America’s Obsession With Gameshows

It’s not the most comfortable place to be; in the hot seat, in front of millions of Americans, the audience pressure mounting, and the looming prospect of winning a jackpot based on one or two key decisions. The game show contestant is one of a lucky few who may experience the thrill of winning a gameshow, and continues to shock, amaze, and gain popularity from millions of viewers across the nation.

America is hooked on gameshows. The height of gameshow popularity began in the 1970s with shows like the $10,000 Pyramid, and The Price Is Right. Previous shows such as the $64,000 Question had given way to quiz show scandals in the 1950s, and the public had quickly lost interest. The scandals revealed that the producers were giving away the answers beforehand, and so the games had been ‘rigged.’ However, spinning off American versions of the United Kingdom classics, shows like The Dating Game, and The Joker’s Wild quickly piqued the nation’s gameshow interest in fans once again.

The Game Show Network airs a variety of classic games show and episodes gone by; the nostalgic memories of the old Wheel of Fortune board, where the hostess had to turn the letters, no touch-screen involved, bring to mind how much technology and television have changed. Most of the themes and ideas for the modern U.S. gameshows are based on U.K.-based successes; Spelling Bee was the first broadcast of a contestant-based game show in 1938, and the war years later bought a variety of skill and trivia-based successes. Quiz shows were a big trend in the 1950s and 1960s both in Britain and the United States, and propelled the need for strong viewership.

The 1990s saw an onslaught of newer, more interactive shows such as Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, and Who Wants to Be a Millionare. The late 1990s bought us The Weakest Link, Dog Eat Dog, and today’s popular hits such as Deal or No Deal. Overall, the combination of suspense, surprise, financial incentive, and audience and viewer interaction give today’s gameshows an increasing addictive component.

Luck and risk are pivotal themes for the gameshows that continue to draw watchers; randomness, the possibility of all-or-nothing winnings, and the energy of high stakes engage viewers almost as if they are the contestants themselves. With the opportunity for viewer interaction through online drawings, text messaging contests, and phone line hotlines, the viewer can become even further ‘involved’ with the game.

Gameshows are a key part of American pop culture; from the luxury prizes and high stakes, to the instant fame of local contestants, few gameshows require a celebrity endorsement or major product anymore. Instead, gameshows are becoming more creative, focusing on high-stake strategies, and allowing viewers to vote or take part in the game as it airs. Reality-based gameshows increase this game show fever, as audience and viewers feel like they can ‘relate’ to different contestants. Mixing skills and trivia is also not the only option for today’s popular gameshows, but instead a nice addition. We’re hooked on the thrill of winning and losing at a moment’s notice, after a flick of a switch, or that one, killer decision. The competitive edge, high stakes, and upbeat and modern environments all contribute to America’s addiction to television gameshows today, and will only increase as they become more interactive, technologically enhanced, and of course, riskier!

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