Even Ryan Seacrest Can’t Resist The Enduring Allure Of Game Shows

Even Ryan Seacrest Can't Resist The Enduring Allure Of Game Shows

One by one, as streaming services continue to grow in popularity, the old standbys of the TV landscape are being sidelined.

The decades-old fulcrum of daytime television, the number of soap operas has dwindled to a handful. The hit daytime talk show — which was once hosted by the likes of Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres — is becoming rarer by the year. Late night shows are dwindling.

But one golden oldie still stands firm: the game show.

ABC’s lineup this fall is filled with many of them. On CBS, one of the longest running shows, “The Price Is Right” is getting a new studio. and “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”, topping the category, is one of the most watched programs in television – at least outside of live sports. Both attract approximately nine million visitors on a typical night, and generate millions of dollars in profit each year.

This week, Sony, both “Jeopardy!” The studio behind “Wheel of Fortune” gave the genre a strong vote of confidence. The company signed one of television’s most recognizable personalities, Ryan Seacrest, to a long-term deal to replace Pat Sajak as the next host of “Wheel of Fortune.”

In the words of an executive from a rival studio, the viewership numbers for Sony’s two shows are “surprisingly large”. Adam Nedef, a researcher at the National Archives of Game Show History at Strong’s National Museum of Play, said “Wheel of Fortune” “has lived up to even the wildest expectations of success.”

“‘Wheel of Fortune’ continues to be so huge,” said Mr. Nedef, author of “Game Show FAQ,” a history of the format. “As the TV business changes, and streaming spreads around the world, the ‘wheel’ is one of the things that has held onto the old traditional model of TV.”

Game shows offer two major advantages for executives: They are among the least expensive programs to produce, partly because many episodes can be filmed in a short period of time. And they’re attractive to the largest demographic group that still consumes traditional television — people age 60 and older.

The average viewer of “Wheel of Fortune” is in the largest age group that Nielsen tracks: “65+.” (The median ages of several high-rated entertainment shows in prime time in the most recent television season — “Survivor” (62.1), “Abbott Elementary” (60.2), “The Voice” (64.8) — aren’t far behind.)

Among adults under 50, the demographic advertisers are most interested in, two game shows received similar ratings: “Jeopardy!” That category averages 1.1 million viewers and “Wheel of Fortune” one million.

Game shows have been around since the early days of television. From quiz shows of the 1950s to dating shows of the 1960s and 1970s, game shows have been as much of a tradition for American television as Sunday afternoon football.

The biggest success stories these days are those of elite breeds that have struggled for decades. According to Nielsen, “Family Feud”, which debuted in 1976 and is currently hosted by Steve Harvey, attracts approximately eight million viewers per episode, one of the highest viewers in all of syndicated television. CBS announced that “The Price Is Right”, hosted by Drew Carey since 2007, would move to a “state-of-the-art facility” in Glendale, California this year for the show’s 52nd season.

Beginning in September, ABC’s lineup included “Celebrity Jeopardy!” A one-hour version of Prime-time lineup of “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune,” “Press Your Luck” and “The $100,000 Pyramid” on Tuesday nights and all Thursday.

Many of the current network prime-time game shows are not exactly blockbuster ratings. But their relatively small budgets make them easy for network executives to swallow, especially compared to the ever-increasing production costs of scripted television.

Sony’s new deal with Mr. Seacrest shows that the company plans to keep the “Wheel of Fortune” going long into the future. The deal is expected to run through the early 2030s, said a person familiar with the matter.

However, choosing Mr. Seacrest is not without risk. When Merv Griffin created “Wheel of Fortune” in 1975 as an answer to television’s hangman, it spent its early years on ratings life support. The show did not take off until Mr. Sajak and his co-host Vanna White joined in the early 1980s. By the mid-1980s, it was attracting over 40 million viewers per night.

It is an open question whether or not the audience stops singing because Mr. Sajak is not on stage. Both he and Ms. White have higher-than-average favorable views among viewers, according to Q Score, a research firm that measures the likes of celebrities. However, according to the Q scores, Mr. Seacrest is below average, which suggests that he can be polarizing to a section of the audience.

Additionally, Ms. White’s future with the show is uncertain. He is under contract for another year and is in talks for a new deal. Puck reported last week that Ms. White made significantly less money than Mr. Sajak and had not received a pay raise in nearly two decades. Many “Wheel of Fortune” fans on social media expressed hope that she might replace Mr. Sajak – if she does, will a large number of viewers go with her?

However, Mr. Seacrest has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to bring a steady hand to the franchise over a long period of time. He successfully took over Dick Clark’s long-running New Year’s Eve show. He took the seat that was once held by Regis Philbin as well as Michael Strahan on “Live”, a show he co-hosted with Kelly Ripa for six years. And in 2004 he took over the radio show hosted by Casey Kasem.

Mr. Seacrest’s quick appointment — Mr. Sajak said only two weeks earlier that he would leave “Wheel of Fortune” in 2024 — is a way for Sony executives to avoid the succession crisis that has surrounded the “Jeopardy!” two years ago. In 2021, Sony executives quickly ousted Alec Trebek’s successor, Mike Richards, amid a public outcry after Mr. Richards’ sexist and offensive comments surfaced online. Sony eventually named Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik as Mr. Trebek’s permanent successors.

Game show historian Mr. Nedef said that as long as Mr. Seacrest recognizes who the real star is, he should be successful.

“The biggest driver of the show is the game,” he said. “The game is the star of the show.”

Brooks Barnes And Benjamin Mullin Contributed reporting.

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