The Deal on Deal or No Deal

NBC Universal has discussed the possibility of launching a half-hour strip version of the game show Deal or No Deal in fall 2007, according to knowledgeable station executives. At deadline, a spokesman for the syndicator said he was unaware if such a move is under consideration for the Endemol USA-produced game show.

NBC has already ordered an unspecified number of new prime time episodes of Deal to air in March after the Winter Olympics. Hosted by Howie Mandel, the game show has contestants seek a $1 million top prize by picking from closed briefcases filled with varying amounts of cash, starting at $1.

The order came after the ratings-starved network saw strong numbers over five nights for the one-hour series in the non-competitive, pre-Christmas week of Dec. 19.

Now its mission is to avoid making the same mistakes that doomed another once-popular game show, ABC’s Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, which ultimately succumbed to overexposure.

ABC’s former top programming executive, Lloyd Braun, had initially licensed another version of Deal (with a different host and execution), but the network’s new programming regime passed and the rights reverted back to Endemol.

The production company then sold it to NBC, which now finds itself in the same dismal situation as ABC was when it relied heavily on Millionaire to improve its fortunes.Mitch Metcalf, NBC executive VP of program planning and scheduling, says, "We don’t want to overuse or underuse it. In the reality world, we don’t know how long the life cycle for these shows can be. We need to strike a balance."

Although the series’ next outing comes outside of sweeps, it should give NBC a better indication of how well Deal will do against stronger competition, having mostly faced reruns in December.

If the next edition also does well, the network must decide whether the popular international format, imported to the states by Endemol, would do best in the fall, mid-season or summer, and how best to configure it.

Endemol USA President David Goldberg, favoring one or two weekly runs, thinks viewers are now familiar with the show’s concept and there is no longer a need for NBC to strip it in prime time.

"I think this is the kind of show that can have a nice long run, but I don’t want to see it get burned out," he says.

The five nightly December episodes boosted their time periods by 54% in adults 18-49 (4.3 rating versus 2.8) and 51% in total viewers (12.7 million versus 8.4 million). The show’s 18-49 ratings peaked on Dec. 21 with a 4.9, up 104% from the season average of 2.4.

While NBC was quick to label the show a success, rivals are expected to do their utmost to prevent Deal from turning into a big deal by putting up strong shows against it in March.

Still, Metcalf remains encouraged by nightly growth from one half-hour to the next, as well as an upscale audience skew and season-high 18-49 ratings in the time periods.

"It came as a breath of fresh air," says the scheduling executive, who was delighted to see any signs of life after a tough year in which the network got battered in prime time. "It was a good way to end 2005."