December 21, 2010

TV: Million Dollar Money Drop (Fox, week-long special)

Fox's latest game show airs every night this week, Monday through Thursday for a total of six hours. It's a skillful enough production, but the show so fundamentally misses the point of why we watch game shows that I can't imagine it being successful.

We meet our contestants, a pair of some sort -- spouses, siblings, dating -- and they are given a million dollars, neatly bundled in $20,000 packs. On a table in front of them are four trapdoors, each corresponding to one of the answers to a multiple choice question. They have to put all of their money on one answer or another. If they're certain the answer is A, they can put everything on A; if they haven't a clue, they can divide their money among several doors. They may not, however, completely avoid risk by covering all doors; at least one door must remain uncovered.

The answer is revealed, the wrong doors open, and whatever money had been put on those doors drops away. With whatever money remains, the team moves on to the next question. At question #4, the possible answers are reduced to 3; for the seventh and final question, there are only 2 answers, making it all-or-nothing proposition with whatever money is left.

The problem, it seems to me, is this: We watch game shows because we want to see people win money; in this show, we spend the entire hour watching people lose money. It only makes things worse that we watch the money fall away when it's lost. At a time when people are struggling to make ends meet, do they really want to watch money being dropped into a pit, essentially being thrown away? And to put this on TV during Christmas week, when that financial pinch feels even harsher than usual, seems insensitive to the point of sadism.

Aside from the basic structural flaw, the show's reasonably well made. The set, another of those high-tech glowing blue things that seems to be the standard ever since Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, is reasonably attractive. The questions are more interesting and unexpected than usual, generally calling for more common sense than actual knowledge. (Which is the most popular breakfast cereal: Cocoa Puffs, Shredded Wheat, Cap'n Crunch, or Cheerios?) Kevin Pollak doesn't have the charm or warmth of a great game show host, but he's pleasant enough.

Despite those strengths, I don't think the show can survive its basic structural flaw. Every episode is structured around loss and disappointment, which does not seem a likely way to draw huge audiences.

No comments: