The blockbuster game show is a once-in-a-blue-moon phenomenon, like a not-particularly-notable comet, or a Frank Ocean album. Deal or No Deal had a brief moment in 2006; Who Wants to Be a Millionaire inaugurated the big-bucks era a few years before that. But for the most part, game-hungry viewers are confined to shows like the Drew Carey–hosted The Price Is Right — maybe you’ll watch if you’re home sick with a cold. ABC is trying to change that. The network has devoted three hours of Sunday-night airtime to three revived, celeb-heavy game shows: Celebrity Family Feud, The $100,000 Pyramid, and Match Game (hosted by Steve Harvey, Michael Strahan, and Alec Baldwin, respectively). Is this — 180 minutes of B-list back-and-forth — what summer TV has been missing? (The ratings suggest: maybe?) We tuned in to find out — and we have some notes.
Three Hours Is Too Long (for Anything, but Especially to Watch Game Shows)
Celebrity Family Feud, hosted by Steve Harvey, is indistinguishable from the non-celebrity versions you’ve seen before. Which is to say: It’s fun to watch for approximately 12 minutes, the amount of time it takes for each team to get a shot at guessing what’s up on the board. This problem — the fact that each show runs through its game twice, swapping out contestants and/or celebrities — plagues all three shows on the block. The small moments here are the strongest: famous celebrities saying something embarrassing, to the mortification of their less-famous family members. All three shows feel overinflated — born of a desire to create two-minute viral web clips, they’re instead slow, stale, and achingly repetitive. The lesson: If a concept works at 60 seconds, don’t blow it up to 60 minutes.
Give Michael Strahan a Cohost
Strahan hosts The $100,000 Pyramid, and he spent the bulk of last night’s hour shifting from one foot to another, looking vaguely concerned, and disappointing contestant Martha Stewart. He even laughs unconvincingly. It’s a pretty weird vibe, and it makes me worry that his move to GMA is a bad, bad idea — a newsreading hour full of stilted half-phrases and awkward, barking chortles. But Strahan was perfectly pleasant next to Kelly Ripa (at least until he wasn’t). Maybe all dude needs to look good is … a hyper-competent TV professional at his side at all times. So let’s keep him hosting game shows for a while, warming up in the minors before moving to the early-show big leagues. And let’s give him a hand-holder, someone who’s done the game show thing before. Regis is free, right?
Hire Snoop to Run Wardrobe
The show block isn’t afraid to double-dip — over the course of two hours last night, the Doggfather trotted his lovely family out for a game of Feud, and then popped in to challenge Martha Stewart on The $100,000 Pyramid. And dude looked extremely professorial, rocking not one but two different shawl-collar sweaters. Let’s spread the cool-dad vibes far and wide.
Sex > Weed (Or: Ask Weirder Questions)
The humor in Family Feud comes from seeing a relative say something you didn’t expect them to. But this show is geared around celebrities, and in 2016, our celebrity goalposts have shifted: thanks to social media and the rest, we know (“know”) these people far more intimately than we did before. It’s not particularly funny that Snoop is his family’s expert on questions about marijuana; why wouldn’t he be? But the look on Sugar Ray Leonard’s daughter’s face when Ray tells Steve Harvey that he has sex? That’s the good stuff. Forget the product placement and let these families get uncomfortable the old-fashioned way: by making them talk about butts.
No One Cares About D-List Families
The first game was between the families of Snoop and former boxing champ Leonard. Solid, sure, sounds good. But the groups they trotted out for Round 2 were … curious: the clans of Laila Ali (Muhammad’s daughter) and the Hamilton-Stewart family — exes George Hamilton and Alana Stewart, and their kids from assorted marriages. They’re also known as: who??? Get me some Real Housewives, or — if we really need to promote something at ABC — stick the cast of Fresh Off the Boat up there. But please don’t give us a family that’s already tried to ride the “we’re not famous anymore but now we’re divorced and willing to sit in a room together” wave back into the spotlight once before.
Maybe Don’t Give Khaled a TV Show
Snapchat impresario DJ Khaled shows up multiple times across the block in a Silk-brand commercial for almond milk. There he is, vertical-iPhone-Snapchat style, to yell: “They don’t want us to do plants. So what we gonna do? Silk.” These shows do a nice job of celebrating the weird TV-famous folks who don’t also star in movies — the second-tier SNL cast members and Martin pals, people who’ve made a career showing up to work at a studio. They’re funny, and talented, and rock-solid. So skip the millennial-humping Snapchat commercials and let TV be TV.
Keep the Great Category Names Coming
Whichever PA is in charge of naming Pyramid categories deserves a raise. A brief selection:
- “Juan Direction”
- “Getting High in Colorado” (To Snoop’s disappointment, it’s about skiing!)
- “I’m Mildly Pinterested”
- “Hot Sockets”
Make Everything More ’70s
Match Game leans into its ’70s heritage, and it’s mostly a delight. The action happens on a tacky-as-hell set done up in purple and gold and magenta, and host Alec Baldwin bounces around while holding one of those long, skinny, sits-at-the-waist microphones. Let’s get everyone, like, drinking Rheingold and taking Quaaludes. Hell, let’s ditch the set and dig up the old one — it’ll be carpeted, and mostly brown, and choked with stale cigarette smoke. The more falling chandeliers, the better.
Give Rosie O’Donnell a Show
On second thought, forget the ’70s. The nostalgia factor was highest with the daytime queen of the 1990s, a resurgent Rosie O’Donnell. She’s the heart and soul of the Match panel, the den mother, apologizing on the celebs’ behalf when they’re wrong. She barks at Baldwin, and at the audience. She’s a blast! Who knew? (Don’t answer that.) I’m pretty sure she’d be a better late-night host — more curmudgeonly, a good deal weirder, a thousand times more empathetic — than any of the bros currently on the job.
Let Baldwin Cook
If Rosie is Match Game’s heart, host Alec Baldwin is its dick. He needles everybody — he’s mean to the civilians without letting them know he’s being mean to them, and he’s mean to the less-famous stars on the panel in more obvious ways. (To Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz: “You’re a tattoo person, I understand?”) And he’s almost willing — almost — to puncture his celebrity persona. Each show that I’ve seen has a clue making fun of the Baldwin brothers. And maybe “jokes about the Baldwin brothers” are, in 2016, more self-serving than strictly relevant. But it’s the thought that counts.
“$5,000 doesn’t buy a house,” he tells one contestant after a loss. “But it does buy some … air mattresses?” I think he was referencing a moment earlier on the show — a clue about, like, bedding, or pillows. I’m hoping he was calling back a choice 30 Rock moment. Or maybe Alec Baldwin just thinks air mattresses cost five grand. What I’m saying is: Alec Baldwin is more famous than you, and that’s what makes his Match Game great.
The ABC game show block wants to believe in the Us Weekly premise: that stars are normal people, too. Baldwin, who is apparently one of the best-paid game show hosts in history, reminds us that, well, no: celebrities aren’t like us. The really great celebrities, at least. And thank goodness for that.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly identified Pete Wentz as a former member of Fall Out Boy. Wentz is still in the band.