Is the Fix (Unofficially) In on Television "Game" Shows?

A decade-and-a-half ago, the movie Quiz Show gave some of us younger pups (no comments, please) insight into the world of corruption amongst game shows like that we had never seen. It was the story of Charles Van Doren, the pretty boy who was given the answers on the game show 21, and how he walked into the living rooms of America, only to be taken down in a scandal like the world had never seen – mostly because television was so new at the time. It’s really amazing that game shows ever recovered. It’s likely the only reason that they did recover is that generation is gone (not gone, gone, but gone from watching).

The new generation grew up on a different batch of shows – reality shows – and now it seems like there may be more trouble brewing. The first season of the rehashed American Gladiators saw contestants apparently about to survive The Eliminator toss the rope just as they made it to the top of the daunting Travelator. The second season saw the events lengthened, but then a contestant with part of a leg missing had the very same Travelator turned off so he could complete the course (a nice gesture, but you get the point). While early competitors on American Idol get tossed for forgetting their lines, the final performance last night appeared to have white lines scrolling at least twice – surely they don’t want the final to be blown by contestants forgetting their lines, but that seems like an odd move by producers. Finally, the obviously superior David Cook (sorry, Archuleta) tanked his performance – so is it all just a scam?

Obviously there is money in it. Ameican Gladiators is a commercial-running machine. They could do the show in half the time if they didn’t show the same amount of commercials. And the perpetually cheery Ryan Seacrest is well known for his After the Break line, so it certainly is no stranger to them either. With Randy Jackson using the corny You Could Sing the Phonebook – being said for at least the tenth time this season – Paula Abdul laying down obviously pre-scripted lines so she doesn’t seem in a drug-addled daze and Simon Cowell even refraining from being his acerbic self by using terms like round and knock-out, to fit in with the night’s boxing theme, it was totally a sham. Did you even catch the wink that he threw to Cook after he sang?

The question is why? It’s obvious to anyone that David Archuleta can’t be marketed nearly as effectively as David Cook, so it can’t be about money – or can it? Absolutely it can. It just isn’t about money right now. It’s about money in the long run.

David Archuleta will do okay. David Cook will do very well. Probably not quite as well as Chris Daughtry, because that ship has already sailed, but chances are the crew behind American Idol will have their hands in the pot regardless – so the answer is that it doesn’t matter if David Cook wins or loses on the show. What happens is that when Archuleta beats Cook, it makes everyone watch the show. Even if Cook somehow pulls it out after all the gushing praise thrown towards Archuleta, Idol still wins because of the perceived controversy.

And that makes the show relevant again long enough to sell advertising on it – something that is in very real danger. After so many seasons at the top, American Idol is slipping. Sure, it’s the most popular show, but for how much longer? When it’s just not that interesting any longer, and the people who don’t finish at the top of the season are selling so many records, it’s a potential problem. Kelly Clarkson, the season 1 winner, is #1, and Carrie Underwood is #2, then Clay Aiken, #2 in season 2, is #3, and Chris Daughtry, #4 in season 5 is #4, while Taylor Hicks, who won season 5, isn’t even in the top ten!

But if people watch the show, it doesn’t matter nearly as much if they always get it right, because the money is coming in, people are watching, and most importantly, people are talking. And that’s what is happening now.