Three months ago, everyone was probably looking at this show to be no more than a throwaway summer series, designed solely to hold the crown for offering the biggest jackpot in the genre. Since the announcement of Drew Carey’s replacing Bob Barker as host to one of the most universally revered shows on television, though, no show has been under a more precise microscope. This was our first chance to see Carey at the helm of an actual game show (which Whose Line isn’t, funny though it is), and his first real opportunity to prove he had the skills needed to carry a true game show.
We’ll get into Drew’s hosting job in a little bit. Need I remind people, there was a game to this show as well.
The show starts off with two contestants taking part in a qualifying round. Drew read a survey question that was asked online to 1000 people, and the players would have 10 seconds to independently lock in their guess as to what percentage of the people surveyed gave a specific answer. The player with the closest guess won a point; the first player to score three points got to play the maingame.
While I am glad that we’re finally seeing prime-time network game shows where there’s some sort of competition going on between players, this round ended up being pretty extraneous. The problem with having a game where a qualifying round is needed to determine who will play for such a large amount of money is, unless the round is either very quick (as in WWTBAM’s Fastest Finger) or the crux of the game itself (as in… well, I don’t think an example of this exists yet), all it really does is soak up time that the viewer would rather see spent on the big-money portion of the game. (Believe me, you’re talking to someone who thinks that if a player stalls on question 12 of a Millionaire stack, that they’ve just wasted 20 minutes of time that we could’ve spent seeing someone else have a chance at it.)
As for the maingame, it basically plays like a high-stakes version of TPIR’s Range Game, only with survey questions. (That, and you don’t have to wait 37 hours for the rangefinder to work again.) The first question is played for $1000, and the player has to find the percentage within a 40-point range. The next three questions are worth 10 times more money, but reduce the player’s range by 10 percent as well. Get a question wrong, and the player drops back down to the previous dollar amount obtained, essentially lopping a zero off their total. If a player is fortunate to play for the big pile o’ loot, he has to guess the percentage of the previous question exactly right, given the range that was proven to be correct in the last round.
The great thing about the pay ladder is that it gives players just enough of a fall-back position if they’re wrong that it may entice players to be more aggressive in going for the larger dollar amounts. The one thing that shows like Identity and 5th Grader need to realize is that if someone has a six-digit cash prize sitting in front of them, the only people who are going to risk the entirety of that stake for a larger amount either are absolutely certain of their answer or just plain reckless. By giving players 10% of their current plateau upon a miss, it gives the players the comfort of knowing that if they shoot the moon and miss, they won’t be leaving with nothing. And for what it’s worth, the final question is a zero expectation proposition. (That is, the player is getting 10-to-1 on their $900,000 gamble, with 10-to-1 odds of winning.) Granted, gambling on a zero expectation is probably not something you’d want to do if you only have one chance at it, but at least it isn’t like 1 vs. 100 or the bonus round to 21, where players are forced to risk more than they stand to gain. Of course, picking an exact percentage – even within a given range – amounts to little more than a guess, and that will definitely stop many people from playing for eight-digit jackpot provided they get that far.
Two things surprised me about this part of the game. First, the fact that on each question, the contestant gets to see a line graph of the audience’s predictions, as well as some advice from the ubiquitous family member. You would think that these sorts of things would be reserved for Lifeline-like uses, but instead, the player gets the luxury of all this information before locking in an answer. Second, I’m surprised that Drew himself was doing a little bit of steering himself. When Jamie, the first contestant tonight, was playing for the million, Drew was trying to coax the player into leaving the game. But when he won the million and advanced to the final round of the game, Drew was encouraging him to have a go. While he was smart enough to warn the player that he didn’t have the answers and didn’t want to sway the contestant in either direction, he’d better be careful about doing this sort of stuff when there’s this much money on the line.
In all, it’s not a terribly exciting show, but I have nothing against the format the way I do with various other big-money games that have premiered in the past 12 months. It moved at about as fast a pace as you could hope with the amount of money on the line, although they did employ the Cliffhanger Commercial Break cliché once during the episode.
As for Drew, I’m beginning to think that when he does go through the big doors at Studio 33, the show will be in in good hands. Although he started out a tad on the nervous side, cutting off the first contestant a few times during the qualifying round, he quickly found his comfort zone, and from then on he was doing quite well. In fact, he’s probably more comfortable hosting his show that I’ve seen Bob Saget (who comes off as a bit overexcited at times) or Howie Mandel (who probably couldn’t live without a teleprompter) on their respective shows. If nothing else, it should certainly ease people’s concerns that he was going to be too plastic or uncomfortable to handle TPIR competently.
Gameplay: 2 out of 3. Nothing too flashy, but there certainly aren’t any fundamental errors.
Host: 2 out of 3, with the opportunity to improve this score if Drew can restrain himself from leading the contestants.
Presentation: 2 out of 2. They didn’t get in the way of the show, and that’s really all you can hope for this day and age.
Execution: 1 out of 2. It’d get a 2, but I’m getting really tired of sitting through commericial breaks to see if a player has won or not.
Total score is 7 out of 10. I don’t know if this show is going to last particularly long, but I don’t have anything against it.