Game Shows Are Riding a New Wave of Popularity

GameStop, Inc.

If you’ve taken a look at primetime TV in the last few months, you might have noticed that an old trend is new again on the major networks. Of course, “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” continue to be staples of weekday programming, but even more game shows are hitting the airwaves in a big way. That means revivals of old classics and massive mish-mashes of old ideas into new packages. ABC got the ball rolling but the other networks don’t plan to be left out in the cold as they all look to cash in on the public’s appetite for game show shenanigans.

It all began last summer when ABC rolled out new versions of three classic series. “Pyramid,” “The Match Game,” and “Celebrity Family Feud” all made their way onto the Sunday night primetime line-up. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the move has paid off for the Disney-owned network. All three pulled in big ratings while being renewed for new seasons. The programs have helped to float lagging ratings during the typically slow summer season by giving fans new reasons to tune in on weekend evenings.

But the fervor for game shows is nothing new and, given the cyclical nature of TV, it’s no surprise that they’re in vogue once again. Fans have long been fascinated by watching regular folks get the opportunity to win life-changing fortunes, and it’s a theme that continues to resonate with people today.

There’s something about playing along at home that absorbs casual audiences in a way that dramas and sports are unable to capture. Viewers can participate from their couches and imagine themselves doing better than the actual contestants, keeping the dream alive that it could be them playing for big bucks some day. They’ve even gone so far as to actually study the shows to create their own systems for winning. That’s recently been the case on, where math expert Mike Fletcher developed strategies for how to win at four popular shows (including the still-running “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”) while breaking down the mechanics of how each works. These systems for understanding game shows are only becoming more complex as modern programs seek to incorporate both old and new elements alike and audiences try to keep up.

By adapting the classic game show format for the new media age, networks have found a fresh way to tap into the public consciousness. We could actually be on the verge of a game show boom like we saw in the early 2000s, and this blend of past and present game shows is perfectly illustrated in the success of the latest show for NBC.

ABC struck it big with their retro game shows last summer and, as mentioned, the other major networks are taking advantage of the fad. NBC has a new show executive produced by none other than LeBron James and hosted by Chris Hardwick (of “Talking Dead” and “Nerdist” fame). “The Wall” is a hodgepodge of tropes including trivia challenges, related contestants, an isolation booth, and more. The result is something greater than just the sum of its parts. Take the “Plinko” minigame from “The Price is Right,” add a quiz show, and a dash of “Family Feud” and you pretty much get the idea. Vulture called the program “the most American game show” out there and the formula is working. So far, “The Wall” has been a hit for NBC and continues improving its ratings, helping NBC consistently secure the top spot on Monday nights.

With the success of “The Wall,” everyone is waiting to see how CBS will fare when they get into the game show racket as well. The network announced last year that they were developing a new show based on the popular mobile game “Candy Crush,” which is basically guaranteed to be a hit when it finally comes out. There’s no word yet on when the series will air or even who the host will be, but it will join a crowded TV landscape when it does arrive.

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