December 18, 2007

TV: Duel (ABC)

This year's week-long game-show stunt started its run last night. The game itself isn't awful, but the show's pacing and its leaden host make it unlikely, I think, that Duel will catch on in the way that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or Deal or No Deal did.

The game is played in head-to-head duels, each of which eliminates one of the show's 24 players. Each player starts a duel with ten chips, worth $5,000 apiece, and is presented with a series of multiple-choice questions (asked of both players simultaneously). Each player marks his answers with chips; if unsure of the correct answer, a player may mark 2, 3, or even all 4 answers, but any chip placed on an incorrect answer will be lost (and that $5,000 added to the weeklong jackpot for which the players are competing).

Get an answer wrong, and you lose the duel and are eliminated from the competition; if both players get the same question wrong, there's a sudden-death playoff. The winner of each duel keeps the money represented by whatever chips he has left and faces a new opponent in the next duel. The four players who have been the most successful during the week (it's unclear whether that means most duels won or most money) will face off in the final rounds on Sunday night.

The questions are well written; they're things that you feel like you ought to know but don't: What color are President Bush's eyes? Which bill has the White House on the back? And the game play is fun to watch, as each player considers whether he's sure enough of this answer to place only one or two chips, or whether to accept a loss of three chips and mark all of the answers.

But the show's pacing is deadly. It's now common for primetime game shows to be filled with annoying "...and we'll find out the answer...(pause pause pause)...when we come back!" moments, but Duel takes that practice to new levels. It feels like there are a lot of commercials, and a lot of dramatic hostly pauses.

Even worse, host Mike Greenberg (he's a sports guy from ESPN) is ill suited to the job. He displays no sense of humor, and he doesn't seem to be having fun, which is the key requirement of any game show host. He sucks the energy out of the show, making it feel even slower than it is.

With a new host and a tempo boost, Duel might catch on, but as is, even an audience desperate for new programming during the writers' strike won't put up with this for very long.


Anonymous said...

You're so wrong. The show's pacing is easily the best part. It's actually really fast. If you watched "are you smarter than a fifth grader" you'll know what the definition of slow is. That show has maybe 6 questions per show, and it's awful. This one's amazing, i like it a lot better than who wants to be a millionaire, and deal or no deal, mainly because of the pacing actually. It's fast, and INTENSE! That's what makes Mike's lack of enthusiasm ok, I'm not sure i would have picked him if i were ABC, except it draws a lot of sports fans' attention, who wouldn't normally watch shows like this. I think this may be THE BEST GAME SHOW EVER. I'm not kidding. I hope they continue it until the end of time, even if they switch hosts, like millionaire. The dramatic pauses are good, and not too long, and especially if you watch on tivo, the ads aren't a problem. I definitely recomend this show to everyone, and props to ABC for such a great show!

Keith said...

Well, this was written after only the first night had aired, and that first night was glacial. They have significantly picked up the pace as the week's gone on -- less time wasted getting to the answer when it's not going to have any impact on the outcome, fewer dramatic "after this message" pauses -- and it's helped enormously.

I still think Mike Greenberg is ill suited to the job, though; the one thing that the best game show hosts have in common is that they're enjoying themselves as much as the contestants are. Bob Barker, Pat Sajak, Bill Cullen, Regis Philbin -- they're having a good time. Greenberg still seems like he'd rather be at home watching the game.

The other thing that really annoys me about the show didn't strike me much the first night, but the insistence on referring to everyone by occupation ("the alligator wrestler," "the used-car salesman") more than by name is a terrible decision. It distances the audience from the contestants, and makes it harder for us to develop any rooting interest in them.