Thursday, November 24, 2011

We Don’t Deserve This

you-deserve-it-abc-tv-showOver the years we all seen our fair share of game shows. There are the classics, like Jeopardy and Wheel Of Forturne, flashes in the pan like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, The Weakest Link, and Deal Or No Deal, and show that were – in one way or another – duds. Million Dollar Money Drop, Show Me The Money (starring William Shatner), and of course Downfall (the one where if you don’t answer the questions in time your prizes – and in some circumstances your friend, and you – get dropped off a ten story building). In my opinion the new ABC series, You Deserve It, which debuted on Monday following a one hour episode of Dancing With The Stars, falls into the dud category.

The hook for You Deserve It (because every good game show needs a hook whether it’s answering in the form of a question or dropping the prizes off the side of a building) is that the players aren’t actually playing for themselves but for some person – or I suppose some organization though that isn’t clear – that the player thinks “deserves” the money. In the series premiere the woman who was playing the game was playing to benefit her best friend since college, a widowed mother of two young children whose husband drowned while diving. The woman was faced with bills that needed to be paid particularly health insurance (I’d like to point out that if she were Canadian she wouldn’t have to worry about that). The beneficiary of the game – who doesn’t know that she’s the beneficiary – is sequestered (in this case she and her kids went, or were taken, to a movie).

The show opens with host Chris Harrison (better known as the host of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette) introducing the player of the game and showing a tear-jerking piece about what makes the beneficiary deserving. Then the player, who is accompanied by some of the people who appeared in the introductory piece starts to play the game. I should mention here that the people who are with the player play absolutely no part in the actual play of the game. They’re entirely there for moral support.

The gameplay itself is pretty basic. The game has five rounds of increasing value: $10,000, $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 and $250,000. There are three types of questions: Who, What, and Where. In each round the player has to identify the person, place or thing to win money. If they give the wrong answer they don’t get money for that round but do carry on to the next round. The player is given one “Free” clue. There are nine other clues available but each clue has a price. There are nine prices for clues, which are randomly assigned to numbers from 1 to 9. Each time a player decides to buy a clue after the “Free Clue” (which is so general as to be virtually useless; in one case the Free Clue was “White Collar” from which the player was supposed to deduce “Santa Claus”) they give a number. The value that has been assigned to that number is then deducted from the prize that the player is able to win. So, for example in the $250,000 round, if the player picks “8” first and “8” has a dollar value of $75,000, the maximum the Player can win is $175,000. So while theoretically the player can win $435,000 for the person they’re trying to help the reality is that they will win significantly less. The total of the nine levels is the same amount as that round’s value so if someone uses all nine clues in a round they’d get nothing. Needless to say the best policy is for the player to have an answer by the eighth clue.

Meanwhile the show’s other host, Brooke Burns (who I at least remember fondly from when she hosted Dog Eat Dog on NBC a few years back) hangs around the place where the beneficiary is being sequestered with more friends who are rooting for the player. That’s all she does for the first 50 or so minutes of the show (including commercials. In this particular episode she stands in the lobby of the theater with the beneficiary’s friends and introduces shots of the woman in the movie theater watching the movie with her kids and eating popcorn. At one point she “sneaks” up into the projection booth to do one of these intros, leading one to ask “Why?” But surely you say she comes into her own when the game ends right? Well not quite. Once the final round of the game is over and the audience knows how much has been won for the beneficiary, Burns leads the group of friends in the lobby into the theater, where the film is stopped and she reveals that they’re with You Deserve It and that there’s a special message for her from… Chris Harrison and the player projected onto the movie screen. That’s pretty much all that Brooke Burns has to do on the show.

I really don’t like the mechanics of this show. The random nature of how much is taken from the pot for each round is straight out of Deal Or No Deal but in this situation it really doesn’t feel “right” somehow. There is no linkage between the amount lost in each round and the quality of the clue that is given. Which is a problem when the first three clues are just about as useless as the "”Free Clue.” Still I guess I could forgive this in the name of randomness if it weren’t for the fact that I believe that for the most part players are going to be more cautious in taking a guess when they’re playing to win money for someone that that they have an emotional connection to than they might if they were playing to win money for themselves. The woman who played the game in the first episode averaged about six clues before she ventured an answer even though in a couple of cases she had the answer (or maybe should have had the answer) earlier. Then there were the friends who were with the player. They needed more of a role in this game than simply cheering the player on. For one thing they really didn’t get much chance to even fulfill that role. For another thing, these people could be a valuable resource for the player. There was at least one question where I could see one of the people (the beneficiary’s father-in-law) knew the answer a couple of clues before the player knew the answer. Even interviewing the friends about the beneficiary between rounds would have been better – particularly if that cut down on the segments of Brooke Burns doing nothing.

But my real problem with the show is tied to the very nature of the show. It is maudlin, mawkish and self congratulatory. It embodies all of those things that I came to dislike and then hate about ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Yes, I know that the people who participate on this show on behalf of their friends are sincere in their desire to help their friends. I just don’t like the way that this show goes about it. Chris Harrison comes across as particularly unctuous in this, and I can form no opinion of Brooke Burns because quite frankly I can’t see what she contributed to this show. I can’t even say that ABC has even a portion of its heart in the right place because this show has enough of being a cynical ratings grab that I find it off-putting. And based on the ratings, which lost a large percentage of the Dancing With The Stars finale lead-in and which were lower than the rating for the show that followed it (Castle), it would seem that the viewing public didn’t care much for the show either. With Dancing With The Stars off the air until March and “encore programming” (repeats) leading into it until it ends its run, expect the ratings for this mess to sink even lower. It is likely that You Deserve It will complete it’s intended six-week lifespan no matter how low the ratings go, if only because ABC doesn’t have anything that they can replace it with. If we’re all very lucky we won’t be seeing it again.


Mike Doran said...

This sounds like an update of Strike It Rich, which I once saw described as "the great maudlin atrocity of early '50s TV".

I have a couple of segments of this in my half-vast collection of ancient TV tapes.
On Strike It Rich, contestants would play for themselves. The host (whose name escapes me at the moment) would interview the contestant, who would tell a tale of woe (natural disaster, catastrophic illness of a family member, and the like). After that, the contestant would answer quiz questions for prize money; questions would be on a level of difficulty of "What color is an orange?"
Back in the early '50s, there were rules about how much money you could win on a show like this. Top prize on Strike It Rich was perhaps $200 or thereabouts, which was not nearly enough to cover the contestant's need.
And that's when they brought out "The Heart Line" - a phone connection where viewers from around the USA could call in to the live telecast to offer money, goods, and/or services to the needy contestants.
Strike It Rich was hugely popular during the first half of the "50s - so much so that needy people flocked to New York City by the hundreds to try to get on. Even with six live broadcasts each week (five daytime, one primetime),many of these people didn't get on, and wound up at one or another of NYC's private welfare agencies. It reached the point that the city government launched an investigation to determine whether Strike It Rich was itself an unlicensed welfare agency. Nothing much came of this (the show had to put on a disclaimer asking that only those who applied and were sent for could appear), and Strike It Rich remained popular, inspiring at least one full-fledged knock-off, the even more notorious Queen For A Day.

Whenever I tell people who are younger than I am (these days that's almost everybody) about these shows, they look at me with disbelief.

I guess they won't so much any more ...

Roger Owen Green said...

Just FYI. Betty White, great game show player, who won an Emmy for hosting Man Up, a game show that I NEVER SAW, is turning 90 next month.