Game Show Formats -
Creating and Pitching
For writers wanting
to pitch a game show or tv show with predominantly
game elements as part of the format, its important
to first consider the following:
Today and Yesterday-
Game shows have been the staple of syndicated
television for decades. "Jeopardy" and
"Wheel of Fortune" have taken the #1
and #2 ratings spots in all of syndication for
almost as long. The reason... simple, stimulating
formats that viewers can play along with. In recent
years we've seen "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"
bring the game show back to prime time, and "Reality
TV" break down format barriers and open up
viewer acceptance to hybrid (combined) formats
of programming. Reality shows with game elements,
game shows with reality-based elements, and so
on. How does this benefit the writer/producer?
It allows us to get away from the traditional
in-studio "three podium" format and
use an endless variety of elements to create what
can be classified as a game show.
between "game" and "reality":
With overlapping elements of both genres, the
Creator can find it difficult to decide a definitive
category of genre for a show created. The best
approach is to consider the producer or development
executive and network perspective. If the format
of a show is episodic (resolves itself in one
episode) and has contestants playing against each
other with game elements, it is a Game show. If
a format is episodic or takes place over an evolving
story-arc involving real life elements it is best
to categorize it as a reality show, even if it
involves contestants competing within the show
using game elements. "Survivor" has
game elements, but it is a reality show. "Fear
Factor" has reality-based elements, but it
is truly a game show.
What makes a great
Game Show? Today's game shows are very different
in format from their counterparts of early television,
but one thing still holds true- Dramatic tension.
A good producer know how to create decisive moments
of tension and drama within the format of any
show, and this is most important for today's game
shows, especially in a market that is keying on
scouting for the next prime time hit. Those moments
of drama always teeter on a CHOICE the contestant
must make, and not always just on getting the
In "Who wants
to be a Millionaire", anticipation is created
with a panel of contestants who square off in
the "fastest finger" competition to
see who will take the hot seat for a shot at a
million dollars. This doesn't just happen in the
beginning of the show, but multiple times throughout.
Each contestant who gets into the hot seat then
faces a ladder of increasingly difficult questions,
each worth an increased amount of cash winnings.
He is given three "life lines" of help
that he may use at any point during the game.
So the choices that he faces during the increased
difficulty of questions on way to the million
are; what life-line does he or she use and when,
and are they confident enough in their answer
to risk almost all the money they've won in order
to garner the even larger money that temps. So
you can also see the "greed factor"
at play within the game.
From a viewers perspective,
there is nothing more fun than knowing the answer
that could win you a half-million dollars while
watching the contestant see-saw between the right
answer and the wrong answer. Viewer involvement
keeps the channel from being changed.
From a network programmers
perspective, every beat of the show is filled
with dramatic tension, and you may also notice
that just about every other moment of dramatic
tension is interrupted by a commercial break.
For a prime time game show, that means big ad
revenues for the Network.
barriers- It is impossible to deny that anything
is not derivative of things we've experienced
before, in life, or in watching the boob-tube.
If you want to be a break-through creator of any
television format it is important to make a conscious
effort at letting go of pre-programmed instincts
that have been engrained in us by having seen
dozens and dozens of shows over so many years
that tell us "this is what a game show is".
Stamp your own passport and say to yourself "no,
THIS is what a game show is." Let go of traditional
ideas and invent new ways of bringing entertaining
games to an audience. Study what is happening
now, and look for patterns or breakthroughs in
social appetite. And when is gets down to it,
be able to simplify the idea so that it could
be sold in a few sentence pitch, and if expanded
have elements and a hook that make it unique.
interview with CBS Studios International
Paul Gilbert, as he touches on the current
state and trends in gameshows.