million, though. Guessing the exact percentage is just too much of a crapshoot to give up a guaranteed $1 million.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Dan: David has told me that about UK Deal Or No Deal. It, frankly, sounds a lot more fascinating than what we have here. But I doubt even that could keep me interested in the show, which is just too damned EASY to be a good game show. It provokes no audience response or discussion beyond "Go for it!" or "Don't go for it!"

(Game show theory is one of my pet topics; can't you tell?)

The U.S. Millionaire was fairly tough for its first, two-week summer run. After that, they started to dumb it down so they could have some million dollar winners. I really think if ABC had kept Millionaire as a special sweeps event or as a once-a-week show, it would still be running in primetime today.

Dan Owen said...

The UK "Deal" is one of those shows that knows its concept is ridiculous, so it has fun with itself (in a very tongue-in-cheek way). Plus, the players and future players (holding the boxes) are the stars of the show, NOT the silly game. There are probably some clips in YouTube -- it'll be interesting to hear what an American thinks of our comparatively plodding, good-natured, eccentic take on the same idea! :)

In the UK, "Millionaire" is on every Saturday for about 3 months, then goes on hiatus for about as long. I know the US have a very different culture, where ratings are King, but it seems they often drive shows into the ground with overexposure! It's sad really. You'd have thought they'd learn "less is more" sometimes. Oh well.