For the love of the game shows

Photo by Blake Israel

Game shows used to occupy a special place in American pop culture. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, game shows like “Match Game” and “Family Feud” skyrocketed in popularity. As television became the center of the modern home, families gathered around the TV to watch programming that was fun for the whole family. 

Today, game shows have fallen out of favor with the American viewer; instead, they’ve been replaced by reality TV. While the occasional clip of Steve Harvey on Family Feud goes viral, it does not garner the same “everyone’s going to be talking about this”-type viewership as Michael Jackson did on the Dating Game. 

American popular culture took a turn from good, clean fun to overdramatized and overdone. In entertainment, Americans craved the extremes, and networks obliged, pushing out massive amounts of reality shows with increasingly ridiculous concepts to satisfy their audiences. 

This golden age of reality television brought us some of the greatest and most cringe-worthy competition shows in entertainment such as “American Idol” and “I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’”. 

But these reality competition shows are lacking in the wit and joyfulness that were a trademark of America’s original game shows. 

Where America falters, our allies pick up the slack. Internationally, game shows are reaching roughly the same success as the classic American shows and with far greater lasting power. What makes these shows so compelling compared to their American counterparts is their ability to embrace the bizarre and fun. In the UK, “Taskmaster” challenges a group of comedians and television personalities to compete by completing silly tasks such as concealing a pineapple on their person or doing the most interesting thing with a rubber duck. 

Or, the Korean competition show, King of Masked Singer, which spawned several spin-off Masked Singer programs internationally, is a prime example of a silly concept. Compared to its spin-offs, the original is untouchable. Rather than leaning into the fun of dressing celebrities in funny costumes and guessing who they are based on their singing voice, the American Masked Singer dives into serious subject matters. Namely, the show digs into its contestants’ tragic pasts or offers a redemption arc for publicly scorned notables, including politicians.

A major pitfall of American competition and game shows is the inclusion of political figures. The Masked Singer included former Vice-Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, and its upcoming season is set to feature former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Dancing with the Stars received backlash for featuring former Press Secretary Sean Spicer in 2019. 

Politicians should not be treated as celebrities. They should be held accountable for their actions, not singing “Baby Got Back” in a bear costume on TV. 

The increased seriousness of American game shows also creates a darker, more stressful energy on the show, where international game shows are far more lighthearted. American competition shows also fail in the overuse of concepts. 

Whenever a popular show makes it on American television, several spinoffs and carbon copy shows are sure to follow. 

For instance, “The Masked Singer” inspired “The Masked Dancer,” “Survivor” is similar to “Naked and Afraid” and “The Amazing Race” and “World’s Toughest Race” are essentially the same show.

Not to mention, the plethora of talent search shows that began cropping up in the early 2000s and continue to dominate prime time television to this day. 

In contrast, the UK manages to come out with a variety of competition shows without beating a dead cash cow. Shows such as “Taskmaster,” “I Literally Just Told You” and “Big Fat Quiz of the Year” are original and funny and do not have 100 spin-offs or identical shows playing at the same time. 

The greatest flaw of the American game show is the networks. In a market where hundreds of television networks and streaming services are competing to keep the attention of audiences, greed takes over and ruins a perfectly fun time. 

If only American networks were willing to forgo lining their pockets in exchange for proper audience enjoyment, then maybe American viewers could get a half-decent game show.