Yours truly, lurking behind Bruno Tonioli and Tom Bergeron at a DWTS season finale.
I’m spending some of this fine Emmy Sunday catching up on old business, working on the book, and FINALLY getting around to some of the questions you’ve been kind enough to ask.
First, from Jack D:
As you’ve worked on game shows (and I am about to launch one on YouTube), what lessons have you learned when doing test shoots and dry runs of a new game show? What are common mistakes? What tricks of the trade have you learned? What’s the minimum number of dry runs do you recommend? Which outsiders (if any) should be brought in to give their input? Have you ever brought in former game show hosts and/or producers for their input?
While I did work on Hollywood Game Night and have had a game show in development for a long while, I have a great deal more experience in reality competition, which I think operates on a number of the same principles. That said, here’s what I know about game shows from my limited experiences on them:
As far as the number of test shoots and dry runs, I’d say the correct number of the former is one, if it’s needed to prove something, the latter being however many you need to get it right. Don’t shoot anything until the gameplay bugs are worked out, or you’re throwing money down a hole.
Two of the biggest things to consider: Bulletproof elimination metrics and the audience’s ability to play along at home. In reality-competition, audience participation is replaced by making sure everyone in the audience has someone they can choose to root for as their participatory avatar. Dancing With the Stars is one of the best examples, as each season starts with someone for every demo on the floor.
When I speak of game show elimination metrics, I mean that if you’ve got a show built to go three rounds with someone being eliminated at the end of each round, you’d better know how to handle or avoid a tie. If no one’s out of the running until the very end, you’ve still got to avoid that tie.
Jeopardy is one of the all-time great formats because if, heaven forbid, a show end in a tie, they’ve got a contingency for a tiebreaker question in which the first person to buzz in with a correct response takes the game. While I’m sure it’s happened a few other times, I’ve only seen it once, in the semi-finals of the 2012 Jeopardy Teen Tournament.
What Jeopardy also handles well is avoiding the feeling that anyone is ever totally out of the game, no matter how far behind they are. The Daily Double on the board can narrow a gap quickly for someone who’s lagging behind, keeping the suspense going, and the final question allows players to wager up to the full amount of their winnings so far.
The audience on Jeopardy, of course, can play along at home, shouting answers over each other for living room domination or even when watching it alone. I am never louder while viewing a game show than I am watching Jeopardy, except maybe when someone on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader biffs an easy question.
As to outside consultants, I have a number of friends who work full time in the genre, so I’m lucky enough to be able to fly things by them. You can hire any game show veteran to look over your premise and pitch in their two cents, though I’ve got a great guy you should listen to about that stuff right here on the first season of my podcast REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE: Joey Ortega.
The most common mistake, I think, is overcomplicating game play. If you can’t tell someone in a few sentences how the game works, rethink your format. Check this out:
WIN BEN STEIN’S MONEY: Three contestants compete to answer general knowledge questions in order to win a grand prize of $5,000 from the show’s host, Ben Stein. In the latter rounds of each episode, Stein participates as a “common contestant” in order to defend his money from being taken by his competitors.
Also, for trivia-based game shows, triple-check your writing to make sure that there is only one correct answer to your questions. If you say “Mia Farrow’s famous film star ex” hoping to get Woody Allen, but your player says Frank Sinatra, they’re still absolutely right. If you’d said “famous ex-husband” hoping to get Frank Sinatra (since Farrow and Allen never married), but your player said Andre Previn, you’d be stuck again.
Good luck with the game show, Jack!
Another (non-reality) question was posed by Krystol D:
How about taking about the latest films or books that you have read? Tell us about your favorite character in a film and why you liked it.
I’m mostly a biography/autobiography guy, and am currently finishing Kathleen Sharp’s MR AND MRS. HOLLYWOOD, about Lew and Edie Wasserman. I’d read THE LAST MOGUL, another bio of Wasserman, some years ago, and this is an interesting supplementary take on the guy.
My favorite character of late is Joy from INSIDE OUT, and if I told you why, I’d ruin the movie for you.