This high-powered, slick game show airing on NBC turned out to be a big surprise hit the last time it aired (racking up something on the order of 50 million viewers...), so I figured that last night I ought to check out Deal or No Deal for myself.
Every few years, network TV experiences a "game show" craze. Back in 2000 and 2001, this craze brought us Who Wants to Be A Millionaire (every...bloody...night...of...the... week), as well as The Weakest Link. I guess the cycle's coming around again, and my initial perception about Deal or No Deal (before watching the show...) was that the title sounded like a synonym for the Monty Hall classic, Let's Make a Deal. No?
Turns out the comparison isn't particularly apt. Let's Make a Deal featured colorful guests in crazy costumes enthusiastically guessing about the prizes hidden behind numbered doors. Deal or No Deal is a different animal all together. Reflecting our times, it's a serious, no-frills business that feels more like a meeting with mortgage lenders or some other pressure-cooker, rather than genuine fun. Everybody looks great - the set is multi-story, opulently lit, and displays the wealth of American culture. The game play is basic and stream-lined, and the stress level of the contestants appears quite high, if last night's installment was any example.
The premise of the show is this: host Howie Mandel (sans hair...) invites up to a podium a new contestant. Last night, it was a Las Vegas S.W.A.T. officer. Anyway, to paraphrase Mr. Mandel, there are "no crazy stunts, no trivia, no skill" involved in the game, just an answer to the simple question "deal or no deal." In other words, this is a perfect game for the age of Paris Hilton. The contestants don't need to be intelligent, well-read or talented. They just have to show up and bear the pressure.
Anyway, to get the game started, twenty-six super sexy models who look like they just came off Robert Palmer's clone farm, descend onto a staircase holding 26 suitcases. In each suitcase is a denomination of money ranging from one penny to a million dollars. The contestant picks a briefcase, in hopes that it contains big money, and then has to watch - in torturous slow-motion and between commercial breaks - as he is asked to open up the other cases, a few at a time, to determine how much he wins.
Every now and then, a shadowy figure called "the banker" makes an offer from a dark booth above the stage, trying to play the odds and keep the contestant from winning too much money. In a bit of melodrama, he calls down to the stage and makes offers that the contestant can accept or reject. Hence a deal. Or no deal.
As matters get increasingly hairy, the contestant is allowed to bring a team of supporters on stage. And then, when things get really rough, an "expert" comes up for moral support and professional advice. Last night, that expert was Donald Trump, who first advised the police officer to "go for it," but when the money got up to $359,000.00 wisely admonished the contestant to "take the money." He did.
To keep the game interactive, Deal or No Deal also offers viewers a chance to win at home. They can win ten thousand dollars if they get up off the sofa and text message a "guess" about which of six briefcases contains the money.
I've watched game shows since I was a little kid (Anybody remember Whew!?), and they're occasionally diverting, especially if you're taking heavy flu medication. Honestly, I can't really commit to them on any long term basis. But word to the wise: if you want to get on any quiz show as a contestant, Deal or No Deal seems like the ideal choice since you won't have to study geography, science, history, sports and leisure, entertainment trivia or anything else beforehand.
Personally, I prefer Jeopardy. At least when Jeopardy's over, I've learned a thing or two about a thing or two, and don't feel like I've wasted an hour of my life. For me, that's the deal-breaker on Deal or No Deal. Having watched it once, I feel no need or burning desire to watch it again. My "offer" to NBC? They should play this thing out fast. Because people will tire of it quickly.