A clamor for games

Here's a puzzle to solve: Pearson's game strip To Tell the Truth isn't a break-out success in its rookie season, regularly pulling 1.0-level Nielsen household numbers, but is renewed for next season, and the studio's follow-up effort, Card Sharks, is slated for a September launch.

It's an easy puzzle to solve, says Joe Scotti, Pearson North America distribution president. It's because "of all this clamor for games." The popularity of prize-related shows, such as NBC's Weakest Link, ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and CBS' Survivor franchise, "enhances the probability for success for Card Sharks and Truth." So don't rule out more syndicated game series from Pearson. In 2002, "there's always that possibility because we have such a great library of formats," says Scotti, noting particularly CBS' The Price Is Right.

He expects Truth and Sharks to succeed next season, given the likelihood that they will be placed near Pearson's Family Feud—a proven performer—on KCAL-TV Los Angeles, WCIU-TV Chicago and WWOR-TV New York. The programming block of three half-hour shows should create the same appealing continuity as the current talk and court blocks, he adds.

For the week ended May 6, Family Feud posted a 2.5 rating, jumping 14% from last year. Comparably, several other syndicated efforts showed decreases for the same sweeps period, including talk strips Rosie (2.8, down 28%) and Sally (1.9, down 32%). To Tell the Truth scored a 1.6 (flat).

Realizing that Truth has room to grow, "we're making some substantial changes," says Scotti, noting that it will be revamped with more rotating celebrity guests to replace departing panelist Paula Poundstone. The show, hosted by Seinfeld's John O'Hurley with returning permanent panelist Meshach Taylor, will also get an updated set.

Card Sharks will be hosted by Pat Bullard and feature players trying to guess whether subsequent playing cards are higher or lower than the ones that came before. Even Feud is getting jazzed up: Pearson is doubling its maximum prize from $10,000 to $20,000.