Price Is Right for Game Shows

In TV’s tough economic times, a few networks are turning to a syndication staple—game shows—to provide compelling programming at lower costs. This fall, MyNetworkTV will air Don’t Forget the Lyrics and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? on Tuesday nights, while CBS is having success with the daytime pairing of The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal. The latter replaced soap opera Guiding Light.

The moves are proving to be winners for the games’ distributors, too. Lyrics and 5th Grader work for MyTV—and its corporate sibling, Twentieth Television—because Twentieth also distributes them in syndication and to cable. Lyrics is sold in 55% of the country for fall debut in syndication and will bow this fall on VH1, while 5th Grader is renewed for year two in 65% of the country, according to Greg Meidel, president of Twentieth Television and MyTV. Meidel and his team are also working on brand integrations for both shows that they expect will deliver significant revenue streams.

“Twentieth definitely had a price point we had to hit,” says Tony Yates, COO of RDF Media and executive producer of Don’t Forget the Lyrics. To keep costs down, RDF will produce 160 half-hours of the show within a two-month period.

Soap operas typically remain in production year-round, driving costs up. Meanwhile, ratings for soaps have declined over the past several years, leading to several longtime franchises getting the ax. CBS canceled Guiding Light last year, and this fall, As the World Turns goes off the air.

The downward trend for soaps sent network execs looking for new models for daytime. CBS found an old one instead by reimagining Price Is Right. “As we looked to expand our daytime ratings, one of the first places I looked was at this core business that we’ve had on the air for 38 years,” says Barbara Bloom, CBS’ senior VP of daytime.

Comedian Drew Carey took over as Price Is Right host from the retiring Bob Barker in 2007. Mike Richards, the show’s executive producer, has spent three years adapting it to Carey’s style. The results are in the ratings: Price is up 9% among households and up 11% among adults 18-49 compared to last year.

Let’s Make a Deal, also executive-produced by Richards and hosted by Wayne Brady, has improved its time period in households by 13% (1.7 versus 1.5), in adults 18-34 by 67% (0.5 versus 0.3) and women 18-34 by 20% (0.6/0.5).

CBS’ success with game shows may indicate that the network is leaning toward picking up a third game to replace As the World Turns, but Bloom remains mum on what will replace the soap.

Networks, producers and distributors agree that the game-show moves that have paid off did so because they were calculated—not quick—bets. “I don’t look at game shows as a format that might work because they are inexpensive,” says one syndicator. “I look at it from the point of view of, ‘Does this show have a chance to get a rating?’”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.