Culture > Television

The new deal

Television | Game shows' aging format finds new life in Deal or No Deal

Issue: "Marathon man," Feb. 17, 2007

Game shows were once the elderly of the TV world: Give them an early supper and put them to bed. But then one day, back in the '90s, someone let Regis Philbin stay up way past his bedtime, and before we knew it, game shows had taken over prime-time television.

In the final week of January, there in the Nielsen ratings' No. 6 spot stood a triumphant little game show called Deal or No Deal (NBC, Mondays, 8 p.m. ET)-a show that takes the conventional game format and stretches it into full-blown mythos.

The journey starts when our hero is plucked from the rabble and invited by our host, Howie Mandel, to tell his story. And there's always a story. Immigrant with 33 children. Single mother with 33 jobs. Newlywed groom with 33 days to move out of his in-laws' house. Our hero picks a locked briefcase from one of 26 mostly mute and mostly gorgeous sirens, hoping it's filled with lots of money.

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He then starts to open the other cases at random, and each case reveals a dollar value somewhere between pennies and $1 million. Our hero hopes for something small, which ups the chance that his case holds the million, or something close. Every few cases he opens, he gets a call from the "banker," a shadowy, silhouetted man who makes an offer to buy our hero's sealed case. The hero can take the money and walk, or he can keep opening cases, try to knock out smaller dollar amounts, and up the banker's next offer. Each time, the host asks the title question: "Deal, or no deal?"

More often than not, this moment is filled with lots of Price-Is-Right-ish hoots and hollers, especially from the hero's bedraggled-but-faithful family nearby.

And that's the show. So the critics wonder. The execs at other networks wonder. The intelligentsia and literati wonder. Why does America watch this mindless, gratuitous, pedestrian pablum, mocking the economic station of the lower middle class, and mocking their greed?

Well, for the same reason you finished this review. It's dramatic.

Harrison Scott Key
Harrison Scott Key


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