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Austin Chronicle TV Eye

Game for Anything

By Belinda Acosta

FEBRUARY 21, 2000:  We now know that everyone wants to be a millionaire. But it looks like there are some people who also want to be exhibitionists, the last one standing, or married off mail-order-bride style. Take a look at these game show spin-offs in production or development, designed to cash in on the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire craze:

Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire (Fox): If you can't be a millionaire, maybe you can marry one -- that's the bizarre premise of this new game show. Yes, it's for real. It premiered in a two-hour special last Tuesday. An anonymous Mr. Moneybags, who apparently does well at making money but is not so lucky in love, gets to choose from a bevy of contestants who, well, want to marry a multimillionaire. "A wedding is guaranteed after some 50 women compete" by answering elimination questions created by and asked by the potential groom, according to the TV Guide description of the show. Rumors that the former Mrs. Donald Trump Marla Maples is the show's permanent host are unconfirmed at press time. The Tuesday special was hosted by Jay Thomas (Murphy Brown, Love and War), while 1993 Miss America winner and television correspondent Leanza Cornett reported on backstage events. So far, it looks as though men seeking women is Marry a M-M's protocol, so if you're a nice young man hoping to woo Oprah Winfrey away from Stedman, you're out of luck. Chalk this one up to the weird but true files.

Now or Never (Fox): Speaking of weird but true, none other than Jerry Springer has reportedly been tapped to host this show which challenges contestants to confront their biggest fears. No word on whether being an audience member of The Jerry Springer Show counts.

Apparently, U.S. television execs have no original ideas, as the rights to yet another foreign-born game show have been acquired for U.S. television. This time, the network is CBS, and the show is called Big Brother, based on a Dutch reality show with the same title. Similar to MTV's The Real World, the show asks 10 contestants to live together for an unspecified period of time in a house filled with hidden cameras and microphones. At the end of each episode, the roommates-contestants vote one person out of the house. Presumably, the person least likely to get on the other roommates' nerves is the winner. Big Brother premieres in July, according to ZENTertainment (http://www.zentertainment.com), an entertainment Web site.

Other CBS game shows in development include a revival of What's My Line? and a new game show called Survivor, in which 16 people are left on a deserted island in the South China Sea (alone except for the camera crew) to see who can outlast the others to win a million dollars.

Liquid Soap (Fox Family Channel): Chalk this one up to the good, clean fun file (no pun intended). Similar to Drew Carey's Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Liquid Soap is the brainchild of Seinfeld alum Jason Alexander. Not really a game show (neither is Whose Line -- ), Liquid Soap is a live improv show which spoofs soap operas. Viewer input is gathered by phone and the Internet. A July launch is planned, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The prime-time game show has gone through a curious metamorphosis recently. In the past, wit, savvy, and composure under pressure used to be requisites for the game show contestant. Now, luck and the willingness to broker the milestones of life in front of a camera are added elements. Even the fairly benign Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, which has recently come under fire for allowing less-than-challenging questions to promote winners, has that aura of eavesdropping on contestants as they talk their way through going for a lifeline or walking away a few thousand dollars richer. Finding a mate (and money) on Marry a M-M, the cannibalization of team members on Fox's existing game show, Greed, the survival-of-the-fittest aspects of Big Brother and Survivor, and the confessional qualities of Now or Never all have one thing in common: money and the quick acquisition of it. It's escapism, to be sure, but I also wonder if it isn't some latent desire for wishes and dreams to come true without the bother of making real-life choices, jumping through real-life hoops, or paying the consequences of those choices. On Greed, you can off a team member without feelings of remorse because the game allows it. In fact, it encourages contestants to turn against teammates in pursuit of personal gain. Forget the pack. It's an opportunity to protect number one.

Though butt-naked greed is the order of the day for the new breed of game shows, the most abominable of the pack has to be Marry a M-M. Not only does it set up an environment in which women compete with other women for limited resources -- in this case, a multimillionaire -- it reinvigorates notions of a mysterious Prince Charming (the identity of the groom is a secret till the very end) in search of the fairest one of all. Gag me. I don't care how rich the man is, does he floss his teeth at the table or wear the same pair of underwear every day? It seems to me that reality can't help but bump into the fantasy world this game show has concocted. Which brings me to my suggestion of a follow-up game show: How To Dump a Multi-Millionaire. Maybe that's the show Marla Maples should host.


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