Bringing back the bluff

TV folks may resort to all kinds of things for ratings, but lying? That's what King World plans for driving up numbers for Hollywood Squares.

Next season, the syndicator will relaunch the game strip with a new emphasis on "the bluff," in which contestants must figure out whether the celebrity participants are fooling them with false information.

Arguably, Hollywood Squares is in need of a revamp. It faces stiff competition from upcoming high-profile strips: Weakest Link in January and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
in fall 2002. Moreover, during May sweeps, Hollywood Squares scored a 3.3 Nielsen rating, 21% below its 2000 performance for the same period—the steepest drop among all syndicated game shows last month.

"By bringing back the bluff in a much grander style" than in past incarnations of the strip, says King World programming chief Steve Nalevansky, "viewers will enjoy the show better. Our research has shown that."

Says Vice President of Production Jay Redack, "This show has kind of gotten heavy into comedy," with celebrities regularly mixing quips in with their answers to contestants, "and the pace has slowed. Our testing has shown that the 'tick-tack-toe' part is pretty elementary and the real game for people is figuring out if the star is bluffing or not."

King World also will squeeze 29 questions into each episode, 30% more than last season. And, says Nalevansky, there will be new music, better prizes and more-prominent star participants.

Once fall rolls around, with Weakest Link on the scene, there's "no question in my mind" that Hollywood Squares will be a fierce competitor, says Nalevansky. "If anyone can respond to the changing needs of viewers in terms of the game genre, it's King World," he adds, referring to the studio's current top-ranked efforts, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.