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Reshuffling Squares

When it comes to changes on the syndicated game show, Hollywood Squares, the departure of Whoopi Goldberg as Center Square is just the tip of the iceberg. The show will have a whole new look and feel next season. And, King World hopes, better ratings.

Last week, just days after Whoopi's departure was confirmed, King World gave the show's two other executive producers, John Moffit and Pat Lee, their walking papers.

Another expected departure is Emmy award-winning comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, whose ties are closer to Moffit, Lee and Goldberg than to King World. Regular guest Caroline Rhea will likely leave or cut back her appearances next season, given her commitment to her own new syndicated talk show. It's also possible King World will need to find a new host. Current host Tom Bergeron is said to be a finalist to replace Bryant Gumbel on CBS's The Early Show.

Moffit and Lee have been the show runners for Squares
since its launch four seasons ago. The pair has had a longtime association with Goldberg, but sources say that King World Chairman Roger King never warmed to them. In a statement, however, King said they are "great producers … but we feel we need to make some changes for next season."

One reason is the show's very costly to produce (Whoopi's salary alone was said to approach $10 million annually) while it hasn't delivered the ratings King World and partner CBS had expected.

In February, it averaged a 3.8 rating and 7 share in the top-100 markets, according to a Katz Television analysis of the Nielsen Station Index ratings for the sweep period. That's well below the two top performers in the genre, Wheel of Fortune
and Jeopardy!, plus other competitors (including Entertainment Tonight, Friends
and Seinfeld).

Who will get the Center Square next season remains to be determined. Before Whoopi, King World reportedly had lengthy talks with Jason Alexander and approached Billy Crystal.