Ah, summer…warm weather, no school, and nothing new to watch on television. Whatever shall we do without the latest episode of This Is Us to keep us entertained every week? The answer—at least the answer broadcast TV execs want us to give : Watch all the game shows!
Every summer, as most broadcast television takes a vacation itself, networks enter the “summer slump,” and we tend to find the available programming lacking. Historically—back when radio, not television, ruled the entertainment roost–this programming slump was done intentionally to give members of the radio industry a chance to “beat the heat” of the harsh New York City summers. As air conditioning became a thing, television became more popular and most of the media industry moved to Hollywood, programmers kept up the tradition. And although this system is a bit dated, TV executives believe that summertime gives them a great opportunity to promote shows for the fall and give their talent a break while viewers are typically gone on vacation.
Fortunately, these same execs recognize that many of us aren’t able to fly off to glamorous, exotic destinations for a few months. Reluctant to leave us with nothing to watch (and still needing advertising bucks to keep the doors open), these networks have inundated our screens with celebrity game shows, some of which air several times a week. (Check local listings for exact dates and times.) Featuring hosts such as Ellen DeGeneres, Michael Strahan, and Jane Lynch, these shows provide good, (mostly) clean entertainment. Let’s take a look at what’s out there.
Holey Moley (ABC, TV-PG)
“Yes, this is literally a mini-golf competition. And, yes, it’s on prime time with an absurd budget,” says host Rob Riggle during the opening show. Produced by NBA champion Stephen Curry and hosted by Riggle and sportscaster Joe Tessitore, Holey Moley is essentially a putt-putt course on steroids. Twelve challengers compete for $25,000, the Golden (Left-Handed) Putter, and the coveted Holey Moley Plaid Jacket. Achieving the lowest par is the goal, but they’ll also have to duck under logs, scale a slip-n-slide, and ignore Kenny G. to get to their ball. It’s hard not to laugh as we watch these mini-golf enthusiasts get knocked flat on their backs again and again and again thanks to instant replays. Some choice words from the competitors are bleeped out and there are several innuendos made by the hosts, but for the most part, Holey Moley is par for the course.
Spin the Wheel (Fox, TV-PG)
If you mixed Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with Wheel of Fortune and added waaaay more money, then you’d get Spin the Wheel. However, with that much money ($23 million) on the line, “we don’t let just anybody play this game,” says host Dax Shepard. The participants are chosen based on Good Samaritan behavior. The first contestant, Daniel Konzelman helped rescue 15 victims of a derailed train on his way to work. Now, he gets to answer trivia for a chance to spin the wheel. The more questions he answers correctly, the more chances he has to win. But if he gets a question wrong, some “Back to Zero” wedges are added to the wheel, meaning he could potentially lose everything he’s made with one bad spin. The bank periodically asks him if he’d like to walk away with a bagful of money or risk it all for more. So, as the game progresses, he strategizes how he wants his wheel laid out and coordinates with his game partner—little brother Darien—to decide if they’ll walk away with the bank’s offer or spin the wheel.
Spin the Wheel is produced by Justin Timberlake. There are a few sexual innuendos made by the host, but because the show is rewarding citizens for their good deeds, it leaves you feeling like the good guys have won.
Press Your Luck (ABC, TV-PG)
“Anything but a whammy!” What’s a whammy, you ask? A small, red, imp-like creature that steals the contestants’s money on Press Your Luck. Elizabeth Banks hosts this reboot in which participants answer trivia questions to earn spins. Squares on the board are randomly generated and constantly changing—like a frenzied version of Old Maid. Land on a square with money or another prize and it’s added to your total, but land on a whammy and your bank is emptied. Land on a whammy four times and the game is over. During the first half of the game, you can use spins to build your own fortune, or you can give them to your opponent in the hopes that they’ll get a whammy. The person with the most money goes on to the bonus round where the prizes are personalized and the stakes are even higher. You can press your luck for even more money and prizes or walk away with what you already have.
Press Your Luck is in its fourth reboot since the original aired in 1983. Banks managed to steer clear of inappropriate comments, but the questions might seem risqué to some (there’s a question referring to Victoria’s Secret in the episode I watched, for instance, and several pop culture references). The bonus round of the show—new for this iteration—is disappointing since it doesn’t even have trivia. It’s all about timing and luck, which plays in the bank’s favor since the longer it runs, the more opportunity it gives the winner to hit a whammy and lose everything.
The $100,000 Pyramid (ABC, TV-G)
Another rebooted show, The $100,000 Pyramid is actually in the current run’s fourth season and hosted by Michael Strahan of Good Morning America. Contenders are paired up with celebrity partners and attempt to guess a series of words or phrases based on the clues given to them by their teammates. Despite the fact that “this is a family show,” there are multiple allusions to adult content—namely in the category titles. In one episode, the word “c–k” is bleeped out after being used in a clue for “condom.” This is followed by profuse apologies from the celebrity guest who used it and several jokes about the show getting cancelled, which only points out the profanity for those who might have otherwise missed it. For a show that’s rated TV-G, it was a disappointing misstep. There’s no reason the puns and clues can’t be toned down to avoid mishaps in the future.
Hollywood Game Night (NBC, TV-14)
Having a game night with your favorite celebrities present might seem like something out of a dream, but that’s more or less the premise of Hollywood Game Night. Two lucky contestants are teamed up with three celebrities each for a “casual” game night. The two teams compete in a series of mini-games, earning points as they go. The winning team’s “civilian” player gets to take home $25,000. Additionally, one of the celebrity members of their team will win $10,000 for the charity of his or her choice.
Emmy-winning actress Jane Lynch hosts this philanthropic series, which can sometimes be a bit of a wild card. Several of the guest stars let curse words slip (censored for broadcast) and alcohol is served to both contenders and audience members alike. Each celebrity player is given the chance to represent their respective charity, and on special editions, such as Red Nose Day, the donations go up to $150,000 with multiple opportunities for home viewers to call, text, or go online to donate as well.
Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC, TV-PG)
Playing off the success of her daytime talk show, Ellen DeGeneres hosts Ellen’s Game of Games where players compete for $100,000. Much like Hollywood Game Night, Ellen’s Game of Games is made up of several mini-games, but rather than use famous people, the participants are chosen from the audience. Language can dance on the edge of profanity without technically dropping into it. “‘Mother-trucker,’ ‘cheese and crackers,’ and ‘son of a monkey’s uncle’ are all family-friendly curse words,” according to Ellen. The games played are silly in nature and fun to play—you can even play along on your phone app. Ellen does make a few quips about the safety of the games (one game drops you through the floor and another flings you through the air if you answer incorrectly), but these jokes seem to only have the goal of psyching out the contestants.
Competition can bring out the best or the worst in us. Many families have banned games such as Monopoly from their homes because of what it does to household harmony. Other families will refuse to play with a certain person because that person tends to be a sore loser or, worse, a sore winner. These are things to keep in mind when choosing which game shows to watch.
Overly excited participators can act over-the-top. Frustrated hosts or celebrities often forget to filter their words. The negative aspects are often edited out or cut down to reduce the impact on home audiences, and it seems like they aim for clean competition, fun gags, and good sportsmanship. Moreover, a few of them have goals of serving their communities by donating to those in need, as well. It’s clear that networks intend these shows to be for families, and overall they’re much cleaner than some of the scripted fare they’ll trot out this fall. But are any or all of these shows right for your family? We leave that up to you.