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Thursday, March 28, 2024

March 28, 2024: What is Game Show Studying?: Deal-Making

[On March 30, 1964, the legendary game show Jeopardy debuted. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that classic and a handful of other game show histories! Add your thoughts, obviously in the form of a question, in comments!]

On AmericanStudies contexts for three generations of defining, deal-making game shows.

1)      The Price is Right (1956): There’s no way to talk about The Price is Right (the original version—starting in 1972 it was rebooted as The New Price is Right which remains on the air to this day) without connecting it to the late 1950s quiz show scandals about which I wrote on Tuesday. Partly because the stakes were significantly lower on Price than on those contemporary game shows, and partly (and relatedly) because the contestants seemed much more like ordinary people than the ostensibly super-smart quiz show contestants, Price not only survived the surge in cancellations that plagued the game show genre during and after those scandals, but really thrived as a contrast to those shows. To this day daytime game shows tend to feature more “everyday” contestants and tones compared to the heightened drama of prime-time shows, and that trend is closely tied to this prominent early example.

2)      Let’s Make a Deal (1963): The blossoming popularity of The Price is Right in the early 1960s was bound to produce competitors, and one of the first and most successful was Let’s Make a Deal. Deal was pretty similar to Price, and the two (in their respective rebooted forms) have really endured as the two most successful daytime game shows. But in my experience with them, I would say that (at least in its first 1960s iteration) Deal leaned even a bit more fully into a contestant pool that paralleled one of its principal intended audiences: traditional, stay-at-home housewives. Just look at the June Cleaver pearls on the first contestant in the 1963 debut episode hyperlinked above! Daytime TV has always been closely tied to images (and certainly also realities, but I would say even more images) of that community, and we can see them reflected in a daytime game show like this one.

3)      Deal or No Deal (2005): Deal or No Deal wasn’t the first primetime deal-making game show, but I would argue it was and remains one of the most popular, especially in its early years. Interestingly, a great deal of Deal (or No Deal) closely mimicked daytime shows like (Let’s Make a) Deal, as illustrated most succinctly by the bevy of attractive and seductively-dressed women supporting the male host. But while (Let’s Make a) Deal often featured one such female co-host at a time, Deal (or No Deal) featured twenty, and that was kind of the whole deal with this primetime show: very similar to the daytime ones, but with everything turned up to 11. Partly that’s just the difference between daytime and primetime TV, but I would say it also reflects the early 21st century’s increasing sense of the need for individual entertainment options to stand out amidst an ever-more-crowded cultural landscape. But one thing I know—as long as there are TVs, somewhere one will be showing a deal-making game show.

Last game show histories tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other game shows you’d highlight?

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