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.