game shows


game shows
   Game shows are a staple of daytime television, and are more about filling up air time than raising the cultural awareness of viewers. Most formats originate in the USA, and deal with contestants winning prizes. They are based on a formula where a studio (and television) audience vicariously experiences the fortunes of individuals who are placed under pressure to perform. However, game shows vary in their degree of sophistication. Some are strictly informational, even academic; examples include Mastermind, presented by Magnus Magnus-son or University Challenge, originally presented by Bamber Gascoigne and later revived with presenter Jeremy Paxman. Rapid-fire questions heighten the tension. The lights are lowered to focus concentration, and the studio audience registers the home audience’s applause for them, in a sense acting like the chorus in a Greek drama. Game shows tend to become associated with the presenters, who often make careers out of hosting ‘their’ programmes. Noel Edmonds’s eponymous Noel’s House Party is a case in point. Gladiators will always be associated with Ulrika Jonsson, Blind Date with Cilla Black, and Countdown with Richard Whitley and Carol Vorderman. Some are clearly about the vicarious fulfilment of the audience’s consumerist aspirations. In The Price is Right, the audience shouts advice to contestants about tackling further questions. In Supermarket Sweep (described as ‘like shoppers on ecstasy’), contestants rush around with shopping trolleys to secure as many goods as they can within a specific time period.
   Contestants also often reflect the audience constituency. That is, they are often couples, for example on Mr and Mrs, The Generation Game or Paul Daniels’s Every Second Counts. Thus viewers of both sexes, and sometimes across generations, can identify with the action. Some programmes such as The Crystal Maze or Ask the Family use teams of workmates.
   Some of the wittiest game shows have followed the lead of Radio 4’s The News Quiz and the ‘antidote to panel games’, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, by mocking the conventions within which they are meant to be operating. Have I Got News For You, with Angus Deayton, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, takes this route and apart from having an avid following of intelligent viewers has politicians vying for the publicity afforded by being on the show. A spoof game show was offered to an intelligent audience by the surrealist comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer in their programme Shooting Stars (on which Ulrika Jonsson was a team captain). Game shows will continue to be popular with programmers because they are cheap, and with audiences because they are formulaic, comforting and escapist.
   See also: talk shows
   MIKE STORRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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