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A TV Show Dies…America Mourns October 23, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Pop Culture Rants, TV.
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Take yourself back. To a simpler time. North Korea was still not yet a nuclear power, though they talked about it like that couple with a new baby. Our view of the United States Congress was one of reverence and respect. And this world was still graced with the large and in charge presence of Steve Irwin.

It was early September 2006 and our collective eyeballs were glued, nay, dare I say, permanently attached by some unforeseen magic force, to our TVs. And what magical force was causing retina damage? You got it…we all were permanently fixated on “Deal or No Deal.”

The show was all NBC had back then. They used it to fill more cracks in their nightly schedule with it than a sloppy construction worker uses fast drying caulk. We ate it up, no matter how much it was fed to us. Back then, it was like chocolate: there is no amount of it that we can get sick of and, ooh, boy, is it sweet.

Think about the first time with reverence back in those easy times. There was the simplistic gameplay that was so readily identifiable, so easy, we all could play along. There was the bevy of women who held the magic cases and all had names fresh from The Big Book of Stripper Names. There was the “Surprise inspirational guest” that never failed to tug at our heart strings. And what can you say about Howie Mandel? Apparently, his hackneyed, highly annoying persona was all in his hair. Kind of like an alternate universe Samson. Now, he was the fey Mr. Clean, but we all still loved every second of it.

And I too was one of those opiated masses. I was on the edge of my seat, watching every televised moment with bated breath. I played along with the contest and even found myself questioning my own inner fortitude. Would I take the deal? Or would I dramatically close the strange panic button like apparatus and scream “No Deal” like some crazed power hungry lunatic? Would I be distracted by brandy or Candy or by the big flashing lights and accidentally hit the button in a flail of panic? Would I snap at Howie Mandel and sever his bald head from the body when he re-enacts to me what would have happened if I hadn’t been a pusswad and taken the deal? It was a perfect mix. Deal or No Deal…the height of entertainment.

Fast forward to the now. The show still remains, but our taste for it has waned. It is now an afterthought, a joke. It holds the same cultural weight as an episode of Law and Order before Jerry Orbach was on. And what’s more, its’ decline was all their own doing. It was the familiarity. It was the oversaturation and worst of all, they stopped making me care.

I remember back finely to the days when the show was magic. It’s formula seemed fresh and new. Now, I am surprised they haven’t revamped the formula. How many times can I watch a person choose a case and then open the rest? Add some variety. Maybe a deathmatch round with a member of the audience for the right to continue opening the cases. It could be a sort of gladiator style game show. Every man for himself. Rumor has it that’s how they do the show in Russia.

And the “surprise” guest, which actually made me cry on occasion (I’m always a sucker for Grandma flying cross country to serve as a source of inspiration.) But lately, the guests have gotten pretty lame. I mean, is your 5th grade art teacher really who should be coaching you on whether you should take the crummy 25,000 pittance. The family members also have fallen off the excitement radar. Before they would yell and scream, with one of them jealously saying “Keep Going,” just so they wouldn’t have to spend the car ride home wondering what their co-worker was going to spend his quarter million on. Now, they sit back and let the contestant steal the spotlight. They are the UN Security Council: Quiet, calculating and with no real power over monetary decisions.

And the girls? Every week it’s the same thing…the thirty woman who walk from behind the stage like they’re preparing for a Busby Berkeley musical. Back in the early days, they were nameless faceless beauties. But thanks to the entertainment news shows, the behind the scenes extras, episodes of US Weekly, the Deal or No Deal Blog, internet chatter and scandalous rumors, we know more about them than we want. And I just can’t have dirty thoughts about somebody when I know they have three kids, a college degree in aerodynamics and like to body paint. (Okay, maybe the body painting could work). Thirty faceless beauties who just give away cash are great, but once we gave them souls, the show was finished.

But where the magic stalled like a 94 Neon for me was in the contestant pool. The early days of the show was dotted with working joes and housewives. The show relies on two of the major percepts of American culture: luck and greed. It requires no skill, no knowledge, which made its’ contestant requirements simple: fun, not horrible to look at in HDTV (though that has some wiggle room) and a desire for money. And they chose them wisely. They were people you could root for, or at the very least, shout out for making ignorant decisions. They more often than not made you feel superior, which is the cardinal rule of all game and reality shows: making people realize their lives are made more meaningful in relation to a television. Only now the show is bringing in real live intelligencia, like doctors, soldiers, preachers. These people can be on any other game show but have chosen this one, because even the brain needs to relax once in a while. And these people, well let’s just say if I wanted to watch people smarter than me win easy money and do nothing I’d watch Jeopardy or C-SPAN.

The thrill is gone. Scrap the whole thing and start again. Recapture the magic of a few months ago. Because you still have Howie Mandel. And you know something’s wrong when he’s the cornerstone you’re building around. Though it did work for ST. Elsewhere, so who am I to judge?

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